I heard of a lady who wanted to paint her back porch’s walls and ceiling and didn’t want to mess up the floor. She carefully laid out a drop cloth, taped it down, and went to get her painting supplies. When she came back the drop cloth and all the tape had disappeared. She wondered what in the world had happened until she noticed a pile of plastic twirling around on the ground in her backyard. It seems a snake had come up on her porch and got entangled in the drop cloth. The snake went on its way but couldn’t shake off the plastic because of the tape. In fact, the harder it tried the more ensnared it became.
Sounds like me and my personal efforts to shed some of the crud in my life. I’ve seen it in church, too. Church is where we ought to know that we can’t save ourselves. We need Jesus. I remember a cartoon showing the crucifixion scene depicting Jesus saying, “If I’m okay and you’re okay, what am I doing hanging on this cross?” It’s Easter season in the church, but we don’t act like it. We want to fix ourselves rather than let God do it.
I was preaching revival services in the small South Carolina town of Wagener, and one night we all got a jolt. A lady had brought her boom box to play recorded music as her accompaniment. She finished singing, the offering was taken, and I had started preaching when I noticed that a snake had crawled out from behind the boom box. The lady later surmised that she had left the boom box out in her carport while she went back inside her home giving the snake ample time to crawl into the empty battery compartment. Nevertheless, the snake slithered off the front pew and started heading toward the pulpit and me. I stopped preaching and asked the ushers to immediately come to the altar. They looked at each other like I was crazy so I emphatically repeated my request. They walked up and saw the snake. One of the ushers stomped the snake and the other picked it up while it was still wiggling like crazy. The crowd gasped and some swooned as the ushers escorted the snake outside. I went back to preaching. The next night the place was packed. It seemed like the whole town got wind of the “devil” coming to church and they wanted to see what was going to happen next.
Oh, the devil still comes to church. In John 13:31-38 Jesus tells his disciples he’s going to leave them and to love one another. Peter wants to know where he’s going and says he’s willing to lay down his life to follow Jesus. Jesus tells him that Peter is going to deny him 3 times before the rooster crows the next morning. How like me and maybe quite a few folks in church? We talk big and before the sun comes up, we’ve blown it. We need Jesus or we get tangled up worse in our own failures.
Sure, we need to do our very best to live Christian lives, but if it weren’t for grace we don’t have a chance. The Wesleyan matrix of grace is so descriptive of our Christian hope. God woos us through prevenient grace that comes before we even want or expect it. Justifying grace is when we are regenerated and reconciled to God. Sanctifying grace is that continual process of God making us into Christ’s likeness. It’s all grace from start to finish!
C.S. Lewis was asked why so many Christians seem less than perfect. His reply, “You should have seen them BEFORE they became Christians.” Absolutely, the devil comes to church every time we enter, but, thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ, we can be a saint every time we leave. We can either slither in and slink out, or we can walk out into the world filled with grace and hope.