I’ve tried my hand at a number of odd jobs in my relatively short life. Paperboy. Car wash attendant. Lawnmower. Dry waller. Waiter. Umpire. Commercial Christmas light hanger. Seat belt use surveyor. Professional lab rat. But perhaps my favorite odd job of all time was that of bartender.
I was a pastor by day and bartender by night. It was a great gig. The conversations and relationships were priceless. I miss hearing returning patrons ask, “Hey, is the bartending pastor in?” I miss getting to share about the Jesus who spent so much of his time with those who frequented the local watering hole. Honestly, there’s hardly a week that goes by when I don’t think about getting back into it.
The bartender is the life of the party. Everyone loves the bartender…until they cut you off. If you’ve never experienced someone having to tell you, “I can’t serve you anymore because I’m worried you’re going to hurl on the dance floor or die – and both are bad for business,” then good for you. It’s not pretty. And when someone gets to that point they can no longer be reasoned with. I once had a guy hand me $100 cash in a desperate plea for one more drink. On another occasion, a guy offered me his wife. (She was not very happy.) There comes a point where one becomes so inebriated that all common sense goes out the window.
Intoxicated. Irrational. Drunk.
You know what? That’s exactly what I pray we become on God’s grace: completely intoxicated, irrationally drunk. Trust me, it is so much better than whatever your local watering hole is serving up this evening. When you become drunk on God’s grace you you will never be the same again. And neither will the world.
By the way, religion can’t do that. But grace can.
One of my favorite quotes comes from Robert Farrar Capon, who writes:
“The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellar full of fifteen-hundred-year-old, two-hundred proof Grace–bottle after bottle of pure distilate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly. The word of the Gospel–after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps–suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started…Grace has to be drunk straight: no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale; neither goodness, nor badness, not the flowers that bloom in the spring of super spirituality could be allowed to enter into the case.”
Reflecting on this quote, John Dink writes,
“Sola Gratia, Grace Alone, was not merely a leaning of the Reformation… it was a pillar. The reformers trumpeted God’s grace as the only Christian method, with no compromise. The Gospel was being unleashed again, not reinvented, but rediscovered… the unending love of God, freely given to the undeserving. The truth–so scandalous, so surprising, our hearts have to be sitting down to hear it… God saves sinners single-handedly, He will not be needing our help. In fact, diluting the Gospel with our own help is precisely why grace ceases to amaze us. So busy trying to help Jesus help us, we hardly ever taste His gift and we remain unchanged and unmoved by it. Over time, our blended, balanced, watered-down cup of grace leaves us cynical and sober. We want so desperately to mix in some of our rule-keeping or our performance… we’d give anything to add something of our own label! But it never turns out as we had hoped. We start to feel like we can’t keep up our end of the bargain – we feel as though we’ve failed. But… what if we don’t need our own label? What if Jesus kept up our end of the bargain for us? Those who are broken and bold enough to ask the questions, find themselves seated at a table with smiling sinners – too drunk on grace to remember the rules, and yet, they all seem to know them by heart. We’re served glass upon glass and something happens… the Gospel becomes the power of God and the wisdom of God. The power of God, because we taste something strong enough to save us. The wisdom of God, because we taste something good enough to change us. The bar is always open and the drinks are all paid for–just thank the Bar Tender, raise your glass and drink it straight. It’s all Grace.”
Friends, it is a new year. I pray 2014 will be the year you come to know The One who loves you and saves you by grace and grace alone. May you be overwhelmed by He who loved you first. May you become intoxicated by The One who died for you while you were (and perhaps are) still up to your eyeballs in sin. May this be the year you learn to stop mixing and drink grace straight.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”Ephesians 2:8-9