partyYesterday, I found myself “stuck” at a party I had not wanted to attend.  As part of our ministry, we escort our members to afternoon socials that are held by our county recreation department for people with special needs.  One parent asked me to take her daughter from our program to the social.

I was concerned because this member needs constant supervision.  I explained to the mom that my Sunday mornings begin before 7:00AM; and I did not plan to stay at the party which ended at 4PM.  I was assured that the parent would meet me at the party as soon as I got there.  It was two hours later before a parent arrived.

another partyI confess there was plenty of good conversation to keep me entertained.  However, I stewed about the two-hour delay in his arrival.

This morning I received an email which contained a teaching about God’s grace by Hector Perez of MarketPlace Ministries.  I wish I had read this before I spent the afternoon trying not to be miserable.  Yet, failing.

Perez suggests five practical ways you and I can demonstrate grace no matter what situation we find ourselves:

  1. Pray for a humble and contrite heart.
  2. Get rid of having a judgmental spirit.
  3. Esteem others better than myself.
  4. Avoid comparing myself to others.
  5. Embrace God’s grace every day.

We know that grace is unmerited favor.  We also know that God wants us to demonstrate His unmerited favor no matter what the situation.  These steps are simple enough that even I could access them into my life.

Walking tall and straight, she had a commanding effect when she entered a room.  Even after strokes, sickness and the loss of language, Frances sat erect in her wheelchair and her presence demanded attention.  Frances wasn’t a woman who entertained fools.  Frances spoke through the experience of years in prayer and studying God’s word.  Often, her words were stern and sharp, reaching into the souls of men and women and pulling out the most heart wrenching hurts.  Then she would pray for healing and release.  And God answered her pleas for mercy and grace again and again.

Roman 11 speaks of the kindness and sterness of God.  Our Lord is unbelievably kind to those who follow him. Yet, unrelentlessly stern to women and men who refuse to trust and release themselves into his saving grace.  It is a part of God’s nature from which even his most faithful worshipers turn away because of humanity’s lack of understanding into the nature of our Father.

However, Paul tells us that it is God’s sternness that allows us to see your own inability to handle even the most simple details of life.  It is the Father’s unrelenting pressure pushing us away from Him into greater depth of  sin–wrapped in our rebellion–which drives us to His loving forgiveness and grace.

As Frances’ daughter I was often the target of her sterness and the object of her love.  In pondering Roman 11, I’ve yearned for the Lord to teach me the truth of his character revealed in these startling verses.  He drew my thoughts back to my own mother, Frances.  She was never the tender and compassionate matriarch. Frances was the teacher and leader who gave firm directions with her eyes, her actions and her words.  However, there was never a doubt regarding her love for us.

Frances’ selfless love often extendied past her family into a lost and dying world.  While her words and actions seemed stern to those closest to Frances, we never doubted her heart was kind, forgiving and merciful.  This is the picture of our loving Father revealed by Paul in Romans 11.

32 God has given all people over to their stubborn ways so that he can show mercy to all.

 33 Yes, God’s riches are very great, and his wisdom and knowledge have no end! No one can explain the things God decides or understand his ways. 34 As the Scripture says,

“Who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been able to give him advice?” — Isaiah 40:13
35 “No one has ever given God anything
that he must pay back.” — Job 41:11

36 Yes, God made all things, and everything continues through him and for him. To him be the glory forever! Amen.

I hate cheap grace.

A wealthy farmer in a small town in South Carolina bought his son a new red BMW for his sixteenth birthday.  The boy took the car out one night, got drunk and totalled it.

The next day, this father took the errant son to the car dealer and purchased another BMW; but this time made him settle for a black one as punishment.  That’s cheap grace.

A young mother who knew that her daughter became hyper and obnoxious when she ate sugar and sugar products allowed herself to be coerced into buying the five-year old a candy bar because she started to scream in the store.  “I can’t stand to have her cry.  I just love her too much,” the mother told the cashier.  That’s cheap grace.

The Baptist Sunday school teacher proclaimed, “Now that we’ve been saved, we can do anything we want to do.”  That’s cheap grace.

Randy Stonehill, a contemporary songwriter penned,

You’ll be tempted, tried and tested.

There’ll be wars the devil wins,

But God’s love is not a license

To lie down in your sins.

He understands the human heart.

His mercy is complete.

But his grace is not intended

As a place to wipe your feet.

Too often the Church has said by our actions that God’s grace is no longer a valuable commodity but that is a lie.

Several years ago I hurt a close friend by saying some thoughtless remarks in front of others.  While I realized at the time she was wounded, I didn’t comprehend the extent of damage my words had done until several weeks later.  She was deeply hurt by the inappropriate words.  When the extent of the damage was drawn to my attention, I apologized and I tried to go back to make restitution but months had passed. I knew that the opinions of other people had been formed based on my faulty information.  A relationship which had taken 10 years to build was severely damaged by my careless tongue.

While we both resolved to begin again, things were different.  Friendship must be built on mutual trust. When that trust is broken, the two parties have to determine to repair the breach.  Is there an invisible guard up when I was around?  I had to admit that I would have a shield up, if I were she.  I had not valued her friendship enough to watch my tongue.

Knowing that I’ve injured her made me leery of making the same mistake again.  I was not the injured party; yet, I became acutely aware that I was the one who is hindering the openness of our past relationship. I was too careful out of concern for making the same mistake.  At times, I became defensive when it wasn’t necessary. 

She forgave me.  But it took me years to walk through the process of accepting her forgiveness and forgiving myself.

Our relationship with God is much the same.  While the foundation and building stones were mined solely from God’s unmerited favor, His grace, we aren’t given free reign to do as we choose.

There are consequences to each word and deed.  Seeds are sown.  Habits are formed. Cheap grace may exist in the worldly system where we dwell; but God’s grace is never cheap.   His only Son paid a great price for the grace so generously offered to us. 

I have found the mentally challenged community holds grace as a uniquely precious commodity much more precious than diamonds or jewels.  They may not be able to explain what grace is but they are able to embrace God’s grace hungrily, devouring God’s love in the same extravagant way that it is given.  That’s not cheap grace.

Tammy was abused by her employer.  She is a high functioning young mother who also suffers from touches of mental illness.  While still a teenager, she was left homeless and took a job as the nanny for several young children.  The divorced father had been left with the three children and quickly Tammy became their surrogate mother.  Unfortunately, she also became the father’s surrogate wife.

After about five or six years, Tammy realized that she could no longer endure the abuse of her employer and left the position.  As she told me her story, I was greatly impressed with her attitude.  It was clear from the beginning of our conversation that she had been greatly wounded from the experience; but I could tell even before she expressed it that she had completely forgiven her abuser.

Tammy’s story–no, Tammy’s attitude–regarding forgiveness greatly effected me.  She knew from the first time her employer touched her that he was taking advantage of her precarious position.  She always knew that he didn’t care about her; but he was only using her because  he knew she had no other place to go.  (After she left the nanny position, she was homeless for several years.)  Nevertheless, she was willing to freely forgive him of his offensive and abusive behavior. 

This is not the first time that I’ve seem great offense forgiven by the members of The Special Gathering.  We are a ministry within the mentally challenged (mentally retarded) community.  While our members are developmentally delayed, they often have much to teach folks who are “normal.”  And forgiveness is one of those areas.

From them and from a study of Scriptures like Matthew 18, I have come to believe that forgiveness is not an emotional act.  In fact, I believe it has nothing to do with emotions.  It is an action, not an emotion.  We forgive in word and deed.  It is also an action that Jesus elevated to a commandment.  Even if I don’t feel I cannot forgive a person, that is not the issue.  Forgiveness is possible because it is an action, borne from the gracious act of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and his resurrection from death.

There is a conversation and discussions that circulates around the Christian community at times regarding forgiveness.  The discussion goes something like this: 

 Forgiveness is something you must do whenever anyone does wrong things to you. 

No.  You can only forgive when someone seeks forgiveness.  God does not forgive us until we seek forgiveness.  Can we do something God does not do?  Can we forgive people who don’t seek forgiveness?  We must be willing to forgive but we cannot forgive, unless the person seeks forgiveness.

 Okay, I admit it.  This whole discussion leaves me totally confused.  Because the latter is certainly a reasonable argument.  And I can’t help but agree.  But I guess I choose to forgive the person who has wronged me even if they have not asked for forgiveness.  

You see, I know I have wronged people; and for years, I didn’t know that they were hurt.  I didn’t even know what I had done.  Maybe the first time I hear about the hurt is when they come and tell me they have forgiven me.  I would hate to take the position that I can’t forgive unless the person comes to me and then find out as I stand before God’s Throne that I’ve been wrong on this matter.  You know, Jesus was pretty plain in Matthew 18: 22.  “You must truly forgive your brother and sister, or my heavenly Father will not forgive you.” 

Perhaps, it is because of their limited cognitive abilities that it seems easier for members of the mentally challenged community to forgive; but I don’t think that is part of the equation.  Somehow, these people who have suffered a great deal of discrimination and hurt have been able to tap into a part of God’s grace that is difficult for most of us.  They have learned that forgiveness is an action and they willingly forgive. 

Have you found that forgiveness is something that your friends or members who are developmentally delayed do well?  Have you learned from them the importance of forgiveness.