Posted tagged ‘Amazing Grace’

Running Ahead of Grace

February 8, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        February 8, 2020

                                    

At our small town Baptist church we have a machine that plays the organ music for the hymns that we sing. Our youth do another song during the worship service where they play a praise song on their Bluetooth speaker and the congregation sings along with them. For hymns, however, we sing with the machine.

Here’s the thing! Sometimes the volume of the music machine is not loud enough for us to hear if we are on the right note, word, or line. Sometimes it runs ahead of us, like an unleashed dog with a wide open field in front of him. Sometimes the machine lags behind, like a shy kindergartener being pulled into his first day of school.

Last Sunday we sang that great hymn, “Amazing Grace”. The music lagged behind and the singers scampered ahead, leaving grace in the dust. It wasn’t loud enough or dominant enough for it to be pursued. Instead, as we finished the first verse, it had become the pursuer.

By the final stanza we had slowed down our hurried vocal pace and seemed to be more in step with what it was that we were singing about. If “Amazing Grace” had three more verses we would have felt synchronized with the emphasis.

It seems that’s how it is with grace. We run ahead of it, run away from it, and run despite it. Our actions sometimes suggest it, but our thoughts betray our lips. The volume of its potential gets turned down and fades into the background of our beliefs.

Finding the rhythm of grace in our lives is challenging. When the crowd sings too quick, staying in step with grace requires resolve and conviction. When some of the group decide it’s not worth singing about at all, grace-filled people decide to stay the course, sing the next words that others find antiquated. 

“…I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see!”

I have found in my years as a Christ-follower that the most amazing moments in a journey with other believers happen when a church finds it’s grace harmony. Repentance and forgiveness seem to join hands and the transformative power of the grace of God seems to make singing the hymn freeing.

It’s like last Sunday! After we finished the last verse that John Newton wrote, and finally got in step with the music, we added an additional verse of our own. We sang two words over and over again to the same “Amazing Grace” tune. Two words again and again.

“Praise God, praise God! Praise God, praise God!”

The Shadow Over Grace

November 17, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  November 17, 2019

                                       

This morning I’m witnessing an incredible view of Pike’s Peak “peeking” through the low hanging clouds around it. It’s almost as if the mountain has battled to be seen, struggled to rise above and take a breath of air.

The interesting thing for me is that, as I viewed this sight, I was pondering a statement made in a sermon recently. The pastor said that we begin to value righteousness and lose sight of the graciousness. Righteousness, or our leaning towards it, has a way of pushing grace under the clouds. It becomes smothering.

One reason for that is that righteousness, the striving to do what’s right, is much easier to define. What is the right thing to do is often much clearer than the gracious act of caring.

Don’t get me wrong. I’d much rather be around people who do the right thing, the wise thing, than people who do the stupid deed. Followers of Jesus, however, have a way of endearing themselves to his righteousness and relegating his graciousness to the footnotes. Sometimes we forget that one of the reasons Zacchaeus was up in a tree, besides his small stature, was because the people were short on grace. They wanted to see Jesus, but not a despised tax collector. 

Church folk have a tendency to be like that also. The scenario and names of the characters have been changed, but the plot is the same. Someone shows up in Sunday worship who has had sin in their life (Like…that’s not true for some of the frozen chosen!) and the great separation begins. I’ve seen some people, who have committed life-errors, be treated like a swollen joint by the righteous, iced out.

A friend of mine told me of a church he attended that was very accepting and friendly. After a few Sundays he decided he would let his adult Sunday School class know about some of the struggles of his past. The room temperature suddenly dropped to freezing.

Truthfully, it is difficult to balance righteousness and graciousness. Some folk are so excessively gracious they inadvertently cheapen it. Others are so wary about grace they treat it like the family valuables, locked up in a safety deposit box only to be brought out for a moment and then put away for another six months.

And so we have the story of Zacchaeus, who climbs above the inflexibility of the righteous to be able to experience the grace of Jesus…and then a new way of life!

By the time I finished writing these words Pike’s Peak had climbed completely above the clouds, looking freed and beautiful. I wish it was as easy and natural for grace to do the same.

Half Song Singer

June 13, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            June 13, 2017

                                 

My friend David Volitis breaks out in song quite often. Sometimes I can even figure out what song he is singing. I say disparaging things to him like “Wow! You hit that one note consistently!”, or “Hold on! I think I hear the neighborhood dogs howling!” The razzing is part of our friendship. In return he razzes me about how I drink soda pop with my lips stretched out like a bird’s beak!

With Dave you never know what the next song is going to be and when it will erupt onto the scene. It might be a song about the rapture, the Holy Ghost, or Forest Gump…so you have to be on your toes!

Unfortunately, I am “lyrics impaired!” I can remember about one line of words and then I start humming! There are some exceptions, like “Amazing Grace” or “How Great Thou Art!” I can get through the whole first verse of those before my mouth closes and I start humming like a bird!

Perhaps you have the same lyric limitation in your life. “Great is thy faithfulness, O Lord…hum hum hum!”

Praise songs are the worst considering their reoccurring verbiage. I mean…if you can’t remember the words of the line that is repeated sixteen times in a row you resonate and announce your limited intellectual capacity.

I often throw some “Dum, Dum, Dum’s” into my hums as well. So it could be “hum…hum…dum…hum…dum…dum!”

Don’t get me started on rap music! Do you know how stupid it sounds to hum a rap?

All of this comes out when my friend Dave requests my joining in on the latest tune that comes to his mind. He sings the words, but I hum more than one note! I can hum the high notes just as well as the low notes. He questions my salvation based on how much I have to hum and I question him on his lack of compassion for my ears!

That reminds me of a song…Dum-de-dum…Jesus! Hum, hum, hum…Jesus!

 

Unexpected Grace

March 5, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     March 5, 2016

                                       

     I’m preaching on grace tomorrow morning, perhaps my favorite subject to dwell upon. We sing an abundance of songs about it…”Amazing Grace”…”Wonderful Grace of Jesus”…Matt Maher’s recent song “Your Grace is Enough”, and Michael W. Smith’s song simply entitled “Grace.”

Grace seems to be a dominant theme pattern in song writers.

And yet in other aspects of our culture, and in the churches that sing about grace, it is given lip service, but rarely put into action and decisions.

Perhaps I’m becoming cynical as I age, but I’ve been at a lot of basketball games lately. I’ve witnessed too many spectators, mostly parents, who are verbally abusive and grace-less. Some may say that it’s simply because I’m talking about a sporting event, and grace is not a part of sports.

I wholeheartedly disagree. Years ago I coached a junior high boy’s basketball team in a Saturday morning church basketball league. Let me just say this! We were several points short of pitiful! My best player, Jimmy Michaels, broke his wrist in the first game of the season. The team instantly went from being short to shorter and short on talent. The boys had matching jerseys and they all had their shoes tied properly, but every Saturday that was as good as it got.

50-5…43-6…39-4…every Saturday morning the score was more resembling of a lock combination than a competitive basketball game.

And then we played Bethlehem Lutheran Church one Saturday. Their Associate Pastor, a guy named Noel Niemann, knew we were a team that was excited about the opportunity to play while being short on talent, and he told his team to play a zone defense that morning where everyone played inside the paint. In effect he was saying we’re going to let the boys of First Baptist shoot and help them score a few points.

Going into that game my goal for the season was to have the team score in double figures in at least one game. It hadn’t happened yet, but that day, thanks to some grace-laced defense, we scored 12! Twelve points! The boys were ecstatic! The final score was 36-12, but if Coach Noel had wanted to he could have geld us scoreless.

We didn’t earn that gift. It was freely given to us, and I’ll never forget that, even though it’s been thirty-five years since it happened.

Grace is helping someone up when there is no advantage to doing so.

And you know, it’s something that needs to be seen in our churches today, not just sung about!