Friday, June 22, 2012

Grace Unlimited

SCRIPTURE: Ephesians 2:8-10
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 22 June 2012

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Yesterday was special. My family and I were invited for a celebration dinner at a prestigious private club. It was a roast beef delight. Upon entering the clubhouse, my family and I were pleasantly greeted by Church members and friends who embraced us with hugs and congratulations. One of my early mentors, a retired and very well-respected Church elder in Vancouver was also present to celebrate the occasion.

I was bowled over. I did not deserve such accolades. I was no where as handsome as Tom Cruise, or as slick as any motivational speaker. Neither was I a Megachurch pastor who can wow audiences with a single appearance. I scratched my head often trying to find out exactly what I had done to receive the honour. None. It was all grace.

Everywhere I went, congratulations flow with people addressing me formally as "Doctor." I tried to stay modest by telling people not to embarrass me. One trick I use was:

"Only strangers will call me Dr."

The best way I can respond is also to be gracious about it all. A simple "Thank you" is the best answer to such generous comments and heart-felt congratulations. I know that deep inside each of their hearts, is that love and gratitude to God.

Thinking Back

My journey to receiving my doctorate was not an easy path. After graduating from Regent College back in 2008, I was caught in the midst of deciding where to go. Should I return to Singapore to serve in a ministry? Should I stay in Vancouver and look for a full-time ministry placement? Should I continue my ministry in another country? Should I pursue more studies?
Christianity in a nutshell

There were several obstacles along the way. First, we had to move out of our student housing, and we were pretty much stuck with all kinds of complicated logistics. After all, it was not just my wife and I. We had three growing teenagers who have gotten very accustomed to the school system in Vancouver. Second, we had pretty much ran out of funds. The four years of full-time studies without a full-time employment had wiped out most of our savings. Third, we were unsure of exactly what is God's calling for us at that time. Our emotions and concerns swung in all directions. At one point, it was about the future of our children first. At another, it was about how best to make use of my newly minted Master of Divinity. Yet another, it was what kinds of work opportunities that the Lord had placed for my wife and I.

God answered. Miraculously. Mary got a job which offered an impressive benefits. I got an internship at my current church. In June 2008, I began my studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, wanting to earn a doctorate so that I can teach better, preach more effectively, and to hone my ministry skills. Having completed my fourth degree, and despite the wonderful congratulations all around, I still felt inadequate.

Just because I am a Doctor of Ministry does not mean I had it all stitched up. In fact, I can continue to accumulate additional degrees, and I will still feel inadequate. That is because the world is far bigger than any one person. There is only one person big enough for the whole world. God. There is only one way to minister to the world. Grace.

In seeing the brokenness that I am, the ups and downs of my life, I can only stand in wonder on how my life has turned up.
  • Never thought I could study full-time again, yet I did.
  • Never thought I could uproot my family in a comfortable life, yet I did.
  • Never thought I would serve in Church in a paid capacity, yet I did.
  • Never thought I deserve such a celebration last night, yet my Church members and friends did.

Saved By Grace, Live By Faith Through Gracious Living

The words of Paul to the Ephesians is a declaration of us being saved by grace alone, not of works. No amount of good works can seal our fate. Only by grace through faith can we be saved in Christ. This is the central message of Christianity. Unfortunately, far too many people have not practised this truth as much. In a high-achiever culture, we are all pressured to do more and more. We are urged by people to gain more, read more, give more, study more, serve more, and love more. These are not bad stuff.  The only problem is that they alone are not enough. Otherwise, how are we going to explain Jesus' good opinion about the poor lady who manages only 2 copper coins? How are we to explain the many positive words from Jesus about the poor, the weak, and the marginalized?

Blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Why?

It's all grace. It reminds me of Philip Yancey's famous words in his bestselling book,

"God dispenses gifts, not wages. None of us gets paid according to merit, for none of us comes close to satisfying God's requirements for a perfect life. If paid on the basis of fairness, we would all end up in hell." (Philip Yancey, What's So Amazing About Grace, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997, 62)

In a similar light, at a dinner gathering, the famous CS Lewis was  asked once to describe in a nutshell what Christianity is all about. His reply is "Grace."

I am grateful for all who have supported me and my family over the years. I am grateful to God for the journey traveled thus far. I am humbled by the congratulations and honours people have showered upon me and my family. The best response I can give is to be gracious, be grateful, and to let my life be a life of grace to others.

Let me close with these words from the Canadian musician, Leonard Cohen.

"Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in."

Indeed, there are many cracks in my own life, some known, others unknown to me. May God's light of Grace shines through every crack, showing that I am made complete, only because of God's grace. May all who have been saved by grace, live by grace.

THOUGHT: "Grace is given to heal the spiritually sick, not to decorate spiritual heroes." (Martin Luther)


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