Graceful Absolutes

From time to time, I’ll have someone tell me that they agree with aspects of Christianity. They value Jesus in some ways, but not others, and they agree with aspects of philosophies or religions that aren’t aligned with Him. They lean into a “universal” approach to God where all’s well that ends well and, in their estimation, it ultimately ends well for anyone that tries. Or something like that.

I typically will pseudo-congratulate those people for creating their own religion. They have walked through a buffet line of ideas and picked their way to a meal they prefer, but they are likely the first in the history of ever to pick that unique combination. I’ll often encourage them that they are now the prophet of the religion of “me.” I do so without any condemnation or rejection, just the logic that goes with the reasoning they have used to avoid absolutes.

We are currently in an era that wants to reject absolutes. The idea of absolute Truth where someone can be wrong has increasingly become offensive. The Gospel of grace is, in fact, offensive by its very nature and it is founded on absolutes. With no absolutes, there is no need for grace.

The challenge for those of us that embrace the absoluteness of Jesus and His invitation into an eternal Kingdom,  is to handle the absolutes with the grace they empower. If/when we wield them like weapons of judgment and condemnation, game over. That conversation will go no further. If and when we can find the sweet spot of grace in the middle of Truth, we may just be able to connect people to eternity. We may get to be included in God’s heart for them and us.

Forcing absolutes is likely going to be manipulative and maybe even abusive. Holding them gently and receiving people gracefully is inviting. The invitation holds the promise everyone is ultimately looking for; to be connected to the love of the Father. His love is absolute, and the connection is available. How we receive that perfect love for ourselves will often be reflected in how we offer it to others.

The disagreements related to behaviors are growing so don’t accept those as your premise. The love of the Father through the grace of Jesus Christ is what drew you in to start with and it’s what “they” want, too. Or not; and if they don’t, the argument becomes moot, anyway.

Where There is Faith, There is Hope

Things in court had not gone like I had hoping one morning and I was engaged in beating myself up a little bit when I got jerked into the present by a crying mother and a little girl. The mom had some problems with her driving record and had been driving without a license. If convicted of driving without a license, which was the third time the had been caught, it meant a mandatory ten days in jail.

When I met with her, she had her four or five-year old daughter with her and we talked about the possibilities. The mother was done. She was completely worn out by her effort and failures. Her tears flowed generously and her sweet, angelic little daughter reached up assuredly with comfort and compassion. I cried, too.

Somehow we connected through some reference to or evidence in faith. The lady had hope in her faith even through the challenge and discouragement of being a single mom. Based on that common ground, we prayed.

Then, we re-grouped, said a prayer together and went into court. We were going in to see the toughest judge in the city and the charge isn’t exactly difficult to prove. The officer has to testify about why he pulled you over and show that you don’t have a license. Court records would establish that it was the third time. Ten days in jail seemed certain and there were no apparent legal maneuvers nor any tangible hope.

Truthfully, the judge acted out of character. This judge was incredibly tough and I couldn’t have imagined anything but jail time. Against all reason or experience, the most serious of her charges was reduced and she walked out of the courtroom with some fines but no jail time.

This was a victory against hopelessness. A victory against the scars that might have come in the heart and soul of that little girl if there had been the difficult conversation of where mommy will be for the next ten days. A victory against doubt of the very existence of or interest from a God she had been crying out to but the circumstances never quite gave way.

There are people every day who have situations you can’t fix, but you can agree with hope found in some common faith. Even if just a mustard seed where the judge is harsh and the law is clear, grace can break through.

It’s One or the Other; Not a Combo Deal

There are two options for life: law or grace. They present a choice, not a combination. There’s no “Law- Grace Combo Option” for our inadequate attempts at performance when we want to enhance our chance of acceptance. Either we choose the self-reliant performance woven into the Law of Moses, or we accept the satisfaction of the law through the grace and sacrifice of Jesus.

Human nature pulls us toward the default position of keeping rules because—believe it or not—it’s easier for our flesh than relying on the finished work of Christ. Our flesh craves the tangible. It takes conscious effort to deny its innate bent toward score keeping. The letter of the law is what we point to as evidence of our self- provided righteousness. At the end of the day, we place a star in the box, measure our performance and judge ourselves good. Or not.

Our flesh pulls us to perform though we know we can’t pull it off. It produces shame and fear of exposure and conceals us behind Moses’ veil to hide the limitations of our soul, creating or reinforcing walls between us and God, us and other people, or both. Such walls stem the ow of grace.

We can’t enjoy the freedom of the New Covenant while striving to keep the Old. Energy meant for bold living gets spent struggling to hide behind the veil, and the covenant of Moses breeds insecurity from the certain knowledge we will fail and someone will actually see us. That insecurity results in prideful self-promotion as we try to hide our limitations.

Insecurity shows up as boastful arrogance or timid fear, both outward manifestations of pride. God never offers to meet us in our pride. In fact, He actively opposes a posture of pride: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” (James 4:6). Our only hope is choosing the covenant Jesus offers, which means dropping the veil in humility to allow for our flaws. Our performance behind Moses’ veil puts us on display. Our flaws revealed on the grace side of the veil put Jesus on display. His glory shines.

Accepting the invitation into a life of grace-only is liberating and powerful. Sold out to the truth that we are “good enough” only by the gift of righteousness through faith in Jesus, we can stop trying to preserve the charade of our perfection. We can stop pretending in order to throw religious folks off the scent of our depravity. We can be about the true transformation of our souls.

Freedom is born from grace that lets us drop the veil to live authentically with others. They get to see us; really see us. Not everyone we know needs access to the closed closets and dark crawl spaces of our souls. However, for those with whom we have time-tested relationships, we foster transparency for the ongoing transformation that results in greater liberty.

Admitting our weaknesses and imperfections, we become strong and perfect in Jesus. His grace never blinks at our depravity but meets us eternally with redemption. He embraces us and removes our limitations so we walk in His fullness. From the realization of His grace, we know love; we know the Father through the Son.

From “Abundant and Free” available on Amazon by clicking here.

 

Value of Consequences is Determined by Entitlement or Humility

I once watched an attorney represent a young U.S. Naval Officer in a DUI case. The officer was a Naval Academy graduate and the attorney conceded that the facts of the case supported a DUI conviction but that there was more at play. He brought in a former Naval Academy graduate to testify of the ramifications of such a conviction. That former officer testified that he was forced to pay back the value of his Naval Academy education as a result of a similar conviction.

The attorney argued that a $100,000 “fine” would be the practical result of this conviction and that such a “fine” exceeded the intent of the state legislature’s guidelines. The judge reduced the charge to reckless driving but sentenced the officer to several weekends in jail.

I asked the attorney how his client reacted to such a relatively favorable result and the attorney told me that he wasn’t happy about it. He said there was a sense of entitlement that left the officer dissatisfied with the fact that he have to go to jail for a number of weekends.

Similarly, I once represented a client for a felony that I was able to help get reduced to a misdemeanor but he had to go to jail for a couple of weekends. He wasn’t happy; he didn’t want to go to jail. Going to jail for two weekends with a misdemeanor vs. going to jail for months/years with a felony is a huge win. Yet, not a happy client.

Each of the defendants that I referenced was given a bit of a legal gift. The Naval Officer was afforded mercy to avoid a large bill to the government. The felony defendant benefited from a bit of legal maneuvering. In both cases, they did the thing they were convicted of but didn’t want to embrace the stark reality of some time in jail. They were above that, but they weren’t above the abhorrent behaviors that resulted in the scrutiny they were under.

When we are entitled and believe that our intentions supersede our behaviors and our beliefs justify our choices, we simply won’t grow. We’ll be stuck in our immaturity for as long as we aren’t willing to embrace the limitations of our soul. The limitations of our soul are reflected in our choices and our choices have consequences.

I wrote the other day about the value of my depravity. There is grace available where we will seek redemption. For as long as we embrace our “good-guy” status, we’ll miss the exchange. Consequences are graceful as they highlight the goodness of God and the opportunity for transformation if we will change our mind. Otherwise, it’s just a few weekends in jail and the embarrassment without the benefit to our soul.

The Glorious Paradox of Life and Death

I do the stuff for a living and, as a result, the life can get sucked right out of me. When you are expected to know things, say things, write things related to God, the expectation is that you are at least a pretty good guy. After all, the God stuff you are presenting is good stuff and you are an avenue for that eternal good, so you should be temporally good. It’s a trap.

I’m not a good guy and when I think that I am, the disconnect begins. When I think that I’m basically moral, religious and that I do good stuff, my self-righteousness is being fed. I am forced to consider my good stuff to justify the good guy label. That is a road with no end that gets tiresome and it leaves open a flank susceptible to attack. The flip side of my goodness is my humanness and if I’m caught in the trap of being good, then I’m insecure related to my imperfections.

Taken a step further, when I’m tending to my self-righteousness, I’m completely disconnected from the righteousness of Christ. When I’m reinforcing my own goodness, I don’t need His grace. I’ve got it covered, after all, as I should since I’m a professional at His stuff. Ugh.

It’s only when I can embrace my depravity that I value His grace. When I value His grace, I can connect with Him. When I connect with Him, I receive His identity. When I receive His identity, I receive His righteousness. When I receive His righteousness, I am secure. My security, then, is rooted in recognition of my depravity; it’s a glorious paradox.

My soul is sick. Always has been and always will be. Jeremiah 17:9 says my heart (soul) is desperately wicked. It literally says by definition that it is incurable. There is no hope for it; it is terminal. It has to die.

It is only when I can recognize my incurable sickness that I can decide to go ahead and die. It’s only when I quit gasping for breath related to my goodness and give up that there is hope for me. The hope is not from me, but from Christ Jesus. He is my only hope. Yesterday, today and tomorrow; only Him through the dead me provides life through me, whether I do this for a living or not.

Writing in the Dirt

When practicing law, I routinely defended people who had broken the law.  In those days, people – mostly Christian people – often asked how I could morally support my decision to be an advocate for the immoral.  The answer was easy.  Jesus is our advocate, even though we did “it” in some form or fashion.  The case is airtight against us, but He doesn’t turn from us.  The chance to be an advocate for guilty people was the chance to stand beside them, just as Jesus stands beside us.

In the case of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus’ method of defense was peculiar.  As her accusers loudly proclaimed the woman’s guilt, Jesus silently stooped down and wrote in the dirt with His finger.  The Pharisees would not relent; they continued to batter Jesus with the question of what they should do to the woman in light of the Law.  After a short time, Jesus stood and invited anyone without sin to begin the prescribed punishment of stoning by throwing the first rock.  Then, He stooped down and continued writing in the dirt.

No one could throw the first stone.  One by one, the crowd dispersed until only Jesus and the woman remained.  Interestingly, verse 9 of John 8 says it was the older men who left first.  The older men left first because they had sinned the most, if for no other reason than they had lived the longest so they had the most practice.

Writing in the dirt was the primary tactic Jesus used in defense of the woman.  As odd as it seems, Jesus’ act of using His finger to write on the earth was a foreshadowing of the exchange He was here to make.  God had written in the earth with His finger previously, and here He was doing it again.

The first time God’s finger wrote on the earth was when He wrote the Ten Commandments on stone tablets, some of the very writings the Pharisees hoped to use to condemn the woman.  God wrote the Law twice, as Moses broke the first set of tablets.  Now, here He is, in the form of Jesus, again writing in the earth, again twice.  What He wrote was “grace upon grace” (John 1:16), just as He had written the Law, and then wrote it again.  Perfect satisfaction; it is finished.

The first time God wrote in the earth, He wrote the Law; the second time, He wrote grace.  Jesus came to satisfy the Law for us, since we can’t just as the old men of John 8:9 couldn’t.  Our perspectives of God and people (starting with ourselves) are evident in what we “write” with our words and attitudes.  We are either writing law or grace, and we can only write what we first receive.  Realizing that we are not unlike the woman Jesus refused to condemn allows us to receive grace just as it allowed me to defend those who did “it,” too.

From “Abundant and Free,” available at Amazon by clicking here.