When Grace Happens

December 17th, 2012

>> More verb than noun, more present tense than past tense, grace didn’t just happen; it happens.

Ten-year-olds take Christmas gifts very seriously. At least we did in Mrs. Griffin’s fourth-grade class. The holiday gift exchange outranked the presidential election, NFL draft, and Fourth of July parade. We knew the procedure well. On the day preceding Thanksgiving break, Mrs. Griffin would write each of our names on a piece of paper, dump the slips of paper into a baseball cap, and shake them up. One by one we stepped up to her desk and withdrew the name of the person to whom we would give a gift.

Under the Geneva Convention’s Law of Gift Exchange, we were instructed to keep our beneficiary’s identity a secret. Name disclosure was not permitted. We told no one for whom we were shopping. But we told everyone what we were wanting. How else would they know? We dropped hints like the Canadian winter drops snow, everywhere and every day. I made certain each classmate knew what I wanted: a Sixfinger.

In 1965, all red-blooded American boys wanted a Sixfinger. We knew the slogan by heart: “Sixfinger, Sixfinger, man alive! How did I ever get along with five?” The Sixfinger was more than a toy. Yes sirree, Bob. It could fire off a cap bomb, message missile, secret bullet, and SOS signal. Why, it even had a hidden ballpoint pen. Who could live without a Sixfinger? I couldn’t. And I made certain the other twelve students in Mrs. Griffin’s class knew it.

But Carol wasn’t listening. Little Carol with the pigtails, freckles, and shiny black shoes. Don’t let her sweet appearance fool you. She broke my heart. For on the day of the great gift exchange, I ripped the wrapping paper off my box to find only stationery. You read the word correctly. Stationery! Brown envelopes with folded note cards that bore a picture of a cowboy lassoing a horse. What ten-year-old boy uses stationery?

There is a term for this type of gift: obligatory. The required-to-give gift. The “Oops, I almost forgot to get something” gift.

I can envision the scene at Little Carol’s house on that fateful morning in 1965. She is eating breakfast. Her mother raises the question of the class Christmas party. “Carol, are you supposed to take any gifts to class?”

Little Carol drops her spoon into her Rice Krispies. “I forgot! I’m supposed to bring a gift for Max.”

“For whom?”

“For Max, my handsome classmate who excels in every sport and discipline and is utterly polite and humble in every way.”

“And you’re just now telling me?” Carol’s mom asks.

“I forgot. But I know what he wants. He wants a Sixfinger.”

“A prosthetic?”

“No. A Sixfinger. ‘Sixfinger, Sixfinger, man alive! How did I ever get along with five?’”

Carol’s mom scoffs at the thought. “Humph. Sixfinger my aunt Edna.” She goes to the storage closet and begins rummaging through . . . well, rummage. She finds paisley tube socks her son discarded and a dinosaur-shaped scented candle. She almost selects the box of Bic pens, but then she spies the stationery.

Carol falls to her knees and pleads, “Don’t do it, Mom. Don’t give him stationery with a little cowboy lassoing a horse. Forty-seven years from now he will describe this moment in a book. Do you really want to be memorialized as the one who gave an obligatory gift?”

“Bah! Humbug!” Carol’s mom objects. “Give him the stationery. That kid is destined for prison anyway. He will have plenty of time to write letters there.”

And so she gave me the gift. And what did I do with it? The same thing you did with the coffee cups, the fruitcake, the orange-and-black sweater, the hand lotion from the funeral home, and the calendar from the insurance company. What did I do with the stationery? I gave it away at the class Christmas party the next year.

I know we shouldn’t complain. But, honestly, when someone hands you a bar of hotel soap and says, “This is for you,” don’t you detect a lack of originality? But when a person gives a genuine gift, don’t you cherish the presence of affection? The hand-knit sweater, the photo album from last summer, the personalized poem, the Lucado book. Such gifts convince you that someone planned, prepared, saved, searched. Last-minute decision? No, this gift was just for you.

Have you ever received such a gift? Yes, you have. Sorry to speak on your behalf, but I know the answer as I ask the question. You have been given a perfect personal gift. One just for you. “There has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11 nasb, emphasis mine).

An angel spoke these words. Shepherds heard them first. But what the angel said to them, God says to anyone who will listen. “There has been born for you . . .” Jesus is the gift.

He himself is the treasure. Grace is precious because he is. Grace changes lives because he does. Grace secures us because he will. The gift is the Giver. To discover grace is to discover God’s utter devotion to you, his stubborn resolve to give you a cleansing, healing, purging love that lifts the wounded back to their feet. Does he stand high on a hill and bid you climb out of the valley? No. He bungees down and carries you out. Does he build a bridge and command you to cross it? No. He crosses the bridge and shoulders you over. “You did not save yourselves; it was a gift from God” (Eph. 2:8 ncv).

This is the gift that God gives. A grace that grants us first the power to receive love and then the power to give it. A grace that changes us, shapes us, and leads us to a life that is eternally altered. Do you know this grace? Do you trust this grace? If not, you can. All God wants from us is faith. Put your faith in God.

And grow in God’s grace. More verb than noun, more present tense than past tense, grace didn’t just happen; it happens. Grace happens here.

            The same work God did

                        through Christ

                                    long ago

                                                on a cross

            is the work God does

                        through Christ

                                    right now

                                                in you.

Let him do his work. Let grace trump your arrest record, critics, and guilty conscience. See yourself for what you are—God’s personal remodeling project. Not a world to yourself but a work in his hands. No longer defined by failures but refined by them. Trusting less in what you do and more in what Christ did. Graceless less, grace shaped more. Convinced down deep in the substrata of your soul that God is just warming up in this overture called life, that hope has its reasons and death has its due date.

Grace. Let it, let him, so seep into the crusty cracks of your life that everything softens. Then let it, let him, bubble to the surface, like a spring in the Sahara, in words of kindness and deeds of generosity. God will change you, my friend. You are a trophy of his kindness, a partaker of his mission. Not perfect by any means but closer to perfection than you’ve ever been. Steadily stronger, gradually better, certainly closer.

This happens when grace happens. May it happen to you.


Excerpted from Grace: More than We Deserve, Greater than We Imagine, by Max Lucado. ©2012 Thomas Nelson Publishers. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

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