Because I thought he got away with murder.
If you’re not familiar with the story – after leaving a Super Bowl party in January of 2000, Lewis’ entourage got in a fight with another group of people as both groups were leaving an Atlanta nightclub. Two men were stabbed to death in the fight. Lewis and two of his companions were indicted for murder – but Lewis cut a deal: in exchange for his testimony against his companions, he was allowed to plead guilty to “obstructing justice,” a misdemeanor. Lewis received 12 months probation and was fined by the NFL. Like I said, he got away with murder – or at least being an accessory to murder.
I was outraged – and isn’t it funny (or perhaps, pathetic) how we will get so emotionally involved in events that don’t really have anything to do with us or anyone we know and love? As the years passed, my anger cooled, but not completely. Whenever I heard or read anything about Lewis, whenever I watched the Ravens play, I was filled with contempt and disgust. And when I read a few years back about Lewis becoming a Christian, I scoffed, ridiculing and rejecting his conversion as “a public relations move…”
As recently as two weeks ago, after the Ravens beat the Colts in the first round of the AFC playoffs, I stated publicly and repeatedly that I would not be pulling for the Ravens because of one Ray Lewis and the events of 12 years ago.
And then God tapped me on the shoulder…
He reminded me that I too had been guilty of murder – or at least I had hated others, and Jesus said that was the same thing… Honestly, according to Jesus, I was an adulterer, a thief, and a liar. In short I was a sinner.
Just like you. Just like Ray Lewis.
I stand in front of people and preach the Good News – that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us… That none of us had really gotten away with anything – Jesus paid for every sin with his precious blood… Because of his sacrifice, we who have placed our faith in Christ and called on the name of the Lord do not have to pay the penalty for our sins – Jesus paid it for us and in doing so made it possible for God to give us the gift of eternal life.
I tell those who listen that our sins are gone, obliterated, drowned in the Sea of God’s Forgetfulness, as far from us as the east is from the west… With great joy I share with others that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. I preach grace and freedom from condemnation to some pretty messed up people – myself included.
But to my shame, I have failed to take off my judge’s robe and my executioner’s hood when it came to Ray Lewis. In practical terms, I have applied the blessings and benefits of following Jesus to every other believer I knew, myself included – but I have denied them to Ray Lewis.
I was so inconsistent, and so wrong. And realizing that makes me sorrowful and repentant – and makes me thank God again for the forgiveness I do not – cannot – ever deserve. Obviously, I am still way too capable of having a “grace for me, none for thee” attitude. Obviously, I have much more to learn, much more road to travel in my understanding and living out of God’s outrageous, incredible, life-saving grace.
Thank God for his love, his mercy, his grace, love, acceptance, and forgiveness – freely given to a stumbling screw-up like me. And thank God for Ray Lewis, a fellow sinner, saved by the grace of God and my brother in Christ.
At least that’s what I’ve been told repeatedly the last few years as I have more and more embraced the Grace Message – “Oh no, you can’t teach grace, people will abuse it…” ”You have to be careful with grace, people will get the wrong idea…” “Be sure to balance grace with ‘truth’” (I always want to ask, “Umm, do you mean grace isn’t true?”) Or my personal favorite: “Teaching grace gives people a license to sin…” (Seems to me people are doing a pretty good job “SWL” – sinning without a license!)
The glorious, liberating truth is that grace does not produce sin and lasciviousness in people’s lives – it produces the freedom for which Christ has set us free. The only genuine response we can have to the Gospel of Grace is humility and a desire to truly be what God has made us.
Grace prompts joyful obedience – and the assurance that imperfect obedience is not a deal-breaker. Jesus spoke of his commands being followed – not because his followers were afraid of punishment, but because they loved him… Only grace can prompt that love response in us.
Paul taught grace in such a way that it confounded people – it made them ask ridiculous questions like, “Are you saying we should sin more to get more grace?” I want to be guilty of the same thing – teaching the Gospel of grace so strongly that people question my Christianity and look at each other panicked and scared, asking, “Did he really just say that?”
I want to preach grace with no moderation, no “balance”, no “on the other hand.” Just pure undiluted amazing grace splashing and spilling all over everything and everyone!
By God’s grace I will be guilty of taking grace too far – and never guilty of not taking it far enough.
It was a sincere question: Am I sinning without knowing it? I mean, are there meals a Christian should or should not eat? I can’t figure out if there are some meals that are more appropriate to consume as a Christian than others. I love cheeseburgers, but if it’s a sin, I’d have to consider myself a bad Christian – I’ve eaten a lot of cheeseburgers!
I know Christians, Christians are some of my best friends, so I knew what was coming – I just wanted to see who would throw it out there. I didn’t have to wait long:
“The body is God’s temple, and too many cheeseburgers messes up the temple…” – a reference to 1 Corinthians 6
This section of scripture has become the catch all to prohibit almost everything a person does or consumes. It’s supposed to be the slam-dunk proof that it’s wrong to smoke, drink, dance, and chew, or to go with girls that do…
But I think that’s a wrong interpretation and a gross misapplication. At best, it’s simplistic and at worst it’s devious legalism.
1 Corinthians 6 isn’t about eating cheeseburgers, or smoking cigarettes, or drinking a beer. 1 Corinthians 6 is about sexual immorality. That should be really clear in the passage when Paul writes:
Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. 1 Corinthians 6:18-25
The way people misuse and abuse that passage totally drains it of its original intent and causes people to call things “sin” that God never did, leading to a neo-”do not handle, do not taste, do not touch” approach to faith that heaps up guilt for sins that don’t exist.
Trying to use 1 Corinthians 6 to prohibit every unhealthy behavior turns us all into hypocrites, with massive speck and beam issues – We’re the preacher who rails against smoking when he hasn’t seen his feet in 20 years. We’re the Sunday School teacher who told us drinking a beer is the same as “pouring Satan down your throat” who sat for four hours every week day watching her soap operas and wouldn’t allow anything short of the Second Coming to stop her.
Yes, we need to live healthy, but 99% of the time it’s a quality of life issue, not a spiritual one. Sure, some foods are clearly healthier to eat than other foods, and gluttony is certainly a serious problem, one with spiritual roots that have to be dealt with if we’re going to live free. The Proverbs writer said if we have strong appetites, we might have to hold a knife to our throats to overcome them.
The Bible does speak to the issue of “what can we eat?” in 1 Timothy 4:1-5
Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from the true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons. These people are hypocrites and liars, and their consciences are dead. They will say it is wrong to be married and wrong to eat certain foods. But God created those foods to be eaten with thanks by faithful people who know the truth. Since everything God created is good, we should not reject any of it but receive it with thanks. For we know it is made acceptable by the word of God and prayer.
If someone chooses to eat in the best possible, most healthy way, they have my full support – I’m trying to move that direction more myself. What I will not support is those who treat others as “sinners” or sub-Christian because they choose to eat a big ol’ sloppy burger or a Krispy Kreme donut – or two.
Let’s give Jesus the final word:
“Don’t you understand… Can’t you see that the food you put into your body cannot defile you? Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.” (By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes.) And then he added, ”It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.” Mark 7:18-23
All scriptures from the New Living Translation.
Hat tip to James Glasscock for excellent thoughts and helpful scriptures.
Over at the Resurgence blog, Tim Chester has a great post on the differences between churches that are communities of performance versus those that are communities of grace… Here are some excerpts
Communities of performance may talk a lot about grace, but they value performance – Christians who have it all figured out, churches that run smoothly, meetings that are accomplished. And so they communicate that what matters is that you perform well.
Here are some diagnostic tests that help tell whether your church is a community of performance or a community of grace…
Communities of Performance
- The leaders appear to have it all figured out
- Meetings must be a polished performance
- Failure is devastating, because identity is found in ministry
- Actions are driven by duty
- The focus is on orthodox behavior (letting people think they have it all figured out)
Communities of Grace
- The leaders are vulnerable
- The community is messy
- Meetings are just one part of community life
- Failure is disappointing but not devastating, because identity is found in Christ
- Actions are driven by joy
In performance-oriented churches, people pretend to be okay because their standing within the church depends on it. But this is the opposite of grace. Grace acknowledges that we’re all sinners, all messed up, all struggling. And grace also affirms that in Christ we all belong, all make the grade, all are welcome.
Thoughts jumping across the pond in my mind…
- Just being honest – Sunday’s worship had the potential to be a trainwreck… Josh, our worship leader, had to work; Anya, lead vocalist, was “unable to board” her flight out of Florida, so she was going to be MIA; the band had not been able to practice… But, praise the Lord! – they flat brought it! Jesi did a great job leading, the instruments were sharp, and the songs they selected led those who were willing into God’s presence with adoration on our lips. Thanks guys – one of these days I might get over being surprised when you exceed my poor little expectations…
- We took another step in our “Journey to the Cross” series, with “Welcome to the Sifter.” We looked at Peter’s lowest moment, when he denied Jesus. Peter is a human study in God’s incredible grace. We can all identify with his failure – we’ve been there. Now it’s time for us to identify with Peter’s “post-sifter” experience – when God used him in powerful ways, sharing the good news and giving hope. Message audio HERE
- Financial Peace University is rounding the final turn, heading for home… It has been a great class and the families involved had made LOTS of progress. You definitely need to plan now to enroll in the class later this year. $100 enrollment fee per family gets you tons of material, the complete course on CD, website access, and lifetime membership in FPU.
- We are a little over halfway on our Easter eggs – if you can help, please pick up eggs and instructions this week. If you prefer, you can donate candy, plastic eggs, cash, or all three! The Easter Egg Hunt is April 11th.
- 52 books update – reading two at the moment, “I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church,” by Paul Nixon, and “Activate” by Nelson Searcy and Kerrick Thomas. Nixon’s book is written more for mainline denominational pastors and church leaders – frankly, some of the stuff he talks about never hits my radar. But the overall thrust of the book is excellent. I’m reading Searcy/Thomas on the recommendation of my buddy Pastor Chris, to get another perspective on small groups. Searcy’s stuff always makes say, “Now why didn’t I think of that?” - it’s so practical.
- We will be doing something at Jubilee this Sunday that is completely new for us! A handful of people know, but I’m not going to spill the beans here – you’ll have to be there to decide whether you like it or not!
- Have a great week!
A friend recently sent a brief video of what is at first glance a bizarre religious practice from the middle east, in which men beat themselves with sharpened chains…
I said “at first glance” above, because as I reflect on it I realize that I know many Christians who practice “self-flagellation” in one form or another – whenever they attempt to purify themselves through good behavior or self denial. What those young men do in the video is different only in degree from our feeble human attempts to earn, or deserve, or perform, or be “good enough” to gain, what God has freely provided for us in Christ Jesus.
What’s sad is that some Christians tend to wear their self-administered beat downs like a badge of honor, and put them on bumper stickers, t-shirts, and into children’s ministry curriculum to try to recruit more followers to their system of works.
It’s safe to say that almost every Christian I know would declare that they are saved by grace – that there was nothing they could do to save themselves, or to earn their salvation. Yet many of them will turn around and try to live by works – as if the thing that could never save them will actually keep them saved.
And that’s the Christian version of self-flagellation…
We are saved by grace, and we live through Jesus’ life in us. “Christ in us” is our hope of glory, not our ability to do good or be good.
- It was a beautiful morning – cold, but sunny and not a cloud in the sky. It did get cloudy as the day went on. Winter isn’t done with us yet, though…
- Worship band did another fine job – and the special song was fantastic! I could even hear Josh singing on that one!
- We had some first time guests and some returning guests!
- In the third installment of our “Deadliest Catch” message series on the life of Jonah, we saw that our God is a God of second chances – He spoke to Jonah “a second time”… He changed His mind about destroying Ninevah… He extends his mercy and grace to everyone from barbaric heathens to runaway prophets.
- Another great installment of “Financial Peace University” last night – be sure to ask Ron Flora about making MAJOR purchases without consulting your spouse… He’s something of an expert.
- We had 19 walkers for the Rescue Mission Winter walk, and raised well over $1000! Thanks to all who participated. If you meant to contribute, but haven’t yet, get with me as soon as possible. All money will go to the Open Arms Women’s and Children’s Shelter.
- I got to meet and talk with Rescue Mission director, Van Taylor – very nice guy… He already knew a little about us – he said, quote, “Yeah, you guys live in the house that has the bicycles all over the yard and sidewalk…” Yep, that’s us…
- I know I’ve picked the right Valentine’s Day cards when they make Vic cry.
- 52 Books Update – picked up “Crazy Love” last week, but haven’t started it yet. I’m reading outside my normal “zone” this week – a book called “Areas of My Expertise” by John Hodgman. It’s strictly humor – hysterical made up stuff presented as fact in almanac style. Silly, but fun! You may know Hodgman as “the PC” in the Mac and PC ads – a very funny guy.
- Our average Sunday morning worship attendance is up 30% over last year! God is clearly up to something – let’s join Him!
- American Idol update: my man Danny Gokey made it to the top 36! Another favorite did too – last week I identified him as “David.” Well, it turns out his name is Anoop… Yeah, I always get those two names mixed up.
- The NASCAR season has officially started… Around our house NASCAR stands for Nap At Scott’s Couch And Recliner…
Yeah, I’m going to brag a little… Our almost-19-year-old son was pretty much born talking, and basically taught himself to read. He was always a very verbal kid. He is also an amazing young writer. I featured his Christmas poem a few weeks back.
Now he has written a piece that is beautiful, challenging and thought-provoking. It humbles me and, frankly, scares me a little to discover that he really was listening all those times he heard old dad preach and teach. It makes me proud that he didn’t swallow whole what I was laying down, but he thought about it, discussed it with friends and family, even disagreed with some of it – or at least reached some different conclusions.
Anyway, here it is – I hope you enjoy it…
Good News – by Ben Gamel
(Part one is dedicated to my dad, who taught me what Grace is all about. Part two is for anyone I have talked theology, religion, or philosophy with in the past year and a half. And Part three is for Friction. I love you guys.)
In the beginning
There were three things created
Heaven, Earth, and us
Well it came out of a big bang of words
And these days
It’s no secret that we say too much
‘Cause in the beginning there was a word
And the word was LOVE
So ever since
We have been babbling nonsense
Just trying to catch up
But I have good news
It is that we can cease striving
‘Cause when one word becomes one man
That has to die twice
Well, I have heard that love has the power
To bring a dead man back to life
So we can stop trying
Stop trying to make our lives right
Because the amazing saving grace
Of the Raised Man does not fade
And the good news is
Grace has a wonderful way
Of making us into saints
There are some that say
That we are like living words
The masterpiece poetry of God himself
But when I see myself
I wish that God was a better writer
Because I was born with the brave gift of brutal honesty
Set to rhythm in a heart-beating whirlwind of words
Sometimes I feel like Solomon
Setting my mind to seek and explore
All things under heaven
And all is vanity
Sometimes I’m a cynic
And sometimes I have my doubts
So I write these words out for you
With all my suspicions and mistakes
And maybe we can talk a while
With all my god-questions and yours
Like what if the answer
To our final test
Is nothing more than our best guess
But I have to believe
That there is more to life than just existence
Because maybe the question is less of “what if”
And more of who we believe God is
And my God
It’s hard to find the good
In the bruises of this messed up world
‘Cause we all could use a little gospel
We all need something good
So in our beautiful brokenness
We hold onto the hope in knowing
That Love has the power
To bring us back to life
The people at Jubilee have heard me say this many times – I can’t teach compassion. I can’t put on a seminar or form a small group Bible study, or hand out a book, and at the end of 8 hours or 10 weeks or 13 chapters produce a single person who isn’t selfish; who doesn’t try to impress others; who doesn’t just look out for their own interests, but takes an interest in others… In other words I can’t teach anyone to have “the same attitude Christ Jesus had.” (see Philippians 2:3-5)
See, I know that it’s His work in us, by the Holy Spirit, that works out our transition from selfish pig to selfless servant. But I also think there should be some evidence that we’re at least on the journey. Serving is the normal Christian life. Serving sets the stage for evangelism. If our friends are soil, and the gospel is the seed, serving is the way we till the soil. And that will never happen without a heart of compassion being formed in us.
That being said, I will continue to teach and preach about compassion, to point to the abundant scriptural examples and the less abundant, but still powerful, examples from current culture.
Case in point: A recent article by Rick Reilly – in my opinion one of the best sports writers/commentators working today – about a very unusual football game. Please click the link below and read the story. If you don’t tear up at least a little, check your pulse – you might be dead.
Hat tip to Charles Hill for the article!