Category Archives: Redemption

The Gift of Non-Judgmental Grace

Working as an Uber Driver is a temporary gig and even though it’s not something I want to do for much longer, it’s really a pretty good job for what it is. One of the reasons I say that is because of the opportunity to meet a variety of people, as brief as our interactions are, and learn mostly through listening and observing.

I drive through the city of Baltimore, picking up one rider after another. One person is heading home after a day at work or college, another is headed to a bar or restaurant to meet some friends. It’s amazing to hear some of the things that riders will talk about with the person they are riding with or talking on their phone with when they forget that they are sitting in a car with someone they don’t even know. One couple chats happily with me about their new baby child, which they are enjoying a needed break from, while another couple argues with each other with one vulgar insult after another. Another rider is inquisitive about my religious beliefs while another rider is too drunk to care about anything but falling asleep (which he tried doing in the back seat of my car).

One couple I picked up was mocking a homeless panhandler we saw standing  at an intersection. They assumed the panhandler to be a drug-addict, which might be true. But this homeless person could just as easily be suffering from mental illness, could be a military veteran suffering PTSD stemming from his tours of duty in war, or he could be… Well, does it really matter?

As a minister I have spent time with people going through difficult times. Divorce, mental illness, addictions, jail-time, and so on. Though not always the case, often times the struggle stems from some bad choices the person has made… Sin! But something I’ve learned, which a few of my psychology friends have helped me understand, is the difference between excuse and explanation. Nothing excuses the wrong a person does but in many cases, there is an explanation for it. That is, there is an explanation for why that homeless panhandler just might be addicted to heroin or why that couple thinks they are better than that panhandler as I drop them off at the Capital Grill to eat a $300 dinner.

“But for the grace of God, there go I.” It’s something I try remembering as I encounter other people struggling though difficulties… especially since I know that I am a sinner too! And if it we’re not for the grace of God, we all…

We find it is easy to sit in judgment upon other people, especially when their sin is not our sin. It seems that our social-media experiences, where we quickly pass along memes and editorials that criticizes everything we disagree with in society, only encourages such judgmentalism. Regardless of the cause, we should resist the temptation to judge because if it were not for the grace of God…

Instead, perhaps we could give others the gift of non-judgmental grace. That is, instead of passing judgment on others, we empathize instead. Rather than assuming, we listen and/or observe in hopes that we might understand better. I’m not suggesting that we can never say something or someone is wrong but that instead of looking down on others for whatever circumstances they find themselves in, we regard others with mercy rather than scorn. Maybe giving others the gift of non-judgmental grace leads to other acts of kindness and blessing but whether it does or doesn’t, it makes us as people who are safe… people whom others can trust and approach when they are facing trouble. And that is where we join Jesus in the redemptive work of restoring and reconciling people to God, each other, and the life they have been created to live.

A Conversation About Jesus and Religion

Yesterday evening while driving for Uber in Baltimore I picked up a man I”ll call Sammy, who was born in India but was raised in America. I picked him up at a bar in Baltimore and I could tell he had a few drinks but he was a nice man and was telling me about his work, which involved working with clients all around the world. Then he asked me what I do and that’s where things became interesting.

I explained to Sammy that I’m a Christian and have spent the last ten plus years of my life serving as a minister with churches. Sammy then told me that he is not religious but respects anyone who is because religion normally make people better people. The conversation then went something like this…

Sammy: “Do you really believe in one God?”

Me: “Yes, I do.”

Sammy: “Do you believe Jesus is the only one who can save everyone?”

Me: “Yes, I do.”

Sammy then proceeded to share with me his difficulty in believing like I believe. He said that at the end of the day all religions teach us how to be nicer people to others and that’s what he thinks is important. Then Sammy said, “But you believe differently.”

I could tell he was waiting for a response but I paused for a moment as we were pulling up to his destination. Then I said, “Sammy, I believe that Jesus was crucified but that God raised him from death and exalted him as Lord… as the one who is King over all. That’s why he is the only one who can save everyone. Of course, if Jesus wasn’t raised from death then none of that really matters. But if he was, and I believe he was, and if you believe he was, then even if we don’t understand how God works all this salvation stuff out, we know that it is through Jesus that God saves because Jesus is the Lord… the King.”

Sammy stayed silent for a moment. Then he said, “Wow, I never thought of it that way before. I know I have to go now but thanks, I need to think about that more now.”

Christians… If God has raised the crucified Jesus from death and exalted him as Lord, as we confess, then may the Spirit empower us to boldly live as witnesses for this good news of Jesus the Messiah!

Cultivating People of Grace

Everybody sins, including you and including me. But to often, so it seems to be the case, we forget that we’re sinners as we heap judgment and condemnation down upon others for their sin. But as one who unapologetically believes in Jesus and is striving to follow him, I believe Jesus calls us to become conduits of grace in our world. And boy oh boy, does our world ever need grace…

If Only there was more grace

Last week I read the story of a Michigan City, Indiana police officer who was found dead from a self-inflicted gun shot wound. Growing up in the LaPorte, near Michigan City, the story interested me. The story itself is sad, as it is any time someone takes their own life, but the story is bigger than just a tragic loss of life. The officer had resigned his position just a couple days prior to his death after having been arrested and charged with three counts of level 6 felonies having to do with misconduct and possession of a prescription narcotic drug without a prescription.

I’m not repeating the story here in order to heap any sort of judgment upon this officer. In fact, I intend to do just the opposite with this post. I tell the story because it seems rather apparent that the officer had some personal struggles that had now led to further problems affecting his life and career. Adding his trouble was the fact that the news was well publicized locally and some people apparently used Facebook as a place to play judge, jury, and executioner by quickly heaping judgment and condemnation on this officer with vitriolic comments. Unless we have found ourselves in similar circumstances, we can only imagine the shame and how it must have felt for this man to have his life seemingly unraveling in such a public way. Nevertheless, this officer apparently felt so hopeless that ending his own life seemed like the only option and that is a great tragedy.

The reason I share this story is because it reminds me of how much every community needs the local church whether they know it or not. Every community needs people who know how to show grace and that should be the church who has encountered the grace of God. Here is why…

Society is often full of graceless people who are ready to judge and condemn, as though they have never sinned themselves. When people find themselves broken and their world is collapsing amidst the shame of judgment and condemnation, what they need is some friends who will love them rather than heap more scorn upon them. By loving such people, the church becomes a conduit of grace and mercy. As I have said in preaching before, everyone needs forgiveness and a second chance at some point in their life. When the church is the place where those who have failed and let others down begin encountering that forgiveness and second chance, the possibility of hope is believable.

Jesus, An Immoral Woman, and Grace

One of my favorite Jesus stories, one that I’ve written about before, is found in Luke 7:36-50. While dining by invitation at the home of a Pharisee named Simon, a sexually immoral woman, perhaps a prostitute, anoints the feet of Jesus with oil and Jesus doesn’t scold her. This doesn’t sit well with Simon, so under his breath he criticizes Jesus which in turn draws some very pointed teaching about grace from Jesus. Then Jesus tells the woman, “Your sins are forgiven… Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (v. 48, 50).

But there’s more and it’s matters much!

Jesus spoke words of grace to this woman and that’s important because she needed to hear that she is forgiven. But Jesus also embodied grace to this sinner in the way he treated her.

  • By not scolding her, Jesus extended hospitality and let her know that he is someone safe. Unlike Simon, Jesus will not heap judgment and condemnation on this woman whose tears signify the shame she already carries around with her.
  • When Simon, along with the others, judge this women with their glaring looks and scornful remarks, Jesus comes to her rescue and defends her. Jesus will not let this woman drown in her own tears of shame. Instead his protection lets her believe in the possibility of hope, hope that not even she is beyond redemption.
  • Perhaps the biggest surprise is that Jesus himself is willing to risk his own reputation and endure the scorn of others in order to show grace. Regardless of what Simon and the others think, this woman will not bear the shame alone anymore because Jesus is willing to bear it with her.

This sinful woman is able to leave this dinner party with forgiveness but she is also able to leave with hope because through the actions of Jesus, his word of grace has meaning.

Cultivating Grace

Talk is cheap and words are meaningless without action. Churches can sing all the songs about grace and pastors can preach sermons about how much God loves the sinner and forgives the sinner but unless the people that make up the church are able to embody the grace of God, those songs and sermons mean little.

Ministers, through preaching and teaching, must cultivate the churches they serve to become people of grace. And by that, I mean becoming people who extend hospitality to people drowning in the shame of their sin, defending them from the judgment and condemnation of others and doing so even at the risk of their own reputation. It’s not enough to offer recovery programs for those struggling with addictions or those who have suffered through a divorce. Those are certainly important in helping people turn the page, so to speak, and learn to live into the life God is redeeming them for. But when people find their life unraveling in brokenness, what they need is people who will put their arm around them and remind them that they are not what others, and maybe even they themselves, think they are… who will remind them that the grace of God is for them.

Cultivating churches to become a people of grace involves equipping the people to be present to their friends, neighbors, and co-workers in order to extend that grace in that hour of need. That means equipping people how to listen without judgment nor advise. Sometimes it might be necessary to offer some suggestive guidance just to help prevent someone from aggravating their trouble any further but other than that, advise is not needed. What every sinner needs, especially when they are drowning in shame, is someone to be their friend. And that means being the friend who will listen to them, praying for them and being present to them so that the phrase “Jesus loves you and so do I” has actual meaning.

One Final Word

Everyone sins. Unfortunately, sometimes the price of sin is very steep. Beyond adversely affecting the relationship with God, moral failure can be costly in a social sense and this is especially the case when it involves criminal activity. Grace will likely not eliminate these consequences nor should it necessarily do so either. But what showing grace just might do is make the fall bearable and let the person know that this too will pass… that there is hope, a second chance to get back up and live again.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, may our churches embody the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ to the glory of Father in heaven!

Our Redemptive God

This message, This Is God, was preached before the Westside Church of Christ in Baltimore on Sunday, July 12, 2015. The text I preach from is Exodus 3:1-10 which is one of my favorite passages to preach on, especially as a guest preacher. I hope this message will encourage you!

I Don’t Miss Mayberry. . . And Neither Should You!

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Mettitt

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Mettitt

I’m old enough that I can remember watching The Andy Griffith show air regularly as reruns on television. I also remember watching the shows Little House on the Prairie and The Waltons. It was good wholesome family oriented television that parents could watch with their children without having to worry about what those little ears and eyes might encounter.

Of course, The Andy Griffith Show took place in the fictional town of Mayberry. It was a small town, an all American kind of town. Neighbors knew each other, there weren’t any video games to keep children from playing outdoors, and the most serious crime was when Barney, the Deputy Sheriff would take Otis the drunkard to jail to sleep it off. That certainly seems like the ideal kind of place to live and make a life for ourselves. Heck, even though I didn’t grow up in a single parent home, it certainly would’ve been nice to have an Aunt Bee around always having a fresh-baked apple pie hot off the stove. If only we could return to way back when, right?


As the title suggests, I don’t miss Mayberry and what it represents and neither should you. As wholesome and pleasant as Mayberry may seem, I’m sure not a single Black person would enjoy going back to America’s Mayberry era. Not when being black meant being forced to ride at the back of the bus, not having the right to vote, and even being lynched. In fact, there’s more than a few groups of people that would not enjoy going back in time. That was a time when many still believed a woman’s place was nowhere else but in the home (not that there is anything wrong with women choosing to be homemakers) and sometimes that was a home where women were abused by their husbands while the law did little to nothing since it was a “domestic problem.” Let’s not forget the mentally ill, the mentally handicapped, and many other groups who were marginalized and mistreated.

So no, I don’t want to go way back when and I don’t know why any other Christian would either. In fact, I don’t know why Christians would long for any idyllic American culture, be it the traditional culture that Mayberry represents or the more progressive culture that America has seemingly become.

Growing up, we would sing the spiritual This World Is Not My Home during church services. Some churches still sing it. But do we really mean it? Because whether it’s the down-home traditional America or the more progressive America, many American Christians seem baptize the American ideal as the best thing since sliced bread.

Can We Recover Our Hope?

Christianity in America really needs to recover a sense of eschatological hope. That is, the church needs to learn once again what it is to live with hope. . . to be in the present what it awaits for and what it already is in the fullness of time. The Apostle Paul writes Philippians 3:20-21,

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

Only when Jesus returns will everything in life, including our own bodies, become what it is meant to be. Right now we live with a promise which is hope to us in Christ because we know what our future is. So if this is what we are to eagerly await, why dream and politic for good ole’ Mayberry or it’s American antithesis? Christians belong to neither and await neither!

However, let me push this a bit farther. Within the context of Philippians 3:20-21, Paul is contrasting the Christian disposition of being set toward to the second-coming of the Lord with people who have their minds set on “earthly things (v. 19). While Paul is directly talking about people driven by hedonistic values where their own stomach becomes their god, it isn’t a stretch at all to say that Christians who for an idyllic American life also have their minds set on earthly things.

This is not to say that everything about America then and now is bad, as that would be a gross mischaracterization. There were and are many good things about America. Yet no matter how good we think America was or is, it will not be when Jesus comes again. One day when Jesus return, everything will be brought under his reign. Until then, the only way for the world to know now that Jesus is Lord is for us, the church of Jesus Christ, to live in hope of that day when every knee will bow and every tongue confesses. We can’t do that when we’re preaching sermons in the sanctuary, on Facebook, or else that says “I Miss Mayberry.”

Living Hope!

Life is full of disappointment, hardships, and suffering. In my own life, the story has the grief and pain of losing a father, a son, and a younger brother. For others the struggle has been divorce, depression, abuse, chronic health problems, persecution, and so on.

Localized persecution made life very difficult for the Christians living in Asia Minor. So after the standard greeting, the Apostle Peter began his first letter to these Christians with these words:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, that is, into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It is reserved in heaven for you, who by God’s power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. – 1 Peter 1:3-5

There’s a hymn that churches sometimes called The Sands of Time, with the words written in 1857 by Annie R. Cousin. The song captures the journey of faith that we live on.  “…Dark, dark hath been the midnight, but day spring is at hand,” reads one line. The fourth verse begins, “The King there in His beauty, without a veil is seen; it were a well spent journey, though seven deaths lay between.”

As difficult as life can become, the journey is coming to an end. That end is Jesus Christ who is coming again and bringing with him our salvation in its fullness. When we see Jesus appearing, full of the great mercy of God, we’ll see our King standing unveiled in the most splendid beauty. Then we will know that our journey has been a well spent journey, even though the seven deaths do lay between.

That hope… that’s what keeps me on the journey. May it offer you courage to keep on the journey too!

Agents of Grace

One of the books I’m reading through is Captive to the Word of God by Miroslav Volf. The author offers reflects on how scripture forms the theological mind so that belief and practice remain conjoined and interwoven. The idea is that what we believe is evident in our practices and therefore our practices declare what we believe.*

On Belief and Practice

The relationship between belief and practice has everything to do with our understanding of the grace of God. Volf picks up on this when he says, “Inscribed in the very heart of God’s grace is the rule that we can be its recipients only if we do not resist being made into its agents. In a precisely defined way that guards the distinction between God and human beings, human beings themselves are made participants in the divine activity and therefore are inspired, empowered, and obligated to imitate it.” (p. 51-52). So when we reflect upon the grace of God and how we become agents of this grace, we must ask two important questions: 1) What sort of life has God redeemed us from? 2) What sort of life has God redeemed us for?

By asking these two questions we are saying that the grace of God is both a salvation from and salvation to something. Therefore, in surrendering our will so that God may make us into an agent of his grace, we are letting go of an old way of life while simultaneously embracing a new way of life. The old life is the myriad of ways that have pulled us away from our created intent, while the new way of life is the remaking of our created intent which we receive from and learn how to live in Jesus Christ. In Colossians Paul says, “Therefore, if you have been raised with Christ, keep seeking the things above… …since you have put off the old man with its practice and have been clothed with the new man that is being renewed in the knowledge according to the image of the one who created it” (3:1, 9-10, NET).

Beliefs and practices belong together. Our believing commits us to practicing and our particular beliefs commit us to particular practices which we cannot neglect if we truly believe. This isn’t to say that we will perfectly practice our beliefs or never find ourselves neglecting certain aspects of our practices but to say that if we believe, it will become evident in the way we live. For those who have trouble reconciling the teaching of Paul with the teaching of James (cf. Js. 2:17-19), it should be evident that they both are really on the same page.

Participants of the Story

By learning to practice our beliefs, putting away our old self and putting on the new self, we allow God to remake us as agents of grace. That is to say, as we have received the grace of God, so we become conduits of that grace in the way we live. This is our way of life and it includes the ways in which we cease living as and the ways in which we embrace, learning to live as Christ. It’s the way of Christ.

As I reflect on this, I have one final thought. Throughout scripture we read the stories of people like Abraham, Moses, Ruth, Hannah, David, Daniel, Mary, John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, etc… In these stories we see how God worked, accomplishing the seemingly impossible because of their enormous faith. Such stories challenge and inspire us as they should. We read these stories as part of the biblical narrative, joining the story. Yet we must realize that our participation in the story may involve the seemingly impossible tasks of our ancestors, our participation will always involve letting go of the old and putting on the new.

Our call is one that emanates from the grace of God and therefore is one that embraces the grace of God, turning from and turning to, becoming agents of that grace!


* This article was originally published in Connecting 29 (October 29, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ, and has been reformatted for this blog.