“If the gospel isn’t good news for everybody, then it isn’t good news for anybody. And this is because the most powerful things happen when the church surrenders its desire to convert people and convince them to join. It is when the church gives itself away in radical acts of service and compassion, expecting nothing in return, that the way of Jesus is most vividly put on display. To do this, the church must stop thinking about everybody primarily in categories of in or out, saved or not, believer or nonbeliever. Besides the fact that these terms are offensive to those who are the “un” and “non”, they work against Jesus’ teachings about how we are to treat each other. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor, and our neighbor can be anybody. We are all created in the image of God, and we are all sacred, valuable creations of God. Everybody matters. To treat people differently based on who believes what is to fail to respect the image of God in everyone. As the book of James says, ‘God shows no favoritism.’ So we don’t either.”
― Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis
I’m not the only one in the world writing blogs and books about grace. Groups like People of the Second Chance, A Wide Mercy, and authors like Paul Young, Brennan Manning, Anne Lamott, Rob Bell, Jeremy Lopez, Oprah Winfrey, Glennon Melton, and Shane Claiborne all share the message of radical, messy grace. These are folks who realize that none of us have our shit together and each of us recognize the value in being surrounded by a community of other broken people.
There are some who would call them (us) extremists, heretics. There are people who believe grace without any strings attached cheapens Christ’s work on the Cross. The idea that no one is beyond redemption and that grace is radical sends many people into a tizzy!
I was that person for the first 28 years of my life. I thought I had to have it all together. But once I hit rock bottom, everything changed. Since my suicide attempt, I’ve felt more compassion towards others who find themselves in need of a helping hand or a friend. Previously, I didn’t see a need for grace that was messy and willing to get low. But now I understand exactly what that need is like, and I know what it’s like to have that need fulfilled.
And it is so life-giving to extend that grace to others! Living with kindness creates more inner-peace for myself, and for everyone around me.
Now that I have stopped being more concerned with morality than Jesus, my life is so much better. Before, I couldn’t imagine Jesus with dirt under his fingernails, but as I continue to connect with the God-made-flesh of the Gospels, I find comfort in the Friend of Sinners. I have found that redemption is far more powerful than rule-following, and grace that covers all of us who realize we are “the least of these”.
“Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”…was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand I can do no other, so help me God.”….And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.”….So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?…Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”
The world is in dire need of grace extremists: imperfect folks like you and me, willing to look in the eye of the drunk and the deacon, the perfectionist, the preacher, the hooker and the hustler, even the mirror, and see the image of God. I want to be a grace extremist. I want to be that “beacon on a hill” that Jesus talks about, shining brightly for the beat up and banged up in my community. I want my words to be seasoned with kindness and my actions to be tempered with patience. And just like I tell my two small children, I want to be silent when I have nothing nice to say. Sometimes silence is the greatest grace of all.
For the next month, the Grace is Messy community is participating in the 30-Day Kindness Challenge. We’re getting intentional about kindness, positivity, and finding something praiseworthy. We’re going to improve our relationships (and our world) by creating a lifestyle of compassion. If you’d like to participate and see just how kind you can be, click here to sign up. For the next 30 days, you’ll target one person with intentional acts and words of kindness, positivity, and praise. Sign up now.
Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.
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I Need You to Help Me See God Clearly
Hope for the Forsaken: A Doxology in Darkness
How Should Pastors Respond to People with Mental Illness?
Celebrating Christmas When My Faith is Full of Doubt