The Worst Kind of Abuse

“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’  The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded~ Matthew 18:26-28

 There was a time in the not-so-distant past when the whole issue of abuse was murky and poorly understood. Abuse was far from uncommon but rarely discussed. As a result, the majority of abuse victims lived lives of secret desperation and intense shame. Few attempted to share the pain and torment they experienced at the hands of others. Victims courageous enough to share their experiences were routinely shamed and sometimes even blamed for the abuse they suffered.

 Mercifully, human civilization has evolved in recent years. Sadly, abuse is still all too common. However, due to extensive public awareness campaigns the causes of abuse are better understood and the signs more frequently recognized. Behaviors and speech once accepted as “normal” are now recognized as abusive and no longer tolerated by the non-Neanderthal majority. Victims are generally treated with compassion and understanding, and help is available for those who struggle with abusive behaviors.

 That said, there is still one arena where abuse frequently occurs and is seldom recognized for what it is, it’s the abuse of grace.

 Grace is a term so rich in meaning that it is difficult to define. Grace is most typically understood to be undeserved favor or approval. However, there is much more to the mystery of grace than simply favor or acceptance. Grace is closely related to love and can also be defined as kindness, mercy and the willingness to overlook the iniquities or mistakes of others. 2nd Corinthians 12:9 gives readers an intriguing example of grace; there grace is defined as super-natural empowerment to handle particularly challenging situations.

 Personally I prefer to think of grace as a do-over or an undeserved second chance. We could all use a little bit of grace at one time or another.

 Grace is a characteristic most often associated with God and for good reason. God at His very core is a giver of grace. But grace is also something humans can and often do bestow on one another. Anytime an offense is overlooked, a second chance is offered or a transgression forgiven, grace is at the core of that act of kindness or mercy.

 Abuse of grace occurs when one takes the grace given without acknowledging or respecting the cost of the transaction. Forgiveness can be freely given but that does not mean it’s actually free. There is always a heavy price to be paid for any act of forgiveness.

 God, paid the ultimate price when He sacrificed Jesus, allowing humanity to freely receive His forgiveness. People also pay a price when they choose to forgive. When a person forgives, they relinquish the right to seek revenge for the wrongs done to them by the other person. If this sounds easy, it’s likely because you have never actually forgiven anyone or you have never been terribly wronged.

 Grace is also abused when one blithely takes the forgiveness offered without changing their behavior (the Bible calls this change of behavior repenting). God and many people (even non-Christian people) are willing to forgive outrageous offenses if they know the offender is truly sorry. When a forgiven person immediately returns to past behavior without a trace of sorrow or shame, the forgiver (whether it be God or a person) has to assume that the offender was never really sorry for their sin.

 Sadly, the abuse of grace is destroying the church Jesus was sacrificed to build. It’s wrecking havoc on relationships, breaking the heart and testing the patience of God and doing irreparable damage to the witness of Christians everywhere.

 Its time for followers of Christ to recognize that grace is a precious gift and no gift should ever be treated with contempt. We should also remember that the patience of God has historically had limits. It’s never wise to test the heart of God by abusing His kindness.

 

 

 

The Real Have-Not’s

Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them~ Deuteronomy 4:9

 

All hell broke loose in the Charm City this past week.

 Madness and pandemonium erupted after the funeral of twenty-five year old Freddie Gray. Gray died of unexplained injuries sustained while in police custody. The particulars of this case are unsettling and raise serious questions about police practices and potential brutality.

 From a social and spiritual perspective the reaction to Gray’s death is every bit as troubling as the case itself. It appeared that the entire city collectively lost its mind: buildings were burned to the ground, businesses plundered, onlookers attacked for any and no reason. Twenty police officers were injured, six of them seriously.

 These events have had the chattering class chattering around-the-clock. Reporters and pundits have debated the details of the case nearly to death and have theorized endlessly on why the people of Baltimore would react with such tremendous violence. Poverty has been identified as the principal cause for the behavior of the rioters.

 Journalists and social commentators have repeatedly referred to residents of West Baltimore as “have-nots.” Some of these same commentators have used poverty not only as an excuse for bad behavior but as a justification. I do not dispute the fact that many, if not most, residents of West Baltimore are poor and in many respects disadvantaged. That fact is plain and indisputable. I do take issue with the notion that poverty automatically puts people in the category of “have-nots” and that poverty is a viable justification for violence, anarchy and hate.

 The poor have been a part of human society since the dawn of human society. Jesus himself promised that poor people would continue to be a part of human society as along as human society endures (Matthew 26:11). There is nothing fundamentally wrong with being poor, just as there is nothing immoral about being rich. It is how one reacts to the conditions they were born into that determines how that individual turns out.

 Much of how an individual responds to their circumstances depends not on the size of their bank account, but rather on what their parents sowed into them when they were young. Parenting—not tax bracket—is the real dividing line between the haves and the have-nots.

 There is a ridiculous myth that has taken root in Western thought. The crux of the myth says that in order to produce a civilized, respectable, God-fearing and useful human being; one is required to have two good incomes, money in the bank, a four-bedroom house in a highly rated school district and a college degree. Nothing could be further from the truth. Things may be helpful, but ultimately things are just things. Things do not produce god-fearing, decent human beings; good parents do.

 Good parents work hard, at menial jobs if necessary, to support their children financially. Good parents model honesty and virtue don’t cheat the social welfare system. Good parents get married before bearing children and do what it takes to stay happily married afterward.

 Good parents introduce the concepts of discipline and self-control early in life understanding that discipline and limits help ensure that children will become law-abiding citizens later. Good parents teach the truth that right and wrong are fixed standards rather than squishy opinions that adjust to the times and setting.

 Good parents value education enough to insist that children stay in school, pay attention to their teachers and do the homework. Good parents demand that that kids respect authority and discipline kids who are disrespectful towards teachers, police and other authority figures. Good parents teach their kids that human beings are obligated by God and human law to do right even when life is hard and circumstances are trying.

 Just as poverty is not an excuse for bad parenting, poor upbringing is not an excuse for bad behavior. People are only savage, soulless animals ruled by circumstances if they wish to be. We are moral beings capable of making moral choices regardless of resources or upbringing. The events of this past week support the notion that we need a rebirth in this country. A rebirth of good parenting, personal responsibility, common sense, and fear of God. When one has those things, they have everything no matter their tax bracket.