Wednesday, January 27, 2016

If It's Not Unmerited, It's Not Grace

And...the 2015 Song of the Year is...
All About that Bass,
'bout that bass, no treble.

I do have a song of the year, but that's not it.
If you've been paying any attention at all over the past two years, you know I've been on a journey of grace. There are times when God needs to get my attention and the gentle urgings along the way are not working. I'm not always the sharpest knife in the drawer. So He klonks me on the head in a big way, and..finally...I'm listening.

In terms of grace, I've come a long way, baby. But in other terms of grace, I've got a still got a long way to go. Even as I was learning grace with those I love the most, I was dimly aware that my next lesson would be extending grace to those I don't love quite as much. Admit it. You're the same way. You and I love some people more than we love others. I'm not saying that's flawed. We can't possibly have the same level of intensity in every relationship. Life is like the Bohr Model of Love. As our inner circles fill up, people have to find their places in each concentric circle out. But I do find that grace comes easier to me with the inner circles and not as easy as I work my way out.

In some ways, 2015 was a very good year. Three times I had major reconciliations with friends. THREE! I initiated one. Two came out of the blue from more distant friends. Without going into detail, let me say that my heart just sang over God's faithfulness to bring restoration where I was not able to.


I remember a book (I have not read) that came out some years ago called, "Jonathan Edwards: Marriage to a Difficult Man." What struck me was the 'difficult' part. Jonathan Edwards, difficult? Wasn't he the rock star of the Great Awakening???

CS Lewis once wrote that people with cold temperaments can be believers, too. If you have not met these believers, you have probably not been a Christian for very long. But I've been in the Church for more than forty years. And I've known my share of cold Christians across the decades. Difficult Christians. Christians who have old third grade report cards somewhere that read, "Has difficulty getting along well with others."

I've also learned that 'cold' can take many forms. Some cold Christians are proud. Some cold Christians are prickly, easily provoked. Some cold Christians are peevish. And some cold Christians are just that: cold. About as easy to relate to as a wooden post.

Some Christians are cold because life has been hard. Some Christians are cold because they were born that way. I would be rationalizing if I said they make it hard for me to extend grace. It's more truthful to say that I'm unwilling to do the hard work of extending them unmerited favor.  Worse, what I've begun to observe about myself is that to the prickly, I am prickly. To the provoked, I am provoked. To the peevish, I am peevish.  Do not pass Go; do not collect $200. Go directly to my outermost ring. I am ungracious to the ungracious.

And here's the cold truth of my own: Contractors.  I treat cold Christians like contractors. You want to do cold? We can do cold. You abide by the terms of the contract, we can work together. You violate the terms of the contract, we are done. There is no long-term commitment to, no concern for, no come-hell-or-highwater. Contractors. It's just good business.

Turns out, I'm a bit frosty myself.

Covenanters. I should be treating Christians of all makes and models as covenanters. We've got each other's backs. We are in this for the long haul. We are faithful when the other party is unfaithful. We are loving when the other party is unloving. The fire, the friction, the failures, come what may, we are warm and full of grace when the other party is prickly, provoked, and peevish.

To treat someone like a fellow in the Covenant, I would do well to remember that she has a story.
That from Heaven, He came and sought her.

So, the song. This post was about a song, remember?

Someone (who shall remain anonymous) played that other 2015 song for me a few months ago, Meghan Trainor's All About That Bass. And I was ruined. That sucker got stuck in my head, and I'm still singing it. But I like it. It's actually kind of sweet. And she's got a point. Everyone is not the same. And you ARE beautiful from the bottom to the top.

Don't get your panties in a wad, Church Lady. All About That Bass in not my song of the year. I may (mostly) sing along when I hear it...
but when I heard these lyrics:

If I should speak, then let it be
Of the grace that is greater than all my sin,
Of when justice was served and where mercy wins,
Of the kindness of Jesus that draws me in. 
To tell you my story is to tell of Him. 

I wasn't singing; I was weeping.
In the car.
A big, mushy, snotty mess driving to Costco and boo-hooing and trying to collect myself before I got out of the car.
And then I heard it again a few days later.
And I boo-hooed again.
This song broke me.

Grace that is greater than my sin.
I know my heart. That's some pretty big grace to be bigger than my sin.
Justice served and mercy wins.
I know what justice is and what I deserve. It is a price I could never pay. That kind of mercy, not getting what I deserve, that's amazing.
The kindness of Jesus.
To be kind to me, who is ungracious to the ungracious.
My story has nothing to do with me and everything to do  with Him.

To a certain extent, this song is inward looking, understanding the work that Jesus accomplished for me. But to a certain extent, this song is outward looking, grasping the concept that my sisters share this story. If I could manage to keep this in mind, would I be less likely to write cold Christians off? Would I be less likely to treat them like parties in a contract rather than members of the covenant? Would it help me to remember that grace is UNmerited when I'm looking into the face of Prickly, Provoked, and Peevish?

If I told you my story, you would hear hope that wouldn't let go.
If I told you my story, you would hear love that never gave up...

Can I, who have been on the receiving end of such unmerited favor, be stingy with my own unmerited favor to fellow covenanters? Can I, whose righteousness was filthy rags, demand of others that they work for my favor? May it never be.

Because if it's not unmerited, it's not grace.
If it's not unmerited, it's not grace! 
If it's merited, it's business. If it's merited, I have forgotten my sisters' stories. More importantly, I have forgotten my story. My story is not a story of good business. My song is not Amazing business, how sweet the sound. 
Grace. Unmerited favor.
Even to my outermost circles.

My 2015 Song of the Year.
Big Daddy Weave's My Story

Cuz it's all about that grace.
All the right junk in all the right places. ;)

Friday, January 8, 2016

A Year of Reading Badly: My 2015 Reading List

There were the three books I brought home from a used book sale that all hit the trash within the first two chapters.

There were the two books I couldn't finish. Divine Rebels by Deena Guzder is a series of mini biographies in the social gospel crowd, people who cite Jesus as the reason they do good deeds. As with other redletterchristian presentations, it was heavy on social, lite on gospel, a paean to self-righteousness. There is more to say here, enough for another post, but let it suffice for now, there was nothing divine about these rebels.

The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor, I'm more reluctant to pan. She comes highly recommended by serious saints, and some of the stories were good. But. Perhaps I'm revealing my shallow side, but it is very hard for me to identify the redemptive among so much raw. Maybe someday I'll pick it up again. Maybe not.

There was 'Til We Have Faces by CS Lewis, proof that even the best authors have their off days. I managed to have some fun with it when my kids read it. During discussions, I was literally chewing the inside of my cheek so as to not burst into laughter as their eyebrows worked up and down in puzzlement. And I put on my best poker face as I assigned them an analysis paper in which I gave them permission to opine. They managed to pull it off with less snark than I expected, and only then did I show my cards. I think they were relieved that I agreed with them.

And then there were the bad books, in terms of bad ideas.  This fantastic article makes a good case for reading the 'worst' books. Of course, the notion of 'worst books' implies there are the 'great books,' and great is in the eye of the beholder. I find I am less and less enthused with other people's lists of 'great books', much of which is mere intellectual gibberish. In other words, I'm far more impressed if you knocked out Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology than if you hung on through Plato.

I read a couple bad ideas this year. I gagged my way through, but I did it.
And that is my year of reading badly.

It wasn't all bad, though. I did accidentally discover a new author. It was one of those crap shoots, standing in the library, desperate for a decent summer read that wouldn't be crass or depressing or just plain dumb. May I introduce Charles Martin? I was so taken with the first book I read by him that I went back for two more.  I also discovered and enjoyed Khaled Hosseini and Wendell Berry.

Sixty-nine books in all. Some good, some bad.
Some of them I read with or for the kids.
One or two I read with Brett.
This is my reading list for 2015.

Know the Heretics by Justin Holcombe
Greenmantle by John Buchan
Is God Anti-Gay? by Sam Allberry
Iliad and the Odyssey by Padraic Column
The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brendan Manning
The Unadjusted Gospel by Mark Dever et. al.
The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare
Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers
The Blessing Book by Linda Dillow
Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey

BFG by Roald Dahl
Introduction to Covenant Theology by Michael Horton
Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
Gone Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright
Uncle Dynamite by PG Wodehouse
Liberty Defined by Ron Paul
Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Future Men by Douglas Wilson
Children of Hurin by JRR Tolkien
What's Best Next by Matt Perman

Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry
Wisdom of Father Brown by GK Chesterton
Indian in the Cupboard by Lynn Reid Banks
Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
Aunts Aren't Gentlemen by PG Wodehouse
Magician's Nephew by CS Lewis
Singing Sands by Josephine Tey
Inklings of Oxford by Harry Lee Poe
Theology of the Reformers by Timothy George
The Supreme Court by William Rehnquist

Mom Enough: The Fearless Mother's Heart and Hope by Desiring God
Napoleon's Buttons: 17 Molecules that Changed the World  by Jay Burreson
Instructing a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp
Accidental Feminist by Courtney Reisig
At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon
Goodbye for Now by Laurie Frankel
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Five Points by John Piper
The Last Battle by CS Lewis
Girl Talk by Carolyn Mahaney

Women's Ministry in the Church by Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt
The Two Towers by JRR Tolkien
'Til We Have Faces by CS Lewis
When Crickets Cry by Charles Martin
Life With Strings Attached by Minnie Lamberth
A Life Intercepted by Charles Martin
On Earth As It Is In Heaven by Wyman Richardson
Love or Die by Alexander Strauch
Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney
Chasing Fireflies by Charles Martin

The Biggest Story by Kevin DeYoung
Otto of the Silver Hand by Howard Pyle
The Gospel's Power and Message by Paul Washer
The Church of the East edited by John Holzman
The Gammage Cup by Carol Kendall
The Shining Company by Rosemary Sutcliffe
Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes
Sermon on the Mount by Sinclair Ferguson
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Way of Ignorance by Wendell Berry

Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen
A Parcel of Patterns by Jill Paton Walsh
Courtship in Crisis by Thomas Umstattd, Jr.
More Than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell
Calm My Anxious Heart by Linda Dillow
The Harvester by Gene Stratton Porter
What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? by D. James Kennedy
Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum
How Long, O Lord? by DA Carson