Just nice.

Sometimes I find myself to be pathetically nice.

I try to drive politely. Behind the wheel I’m nice.

I will often insist someone else go first. In line I’m nice.

I attempt to hide my annoyance and smile politely at the server. In the restaurant I’m nice.

I will choose a parking spot further out and leave the close ones for those who really need them. In the parking lot I’m nice.

I know, I know, those are indications of attempting to simply be a decent human being. None of those things are bad. But they’re not necessarily good.

Song lyrics often lodge in my head like a piece of a popcorn kernel in my teeth. It’s been a while since I last watched it, but the bizarre work that is Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” contains a lyric, spoken by the witch, that has stuck in my craw for quite some time.

You’re so nice.

You’re not good.

You’re not bad.

You’re just nice.

They sting my heart as they roll onto the keyboard through my fingers.

She could be talking about me. I want to be good. I know that goodness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit within me. It is something that I want to cultivate. But I just can’t do it in my own strength.

These words haunt me because of the way I walk through life and interact politely with many people and perhaps even express legitimate concern for their well-being and may to a large degree commiserate with their problems… but I don’t even particularly look for something that I might do to make it better.

I’m not bad. I don’t look for ways to pile difficulty or troubles upon their heap of burden. I don’t kick them when they’re down. I don’t laugh or mock their pain. No, I’m not bad.

But I’m not good. I don’t step into their mess and walk with them through it. I don’t look around for some way of providing assistance, comfort, or aid. No, I’m not really good.

I’m just nice. I smile and nod and maybe break the tension with a silly comment or a surface commiseration. You know… just nice.

No, it’s not all the time. But, much of the time, I’m not bad and I’m not good. I’m just nice.

But I know the source of all comfort and assistance and aid. I talk with Him moment by moment and day by day. I spend hours studying His writings and seeking His guidance and encouraging His followers.

When I interact with someone and have the opportunity, even for a brief moment, to speak or share or point to joy and hope and I fail to do so… it’s worse than bad.

Something is lacking. Jesus told us that the world would recognize His followers by the love we demonstrate to others. He did not say they would recognize us because we’re nice. There is a difference.

But, God help me, sometimes I’m just nice.

Not bad.

Not good.

Just nice.

Blow the Dam

What if you suddenly realized that God has a desire to overflow your life with His grace?

If you are a follower of Jesus, then you probably suspect (even if you’re not really fully convinced just yet) that this is true.

I would go so far as to say that the entirety of Scripture is an expression of the unmerited favor of a holy and loving Creator for his fallen and unworthy creatures that will end in an eternal flood of His grace beyond our imagination.

That was kind of a thick, chewy sentence. Let’s try that again.

The Bible is all about God’s grace for broken people.

This morning I was reading in Brother Lawrence’s “The Practice of the Presence of God.” He suggests that God is eager to pour out His grace in every part of your life and mine. He paints a picture of a torrent or flood of God’s grace and favor that overflows the banks of our expectations and overruns our boundaries. (Fourth Letter)

I think he’s on to something.

I believe God’s holy desire is to flood every corner of your life with His grace—a grace that loves us unconditionally exactly as we are but loves too intensely to simply leave us as we are.

But we humans are dam builders.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary entry for “dam”

Do you see that? A dam is built to prevent the flow.

Is it possible that we have built dams around certain parts of our lives that prevent the free flow of God’s grace into that part of us?

Maybe it’s a relationship in which we are harboring bitterness or envy or hatred. Perhaps it’s an area of struggle or sin that we are unwilling to confess. It might even be some part of us that we are so very proud of that we hold only for our own fame.

And we have erected a dam that prevents the flow of the torrent of God’s grace into that area of life.

Can I tell you a secret?

His grace is better. I promise.

When we are willing to blow the dam, we find that we have been, like the little dutch boy, holding our finger in the hole or continually piling up sandbags to reinforce the dam… and when we just let go and let his very grace blow up the dam, we find the sweet, rejuvenating wonder of His grace pouring over us.

Come on, now. Blow the dam.

You’re not sure where it is? Ask Him to show you.

Then blow the dam.

Not sure how? Ask Him to show you.

Then blow the dam.

Let His unfettered grace infuse every part of you.

And in that unhindered flow you will find, as Peter called it, a “joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.”

Am I really sure about this?

James seemed to be when he wrote, “But he gives more grace.” (James 4.6) How much? More. More than what? Yes. More.

Am I sure that there is really more grace than my sin? I am a pretty big sinner. But Paul taught me that “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” (Romans 5:20)

It really is true. As John testified of Jesus:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth… For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. (John 1.14, 16)

Like flood waters piling above and beyond, so His grace abounds.

So blow the dam and let grace flow.

Just Jesus.

Do you have a favorite t-shirt?

One of my all-time favorites was one I bought the summer God began to turn my world upside down and move me out of the band room into the pastor’s study.

The shirt was a plain gray shirt with two words on the front and two on the back.

Just Jesus

Nothing More

It came from a song we sang that week at camp. It was written by the worship leader for the week, Tom Duckett. I’ve looked all over for the recording but cannot find it. The lyrics were so beautifully simple that I remember them still.

Only Jesus paid the price for me

Only His love could set me free

Nobody else could open heaven’s door

Just Jesus and nothing more

I’ve been reminded of this as we spent so much time in Philippians 3 this weekend and we heard Paul saying that knowing Jesus was the thing that mattered. In fact, he testified that all of the rest of his accomplishments and experiences and hopes and dreams and aspirations were like a pile of garbage (or worse) in comparison.

It seems that, if you asked him what in all the world he wanted, Paul’s answer would have been, “Just Jesus, nothing more.”

I am finding more and more that, when I passionately press in to know Jesus, He seems to do things in me and through me that I cannot do. He teaches others things I cannot teach. He loves others in ways I cannot love. He speaks words of comfort and peace and hope that I cannot speak.

And when I look at what He commanded, I see that the essence of it all was to love Him with all that I am and to love others like I’m inclined to love myself. But I wrestle with the question: how can I be focused on Him and loving to others at the same time?

I think maybe I’m starting to get it. When I am so heart-soul-mind-strength focused on Jesus, He goes around loving others and I come along. He goes to my neighbor and serves Him and I come along. He does the things I cannot do and directs the steps I don’t know how to take and speaks the words that I have no way to express.

And what do I get?

I get what I most desperately need and most desperately long for and most desperately hope for…

Just Jesus.

Nothing more.

Because when we get Jesus, everything else melts away in insignificance.

I’m convinced that the work He wants to do in transforming my life is not about me. It’s for you. He wants to transform me to serve you. And He wants to transform you to serve another.

And in it all we get the key to everything – Jesus Himself.

I have come to understand that genuine love does what is best for the one loved. John told us that God so loved the world that He gave us what we most needed—Himself.

What do you need? Really?

Just Jesus.

Nothing More.