Grace upon grace.
During the week of July 18, 2011, Pastor Ken Whitten Tweeted what was a lifesaver for Harriet and me that week. Months later I had the opportunity to thank him for what he posted that day. It was another significant footnote in the life-long learner thing that most spiritual leaders deal with every day. His words were a challenging lesson that goes with us everywhere all the time. He wrote---
In times of crisis we ask, how can I get out of this? What we should be asking is,
what can I get out of this?
That was the week our son, Brian Eliot Holmes, was murdered in Charleston. Perhaps you know the loss and grief that attends the death of a precious loved one. Pastor Whitten's Tweet was a sobering reminder God would teach us something through that ordeal. Apparently Brian's death was a teachable moment for us. That Tweet was one of those rare times of clarity when truth overlaid our broken spirits. It's fresh right now because tomorrow is Brian's birthday. We will remember him fondly and thank God for the privilege of being his parents.
What has been, in fact, the lesson God has been teaching us in the last five plus years? Well, it's really a deep theological truth beyond my grasp. But, there's also a simplicity to it because it is so central to our understanding of faith. It's a significant theme all through the Bible as well. The words Paul wrote express it clearly---
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in
weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that
the power of Christ may rest upon me.
2 Corinthians 12:9, ESV
Paul struggled with a thorn in the flesh that caused him pain and discomfort to the point that he pleaded with God three times to remove it. God's response wasn't to take away what most commentators believed to be a chronic physical abnormality such as poor eyesight, but rather to remind him of the sufficiency of his grace. This power thought, a theological supposition that occupied a great deal of Paul's writing, enabled Paul to experience the contentment that was my topic yesterday. He added---
For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships,
persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:10, ESV
It is the sufficiency of God's sustaining grace that brought Paul contentment to what was a life of persecution, suffering, imprisonment, danger, and hardship.
That's a wrinkle, if you will, of grace that had somehow slipped to the edges of my theological application. Yes, there is the unmerited favor of God that saves us, not of works lest any man should boast (see Ephesians 2:8-9). Even more, Paul was confessing sustaining grace, God's provision of what is needed as believers encounter the trials and tests of this life. That truth was the "what can I get out of this?" answer for Harriet and me in Brian's death, the sufficiency of his grace when we suffer or are troubled or being tested or are out of sorts. This lesson expanded my definition of grace. Today I prefer John MacArthur's definition---grace is the free and benevolent influence of a holy God operating sovereignly in the lives of undeserving sinners (click here to read John McArthur's article about grace). By his grace he saves and sustains us.
Yes, we are in the season of joy, peace, hope, goodwill, giving, family, and dozens of other emotional triggers that govern our experience of the holidays. Underneath the facade of glitter and tinsel, however, are millions who are dealing with the loud and disruptive urgencies so prevalent in the world around us. The sufficiency of his grace is a biblical truth that soothes broken spirits, elevated stress, family burdens, financial trouble, and even the sorrow of an empty place at the table. His grace is sufficient.
Year ago evangelist Tim St. Clair preached a sermon at Hampton Heights Baptist Church when he was serving Life Action Ministries. During that message he held a toy ambulance in his hands and described God's sustaining grace when we face some of the hard times in this journey. When he mentioned God's grace in times of emergent need, he pressed the little siren button on the ambulance and the sound of it carried through the entire worship center. He described God's grace in those times as "grace ambulances", when God's presence guides us through the uncertainty of dark hours. Grace ambulances. What a descriptive word too portray God's sustaining grace.
Months after Brian's death we were still struggling through this immense loss. The police investigation, court dates for the individual arrested as a collaborator in his killing, and other details immersed us in a grief that is difficult to describe. On one of those heavy nights a church friend visited us. We were on the back porch. He took out his Bible and turned me to James 4:6. It was a grace ambulance that I had overlooked. James wrote---
But he gives more grace.
James 4:6, ESV
The rigors of life can empty us, drain our most critical personal resources. But, he give mores grace. it was an overwhelming moment.
All I want for Christmas is to learn to live by his provision of more grace! John wrote it out clearly in the Gospel...
For from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.
John 1:16, ESV
Grace upon grace, endlessly. It's what he gives. All I want for Christmas is to receive it and realize it every single day. Grace upon grace.