I attended a men's meeting at our church last night. It left me feeling puzzled.
We spent 3 hours at the church. About 45 minutes in dinner, with the obligatory opening prayer, and a devotion up front. After dinner, about 65 minutes in small group. We read Scripture, prayed, and talked and had more than a few moments of awkward silence.
Then we gathered for the last hour or so to go over the book of the month. This month, we were discussing the first 6 chapters of "Growing Churches, Growing Leaders" by David Faust. In the first 6 chapters, he focuses on growing churches and the role that grace plays in the church.
As I left, something was gnawing at me. I heard about grace. Many times arms were nearly broken trying to pat ourselves on the back as it was mentioned how graceful our church is. We send our High School kids on missions trips, we are friendly. We welcome those who are different. We prayed for Japan last Sunday. We spent 3 hours meeting together, and there are so many other opportunities for fellowship and learning throughout the week. We love and hug and there are no problems at our church. We are a graceful church.
Or are we?
A thought occured to me. Are we a graceful church or are we a gracious church? Here is what I mean...
Gracious people are nice. They smile a lot. They are friendly. They help other people out when it is comfortable. Sometimes even when it is a little uncomfortable. A little. Gracious people like to see nice things happen to others. The world is full of gracious people, and gracious people can attract a crowd around them. Usually, it will attract a crowd of more gracious people. So soon, you have a bunch of people who are growing. It could be a church, or it could be a Rotary Club.
Grace is different. The devotional speaker defined grace as "getting what we don't deserve, or not getting what we do deserve." So I began to ask, "Am I a grace-filled Christian?" and "Are we a grace-filled church?" So, here are some perceived differences.
Gracious Christians welcome people when they come to church. They are friendly, they smile, they maybe even go out of their way to hug or embrace newcomers.
Grace-Filled Christians are welcoming people where ever they encounter them. They are just as grace-filled getting pulled over or waiting in line at the grocery store. They don't just invite others to church, they introduce them to Jesus.
Gracious Christians pray for the needs of others.
Grace-Filled Christians pray for the needs of others and will go the extra mile to sacrificially seek to meet those needs. They do it because they recognize the grace that has been given to them, not just in the meeting of their material needs, but the grace of God flooding into their lives through Christ.
Gracious Christians read the Bible. They know and follow the Bible to the best of their ability.
Grace-Filled Christians read and live the Bible. They know and follow the Bible above and even beyond their ability, according to the level of faith God has given them. They trust God to provide when they are weak. They see God's Word as a lamp to their feet and a light to their path.
Gracious Christians will ask God to bless you.
Grace-Filled Christians seek to be a blessing to you. They are not just hearers of the word, but doers. They are foot-washers when the opportunity arises.
Gracious Christians run from conflict in an effort to maintain a sense of unity with one another.
Grace-Filled Christiams embrace conflict as an opportunity to grow, seeking to maintain the unity of the Spirit.
Gracious Christians go to church on Sunday. And maybe even on one or more other days as well.
Grace-Filled Christians walk with Jesus every day. Every moment of every day. They know Him.
Gracious Christians a good people.
Grace-Filled Christians are sinners who understand they are broken and they need for a Savior.
Gracious Christians love their church. They go to small-group meetings. They meet one another's needs.
Grace-Filled Christians love their church as Jesus loved the church, and are willing to give themselves for her. They don't limit their understanding of their church to a specific group or location. Their neighbor is anyone who is in need, just like the Good Samaritan.
Gracious people do the work of the church.
Grace-Filled people follow Jesus. And for Jesus, a lot of that work takes place outside of the doors of the physical building that we call church.
Gracious Christians are worried about the outside of the cup. They want everything to be in place so people will look at them and tell them how beautiful their cups are, and how they wish their cups were as beautiful.
Grace-Filled Christians cups are clean too, but on the inside. The outside might now look as nice, maybe because they were caring for others needs when the lawn needed to be mowed, but the inside is clean.
To be a gracious Christian is to live out my faith in a comfortable way. The problem is, Jesus calls me to carry my cross and follow him. I can only do that if I am grace-filled.
I cannot help but think of Matthew 7:21 "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven."
I like being around gracious people. They make me feel good. Sometimes, grace-filled people make me uncomfortable. Like Jesus. He probably made the Pharisees feel a bit uncomfortable sometimes. And I am sure that the Rich Ruler felt a bit put out when he told him to sell everything. A gracious person would not do that.
So I have a task before me...a task to be a grace-filled Christian. A task to be uncomfortable sometimes. A task to be like Jesus.