Grace Encounters: Go With the Flow!

Last post I examined VGS, Vanishing Grace Syndrome. This malady masquerades in many forms but can be boiled down to believing the world’s inhabitants exist to do whatever they want as long as they meet “My” personal needs 24/7/365, and are quick to forgive “Me” whenever “I” fall short of their expectations. The next step into the grace foray plunges us into an ocean with two currents. Reconnect with Crash, the Sea Turtle from Finding Nemo. He understood how to Go with the Flow. We need to do the same in order to have more godly Grace Encounters.

The first current represents the grace people willingly pour out toward others. Jesus masterfully shares grace to the woman He meets at the well in John 4, to the mother who lost her child in Luke 7 and to the friends as well as the paralytic in Mark 2 to name a few. I quickly recall times I expressed grace: to a woman who needed help lugging her suitcase up a long stair case when the airport escalator broke down, to assisting a family moving its luggage with several young children. However, I also quickly recall my anger at less than gifted drivers and people who lack self-awareness with how they walk and talk in public. We are all a work in progress in the extending grace area. As challenging as this is, the second current presents even greater going with the flow struggles.

Current two depicts the grace that flows toward us. I want to begin this section by making a bold statement. This is not found in the Bible. In fact I encourage you to take this statement and hold it up against Scripture. Let God speak to you about whether or not you believe I am speaking truth. Here it is . . . standing in the way of people comprehending and living out the full extent of God’s grace is the ability they have to accept grace from people and themselves.  In brief, can you truly grasp God’s grace if you cannot give yourself grace for your shortcomings or the faults others point out to you? People catch God’s glimpses. This causes them to embrace Him as Savior. Knowing Him as Lord, however, involves a deeper surrendering. Think about the following phrase- “You are your own worst enemy.” Sound familiar?

Benefits flow from having an assiduous work ethic, but what happens when tasks are not completed? What internal thoughts emerge when others or you question your gifts, talents, and appearance? Scripture explains we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. When we do not allow ourselves to receive grace we create a barrier to loving ourselves. This barrier begins to make it difficult to believe we are worthy of receiving anyone’s grace. Begin to see how intimacy with God lies further down a path than we can walk IF we cannot receive grace from others or extend it to ourselves.

Reflect on what God sees and how He emotionally responds when He thinks about you. Add to this reflection the way you look at yourself and how you perceive others. Allow God to work in your heart bringing you to a place where grace can truly flow. Then Go With That Flow!

Rediscovering Grace

Finding agreement points across large cultural demographics requires keen judgment today. A verse almost every human being benefits from remembering is Luke 6:41, “Why do you look at the speak of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” We need more Grace! We see everything wrong with other people but want a free pass every time we fall short. Grace is vanishing from society. Absent from our homes, schools, and work environments; athletic arenas, and roadways; grace has disappeared! (The next several posts will look at rediscovering grace in these places.)

Recently a long-time youth worker friend described his youth group challenge. He found success for several years growing teen disciples by guiding them through the Christian Endeavor tenets, specifically the pledge and practices. These teens graduated and a new student core emerged. About twenty teens normally appear at the church’s weekly youth gathering. He diligently instructed the teens on the C.E. pledge and practices. This group’s defeated reaction toward the pledge over months of training confused him. Why was something so successful with one group having trouble getting off the ground with new students. As I asked questions about the teens, I learned the previous group had been primarily from families connected to the church. Both mother and father lived in most of their homes. Eighteen of the twenty new teens came from divorced homes who were also not “church kids” but came from the surrounding community.

After processing this we realized grace was one reason the C.E. approach stalled. Grace was missing from the new student equation! The previous teens heard the C.E. practices “Pray, Study, Serve, Share, Worship” and accepted a challenge to grow closer to God. The new teens heard the same words and recoiled feeling weighted down by authority and unrealistic expectations. In essence, the first group saw opportunity where the second group experienced what I am calling the vanishing grace syndrome (VGS). The C.E. practices are only what God asks of all believers, so how do we prepare youth for lives as Christ’s disciples?

Traditional youth ministry practices use events and periodic gospel presentations to reach teenagers. Teens with VGS may attend events and listen to “the sinner’s prayer”, but what they are really longing for is authentic relationships over time. They need to absorb the gospel bit by bit gradually moving toward a place where they are prepared to hear more. This will be a place where they are encouraged to “Pray, Study, Serve, Share, and Worship.” Instead of recoiling from something that feels legalistic and wreaking with authoritative overtones, they will embrace a path toward intimacy with the God they are beginning to know.

So in the end youth workers, parents and pastors: reaching many VGS teens (and increasingly many adults are in this camp as well) requires patiently modeling the very grace people do not understand. Then what seems to have vanished, through Holy Spirit power, may become visible to them.

By the way, Christian Endeavor begins its work on the new resource “Grace Encounters” in 2017. Helping people guide VGS teens to embrace grace and take steps toward intimacy with Christ.