The Wonder Of Grace


Michael Anthony delivers the anonymous benefactor's check on "The Millionaire"

Michael Anthony delivers the anonymous benefactor’s check on “The Millionaire”


I think grace is hard for Americans to comprehend. Our Constitution tells us we have certain unalienable rights, and over time, this has morphed into what we see today–entitlement. I’ve written about that infectious attitude in the past (see “Our Just Deserts” and “How Deserving Are We?“), so I won’t cover that ground again other than to reiterate, it’s hard for people who believe they deserve something to recognize when they’ve been given a free gift they could never earn.

When I was growing up there was a TV program called The Millionaire. This, when a million dollars was what a billion dollars is today. Anyway, the premise of the show was that this incredibly wealthy man would choose someone to give a million dollars to, anonymously, with only the caveat that the recipient couldn’t tell anyone how he came by the money. As I recall, none of those people said, At last—I deserve this money and it’s about time it came my way. Entitlement hadn’t caught hold yet, and apparently it didn’t cross the mind of the writer to have a character respond with such hubris.

I point this out because I believe entitlement is a barrier to the wonder of grace.

When we see ourselves as undeserving, then the smallest good thing is a beautiful gift. But if we see ourselves as deserving, then the smallest unmet expectation is a blow.

Might this steady diet of “you deserve . . .” explain why more and more people seem angry? Whether it’s a gunman shooting children in a school or a former policeman gunning down those on his revenge hit list, unsatisfied people are taking things into their own hands.

But what if we actually came to the realization that we don’t deserve anything? After all, what qualities do we have that mean we should get the best, be treated with respect, win the prize, be paid the most, get promoted to the top? We can’t all be number one. We can’t all get our way. We can’t all win, no matter what the self-help gurus and child psychologists say.

Maybe it’s time we told the truth instead. God tells us we in fact do not merit His favor, deserve a place in Heaven, or are entitled to right standing before Him. Nor can we earn any of that.

If we grasped that last fact, virtually every other religion besides Christianity would crumble because they are all built upon working, earning, doing what needs to be done to achieve in the spiritual realm. Not possible, God says.

For all of us have become like one who is unclean,
And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment;
And all of us wither like a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isaiah 64:6)

But then God turns around and gives us what we cannot earn.

Wow!

In one instant we go from being spiritually bereft to being spiritual millionaires. Who can grasp the glory of that transformation? It’s the leper made clean, the blind beggar receiving sight, the immoral woman given Living Water. Changed completely and changed forever. And there’s no reason other than that God loves.

This post first appeared here in February 2013.

Published in: on April 12, 2016 at 5:44 pm  Comments (4)  
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Compassion And Entitlement


Homeless_woman_in_Washington,_D.C.A couple years ago, I stopped by Target to pick up a few necessities. As I was putting my purchases in the trunk of my beater . . . uh, vintage Honda Accord, a thirty-something guy walked up to me with iPod earbuds around his neck, dressed in better clothes than I was wearing, and asked me for a handout.

Generally when people ask for money, I try to give it. I mean, I may not have much, but I have a roof over my head. And I think the love of Christ compels me to share with those who are less fortunate. Except . . . this guy didn’t look less fortunate. And he also seemed oblivious about the situation because when I said I didn’t think he was any less prosperous than I, he started to argue.

A few weeks ago a visitor to my church blessed a homeless woman (I’ll call her Joy) who sometimes attends by taking her out to lunch. The next week the visitor who was returning home the next day wanted to give Joy a sort of care package but couldn’t find her, so left it with me in our church library (where Joy often comes to watch the service on closed circuit TV).

Sure enough, a short time later she came in. I happily gave her the sack with her name on it and explained where it came from. She thanked me, looked inside, and left it on the counter. Don’t forget you bag, I reminded her a couple times. At last she was packed up and ready to leave. She stopped by the library desk and said she didn’t think she could take the food sack. It was pretty heavy and most of the things in it she couldn’t eat. No problem, I said, and took the bag to the donations bin.

Just a week ago or so, I came to a stop light and in the center divider was a young man who looked like he could be a football player—a wide receiver, perhaps. And he was holding a sign—something like, “Veteran down on his luck.” He was collecting donations from the people waiting for the light to turn.

I kept thinking, I wish I knew a job opening where he could apply. I think that’s what he needs to spend his time doing instead of panhandling.

But there it was—my attitude toward people who seem to have a sense of entitlement, to the point that healthy young men (seemingly healthy, at any rate) are begging for money instead of looking for work, and homeless old women are turning down food.

I’m caught between feeling the responsibility to share generously with those in need, and the suspicion that the needy are too often gaming the system.

I didn’t mention the times I’ve been asked for a couple dollars for the bus or money for gas because their tank is empty and they don’t have any cash on them. Sure, maybe . . . And maybe not.

It doesn’t help that a local news show that exposes frauds and injustices did a piece some time ago about a guy who panhandled for several hours at a gas station, then got into his BMW, or some other equally expensive vehicle. He had no problem making money off other people’s generosity.

I have to wonder what Jesus would do in these circumstances. He didn’t give out money, but He distributed food. As I noted in “Take Up Your Cross Daily”, however, there came a point when He said, if you want to come after me, you need to stop living for your self.

Of course I’m not Jesus, and I don’t want people following me. I do want, however, to be a representative of Christ to the watching world.

Some Christians think we do no one any favor by giving beggars money because they might use it for drugs. Or we’re making it easy for them not to get a job. What they need, the thinking goes, is tough love, not a handout.

But what about compassion? Jesus saw needs and was moved with compassion. I think the visitor to our church was moved by compassion for Joy. But in the end, what she offered was spurned.

Does that matter? Isn’t it always right to do right, no matter what the other person does? I mean, none of us “deserves” what we have, contrary to all the commercials that say otherwise. We certainly don’t deserve God’s compassion.

Is compassion like forgiveness? James leads me to think it is. He made the case for treating people without partiality, then concluded that section by saying, “For judgment will be merciless to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:12)

About forgiveness, Paul said, “Just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.” (Col. 3:14b) And of course Jesus told the story about the forgiven servant who turned around and refused to forgive the debt of a fellow servant.

I’m not saying giving to homeless people or beggars is required of the Christian, but I think a heart of compassion is. I don’t need to judge Joy for turning down the offering of food. She said something about a special diet because of allergies and the weight which put stress on her bad back. I have allergies too, and sometimes my back is bad. I don’t want people judging me for the way I deal with those conditions, so why should I judge her.

The homeless guys and the beggars may be scamming the public, but is it my place to judge them? Even if I’m not in a position to give money to them, I can give what I have—prayer for their physical needs, prayer for their ethical and moral needs. God knows exactly what those are, so it’s never wrong to pray.

Published in: on July 29, 2015 at 6:49 pm  Comments (8)  
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The Wonder Of Grace


Millionaire_1956I think grace is hard for Americans to comprehend. Our Constitution tells us we have certain unalienable rights, and over time, this has morphed into what we see today–entitlement. I’ve written about that infectious attitude in the past (see “Our Just Deserts” and “How Deserving Are We?“), so I won’t cover that ground again other than to reiterate, it’s hard for people who believe they deserve something to recognize when they’ve been given a free gift they could never earn.

When I was growing up there was a TV program called The Millionaire. This, when a million dollars was what a billion dollars is today. Anyway, the premise of the show was that this incredibly wealthy man would choose someone to give a million dollars to, anonymously, with only the caveat that the recipient couldn’t tell anyone how he came by the money. As I recall, none of those people said, At last–I deserve this money and it’s about time it came my way. Entitlement hadn’t caught hold yet, and apparently it didn’t cross the mind of the writer to have a character respond with such hubris.

I point this out because I believe entitlement is a barrier to the wonder of grace.

When we see ourselves as undeserving, then the smallest good thing is a beautiful gift. But if we see ourselves as deserving, then the smallest unmet expectation is a blow.

Might this steady diet of “you deserve . . .” explain why more and more people seem angry? Whether it’s a gunman shooting children in a school or a former policeman gunning down those on his revenge hit list, unsatisfied people are taking things into their own hands.

But what if we actually came to the realization that we don’t deserve anything? After all, what qualities do we have that mean we should get the best, be treated with respect, win the prize, be paid the most, get promoted to the top? We can’t all be number one. We can’t all get our way. We can’t all win, no matter what the self-help gurus and child psychologists say.

Maybe it’s time we told the truth instead. God tells us we in fact do not merit His favor, deserve a place in Heaven, or are entitled to right standing before Him. Nor can we earn any of that.

If we grasped that last fact, virtually every other religion besides Christianity would crumble because they are all built upon working, earning, doing what needs to be done to achieve in the spiritual realm. Not possible, God says.

For all of us have become like one who is unclean,
And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment;
And all of us wither like a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isaiah 64:6)

But then God turns around and gives us what we cannot earn.

Wow!

In one instant we go from being spiritually bereft to being spiritual millionaires. Who can grasp the glory of that transformation? It’s the leper made clean, the blind beggar receiving sight, the immoral woman given Living Water. Changed completely and changed forever. And there’s no reason other than that God loves.

Published in: on February 14, 2013 at 6:34 pm  Comments (1)  
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