I sat across the table from him that morning. Just like I’ve done so many times when men finally get real and lay truth out there that they’ve kept hidden for so long. The steam rose from his coffee cup that he held with both hands. His eyes were welled up as he took a sip, he looked up at me and tried to finish his sentence without breaking down. I leaned into him as I noticed his lip quivering as the words came out of his mouth. The words still stick with me to this day; some five years later.
“I’ve been a pastor for 20 years Trey. I’ve used the word ‘grace’ countless times in my life; preached it from the pulpit. But I didn’t understand. Never did. I always put a condition on God’s grace like I always had to do something to keep it or stay in ‘good graces’ with God. But I never knew what grace truly meant until that day, as I sat there in the bottom of the pit; ashamed, guilty, scared, scarred and broken; all due to my transgressions. The only person who reached down to help me out, was . . . my wife! She had no reason to at all. Not after all the horrible things I had done to her and my family. Why would she reach down to pull me out? Why?!”
That day my friend told me of his fall as a pastor in that Texas church. A church that was growing by leaps and bounds. Things were going so well for a few years as he helped turn around a struggling church. Then he made a tragic mistake, and everything came tumbling down like London Bridge. He tried for a long time to manage his sin and get out of it, which led to countless lies and manipulation of himself and others. When the situation finally became known to the congregation, he felt like he was falling from a skyscraper and landing in this pit. He described the pit he was in. How he was so low, sitting in the bottom, in the muck and stench. He kept looking up at the opening that seemed miles above. There was not a ladder or rope; no way to escape and he knew it was all his own fault.
Sitting in that pit, he said he experienced several passersby looking down from the opening high above. He noticed a big number of his congregation looking down, flipping their noses at him, saying he deserved everything he had coming. He deserved the punishment and wrath of God for what he’d done. “He can’t be a pastor, he’s just a lowly sinner, God won’t forgive him for this, he just needs to disappear.”
Then there were others from his church that passed by and looked down at him with pity. “What a shame. He had so much potential. We should pray for his wife and family so they can overcome this and move on without him.” Then he noticed others passing by simply looking at him as though they were looking at a zoo animal through the bars of a cage. He had folks pass by, look down and say, ‘We’ll pray for you”, but then they would hardly acknowledge him anywhere he may see them.
Then . . . there was his wife. Obviously hurt, devastated and confused; definitely worn down from the situation and stresses of trying to protect their children. He brought this all on her, in public. But, even in her pain, she was actually there with him. Actually, sitting right there . . . in the pit! Her arm around him, telling him how hurt she was, but that they would get through it. She established boundaries for her protection and stayed with him during his rehabilitation then walked with him, by his side, in this new journey. She still loved him. She knew what he had done didn’t define who he was. It didn’t define who she was either. ONLY Jesus does that. So . . . she forgave him, in full, right there, in the bottom of that pit where she sat with him. The pit he dug for both of them. She forgave him, just like Jesus did, two thousand years ago, through his bloody body. What a description of grace she showed. JUST LIKE JESUS! She gave GRACE.
Grace. Oh, that word, how it divides Christians today. Every time I’m criticized about using that word so much, I think of my friend as he sat in that pit with his wife and Jesus. You hear the same redundant claims, with a finger pointed at you, “Yeah you have grace Trey, but that doesn’t mean you can just go and do what you want. You better never go sin again? You still have to die every day! If you sin on purpose you will fall from grace, might even go to hell. Your grace mentality will be the downfall of you.” Every time I hear statements like this I think of my friend in that small Texas town. As a pastor of twenty years, he didn’t know what grace meant either; just like those that finger point and scoff at the word. He couldn’t define it . . . until he experienced it, and that’s what changed his life. Grace.
After some time, my friend and his family have finally healed and moved on. They are an amazing, tightly knit, vibrant family who you would never know went through such an enormous tragedy. He still ministers to many, but today, he ministers differently than years ago. He shares the power of God’s grace, through Christ, as the most transforming gift God ever gave us. So powerful that Jesus told Paul, as Paul was screaming for relief from that thorn in his side, “My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in your weakness.” -2 Corinthians 12:9.
No . . . grace isn’t a license to sin and do what you want. Grace changes what you want and helps lead you away from current and future sins. (See Titus 2) The problem in our church today is that there aren’t enough of us that understand the most powerful gift God ever gave us. If we did, we’d see more people like my friend’s wife who extended it in the worst of times. The grace she showed him, the grace Jesus insured, healed my friend. It changed what he wanted. Grace was the ladder that Jesus lowered into that pit so he could climb out, one rung at a time. Through grace he now knows who he truly is in Christ and who God says he truly is as HIS forgiven, holy, justified and righteous son. Yeah, grace is a transforming gift.
Do you understand the power of God’s grace through your heartfelt belief and faith in the blood and resurrection of Jesus Christ? If you don’t or you’re unsure or maybe your confused about God’s grace due to legalistic teaching that there is always something more you need to do; or something you need to add to God’s grace to ensure your place with Jesus in heaven; I’d love to share how an understanding God’s grace changed my life and so many others.
Lastly, are you that person, like my friend’s wife, who will extend that hand of grace, like Jesus did, to anyone that’s wronged you, anyone that seems to be failing in their life, anyone who’s made a huge mistake and is tired, alone, afraid or angry, so they can pick up the pieces and heal? I encourage you to be that person, knowing that Jesus was that person for you. It's all about HIS grace!