Flickers of Grace

fireworksLast year my son left for his first year of college. After being away for a few months, he came home on the spur of the moment to surprise his little sister on her thirteenth birthday. When we sent her to the kitchen to get the cake, he jumped out and hugged her. Overcome with emotion, she clung to him and cried. My other daughter captured it on video, and I have to admit I’ve watched it quite a few times. (Okay, maybe like thirty!) It makes me emotional to see my kids growing up and loving each other so fiercely, especially in light of the years of arguing and discord in our house. We are a family of debaters who like to get our own way. I treasure special moments like this when I get a glimpse into their love before they start bickering over who will get the biggest piece of cake. Most of life is hard, ordinary, and fraught with conflict, so we treasure the flickers of grace when we experience them.

As I look at Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth, I will find him reminding the church that in the midst of their questions, factions, and difficulties, the mystery of God’s incredible love and plan for the future should overshadow doctrinal and relational skirmishes.

No, the wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God—his plan that was previously hidden, even though he made it for our ultimate glory before the world began. But the rulers of this world have not understood it; if they had, they would not have crucified our glorious Lord. That is what the Scriptures mean when they say,

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard,
    and no mind has imagined
what God has prepared
    for those who love him.”  (1 Corinthians 2:7-9)

Paul reminds us that we don’t need to “dress up” the simple message that God’s mysterious plan included sending a Messiah to save us. God gave up His only Son to pay the price for all our sins and then raised Him from the dead to new life. Paul states clearly that he preached only “Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). Yet Paul isn’t saying that we shouldn’t do things with excellence, be culturally relevant, or try to persuade people to accept Christ. Given the cultural appetite for knowledge and rhetoric, Paul simply had been careful not to be another teacher people were drawn to initially and then dismissed when they were ready to move on to someone or something else.

Jesus had modeled this straightforward approach to truth before Paul. He drew crowds when he stood up to injustice and talked about loving one’s neighbor, but when he taught about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, the crowds began to dissipate (John 6:60-66). The disciples wondered if he should tone down the confusing or offensive teachings, but Jesus didn’t come to entertain. He came to speak the truth and give His life for the church.

We certainly live in a culture that worships intelligence. While believing the gospel doesn’t mean crucifying our intellect, it does mean taking a leap of faith. And as history reveals, a basic presentation of the gospel message is still effective. Scottish commentator William Barclay makes this observation:

“It is interesting to compare possibly the three greatest evangelists in North America during the last 150 years—D. L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and Billy Graham. Neither Moody nor Graham was known for impressing audiences with lofty rhetoric, frequently their sermons were deemed simplistic. Sunday was known for a flashy style, but he still preached a very basic gospel message. But all three centered on the cross and the need for personal conversion. As a result, they gave encouragement to millions of ‘down-and-outers,’ and countless came to the Lord through their preaching.”

The power of the gospel can change any of us—from the most pious religious leader to the most worldly individual. Paul didn’t want the Corinthian believers to lose sight of the common ground they shared despite their varied backgrounds. He reminded them in his letter that it wasn’t fancy words that led them to decide to follow Jesus; it was the transforming power of the gospel message. God was so for them that He rescued them all from their sin by sending His Son to die in their place.

When I meditate on the truth of God’s sacrificial love, I am overcome that God loves me that much. I have one son.  I can’t imagine giving him up for anything—much less watching him suffer for the sake of others. Only a great and incredible love for us could motivate God to give up His perfect, sinless Son. That is how much God loves us. In the midst of all the junk of this life—the conflicts, disagreements, and hardships—God wants to remind us that He is crazy about us. Even when life stinks, He is good. And He sends us flickers of grace to remember His simple gospel so that we can hold onto His love in the midst of the hardships of life.

(To see the short video of my son surprising my daughter – follow this link: http://bit.ly/29vte6K

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