My God of grace – Robin Ham, Pioneer Curate Barrow Deanery
I was reading an article the other day that described those of us who’ve grown up in the 80’s or 90’s as ‘Generation Me’. It might not be the most flattering description, but, like most generalisations, there’s probably something in it! Apparently more than any other generation we have a much more heightened sense of ‘self’ and are likely to exhibit strong narcissistic tendencies.
We may not all think we’re going to be the next big thing on X-Factor, but like it or not, we are products of our time. As a 90’s kid myself, I can’t helping feeling that for all the opportunity and technology we’ve got at our fingertips, we can also suffer from something of an entitlement problem! It’s not that we think we’ve earned it; it’s that we think we’re worth it.
What’s this got to do with my story? Well, if I could sum up in one word what God has to say to those of us in this ‘entitlement generation’, then it’d be the same word that has been dominant throughout my own journey to faith. And that word is grace.
In Christianity grace isn’t just a concept; it’s a person: Jesus Christ. Growing up on the Wirral, we had a brilliant parish youth worker (an import from Ulverston no less!) who was passionate about young people encountering Jesus Christ. Looking back, I’m thankful for someone who got alongside me and communicated Jesus to me, showing me his relevance. Although I’d grown up with Sunday school and prayers before bed, I remember getting to my teenage years and it dawning on me that if the Bible was true, then Christianity must be more than just stories and being nice.
Years later a friend at church showed me Romans 5:8, where the apostle Paul writes: “For God demonstrates his love for us in this, that whilst we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Religion can often be a mask for abusive powerplays, yet I was bowled over that though Jesus makes big claims on our lives, he demonstrates he can be trusted. His love is genuine because its been shown in action. More than that it’s a love that rests not on some inner sparkle within me, but completely upon him and his undeserved grace. He died for us knowing full well what we’re like.
My own experience has been that again and again God’s grace blows our culture’s sentimental versions of love out of the water. I remember really wrestling with this as a student, and yet as I did so I found that though grasping grace can be uncomfortable, it’s also the only source oftrue comfort. Whether it was placing my confidence in academic work or having a particular reputation with my mates, I realised that if I lived as if my primary value and worth was in what others thought of me, then I’d often end up crushed or disappointed.
I reckon this is particularly relevant in our culture now dominated by social media. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram mean it’s really easy to build online versions of ourselves, self-selecting the bits of us we like and filtering away the bits we don’t like. It can leave us with a version of reality where we’ve essentially avoided the messy realities of our broken world, not least of our own hearts. And yet the God of grace calls us to something radically different. We can be honest and open about ourselves, knowing that he loves us as we are, yet loves us too much to leave us as we are.
Of course you don’t need to be a Christian for long before you realise the Christian life is not lived in a vacuum. The ups and downs of living in a broken world are all too real. And yet living by grace brings a real joy and peace in the midst of them, knowing his love for us is sure. The bottom line is that it’s this God of grace that has led me to being ordained as a Pioneer Curate. The author and minister Kevin DeYoung has suggested that the way to pass on the ‘old faith’ to a new generation is to “Grab them with passion. Win them with love. Hold them with holiness. Challenge them with truth. Amaze them with God.” I like that. In many ways that’s how I came to faith. And running through each of them like a stick of rock is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is for all, so here’s to seeing him call a generation to be Generation Grace.