Last week was a blur, as most are these days. Events and appointments and errands and meetings make days feel shorter than they really are. Such is why I’ve been trying to soak up as much time with my family as possible. The weather’s helped with that, too. It’s felt like years since I have felt the Pennsylvania warmth, even though it’s only been a few months. There were a few afternoons this past week where I was able to wear shorts outside, which was just the best. I guess I never knew how palpable “seasonal depression” was — turns out, it’s a very real thing. I am quite amazed, pleasantly so, how just a dash of sunshine can brighten the soul. And I don’t mean that melodramatically. I really mean that.
I count myself among the most lucky that I can say that I know Mockingbird Ministries director, Dave Zahl. I don’t mean to say that as a way of name-dropping. I just mean that I count it a privilege to call him a friend. His insight into life and ministry and the sundry ways grace (and its absence) is seen in the everyday have aided me in ways beyond measure. I make it a habit to soak up everything he publishes, not the least of which is his 2019 masterpiece, Seculosity — which if you haven’t that read by now, you should make it your mission to amend that before clicking away from this article (buy the paperback, it has an extra chapter!). All of which is really just a long-winded way of introducing an article he published last week entitled, “The Doctrine of Grace vs. the Disposition of Grace.”
Throughout the piece, Dave makes reference to the recent brouhaha which resulted in well-known speaker and ministry leader Beth Moore publicly declaring that she has officially left the Southern Baptist Convention. Now, I can’t really speak to that specific scandal, only because I have less than a fraction of knowledge of the circumstances which surround it. The colloquial knowledge I do have is the mere fact that Moore is a woman who is vocal about advocating for women’s voices to be heard in and around the church — which doesn’t sit well in a denomination that is historically patriarchal (I use that word tentatively). What’s more, I must confess that in terms of technicalities, I’m very much for the historical view of Scripture which says that preachers of God’s Word are biological males. But outlining the particulars of that is way beyond the purview of this little blog.
What stood out to me in Dave’s piece was exactly what the title describes. Namely, that there’s a big difference between knowing and proclaiming the doctrines of grace and actually embodying a disposition which could be called “gracious.” Some of the meanest folks I’ve ever known have been those who would claim to have been saved by grace through faith. Yet in some of their public interactions with people — whether personal or virtual — they’ve embodied something altogether different. In a very real way, many of these guys seem to forget the part of Christian faith and practice about “speaking the truth in love.” (Eph 4:15) The current online demeanor of many evangelicals might be true, but it’s bereft of love. And at that point, what’s the point? If we don’t have love, we have nothing, to imbibe St. Paul’s words. (1 Cor 13:1–3) But if there’s something the church should know — and be experts in — it’s the reality that coercion doesn’t equate discipleship.
I can speak to this primarily because I’m a parent. I’ve been blogging for over 7 years, almost always under the banner of championing God’s “grace upon grace.” (Jn 1:16) And yet, there are more times than I can count or would wish to admit where “grace” is the least fitting description of my interactions with my kids. I say that and I almost want to weep. The guy who surrounds himself with books and blogs and resources in droves about God’s grace is sometimes (oftentimes!) so ungracious with his own offspring. Perhaps some would say that parenting is itself a realm for the law. That making and enforcing demands is part of what it means to raise well adjusted kids. That’s just good parenting. And I would agree with that, to a point. But as I read Dave’s article, I couldn’t help but think about my own failure to properly embody God’s grace in the lives of my children. That’s something I’ve come to realize lately — something that I don’t think I can blame on Covidtide.
The quickest scapegoat for anything that’s erroneous or different or not part of the status quo is that blasted coronavirus. And, to be sure, there are certainly things that this pandemic has changed, some permanently. Yet, at the same time, like all seasons of suffering and grief, what results is often the revelation of what’s been there all along. Covid-season hasn’t made me more impatient, it’s just revealed how impatient I already was. And I think you could say that for almost anything. Anxiety. Disillusionment. Conspiracy. Grouchiness. Yes, this season of dealing with a global pandemic has added to those stressors and multiplied them exponentially, but in a more real way it’s merely revealed how given we were to those stressors in the first place.
Which leads me ponder this question: What happens if I don’t learn anything? Or, to put it another way, What happens if I don’t change? Whenever seasons like this occur, there’s an ever-present expectation that you’re required to be learning something through it all. That this is the crucible in which transformation happens. I won’t ask how many hobbies you said you were going to busy yourself with during lockdown that now just take us space in your garage or have just fallen by the wayside. For my own part, there were so many books I said I was going to finish — which hasn’t turned out so well. This reminds me of that moment in Frozen II when Arendelle’s heroes march cautiously into the enchanted wood. There, Olaf offers another one of his timely facts. “Did you know,” he says, “that an enchanted forest is a place of transformation? I have no idea what that means, but I can’t wait to see what it’s gonna do to each one of us.” As he delivers the line, the camera pans across the wide-eyed faces of Elsa, Anna, and Kristoff, forecasting what will eventually be true: that through deep agony, our heroes will be changed, transformed for the better.
But what if I don’t? What if, after all this, I’m still the same? What if after a long winter I step back out into the springtime sun and I’m still as impatient as before? That reality frightens me, only because I know I’ve been told not to waste moments of trial. “Don’t waste your suffering,” some say. Because that’s obviously when God’s doing something to you, in you. And sure, that is true. But what if that “something” is less about me and more about him? What if during this season of unprecedented sorrow, which has served to expose humanity’s proclivity for cruelty, God sought to reveal himself as the exact opposite? You see, just like Dave opined, in the space between preaching grace and actually evidencing it, Jesus is there. That’s where he positions himself as the only One who perfectly epitomizes what he says. When I’m impatient, he is long-suffering. When I’m callous, he is gentle and lowly. Everything I am, he is not. And everything I’m not, he is. He’s more than a gracious disposition. He is grace Incarnate. Embodied. Enfleshed. He is “the grace that should come unto you.” (1 Pt 1:10)
As spring begins to warm my skin, I am renewed — not because I’ve been transformed by the crucible of winter, but because the God who promised to never leave never did. I’m not sure where this is all going and when all this will come to an end and “normalcy” will return. But of one thing I am sure, that for all the posturing and positioning taking place, Grace is a person. And he has come to rescue the cruel, selfish, impatient, and unkind from themselves. He has come to bury the sinner’s sin in his own grave and resurrect them to new life through his own resurrection.
Therefore we were buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be rendered powerless so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin, since a person who has died is freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him, because we know that Christ, having been raised from the dead, will not die again. Death no longer rules over him. For the death he died, he died to sin once for all time; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So, you too consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Rom 6:4–11)
Happy Easter week!