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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

"Grace is Greater" (Kyle Idleman)

TITLE: Grace Is Greater: God's Plan to Overcome Your Past, Redeem Your Pain, and Rewrite Your Story
AUTHOR: Kyle Idleman
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2017, (193 pages).

Like the word 'love,' 'grace' has also become a much touted word in the Christian community. If familiarity breeds contempt, overuse breeds apathy, even sarcasm. As I pick up this book, I wonder what else is there to talk about grace? Are there things still left unsaid? Philip Yancey has famously described grace as follows: "Grace means there is nothing I can do to make God love me more, and nothing I can do to make God love me less." Jonathan Edwards declares: "Grace is but Glory begun, and Glory is but Grace perfected." The famous hymn writer, John Newton puts it beautifully: "I am not what I ought to be. I am not what I want to be. I am not what I hope to be. But still, I am not what I used to be. And by the grace of God, I am what I am." So what can author and pastor Kyle Idleman add to the overwhelming topic of grace? He begins by challenging us to see it as a new word. Using Hebrews 12:15 as the anchor verse, Idleman declares that the lack of grace is spiritually poisonous. Not practicing grace is toxicity in action. Yet when we adopt a life of grace, the rewards are immense. The three key focuses in this book is that grace is greater than our mistakes; our hurts; and our circumstances.

Part One deals with a look at our past mistakes. We might have an ugly or embarrassing past. We might have done something wrong and are hiding from the consequences of the mistakes. We may still be dealing with the failures and have not been able to forgive ourselves for our foolishness. With surgical precision, Idleman identifies three faulty assumptions that are holding us back from true grace: 1) God disinterested in our personal lives; 2) God only interested in the bigger things; 3) God offering us something too good to be true. The good news of grace is that God replaces our regrets with redemption.

Part Two looks at another common concern: our hurts. Part of the solution is to get rid of the clutter of useless stuff. The path to grace is to know the essentials that we need to keep in our lives. The parable of the unmerciful servant is a lesson on what it means to forgive. Churches should be marks and vessels of all things grace. For grace is not about making things right but letting Jesus has the rightful place in our hearts. In dealing effectively with our hurts, we must avoid repression of our hurts and anger. We need to stop rehearsing anger due to unforgiveness and arrogance. We also need to release our hurts to God the healer. Forgiveness is the first and most important step. Idleman leads by example, listing down several of his own faults that he needs to seek forgiveness for. Grace means learning to appreciate what had been done for us rather than what's done to us. Under the lubricant of forgiveness, bitterness, vengeance, and resentment lose their grip on our souls.

Part Three looks at our external circumstances. Idleman relates a personal encounter with Marcus who made one request: That his tombstone carries the words "Forgive Me For the days I Wasn't Grateful." It struck home. There is power in weakness. There is dignity in humility. There is hope that rises above any forms of despair. Undergirding all of these is the recognition that grace is always and will always be greater.

Grace is pretty much a ubiquitous word used by many people, especially in Christian circles. The word itself evokes lots of expectations for us to show love instead of hate, hope instead of despair, strength in spite of weakness, and so on. The essence of grace lies in forgiveness, something that is often more easily said than done. That is one reason why author Idleman drums this heavily throughout the book. There is no grace without forgiveness. Idleman gives us a framework that shows us the far-reaching effects of grace. Grace can help us overcome our past and replace our regrets with redemption. Grace can also help us be reconciled to one another in the present and to give us the hope for a better tomorrow through renewed eyes of faith. With many practical examples, we catch a glimpse of what grace could do in the lives of ordinary people. Some readers may be thinking: Is it necessary to talk about grace again? After all, so many other authors have written about it. The way I see it, this world is more broken and the need for grace is always higher. Just an additional book on grace is but a drop in the ocean of hurts, regrets, despair, and unforgiveness.

Idleman is teaching pastor at Southeast Christian Church at Louisville, Kentucky, the fifth largest church in the US. He has previously written Not a Fan, Gods at War, and The End of Me.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Baker Books and Graf-Martin Communications without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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