Grace Community: What it is, Its Future, and Your Role in It

Grace Community: What it is, Its Future, and Your Role in It

In the next few weeks I want to revisit what “Grace Community is, Its Future, and Your Role (potentially) in It.” I want to say “it is a must read.” But you, of course, have freedom in Christ to read or not to read. So instead I beseech you to read the series of articles and to pray. We appeal to you personally. If Kristen and I have any goodwill to our credit, could we spend it here? In the end I will ask you to consider most prayerfully your role. It is my hope that regardless of what your answer is, the answer will be rooted in deliberate consideration and be the result of a prayerful process.

What is Grace Community? To answer that we must consider what Grace is and what Community is and then wed the two together.

What is Grace? Grace is unmerited favor. Grace is God choosing to overlook our obvious and sustained failures in lieu of a sustained loving nurturing and life-changing relationship with Him in Jesus Christ. I am inclined to take for granted that we all believe we have failed, that none (“no, not one”) of us can survive the scrutiny of God’s law. We “all fall short.” That may be a strategic mistake. At times we choose to live in denial. But can we honestly say we are without sin? If I have managed not to violate the Big Ten for the day (and that is a dubious claim – Honored your parents? Truly never coveted selfishly an outcome other than what you experienced? That is a regular occurrence around here), can I say without guile that I have no sins of omission? Have I loved my wife as much as Christ loves the church or my neighbor as myself? I do not mean in theory. I mean literally. Do you have a wife? Do you have neighbors? Seriously in my case they raise the bar enough to show I don’t and can’t measure up.

Recently I read an article that had a great way of capturing grace. The author, a Christian counselor in the Wheaton area, says he no longer believes in Grace. He experienced grace such that he has come to believe “Grace believes in him.” He came home late one evening as was his custom. He had not played any role in parenting. The kids were already in bed. He kissed them good night. He was grumpy with his wife. How did she respond? She smiled and said you deserve to be grumpy. You work hard. There he stood with two realities, his grumpiness (read lack of Christ-like love for his wife) and his wife’s grace. Grace was the game changer. He apologized to his wife and she said gracefully she knew he would. She sees in him what is not there. Grace believes in him, his inherent value and what he might become in Christ Jesus.

My favorite way of describing grace is what I say to my children. “You cannot do anything to make me love you more. And you cannot do anything to make me love you less. I just love you.” My love (on my best days) is not afforded based on ever changing levels of performance. My kids do not have to excel in academics and/or sports to know my delight in them. Remarkably, they do not even have to be moral to be the recipients of my love. Why we take license to demand of others what God doesn’t baffles me. God wants. He hopes. But he doesn’t require our perfection to be in a relationship with Him. Why do we require it of others? Jesus is God’s way of saying he knows perfection isn’t possible “so I created another way to have the relationship for which I created you. Stop striving to please me, God says. Do not stop living because you haven’t pleased me. Certainly you should not hide. Talk with me and walk with me and you will. Remember this. I remember your transgressions no more.”

Grace liberates us. It says in spite of our ability to meets God’s standards, He loves us. He never stops pursing us in spite of our seemingly infinite capacity to run (hide). Such grace should animate us. There is no condemnation. His perfect love casts out fear. So we can live and live boldly to His honor and glory. There is no sword hanging over our head.

And if it animates us, it will be what others experience, it will define how we relate to others. Our love for others will meet them where they are. No performance. No expectation. More positively, an ability to overlook the obvious and sustained failures in someone else because we are so in tune with the obvious and sustained failures in ourselves, our complete and total insufficiency.

As Christians, saved, transformed and sustained by grace, we have nothing to offer the world except grace. God did not entice us with something other than grace. The Body of Christ cannot appeal to anything else. It is our strategy. We have no other. Good news? The world is longing for it. If a man believes in God, he is looking for a way to relate to him in spite of who is, what he has done and where he had been. The answer is Grace and grace alone. Sola gratia!

What is Community? The fellowship of those saved by Grace in Christ Jesus. It is the place of “love one another even as I have loved you.” It is a place where burdens are borne by others. It is a place where joys are celebrated by all. It is a place where grace is extended without end. Like Cheers, it is a place “where everybody knows your name.”

Community is a place that knows no anonymity and yet a place where the masses who want to be known anonymously are met right where they are. The church Jesus started knows no homogeneity. “Like attracts like” can never be its strategy. Biblical Community is diverse because people saved, transformed, and sustained by grace welcome all people. “Parthians, Medes, Elamites: residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and parts of Libya near from Cyrene, visitors from Rome, Cretans and Arabs” were all included at the outset. Why would any be excluded now?

Community cannot be warehoused for efficiency purposes. There can be large churches. But if they promote anonymity more than they promote deep and abiding intimate relationships, they have lost a critical element of church, so much so they may have become something other than what God intended.

Community is personal. I hurt when you hurt. I cheer when you are rejoicing.

So what is Grace Community? It is a fellowship of people animated by grace. We know grace believes in us. We believe in others. We offer the world what God offered us in Jesus. We know deeply there is no other way. The world is less without grace communities. It would be less without Grace Community.

In the next installment we will take up Grace Community’s future, investing in something that will outlast it.



Grace Community: Its Future

The church, whether called St. Peter’s, the Body of Christ, or Grace Community, by whatever name, is brought into being by Grace. People are redeemed by grace and called into communities of other people redeemed by grace. That case has been well made. But what does the community of grace do? The answer to that should be the future of every community of faith regardless of its name. What we do is our future!

One could easily dive into particulars of what we do (bear witness, forgive, pray for those who persecute us). However, we might be better served by considering the one thing general which binds all other things particular together.

JR Ranch captures it well when it says we are to “invest our life in something that will outlast it.” As Jesus did, we empty ourselves for others, for the Kingdom. “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” That attitude? Emptying. Making ourselves nothing. We live our lives for the welfare of others in the footsteps of him who lived his life for us. That is the future of the church. We communicate grace to those who do not know it and to those who know it but need more of it. EGRs are our business. The “extra grace required” person has reserved parking. Remember grace is life-giving, life-transforming, and life-sustaining. What we have, we give away. It has eternal consequences. We invest our lives in something (Kingdom, people) that will outlast it.

So often we ask what’s in it for me. I have helped people join churches and even helped them find another when what the church I was leading did not meet their needs. But having their needs met, nor my needs being met are what is at issue. Jesus did not grasp that to which he was entitled. Instead he emptied himself.  And without a guarantee of a reasonable return. A church with Jesus at its head lives similarly. We set aside our own needs and say to others, “you go first.”

The church Jesus started is not measured by attendance or financial giving. It is measured by the extent to which its people empty themselves for others, the extent to which its people invest in that which will outlast them, the Kingdom, the Lamb’s Book of Life, those God seeks to redeem. Together we extend grace and for those who accept it we incorporate them into a community animated by grace. That should be the future of any church. That is the future of Grace Community.

In the next installment we will delve deeper. We will examine Grace Community and Your Role in It?

Grace Community: Your Role in It

By “your role” I do not mean you in particular. I will highlight some of the implications of this series and the possible implications for you as I close in the last installment of this series. For now I mean “your role” as the role of anyone filled with grace and part of a grace-filled community.

We invest our lives in things that will outlast them. What outlast our lives here on earth? God, of course. And all those redeemed by God as they live to eternity. As people redeemed by God we invest in other people in hopes that they are redeemed by God and, thus, outlive our lives here on earth. We want a legacy of, by grace, investing grace in others. We want a legacy of empting ourselves for the welfare of others, God’s creation and souls of those He created.

This is not our inclination in Western civilization at least not in most parts of the U.S. We measure success by what we acquire not by what we give away. “Keeping up with the Jones” too often describes the American way of life.

Churches are not immune. We associate success with size, size of the congregation, size of the budget, size of the sanctuary. But what if all those marks of success were present without anyone experiencing life-giving, life-transforming, life-sustaining grace? Would we dare call that success?

Buildings do not communicate grace. Programs do not communicate grace. Grace-filled people communicate grace. First and foremost what grace filled people have to offer is ourselves communicating the same grace that saved us! Nothing more. Nothing less.

People need a place to experience grace. Not a church seeking to add a person to its rolls, not a treasurer seeking another tither, not a building that seeks to awe. People need to know they are loved in spite of who they are and in spite of where they have been. The prodigal needs to know that when he comes to the end of himself and therefore comes home, he will not be stiff-armed with judgment but embraced and wrapped with grace.

Our role, the role of a grace community is first and foremost is to communicate grace. We assemble in such a way that others can experience the grace of God in people who have been radically saved and transformed by it. So a member of a grace community looks not for a ministry but realizes he or she is one, a ministry that is. As a leader of a grace community I have no desire to give you a job or put you on a committee, though there are ways of gracefully serving a grace community. My heart’s desire, because I hope it is God’s desire, is to have people gather, be people of grace and extend invitations to others to experience grace.

Our role? To show up as grace filled people concerned that others experience being met where they are. We show up not for what we will get. We show up for what we can give away.

Implications for You

Grace is asking nothing of you that would hinder ministry where you live, work and play. Simply put we are asking that you regularly show up, be community, pursue others, allow others to pursue a relationship with you.

Now the showing up is important. Why? When we gather as a grace-filled community others can access and experience grace and community. When we don’t, they can’t.

And God often uses critical mass in the process. Dow said recently “I don’t think very many people come to our church.” He reminded me that I hesitate at times to invite others because I am unsure of who will be there to greet them. Will a grace community be present to receive those seeking grace? I am forever confident in the grace I experience in our people. But will we assemble and be community?

So if you are already a part of what we do on Sundays, consider reordering your life to make sure you are present. What if we just challenged ourselves to be present from the Sunday after Labor Day to the Sunday before Memorial Day? I think we would find confidence to invite others knowing they would experience a people of grace.

What if you are worshiping elsewhere? Pray about lending yourselves to Grace. All churches want you. Grace needs you. Consider a missionary work for nine months of showing up that others might experience the grace we know is at work in you. Take a brief sabbatical or assemble a second time at 5:00 on Sundays.

What if you are not worshiping anywhere? Some avoid church because they are certain they will experience judgment and not grace. Others, and I know this from experience, avoid church because they believe grace is conditional as in before giving grace the church wants something from them, things like membership, money, and/or ministry that allows the church to build a well-run and finely tuned organization. Come for a season and see if we are not people who extend grace without expectation.

So here is the thing. Grace says you have the freedom to put this down and think not another thing about it. Nothing could be truer. But the grace at work in you could extend grace to Grace. Read and re-read this series of articles. Please pray about helping us become what we say we are, that is a community of Grace.

Categories Uncategorized | Tags: | Posted on August 1, 2014

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