A woman once wrote me, “I leave church every Sunday feeling whipped. The message is always a ‘run faster’ kind of message. The motivation always seems to be guilt. I feel like I’m running as fast as I can and then the pastor stands up and tells me I must run faster. My pastor is a good man with a heart for God, but I don’t think he knows any other way to motivate the congregation. What do you think I should do?”
I understand that woman’s pastor. I’ve been there and done that. And I probably would still be doing it except for one thing. I finally realized that I was running as fast as I could too…and frankly wasn’t making much progress.
My attempt to get people to stop sinning would be the moral equivalent of my attempt at selling hair-restorer. Bald people don’t make good hair-restorer salesmen.
So I became a teacher of radical grace.
I’ll spare you the details. Part of it had to do with my own sin and pain. Part of it had to do with what I was finding in the Bible (I am a Bible teacher). And part of it had to do with some friends who loved me enough to point out that I was a lot worse than I thought but God’s love was a lot bigger than I thought.
After I realized what I was supposed to do and I had gotten over the initial shock, I thought, Cool! I’m supposed to tell God’s people that he isn’t mad at them and that his love isn’t measured by how much they can earn it. Is this a great job or what? People will love me!
Wrong, wrong, wrong!
I started getting criticism.
They said that I was a hawker of “cheap grace” (if it weren’t cheap, I couldn’t afford it).
They said that I didn’t care about holiness and sanctification (I care deeply).
They said that I was encouraging sin and would have to answer to a holy God (sin doesn’t need encouragement).
They said that I had compromised and failed to present the “whole counsel of God” (I hadn’t).
They said that I had betrayed God, country, motherhood and apple pie (really?).
A woman once wrote me, “I leave church every Sunday feeling whipped.
I almost stopped had it not been for God…who told me to do it. He was a lot bigger, scarier and far more intimidating than the critics. So I figured I could choose to offend him or them. That was a no-brainer.
But the criticism still bothered me. Why did people get so angry at the message that God wasn’t angry with them? What was so offensive about the doctrine of grace to people who said they believed it? Why did people become so unloving when I told them that God loved them?
Over the years I’ve come up with some answers.
For instance, you can’t accept radical grace unless you know you are a radical sinner and most people don’t want to go there.
For instance, people are so obsessed with their need to get better when they are actually getting worse so giving up would be a compromise. They are working so hard at it.
For instance, some simply said, “It just doesn’t sound right.” (My friend, Tony Campolo, said, “Steve, it isn’t that they don’t think God loves them…it’s his love for those ‘other people’ that bothers them.”)
I’ve come up with another one.
A while back during Easter, Erik Guzman, our producer, took his two oldest children to school one day. Hannah (then 7) asked her father about Holy Week. Her sister Madeline (then 5) listened from the back seat.
Erik took the time to explain about Jesus, how he had died on the cross, and how he had gotten out of his grave. Then Erik told Hannah about the ascension and how a cloud had taken Jesus into heaven. Erik said that one day Jesus was going to come back to earth the way he had left.
“Daddy,” Madeline exclaimed, “who made this stuff up?!”
Madeline didn’t know it, but she was saying something similar to Freud. He said that we created stuff (God as Father, elements of our faith, etc.) from our desires and our needs.
Freud was a twit and Madeline is a delight, but I can understand them both and what they were saying.
Have you ever heard the Gospel and responded with, “Nah, this can’t be…this is just too good to be true”? Have you looked at grace only to back away with, “This is really too good to be true”?
I have (and still go there on occasion). Often my cynicism, my low expectations and my “stuff” rob me of the Good News.
Sometimes early in the morning when I’m praying I’m overwhelmed with a sense of God’s love and acceptance…
I see God’s hand in so many experiences of my life and in the lives of those I know…
I pray for those I love who are going through hard times and then I sense God is in control and even when it doesn’t feel like it, he is good all the time…
I remember my sins and think about God’s absolute forgiveness…
I think of how God has guided, controlled and gently led me from my earliest memories…
Sometimes I think about heaven…
But…then…I think, Maybe Freud was right. That’s too good to be true.
That comes from the pit of hell and smells like smoke.
Paul wrote, “As it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’—these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10).
We should never sand down the truth of God’s Good News to fit our neurotic and spurious view of “reality.”
I can understand the criticism of my (and others’) message of God’s love and grace…radical freedom, infectious joy and surprising faithfulness. They just don’t think anything can be that good.
It is that good.
And it doesn’t stop there.
It is even better than you ever dreamed.
Time to Draw Away
Read Psalm 103:17 / John 3:16 / Romans 8:1, 35-39
Have you ever thought that God’s love, forgiveness and grace are all just too good to be true? Sin, struggle and emotions can color the truth. Life can get in the way of truth…and so we begin to doubt. But it’s really true. You are loved, forgiven, accepted and cherished. As God’s child, you live in his grace. It’s all Good News.