It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you—for you were the fewest of all peoples. It was because the Lord loved you… Deuteronomy 7:7-8a
Grace is the act of radical acceptance. Jesus was all about grace.
This is what is hard and beautiful about the Christian faith. Because our faith, unique from all other religions, says “Nobody is disqualified on the one hand, and nobody is good enough on the other.”
It’s all about that grace, that grace, that grace.
Grace is why pimps and prostitutes flocked to Jesus because they understood that their past didn’t keep them from life with God. But this is also why many of the priests, professors, and the pious had a hard time with Jesus because their past didn’t get them any special favors with God. Nobody is disqualified and nobody is good enough for life with God.
John Ortberg tells about how sometimes stores have an “As Is” section. You can find a section of merchandise where you can get a great deal. The tip-off is that there is a little tag attached to the clothes in this section, and that tag always has the same two words on it: AS IS.
This is a euphemistic way of saying, “These are damaged goods.” Sometimes they’re called slightly irregular. You’re going to find a flaw here: a stain that will not come out, a zipper that won’t zip, a button that won’t butt. We’re not going to tell you where the flaw is; you’re going to have to look for it. But we know it’s there. So, when you find it—and you will find it—don’t come whining and sniveling to us about it.
You won’t get any refunds or exchanges or sympathy. Don’t expect perfection. Not here! You have received a fair warning! If you want this item, there’s only one way to obtain it. You must take it As Is.
I spoke with a man one time about the possibility of a friend of mine moving to my home state to pastor. I asked the man if he knew of any churches large enough to support a full-time pastor. He named a couple then he said something that really grabbed my attention. He said, “First Baptist Such and Such Church might be an option. It is not much to look at right now, but, because of its attractive building and location, it has great potential.”
When a pastor enters a relationship with the local expression of the bride of Christ, we are entering a covenant relationship. We dare not approach that relationship based on potential. We don’t treat any other significant relationship that way. We don’t enter friendships based upon the potential of the friend. We don’t have children based on their potential. We better not enter a marriage based on the potential of our future spouse.
Suppose we did. Let’s imagine that we fell in love with a person based on what they could be instead of who they actually are. How might that relationship turn out? “Potential” is an adjective that means “having or showing the capacity to become or develop into something in the future.” If we get married based on the capacity of our spouse to develop into something in the future, we are going to manipulate them at best and control them through power moves at worst.
Falling in love with your spouse’s potential is a great recipe for a second marriage.
We don’t love our children based on what they could be, we love them for who they are. We don’t love and accept our friends for who they could be, we love and accept them for who they are. That is what grace is all about.
But what about Christian leadership? Should we not be desiring to catalyze a group to move forward in their effectiveness to be salt and light in our local communities? Maybe. But I’ve been a pastor for a very long time, and I can tell you from personal and painful experience that it is very easy to morph loving persuasion and gentle invitation to manufacturing a captivating vision that produces guilt and manipulation.
I’ve read the books on leadership from Stephen Covey to Jim Collins. And I can tell you that those books are excellent at putting an organization on a good trajectory for growth and positive impact. They are very helpful for improving the bottom line and enlarging market share. But the challenge is the church of Jesus Christ is not a business, a non-profit, or an NGO.
It is the bride of Christ.
We don’t treat a bride based on her potential. We love her “As Is” whether she ever reaches her potential or not. If we only love her capacity to become or develop into something in the future, we will manipulate her. And manipulation might get behavior modification for a season, but it will never produce lasting change.
The strangest thing, however, is that the more we love our spouses, friends, and children, they will change. Because love changes us. It might be an imperceptible change. It might come at a glacier pace. But love changes people.
December 29th, 2021, my wife and I celebrated our fortieth wedding anniversary. I can tell you without equivocation that it is the steadfast love of the bride of my youth that has been the greatest change agent in my life. Her constant love is the lens through which I see the faithfulness of God. Her gentle wisdom is the greatest nutrient in the soil of my heart for the Word of God to find root. The look in her eyes reminds me that I am the beloved of God. Her love has changed me.
I love what the late author and ethicist Lewis Smedes said one time, ““My wife has been married to five men… every one of them has been me.”
There is a reason the Bible doesn’t use the metaphor of business to refer to the church. The two metaphors frequently used are the bride and the family. We would do well to not manipulate either of those by only loving the avatar of their potential.
The church is not a problem to be solved, she is a bride to be loved—as is.
And she’s not just anyone’s bride, either.