Does Grace Run Out?

I want to look at Grace through the eyes of one of God's prophets; this prophet knew about His grace, he enjoyed it, hated it, loved it, struggled with it and even became angry over it. This prophet's name was Jonah.

God had seen the state of the city Nineveh, it was troubling Him, so He went to Jonah and told him to go to this wicked city and preach. Jonah doesn't say anything, he just gets up and takes off in the opposite direction. He was so opposed to God's idea, he pays money, jumps on a ship, heading as far away as he can from where God wants him to go. 

While on that ship, a vicious terrifying storm starts! Everyone on it knows it came from something supernatural. They were all in grave danger and the ship was about to tear apart. Meanwhile, Jonah, in his efforts to escape from the presence of God, and in his efforts to escape from the instructions God had given him, had gone into the belly of the ship and fallen asleep. God had stressed him out, by asking him to do something he didn't want to do. I'm sure that jumping on that ship was a relief, it enabled Jonah to chill out a little, because in his mind he thought he'd got away from the task God had told him to do! At that moment, he thought he could hide from God, he wasn't concerned about the storm or the fatality of the ship, he was concerned about only 2 things; getting away from God and ignoring the mission God had given him. 

Meanwhile on the upper deck, they were absolutely terrified, fighting the elements, tossing things overboard, knowing someone had disobeyed their god. Eventually, the captain finds Jonah sleeping. The crew couldn't believe it, how could this man be so calm through such deadly turmoil? They all drew straws, which how they determined who had angered the gods, and Jonah happened to draw the shortest one. Jonah admits to everyone that he ran away from God, and tells them to throw him overboard. The crew protests, they didn't want blood on their hands, but the storm kept getting worse! 

Eventually for the sake of everyone else, they agreed to toss Jonah into the raging waters. God had mercy on those in the ship, by making the waves and wind calm down immediately. Amazed and terrified, all those on the ship convert their allegiance from their gods to Jonah's God. They all started praising and worshipping God!

God didn't forget Jonah and had mercy on him. He didn't let him drown. God sent a huge fish that swallowed him whole.  For 3 days and 3 nights Jonah lay in the belly of that fish. Despite many pictures in children's books, where we see Jonah camped around a fire in a huge whale, I'm sure those 3 days were torturous. As he lay in there suffering, cramped and damp, Jonah called out to God. His prayer revealed that he was crying from the abyss, he was begging for His forgiveness and mercy. Jonah tells God he'll do whatever He wants him to do. God heard his cries and had mercy on him once again, making the fish vomit him up on to dry land.

God spoke Jonah once again; He told him to get up, go to Nineveh and preach! This time he obeyed, went in the right direction and did exactly what God told him to do. He entered this great city and told them, "in 40 days, your city will be overthrown!" They heard Jonah and believed his words were from God, they repented and had a citywide fast, saying "maybe God will hear our cries, see our fasting, turn from His anger and have compassion on us." 

As a result, Jonah 3:10 proclaims, "God saw what they had done, that they had turned away from their evil lives. He did change his mind about them. What he said he would do to them he didn’t do." (MSG)

You'd think everyone would be happy, Jonah had received God's grace, God had given him a second chance! Now God had also given this violent, wicked city another chance. They had repented, changed their evil ways and God had compassion on them. This should be a reason to celebrate, people who had done evil, were violent and deserved punishment, had changed and now were also recipients of the amazing grace and mercy of God.

Not everyone was happy with God's display of grace, we read; "Jonah was furious. He lost his temper. He yelled at GOD, “ GOD! I knew it—when I was back home, I knew this was going to happen! That’s why I ran off to Tarshish! I knew you were sheer grace and mercy, not easily angered, rich in love, and ready at the drop of a hat to turn your plans of punishment into a program of forgiveness!" (Jonah 4:1-2 MSG)

Jonah knew the nature and character of God. Jonah knew God's heart. God was too compassionate and loving for Jonah's liking. Listen to why he ran east and threw his tantrum again; "I knew you were sheer grace and mercy, not easily angered, rich in love, and ready at the drop of a hat to turn your plans of punishment into a program of forgiveness." Jonah was furious that God had showed grace and mercy to a group of people he thought deserved to be obliterated out of existence. The Ninevites had an awful reputation; they were violent, oppressive and had treated Jonah's people bad. He didn't like them and he wanted them gone. He wanted vengeance; but he knew God as Someone who loves to forgive! Jonah wanted God to violently fulfill His Word, he didn't want God to change His mind, forgive his enemies and be compassionate to them! He didn't want them to receive God's grace!

We can often be like Jonah too, can't we? We willingly accept God's grace, mercy and compassion in our lives, but we want God's vengeance to zap certain folks who irk us. 

Yet, there's also many of us, who struggle to accept God's grace in our own lives. We know what we've done, we know our thoughts, we think we've been too bad, too wicked and too violent. We can't understand how God could ever forgive us, and let alone, gift us with things we don't deserve.

This word grace is powerful and mysterious; it excites people, but at the same time, it frightens us. It doesn't make sense. It contradicts. It goes against all our first instincts for vengeance, justice, punishment and safety. While it makes people overjoyed, grace also makes us downright mad! We don't understand it! Grace challenges us to view things in a new perspective.

Recently, I was speaking with Michael, a homeless veteran and someone I've known through CCO for over 10 years. I know this man's reputation and intensity; he's given me several headaches, but on this particular day he opened up with tears in his eyes and with all the regret in the world. He cried, "you don't know what I've done. I'm not a good person, God can't forgive a person like me!" He remembered his days, fighting in Vietnam; "you don't know what I did when I was overseas, it was bad, it was nasty, how could God forgive someone like me?" Then Michael went on to talk about how he'd been in and out of prison for years, his violent tendencies, his life as a gangbanger, a drug dealer, a drinker and a crack smoker. He just kept on crying, "I've done too much; God can't forgive someone like me!" 

What Michael was telling himself was a lie! God's grace and forgiveness is never ending. It's always there; always available! The story of Jonah, the gospels and the whole biblical narrative reveal God as Someone who loves to forgive and set people free!

Michael, just like the people of Nineveh, has come to the place where God needs us all to be. Michael, like Jonah and the Ninevites, is begging for God's grace and forgiveness from the pit of despair. We need to come to God just like the tax-collector Jesus spoke about; this man couldn't look to the heavens, beat his chest in despair and prayed, "Lord, have mercy on me a sinner!" Jesus made it very clear, that this repentant sinner, and not the self-righteous Pharisee, was deemed righteous by our Loving God.

God out of His love says to us, along with Michael, the Ninevites and Jonah; "yeah; you're right! You don't deserve My grace, you've upset me and you've done a lot of things wrong; but I forgive you and give you gifts anyway!" This is what the Grace of God is, this is what the Kingdom of God is, it is Jesus showering sinners and those who are rejected with "unmerited favor". In other words, we don't deserve God's mercy, love and forgiveness, but He gives them to us anyway. Even though we should be punished, God showers us with His gifts.

The story of Jonah didn't end there, it gets even stranger. Even though Jonah knew God's character and that He loves to shower people with His grace and compassion, he remained furious. He was so mad, he blurted out to God; “So, GOD, if you won’t kill them, kill me! I’m better off dead!” This bitterness helps us understand how Jonah was able to sleep during that vicious storm; he hated these people with a such passion, he'd rather die, than see them live! Jonah decided to sit outside of the city and sulk. He wanted to wait and see if God would bombard Nineveh. He wanted to see a show. He wanted to see his enemies suffer and die.

It was a hot sunny day, so Jonah made a shelter for himself. God saw what he was doing and met with Jonah once again. God, in His mercy and grace, made a tree sprout up to give him shelter from the oppressive heat. Jonah was overjoyed and happy with God's act of kindness; life was looking up again. But that happiness quickly disappeared, because God then sent a worm that killed the tree. He was sitting there without shelter, and a blistering wind and killer heat beat down upon his head, making him feel faint. Jonah couldn't believe it, at that moment his life sucked, nothing was going right, Nineveh was still standing, the show he wanted to watch turned out to be a dud, God was still merciful, so he cried out in despair; "I'm better off dead!" 

God meets Jonah, by saying; “What right do you have to get angry about this tree?” 
Jonah responds, “I got plenty of right. It’s made me angry enough to die!” 

It may seem like God is messing with his prophet, trying to make him snap, trying to make him go up and down like a yo-yo, but He isn't! God uses this tree and worm to teach us all a valuable lesson; a lesson that ignites another display of God's grace. This worm helped Jonah and helps us sees the true heart, grace and compassion of God. I want us to hear how God responds; this verse also shows us His heart, grace and compassion for each and every one of us; no matter who we are and what we've done!

GOD said, “What’s this? How is it that you can change your feelings from pleasure to anger overnight about a mere shade tree that you did nothing to get? You neither planted nor watered it. It grew up one night and died the next night. So, why can’t I likewise change what I feel about Nineveh from anger to pleasure, this big city of more than 120,000 childlike people who don’t yet know right from wrong, to say nothing of all the innocent animals?” (Jonah 4:10-11 MSG)

God is Someone who loves to give people second chances, third chances, fourth chances or even the number Jesus said; "seventy times seven"; it's what God loves to do. He loves to change what He feels from anger to pleasure, from punishment to forgiveness and mercy. He showered this wicked, evil and violent city with His grace. He also gave Jonah multiple chances. He wants and loves to shower us with His grace too! 

Grace is a hard concept to understand or to live by! Jonah understood God's compassion, but it angered him. He didn't want others, people he didn't like, to receive it. God doesn't want us to follow Jonah's example, He calls us to follow the example of Jesus, by loving those who don't deserve it. He calls us to love and have grace on our enemies, the "least of these", foreigners, sinners, outsiders and anyone we come in contact with.

When we deem another person, or group of people, unforgivable, we have to remember, not one of us deserve God's grace! However good or bad we think we've been, one thing is for certain, we don't deserve His grace, but God gives it to us anyway. That's what God does. That's the love of God; a love that's always there and is never ending.

We need to embrace it with open arms, and thank the One who freely gave it!

A brief summary of why I wrote this: There's a ministry on the West-side of Chicago called Mission:USA; every Tuesday night they have a Church service called The BRIDGE. Their services are open to everybody, but especially those who find it hard to gel in their local congregations! Or to put into cruder terms; a lot of these men and women are ex-offenders, homeless and low-income folk who have felt ostracized and rejected by many churches, so their mission is to be a bridge between prison, the streets and the Church. The Bridge helps these wonderful men and women find churches that will welcome them with open arms.....  
And isn't this exactly what the Gospel and the "Kingdom of God" is all about?
Every Tuesday night, The Bridge has a host team from a Church, who greet the guests and provide a meal. The guests anonymously submit questions about their "walk of faith", and staff from The Bridge pick out a relevant question. Meanwhile, they have invited 3 pastors from 3 different churches to come and give a 10 minute sermon each about this specific question or topic. In my humble opinion, this is a great concept and ministry, who's staff is very loving, compassionate and supportive to the "least of these".

This was a sermon preached on 3/17/15, in response to this question;“Does Grace Run Out?”

I don’t know why God would give grace to us if we don’t deserve it, and I basically never feel like I deserve it. 

Does God’s grace ever just run out? 

Will He answer my prayers even though I keep messing up? 

He knows how many times I’ve messed up, and I just keep coming back to Him with a longer and longer rap sheet. 

How can I be sure that God isn’t waiting with a thunderbolt the next time I come to Him after messing up?

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