This is the Big One

I suspect every one of us has done it, but only because it seems minor compared to the “big” stuff. The harm is so hidden that it’s easy and it just makes you feel better. Yet, it’s tucked in right there among stuff that could get you thrown in prison:

“They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips.” (Romans 1:29)

While nobody is going to endorse murder or excuse depravity, gossip is commonplace. Among the church, it’s not only accepted, it’s embraced and even deployed for what might seem like the purposes and outcomes that God would prefer. He doesn’t.

Gossip is extremely hurtful as it isolates and degrades the person who may find out that they are the one being talked about. It tears apart relationships and creates division. There are real victims when we choose to target someone as worthy of our descriptions.

No doubt that when someone is torn down or division is created, there is harm. The other harm, however, is within us as we choose to entertain the stories. The deeper division is within us as the chasm is stretched every time we foster the desire we have to relieve ourselves by reducing others.

Reducing others makes us feel better in the wake of some discomfort as it helps us to elevate ourselves to a seemingly superior position on the imagined battlefields of our minds. This elevation is pride.

When we choose to tear down others, we don’t even have to mention ourselves to actually be promoting ourselves. Our insight, intellect and understanding that inevitably comes out in the shadows of our stories makes us feel better about us temporarily.

That’s a problem. God says so. He says that He will oppose the proud; literally going toe to toe with them to ensure that their schemes don’t advance. Pride sets us at war with God as our strategies will not be promoted above His ways.

“Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, him I will destroy; No one who has a haughty look and an arrogant heart will I endure.” (Psalm 101:5)

I’ve done it, you’ve done it, we’ve all done it, and I repent. My battles will not be decided in my wit or words, but by His grace and sovereignty. I pray for the satisfaction He provides from within that will satisfy the temptation that I may feel to exact justice in my stories.

Tearing Down the Important Statues

Perhaps more than the statues themselves, the opinions about statues need to be torn down. The concrete or steel or whatever they are made of when placed along a street or in a park are not nearly as offensive as the stuff that comes out of us regarding them. Keep them or preserve them, it’s all about the heart.

Things that are offensive, especially inanimate objects, don’t have to be. It’s a choice. The security that comes with knowing who you are and being grounded in that identity affords the peace of no opinion. Being grounded in who God calls you and focused on where He is calling you leaves no margin for the distraction of pigeon stands.

Rising up to defend those same objects isn’t anybody’s eternal destiny. The hearts and souls of those that are offended, separated or alienated is in the balance. Every issue is about people and how they are impacted on one side or the other of the divide. Hard stands either way prevents connection, which prevents relationship, which frustrates the point.

Again, this is for Christ followers. If you aren’t a follower of Jesus, none of what I am saying has any weight or bearing. If you are, however, then the invitation to follow Him is at the cost of your need to have opinions on everything but Him. He calls us to care about what He cares about and what He cares about is relationship. Relationship with Him, relationship with each other and relationship with a world needing His hope and grace.

It’s imperative that we maintain First things first while intentionally resisting distractions that pull us towards any seconds. Second things are an enemy of the One thing. Being right, persuasive, passionate or opinionated about second stuff at the cost of gracefully portraying First stuff forfeits relational opportunities that might have eternal implications.

We can care about second stuff, just not much. We can be right about the extras, but we can’t compete to win where there is no lasting victory. Eternal glory is available here and now as heaven and earth collide and the Kingdom of God is revealed. That revelation, however, is not in the competition surrounding issues that divide and don’t unite.

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.

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.

 

 

 

The Impact of Fathers

I used to volunteer in youth prisons and over time developed a routine which I tended to default to when I met a young man (ages 14-17) for the first time in the facility. I would introduce myself and ask the boy his name and where he was from. He was reluctant to interact at all and would usually be looking at the floor with no interest in opening up even a little bit about himself.

I would then ask him where his father is and that would get his attention; he would usually look at me with interest for the first time. His eyes would communicate, “How did you know?” I would often have to repeat the question as he was caught off guard, “where is your father?”

The stories were always terrible; they were dead, in prison, never been around, drunk, on drugs, etc. The only reasonable response at that point in our conversation was, “I’m sorry; I’m really sorry that you have had to deal with that.” I can’t fix it, I can only hope to meet the kid where he is and show some comfort that his story and hurt is legitimate.

That was often a start to talk more about the hurts in his life that he had been challenged with and the choices that flowed from those circumstances. Connecting the heart and the head to begin to understand that he wasn’t weird for being angry and that the anger came from the hurt. Understand the hurt, hopefully choose to forgive and maybe begin to walk out of the cycle.

When I would offer comfort, however, it wouldn’t initially be received. “It’s alright,” or “It doesn’t matter” was always the response. Always. They were in prison; it mattered.

The need for affirmation and acceptance with unconditional love is foundational; we all need it. The connection to our experience with our father produces a lens within us for how we see God, how we see ourselves and how we see the world. The best dad in the world, however, isn’t the target; the Father is.

Our dad relationship is either a bridge or a barrier to realizing the love of the Father. Ideally, we have a father relationship that fosters an easier realization of trust and acceptance than abusive, neglectful earthly experiences would. Either way, though, we seek to hear from the Father, “You’re a son . . . and I’m pleased with you.”

Acknowledging the condition of our hearts related to our experience with our biological father positions us to hear from the Father. When we have let go in the natural, we can receive in the supernatural. Through the sacrifice of Jesus, we can hear this testimony of the Holy Spirit. From that, we will call out, “Abba (Daddy), Father!”

 

 

Generosity Puts Good News on Display Above the Bad News

U.S. Navy Culinary Specialist Seaman Gabriel Common places a piece of chocolate cake on the mess deck serving line before evening meal onboard USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) March 20, 2008. Lincoln and embarked Carrier Air Wing 2 are under way in the Pacific Ocean on a planned seven month deployment to the 5th Fleet Area of Operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Geoffrey Lewis) (Released)

My son and I stopped in a great BBQ place the other day that’s not too close to the house so we don’t get to go all that often. Their brisket is the best I’ve had, ribs were great and side dishes are all excellent in their own right. Then, the grand finale. Dessert.

For dessert, there was peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream on top. Now, to be truthful, the main course was better than the dessert but the dessert was free. They have a dessert area where you help yourself at no additional cost. Can you hear the angels singing?

It’s genius. People love free. People love the special feeling that comes with getting something you don’t have to pay for. I have no idea if I like the owner’s personalities or not (since I don’t know them personally) or agree with their beliefs or voted like they did. I do know, however, that I like free dessert.

As Jesus followers walk into this new normal where, like it or not, we have been aligned with possibly the most controversial president-elect in the history of the United States. After all, the statistics say that something like 82% of evangelicals who voted supported this president-elect. At best, this nation is split right down the middle. At worst, Clinton won the popular vote.

The net result of 82% alignment and a split if not a minority, is that culture is against evangelicals. That is, they don’t want to hear any “good news” from the group that they blame for what they believe is bad news.

In the coming days, if you are a Jesus follower, what are you going to do to close the gap? After all, you are the evangelist if you are an evangelical, as I wrote here last week. How are you going to evangelize a culture that associates you with racism, hate, divisiveness, and other descriptors that attempt to tag the current environment?

There are many ways to start to bridge the gap and build relationship and I’ll suggest a first. Give everything away. Be generous. People love free dessert.

I’m not suggesting any form of manipulation; I am suggesting extreme generosity. When you see a need, meet it. When you see an opportunity, take it. Resist any bias that supports any form of “us” vs. “them” and look for ways to be a blessing. Give away compliments, tip wait staff extravagantly, find needs in the community and meet them and rally other believers to corporately meet needs that exceed your individual capacity.

Our friend, Amy Ford, calls this kind of extravagant giving “love bombs.” Kill them with extravagant kindness, love and generosity. Let the Good News declare itself beyond the distractions of the evening news.