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

The Duggars and Hypocrites Like Us

Scandal hits the Duggars

The Christian world was “shocked” such a lurid act could surface out of such a pristine family. They were paragons of conservative family values and modesty. Homeschool heroes.

Disclaimer: This isn’t really a post about a fifteen year old Josh Duggar and his young victims.

This is a post about our meta reaction when tragic news like this breaks upon our collective preconceived notions.

The only thing that’s shocking in this situation is that we continue to be shocked by these situations. Even after the Catholic priest scandal. Or Bill Cosby scandal. Or Ted Haggard scandal.

Fallen people gonna fall (Romans 3:23).

The more perfect, and nice, and homeschooly the Duggars were on-screen, the further the fall seems to us. But that’s because we falsely believe we’re adept at judging distances from God based on surface behavior. The Duggars are in the same sunk ship of humanity we all find ourselves in. They’re likely guilty of protecting their family name at all costs just as we would be given the same circumstances.

There’s only really two types of folks in the world: 1. Those high-profile figures who will fall publicly because of their sin and 2. the rest of us who aren’t high profile enough for it to matter when we fall.

That’s not to say our darkest blots would have heavy legal ramifications. Or that our misdeeds would scar the innocent in the same way Josh Duggar’s did. There should be definite legal consequences for such crimes. It’s just that we’re not very in tune with our own wicked thought patterns if we’re sucker punched every time a new scandal comes to light. I bet if every nefarious thought that popped into our head on a daily basis were projected on a public screen we’d be in a familyless friendless plight pretty quick.

The nicest most religious Midwestern values family you could write into a Mayberry neighborhood is as screwed up as the broken Detroit family with a crack addicted mom and transgender prostitute dad. The former is just better at hiding it.

Part of our cultural Christian church culture we in the Bible Belt have ingested is that we at least know how to act in public. It’s subversive and not overtly taught. But it’s there: We clean up nice, put on a good smile, have our kids under control, listen to Christian radio all day, don’t drink or curse in public, etc. We’ve conflated shining our gospel light with cleaning our cup on the outside (Luke 11:39). And we’ve become Christian actors, which is just a hop and skip away from becoming full-blown hypocrites.

In our hurried hiding of this hypocrisy we don’t realize this: it’s okay.

This is the freeing reality: Everyone is a hypocrite. Every. One. I expect my two sons to keep their playroom organized and clean. But they only have to look at the back seat of their daddy’s car/gym locker/office to see I’m selective with demands. There are petrified gym shorts in the back of my Honda that have been carbon dated to the paleolithic era.

The only unforgivable  place we could stay in the world is failing to admit our own hypocrisy. Which would be staying in our insulated safe world of Christian radio, Christian friends, Christian bumper stickers, Christian breath mints and acting for one moment like this behavior gets us one baby step closer to God.

The broken hypocrite who knows their own sin is closer than the blind hypocrite oblivious to it. (Luke 18:9-14)

The gospel of Jesus is for hypocrites. Because hypocrites are all there are in the world.

So come:

Actors and addicts.

Impostors and Irreligious.

Victims and Victimizers.

Duggars and Drunkards.

There’s a place at His table for all of us scalawags. Repent and believe that His grace in Christ alone is the scandal that can save even you.

Bryan Daniels

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

Spring Break And The Broken Me: Panama City Beach Edition

The lurid tales reaching across the bridge from the Rapneck Riviera (aka Panama City Beach) via cable news and social media are disturbing. I stand with Frank McKeithen’s recent crusade to protect and secure our shores and citizens during Spring Break season. But I wonder if our outrage is misplaced if it’s leveled only towards the drunken frat boys and sorority girls and “100 mile” gang of deviants.

We may hang our head with every voyeuristic Fox News Spring Break expose that works to throw soil in our white sand. But our little beach community isn’t the only ones that should be slumped in shame. Sure, there’s much to lament about Spring Break; not because it’s happening in Panama City Beach, but because Spring Break in Panama City Beach is the manifestation of long broken hearts, homes, and heads in this generation.

Twenty year old kids didn’t learn hedonistic anarchy during their short stay in Panama City Beach. They brought hedonistic anarchy with them. It was a twisted culture ingrained in them. From their music, movies, and magazines of choice. These were long-held values and learned traits. From their colleges, towns, and dareIsay: families.

Spring Break in Panama City Beach may be the delta where this generation’s worldview is spewing it’s fruit, but it’s not the spring. For 30+ years American culture has treated the stage of adolescence to adulthood as a moratorium on morals and common sense. A time to “sow wild oats” and “live it up” until they enter the real world of responsibility. You know obligations to families and bills and such? It’s no wonder the trend now is grown twenty and thirty somethings seeking to extend that adolescent stage into adulthood. Peter Pans with beards loiter in their childhood bedrooms on the continued dime of mom and dad. Seventeen year olds in the greatest generation beat a hell-bent Nazi Regime in World War 2; with their blood. Twenty seven year olds in this generation beat Nazi Zombies in the Call of Duty; with their thumbs.

Bay county can make laws and enforce restrictions that progressively choke the life out of this type of Spring Break in the coming years. I hope it does. That will be good for Panama City Beach. But the delta will spew elsewhere. It must. Because rocks and laws and land can’t stop the powerful rivers of the human heart.

We may say, “That’s not my kids out there.” But they are. They’re America’s kids.

They’re the fruit of the culture of excess and “adolescence” we’ve passively ingested.

Our teenage sons have the common sense to hide their drunken exploits on this side of the bridge. But when we do catch wind of our perfect sons hypocrisy some of us shrugged and winked, “Well, boys will be boys.” Little did we know the can we kicked down the road then would be the grenade that exploded across the news today.

“Our” kids may never indiscriminately shoot a gun into a crowded party. Thank God. But many of “our” kids do passively absorb the cultural trappings that make such a situation ripe. There’s a quiet complicity that pervades the minds of even the best middle class church kids we know. They may never be gang bangers but I promise many will buy the next gang banging album released and know all the lyrics before you can say “Sean Hannity.”

I know this because they’ll be singing it in the hallways, classrooms, and locker rooms of my school.

I’m not just an old codger simply lamenting the olden days of Leave it To Beaver ethics. I’m a decade removed from being a college student. Thirteen years ago I was one of those golden boy youth group leaders buzzing off Jesus on Sunday mornings while still buzzing off the Natty Lites from the night before. Hypocrisy has a home in this heart. I see a kindred spirit in the Spring Breaking revelers. Even now my planks are just masked with an acceptable cultural Christian facade.

The problem isn’t out there in the mythical dark corners of the world we dare not tread. The problem is the actual dark recesses in our own chest cavities we dare not tread. The evil that touches us most intimately every day doesn’t come from without but within (Jeremiah 17:9).

It takes some courage to face the lawlessness of the Spring Break; but it takes supreme courage to face the lawlessness of our own hearts. But a revelation of our own lawlessness begets our own brokenness. And brokenness has a bent towards the only grace that can heal it.

Grace found in Christ is where the wildest hardest hearts are reigned in and melted. It’s where the hope of mourning beach communities like ours resides. Because the deepest issue is not legal, cultural, economical, or social.

It’s moral.

The gospel solution changes moral behavior by forgiving our immoral behavior. Again and again.

Every morning (Lamentations 3:17).

The spring that never runs dry.

And that’s good news for scalawags like Spring Breakers and me.

Bryan Daniels

Driscoll and Ditches and Dirt and Us

As an old-young man: There’s some things I don’t wrestle with anymore.

Yet there’s other things that have my psyche crippled like a Rhonda Rousey armbar.

Ten, OK maybe two, years ago I would gladly jump into a variety of online political or apologetic debates. Acting like my two cents was a million bucks I’d weld philosophic catchphrases like a Thor Hammer:

“Out of context!”

“Straw Man!”

“Ad Hominem, sir!”

Driscoll is wrong and so is everyone

I don’t inject myself into those blog comments and Facebook threads anymore. Maybe it’s life taking me by the shoulders and shaking some sense into my big ornery head. Maybe I’m blinded by the apparent planks protruding from my own eyes. Maybe that sounds humble-bragish, it probably is.

But my mission has become more simple lately. To love my beautiful pregnant wife as the Bridegroom has loved the church. To rear my sons and model manhood to them in a way that makes them see their daily need for Jesus. To put to death the nasty flesh that still lurks around the corners of my own heart. To sow into fellow strugglers and friends the gospel seeds of grace. To teach and coach in such a way that my students and athletes will see that life is bigger than school and sports.

If I strive to do these well: How will I have time to be the interweb keeper of theological/political/philosophical/ecclesiastical/whatever fidelity?

I’ve admittedly spent too much time on Twitter and Facebook (just reactivated) this last week of my summer. One common article theme was regurgitated within my social media circle: The scandal(s) of Mark Driscoll and his Mars Hill Church outing of Act 29 Network.

Five years ago I would have cared a lot more about this cultural Christian news. That’s not to say I don’t care, because there’s still a latent scandal-seeking rubber necker inside me scratching to get out. But there’s too many battled and bruised souls (including mine) in the world to give two rips about the latest fabricated scandal. You could replace “Driscoll” with “Gungor” here and nothing would change about my sentiments.

This isn’t a just Christian problem. It’s a human problem. If it wasn’t Mark Driscoll or Gungor for us it’d be the Kardashians or Jay Z or insert some other political or celebriscandal.

What we humans end up having is a strange echo chamber of faux outrage towards fresh juicy news about public figures. And we almost never really know the people we rage against. Their public persona is largely made by the marketing whims of others. So we breathe our own fiery rhetoric into the heated reactions to reactions all clamoring for anonymous interactions with people we don’t care to meet or know.

If I may corner my own “tribe”: The online Christian community spends so much time and energy being angry at people they don’t know or never will meet I wonder how they have any time and energy to love the people they do know and meet everyday.

I believe the scandals we long to gaze into say more about us than the people involved. Maybe we want to see a chink in the armor of the best among us. Maybe if we peer close enough we’ll see through the shiny marketing and find a soul that’s hemorrhaging a bit like ours. A fellow sinner stumbling in the dark yet desperately reaching for the light.

We need to know the imperfections of our perfect. That we’re not alone in frequently falling into the ditches our own shovels have dug.

I’m with you.

And I believe grace lifts us out of those ditches again and again.

And it enables us to help lift others. The nearest ditch faller is the one we run towards. The souls closest to us need the hand of grace we’ve found in Christ. Not our self-righteous posturing, just our honest forgiven self.

I may pull you out today. Tomorrow I’ll need you to pull me out. It can’t be from afar or from the safe confines of a raging online persona. Let’s make this commitment to one another:

We’re gonna have to get dirty at some point.

Bryan Daniels

An Open Invitation To Those I’ve Hated

Come you bumper sticker theologians and activists

The 33 item man in the 10 items or less lane

All you opinionated e-hard drive by commenters

and my neighborhood speeders.

Come all you cat lovers and treehuggers

and the doomsday preacher of Law keeping

KJV onlyists and skeptical materialists

and Joel Osteen.

Come MSNBC and Fox News hollerers and pundits

Right and left puppet dancers

IRS directors and ambulance chasing lawyers

and Sean Hannity.

Come Kanye come Kardashians

Hollywood bring your elite and your plastic surgeons

Julia Roberts and Lindsey Lohan and Oprah

and Bill Maher.

To dead beat dads and chain smoking pregnant moms

To everyone else in the world I can’t stand

My heartfelt apologies as I stumble to lead the way

To death and falling like dead

before the dying God Man;

Where life begins

Where the worst are forgiven

and the hateful and hurtful put down swords of spite

Like David and Peter and Paul

and me.

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