Charis(auto)matic

Ask anybody.  Forgiveness is a very popular concept.  We all know we need it.  The idea that whatever you did can be forgiven–well, who doesn’t want that?  The gospel song “Amazing Grace” is one that is widely known and loved by Christians and non-Christians alike.  Let’s face it, grace rocks.

We’re headed into a season of focusing on God’s grace in a concerted and intentional way at our church.  Its going to be a wonderful journey into new truths and poignant reminders of just where we stand before a holy God.

In a staff meeting the other day, our senior pastor was talking to us about what God says about grace, forgiveness, and mercy.  As he was speaking, my mind went back to my college Greek class and the word for “grace”.  It’s the Greek word “charis”.  Many Christians define grace as “unmerited favor”, and rightfully so.  But charis is so much more than a wink from God we didn’t earn.

I also made the instant connection (as our pastor was speaking) to the term “charismatic”.  Charismatic has become a descriptive term used to explain a style of worship in some churches; as in, “I really love that church! Their worship services are so energetic and charismatic.” Or “That church is too charismatic for my taste.”  How has a description to a style of worship  hi-jacked the word that I believe should describe every follower of Jesus?!?  I mean, if “charis” means grace, then doesn’t “charismatic” describe a gracious person?  And shouldn’t all those who name Jesus as Lord be examples of grace on a daily, hourly, minutely basis?

I grew up in a fairly traditional Baptist church.  (That’s an actual picture of it to the right.)  If you’ve been reading my blog for a while now, you probably already know that my Dad was the pastor of this small church in South Jersey.  And as much as I loved my church as a boy and teenager, I can tell you without flinching that we were most certainly NOT a “charismatic” church.  If you raised your hand, you probably had a question.  If you clapped, it was only after the duet of the elderly couple whose name I can’t remember; he played violin and she sang; both rather squeakily as I recall.  And if you found yourself on the floor, the only possible explanation is that you fell.  Nope, charismatic we were not.  We left the snake handling to the pros.

But when we can fully understand and appreciate that the word “charis” (grace) is translated as “that which affords joy” and “blessing, concession, gift, credit”, well…things change.  That last word “credit” strikes me more than any.  The concept of credit is taking/using what belongs to someone else with the intention of paying back in the future.  We in America know it well.  Very well.  Most Americans are drowning (many secretly) in thousands upon thousands of dollars in credit card debt.  But because of the true meaning of the word “charis”, we who love, receive, and follow Christ are in a position of first receiving what we most certainly have no claim to on our own, and then having no expectation on the part of our Creditor to pay that amount back.  Indeed, if I understand the gospel correctly, the bill of my sin credit has been paid in full by the shed blood of Jesus Christ.  A popular concept I’ve heard is that “Jesus dropped the charges” when in reality the truth is “Jesus paid the charges”!  Grace is the removal of the weight of my own sin from my soul and placed upon the shoulders of Jesus.  Instead of punishment, I get pardon.  Instead of condemnation, I get celebration.  Instead of hell, I get healed.

But the transaction of receiving grace from God is only fully complete when we become the conduit of His grace.  Certainly God loves you and forgives you, but only for the purpose of making you the kind of lover and forgiver that He is; not so that you can look into the mirror each morning and smile at someone who is forgiven and yet doesn’t forgive.  In fact, we’re warned in scripture that if you don’t forgive….wait for it….you can’t be forgiven.  How’s THAT for a loving nudge toward being a “charis-matic” person?

So, let’s not just use the term “charismatic” for that church down the road (you know the one), but let’s instead find the word useful to describe every grace-filled, fully-credited, freely-loving follower of Jesus.

If you want to read a cool experience I had 4 years ago, click here.  It’s all about grace, too.

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Serendipitous.

The relationship between the sovereignty of the Almighty and the free will of the unmighty (that’s us–no offense) is one that is confounding, to say the very least.  The fact that God who “has the whole world in His hands…” lets me have a say in anything, let alone the trajectory of my life is nothing less than miraculous.  But He does.  And excuse my French, but I think that rocks.

 

It’s been a day of serendipity.  Let me first define serendipity then I’ll tell you how I saw it.

Serendipity is an interjection of the divine providence with the human circumstance, looking like sheer coincidence.  I just now made that up, so let me take a sec and flesh it out: We’re doing our thing, going about our free-will day, when suddenly God intersects with us to show us that even though we’re free to do as we wish, He’s not going to sit idly by and not let us see Him working too.

I happened to be walking past a couple people that attend our church as they sat in the lobby cafe this morning, so I stopped by to chat.  As we talked, I (unknowingly) mentioned something that they apparently were just discussing.  I then mentioned that me walking by and sharing what I did must have been by “divine appointments”.  To be honest, I was pretty light-hearted and kind of joking about the whole thing.  Thinking not much more of it, I said my so-longs and walked off.  More on that later.

A couple hours later I had a lunch meeting with someone that was practically a stranger.  We met quite by “accident” several weeks ago when I happened to read a comment he wrote under an online article written by a friend of mine.  Turns out, that “friend of mine” (Kent) was in fact a “friend of ours”.  His name is Chris.  In his comment, he mentioned he lived in the Richmond area.  I like meeting people, so I also commented on our friend’s article and in a completely unsolicited way pretty much said that Chris and I ought to try and get together.  (Is that creepy?)  He almost immediately invited me into a small group of businessmen that he meets with weekly for the purpose of goal-setting and goal-getting; a “success accountability” type of group.  My schedule doesn’t jive with when they meet but as he said in an email, “I’d love to get together for lunch. I think there’s a reason we connected. We should probably find out what it is.”  Well put I thought.  By the way, if you’d like to read Chris’ blog, head over to www.mysimpleinspiration.com after you’re done here.

So, today we meet for lunch at a Mexican place on Forest Hill Ave.  I was immediately struck by his sharpness.  He quickly reminded me of a video shoot years ago that I was in and I guess all I can say about that is that his face and name fell victim to my steel trap memory; the steel trap that is rusted open.  Sorry, Chris.  No offense.   Like I said, this guy is sharp.  Not just professionally, but personally.  Chris is well-spoken, articulate, and genuine.  He knows what he’s after and is definitely going after it.  Best of all, he loves Jesus.  I thoroughly enjoyed our lunch together and before we parted company, we both agreed that we should definitely get together again.  And I know we will.

So imagine making a comment on an onilne article and as a result you end up at lunch with a near-perfect stranger only to realize that you are in many ways “in the same boat” (interests/aspirations) and there are innumerable ways this new friendship could potentially be mutually beneficial; not to mention just down-right fun.  And the icing on this “coincidence” cake is that our desire to live lives surrendered to God’s power and leading is our greatest common thread.  Hello, serendipity.  Nice to meet you.

Okay, so we say goodbye with an eye on another lunch this fall and I head back to my office.  Not long after sitting down my phone rings.  Remember those two people from the cafe this morning?  Sure you do.  Well, one of them had told me before leaving the cafe that he wanted his son to definitely go on our upcoming high school fall retreat.  He wasn’t sure how it was going to be paid for, but he really wanted to make it possible somehow.  I assured him as he walked away, “It’ll work out.”  He was calling me to tell me that just today a friend called out of the blue and asked him to lunch.  At lunch the friend wanted to know how his son was doing and was there anything he needed.  This father shared openly about his son’s desire to go on the fall retreat and right there the person pulled out a check and gifted him with the entire amount.

Remember that “It’ll work out.”?  Sure you do.  Hello, serendipity.  Nice to see you again!

You can go ahead and chalk all this up to coincidence, but simpleton that I am, I choose to give a loving Heavenly Father credit where credit is due.  Thank God that He cares deeply about what’s going on in your life and even gives you and I the privilege of showing us how much.