Gobsmacked By Grace: The Charleston Massacre’s Shocking AfterMath

Most of us have been following the tragic Charleston church massacre story the past two days. The victim’s families made heart wrenching statements today at the bond hearing of the racist terrorist, Dylann Roof. They all courageously confronted the evil degenerate who murdered nine of their sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, and friends. And all who spoke in some way gave the same shocking message to the gunman:

“I forgive you.”

They were honest about the hurt and pain Roof inflicted, and through tears they lamented the loss of their loved ones. The curious element was this: Every statement had another kind of lament in it. A lament not just for what Dylann Roof had done, but a lament for Dylann Roof’s soul. A grief not just for lost family members who are deeply loved, but a grief for a lost young man who is blinded by hate.

It shook me up. And media members, who were called to react to it on live TV, were left grasping for categories.

Greg Gutfield, a typically sarcastic conservative commentator with razor wit, was visibly moved by the statement on the Fox News Show “The Five”. Never at a loss for words, Gutfield almost was this time:

“That might be the most powerful display of human emotion I’ve ever seen in my life. I will never be that good. They just witnessed unmitigated pure evil. But that (response) might be the best example of what is ‘good’ I’ve seen in my life….”

The next portion of Gutfield’s statement I found particularly heart wrenching (for a different reason):

“I’m not a religious person…But I can’t begin to understand. Does religion make great people? Or do great people go to religion? I can’t even comprehend this…I’m gobsmacked.”

There was a great act of grace displayed today in the words and tears of the victim’s families. And if they were to expound on what’s behind their radical statement I wonder if they’d point away from themselves. Maybe the foundation of radical grace isn’t found in “great people.”

Maybe they know the deep need of forgiveness they have before a holy God, and they’ve experienced all that forgiveness and more in the person and work of Jesus Christ. They know the bent of their own crooked heart towards hatred, bitterness, and anger. Because of their self-awareness they know the only place where healing for those dark gripping emotions can be:

At the foot of the cross of a gracious Savior. The God-Man who made himself a victim of the violence and blind hatred of man.

I’d bet the families of the Charleston victims have prayed the publican’s prayer many times before this tragedy, maybe even during the prayer group the found themselves in last Wednesday night: “Lord be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13).

The families are primed to be striking ambassadors of God’s goodness towards Roof because they intimately know the God who covers their badness with grace. And Gutfield’s right. We can’t “comprehend” supernatural grace with fallen minds. This has nothing to do with whether we are religiously predisposed or not.

Does religion make great people?

Not at all. Largely it ruins people, as most religion treats its traditions as proud badges before God and man (Mark 7:13).

Are great people attracted to religion?

Not at all. There are no great people. Not one. Just a great God Who forgives great sinners like us (Romans 3:10).

But there are normal people apprehended by a counter worldly gospel of grace, as the hurting Charleston families have attested today. And there is a great God who shows up in the midst of mindless suffering to give victims their voices.

The world is listening to these strong broken voices. And what He’s saying to them, and through them, is beautiful.

It’s beautiful because it’s mirroring the silver lining of good news even with a backdrop of horrifically bad news. It’s the living word of the gospel He speaks to us everyday, through the blood of His Son shed for us.

The Law of God has proven we’re guilty.

We stand condemned in an eternal court.

A Father stands before us with a statement.

His only Son’s blood is on our hands.

His words to us, the perpetrators:

“You’re forgiven. I love you.”

Amazing Grace. Should leave us wrecked everyday.

Or as some would say: Gobsmacked.

Bryan Daniels

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Like a Baby: Doing Nothing Is Everything

My son, Judah O’ Grady Daniels, is an incredible blessing to our family. At 10 weeks, he can’t do much as far as practical contributions to the household. He can flash the occasional crooked smile and offer a cute “goo” to you. But otherwise he’s an eating, pooping and sleeping machine. And he’s dependent on his parents for every bottle, diaper change, and bedtime routine. More accurately, with my full time teaching and coaching schedule he’s largely dependent on my beautiful hard working wife for all those things.

Judah’s value to us as his parents have nothing to do with what he does. Because, really, he does nothing.

And I think we lose this child like dependence with adulthood, where what we do is interchangeable to who we are: How much money we make, our job title, our washboard abs (or lack thereof), where we live, our reputation in community/church, our children’s good/bad behavior, who we know, etc. All of this activity gets conflated at the soul level. Our badges become our identity.

And this mindset seeps naturally into our spiritual activity. When our prayer life lags we feel we’re lukewarm. When our Bible study falls off we curse our lack of discipline. When we trip over our pet sin for the thousandth time we fall into a cycle of self loathing. When our three year old throws an epic tantrum in the cereal aisle of Publix our parenting competency is assaulted.

What we do is who we are saith the law written on our hearts.

But because of the gospel, this isn’t true.

Like a baby, we really don’t have any inherent practical worth to God. This may be a blow to our already fragile egos but it’s true. To God the Father we’re like an agitated infant who can only poop our pants, fuss about lack of sleep, and whine incessantly about empty stomachs and basic needs.

We may be fooling our church communities and Facebook friends with some fine acting and accoutrements but our Father knows the real deal. The well has been dried up on all our self salvation projects since the beginning of time.

We have value because of who we are. Not because we’re successful hardworking family oriented super citizens and church members. But because we’re His. His children. His kids. And this is nothing we have earned or merited with our own doing. We can only sit in His lap and receive this favor like a squirming half blind infant.

We’re wholly dependent on the grace of the Father purchased through the Son Jesus. And because of that only, we’re wholly beautiful to the Father. We’ve been chosen, adopted, and had lavish love and care put on us by the one we once declared war against (Romans 5:10)

Our sworn enemy has become our Dad.

Children of wrath have become children of a gentle King.

We came into the family contributing nothing. We stay in it by contributing nothing. Just sit and receive and be dependent on the Father’s arms. And we can rest and sleep peacefully in this position.

Like a baby.

Bryan Daniels

….While We’re Busy Asking Favor For A Parking Place

Christian persecution in Sudan

She refuses to deny the name of the only Man

Who lit up her soul in a warped darkened land

Once her child is born she’s on borrowed time

100 lashes and a noose await for her crime

To her family she’ll die an apostate adulteress disgrace

While we’re busy asking Him favor for a parking place

Bring Back our Girls Nigeria

All they ever wanted was to read and write

They’re victims caught up in demonic guerilla fight

It’s illegal to give an education to chattel

So these girls are leverage in the midst of battle

They’ll be kidnapped, raped, and sold without a trace

While we’re busy asking favor for a parking place

While we're busy asking favor for a parking place

And while we dream-speak, blab-grab, and name-claim

Grip old laws to hoard coats and boats and fleeting fame

We forget our bloody Savior who died without friend or home

The apostles and early church torn apart by lions in Rome

Our American god wants to quench our every desire and taste

So we’re busy asking favor for a parking place

Precious bride: The tragedy is not that we’ve lost the cultural war

Or that we’re socialistic or relativistic or materialistic at our core

It’s not that we fail in signs, service, or power

Or that church membership is falling by the hour

It’s that we’ve lost the beautiful simple gospel of His grace

While we’re busy asking favor for a parking place.

Bryan Daniels

Getting blind drunk on 200 proof Grace…

“The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellar full of 1500 year old, 200 proof Grace–bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly. The word of the Gospel–after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps–suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started.” Robert Capon

Turnt on Grace. Let’s start another Reformation of Grace guzzlers shall we?

 

I Want To Be A Garbage Truck Man When I Grow Up

Growing up, I wanted to be a garbage truck man. Not a garbage truck driver mind you. THE MAN. The one hanging on for dear life on the rear of the trash dispenser truck as it perilously weaves in and out of neighborhoods. Like the Indiana Jones of city workers. The man who hops off when the truck stops and heaves buckets of mysterious waste into the mouth of a massive trash transformer.

When I was eight years old my dad would ask me.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Some kids say Astronaut. Or Michael Jordan. Or President.

I said half jokingly (I was a sarcastic turd back then too), “A Garbage Truck Man.”

And he would say without missing a beat, “Be the best garbage truck man you can be then.”

Even if I was being a bit tongue in cheek, there was a curious draw to that ancient occupation. The risk of falling off into oncoming traffic any moment. The adventure of the open road ever winding before you. The weighty obligation of rummaging through a whole city’s secret junk. The wind and sun and elements falling on your face and running through your hair.

We had a basketball goal at the end of our neighborhood cul de sac. If we were playing a pickup game the Garbage truck man would sometimes stop a moment and substitute himself in. We’d feed him the rock and he’d drive the lane and throw down a highlight reel dunk. With his jeans and work boots on. And then he’d walk away and hop back on his truck. Like a boss. It was only a 9 foot goal but that was big deal to 9 year olds.

I’ve been a public high school educator and coach for five years now.

I enjoy it.

That being said, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

It’s easy to get caught in the perilous mental trap that conflates who we are with what we do. Success is found in titles, numbers, grades, stats, and bank accounts. We find our worth in our works. This is our born default, and if we’re not careful, our every morning default. “I do this = I am this” is the modern equation of personal identity.

The gospel offers a totally different approach to our fallen math.

Christ did this with his person and work, and based only that, we are now beloved adopted children. Our highest identity is purchased by another. What He did makes us who we are. Our doing was no variable in the equation. At all.

He did this=I am this now. It’s simple beautiful math.

Who knows: I may be an educator, astronaut, coach, doctor, or garbage truck man when I grow up.

Doesn’t really matter.

I know what He’s done.

I know who I am.

Bryan Daniels

Idol Factories and The Beautiful Calling of Lay Ministry

 “Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.”-John Calvin

My propensity to prop men up on unwarranted pedestals knows no bounds. You could call this personal bent “idolatory” if you aren’t in to word mincing. So far from being shiny portable statues, my golden calves look more like the mega conference pastor/speaker with book deals and podcast fame. I functionally bow down to them with my time with every perused blog and heard sermon. At conferences, sometimes these anointed men sign bibles and babies on their way to a five figure honorarium (do I sound jealous yet?).

I’m thankful for these men of the Word who throw down the gospel hammer like Thor on their speaking circuits. I aspire to be as bold and clear with my gospel presentation as they are.

There’s nothing wrong with being a keynote public speaker, and there’s nothing wrong with making some green for your services. We should feed the oxen well for its gospel labor (1 Timothy 5:18). What is awry is our cultural inclination to ascribe the cult of celebrity to a normal dude who burps after meals and puts his britches on like the rest of us. Like Jesus sprinkles a little more Holy Ghost dust on his words than anyone else’s.

We don’t have a yearly pilgrimage to Mecca or Jerusalem but we’ll frequently follow the same conference headliners around like fundamentalist fan boys.

And this pernicious worldview has seeped into the church where the leading servant (pastor) has become the leading CEO, Educator, and “professional” minister.

The lay ministry hemorrhages when an assumption is made that real ministry is for the pros and not the Joes. This may not be an explicit message but it is implicit in the way any church handles the pulpit, worship, or prayer ministry. Who dominates these positions on Sun AM, Sun PM, and Wednesday nights (or whenever)?

Are the average saints being equipped to serve or are consumers being fed to fatten?

One unintended consequence hardly ever considered when vocational ministry becomes cultural Christianity’s main path to real ministry:

Young men quietly resolve they are either “called” to seminary/pastorate or they are left with a life less significant. A vocation less meaningful. A calling less radical.

As a result we’re left with fledgling pastors in the pulpit who could have been excellent businessmen, artists, public servants and teachers in the world. Because they’ve accepted the false dichotomy of ministers/members a lost world is a little less salty. Yet it doesn’t get more radical than shedding gospel light in offices, neighborhoods, stores, and the particular corner of community they’re in Mon-Sat.

At least in the Bible belt, we’re no longer just seeing a church on every corner, we’re seeing a church plant on every corner. The traditional First, Second or Third Baptist Church has given way to more catchy titles. Buildings bloom but the deficiency remains.

I’m only submitting this: Maybe we don’t need more men ordained into vocational ministry but more men enthralled by a vision of anointed lay ministry.

People need to hear and be empowered by the gospel of grace, and then live it towards everyone they meet. They need to know that this everyday ministry of grace is every bit as significant as the church elder’s ministry.

Beloved, your ordinary faithfulness to Christ is extraordinary. Your name may never be on a marquee but it will assuredly be written where it matters most (Luke 10:20)

So take heart my lay brethren and sistren.

Bryan Daniels

Uzzah and The Only Reason God Doesn’t Tase Us

As a child (ok adult too) I struggled with the biblical rationale of when God goes all old testament in the Old Testament. In certain narratives He seems to strike down folks on a whim, with the precise fierceness of a Thor hammer. A Volvo sized hailstorm here, a mauling bear there, an invisible Angel with a flaming Samurai sword over there.

God was creative with His OT smiting.

In the OT, God shrouded His Holy presence with Israel with clouds and fire and tabernacles and veils and even arks. A baby ark, that is, that could be transported as long as you read and followed the instructions carefully. And these instructions weren’t written by a Chinese toy maker, but the perfect holy Universe maker. Attention to His detail was paramount. When the King David and the ark of the covenant rolled into town, a worker named Uzzah had a brief lapse in judgment that cost him dearly (2 Samuel 6:1-7).

The ark topples a bit and Uzzah reaches out to brace it up. And, like the divine instructions promised, Uzzah was toast (Numbers 4:15).

Now, should such an innocent mistake warrant a knee jerk tasing by the  Almighty? we may ask. Like He’s a mentally ill mall cop with a titanic chip on His shoulder.

Well:

1. No one is innocent (Romans 3:23). Not even Uzzah. God clearly promised one would die if he took lightly His holy presence. Before he even put a finger on it, Uzzah was already trifling with the transportation design of God; he carried the sacred piece on a cart instead of with the prescribed poles (Exodus 25:14-15). The ark wasn’t just a fancy gold cabinet, it was the concrete illustration of God’s holy presence with His people. Holiness and sinful man cannot mix. Uzzah transgressed the law, and God gave him what he deserved. God cannot break His promises.

The law gives no wiggle room for man (James 2:10). If no man can see His holiness and live then certainly no man can touch His holiness and live.  In reality, we all deserve what Uzzah got (Romans 6:23). We sin against His revealed will everyday and God could strike us down right now and be righteous for doing so. His holiness, his otherness, is real and awe inspiring.

But

2. In the New Testament we see something(One) better than the Old Covenant. Better than any arks or tabernacles or priests or types or shadows. The only place where God’s holiness and grace can coexist. Forever.

In the person of Jesus Christ we find the manifest presence of God (Isaiah 7:14). Look at the juxtaposition:

God shows up in the flesh as a Jewish carpenter’s Son. When His public ministry reaches rock star status the public throngs press against Him and seek Him.

He’s touches. A lot. He usually touches the dirtiest and the diseased. And far from people being soul smited by His perfect fingerprints they are supernaturally healed (Mark 1:34, Luke 17:11-19).

And interestingly,

On some occasions He’s touched.

A ritually unclean woman with a nasty blood disorder reaches out to touch His garment in the clamoring crowd (Matthew 9:20-22). Jesus feels her faithful graze and turns to address her. She’s not served up a wrathful bolt of indignation, but rather a warm word from the holy Healer,

“Daughter take courage, your faith has made you well.”

A prostitute bursts through religiosocial boundaries and clings to Christ’s feet during a formal party. She bathes His feet with her tears and kisses them in broken adoration. Far from scolding her for a colossal faux pas, Christ speaks restoration to her,

“Your sins are forgiven…Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” (Luke 7:48-50)

In modern American churchianity these encounters may be taken for granted, but the ancient Jew would have been shocked by a God so accessible and gracious to the scum of society.

After spending centuries of bloody Old Covenant history clarifying how offensive sin was to Him, the Father sends His only Son to enact a bloody New Covenant for us. To take the offense away. Without the stark picture of God’s holiness revealed in the Old Testament we’d be inclined to trifle with God’s grace revealed in the New. Thankfully, the unapproachable God can be touched through Christ. He was not just touched with reverent acts of love but also violent acts of hate: He was beaten and scourged and murdered by sinful men. To die the death we deserve (Isaiah 53:5-11).

The cost of being personal to us was incalculably high for God. In Christ, His heart jerk reaction toward us is not to tase, but to heal.

So we can now without fear

reach out to the God who touches,

and the God who is touched by,

sinners.

He’s close. As close as faith. So

“Go in peace.”

The gospel of Christ has turned a righteous Judge’s smite into a gracious Fatherly smile.

Bryan Daniels