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The Grace to Celebrate

He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found…


In lieu of other plans which we had looked forward to, our family stayed home Saturday night and watched an early movie. Before bed, we noticed the most beautiful full moon and went for a short walk down the street to enjoy the summer like temperatures and the beautiful night sky. Along the way, we saw Mr. Cooper’s door open as he sat inside watching basketball. He is a retired high school English teacher who keeps an immaculate yard and beautiful home. He is most frequently spotted at his piano just inside the front window of his enclosed porch. We invited him to join us on our full moon walk, but he is afraid of leaving his house. Instead, though, he did come out and visit with such delight that we eventually had to break it off to complete our walk. He told us he’d play a piece on the piano for us as we walked back by. Sure enough, when he saw us coming back up the street, he “jumped” on the piano and started playing. He didn’t notice us gathering outside his window to listen and applaud when he finished, but after a startling knock on his window, he looked up with laughter and amusement that we’d lingered. He came out and told us it wasn’t his best piece but he’d play that one for us next time. What a sweet and immensely satisfying moment with a neighbor.

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” Luke 15:28-32

Now obviously the power of this passage is the older brother’s blindness to grace and sense of self-righteousness. He shares the bewilderment of those workers in the vineyard who worked all day only to find the late comers received the same wages. But there is something far more subtle and probably less meaty that struck me about it yesterday. I’m like the older brother in all those arrogant ways, but I am also sadly like him in my reluctance to celebrate evidence of God’s grace at work around me. I get so focused on what is not right yet, on what is broken, on the evidence of a fallen world that I become blind to God’s fingerprints in my daily life.

May those who say to me, “Aha! Aha!” be appalled at their own shame. But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who long for your saving help always say, “The LORD is great!” Psalm 40:15-16

Perfectionism, that constant identification of errors with “Aha! Aha!”, is a product of pride and self-sufficiency. I know because I am a perfectionist. The thinking is that I am always in reach of my ideal, and if I can just identify to others and myself what is lacking, it absolves me of guilt for those remaining imperfections. For example, when people come to our house, if I can be the first to point out all the things that need to be done or that are not praiseworthy, it distances me from their judgment that my house looks like this or that simply because I don’t know better or have terrible taste. (Both may be true, mind you.) A perfectionist can’t simply celebrate the house because to do so might be foolish in the eyes of those who find the place greatly wanting. So, a constant state of discontentment is both self-protecting and identifies my self as the answer to all that needs to be completed. Where is the need for Jesus realized in this approach to life and judgment? Hmmm…

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Luke 17:15-16

We watched 127 Hours last week about the hiker who had to cut off his own arm as his only hope for living through entrapment in a cave. In his five days of slowly dying before eventually escaping, he reflected on his life, his selfishness and his “I don’t need anyone” life philosophy. He acknowledged that it was this very ego-centric perspective that might cause his death as he hadn’t returned his family’s phone calls, hadn’t told anyone where he was headed and never kept up with anyone enough to even realize he was missing for days. This event changed him and the reality of dying so desperately in the wilderness radically impacted his appreciation for his parents, family and alienated friends and their love for him that he had in essence rejected. An armless existence was worth celebrating in contrast to what might have been.

The black/white divide is real and in ways, impassable. The affluent/poor divide is wide and ever widening, it seems. The overeducated/undereducated divide creates such different vocabularies and perspectives that communication and friendship of equals becomes impossible to fathom. And yet, as a reversal of Babel, the person and work of Jesus is reconciling and tearing down the walls of hostility that humanly can’t be shaken. While we feel the intimidating presence of these walls more in some relationships than others, I think Mr. Cooper on Saturday night and my friendships with other neighbors like Vivian and Thenesia who I hung out with on Thursday night remind me that there is plenty to celebrate if I have eyes to see.

The psalmist names those “who long for his saving help” as the ones who always say, “The Lord is great!” The brokenness reminds me that I need the Redeemer to do what I cannot. But the evidences of life, love, beauty and reconciliation remind me to celebrate and be glad because my Redeemer lives and is working out His promises to make all things new even now, this day, all around me. Rather than moving from one felt need to the next, like the other lepers healed by Jesus, may I be increasingly compelled to take time to celebrate and thank Jesus for the healing He has done and is doing.

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