Wednesday, October 30, 2013

No More Grace-Free Zones

A couple of years back I had this friend named Jose. I have been thinking about him a lot lately. We met is some classes we were both required to take and over the course of almost 4 years we became pretty close.  Part of his life would have seemed fairly normal to you.  He lived with his 5 dogs. He loved to garden and grew most of his own vegetables, which was nice since he was a vegetarian.  He loved his mother and sisters, and spoke with them often even though they were far away.  And he was a good friend, often offering me rides after class so I didn't have to ride the bus home.

Relating to other parts of his life may be more difficult for you.  Jose had cancer of the liver.  He passed away about a year ago.  Before his death, Jose suffered greatly. He had no appetite, lost far too much weight, and lost part of his cognitive abilities.  He struggled to keep from giving up on life.  You see, the cancer was not the only challenge Jose faced daily.  Jose was a registered sex offender.  He was one year away from finishing his 7 years of probation when he died.  He and I chatted often during his last year about life and its tribulations, as well as about faith and hope. Jose had very little of either. I remember so well that one of the last times we talked the conversation turned to the subject of GRACE.

As Jose lived out his last days, what he wanted more than anything was to see his family one last time.  They live in New York and Puerto Rico, and his probation prohibited him from travel.  I shared Jesus with him on a number of occasions, paying particular emphasis to what GRACE really means.  He heard me, and he understood.  What he found difficult was believing in a God who offers unconditional love and second chances when he was surrounded by a society that offers only condemnation. Even after 7 years of earning a second chance, Jose felt there was no hope for redemption.  The label "sex offender" is to this society what "leper" was to Jesus' day.  Untouchable.  Unforgivable.  And as I told this broken man that God had already forgiven him, and that Jesus came to save the untouchable and the unforgivable with GRACE, he just couldn't believe it- because he hadn't experienced it.  He was not a particularly spiritual man, with no family of faith to offer him hope, and the concept of GRACE does not exist in the criminal justice system. Even though some of his family and friends forgave him, he was reminded on a regular basis that he was not worthy of being loved.  Jose lived in a GRACE-FREE ZONE. And he died not really knowing what it feels like to rest in the arms of a loving God, the God who shines light in the darkness and has overcome this world. He knew only the pain of condemnation from the world he lived in.

Remembering Jose this morning makes me wonder how many others there are in my life who can't understand God's GRACE because it has never been demonstrated by the people around them- including me.  We live in a society that is quick to accuse and quick to condemn, but exceedingly slow to forgive (unless you happen to be an athlete, politician or a celebrity) and even slower to forget. Jose has turned from the lifestyle of sin that ruined his life, but no one was there to offer him the radical GRACE that only comes from a relationship with Jesus. I have also been among the least and the lost, and I praise God that I had family and friends who showed me GRACE. I understand that I am not defined by any label; I am defined by the love of God whose name is Jesus. But there are so many, with so many different labels- homeless, broken, mentally ill- who do not know about that love and do not have that hope. What am I doing to pass God's love along to others who desperately need it? 

I miss my friend Jose.  I wish I could have done more to help him through the walls of rejection and misery that society built around him, making it so hard for him to understand and accept the love of God. I wish I could have done more to ease his pain and suffering, both emotionally and physically. I do not know if he cried out to Jesus before he died, but I hope my words and made prayers made a difference. I hope his story will raise this question is all of our minds:  Who do we know who lives in a GRACE-FREE ZONE?  Join with me in tearing down those walls and sharing the radical, life-changing love of Jesus with the hurt and the hopeless. GRACE is for everyone. That's what makes it so amazing...

Because of Jesus,


  1. Anonymous10/31/2013

    Hey Carl,

    As you know, I am an avid reader of your blog. This post, in my opinion, might be the best yet. It really hit me. This post (and you) are inspiring. Thank you. I needed to hear this one today, and be reminded that Grace is amazing and that I need to find more ways in which to freely give it with no strings attached.

    Love ya Big C,


    1. Thank you so much for those encouraging words, Todd. I needed to remind myself that grace is never earned, it is just simply GIVEN. Glad it inspired you as well!


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