"You have to work hard to offend Christians. By nature, Christians are the most forgiving, understanding, and thoughtful group of people I've ever dealt with. They never assume the worst. They appreciate the importance of having different perspectives. They're slow to anger, quick to forgive, and almost never make rash judgments or act in anything less than a spirit of total love . . . No, wait--I'm thinking of Labrador retrievers!" David Learn, 1998

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Glimpses of Grace 8: Glimpsing Grace

      In the months that followed I saw very little of WOW. For one thing, she wasn't around any more. She and her husband had submitted to the authority of the elders and quietly resigned from the church.
     When I did see her, I saw a change in her. She was no longer agitated and in anguish. She seemed more settled and had a peace and contentment I hadn't seen there since the women's tea. I could tell she was spending time with the Lord.
     Now she told me, with stars in her eyes, "When the elders made those false accusations against me without letting me say a word, I cried out to the Lord, 'If we leave, what will happen to your sheep? You know I have a heart for the women here. How will they be taught Your word?'
     "'The Lord told me, 'I will open up another church for you.' He did--and the women followed! Now I am free to teach the Word of God!"
      WOW's trauma washed over my head. I was sorry to lose her but happy it had all worked out for good. As for me, some of the changes in the church were really blessing me. I was understanding grace, really taking it in, for the first time in all the years I had known Jesus as my Savior.
    One evening, our younger leaders hosted a prayer and communion service in the intimate setting of our church foyer. We observed the Lord's supper together, the "bread and cup" representing Christ's body broken for us and His blood shed for us. Instead of having us pass trays of tiny plastic shot glasses of grape juice and pre-cut morsels of bread down the rows of folding chairs, servers came to each of us individually, gave us goblets of glistening red juice and offered us as much as we wanted from whole loaves of bread.
     This made such a deep impact, I later wrote the worship leader and pastor who intentionally carried out that experiment:
      "Most meaningful of all was being served BIG pieces of fresh bread and BIG cups of juice. At first I took just a crust of bread and if the bread had been passed to me, I would have passed it on without taking more even though we had been urged to. But the bread was served to us and the young woman who served me insisted I take more, waited for me to take more.
     "This was so significant to me. Because of incest from earliest childhood, I have had deep, lifelong issues of feeling unworthy of receiving anything good, unworthy of what God gives His other children. As I helped myself to more bread, I got the word 'enough' and understood His desire for me was not just to 'taste and see that He is good" in a way which would leave me wistful, wishing I could have more while accepting tiny portions, but to follow up that first taste with the natural response of a child, reaching for and taking more, as much as I wanted. Then I sensed the words 'filled,' 'plenty,' and 'satisfied.'"
     Like most incest victims, I was branded early on with the bone-deep conviction that I was bad. The typical evangelical emphasis on sin and the death Jesus endured to rescue us from the consequences of our sin exacerbated that. It rubbed raw the open wound of my unworthiness. 
     It wasn't the fault of the gospel. We are sinners. We do need to repent and forsake sin. We do need to be reconciled with God and Jesus Christ, out of love for us, did pay for our sins and make possible that reconciliation. My background just made me hear "SIN" in 36-point capitals and "love" in lower-case letters.
     Also, I grew up in Japan. The Japanese concept of "on" (obligation) had permeated my own thinking. One mustn't be "beholden," as my grandmother used to put it. Every favor had to be compensated for. To owe anyone anything left things unbalanced, left one humiliated. Meant "losing face."
     So let's just say I didn't mind not being continually reminded of my sin.  Lou preaches as if the sacrifice of Jesus is far behind us, as if that was just a small bump in the road between the paradise of Eden and the paradise of the earthly kingdom. He doesn't mention the gulf between God and us which only Jesus Christ could bridge and without which we would still be spiritually dead and hell-bound. He avoids anything unpleasant or controversial or, God forbid, offensive. He focuses instead on Jesus' coming to "tabernacle" among us, of God's yearning to live with us.
     Because he didn't speak of sin my mind was free to remember the other half of the gospel I already knew. I had never before really been able to get my "badness" out of the way so I could accept grace as I had heard it taught by others, as "unmerited favor" and "God's riches at Christ's expense." 
     I wrote Lou about this. I said the gospel as traditionally presented made me resent what Christ had done. The gospel I heard was, "You wicked girl! Look what you made me do! I had to be murdered for you. How could you do that to me, you ungrateful little wretch!" I had felt like yelling at Jesus, "I know I'm bad! You don't have to rub it in. I wish You hadn't died for me. I never asked You to die for me! Now I owe you a debt that is impossible for me to repay, in this life or eternity!"
     When I was seven I asked my mother, "Does it hurt to have a baby?"
     She said, "Yes, but it's worth it because the mother loves the baby so much."
     By down-playing the cross of Christ to the point almost of non-existence, Lou was used by God in my life. His (albeit unbalanced) sermons enabled me to set aside what I had done to Jesus and hear Him tell me, "I died for you not because you made me do it but because I wanted to. Yes, it hurt--a lot--but it was worth it because I love you so much!" God used Lou's preaching to penetrate my heart with experiential truth.

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