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Not a Chance

6June2012

This may be difficult to read. It may be more difficult to admit:

There are some things we simply just cannot do.

As much as I have always wanted to dunk a basketball – I realize my best days are behind me (at least in the vertical jump portion of my life). Now that we have an adjustable basketball hoop outside our home I have been living my dream of being able to dunk the ball. Dunking has been a lot of fun, but the hoop is only set at 8 feet. I can reach that height! However, even at 8 feet, I miss occasionally and the ball bounces high in the air, inspiring laughter from my son who loves to say, “I love it when you miss those…it’s funny.” Thanks a lot.

I wonder sometimes in a high energy, high involvement, high demand world in which we live if we really understand the concept of “grace” at all. We are under a lot of pressure – to get things done, to make things happen, to get good grades, to achieve certain results, to maintain good jobs, to dunk a ball (or your favorite sport’s equivalent) and live up to everyone else’s expectations. We are doers. Doers do. We evaluate one another one how well we do.

Since the rest of our lives work this way, why not our relationship with God? After all, doers do and we are doers, right?

Not a chance.

Jesus expects a lot out of us. There is no getting around that. Loving God and loving your neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40) are full-time jobs. Let’s face it; none of us are very good at it, especially with everything else on our plates. As hard as we try (and I’d like to think we do work at it) we just can’t seem to jam it down. Maybe we get lucky occasionally, and we pat ourselves on the back for our efforts; but if we truly are honest we know how difficult it is to be a follower of Jesus, and we just can’t do it well.  Our shots keep missing. Our passes don’t go the right way. We dribble the ball off our foot, and we have to chase after it. We are embarrassed.

So, we try a few different strategies.

One strategy of course is to simply lower the basket. Let’s make shots we can make, right? If we set the bar low enough – maybe we can reach the goal. We get kind of a good feeling at dunking the ball, since we have always wanted to do it – but at 8 feet, it really isn’t that great an achievement. In the short-term we feel good. In the long-term we feel a little hollow.

Why deal with the challenging passages of scripture that scare us or give up the control we think we have over others when we can just lower the bar to try to make everyone happy?

God is happy if we all are happy, right? Not a chance.

Another strategy is to just buckle down and try a little harder. Maybe if we keep jumping, keep working at it, and keep honing our skills at some point we will be able to dunk a basketball.  While I admire the tenacity and work ethic behind such motivations to conquer a huge obstacle, the frustrations of not being able to achieve what is unachievable can be debilitating.

Why not keep doing the same things over and over expecting different results in light of the challenges we face because that is the way we do them, or the way we have always been told to do them, regardless of all the change around us?

If we just buckle down hard enough and do it the right way enough – God will reward us, right? Nope. Not a chance.

This leads to a third strategy – not to even try at all. Why attempt something we will likely fail trying to do? Nobody likes a loser, so why put ourselves in that position?  If every time we pick up the basketball we look like a fool, it will not take long to just leave the ball on the sideline and find something else to do instead.

Why not just accept our limits, and get on with it? We’re good at excuses: We’re busy. We’re stressed out. We’ve got a lot on our plates already. We’re not so good at this church stuff anyway.

God still knows I’m a good person, right? Sorry, not a chance here either.

Without a chance we feel hollow, deflated, and uninspired. So we look to God’s grace for help. We treat God like a big Band-Aid. We are really fine we think; we just need a little bandage to make things better. Once we are bandaged up it will make up for the fact we can’t reach a 10 foot basket. It will make us try a little harder to reach it next time. It will make up for it when we don’t even step on the court.  But it feels like something is missing. But what? Is it missing in us? Are we not good enough people? Does God not care?

We start to turn in ourselves, because there is not a chance we can possibly be good enough, not matter how big the Band-Aid is.

What “Grace” is

The most amazing thing about grace is that it is exactly that – grace. It is undeserved mercy, undeserved love, underserved restoration – given by God to the unworthy. But it is important to make some distinctions about what grace is and what grace is not.  For example:

Grace is not lowering a hoop, or a bar, or anything else – so that we can reach a smaller goal. Grace is not courage to keep failing, with an empty hope that we will get there if we try harder. Grace is not just giving up, and hoping someone else will pick up our slack.

Grace knows there is nothing we can do at all to change the outcome – yet still getting to play.

The reformers called it “justification by faith,” drawing from Paul’s message of Christ and his cross accomplishing everything we could ever dream of achieving before God. We can’t save ourselves. We can’t possibly ever do enough to make God like us.  We can’t live complete lives. We can’t save the world. We can’t build a perfect church. All we can do is trust that what Christ has done for us – to forgive us, to claim us, to make us renewed in his image – is enough, and more than enough. All we can do is look to God not as a judge who will only accept us if we reach certain benchmarks, but as a loving parent would. The Father calls us up on his lap and gives us his good name, not because we deserve to be there or because we are trying really hard; but because he calls us there. All we can do is trust that the Spirit is among us – leading, pleading, groaning, and comforting alongside us when we feel the most worthless, the most frustrated and the most frantic to even notice that he is there.

Grace knows that all we can do is play, and that God still wants us to play. We play not because we can dunk, or are even good enough to make the team. We play because Christ wants to play with us. Grace knows you don’t deserve to play. You can’t dunk. Your passes are all over the place. You continue to dribble off your foot. Yet Jesus calls you over from the sideline.

“Your ball,” he says. “Let’s play.”

GTS@CCD

__________

“(The Lord) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Joshua Radetski permalink
    6June2012 10:39

    So, are you saying that GRACE is the Washington Generals and God is the Harlem Globetrotters? – “[The Washington Generals] know there is nothing [they] can do at all to change the outcome…”

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