By Rev. Everette Chapman
One of the church words that we ministers bandy about quite freely is “grace.” Unfortunately, in the church in which I was reared all those years ago, we didn’t hear a lot about grace. We heard a great deal about God’s wrath. We had Hell painted hot and dreadful. We heard that Christ might return and find us unprepared to meet Him before we could get home from the church service, but we did not hear much about God’s love or His grace.
Grace, however, is a wonderful word. I cannot see it without remembering the title of a book written by Dr. Lofton Hudson, which declared, Grace Is Not A Blue-eyed Blond. Grace, at its core, means “the unmerited favor of God.” One of my favorite stories explains the concept wonderfully.
An elderly pastor passed away and approached the proverbial Pearly Gates and was greeted by Saint Peter. The Gatekeeper greeted him, and the greeting was returned by the grizzly old preacher. Then the conversation began.
“Can you tell me,” asked Saint Peter, “why I should let you in here? You will need 100 points to qualify.”
“‘Not a problem,” countered the preacher, “I served eleven different churches as pastor for a total of 49 years.”
“Very good,” said Saint Peter, “that counts for one point.”
“One point! One point? You have to be kidding!”
“That’s all it counts for. What else have you done?”
The grizzled one continued, “Well, I wrote a book for young pastors to help them know how to preach better.”
“Wonderful!” said Saint Peter, “that’s good for another point.”
“Get real!” shouted the preacher, “that has to count for more than one point!”
“Actually, it normally only counts for half a point, but with your other body of work, I’ll grant you extra credit. Have you anything else to commend you?”
“Well,” continued the pastor. “I led our town to build a youth center to take kids off the street and to teach them Christian values and life skills.”
“Wow! That’s great!” echoed Saint Peter, “That gains you another point.”
“You’re telling me that all of this counts for only three points, and I have to have 100 points to get in? Without the grace of God I’m lost!”
“Grace of God? Grace of God? Why didn’t you say so? That counts for 97 points! Come on in, dear friend!”
Last Sunday at the Chapel, the theme of our service was “Grace,” and we sang two wonderful hymns. The first of these proclaimed, “Marvelous grace of our loving Lord, grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt! Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured, there where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.”
The other one you know by heart: “Amazing Grace.” “Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound – that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.”
Phillip Doddridge, the prolific English hymnist, wrote another about grace that is not in most modern hymnals. Its words are marvelous;
Grace, ‘tis a charming sound, harmonious to the ear;
Heav’n with the echo shall resound, and all the earth shall hear.
Grace taught my wandering feet to tread the Heavenly road;
And grants supply each hour I live while pressing on to God.
The Good News is that, although we – like that old minister at Heaven’s gate – can never earn enough points to merit eternal life, God meets us at the end of our efforts with His wonderful saving, sustaining grace. All we have to do is to accept that grace for ourselves. Isn’t that good news!