Approaching Issues with Grace

downloadSo many issues, so many choices in how to approach them.

There are the biggies: gun control, abortion, same-sex marriage, immigration, and the list goes on. Then there are the ones that we don’t deal with on a national scale, but they soak into the very same topics as well as permeate our daily lives: forgiveness, tolerance, hypocrisy, mercy, pride, rights, humility…

We separate one from another, because we don’t want to have to apply the same standards everywhere. We can support one issue based on a premise that undermines another. We can set ourselves emotionally aside for one issue but come unglued for another. We point out the logical flaws of someone else’s argument but fail to see our own. Worse yet, we apply God’s Word to condemn others while applying God’s Word into our own lives, inviting him to challenge our own faults and offenses.

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. But early in the morning he went back to the Temple, and all the people came to him, and he sat and taught them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery. They forced her to stand before the people. They said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught having sexual relations with a man who is not her husband. The law of Moses commands that we stone to death every woman who does this. What do you say we should do?” They were asking this to trick Jesus so that they could have some charge against him.

But Jesus bent over and started writing on the ground with his finger. When they continued to ask Jesus their question, he raised up and said, “Anyone here who has never sinned can throw the first stone at her.” Then Jesus bent over again and wrote on the ground.

Those who heard Jesus began to leave one by one, first the older men and then the others. Jesus was left there alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus raised up again and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one judged you guilty?”

She answered, “No one, sir.”

Then Jesus said, “I also don’t judge you guilty. You may go now, but don’t sin anymore.” (John 8:1-11)

How can we approach all the issues surrounding us? Grace.

We can’t force others to walk the same journey we’ve walked, recognizing every truth we’ve struggled to face. We can’t fix all wrongs or become the keeper of all moral rights and wrongs. God is the judge, and he does a good job of it. He doesn’t need our help. He needs our obedience. And being obedient to God means living out the lives he created us to live, becoming more and more like him every moment of every day.

Can you claim to becoming more like God with every moment of every day?

When we walk with God, the issues become secondary. How we approach every person and every situation comes from the core of our faith. We yield to how he guides our responses, and he knows what he’s doing more than we’ll ever know while walking this journey on earth. When we’re concerned with where God has us and what he’s teaching us, we’ll be a lot less concerned with keeping track of everyone’s issues. Oh, we’ll certainly still be engaged in issues, because God engages us in the community and world we live. But we stop trying to fit God into the issues; we let the issues fit into our relationship with God.

God sent Jesus to place a grace-filled path under your feet. Are you walking on it? As you do, you will be living the grace-filled path out loud for all to see and hear.

But the gate is small and the road is narrow that leads to true life. (Matthew 7:14a)

Two (or More) Jobs

1I have more than one job. I serve on a church staff, and I work at a nonprofit, community-based organization. (I also write, speak, etc., but let’s set that aside for the sake of this post).

I sometimes think of them as my inside and outside jobs. There are a lot similarities. Both are service, other-oriented. Both involve a lot of communication and relationships.

But because I’ve worked in ministry off and on through the years, I see some differences, too. Anyone who has worked in a church knows there is a danger of developing an “inside” perspective. We can get so caught up with the day-to-day operations and programs of the church that we neglect the impact we’re supposed to have on the community and world. Or we leave that for another staff member or committee to cover. We get used to certain terminology. Most our friends are within the church. Even though it’s not usually intentional, we begin to isolate ourselves from the outside world, which means we can’t have as much influence on others, and we don’t get frequent reality checks of what the world is up to. We can easily slip into an “us” and “them” mentality.

My outside job keeps me in check. And I love it! I get to come in contact with such a variety of people with different perspectives, interests, and backgrounds. I get to hear their stories, concerns, and even their assumptions about “you Christians.” Sometimes the harsh reality of what people think about Christians is difficult to hear, but I can also understand why people think some of the negative stuff about Christians. I can’t prove them wrong with words, but maybe I can begin to chip away at some of those assumptions by living consistently, replacing hypocrisy with authenticity, judgment with compassion, and elitism with humility.

You don’t have to work an inside and outside job to see it. Any of us can and should see the differences  yet begin to live in a way that chips away at the harsh generalizations (that go both ways). We don’t have to get defensive or see each other as opposition. We can acknowledge we have differences but adamantly look for common ground.

We all have two (or more) jobs. But how well are we doing at both?

Uncertainty and Hypocrisy

photoWe can be okay with uncertainty but not hypocrisy.

When we’re not okay with uncertainty, we invite hypocrisy. When we’re not okay with uncertainty, we claim something just to seem or feel certain. We think a firm stand is better than no stand at all. But we can easily find ourselves on anything by firm ground. Just because we take a firm stand doesn’t mean where we stand is firm. We claim what isn’t true or right or correct, and we find others see us as hypocritical.

Perhaps what’s more important is that we begin to see the hypocrisy within ourselves.

Just because we’re confident in one thing doesn’t mean we have to have all the answers in everything. Just because we stand on a firm foundation at one time because we’re certain of a core truth doesn’t mean we can claim firm truth under our feet no matter where we step and what topics we cover.

Humility is essential to being a lifelong learner, and if we’re not willing to learn and change throughout our lives, not only do we lose, but so do others around us.

Context Matters

static1-squarespace-comI do not sit with the worthless or associate with hypocrites. I hate a crowd of evildoers, and I do not sit with the wicked. I wash my hands in innocence and go around Your altar, Lord, raising my voice in thanksgiving and telling about Your wonderful works. (Psalm 26:4-7)

People might use these verses to justify haughtiness, judgment, or isolation, but these verses also contain thanksgiving. Claims in these verses are only in the context of our humble relationship with and dependence on God. We take our frustration to Him. Yes, it involves other people, but we only isolate ourselves from others in the context of drawing closer to God. In my experience, that often eventually concerns attempting to draw closer to others as well, as He directs. Even when we don’t understand, we can be thankful for whatever ways He guides and trust His wonderful works.

Be Honest with Hypocrisy

24ca621Hypocrisy is nothing new.

Solomon loved the Lord by walking in the statutes of his father David, but he also sacrificed and burned incense on the high places. (1 Kings 3:3)

We judge and are judged by our hypocrisy. Yet it is hypocrisy itself to assume we can completely rid ourselves of it. No matter how other-focused we are, we are still somewhat self-focused. No matter how loving and generous we are, we have remnants of quiet selfishness. No matter how grand our faith is, we have sprinkles of doubt.

When we come across hypocrisy in ourselves or others, we can resist the urge to rationalize it or to dismiss anything it touches. A moment of doubt doesn’t cancel faith. A thought of self doesn’t cancel our concern for others. A struggle with how to respond with grace doesn’t mean our grace, or God’s, isn’t enough.

When we’re honest with our hypocrisy, we’re willing to struggle through it to come through on the other side with a more bold, secure faith. We have a firmer foundation. Yet as we continue to walk on that foundation, we will discover more cracks we need to assess, repair, and sometimes, destroy and rebuild.

Calling someone a hypocrite often exposes our own hypocrisy. Maybe that’s okay. Perhaps it’s the dose of truth we need to admit and change.

Oh, The Hypocrisy

hypocrisyHow often do we declare something as wrong, then step into that exact same thing?

Saul had removed the mediums and spiritists from the land…He inquired of the Lord, but the Lord did not answer him in dreams or by the Urim or by the prophets. Saul then said to his servants, “Find me a woman who is a medium, so I can go and consult her.” (1 Samuel 28:3b, 6-7)

We declare something wrong until it benefits us, or at least, we perceive it will benefit us. Even if we say we tried to rely on God, if He didn’t respond the way we preferred in the timing we wanted, we can easily turn back to what is familiar, even if we have a love-hate relationship with it. We often live in tension, which can become turmoil…or we ignore the turmoil, even get comfortable with it, which welcomes hypocrisy.

Realistically, we all have some hypocrisy in our lives, but we can at least be attentive enough to want to weed our lives of it. We can be honest with ourselves and others through the tension and turmoil. And we can let God set expectations instead of us imposing ours onto Him.

Chill, Christian

Cat_Ready_To_PounceChristians can be relentless.

Perseverance can be a good thing when it’s well-directed, when we persevere in faith. But faith that is on constant battle mode, like a cornered badger, reveals a stressed, anxiety-laden faith instead of a faith marked by trust in God. We can be convicted with an urgency to stand and speak up, but that’s very different than sinking our teeth into someone or foaming at the mouth to pounce.

It’s not impossible to be kind, patient, gentle, and loving when confronting people and issues. All of those things (and more) are fruit of the Spirit. If our faith-filled lives and our interactions with others don’t include the fruit of the Spirit, we have a problem. When we’re known more for our relentless attacks more than we are for the character of God, we need to chill and take a look at ourselves and our faith.