Churches are complex in the fact that they have to be and do three ministries at one time. The church was created by God to be upward, inward and outward. That’s what Jesus was and is. The church is a worship center. People were created to worship God, our Creator. That’s upward. Then churches need to be outward. They were created by God with a mission. The church was created to present all people with a real and tangible opportunity to be conformed to the image of God.
Finally there is the inward mission of the church. That is what I would like to address today. Read the following poem by William Backus and Marie Chapian. This talks about the inward ministry of the church toward each other. It’s called I Promise Guiltless.
“Because I love you for you, I allow you the right to be the ‘you’ that you want to be. I will not demand that you do as I say, be as I say. I promise not to drop the weight of my life and needs on the hollow of your back. I want to love God more and love you more, too. Deeper, better, sweeter, and yes, true and now, I promise I will never, never sic on you the snapping, snarling hounds of guilt.” Wow…that says a lot in a little.
If we look at the Book of Acts in the Bible, we see that “abundant grace was upon them all” (Acts 2:42-47; 4:31-33). In the words of author Bill Thrall, this church was a place of outrageous grace. The church or body of Christ as it’s called in Scripture, has always thrived in environments of grace, cultures of grace and in places where grace was in the atmosphere.
As we go forward in this idea, please remember an important aspect of grace. Grace recognizes consequences but refuses abandonment. Grace is not where ‘anything goes.’ There are consequences to decisions. But grace is also not where insiders are condemned or abandoned on a regular basis.
So, let me ask it again, what does grace look like, feel like, and act like when God is allowed to create the atmosphere? Authors Bill Thrall and Bruce McNicol in their book, The Ascent of a Leader, describe it this way for us.
“Most people know an environment of grace when they see it. They simply point to the results: people feel safe, they grow up, they trust each other, they live authentically, they celebrate each other, they laugh a lot and they produce better. In some environments, grace is so evident you can feel it from the first, even prior to observing behavior. Its power includes not just love that comes from people and through people, but love that pours forth among people, as if through the very spaces between one person and the next. Just to be in such an atmosphere is to be bathed in healing power.” I say it this way…people switch on!
Our author’s continue this thought. “People feel empowered. They sense that who they are is OK, even though they know greater things are expected of them. They perceive the freedom to make important contributions, even when their suggestions require significant changes or the questions test long held assumptions. They discern a positive spirit that acts as a catalyst in their soul, giving them a sense of hope that ‘here is where I belong…this is home.’
Bill Pollard, chairman of ServiceMaster, says it this way. ‘In the absence of grace, there will be no reaching for potential.’ He is right. Life is full of possibilities, but each comes laden with risks. To take risks, we need to feel a certain degree of safety and security. We lose hope when we sense no room for the occasional misstep or setback. Without hope, we cease to dream about possibilities. To take risks, to hope despite setbacks, and to dream about better tomorrows requires grace. Without grace, life is bleak indeed.”
You see, real authentic grace leads people back to God, not to sin more. It transforms and opens the most hardened heart. Interested? More next week.
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