Tuesday, July 20, 2010


The LORD reigns, let the nations tremble… The King is mighty, he loves justice—you have established equity. (Psalm 99.1,4)

Time Changes

I’m reeling as I write this. Last night, I had dinner with a dear brother of whose faith and witness I have no doubt. I have loved this man my entire life and can say without pause he has loved me just as long. We would give our lives for one another. For decades, our politics have been diametrically opposed. He’s a black-and-white kind of guy. I’m convinced I know so little of the realities our world faces I look out on fields of gray. Our discussions on social and economic issues get pretty heated, but we always stop before they boil over. Protecting one another from injury—or causing injury—is paramount.

Healthcare reform came up. He held his party’s line: it’s a disaster in the making. I held my position: as long as people can’t access healthcare, we are guilty, as believers and citizens, of moral neglect. His answer stole my breath. “I’ll tell you what’s moral,” he said. “Quit waiting for the mailman to drop an envelope at your door and get a job.” After we parted, my mind couldn’t release his mischaracterizing people on unemployment as “immoral.” Why couldn’t I shake that? The ton of bricks thundered down on me. Not six months ago, he’d spent a year waiting on the mailman. How was he “moral” then, while millions now in similar circumstances are not? Time changes everything, they say. This change was heartbreaking. How could he forget his recent past so easily?

Not Everything

Not everything changes with time. There are principles and expectations set down thousands of years ago that remain constant and in effect today. They will never change, because they are divine edicts issued from God’s throne. They are cast in ironclad language that leaves no wiggle room for circumstantial shifts or interpretation. They are true. They are clear. They are timeless. And nothing we bump up against in life gives us liberty to disregard them. The slightest inclination to set them aside for a moment should shake us until the very notion falls from our minds.

“The LORD reigns,” Psalm 99.1 says. “Let the nations tremble.” It reminds us again in verse 4: “The King is mighty.” We must be very careful about allowing changes over time to alter our sense of accountability to One Who does not change. Petitioning His power to rescue us when we’re in dire straits and then ignoring what pleases Him when times get better puts us in a perilous place. “He loves justice—you have established equity,” the psalmist declares. Justice. Equity. These are established principles. There is no “moral” us and “immoral” them. Our situation is weighed no differently than theirs. And we can delude ourselves with any rationale that suits our fancy or fits our politics. Yet any time our beliefs and behaviors flout the justice and equity God loves we can expect repercussions. Galatians 6.7 says, “Do not be deceived. God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”

Before the Grace of God

When we observe someone whose hardships are comfortably removed from our reality, we say, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Indeed, the further outside our realm of possibility they are, the more quickly we say it. To cite a personal example, I’ve never felt the least temptation to seek solace in alcohol. When I see or hear of someone who’s thrown his/her life away in a bottle, I have no difficulty recognizing God’s grace in sparing me from that impulse. But how many of us ever say, “There before the grace of God went I?” Why are we so intensely judgmental—to the point of dismissal—of those struggling with frailties God has blessed us to overcome? That’s for each of us to ponder, because our reasons are a complex knot of extremely personal emotions, circumstances, and memory. Still, no matter how rational our reasons for discounting anyone else may seem, this we must know: we’re wrong to do it. It displeases our King and warps His reflection in our lives.

The first stanza of “Amazing Grace” concludes “Twas blind, but now I see.” On the bright side of God’s grace, everything becomes clear. We see how easy our problems were for Him, and without the utmost care, we’re apt to assume the solutions came easily to us. We forget how murky those days before God made His grace known were. We slide into delusions that God delivered us because we proved we’re worth delivering. If that’s what we see when we look back at His goodness toward us, we’re blinder than we were in our troubles. God’s grace reaches us because it reached countless millions before us. It doesn’t prove anything about us; it proves everything about Him. He loves justice. He has established equity. He saves us to show us those He saved before us were no better than we. His grace proves we’re no better—no more “moral”—than those coming behind us, struggling in the same snares He graciously enabled us to escape. (Not avoid—escape.) There before the grace of God went we. Condemning those who’ve yet to know God’s grace condemns us.

If, on the bright side of God’s grace, we consider ourselves better than those who’ve yet to experience it, we’re blinder than we were in our troubles.


Philomena Ewing said...

Dear Tim,
I am feeling for you too. What can I say to help ?
You just have to pray for people, and try to help them make the best of themselves.
You have shown such courage, resilience, faith and even holiness wrapped up in the way you have dealt with this man-far more than he would probably ever be willing to acknowledge. You deserve more understanding and respect than you got and I only hope and pray that he does reflect and acknowledge your reality and worth. Light very occasionally streams in serendipitously,into the darkness and you have bben profoundly kind and patient with his "blind" prejudice. God Bless you today and always.
PS You can tell him from me that your blog is a ministry that many find priceless !! Now I'm getting angry so I'll stop here!!

Tim said...

Phil, thank you. I had no intention of writing about it all, but it was the only way I could find to work through it. I'm most concerned about him, though. Life in God's school of life is hard enough on its own. Mocking the teacher in this way cannot be a good thing. I would hate for him to have to repeat his lesson. (And I now I've stretched the metaphor past its usefulness.)

Thank you again--and the kind words you give. They soothe my soul.


Sherry Peyton said...

Tim, sigh...it seems to back up the article I wrote about the other day. The conservative mind (the liberal to a lesser degree) is unable to "see" what is against the belief system they have chosen. Sad and there is little one can do to correct it. Prayers are a valuable choice I'm thinking. I know of little else that will work.

Tim said...

Superb point, Sherry. Prayer is the key here--for him and me...



claire said...

You know, Tim, you make me wonder: what is it in me that I cannot see and which is so similar to your friend's attitude? Not that I want to be reassured...
I just wonder.
What is it that I am doing today and which will make people wonder in 20-30-50 years, How could she do or think such a thing?
I will never know will I?


Tim said...

Claire, your questions here are extremely provocative. They remind us how essential it is we examine ourselves always to rid our impulses for condescension and presumption.

It is not an easy thing to do.

We will never know how many times a moment of exasperation plunged us into these lapses. But the more reflective we become--in both senses, i.e., self-awareness and doing our best to reflect the kingdom of God within us--the better we will get at reduces our lapses, I think.

I'm just back from one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life--the life celebration of my great friend and spiritual mentor, Walter Hawkins--and over and over in the festivities we were reminded of the credo he instilled in his congregation: "God calls us to model change." Perfection is the ideal, of course. But in striving for that we can show others that our baby-steps in that direction can have resounding impact on our lives and influence many around us who aren't yet convinced God's Spirit can change us for the better.

So blunders of the past can, in every way, serve as blessings if we are malleable and responsive to the Spirit. They become the things we are led away from. The corollary to "There before God's grace went I" is, "I'm not what I should be, but I'm not what I used to be!"

Thanks for adding some "teeth" to this.


Tim said...

Sherry, I apologize for the brevity of my earlier reply. I was working on the fly while away.

In concert with Claire's comments, your advice to pray is so essential. I've often found prayer doesn't change the person who offends me necessarily--but it always changes me. Going to God with these situations plunges us into remembrance of how powerful His grace can be--and has been. It builds in us the fortitude to tolerate one another's weaknesses and strengthen our resolve not to fall into similar mindsets and behaviors.

Thanks again for reminding us of this essential component in our lives, both within and without the Body of Christ!

Peace and joy,