The Grace of Race

Public outcry, eloquent articles, denouncement, arrests and prosecutions or other reactive measures following Charlottesville won’t change the nation. The attempts will bring justice and/or clarify positions, but they won’t heal the condition that has resulted in these types of problems. The rhetoric and outbursts come from deeper roots.

President Obama, quoting Nelson Mandela, tweeted recently, “People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love . . . . For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Hate and anger have been fostered on the extremes of the race equation in America and there are incremental shades of hurt sewn all through the fabric of our nation. Without assessment of cause and origin, it’s fair to say that somebody has to go first to step towards healing.

People learn to hate because they hurt and fear. Anger is a secondary emotion. The healing of the hurt and the alleviation of fear will remove the anger, hate and rage. I’m not saying it’s easy. In fact, it’s incremental.

There is no program, policy or procedure that will fix it. There is only love. Love can only be transferred on heart at a time.

Transferring love one heart at a time requires grace. To give love, the person it is being given to must first be received. They must be received despite the fact that they are a person. A flawed, offensive, and even wrong person. The way to change their offensiveness is to receive them and love them. Ugh; right in the middle of their stuff that we want to react negatively to and maybe even punish.

Now, I’m not saying that everyone needs to react to others like this. Only Christ followers. Only those that have been received by Him with His grace. Then, from the grace received from Jesus, we can distribute it to others. We don’t have to manufacture it.

This approach, however, is contrary to justice. There are arguments to be made which are based in justice that will tear down the call to give grace in order to impart love. That’s a choice; justice over grace. That’s a show stopper.

One heart at a time, grace upon grace, we are invited to love others. Jesus is in the reconciliation business and if you have been reconciled to Him, then you are qualified to join Him in that purpose (2 Corinthians 5). That’s what He’s doing, one heart at a time. We are invited to join Him.

The Fullness of Freedom

I met a new friend the other day who is a lawyer. He used to be a prosecuting attorney and now he has a private practice that is focused on civil disputes. As we talked, the reality of the difference between those practices came up. Once you have stood in a courtroom and been involved in the decision that impacts someone’s freedom, arguments regarding money damages just don’t seem as important.

Criminal cases often mean someone is either walking out of the courtroom in handcuffs to jail, or not. They are either reaching across the bar to hand their spouse their wallet before the deputies take them through the back exit, or they are buying that same spouse lunch after they walk out together. A dollar amount, in most cases, fails to have the same emotion or weight attached to it.

Freedom is more valuable than we typically consider as we enjoy it without reservation. Freedom isn’t free, however, as the freedoms that this nation has enjoyed are bought and paid for with lives. Lives were dedicated and lost as they stood in the gap and bought the liberty we might otherwise take for granted.

We are afforded the incredible privilege of freedom as citizens of a nation that holds freedom as a core value to the extent that we practically take it for granted. For those that are followers of Jesus Christ, a more eternal expression of freedom is available within. The freedom from within was bought and paid for by Jesus, to release us from the bondage of being slaves to depravity or the law. Depravity is our default condition without Him and the law is a reminder of it.

The freedom that is available is the freedom to be. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” means that we don’t have to hide, strive or pretend. We get to be us; the good, the bad and the ugly. Jesus releases us to be honest about our imperfections as He was willing to stand in the gap with His life dedicated and lost for the holiness and righteousness we needed to be restored to the Father’s love.

The only way to go on to new glory and realization of greater maturity is to embrace the flaws and limitations of our present condition. There is freedom in confession that we are who we are, but that He is doing a work from within us that will present eternal fruit even here and now.

If You’re Feeling Salty

I took some hits recently. In places and in ways that I was not accustomed to getting criticized, I was picked apart. It was behind my back and to my face in front of others. It hurt and it made me angry, but I didn’t respond. That hurt, too. It hurt to die to myself and my desire to defend or even attack. I’ve taught on grace and written about grace and believe in grace and now grace is getting further engrained into my soul. I’m seeing a fresh glimpse of an ancient truth.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:6).

Salt is used to describe graceful conversation. Graceful talk is salty. Salt = grace.

Salt is a mineral, not a seasoning. Pure salt doesn’t lose its flavor. It can get contaminated and the flavor can get lost in the contaminants or it can get diluted to appear to lose its flavor, but salt is salty forever. Grace never changes or fades away.

Now consider this passage from Mark 9: “Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”

We get grace embedded in our soul by trials (fire). Grace actually requires flaws to be put on display. The imperfections of relationship are what affords us the imprint of grace. Remembering that grace doesn’t lose it’s flavor, there is no end to the limits we are called to allow for the flaws in others.

Matthew 5:13 says that we are to be the salt of the earth and it goes on to say that salt that loses its flavor is not good for anything except to be trampled by men. The world will accept our proclamations of Jesus only for so long as our flavor is His grace. Once we decide we have to defend ourselves or attack others, even among ourselves as the world is watching, they have no use for our hollow declarations lacking the flavor of grace.

Only the pain of sin and offense can flavor you with grace. Where there is a temptation or even a right to fight back, the invitation is into grace. It will hurt; dying always does. It will taste good to those that need to taste Jesus, however.

 

 

 

Every Offense Doesn’t Require a Verdict

When I was practicing criminal defense law, the contention of the adversarial system would wear on me. I would have to take a break and get away from time to time to clear my lens. My lens would get cloudy from a residue of accusation, explanation, lies born of self-preservation, consequences and other aspects of the situation. I would get a bit jaded in my view of humanity and I wasn’t the only one. The criminal law bar generally could be a bit cynical and sarcastic with salty language and vices to lube the friction.

All too often, I have chosen to play the part of judge, prosecutor of defense attorney where there is no court of law. In life’s everyday interactions, there are disappointments and disagreements that draw a reaction which is born out of an illusion. The illusion comes when we think we need to get to a verdict regarding right or wrong. Where the verdict is “wrong,” and it often is based on our flawed human condition, we think there needs to be an assessment of blame. But there doesn’t.

There is no freedom in the assessment of justice. Freedom is grace based. It has to be, or the busyness of blame will overcome any of the potential peace of freedom.

Freedom starts and ends with identity. When we realize who we are and why, we are at ground zero of peace. That identity is not earned and doesn’t have to be defended. We don’t have to prove anything because we didn’t do anything in the first place. Jesus died to make us righteous by His sacrifice. Where we are willing to agree with Him, we enjoy the benefit of His victory.

When our identity is based in His perfection and sacrifice, we can stop. We can stop defending ourselves and we can stop prosecuting others to elevate ourselves by comparison. Every mistake does not require a verdict. Every shortcoming doesn’t call for an explanation. Every flaw doesn’t need assignment of a cause.

I don’t have marriage perfected, but I have seen that when I can avoid the traps of judgment, prosecution or defense, the grace that breathes in the void gives us life. It’s not easy because it is often only given room in the wake of a decision to die to myself. I turn fifty in a few months and I’m starting to see it more clearly than ever. Less is more.

Today things are going to happen. Grocery clerks, co-workers, kids and others are going to mess up. So are you. It’s OK. Those mistakes don’t demand a verdict. Rest in the peace of grace. Rest in Jesus.

 

 

Walking Out Is Permissible, but Not Beneficial

Some students at Notre Dame exercised their First Amendment rights and walked out of their commencement ceremony a few days ago when the Vice President of the United States began his speech. While I certainly would (and have) defend their Constitutional right to leave in protest, I challenge their judgement in choosing to do so. For any courage they may have displayed, their lack of honor and maturity was that much more glaring.

These young people, while accomplished in the sense that they have earned degrees from such a fine institution as Notre Dame, haven’t really done much of anything yet. Their lives are just getting started and they have much to learn as they endeavor to accomplish things they have only dreamed of. By contrast, Vice President Pence has graduated from undergrad and law school in addition to serving as a U.S. Congressman and the Governor of Indiana prior to his election as Vice President.

They presumably walked out over disagreements with his policies. He is a staunch conservative who undoubtedly offends their beliefs. Now that they are out of school, they can do something about it. They can organize, write, volunteer or run for office, among other things. They can enter the conversation with greater focus and commitment now that they aren’t distracted by their studies. They can get in the game, but the game requires that you stay in the room. Not walk out.

The idea of ideas requires dialogue. Those young people don’t have things figured out solely from their own perspective any more than Mike Pence does. To sharpen, refine, develop and deploy their fledgling beliefs, they have to stay in the room. They have to hear the other guy(s) out if they want to actually be heard. It goes both ways. There may even be things that he, or others that they disagree with, say that they learn and/or grow from. If they stay in the room for long enough, they may get to share something that challenges or develops the belief of their antagonists, whoever they turn out to be.

Honor is not solely a reflection of the other person; it’s a reflection of the character of the one that is offering it. You give honor because your have honor to give, not just because they earned it. Honor given where there is disagreement isn’t agreement, it’s a reflection of the maturity of your character. It’s evidence of the humility required to serve and credibility required to be heard. Honor stays in the room.

Faith, Hope and Love Packaged to Be Delivered

I am going to speak at in another town this weekend and my friend that is hosting me sent me an article about the recent suicide of a local 14-year old. He tells me that there has been an epidemic of teens choosing this route of hopelessness and the local medical examiner has expressed helplessness.

The world around us is in desperate need of hope. Even when the end result isn’t as catastrophic as teenage suicide, the opt out for many is from a lack of hope. People opt out of families, faith and community as they find no meaning or purpose. They have no context of why to fuel the what of their lives. With time, the despair outpaces the dreams.

The church is not immune to this limiting perspective as programs and ceremonies don’t fuel and fill the believer. Belief is tended by action and connection. Belief won’t breathe in a vacuum. The church is intended to be a living breathing organism where the body functions in a way that supports the rest of the body. Then, the whole and healthy body is in motion to impact and change the world around it.

The impact and change isn’t by political victory or moral declaration; it’s by love and service. With love and service, people can see grace and hope.

  • The Father is love; it’s Who He is and it’s what He does. As His kids, we mimic the heart of the Father. From that representation, we are able to carry the nature of the Son; grace and hope.
  • Jesus comes to reach out with grace, not waiting on the perfection of people to decide whether or not they are included. He met me (and you) where I was; we are commissioned to do the same.
  • Holy Spirit breathes life into the Body; giving comfort and insight to encourage and direct. Holy Spirit is wind; subtle yet certain. We get to agree with Holy Spirit as we live a life on mission, seeking His direction and needing His comfort as we agree with Him into places of discomfort.

God is Spirit and invisible and His Spirit is within the visible us. We are the delivery mechanism. The supernatural is expressed naturally. We carry the love, hope, grace, comfort and invitation of the Lord with a heart to serve others to show them the otherwise invisible, theoretical idea of God. He is real and He is here; in you and in me. Show Him and share Him with somebody today. They need the glimpse, and so do you.