Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Grace Free Zones

Back in 2011 I wrote this post for another blog. Recent news stories have prompted me to wonder aloud if our society- including our churches- really have a grasp of the love of Jesus, of his GRACE. We seem much more interested in condemnation and revenge. So I share this here today in the hopes of reminding us all that GRACE is not just a concept. It involves actions.

I attended my therapy group this morning and had a chance to talk to my friend Jose. I have known Jose for almost 4 years now, and we have become pretty close. Part of his life would seem fairly normal to you. He lives with his 5 dogs. He loves to garden and grows most of his own vegetables, which is nice since he is a vegetarian. He loves his mother and sisters, and speaks with them often even though they live far away. And he is a good friend.

Relating to other parts of his life may be more difficult for you. Jose has cancer of the liver. He has been undergoing both chemo and radiation treatments for a couple of months now. He has no appetite, has lost far too much weight, and is very weak. He has no idea how long he has left to live.  But the cancer is not the only challenge Jose faces daily. You see, Jose is a registered sex offender. He is one year away from finishing his 7 years of probation. And as we chatted this morning, our talk turned to the subject of GRACE.

As Jose lives what doctors tell him will be his last days, what he wants more than anything is to see his family again. They live in New York and Puerto Rico, and his probation prohibits him from travel. I have shared my faith with him on a number of occasions, paying particular emphasis to what GRACE really means. He hears me, and he gets it. What he finds difficult is believing in a God who offers unconditional love and second chances when he is surrounded by a society that offers only condemnation. Even after 7 years of earning a second chance he knows it is not likely to be forthcoming. The label "sex offender" is to this society what "leper" was to Jesus' day. Untouchable. Unforgivable. And as I tell this broken man that God has already forgiven him, and that Jesus came to save the untouchable and the unforgivable with GRACE, he simply can't believe it- because he hasn't experienced it. He is not a particularly spiritual man, and the concept of GRACE does not exist in the criminal justice system. Jose lives in a GRACE free zone.

It 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 or a celebrity). Jose has repented and turned from the lifestyle of sin that ruined his life. I have also been among the least and the lost, and I praise God that I had family and friends who showed me GRACE. What am I doing to pass God's love along to others who desperately need it? 

I spent a lot of time praying for my friend Jose, but he died in 2011 not long after this post was written. He never saw his family and he was never able to witness firsthand what GRACE can and should be. Don't let his story become the story of someone you care about, someone to whom you could be the carrier of that wonderful disease call GRACE. Who do you know who lives in a GRACE free zone?  Join with me in tearing down those walls...

Because of Jesus,

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