Removing the Mask and Finding Grace

Jesus isn't fooled by our masks...and doesn't need to be.Every Halloween, I would disguise myself as someone who’s got it together.

I would watch as everyone donned costumes of fairies or vampires or Jedi (it seems to have been mostly Jedi the last two years) and pounded the rainy ground on October 31. They’d walk along the dark, gridded streets, collecting energy pills like a breezy outdoor Pac-Man game, and I thought those were their masks.

Before that, I’d come to church and sit amongst everything I am trying to become. Wise, selfless, surrendered believers. Countryside middle-classers. Leaders who understand how to influence people, how to get stuff done in a community. Couples in the glow of early parenthood who somehow show up to service perfectly coiffed and groomed despite the tribe hanging off their arms. Older families who have already raised their tribes into true-blue adult disciples (a more mammoth task every decade). Decent, hardworking folks who seem to be doing just fine.

And I’d think they were the unmasked. Nothing to hide, no need to hide.

And, by extension, I’d assume that I wasn’t cutting it. How could I be, since they were accomplishing so much more than I?

Then a funny thing happened: I got older. Over the course of time, I got to know these people better. And they did this amazing thing, something far harder than anything I’ve mentioned.

They started removing their masks. Continue reading

Tipping and Grace: Do Christians Ever Have the Right to Stiff?

jar2A former pastor once told of an experience as a caterer. He served two groups in the same day that could not have treated him more differently. The first was a gathering of homosexual folks; they were warm, friendly, and left a great tip. The other was impatient, grouchy, fault-finding, and left no tip at all.

The second group was a pastors’ luncheon.

Tipping has become a flashpoint in our social consciousness. I suppose it was inevitable that the smartphone age would allow us to capture and publicize everyone’s tips. (Here’s a montage of tips that would be hilarious if not for their rudeness.) But it’s worth talking about for Christians, because any question of generosity becomes a checkup on how we’re doing as the salt of the earth.

Some Christians respond to this call by leaving tracts for their waiters instead of tips.

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It’s the worst thing ever.

Look, I get the reasoning. Tracts can potentially lead to salvation, and salvation is worth far more than few bucks.

But we Christians aren’t supposed to be operating on our own reasoning. We’re supposed to be operating on God’s. Here’s it is, if you’re interested:

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:15-17)

My friends, waiters and waitresses live off their tips. When I worked as a pizza delivery driver (a nice earner during football season, I would mention to the college folks), my tips usually amounted to two to three times my actual wage. It was still only marginally worth the wear and tear on my car (and my gas tank). Very rarely will eight or nine bucks an hour get anyone through college. So trust me, your waiter isn’t there for the joy of minimum wage.

 

God understands and appreciates the practical plane, and he ties the validity of our works to it with cords of Scripture. Jesus teaches that meeting worldly needs is a terrific opening to the Gospel (and not the other way around). Christians’ failure to meet these needs gives the world an easy opportunity to beat us at our own Christ-commissioned game: generosity.

Never offer a prayer to which you can be the answer.

But there is an even greater matter on my mind today. Suppose your waiter or driver gives you bad service. Drops food, rolls his eyes, or something. It is often our practice in that instance to withhold tips, in the hopes of “encouraging” better service next time.

I just want to ask one thing.

Is that anywhere close to the way Jesus handles us?

Continue reading