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SHAPED BY GRACEYOU ARE GOD'S MASTERPIECE IN THE MAKING
By MAX LUCADO
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Max Lucado
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE GRACE-SHAPED HEART
Some years ago I underwent a heart procedure. My heartbeat had the regularity of a telegraph operator sending Morse code. Fast, fast fast. Slooooow. After several failed attempts to restore healthy rhythm with medication, my doctor decided I should have a catheter ablation. The plan went like this: a cardiologist would insert two cables in my heart via a blood vessel. One was a camera; the other was an ablation tool. To ablate is to burn. Yes, burn, cauterize, singe, brand. If all went well, the doctor, to use his coinage, would destroy the "misbehaving" parts of my heart.
As I was being wheeled into surgery, he asked if I had any final questions. (Not the best choice of words.) I tried to be witty.
"You're burning the interior of my heart, right?"
"You intend to kill the misbehaving cells, yes?"
"That is my plan."
"As long as you are in there, could you take your little blowtorch to some of my greed, selfishness, superiority, and guilt?"
He smiled and answered, "Sorry, that's out of my pay grade."
Indeed it was, but it's not out of God's. He is in the business of changing hearts.
We would be wrong to think this change happens overnight. But we would be equally wrong to assume change never happens at all. It may come in fits and spurts—an "aha" here, a breakthrough there. But it comes. "The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared" (Titus 2:11). The floodgates are open, and the water is out. You just never know when grace will seep in.
Could you use some?
You stare into the darkness. Your husband slumbers next to you. The ceiling fan whirls above you. In fifteen minutes the alarm will sound, and the demands of the day will shoot you like a clown out of a cannon into a three-ring circus of meetings, bosses, and baseball practices. For the millionth time you'll make breakfast, schedules, and payroll ... but for the life of you, you can't make sense of this thing called life. Its beginnings and endings. Cradles and cancers and cemeteries and questions. The why of it all keeps you awake. As he sleeps and the world waits, you stare.
You turn the page of your Bible and look at the words. You might as well be gazing at a cemetery. Lifeless and stony. Nothing moves you. But you don't dare close the book, no sirree. You trudge through the daily reading in the same fashion as you soldier through the prayers, penance, and offerings. You dare not miss a deed for fear that God will erase your name.
You run your finger over the photo of her face. She was only five years old when you took it. Cheeks freckled by the summer sun, hair in pigtails, and feet in flippers. That was twenty years ago. Your three marriages ago. A million flight miles and e-mails ago. Tonight she walks down the aisle on the arm of another father. You left your family bobbing in the wake of your high-speed career. Now that you have what you wanted, you don't want it at all. Oh, to have a second chance.
You listen to the preacher. A tubby sort with jowls, bald dome, and a thick neck that hangs over his clerical collar. Your dad makes you come to church, but he can't make you listen. At least, that's what you've always muttered to yourself. But this morning you listen because the reverend speaks of a God who loves prodigals, and you feel like the worst sort of one. You can't keep the pregnancy a secret much longer. Soon your parents will know. The preacher will know. He says God already knows. You wonder what God thinks.
The meaning of life. The wasted years of life. The poor choices of life. God answers the mess of life with one word: grace.
We talk as though we understand the term. The bank gives us a grace period. The seedy politician falls from grace. Musicians speak of a grace note. We describe an actress as gracious, a dancer as graceful. We use the word for hospitals, baby girls, kings, and premeal prayers.
We talk as though we know what grace means.
Especially at church. Grace graces the songs we sing and the Bible verses we read. Grace shares the church parsonage with its cousins: forgiveness, faith, and fellowship. Preachers explain it. Hymns proclaim it. Seminaries teach it.
But do we really understand it?
Here's my hunch: we've settled for wimpy grace. It politely occupies a phrase in a hymn, fits nicely on a church sign. Never causes trouble or demands a response. When asked, "Do you believe in grace?" who could say no?
This book asks a deeper question: Have you been changed by grace? Shaped by grace? Strengthened by grace? Emboldened by grace? Softened by grace? Snatched by the nape of your neck and shaken to your senses by grace? God's grace has a drenching about it. A wildness about it. A white-water, riptide, turn-you-upside-downness about it. Grace comes after you. It rewires you. From insecure to God secure. From regret-riddled to better-because-of-it. From afraid-to-die to ready-to-fly. Grace is the voice that calls us to change and then gives us the power to pull it off.
When grace happens, we receive not a nice compliment from God but a new heart. Give your heart to Christ, and he returns the favor. "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you" (Ezek. 36:26).
You might call it a spiritual heart transplant.
Tara Storch understands this miracle as much as anyone can. In the spring of 2010 a skiing accident took the life of her thirteen-year-old daughter, Taylor. What followed for Tara and her husband, Todd, was every parent's worst nightmare: a funeral, a burial, a flood of questions and tears. They decided to donate their daughter's organs to needy patients. Few people needed a heart more than Patricia Winters. Her heart had begun to fail five years earlier, leaving her too weak to do much more than sleep. Taylor's heart gave Patricia a fresh start on life.
Tara had only one request: she wanted to hear the heart of her daughter. She and Todd flew from Dallas to Phoenix and went to Patricia's home to listen to Taylor's heart.
The two mothers embraced for a long time. Then Patricia offered Tara and Todd a stethoscope. When they listened to the healthy rhythm, whose heart did they hear? Did they not hear the still-beating heart of their daughter? It indwells a different body, but the heart is the heart of their child. And when God hears your heart, does he not hear the still-beating heart of his Son?
As Paul said, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). The apostle sensed within himself not just the philosophy, ideals, or influence of Christ but the person of Jesus. Christ moved in. He still does. When grace happens, Christ enters. "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27).
For many years I missed this truth. I believed all the other prepositions: Christ for me, with me, ahead of me. And I knew I was working beside Christ, under Christ, with Christ. But I never imagined that Christ was in me.
I can't blame my deficiency on Scripture. Paul refers to this union 216 times. John mentions it 26. They describe a Christ who not only woos us to himself but "ones" us to himself. "Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God" (1 John 4:15, emphasis mine).
No other religion or philosophy makes such a claim. No other movement implies the living presence of its founder in his followers. Muhammad does not indwell Muslims. Buddha does not inhabit Buddhists. Hugh Hefner does not inhabit the pleasure-seeking hedonist. Influence? Instruct? Entice? Yes. But occupy? No.
Yet Christians embrace this inscrutable promise. "The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you" (Col. 1:27 msg). The Christian is a person in whom Christ is happening.
We are Jesus Christ's; we belong to him. But even more, we are increasingly him. He moves in and commandeers our hands and feet, requisitions our minds and tongues. We sense his rearranging: debris into the divine, pig's ear into silk purse. He repurposes bad decisions and squalid choices. Little by little a new image emerges. "He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son" (Rom. 8:29 MSG).
Grace is God as heart surgeon, cracking open your chest, removing your heart—poisoned as it is with pride and pain—and replacing it with his own. Rather than tell you to change, he creates the change. Do you clean up so he can accept you? No, he accepts you and begins cleaning you up. His dream isn't just to get you into heaven but to get heaven into you. What a difference this makes! Can't forgive your enemy? Can't face tomorrow? Can't forgive your past? Christ can, and he is on the move, aggressively budging you from graceless to grace-shaped living. The gift-given giving gifts. Forgiven people forgiving people. Deep sighs of relief. Stumbles aplenty but despair seldom.
Grace is everything Jesus. Grace lives because he does, works because he works, and matters because he matters. He placed a term limit on sin and danced a victory jig in a graveyard. To be saved by grace is to be saved by him—not by an idea, doctrine, creed, or church membership, but by Jesus himself, who will sweep into heaven anyone who so much as gives him the nod.
Not in response to a finger snap, religious chant, or a secret handshake. Grace won't be stage-managed. I have no tips on how to get grace. Truth is, we don't get grace. But it sure can get us. Grace hugged the stink out of the prodigal and scared the hate out of Paul and pledges to do the same in us.
If you fear you've written too many checks on God's kindness account, drag regrets around like a broken bumper, huff and puff more than you delight and rest, and, most of all, if you wonder whether God can do something with the mess of your life, then grace is what you need.
Let's make certain it happens to you.
Chapter TwoTHE GRACE-SHAPED LIFE
The voices yanked her out of bed.
"Get up, you harlot."
"What kind of woman do you think you are?"
Priests slammed open the bedroom door, threw back the window curtains, and pulled off the covers. Before she felt the warmth of the morning sun, she felt the heat of their scorn.
"Shame on you."
She scarcely had time to cover her body before they marched her through the narrow streets. Dogs yelped. Roosters ran. Women leaned out their windows. Mothers snatched children off the path. Merchants peered out the doors of their shops. Jerusalem became a jury and rendered its verdict with glares and crossed arms.
And as if the bedroom raid and parade of shame were inadequate, the men thrust her into the middle of a morning Bible class.
Early the next morning [Jesus] was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and Pharisees brought a woman they had caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.
"Teacher," they said to Jesus, "this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?" (John 8:2–5 NLT)
Stunned students stood on one side of her. Pious plaintiffs on the other. They had their questions and convictions; she had her dangling negligee and smeared lipstick. "This woman was caught in the very act of adultery," her accusers crowed. Caught in the very act. In the moment. In the arms. In the passion. Caught in the very act by the Jerusalem Council on Decency and Conduct. "The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?"
The woman had no exit. Deny the accusation? She had been caught. Plead for mercy? From whom? From God? His spokesmen were squeezing stones and snarling their lips. No one would speak for her.
But someone would stoop for her. Jesus "stooped down and wrote in the dust" (v. 6 NLT). We would expect him to stand up, step forward, or even ascend a stair and speak. But instead he leaned over. He descended lower than anyone else—beneath the priests, the people, even beneath the woman. The accusers looked down on her. To see Jesus, they had to look down even farther.
He's prone to stoop. He stooped to wash feet, to embrace children. Stooped to pull Peter out of the sea, to pray in the Garden. He stooped before the Roman whipping post. Stooped to carry the cross. Grace is a God who stoops. Here he stooped to write in the dust.
Remember the first occasion his fingers touched dirt? He scooped soil and formed Adam. As he touched the sun-baked soil beside the woman, Jesus may have been reliving the creation moment, reminding himself from whence we came. Earthly humans are prone to do earthy things. Maybe Jesus wrote in the soil for his own benefit.
Or for hers? To divert gaping eyes from the scantily clad, just-caught woman who stood in the center of the circle?
The posse grew impatient with the silent, stooping Jesus. "They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up" (v. 7 NLT).
He lifted himself erect until his shoulders were straight and his head was high. He stood, not to preach, for his words would be few. Not for long, for he would soon stoop again. Not to instruct his followers; he didn't address them. He stood on behalf of the woman. He placed himself between her and the lynch mob and said, "'All right, stone her. But let those who have never sinned throw the first stones!' Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust" (vv. 7–8 NLT).
Name-callers shut their mouths. Rocks fell to the ground. Jesus resumed his scribbling. "When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman" (v. 9 NLT).
Jesus wasn't finished. He stood one final time and asked the woman, "Where are your accusers?" (v. 10 NLT).
My, my, my. What a question—not just for her but for us. Voices of condemnation awaken us as well.
"You aren't good enough."
"You'll never improve."
The voices in our world.
And the voices in our heads! Who is this morality patrolman who issues a citation at every stumble? Who reminds us of every mistake? Does he ever shut up?
No. Because Satan never shuts up. The apostle John called him the Accuser: "This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the Devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels. Then I heard a loud voice shouting across the heavens, '... For the Accuser has been thrown down to earth—the one who accused our brothers and sisters before our God day and night'" (Rev. 12:9–10 NLT).
Day after day, hour after hour. Relentless, tireless. The Accuser makes a career out of accusing. Unlike the conviction of the Holy Spirit, Satan's condemnation brings no repentance or resolve, just regret. He has one aim: "to steal, and to kill, and to destroy" (John 10:10). Steal your peace, kill your dreams, and destroy your future. He has deputized a horde of silver-tongued demons to help him. He enlists people to peddle his poison. Friends dredge up your past. Preachers proclaim all guilt and no grace. And parents, oh, your parents. They own a travel agency that specializes in guilt trips. They distribute it twenty-four hours a day. Long into adulthood you still hear their voices: "Why can't you grow up?" "When are you going to make me proud?"
Condemnation—the preferred commodity of Satan. He will repeat the adulterous woman scenario as often as you permit him to do so, marching you through the city streets and dragging your name through the mud. He pushes you into the center of the crowd and megaphones your sin:
This person was caught in the act of immorality ... stupidity ... dishonesty ... irresponsibility.
But he will not have the last word. Jesus has acted on your behalf.
He stooped. Low enough to sleep in a manger, work in a carpentry shop, sleep in a fishing boat. Low enough to rub shoulders with crooks and lepers. Low enough to be spat upon, slapped, nailed, and speared. Low. Low enough to be buried.
And then he stood. Up from the slab of death. Upright in Joseph's tomb and right in Satan's face. Tall. High. He stood up for the woman and silenced her accusers, and he does the same for you.
He "is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us" (Rom. 8:34 MSG). Let this sink in for a moment. In the presence of God, in defiance of Satan, Jesus Christ rises to your defense. He takes on the role of a priest. "Since we have a great priest over God's house, let us come near to God with a sincere heart and a sure faith, because we have been made free from a guilty conscience" (Heb. 10:21–22 NCV).
A clean conscience. A clean record. A clean heart. Free from accusation. Free from condemnation. Not just for our past mistakes but also for our future ones.
"Since he will live forever, he will always be there to remind God that he has paid for [our] sins with his blood" (Heb. 7:25 TLB). Christ offers unending intercession on your behalf.
Jesus trumps the devil's guilt with words of grace.
Excerpted from SHAPED BY GRACE by MAX LUCADO Copyright © 2012 by Max Lucado. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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