Grace: something every person in life wants.
Love: something every person who has ever lived searches for.
But the thing is, we put a price tag on love.
We tell ourselves we have to earn grace.
We tell others they definitely have to earn forgiveness.
In a competitive world, we have extremes. Those of us who play for the powerhouse franchises and those mismatched underdogs in us that find victories in powering through emotional circumstances. At some point in our lives we are both; sometimes, even at the same time.
In life, we are performers – as athletes, employees, parents, partners, etc. We are often motivated, while still confused, by the idea of grace… of it being FREE. Our work ethic depicts our desire to earn or deserve whatever victories we strive for. A starting spot. Team wins. Individual stats. Leverage for contract negotiations. Spiritually, we put in the same time and effort to not need grace, while still appreciating its value from our Evaluator-God. In case our work wasn’t good enough, God’s grace fills the gap. Like a Charity-God, right?
But as observers, skeptics, teammates or management, we also see strings attached. We acknowledge grace is free. But that doesn’t mean it’s our first instinct. After all, do we want potential or performance? Most coaches don’t want a project, especially in the first round of a draft. Every one of us have probably heard a coach say practice makes perfect. My basketball coach said that was wrong; he said perfect practice makes perfect. In sports, and in life, we preach what we practice. But where does that perfection leave room for grace?
For those who hate Ray Lewis for his involvement in the 2000 incident, a pre-taped interview with Shannon Sharpe before the Super Bowl added fuel to the fire. Lewis told Sharpe God doesn’t use someone – who does something like that – for His good. While it may sound good, in theory, that his success is proof of innocence or right-living, it simply doesn’t hold weight. Moses, David and other biblical giants could heavily prove the case otherwise. Specifically AS murderers. Yet, they were used by God in huge ways. But that grace is scary… because if we don’t earn it or deserve it, ANYONE could get it. Even (fill in the blank).
God doesn’t need any of us. Still, He can use any of us. If God doesn’t send something into your life, but also didn’t stop it, He will use it for your own good as well as His glory. Even murder.
Again, this is grace. It may not seem reasonable to spend time scouting potential over performance. Scouting someone with a risk factor could be a PR nightmare. As the church, we sure don’t want to have to do damage control. Let’s not even start on tearing apart people’s theologies. Tolerance isn’t too tolerant of biblical Christianity, so we need someone who doesn’t raise red flags. After all, we’ve had enough pastors and priests hurt people. We want the Tim Tebow’s who claim Jesus, not the pot smokers, fornicators, murders, abusers, etc.
Tim Tebow, for instance, proves a safe investment in Christianity’s performance-over-potential scouting. His squeaky clean image allows him to be a smart choice for God to use, right? After all, as little grace as he is perceived to need, it makes us feel better about his standing with God. We trust he must be a favorite; his own personal story of grace throughout his mother’s pregnancy. If he says, no weapon formed against me shall prosper, most of us would believe him. Whether we think he’s qualified to play football, we took notice of Tebowing and the spiritual impact he had on those around him.
Still, while God does care about our righteousness, it is not the basis of the relationship.
On the flip side, Ray Lewis epitomizes the conundrum of what grace is actually about. Though week after week he chanted No Weapon, and wore Psalm 91 proudly on his shirt under his jersey, a lot of people have a few weapons they would like to send his way. His involvement, criminal or not, screams of someone in need of being saved, however you deem salvation. But his need of grace is double-edged. It points to the magnitude of God’s unwarranted gift; while at the same time, offending a part of us. Because we think he doesn’t deserve it. The scandal of grace is that it offends the moral cop in us, where we want a pass/fail system. We want to compare our deeds to someone else’s to determine a moral victor. We want to look at our good behavior and justify our requests to God based on our overall ranking/standing.
Lest we become the Ray Lewis… or the Moses. Then, we would long to be the face of grace! Involved in something we shouldn’t be, whether our role was criminal or not. While we may be engrained with a “performance” mentality; God looks at our potential. Look, David commits adultery AND murder; yet is deemed a man after God’s own heart. The irony? We weep in joy when we, like David, are wiped clean of our own adultery, murder, etc. Nevertheless, we want to throw the stone of judgment at anyone else who was dumb enough to get caught. How quickly we receive grace without ever repaying with grace.
That’s the thing about grace: Ray Lewis doesn’t deserve it, but neither does Tim Tebow. Ray CANNOT earn it, but neither can Tim. God doesn’t have to offer it to anyone. Just because He does offer it, doesn’t mean He’s required to the strings attached we see fit. We want love, need it. We know at some point, we’re also going to need forgiveness from our loved ones… because we will hurt or fail them. God shows us love in His pursuit of us. He shows us forgiveness in His Son’s sacrifice. Grace is God’s love, in action. His ability to use us for His glory, regardless of our past, is a gift of His grace. His intentional, eternal relationship with us is based on His grace, not our performance. If we don’t believe we deserve it, based on merit/demerit, all we will do is try to distance ourselves from Him, the initiator of the relationship. His love cannot change, and it has nothing to do with what we do! He cannot love Ray Lewis more, and He cannot love him less. He doesn’t love Tebow more than you; He doesn’t love Tim less than you. His love isn’t something we can wrap our heads around.
Maybe poetic only to me, and that’s fine…
At the end of the interview, Ray Lewis was asked what he hoped to be remembered for, culminating his 17 year NFL career. Taped for the Super Bowl, where more people watch then vote in a presidential election. His answer? “A man chasing after God’s own heart.”