The Nature of Grace

There are a variety of opinions in regard to the homeless, and most of us have heard (or even voiced) the following: They don’t deserve a handout. No one is twisting their arms, forcing them to shoot up or buy another bottle. No one forced them to leave their families to go live under a bridge somewhere.

imagesPlenty of people land on the street through little or no fault of their own—yet it’s also true that some are less than model citizens. I learned this early on. Eight years ago, when my husband, Kenny, and I were serving in Tent City in Nashville, there was Howard, the sex offender. Then there was Sarah, a twenty-something girl who made money by posing for online porn photos. And there was Donny, who mentioned the first time I met him that he’d just finished a lengthy stint in prison. Within a month or so he ended up back in jail for threatening to remove a man’s head with a hacksaw. Every town, including Clarksville, has its Howards and Sarahs and Donnies. It’s not uncommon to ask about one of our mobile soup kitchen regulars only to be told, “He’s back in jail, didn’t ya hear?”

I love Kenny’s point of view. He’s convinced that if someone is capable of being a functioning member of society but chooses to live under a bridge, it’s because he believes it’s all he deserves, and therefore that person needs our acceptance even more than most. He needs to know that Jesus died for and loves him. Therefore, whatever the reason for a person’s destitution, it’s our duty to feed, love, and welcome him as much as possible.

Here’s the crazy thing about grace: The model citizen doesn’t deserve it any more than the pedophile or the prostitute or the guy who sells drugs to 12-year-olds. This seems outrageously unfair; surely Mother Teresa was at least a teeny bit more deserving of heaven than the repeat offender who made an eleventh-hour confession, right? Wrong. If grace were about fairness, it would cease to be grace.

Walk to the crossOne of the most liberating things you can do is be brutally honest about your own immense and imminent potential for sin. It will make you acutely aware of God’s mercy and prompt you to extend grace to others without hesitation. You’ll look at the homeless man and see yourself looking back. You’ll look in the mirror and see a thief. The person who lavishly loves others is the one who acknowledges, “I am the worst of sinners. I don’t deserve Jesus. And yet He loves me, and sees me as perfect and beautiful.”

Dancing Around Obedience

I, like many if not most believers, have a great collection of excuses I use to dance around obedience to God. Have you ever sensed the Lord’s displeasure about a certain behavior and prayed, “Lord, give me the grace to stop”? And yet He’s already provided the grace: “[God’s] commands are not a burden” (1 Jn. 5:3). And yet we try to convince ourselves that God doesn’t really expect us to obey until we feel like it. We want to be obedient, and surely that’s good enough, right?

Silhouette illustration of a woman hand grabbing an appleWe’re so silly! We don’t get brownie points with God for recognizing sin while failing to follow through—or for simply knowing we should obey—or for hoping that one day we will obey. We convince ourselves it’s ok to postpone obedience until it no longer requires sacrifice… until it no longer hurts… until it’s as easy as sinning.

If we’re completely honest, we’ll admit that we often try to bargain with God in regard to sin. We try to help Him see it our way, or to persuade Him that He’s being unreasonable in His expectations. We’re too cowardly to say what we really mean: “Lord, I hear what You’re asking of me, but I’d rather not, so… no.” God’s instructions are simple and straightforward: “If you love Me, you will keep My commands” (John 14:15). Our obedience should be just as simple and straightforward: “Yes, Sir.”

Pilate’s Mistake

Pilate didn’t have a problem with Jesus. In fact, he realized that Jesus was not at fault and that there was something unique about Him. The Bible makes it clear he even felt uncomfortable when he turned Jesus over to the horde. Pilate’s downfall wasn’t hostility toward Jesus. It was his decision to go along with the majority. To be politically correct. To let the demands of the people, no matter how wrong or evil, take precedence over truth. In Matthew 27, Pilate acknowledged that Jesus was “just”—and then he declared that he was innocent of the blood of Jesus.

Pilate believed that if he acquiesced to the majority, refused to stand for truth, and then symbolically washed his hands of the issue, he’d be free and clear of any responsibility. He was wrong.

Has the American church gone the way of Pilate? What do you think?

The Abortion Myth

One of the consequences of posting my thoughts on difficult topics such as abortion is an onslaught of angry responses about why right is wrong and wrong is right… which has led me to the conclusion that there are various popular lies that we, as a nation, tell ourselves so we can sleep at night as thousands of unborn children are being slaughtered. One of these is that an unplanned child who is allowed to live will be abused. It’s better to abort, we claim, than for that child to endure a life of abuse and poverty—as though the only women whose birth control fails are poverty-stricken, cruel, and unfit to love another human being. To say that an unplanned pregnancy carried to term will surely result in a miserable, neglected child is to say that women capable of love, or with decent jobs, or with loving support systems, or with an education, or who do not mentally or physically abuse children, do not get pregnant before they’re good and ready.

Image: Legalzoom

Image: Legalzoom

Seriously? Do we really believe that? Of course we don’t! It’s just easier to say, “Kill that wretched, doomed child” than to acknowledge that most women are quite capable of tapping into their maternal instincts and raising a little girl or boy versus dismembering him/her.

But even if the lie were true—even if the 750,000 abortions in the U.S. every year involved only young, inexperienced women in the grip of poverty—even then, how could we possibly back up the claim that the best recourse for a child being born to a young, inexperienced woman with no plan for her life is murder?

“You don’t know what it’s like,” you might say. That’s where you’re wrong. When I became pregnant with my son, my life was in shambles. I was 19 and ridiculously immature and naïve. I made very little money as a part-time dime store cashier, had no education beyond high school, and had no plan for my life whatsoever. Several people asked me if I was going to keep the baby. I remember thinking, “Versus what?” The thought of having my baby mutilated just because he was unplanned was inconceivable. Even as a teenager who had made lots of bad choices, I had sense enough to know that ripping the arms and legs from a child constituted murder, no matter how you sugar-coat it. I was shocked and outraged that anyone would think me capable of killing a child to make things easier for myself.

I had almost no experience with children. My family lived barely above poverty level, in a housing project. I knew I would receive no support from the baby’s father. I knew zilch about raising an infant. In the pro-abortion mindset, my son was destined for a life of abuse, neglect, and destitution. In the pro-abortion mindset, I was doomed to be a sadistic, irresponsible parent. In the pro-abortion mindset, my son—who is now a 34-year-old husband and father of three—would have been better off dead.

To that pro-abortion mindset, I say, How dare you.

How dare you assume that a girl who is ill-equipped for motherhood cannot suck it up, buttercup, and learn to be a responsible, loving mom. How dare you tell her that her child would be better off dead than in her care, or in the care of adoptive parents. How dare you assume that rather than falling head over heels in love with her baby upon meeting him in the delivery room, she will become hateful and abusive.

Granted, unplanned pregnancies don’t always turn out well. Children are neglected and abused every day all over the world. But to say that those who are born to especially young women—or women with little education or low-income jobs—run a higher risk of being victimized and therefore we must murder them is reprehensible.

Shame on you.

 

The Assault on Religious Freedom

Until a few years ago, freedom of religion = freedom to hold, and live according to, one’s religious beliefs. It even meant the right to “discriminate”—that is, to classify certain behaviors as immoral. There was a time we didn’t have to defend our right to simply embrace a certain moral code. But recently, the governor of Georgia vetoed a bill that would have protected pastors and religious organizations from being forced to perform gay weddings; it would also have protected those organizations from being forced to hire someone who opposed their beliefs. He caved in to extreme pressure and declared that religious organizations merit no such protection. 

We wouldn’t dream of forcing an orthodox Jewish community to roast and consume a pig lest they offend us bacon-lovers. We wouldn’t think of suing a Muslim establishment, with its modesty codes, for asking us to leave if we paraded around in our undies. And we’d surely see the foolishness of applying for a job at a Hindu school if we were opposed to the beliefs of Hinduism. But more and more, Christians are being told we must stop living according to our beliefs.

Religious freedom should mean that a Hindu school can teach its students about Brahman, or a Mormon organization can turn down a Wiccan job applicant, without repercussion. It should also mean that a Christian minister can decline to marry a gay couple without fear of jail time. But soon, that might not be the case at all.

We must stop dismissing issues like this as though we’ll never come face to face with them. The attempt to annihilate Christianity altogether is happening. Now. In our nation. Georgia is not Neptune; it’s our back yard. This is scary stuff.

What has become of religious freedom? I asked this question on my Facebook page. I also asked those who would shoot down a bill like this to define the phrase “religious freedom.” What, exactly, does that mean to someone who believes that a Baptist preacher should be jailed for choosing not to perform a same-sex “wedding”? I asked people to be respectful of anyone willing to answer the question, but I did not get a single answer. So I’m asking again, here on my blog: if religious freedom, which is a Constitutional right of every American, does not mean the freedom to believe andWalk to the cross live according to a moral code, then what, exactly, does it mean?

“I Just Want to Feel Safe!”

 From the moment we’re born, we long for security. And then we grow up, and one day we realize we’re still searching for that “everything’s-gonna-to-be-okay” feeling. Some of us spend year after year scrambling for something—anything—that will produce at least an illusion of security. We might run after relationships, control, wealth, pleasure, experiences, or prestige in the hope that we’ll finally feel safe. Sooner or later, we discover that our bogus safety nets have failed to give us the security we long for.

And then we encounter Jesus. Hurray! we think as we breathe a sigh of relief. He’ll keep me safe! My troubles are over. But our contentment is short-lived if our methods of feeling safe are no better than they were before (even though they might look more virtuous). For example, if we make up our mind to be “good enough” so that God won’t reject us, we discover we just can’t cut it. (We’ll also become overbearing and legalistic in the process.) Or if we assume that security lies in “head knowledge,” we’ll educate ourselves until we become theologians with no heart. Frustrated and exhausted, we’ll eventually realize our religious safety nets have failed us as miserably as our conventional ones did.

Walk to the crossHere’s the clincher: the deep sense of safety we all long for can’t be found through worldly methods, but it can’t be found in Christian living, either. There’s a lot to be said for living according to God’s principles, but He—not holiness or good works—is our hiding place. Security comes only through Him. “No one is able to snatch [you] out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:29). You are secure only when you’re hidden in Christ.

The God-life doesn’t guarantee safety and in fact might take us into dangerous circumstances, so we might as well forfeit all counterfeit forms of security and cling only to Him.