I've learned some things in the most unlikely places. I thank God for many years spent in school. I thank him for the opportunity to wrestle with important ideas. But--it was in Florence, Alabama almost 24 years ago that I began to wrestle with the grace of God.
I sought to understand how a God so holy could give men and women hope, even when their failures had been so severe. It was in that place that I began to wrestle with the grip of grace upon my life. How could God save me? The more I came to know God, the more I could see my own failure. And--I began to experience the grace of God.
I came away with such a love for the church. Not men and women who were models of purity and a cut above everyone else. No, I saw the church as the place of grace, where men and women could start over.
What is a Grace-full church like?
1. Grace-full churches are messy places. Some people are making new starts. Some people have "relapsed" into sin. Other people don't say everything just right.
2. Grace-full churches focus on Jesus, the son of God and they trust in the Spirit to empower them. They come together as the body of Christ to deal with life, not just punch their ticket for the week.
3. Grace-full churches stay focused on the big issues. (Far too often we get cranky about petty things. "That's our room." "Why wasn't that announced, in the bulletin, etc." "No one ever mentioned my child in the announcements when she got an award." On and on...) Grace-full churches are focused on how we can encourage somebody else.
4. Grace-full churches have a leadership who is not afraid to lead from weakness. Far to many of us (I'm putting myself in this group, too) are afraid to say, "I don't understand this verse" or "We don't know what to do" or "We tried that but it didn't work."
I want to have so much confidence in the Lord and his strength that I can lead from weakness and not fear that someone will discover my inadequacies.
5. Grace-full churches probably don't have very much money in the bank. Don't get me wrong. They pay their bills on time and probably handle their money with a great sense of responsibility. However, they are constantly responding to needs that come before them.
6. Grace-full churches help the needy. Do they ever get taken by someone posing as a needy person? Sure! They probably do. They try to be very wise in terms of who they help and how. However, they would rather err on the side of mercy than treat the needy in a way that Jesus never would.
7. Grace-full churches have buildings that need almost constant repairs, maintenance, and cleaning. It is not unusual to find several dirty finger prints on the doors from little children who peer in during the week. This church opens it doors to the community. These people are not about to lock up their building for their use alone. They want to give what they have to the community. Consequently, a lot of people are in and out of their building during the week.
8. Grace-full churches seem to almost always have some project going on. Someone's house burned down and they are trying to help that family. Somebody needs a job. A single mother needs help with her older son. One of the elders is teaching a teenager how to drive. He comes from a very messed up home. God keeps bringing need to their doorstep and they keep responding.
9. Grace-full churches show people mercy while they call for men and women to live as obedient disciples of Jesus. They overlook the way someone is dressed. They overlook the way the one reading Scripture in Bible class butchered the pronunciation of words. They don't pick at one another. No, the grace-full church is about building one another. They show mercy. Yet, at the same time, they call for one another to live as intentional Christ-followers.
10. Grace-full churches are grateful for the mercy God has shown them. I will never forget the Sunday that J.D., one of our recovering alcoholics was about to lead the church in prayer. Big guy. He steps into the microphone, smiles and says, "I thank God that I am sober--it's been one year." I thought, "Wow, I've never heard anyone just come out in the open with life as it is."
No church is perfect, but in my little corner of the world, I don't want to settle for anything less than God's grace.