Jim Denison is a Christian author and speaker whose essays and illustration have helped me tremendously through the years. He says that... “We live in a culture that separates everyone into two categories: winners and losers.”
For example: just a couple Sunday’s ago there were 122 actors who received Oscar nominations: twenty-four of whom were named winners during the 2018 Academy Awards... which means there were ninety-eight losers. Winners/Losers.
Of course, just being nominated is a huge honor, I suppose... because the odds are against you from the start. According to Labor Stats, there are over 249,000 actors and other professionals in the motion picture industry; almost all were excluded from the Oscars... because less than a fraction of a percent even received a nomination! Again... not very good odds! And speaking of odds...
I was talking with Morgan and Jade this past week about the news that China has lost control of its 8½ ton space station. Some of you know that I’m kind of a space freak! In fact, I have this nifty little app on my cell phone that allows me to track the International Space Station, and the Chinese Space Station in real time... and it tells me that the Chinese Space Station is just off the northern coast of New Zealand at this moment.
NASA scientist say that the Chinese Space Station should collide with Earth’s atmosphere sometime around the first week of April... and the really good news is... they say it’s very likely to hit somewhere in the continental United States. The way I see it... that just means more cheaply made Chinese junk winding up on this side of the Pacific!
But before you get too worried about it... apparently the odds of being struck by debris from the falling space station are 1,000,000 times smaller than the odds of winning the Powerball jackpot. Winners/Losers.
As I was preparing for worship this past week... we were neck-deep in “March Madness” and all the “talking-heads” were busy pontificating and prognosticating regarding who’d win, and who’d lose.
Tammy even pointed out that we’re only in pre-season baseball... spring training... yet the sports talk shows are already debating who is likely to win this year's World Series.
The message is clear: if you win, you're a winner; if you lose, you're a loser. Every sporting event... every beauty pageant... every NASCAR race... every Kentucky Derby... every political election... produces winners and losers.
And this fact has always been true! It’s nothing new.
The Bible even does this: there’s good and evil, joy and sorrow, light and darkness, sheep and goats... the saved and the lost... judgement and grace...
Frederick Buechner is a theologian I’ve mentioned to you many times... his description of “grace” is among the best I’ve ever heard... when he says,
“Grace is something you can never get but only be given. There's no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about any more than you can deserve the taste of raspberries... or earn good looks... or bring about your own birth.
A good [night’s] sleep is grace and so are good dreams. Most tears are grace. The smell of rain is grace. Somebody loving you is grace. Loving somebody is grace...”
Of course, a crucial eccentricity of the Christian faith is the assertion that [we believers] are saved by grace. There's nothing you have to do... [the saving work has already been accomplished by Christ, in other words!]
Buechner says, “The grace of God means something like: ‘Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are... because [life]* wouldn't have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It's for you I created the universe. I love you.'” (*the party)
Only... "There’s [a] catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you'll reach out and take it..."
And... there’s the rub! You’ve gotta be willing to accept the gift of grace in order for it to have any effect on your life. Even those things in life that are freely given must be received, else they’re no gift at all.
Our culture seems to be caught in a dilemma, and as a result the Church has been caught in that quandary, too.
On one side, we applaud self-reliance. We love stories of self-made heroes and icons, from business men and women who’ve worked their way to the top after starting their business in their kitchen or garage... to athletes who began at the bottom and worked their way into fame. We resist the idea that we need anything from anyone... including God.
And then... we’ve also embraced the secular notion that everyone wins! That everyone who participates deserves a trophy... there are no losers anymore! So we pout and protest, we rebel and set fire to cars and buildings when our team doesn’t win!
And this worldly idea that everyone wins, spills over into the world of faith, too. It’s warped our sense of Grace; because, after all... since God is love, everyone goes to heaven! The mantra of our day is that all roads lead up the same mountain, so it doesn't matter what you believe so long as you are sincere!
But nothing could be further from the truth; such thinking not only makes grace cheap... it makes Christ’s sacrifice unnecessary and meaningless... God’s grace is in NO WAY cheap (in fact it’s the most expensive, valuable gift you and I have ever been offered)... and the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ is the most meaningful series of events in human history.
Of course, some opponents of biblical Christianity complain that it makes a relationship with God too easy: "By grace you have been saved through faith" (Ephesians 2:8) seems like an evasion of personal responsibility. Other critics complain that Jesus makes a relationship with God too hard: "No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6) seems exclusive & intolerant.
But or friend, Mr. Buechner, addresses our confusion with one simple assertion: grace is a gift that, like all gifts, must be opened. God’s grace is free... it’s readily available to anyone... and everyone! But it must be received... it must be accepted... if it’s to have any effect. And it must be shared before it can ever be received.
Of course, regrettably, no matter how many times we offer Christ to the world... no matter how much we love... no matter how much we give... no matter how much we share... there will always be those who refuse to receive.
And that means our willingness to love... and to give... and to share can NEVER be based on worldly outcomes, results or standards! It’s not about winning or losing... it’s about loving! It about loving as Christ loves us. We simply have to keep on loving... keep on sharing... keep on giving... even when it feels like we’re making no progress at all!
In fact, by choosing grace, and by living grace... regardless the results... it always, always, always places us in Christ... and when we’re in Christ, we don’t have to worry about winning or losing! “For the last shall be first, and the first last” (Jesus, Matthew 20:16).
“For it’s by grace you have been saved... For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Jesus said, “I tell you the truth... whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing...”
And to “do the works” of Christ... is to choose grace... it’s to share God’s love, with others. When we do that... when we choose grace, the odds are eternally in our favor.