Where Is the Grace?
1 Peter 3:14-16, 2 Corinthians 5:18, Romans 3:23, 5:8,
Psalm 51:3-4, and Matthew 5:22-24, 6:12
Preached at Kishwaukee Community Church, April 14, 2013
(Click here to listen or to download the sermon)
Paul Tripp in his DVD series, Your Walk with God is a Community Project, says: “If you are going to be a part of what God is doing, right now, you have to know what God is doing.” This leads us to 2 questions we should always ask:
- What in the world is God doing?
- How in the world should I respond to it?
I have had one of those weeks, where I have been asking those 2 questions. The questions reached a crescendo from 10 PM Thursday night till 4 AM Friday morning when I had a wrestling match with God. God won! His victory has led to this sermon
It all began last Sunday AM when I gave to Mark and Pam Bucey copies of my three favorite books about ministry. I wanted them to read them, so that as parents they would know what Camden would experience as a Pastor. These 3 books are:
- This People, This Parish, by Robert Hudnut
- Pastor: A Memoir by Eugene Peterson
- Dangerous Calling by Paul Tripp
Then, on Sunday afternoon, I traveled to a suburb of Chicago to moderate a congregational meeting of a church which has been in crisis for a year. The church leaders and their Pastor had come to an agreement to dissolve the Pastoral Relationship. My job was to moderate their congregational meeting.
I knew it would be a tough meeting. The Pastor had received hate mail. The church leaders had received hate mail. Even, I had receive hate mail. I had been warned not to come to the meeting.
The meeting was ugly, worse than I anticipated. I was told I was an unwelcome guest. I was cursed at with foul language. Several members were ugly as they spoke about the pastor. I even had to warn one member 4-5 times about his behavior. Some horrible things were said at the meeting, things which were not truthful, which twisted facts, and which were unbecoming to God.
Three hours into the meeting we were in such a mess that I could not figure out how we could reach a graceful conclusion to the meeting. However, by the grace of God, we were able to end the meeting with some grace after another 30 minutes of wrangling. Yet, I left the meeting with a heavy heart.
After the meeting, the Pastor asked me why no-one stood up to counter the lies and twisted truth. Despite this, he was thankful the ordeal was over and seemed in good spirits. Yet, with each succeeding day this week, he called me. With each call I could hear his spirits spiraling downward and his bitterness increasing.
Thus, on Tuesday night when I went to our Session Meeting, I was grateful for our Elders and their spiritual leadership. Things are not perfect here. I am not a Pastor without failings. After 2 1/2 years you know my warts, weaknesses, and mistakes. I sin as well as anyone else. I do not say this to boast, but to let you know I am painfully aware of my failures.
On Tuesday we had a good Session meeting, part of which included a recommendation by Sandy Williams that we ask you to join us for prayer every Wednesday evening at 6 PM here in the sanctuary. We are praying for God’s direction for our ministry that He make clear to us how and where He wants us to focus our ministry for the next 3-5 years. It will be a blessing to have us join us in this season of prayer and discernment.
Then on Thursday evening as I arrived at the beginning of the Women’s Annual Spring Banquet, I had a message from the Pastor I spoke about earlier. He sounded like he was as low as a man could go. I called him back and spoke to him. He was in a deep dark hole.
He told me what he had decided to say in his last sermon, which he is preaching this morning. He planned to stand up for himself, to call out those who had attacked him, to read his anonymous hate mail, and …. At that point I stopped him. I knew he was hurting, but I also knew that as a man of integrity, he would quickly regret getting his revenge.
I told him to look at 1 Peter 3:14–16 (ESV):
Even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of those who attack you nor be troubled, but in your heart honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
After a season of prayer and some persuasion, he concurred that taking the high road was the right thing to do as he preached his last sermon.
Since I was feeling good after his call, I decided to make one of those calls I dreaded. I called a church member who I had not seen in worship lately. Aware of my own sinfulness and contentiousness, and to be defensive I asked God to be with me as we spoke. The conversation went as those conversations have gone throughout my ministry. The individual is thinking about leaving the church because of “some things which have or have not happened during my tenure as Pastor.”
At this point in the conversation, the temptation is for me to avoid getting into details because I might rear my ugly head in self-defense. This leads to the temptation to say something superficial and spiritual. But Thursday was different. Paul Tripp who I quoted at the beginning of this sermon says that glossing over problems with superficial spiritual gloss is one of the worse things we can do in the church. So, I pressed on in the conversation.
I hate broken relationships. I hate being unreconciled with other Christians. Even if someone is going to leave the church, I want to be reconciled with them. Even if I have been hurt by someone, I do not want the relationship to end unreconciled, smoothed over with enough superficial love as a facade covering my sin.
As I spoke to this friend, the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:18 (ESV) were ringing in my ears: “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”
So I pressed on in the conversation and asked, “What things!”
Hesitantly the friend mentioned one thing. I was guilty as charged. I apologized and asked for forgiveness.
I asked if there was anything else. There was. I was guilty and apologized.
As the list grew, I began to wonder,“Where is the grace?”
Make no mistake, I was guilty of everything on the list, but I kept wondering, “Where is the grace?”
After a few more minutes, I wondered out loud,“Where is the grace?”
There was a pause and I wondered aloud some more:“If in the church we are about the ministry of God’s grace, where is the grace?”
My friend and I talked some more, the conversation was honest and cordial, we spoke truthfully. I was fine until the individual said something. What my friend said was not personal about me. It was a simple honest statement, which I have heard frequently in every church I have served. Usually, I hear this statement without any emotional reaction. But this time the statement infuriated me.
I bit my lip and cheek and ended the conversation with sincerity and grace.
Yet, when I hit the end button, I found myself ready to throw my phone somewhere at something, but I am cheap and decided not to do so.
I was not angry at the friend. The comment that had me so angry was innocent and not a personal criticism of me.
My thoughts were not very holy at that moment. I wanted to go home, but I had promised Susan Moon that I would come in and listen to her testimony as she spoke at the Women’s Banquet. Hesitantly, I stepped into the Fellowship Hall and sat by the doorway to listen. Susan was just beginning to speak. She did an excellent job, I wish every man, woman, and child could have heard her speak.
I was still angry when she spoke, yet her words were a healing balm for me.
Susan has given me permission to talk about her testimony. There was a repetitive pattern in Susan’s talk. She talked about how God had blessed her and how she usually responded by doing something, which was sinful and an offense against God and His ways. As Susan spoke about her defiance, her sin, she paused and spoke these words before continuing, “But God was faithful!”
After a while, her refrain began to echo in my ears” “But God was faithful!”
Then it finally hit me, “There is the grace!!” “But God was faithful!”
I left the banquet blessed, my spirit was soothed. Yet, by the time I went to bed, my mind and discontent had wandered back to the events of my week, particularly the one comment in that last phone call. I went to bed early, tired and exhausted.
That is when God started wrestling with me. He knew I was discombobulated, that I was not content, and that a storm was brewing in my heart. So, we wrestled. I kept asking, “Where’s the grace? Where’s the grace?”
The one comment made by my friends had become the thorn in my flesh. You may be wondering, “What was the comment the friend made?” You’ll be surprised when i tell you the comment because it is one we speak frequently. The comment, “I promised them I would not tell you!”
How many of us have made that promise to someone? All of us have! A friend comes up to us, we can tell they are upset about something. We asked them, “What’s wrong!”
They sigh, twitch, and look both ways and then say, “I’ll tell you if you promise not to tell anyone.”
Eager to hear what they have to say, we readily agree. They then tell us that they are mad at someone, why they are mad at that person, and how the person who hurt them is guilty and should burn in hell. (That last phrase is an emotional, not literal translation of what they say.)
So, here we are, party to an unreconciled brokenness, standing in the awkward middle of two people’s brokenness, having committed ourselves to saying nothing and doing nothing. This may work in the 7th grade, but it is deadly in the body of Christ.
I cannot tell you how many times as a Pastor when a member of the church comes to me with this problem: “Pastor Rus, I do not know what to do. So-an-so is mad at you-know-who and it is causing real problems because you-know-who either didn’t mean to hurt so-an-so or does not know they hurt so-an-so. It’s is an unfortunate misunderstanding and these long-time friends in the church are at odds. I promised, not to say a word to anyone, I cannot break my promise. What should I do?”
The person seeking my counsel wants me to take care of the problem, but I have to promise them not to let so-and-so and you-know-who know that what’s-her-name told me.
Friends, this is the most destructive thing we can do in the church … promise others we will keep their anger under-wraps. Whenever we do this we prevent reconciliation; we destroy any opportunity for repentance and confession; and we deny both parties to experience God’s grace as extended and received through forgiveness.
This is why I was so mad at the end of the call. My friend knew someone was upset with me, but never told me because they promised to not say anything. I had done something wrong! I had not intended to hurt anyone, but I had. I was blind to my sin AND NO ONE TOLD ME!!!!! Not only that they hid my sin from me and a relationship that could have been repaired has remained broken and may never be repaired. Furthermore, other relationships have been broken and may never be repaired.
Friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, we cannot do this in the church.
We cannot ask others to keep our anger and hurt secret; promise to keep confidential your anger because of someone’s sin; and, deny someone an opportunity to repent, to confess, to apologize, and to ask forgiveness.
Whenever we do this, we destroy God’s church, we divide His body.
One sin grows into a mess with the hurt and brokenness growing exponentially because one person remains silent and others keep secrets. I made an mistake, I offended someone. I did not mean to offend them, I did not know I offended them. Others knew, but no one told me. So instead of one broken relationship, there are many.
Every one of us has been in the painful mess multiple times in our lives. The mess keeps growing and we go around mumbling, “Where’s the grace!”
Countless numbers of people have left churches, joined a new one, only to quit again because we promised not to tell!!
Worse yet, countless other have turned their back on God and walked away from their faith because we promised not to tell!!
Whenever we promise to keep brokenness silent, we multiply the brokenness.
Thursday night, when I was ready to toss my phone, I wanted to leave ministry, I wanted to walk away. But by the grace of God, I had promised Susan Moon to hear her testimony. As I listened to her, I kept hearing the Good News … “But God was faithful …”
Friends, we have to be faithful and gracious like Him. God has given us a ministry of reconciliation.
Friends, we cannot let broken relationships remain unreconciled because of a bad promise we made. We cannot stand by and let God’s church remain broken because others coerce us into silence.
Remember what is written in Hebrews 3:13 and 10:24 and 25:
Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. … Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works. Encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day of Christ drawing near.”
The whole mess at the church I spoke about earlier,could have been solved if five people would have engaged in a ministry of reconciliation. But no one did so. Therefore, a great church is now broken and divided because Christians were unwilling to reconcile or to work for reconciliation. A Pastor and his family have been broken. The faith of his children has been shaken to the core.
The Pastor had not committed any great sin. He had not preached heresy. He had not had a moral failure. He made two innocent statements, trying to be helpful when being pressed by a known enemy in the church. A few people pounced upon these statements and would not take an apology from a brother in Christ. Once the statements had been made, there was no grace. People who could have ended the mess remained silent, thus perpetuating the mess.
Likewise, a promise demanded and extracted not to tell someone has broken our fellowship. It’s not the first time the church has borne the burden of this sin, but friends, let’s make it the last time at Kishwaukee Church.
Every Pastor I know is frustrated and has been hurt and their congregations have been broken by with this carousal of unreconciled broken relationships.
It tears at and destroys the fabric of the body of Christ in both the local church and the community of churches.
Friends, if someone in our church has hurt you, please tell them. If I have hurt you, please tell me … please tell me first. I know Romans 3:23 (ESV) is about me, “We all sin and fall short of the glory of God!”
All of us sin. We are all guilty. Yet, as Susan said so well, “But God remained faithful …”
Friends, God calls us to be faithful in the same way. If someone has sinned against you, by commission or omission, intentionally or unintentionally, knowingly or unaware, please be faithful as God has been faithful.
When we sin God forgives us. In grace He waits and gives us the opportunity to pray, as David prayed in Psalm 51:3–4 (ESV):
“Lord I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.
Paul tells us the best news about this in Romans 5:8 (ESV): “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
If someone has hurt you, if a brother or sister in Christ has sinned against you, forgive them! Forgive them before they ask for your forgiveness. Go to them today, and seek reconciliation. Go today, remembering Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:22–24 (ESV):
Everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; So if you are offering your gift at the altar and remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
Remember, God was faithful and did this for you. He wants us to be faithful like Him, so we can pray as Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew 6:12 (ESV) : “Lord, forgive us our sins, as we forgive others their sins.