Paper Towels, Mercy, and Grace

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Written by Gary Taylor

In our office bathroom is a paper towel dispenser that you cannot pull a paper towel from unless your hands are already dry.  If your hands are wet when you tug on the paper towel, it rips and all you get is a tiny piece of paper towel the size of your thumb and fingertip.

Doesn't it defeat the purpose of using a paper towel if you have to dry your hands BEFORE you can reach for the paper towel?

Here's my hand washing routine in that bathroom: After the normal soap and rinse, I begin shaking my hands over the sink, flinging off as much water as I can, drops spotting mirror and vanity.  It is at this point that I make my first attempt to pull out a paper towel.  When it rips - as it seems to always do - then I wipe my still-too-damp hands on my pants legs.  When my hands are satisfactorily dry, then I can access the paper towel - the paper towel I no longer need.

I wonder how many of us ever encountered a church or a Christian that made you feel as though you couldn't access Jesus until after you rid yourself of all sin.  Scant fragments of Jesus, so to speak, were all you could get.  You were led to believe that your life was so saturated by sin that you yourself were held responsible for weakening the integrity of the salvation you reached for.

Personally, I can recall a frustrating season of my life that was like that; I wanted Jesus, but felt I had to earn him.  I went to great lengths attempting to shake off a shady past, which never seemed to be so "past enough" that I could get a good grip on Jesus.  When I did momentarily rid myself of a sinful action, I splattered others around me with drops of my pride.  Still unable to get a firm hold on Jesus, I became the guy at church walking around with wet handprints on his thighs - a symbol, perhaps, of the work I had done and the lengths I went to in order to be worthy of forgiveness and great mercy.

Words like mercy and grace sing well, flowing easily off the tongues of churchgoers.  But do we comprehend their weight - how thick and hardy are God's mercy and great grace? 

Mercy, I'm picturing, is being able to reach for Jesus even while we are still drenched by bad choices and unaddressed sins.  In a display of stunning mercy, Jesus refused to tear away as he hung, dripping with my sins, on a cross. Unfortunately, we live in a culture that perceives showing mercy as a sign of weakness.  Which may explain why it's so surprising to us when mercy holds, giving us access to Jesus.  We are in need of healing.  Mercy's gentle hardiness gives us confidence to tug on the hem of Jesus' garment.

But what's so amazing about GRACE is that we get the whole of him.  Jesus unfolds all he is and has, availing himself completely to me.  Grace is that I get ALL of Jesus.  In addition to his mercy that invites me to draw near, in his great grace he sees me, and dispenses all of himself for my healing. 

It must look odd to Jesus, watching us go through our hand-flapping, thigh-slapping routines when all we have to do is confidently reach out for him.

Doesn't it defeat the purpose of a Savior if we continually try to save ourselves?  Reach for mercy so grace can do what we could not do for ourselves.