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.

Consequences Are Your Friend

One day I was checking the docket at the courthouse when a woman approached me to ask where a particular courtroom was. She went on to explain that she was nervous because her son was scheduled for an appearance on a possession of marijuana charge. “Why does that make you nervous,” I asked her?

“He could go to jail,” she said.

“Did you drive here today?” I asked. After confirming that she had driven her son to the courthouse, I responded by encouraging her that “well, if he goes to jail, just drive home.”

“But he’s my baby,” she explained.

“How old is he?” I asked. After learning that he was 19, I told her, “he’s not your baby, he’s a grown man.” It was about that time that he walked over. “Is this him?” I asked, and she affirmed that it was.

“Listen,” I told him, “you are not a child anymore. Smoking weed and getting your mom to drive you to court are childish. You are a man, you are equipped to be a man and it’s time to start being a man. When I was a child, I acted like one, but when I became a man, I put childish things behind me. It’s time for you to do the same; you are a man and you are capable of putting childish things away.”

This young man’s shoulders straightened up, his eyes locked in and everything about his body language accepted the reality I was presenting him. His mom, at the same time, looked scared to death. It was clear that she was much less ready for him to be a man than he was.

I don’t know what happened with his court case, but whatever consequences he had to deal with were a benefit to him. A misdemeanor on his record is a small price to pay if he was able to allow for the consequence to draw him into responsibility.

Love allows for consequences because consequences allow for repentance. When we have to deal with the implications of our immaturity and/or depravity, we are more aware of the goodness of God. From that place of pain that comes as a result of or rebellion or immaturity, we get to choose. The choice to submit our lives back to the goodness of God is much more appealing when we have tried it without Him and are facing the reality of our choices.

We all mess up sometimes. The stuff that we do is not who we are. Don’t rescue people from their consequences and don’t believe that the mistakes are who they are any more than your mistakes are who you are. It’s the kindness of the Lord that leads us to repentance; not the sloppy compassion or harsh judgment which we may offer in its place.

The Connection of Comfort

We were in Northern Virginia this past weekend and decided to head into Washington D.C. on the way to the airport. We had mentioned going in to see some monuments if we had time and the kids had shown strong interest in doing so. We were running short of time as we had to catch a flight, but we decided to give it a try.

We drove past the Jefferson Memorial, the Capital and the White House as we looked for a place to park. Without much time to waste, we were fortunate to find a parking spot as D.C. was crowded with tourists. From our parking spot, we walked past the Vietnam Memorial towards our intended destination, which was the Lincoln Memorial. After checking it out, in addition to the reflecting pool and Washington Monument (from a distance), we had to head back to the car and onto the airport.

We walked back towards the Vietnam Memorial towards our car. I’ve been to the Vietnam Memorial before; it impacted me then as well as this time both going and coming. My father served two tours in Vietnam and the names on that wall of those that didn’t come home are a grim provocation of what could have been for my dad and our family. I’m thankful.

As we were moving towards our car, I was processing some emotion as we walked briskly to be on time for our flight. Julie noticed an older Asian man along the pathway where we were walking near the Vietnam Memorial. She noticed he was weeping. It caused her to cry as we continued to walk and, about 50 yards past the man, she had to go back. She turned and jogged back towards him.

When she reached him, she comforted him and asked him if she could give him a hug. If you know her, you aren’t surprised. He smiled and welcomed the comfort. That was it. We had to go; we had a flight to catch.

I’m really glad we decided to detour our trip to the airport. The kids loved it and this brief encounter was rich and deep. While the man was a little older than me, he apparently has a story that cause him emotions in much the same way that the realization of what could have become my story did for me.

Holy Spirit is the Comforter and He lives within every born-again believer in Jesus. He lives in us not only because we need comfort, but also because other people do. Giving comfort is a testimony of Jesus, with or without words. The expression of the heart of God is accomplished through people with people. People around us are weeping and we get to connect heaven to earth if we’ll notice earth and offer heaven.

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.

Reading the Writing of Law and Grace

If you look close enough at any of us, there is evidence against us. We’ve all done stuff that’s contrary to the intention of our design. If we were under the pressure of the burden of keeping the law, we could all be dragged out into the public square for persecution.

That’s what happened when Jesus was presented with a lady who had been caught in the act of adultery. There was compelling, albeit awkward, evidence of her guilt. The people who accused her brought her to Jesus to give Him a chance to defend her. It was a losing case, for Him, they figured as the law was clear and the evidence was sufficient.

When I was practicing law, I defended people who had broken a law all of the time. People, mostly Christian people, asked me (still do, sometimes) how I could morally support the decision to be an advocate for the immoral. It’s easy. Jesus is our advocate and we did “it” in some form or fashion. The case is airtight against us, but He doesn’t turn from us.

In this case where the woman was caught in adultery, His method of defending her was peculiar. He stooped down and wrote in the dirt. Then, He stooped down and wrote in the dirt a second time. In the middle of His stooping and writing, He allowed for anyone that was without sin to begin the punishment of stoning by throwing the first rock. Nobody could, and the old men slipped away first because they had sinned the most.

Jesus wrote in the dirt as a primary tactic in His defense of the woman. While it seems strange, it was actually necessary in the fulfillment of Jesus’ purpose. God had written in the earth with His finger previously and here He was doing it, again. The first time was when He wrote the Ten Commandments. He actually wrote them twice as Moses broke the first set. Now, here He is writing in the earth again. Twice, just like the first time.

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 like the old men couldn’t. Our perspectives of God and people, starting with ourselves, are reflected what we are writing. We are either writing law or grace and we are only able to write what we receive, first. Realizing that we are not unlike the women allows us to receive grace and it allowed me to defend other people who did “it,” too, just like I have.

Easter Is Freedom and Life

It’s Easter weekend and churches everywhere are scurrying around to make things just right for the big crowds. Pastors prepare sermons meant to captivate the casual attendee with the hopes of an eternal impact. People show up this one weekend in an effort to check the box to be right with God somehow. The formula of Easter, however, can’t match or meet the fullness of Jesus.

Jesus started talking about Easter early on in His ministry and for the first time in John 3, when He said, “And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.”

He referenced a story from Numbers 21 where Moses was instructed by God to build a model of a snake on a pole because people were dying from their rebellion. God gave them life if and when they were able to lift their eyes off of their circumstances and look at the snake on the pole. Jesus would bring eternal life in a similar way; He would hang on a pole (a Cross) and if people would look to Him, they would have eternal life.

The snake on the pole, is what Moses brings and that is the law. Jesus, however fulfills the law for us with grace and truth. (John 1:17)

Many of us continue to operate out of the law even if we say we believe in Jesus. We think if we do the right things, we’ll get the right results and find the right favor. Our good intentions leave us staring at a snake on a pole instead of receiving the resurrection of Jesus to fulfill the law within us.

Easter is about the risen Christ who went to the Cross to pay the price of our rebellion. If we’ll receive the sacrifice of His offering, we won’t have to perform compared to the rules anymore. We get to receive His abundant life within us to be put on display through us. It will cost us everything, but it’s better than staring at a snake on a stick.