The word Love is the most overused word in the English language. We love Honda’s, our parents, and Sloppy Joe’s. But the Biblical vision of what Love means is actually much more complex, difficult…and beautiful.Continue Reading...
Archives For Grace
For most of this week I’ve been wrestling with the book of James. It’s one of the best sections in the entire New Testament…you’ve got the actual brother of Jesus talking about how to live out this thing that his brother started. And one of the main ways James says to do that is to be a part of a community that doesn’t show favoritism.
Most of the run in with celebrities that I have had, have been disastrous. I met Houston Nutt one time, and I think he almost called security on me. But the worst (and I’m really tipping you off to how nerdy I can be) was when I met the theologian, Walter Bruegemmann. We were both at a conference, and I went up to him, shook his hand, and said something like:
“You’ve given me the capacity to dream again.”
Our conversation didn’t last very long. There’s not really many places it could have gone from there, other than talks of restraining orders.
I’m telling you this because I think James has a word for me, and probably you too.
In Donald Miller’s classic memoir “Blue Like Jazz,” he’s got a story tucked away in the end of the book about his friend named Nathan he met a Reed college.
He says that Nathan was this short, stocky kid with a speech impediment. Miller said that he actually sounded a lot like Elmer Fudd, and that his initial response when he heard Nathan talk was to laugh. He suppressed it, and tried to listen to the person behind the voice, and found out that Nathan was brilliant. He researched Nuclear chemistry, was actually kind and descent. He was, in other words, more than his voice.
A few weeks later, Miller was speaking to some preachers in California. They were asking him about how hard it was to live at Reed college (a college notorious for immoral behavior). And Miller’s response has stuck with me for years. Here’s what he says:
“I have never thought of Reed as an immoral place, I suppose it’s because somebody
like Nathan can go there and talk like Elmer Fudd, and nobody will ever make fun
of him. And if Nathan were to go to my church, which I love and would give my life
for, he would unfortunately be made fun of by somebody somewhere, behind his
back and all, but it would happen, and that is tragic….What I love about Reed
college is that there is a foundational understanding that other people exist and
they are important, and to me Reed is like Heaven in that sense.”
Here’s what James is saying. This is just as important as any other moral that you’ve got. Go back and read what he says. That caring about people, without showing favoritism, is just as important as not committing adultery.
One of the more frustrating things about churches, the thing that James is putting his finger on here, is that we tend to define much of our ethics based on what happens, or doesn’t happen, below the waist. God knows those kinds of ethics are important, but just as important, James is saying is how we treat others.
James is showing that Christian ethics is not only based on what you don’t do. It’s based on how you treat others, and the way people can tell what you think about God is by looking at how you treat people.
And so preachers, deacons, Sunday-school teachers, listen up…Those people, the Extra-Grace-Required members of your church, you need them, just as much as they need you. The ethic of James is to treat them just as well as anyone else. Because there is a morality of acceptance that you are showing, or not showing, to those you are leading.
And if we don’t treat those people well than our faith may be holy, righteous, and whatever other word you’d like to put there, but it’s not Christian. We treat people better than others because we’ve seen Jesus’ Glory. Not just in the tomb, but in the manger, in the dinner parties with hookers and religious elite, talking to the thousands, and to the promiscuous woman at the well.
We’ve seen his Glory, and so we look for it in others.
So when I was in high school my best friend Bub and I made a pact never to watch rated R movies again. We weren’t supposed to be watching them anyway, so it really wasn’t that hard of a sacrifice, but it was one that we stuck to for years. We thought that was part of what it meant to be a Christian. When the movie “The Passion of the Christ” came out, it kind of threw us for a loop. Jesus himself was starring in a rated R movie. So what was an honest legalist to do?
Looking back on it I think we had a pretty narrow view of what following Jesus was. We defined it primarily by what we did not do. And we didn’t do it well.
It wasn’t until I was a junior in college that I watched another rated R movie again (at least one that Jesus didn’t star in). And my immediate reaction was guilt. I had broken a promise. And I had probably ticked God off.
I know this probably sounds silly, movie ratings really no longer say a lot about the content of a movie. PG-13 can be worst than plenty of R movies. But I’m telling you this because in my junior year I discovered something that changed the way I thought about what I watched.
I found that God was good, and that Jesus wasn’t just waiting on me to mess up so he could deep-fry me. I started to get a larger perspective on the purposes of God in my life and in the world, and suddenly what I watched started to seem pretty insignificant.
But I’m starting to change my mind.
For a while, I watched whatever I wanted. No restrictions. I was free after all. And if you were to call me on it (Mom) I had a well-thought out theological explanation for why you were an idiot Pharisee. But I noticed after a while that I didn’t like who I was becoming, how I was responding to people, or how I was thinking.
When I watched movies devoid of hope, I became more cynical. When I watched movies that were excessively violent, I got angry easier. When I watched movies that exploited or demeaned women, I looked at women differently.
Now we actually have a set discipline about what kind of movies we will watch (it normally has nothing to do with ratings, but content, story etc.). I know this makes me sound antique. I kind of feel like my parents even writing this. But I’m not Amish,* and what I think is acceptable is certainly going to be considered unacceptable by others. And what doesn’t work for me, maybe fine for others. There’s no hard and fast rule for this. But I’ve learned to think about this in different terms.
What if it’s not about angering a God who’s already kind of mad? But what if it’s about who God is wanting you to become?
In First Peter, Peter is talking about this strange way of relating to God that frees a person up from sweating bullets. And Peter should know. He’s had plenty of opportunities to learn. He knows now that it doesn’t matter how well you wash your hands before you eat, God isn’t concerned about the outside, but the inside. That may sound like common sense, but let me assure you it wasn’t. Religion always veers toward the externals, and black and white rules are great at keeping people in step.
There’s a time where Peter is chilling on a roof and he has a dream. God shows him in this dream a bunch of pigs and tablecloths. And tells him to eat. Now Pork chops have not caught on with Jewish people and Peter knows better, despite what some Pigs in a Blanket dream is telling him. So Peter refuses, eventually God convinces him, and Peter learns what many of us have known for years. Pork is also from God.
For Peter, grace tastes an awful lot like bacon.
But Peter also knows the dark side of freedom. So he writes to a group of people like us, and reminds us of this: “Live as free People, but do not use your freedom to cover up evil.” I think Peter knows exactly what he’s saying. He’s soaked in grace long enough to know that there are some deeper truths it has to offer.
See the subtle temptation of freedom is to think there are no consequences to your behavior. But I’m learning more and more this isn’t true.
For the past few weeks I have been in a Church History class with ACU, studying and learning from the earliest followers of Jesus. And if there is a word to describe them it’s this: different. They weren’t like everyone else, in a good way. They had learned how to be holy.
Have you ever met people like this? People who seemed to just have a different demeanor or spirit? Maybe it’s that they are patient or kind, or filled with joy. Or better yet, have you ever tried to be like those people? Just set your jaw and try to will-power better behavior? And failed?
The basic human truth about our nature is that you will become like the person you practice being. That is, the way we spend our days, the habits we develop over time, shape the core of how we act for a lifetime.
This is why I have been trying to discipline my life more lately. I have learned that the behaviors I try to control typical are just symptoms of a deeper issue. Richard Foster says this is the gift of Spiritual Disciplines. It allows you to If you battle with addictions or over-indulgence…fast habitually. If you battle with materialism, try the discipline of generosity.
The historic, Spiritual disciplines help to put the finger on the real issue.
This is not a way of transforming yourself. It’s about opening yourself up to the Spirit of God in a way that makes your habits more accessible. If the Spirit is the wind, than think of Spiritual disciplines as a way of setting up sails.
In case you are wondering this really isn’t a blog about what movies you watch or don’t watch.
It’s about laying down cheaper freedom to find a deeper version of it.
It’s about allowing God to form you into who you were always meant to be.
And that’s grace too.
*Blogging Tip: If you are going to make fun of someone on your blog, make it the Amish. They’ll never see it.
The first time I had ever heard of Josh Hamilton I didn’t like him. I was at Wrigley Field, cheering on the Cubs as they led the Cincinnati Reds 3-1. My buddy, Michael Peters, was in the middle of explaining to me how Hamilton was a solid Christian, and God had delivered him from a self-inflicted hell of alcohol and drug abuse.
And about that time he hit a 3 shot, game-winning, home run.
Since then Hamilton has left the dark side. Joined the Rangers, become a Major League Baseball legend, as well as a rare role-model that little boys can look up to.
And then something happens.
Maybe you’ve heard already about Hamilton’s relapse. It happened back in January in Arizona. He went to a bar, one thing led to another, and within the last few hours pictures have surfaced all over the internet of him doing something that is less than honorable.
Be sure your sins will find you out, especially when there are poloroids.
But that’s not where this story stops. At least for me.
I know the power that addiction had over a person. From both personal experience and watching my close friends hurt themselves. And it’s easy to feign shock about someone making a tragic mistake like this, but in reality, anyone with a pulse knows what this is like.
We know what it’s like to do the very thing we hope we don’t do. Or not do the very thing that we want to do. And while some of us may not make the same mistakes that Mr. Hamilton has, I don’t think any of us want our worst struggles publicized.
One of the more famous stories that Jesus tells is the one about a Father with two sons. One goes away after shaming his Father, his family, and himself. The prodigal son runs away, he wanted to be free only to find out that he had always been his captor.
So the prodigal son comes home, the Father throws a party, and the older brother pouts.
But Jesus never says “The End” on that story does he? The story doesn’t resolve. There’s no fade to black. Instead, like most great stories, it is open-ended. It gives us a lens for how to view a reality that just keeps going.
So what if that prodigal son makes the same mistake again? What if he goes off again, drags his dad through the mud again? What if he abuses that same grace again? I think the story just starts over.
This is not to say that what God offers us is cheap grace, but the truth is that many times when we hear about stories like Mr. Hamilton’s our immediate reaction is much more like the older brother’s than the generous Father.
Maybe that’s why Jesus doesn’t tie the story up in a neat little bow. Maybe He knows that life doesn’t always end with the credits rolling at just the right time, and that none of our biographies tend to resolve the way we wish they would.
Because the Prodigal story happens every day. And there are followers of Jesus who consistently fall in the categories of each of the three characters Jesus tells us about.
Which brings me back to Josh Hamilton. This story is breaking, and I’m sure more details are yet to unfold. But as soon as he heard about the pictures he called a press conference and fully confessed to everything.
Which is not what MLB baseball players normally do.
The day after it happened back in January he told his wife, his team manager, and the MLB organization. And now, when the proverbial crap hits the fan, he already has a group of people standing behind him.
Donald Miller once said that when we make mistakes, God steps back and says, “Okay, let’s start there.” Because following Jesus is a process. Because life is open-ended. And because Egypt always looks better in hind-sight, maybe Josh Hamilton still is a good role-model.
But whether you want your kids to look up to him or not, beware of being the older brother.
Because like it or not, grace means, when someone returns to their senses they can always come home.