(In Minnesota these days, enjoying the wildlife show all around us. Hard to concentrate on writing so far. Thought some might enjoy the sermon I shared this past Sunday. Part one today…)
There’s a story about an artist who wanted to paint the Prodigal Son. He had an image in his mind, the kind of person he thought the Prodigal son would look like. He tried different models, but no one quite fit what he wanted. Finally, he was walking on a busy street one day and saw a beggar. There was his prodigal. He was dirty, very sad looking, and his clothes were rags. The artist told the man that he would pay him well if he would come to the studio the next day at a certain time.
The beggar was excited about the prospect of making money so he did whatever he could to get himself ready. He cleaned his face, combed his hair, borrowed nicer clothes, and was a happy man when he went to the studio the next day. But when he knocked on the door, the artist didn’t recognize him. He explained that they had met the day before. But the artist said that he had met a beggar. The man proudly told the artist that he was that beggar and that he had come as instructed. At that the artist became disgusted. He hadn’t wanted a beggar all fixed up for his painting. He had wanted the beggar just as he was.
Over the past several years, the Holy Spirit has been teaching me about the grace of God. At a certain point, I began to see that this is the central message of the Scriptures. It is all about what God, motivated by His love and accomplishing through His grace, has done for us. Grace is what God does.
For most of us, it has been a radical change just to begin to see the difference between what God does and what we do. We have been learning that His goals are the important ones for our lives. We have been trying to discern His will, rather than just seeking to accomplish our own. We have begun to listen to His leading, to His ideas, rather than just our own. These things represent an important change in our lives.
What we have been learning is that God is responsible for our lives. He is the initiator and the one who accomplishes our salvation. He is the one who gets us through day by day. It is all about Him, not about us. In fact, we often get off the track when we begin to try to do “our part.”
There is a bit of irony in my ministry these days. You see, years ago I had a confrontation with a pastor at my church. He had come to visit and he didn’t like what I said in the sermon. He confronted me after the service and took me to task right in front of several people as they left the service that day. He told me that I was starting a cult and accused me of preaching a false gospel. I had simply said that the message of the gospel was all about what Jesus did, rather than what we have done.
Well, I had a long conversation with this pastor a few days later in my office. He proceeded to tell me that people have to get their lives in order before they can be saved. They have to straighten themselves out and live a good life before they come to Jesus for salvation. If Jesus agreed that they were good enough, they could be made ready for Heaven. Perhaps I don’t need to say what I thought of his ideas. He was an older pastor in a small church in the mountains, but I just said, “Well, good luck with that! If that’s the gospel, we are all in trouble.”
I said that there was a little irony in this. Now I pastor the church he was serving at the time he confronted me and Jesus is setting the people free from their self-improvement projects. He is touching their lives with His grace.