January 22, 2021

Open mic at the iMonk Cafe: Grace and Authority

radiomicFor the sake of this question, I’m going to make an unsafe assumption: that we all have a strong commitment to the application of grace in everyday life.

While all of us who love grace want to apply it to all of our relationships, we have to admit that in some relationships, we have to use law in order to fulfill the responsibilities we have in various roles of authority.

How does a parent, a teacher, an employer, law enforcement officer or a person otherwise charged with the use of authority and law live out and apply a Biblical commitment to grace in relationships?

I want to be gracious to my students, and I’m willing to be abused, but my responsibilities as a teacher require me to use law in order to maintain order and fulfill the requirements of a classroom process.

Is the answer an “either/or” between law and grace or a use of law in such a way that grace is seen even more clearly?

I’m especially interested in the answers of those who must sometimes be the “enforcer” or rules and policies.


  1. The way I have begun to do it in my parenting is to let the consequences of their actions be the learning tool while I maintain – or offer to maintain a loving relationship with them. I’m trying to offer them choices, let them know what I will do in most situations and then have them deal with their decisions by having to deal with the consequences. I am able to maintain grace or a grace-filled relationship with them where I am always desiring a close and loving relationship with them even while helping them with an unwise decision that led to undesirable consequence.

    Just read and then watched a video by Danny Silk, Loving our Kids on Purpose that gave this model based on how he saw that God loves us and keeps that love offered even when we mess up or have to deal with our bad decisions. The part that really drew me was his part on how to have a place in your heart where your kids could come to when they sin and how we can encourage them that God is the same.

  2. I think it depends on context. Paul supported governmental authority, so we can assume that in the context of a society, law is important. Rules are also important in a business or in a school setting. However, when it comes to anything impacting one’s relationship with God, the only true authority is the Gospel.

    In Galatians Paul described the nature of church authority as reciprocal relationships: all give, all receive. All are equal, though with different roles. No one is above another. Authority is not based on position or “office” but on truth; the moment the pastor steps away from grace, he’s lost his authority.

    Enforcing a speeding ticket says nothing about one’s relationship to God. Enforcing a corporate charter – even if it means removing someone from a church – is okay, as long as his sanctification is not being held over his head. Teaching that someone must submit to the pastor’s whims or even tithe in order to be a Christian in Good Standing is heresy, and Paul says in that situation we can tell the pastor to go to hell.

    The issue, according to Paul, appears to hinge on the spiritual connotations associated with rules.

  3. sue kephart says

    My eldest child led me to be a tough love mom. The tough part is on the parent. So much of our self worth is tied up with the kind of child product we produce. We cover up, bail out and don’t allow the child to learn from the consequences. Once we stop doing it, it looks mean.

    It doesn’t mean I don’t love them.(People would say,”I couldn’t do that. I love my child”.) It means I am allowing them to learn from THEIR mistakes. It isn’t the way I would have them behave but they made that choice. I learned more about God as Father (and had much sympathy for Him) raising kids. That’s why our pleading, begging and manipulative prayers don’t work. God is a tough love parent!!

  4. First. I have only recently discovered your blog, but I have found it most enriching. Thank you for your many thoughtful posts.

    The present topic is a daily struggle for me as well. I am an attorney, and as such I often find myself in the role of enforcer to some extent. I frequently struggle with the dissonance between what the law requires I do to zealously represent the interests of my clients, and what grace would require. There is no simple answer. I have been trained in biblical peacemaking, and frequently counsel clients to pursue a relational resolution to their disputes that focuses on reconciliation rather than retribution, but it is not always possible to pursue that path. A while back, a fellow Christian attorney made a comment that has stuck with me, and which I think has the ring of truth: “Sometimes, the only way to show certain people grace is by taking your foot off of their throats.” This, of course, implies that you must first place your foot there. In my profession, then, Paul’s teaching is equally applicable. The law is imposed that we might understand and acknowledge grace when we see it.

  5. Alden,

    Titing Heresy? A little overboard maybe? One can disagree with the tithe and not go to the extreme of condemening it as an heritical position.

  6. …..in my way of thinking Grace and Law are mutually exclusive…they cant co-exist..but if i think in terms of Law and Mercy then………….

  7. Funny how this was posted the same DAY I put up my course grades…

    It has become pretty standard for a consistent percentage of university students to respond to their posted grade with an email begging for a better grade. Perhaps each student only tries this once, but I usually get 3-6 emails in a large lecture of 300. It is, of course, both unfair to other students and irritating to me.

    Enforcing the law: never acquiescing to these emails.
    Teaching the law: repeatedly saying I will not acquiesce to these emails. Noticing when a student has made a special effort to improve, and rewarding THAT with better grades.
    Gentleness: An encouraging persona in class and correspondence.
    Grace: Generous grading for everyone

    By instinct is to make the syllabus mean, and then be kinder as I feel the individual situation warrants. Not sure if that is Godly, or just trying to keep my options open…

  8. This is an important subject to me. I work in a youth crisis shelter. I deal with adolescents who are homeless, caught up in the system, abused in countless ways, you name it. There are a lot of rules that need to be enforced for the program to run smoothly, and sometimes I think it’s to the detriment of the kids.

    I work the overnight shift (I’m at work now) which is the time that some of these kids struggle the most. It’s also the time that affords the most leniency as far as the program is concerned. Some of my co-workers are sticklers for a strict bedtime; I’m not. I’ve done my best work at these kids one-on-one, or one-on-four, in the wee hours of the night. Some co-workers think I’m “soft” because of this, that I’m letting the kids run wild just to be liked. But I know differently.

    For me, the law/grace thing is intuitive. I go by gut. I’ve been disciplined at times for it by my supervisors, but I’ve also been encouraged by them as well. They know what I do, and they know I can offer what I have to offer because I’m a Christian (the shelter is state-operated, and I constantly walk a tightrope concerning my faith here).

    I’d encourage you to go by gut as you submit to the Holy Spirit, and to err towards compassion. When you have to enforce law, make sure you explain why. The “why” is huge; it helps reassure the kids that what you’re doing is in their best interest, even if it doesn’t feel like it.

    There is a scripture I constantly rely on when the kids are out of hand, ungrateful, belligerent, unresponsive, etc. Luke 6:35-36

    ” But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, **for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil**. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

    Not to be a blog troll, but I wrote about how this scripture deeply impacted me over the holiday season, if anyone is interested: http://muldowney.wordpress.com/2008/12/25/kind-to-the-ungrateful/

  9. God’s grace applied to us in Christ did not mean that no one paid the debt of sin. We did not have to pay for our own debt, someone else did. Here are grace and law functioning together. Everything required in the Law was dealt with in the Gospel. Now, I’m not God so my application of Law and Gospel as a parent, dean, pastor, etc, will be handled in a less than perfect way, but hopefully always with both humility and resolve.

  10. I substitute taught K-12 for a year right out of college, and that requires a little more law than usual, and a whole lotta grace let me tell you. It’s necessary to demand that the students respect order and your authority, and generally you’ve got to prove it in every new class-room if they’re Middle School or older (at least I did.) Students of any grade will run right over a Sub if they can; but trying to help teach them not to do things like that by setting an example might just help them someday when they’re faced with a real job and they won’t run the risk of getting fired for trying to run roughshod over their boss.

    But showing a little grace and mercy is necessary as well. Any student can succeed in class regardless of what they may think, and showing them that in the right way can encourage them to try and succeed with the help of others; yet without being totally reliant on others.

  11. Can I suggest that it depends if the giver of the grace is male or female and if the recipient of the grace is male or female?

    We were given two genders to wield. The female could be more womanly and the male could be more manly in how they give and are expected to receive grace.

    Example: At a boys camp one summer I learned to be much more of an enforcer than I originally thought, and the boys thrived more in that atmosphere. But it was important to be forceful out of love. I made a point to genuinely compliment one boy who was reprimanded for acting out by saying that he was likable and didn’t need to cause trouble to gain friends.

  12. My first year of teaching was at a Christian junior high school. Grace was taught… but unfortunately, it was taught as something solely in the hands of God. Not us. We had rules, and these rules were inviolable. When the kids misbehaved, we gave them detention. Lots and lots of detention. And every Friday we had chapel, and the messages were frequently about how misbehavior dishonors God.

    I was raised this way, so sad to say, I didn’t realize how profoundly wrong this was until most of the way through that school year. It started with my noticing how legalistic my kids were.

    It ended, for me, about two weeks before it was my turn to speak in chapel. I used that time to apologize to the kids for my having unrealistic expectations of them. “I’ve been following Jesus for more than 20 years,” I said, “and I can’t claim to do it well; and you’ve been following Him for ten or less—and I’m demanding that you be at my level? That’s not fair. So I’m sorry.”

    Several of my kids told me later how much they appreciated the message. My fellow teachers, however, didn’t appreciate it at all. Even though I never said a word about them, or implied anything about how they disciplined, they felt I undermined their authority. It’s one thing to repent, but apologizing? To children? You’ll never get their respect back.

    One of them actually told me, “Well, Jesus never apologized.” As if any of us teachers are at His level.

    But if we aspire to be, I would think we’d have to be humble. I admit my failures to my students. (My school-related failures, of course; it’s completely inappropriate to discuss certain of my personal flaws.) I expect them to likewise admit their school-related failures to me; and some of them voluntarily go further and confess other things. Thankfully, little of it involves legal consequences. They just want to follow Jesus more. I’m all for that.

    As for losing their respect, that hasn’t happened. If they didn’t respect me, they wouldn’t share anything with me. But they know I’ll forgive them, so they do. And I know they’ll forgive me too. Humility hasn’t backfired on me yet; I don’t ever expect it to.

  13. During my days as a newspaper journalist, I was always faced with the choice of whether or not to show people grace while reporting the local news.
    Say you have a local public official caught doing something unethical or illegal. The first choice is whether or not to put it in the paper at all — but that’s not really an option, since people deserve to know what their elected officials are up to (and it’s gonna get around anyway). The choice then comes down to what extent do I crucify this person in a public forum. Do I do a short piece relating only the basic facts or do I do something more extensive and detailed? Do I just write a one-time story or a series over time? Do I launch a local media crusade to hound this person out of office?
    I found that even how I worded or arranged the “facts” reflected how much mercy I felt like showing a person on a particular day — and even where you place a story in the paper, from the front page to the back, has a lot to do with how much harm a story can do to someone.
    The general rule within the journalistic world is that to show grace to an individual is to cheat your reading public and their right to know everything about a situation. The unspoken rule behind that is that if it will sell papers, write about it and take lots of pictures of it. But as a Christian and a solt-hearted person in general, I just couldn’t follow these rules all the time — something that often caused conflict between me and my editor. Eventually, these kinds of conflicts and moral conundrums led me to leave that profession.
    That said, I think there are definitely some professions (like journalist for the secular media and CIA interrogator) that just don’t lend themselves well to grace in the workplace.

  14. urban otter says

    I’m both a teacher and a parent. It constantly surprises me how much of an enforcer my children and students need me to be.

    “Is the answer an “either/or” between law and grace or a use of law in such a way that grace is seen even more clearly?”

    I think that following the law is necessary for happiness, and that grace makes following the moral law possible. Grace saves us from the bondage of sin, and we’re in bondage as long as we keep willfully sinning. Grace allows us the opportunity to gain mastery over ourselves.

    God wants us to be eternally happy with him in heaven. We cannot be happy if we’re behaving immorally, and since God wants us to be happy, at some point we’re going to have to quit sinning. We may not follow the moral law perfectly on earth, but that’s no excuse for throwing in the towel.

    We freely choose to sin all the time, but just as God expects me (enabled by his grace)to behave myself, so do I expect the children to behave themselves. I know that sometimes they are going to choose to behave badly, but that’s no reason to throw out the rules or lower my expectations.

    I try to teach and parent in such a way as to help the children develop an informed conscience. I want them to see the benefits of following the moral law, and they can’t do that unless they’re actually following the moral law. Someone who gears his actions toward satisfying his desires is incapable of fully understanding the joy that comes from of self-denial. But children (and adults!) need discipline applied from outside of themselves in order to gain self-control.

    Children are miserable in a lawless environment, and they are miserable without challenges. I learned this the hard way when my son got cancer. I lowered the academic bar because I wanted to go easy on him. I started tolerating behavior I did not before. The poor thing was deathly sick and his mind altered by drugs, right? So therefore I should make his life easy everywhere I could, right? Wrong. Sick or not, he still needed the law lovingly and consistently enforced.

    I have to discipline the children until they can discipline themselves. This makes me sound more dictatorial than I actually am, though. I strive to keep them challenged but make the challenges feasible. I strive to make both their school work and behavioral standards challenging, but do-able. Forgiveness is extended without limit, as are second chances (and third and fourth…). I try to apply grace by striving to give the students what they need to get the job done without actually doing it for them.

    I also try to apply grace by being honest with the children about their accomplishments. Undeserved praise damages their self-respect just as much as undeserved punishment. They lose respect for both me and themselves if their accomplishments are easy or non-existent. God’s grace allows me to grow, I must allow the children chances to grow in both character and academic ability. I lavish rightly earned praise accordingly. I strive to create an atmosphere of a cooperative relationship between the children and me. Our respective roles are not the same, but we’re striving together. I do my part, they do theirs.

    And yes, I *do* apologize to the children when I mess up. I admit it and ask them to forgive me. They need to know that the moral law (from which spring the rules) applies to me as well. It isn’t something that I just dreamt up one bright day out of my own head. They need to know that authority is not above morality.

    Well, I hope that somewhat answered the question.

  15. I am a juvenile probation officer, but we are also to behave like social workers, attempting to help the kids through any problems they are having, making referrals, etc. If they are doing something that is dangerous to themselves or others, I sometimes need to “lock them up” for a while. I never like doing that and you never know if, in the end, it will backfire on you. Some kids learn from it and stay out of trouble later; others find it was no “big deal” and wear it like a badge of honor.

    With other kids who are trying to do well but “slip up” I may apply “grace” and let them continue to work things through. It’s always an incredible balancing act. Lots of the public want kids to be locked up and throw away the key if they are committing crimes, but our department wants us to try all kinds of things first before resorting to incarceration. So, we probation officers end up in the position of going against counselors, case managers, teachers, and more in wanting to keep kids in the community. We tell them, “The boy will be coming back to this community anyway in a matter of months. What can we do now to help this citizen of our community now?”

  16. As an adult teacher, Fire Chief, Pastor, Parent, boss, and foreman, I have often said, “Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness.” Grace shows love, and love yields loyalty, and with loyalty there is no need for law.
    There are always those who reject Grace and thereby fall under the law, those who want no part of the love that develops in a grace filled relationship. They either feel themselves, the grace giver, or grace itself to be inferior to the law or feel the law is more concrete, and may be trusted or manipulated.
    In a situation of total rebellion, order must be restored through the law before grace can be shown. The law must be established first, or grace will be misinterpreted at weakness or worse, anarchy.

  17. Jenny Bluett says

    From the mass readings the other day:

    “not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.

    Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so
    will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven.
    But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments
    will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.”

    Teach the commandments and their obedience will be blessed. Enforce consequences for disobedience with love and mercy. Grace empowers them to obey, mercy covers their failings.

    In raising five kids (four of them teenage girls), what I find difficult is the follow-through with discipline. For me, it requires great concentrated effort serving as the enforcer. If I fail and inappropriately chalk it up as “being merciful” (I’m really just lazily woosing out) I find it a great detriment to myself and to the children.

  18. “Your comment is awaiting moderation”

    I feel like I’m sitting outside of the principle’s office, knowing I’m about to get in trouble for doing something wrong, just not knowing what it is. Speaking of law….. *chuckle*

  19. Sean: You were moderated because the scripture references produced links, and the program always holds links for review. It’s a spam measure. np.

  20. Willoh wrote:

    In a situation of total rebellion, order must be restored through the law before grace can be shown.

    I like that, I’d say even in terms of “partial rebellion”….. it’s not as if law is somehow BETTER than grace, but our natures being what they are (ME,ME,ME), a world where it’s grace always, no matter what, soon becomes anarchy. Of course LAW 24/7 becomes the Gulag Archipelago….or that church some of us grew up in…

    AWESOME thread Mr.Monk…love the comments.

    Greg R

  21. Sean, I don’t know you or anything, but I think you’re doing the right thing at work, even though you may get fired for it. Kids DO notice when an adult bends the rules for them just to treat them like human beings.

  22. I have always felt that grace is demonstrated in authority when those in authority can admit their wrong and ask for forgiveness. When human authority becomes tied to infallibility no grace can obtain.

  23. James 4:6 “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” This is the foundation to being able to receive grace.

    As far as treating people, are they simple, foolish or evil? Applying wisdom i.e the book of proverbs to figure out what you are dealing with is a good start. If people meet the conditions of being able to receive grace, i.e humility then we have a conversation and we can “faithfully administer God’s grace in its various forms.” I peter 4:10. Then God’s wisdom through prayer and hard work follows.

    Here is a brief overview of how I see God implementing his grace.

    When we think of Law and Grace we can easily drop into just the Pauline views on the subject rather than take a whole bible view. If we take a broader approach, we can learn more about how God applied law and grace to the whole human race.

    God’s process was to begin with a relationship in the Garden. God was with them, God was near. That got disrupted to say the least, now we were on the trail of choices and consequences, then structure with ten commandments and Levitical laws. All of these ordinances were to visibly show that God wanted to live among them. We still didn’t get the meaning of God’s grace and we see that “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. (Jonah 2:8) This sums up the experience of the Israelite/Struggle and walk with God.
    Now, we move to a situation that God has to send Jesus in person to walk and dwell among us. That still wasn’t enough – we crucified him! Thankfully, God raised him from the dead so that Jesus continues to live, and that favor of God gets extended to us through his mercy and compassion. God sealed us with His Holy Spirit and now we can administer the grace we have received.

    I think that we do people an injustice when we require them to act differently than what they show themselves to understand. Rules and laws are there for our/their protection when we don’t have that knowledge or forethought within ourselves. When we learn the basic rules, its only then we progress to applying the principles those rules were based on.

    Isaiah 28:9-11 “Who is it he is trying to teach? To whom is he explaining his message? To children weaned from their milk,to those just taken from the breast? For it is: Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule;a little here, a little there.” Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people”

    God will teach us, the question is will we learn?

  24. sue kephart says

    I would have to disagree with Sean. Having worked with at-risk kids I find kids need to have adults enforce the rules, like bed time. It provides structure which is what these kids lack.

    I would ask how old you are and if you have children of your own. Most times when we adults bend the rules it is more about us than the kids. I am nice, Christian, so on. You have said you have gotten in trouble with your superiors, that might be a clue that your way might not work.

    This doesn’t mean you can not show kindness. If you pay attention to the kids you will see those opportunities but ” I have to enforce the rules that’s my job.”

  25. We can all agree that grace is a free gift given out of the boundless goodness of God. But what is grace? I think grace is the resurrection life of the risen Lord working out in me, the same power that raised His mortal body from the dead raising up all who believe. Grace is God himself,light from light, God from God, true God from true God begotten not made,radiant resurrection life. To discipline or correct is life giving under the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.

  26. sue kephart says

    Also Sean,

    Think about the fact that you are modeling the behavior of a rule breaker. If you can do what you please, even though your superiors frown upon it why should the kids behave any differently.

    Jesus was obedient even unto death. That’s our model.

  27. Sue, I have to take exception to what you’re saying. As a onetime delinquent/truant/what-have-you, what helped me the most wasn’t some adult’s (generally ridiculous) idea of enforcing their rules to “give structure” to my life, but the handful of adults willing to give me respect in order to get mine – a human transaction that isn’t generally a part of ‘the program’, but is the first extension towards building a relationship with a kid who wouldn’t otherwise give a crap about you or what you want them to do, even if you believe its ‘for their own good’.

    And as for Jesus, he sure didn’t follow any rules any of US would have recognized…

  28. Sean, your advice to “err toward compassion” made me smile. That is so right.

  29. A few years back I taught a few online classes for a local Bible Institute/School that issues certificates & non accredited degrees (though they are working toward getting full accreditation).

    In the syllubus, I would be very precise about what I expected. I was up front about how I would grade, what constituted “on time” submissions of work, etc. For the essay portion of the tests I would give a very precise rubric describing how I would grade the essays. That was definitely the “law” portion of my teaching style.

    As far as the grace portion was concerned, I encouraged the students to appeal grades if they thought something was abiguous or confusing in the question. Even though my official policy on late submission was that I would give no credit, I’d work with people if there were problems. Though the non-essay/non-discussion portions of the weekly quizes were difficult, they were set up in such a way that when they saw the material later (on the final exam), they’d remember it better, thus ensuring a better overall grade (and learning experience) in the long run (ie full semester), even if the short run (ie weekly) was tough.

    So, all-in-all, though the work was hard, the stuff the grades were weighted in a very lenient way.

  30. sue kephart says


    I am not suggesting that one can’t treat a person with respect. If we see each one as a child of God we will do that regardless of the ‘program’. That has nothing to do with disregarding the rules. We are adults we should act like it. Not like the rebellious teenagers we are supervising.

    I didn’t understand your comment about Jesus following rules we wouldn’t recognize, sorry.

    I am glad people reached out to you. I also agree that is what it is all about.

  31. Let’s change the language and see if that helps. The best advice I ever received about parenting emphasized that children need two things: (1) NURTURE, (2) STRUCTURE.

    They need to know that they belong and are loved, accepted, affirmed, encouraged, and enjoyed by their parents, and that their parents always have their best interests in mind (nurture).

    They also need to know that life includes the imposition, by various authorities in their lives, of certain boundaries, disciplines, habits, prohibitions, and requirements that may not in and of themselves be absolute and required in every instance by God, but which, when accepted and applied in the right spirit, may also help them develop and grow into maturity (structure).

    Paul’s instructions to the Thessalonians highlight these two needs, and the discernment required in applying the right balance of nurture and structure in various relationships: “And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them” (5.14).

  32. sue kephart says

    Also Patrick,

    I think you are wise enough to realize not all people are going to respond as you did. I’ve seen kids destroy relationship with adults that were ‘there for them’.

    Some people are just hell bent on doing whatever they want. Some have mental health issues. Families suffer with kids out of control. Teachers who care are often raked over the coals by some kids. Sometime we can’t help dispite our best efforts. Some go to prison (sometime a turn around there). Some even die.

    One thing I know is kids, families amd those that care for them all need our constant prayers. If we think we have all the answers we are in trouble. And as one has said: we need to forgive others as well as ourselves when we make mistakes. And if we work in this field we will make them.

  33. Seems like all I do these days is evaluate others — as a professor, department head, and editor of a scholarly journal. The judgments I make directly affects how much money people will earn (I finished the annual review evaluation for my 40+ faculty just today) and even whether some will keep their job (publish or perish is reality in my department, and for most of the scholars who submit research to my journal).

    Fairness and respect are about as far as grace takes me in my official positions, except at the margins. (E.g., resolving doubt about publishability in favor of an assistant professor who likely needs the pub for tenure. Still, the manuscript needs to be above a given threshold to be published at all, so a judgment like that is, at best, just at the margin.)

    But showing “grace” to someone in the form of a salary merit increase that s/he did not deserve simply means that I denied someone else that portion of the merit increase. If it were “my” money, then I wouldn’t have a problem. But as department head I’m a steward of the university’s money (as editor, I’m steward of the journal’s pages), and feel obliged to use it for the purposes for which I’m given authority over it.

    That said, on the grace side, I work to leverage all available opportunities for the faculty to maximize their productivity. Whether it’s in the form of raising the possibility of an extension in the pre-tenure probationary period, providing an extra course off to someone who’s struggling before tenure, to spending time working personally with junior faculty to help get their research (or teaching) up to snuff.

    Finally, “administrative convenience” is a rationale that covers a multitude of sins. I try to err on the side of being inconvenienced and deal with each person who comes to me as a person, rather than as a problem that needs merely to be managed. Some days that’s easier to do than other days.

    That said, I would guess that about 80 percent of the folks who walk into my office with a problem are just looking for a sympathetic listener or knowledge of someone else at the university who can help them out.

  34. I hope I didn’t give the impression that I’m a consistent rule-bender/breaker. Those times are definitely the exceptions. The point is that I’m willing to make those exceptions at the appropriate times, when a kid is especially needy or there is a teachable moment ready to be taken advantage of.

    I take issue with my co-workers who are all law (to use the language of this post) and treat the system as supreme, instead of the kids’ needs as supreme. And yes indeed, many times they need to learn how to go to bed on time and follow rules just as much as they need someone to touch their soul.

    In fact, when it comes to enforcing rules I usually have great success with the kids. It’s because they respect me. They don’t respect some of the other staff. But they respect me because I try my best to treat them like individuals who need special attention at times, and they know I care. It’s amazing how much more influence one can have with time, showing care, a hand on the shoulder, smile, and a “come on, you know it’s time for bed, do the right thing please,” rather than threatening with consequences.

    But again, there is balance. I’ve been working there for a year and a half. I’ve been physically threatened and had to break up fights between kids who are twice my size. Sometimes I have to yell. But more often than not, even when the kids are upset, I’ll still hear them say “Listen to Sean, he’s cool staff.” And “cool” is there way of saying “I know he cares.”

    As I said in my first post, when it’s necessary to do law…..which usually takes precedence….it’s crucial to explain “why.” The program is for the benefit of the kids. The rules are for their own benefit. If the kids do what they’re supposed to do, the program runs smooth, they get privileges, and everyone’s happy. They “why” is crucial. (This is also my apologetic for answering the “your religion has so many rules” criticism to people. God never commands anything, as far as I see, that is bad for us. Even the cross…it’s ultimately a good thing for those who believe).

    Sue, for the record, I’m 26. No kids. I’ve had to explain my tactics to my superiors a few times after certain incidents, but usually they come to understand why I did what I did and end up supporting me (not always though. This is a job where mistakes happen, often. Talk about grace!) I’ve also been publicly commended by my direct supervisor as well as the program director, fwiw.

    Patrick, thanks man.

  35. I feel like I’m good at my job, and getting better, but I definitely don’t have it figured out. I’ve made a TON of mistakes. Not many “aha!” moments with the kids. The victories are few and far between. I pray for seeds sown.

    Just felt the need to say that in case the tone of my last post comes off as too self-congratulatory. More often than not I leave work humbled and discouraged, but with the slightest bit of hope.

  36. I am an attorney. Not only that, but part of my job is to evict people who don’t pay their rent/mortgage. Hard to get more “law” than that.

    I try to be a nice, listen to concerns from tenants, counsel my clients to give multiple breaks in hard economic times, etc. But… would Jesus really evict a family of six for failure to pay rent?

    Our society cannot function without enforceable contracts. So in a way my work is a “necessary evil.” But, it’s all law, and not nearly enough grace.

    I’m like a tax collector in the Gospels. So I look to Luke 3:12-13. Still law, but at least it helps me sleep better at night.

  37. Charley,

    Your Luke 3 reference was comforting to me. I had not yet considered the application of that passage to our profession. I am too frequently reminded that the closest biblical analog to a modern day lawyer was a Pharisee.

  38. treebeard says

    I’m not trying to be clever, but Jesus was (and is) also a lawyer. He is our Advocate, our Counselor, and the Executor of a new covenant.

  39. sue kephart says

    Since I am now know as the enforcer here (joke)I think the Holy Spirit is the advocate.


    I didn’t mean to come off as a big meanny. Keep up the good work. I was trying to say sometimes well intentioned people get manipulated by these kids big time. So take care of yourself.

    Oh boy, this must be my day: Charley, I also have worked where I was the person having to help folks who had been evicted. The sheriff just throws everything out on the yard, street or curb. Then the neighbors come and run off with whatever they can. Did you ever have to try to get new SS cards when all your documentation is scattered all over — and back?

  40. What does one expect of Grace?
    To many its the ‘unmerited favour of God’.
    To me its the empowering presence of God in my life. A person of ‘Law’ (Sherrif, Policeman Judge etc) has a given authority and with that an ’empowerment’ to carry that authority through.
    I don’t believe the real meaning of Grace as I described above can not come without that empowerment in whatever our role is in life, be it parent through to the President of a country.
    We ARE empowered by God through the indwelling Holy Spirit for a life of good works, something He prepared beforehand and that we should enjoy and behold His presence in all our daily toils and rests.
    For those who feel uncomfortable with my defenition of Grace (its not mine – I just believed it after hearing from a fellow Christian) then try putting ‘unmeritted favour’ in place of ‘grace’ in such passages
    Luke 2:40 And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.
    Hebrews 2:9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.

    God Loves US. We are the apple of his eye, He allowed His only Son to die for us. Why does Christianity preach that we are unworthy? Thats just not true because it denies the very essence and fragrance of our salvation through Jesus Christ.
    We’d look a right turkey explaining to a new convert who in the night came to the realisation that Jesus was calling them to a new life and that old life now meant nothing that now all the fanfare and hype is over just to settle down and remember that its only through unmeritted favour that God decided to do this!! Could I say ‘what bunkum!’
    Such thoughts cripples rather than releases.
    Yes I know many will come at the fact that ‘ whilst we were still sinners…’.
    Google grace and the new testament and see just how many occurences of Grace are there and just how rich a word it is and its for US from HIM who loves us dearly.
    But greater still simply take time out with God and ask Him directly, don’t take it from me.

  41. Of course, the other possibility is that Luther’s distinction between Law and Grace was wrong. I have before pointed out that one of the Eastern critiques of the West is that the Church of the West went way too juridical.

    There is a reason why the East keeps pointing out that the word for canon is different than the word that we translate as “law.” And, the Eastern Early Church fathers constantly insisted that canons were to be treated as medicine. They were to be applied as necessary, sometimes as written, often less severely than written, and sometimes more severely than written. The same is true when we apply discipline to our children, students, wayward youth, etc. Kanon is akin to discipline. Both are medicine intended to bring about salvation or mature human behavior.

    Grace is fully consonant with kanon precisely because kanon is NOT nomos (law). A loving medicinal application of kanon is grace in its best application. Grace is God’s medicine towards us in that it is meant to heal. But to say that grace is only unconditional forgiveness is to shortchange God’s loving approach towards us. To separate God’s grace from his intention that his desire that all be saved (even if all are not) and changed into a new creation is to come all too dangerously close to reducing grace to nothing but cheap forgiveness.

    God’s grace can sometimes include rather severe treatment in order that we may turn to Him and be saved. Over and over the Old Testament prophets equate God’s love and grace to His punishments intended to bring Israel back. That type of grace in action can best be seen in the books of Hosea and Habbakkuk. Grace and God’s discipline can go hand in hand.

    Having said that, grace and discipline are not equivalent either. The thief on the cross and the woman caught in adultery are examples of that. Nevertheless, in both cases note that punishment and grace were actually associated with each other. Though Jesus declines to “punish” note that it was the fear of stoning and the crucifixion of the thief that drove them to receive the grace of God. That is, God’s graceful application of discipline brought those two people to the point that they would look to Jesus and be saved.

    This is why I said that Luther could have been wrong. He opposed Law and Grace. But, he was mistaken about Law. And, medicinal discipline and grace actually have a synergistic relationship in which each enhances the other.

  42. Just watched “We Were Soldiers”. I know it’s a movie. I know it’s dramatized history. I know it’s Mel. But Gibson’s portrayal of Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore seems to fit the bill. Grace under pressure may be the best assessment.

    I don’t know why grace is so often associated with weakness or license. From doing word studies, I have found that “grace” regards the manner that God works – not out of obligation but joy and generosity. One can be a strong leader without being a jerk.

  43. Hi Micheal,
    My husband reads your blog but this is my first visit. I grew up Baptist, then took a long tour through American Evangelicalism, and thankfully am now Lutheran. I’m passionate about this topic and often write about it on my blog as well (read by mostly evangelical christian women–who usually don’t agree with me). I couldn’t agree with you more and am amazed when reading through your comments that so many view worship as ‘what we bring to God’. I am so thankful that when I go to church tomorrow I will receive God’s forgiveness and mercy through Word and Sacrament in a Bible-based liturgical worship. And today as I prepare meals for my family and read books to my children, I will worship Him through my vocation.

    We seemed to have lost sight of whose doing the ‘giving’ in our relationship to God. Song after song of “I Surrender All” or ” I love you Lord” may miss the larger point—that it is Christ who surrenders all….and God who loves US because of Christ’s work on the cross. At my previous contemporary evangelical church, 14 weeks went by without a clear presentation of the gospel. Instead, the sermons were ’10 ways to be a better ______’. Evangelicalism’s obsession with the christian, rather than Christ, is dangerous and unbiblical.

    We are all sinners to the core. We need preaching and singing that carefully keeps Christ at center. Are you sure you’re not Lutheran?

    Thanks for a great post!

  44. Am I Lutheran? I’m Lutheran on everything but sacraments and practical missiology, which is why I’m writing this a hundred miles from the nearest Lutheran church 🙂

  45. Great question. This is why i LOVE the show Dog The Bounty Hunter. I know I know I know. I sound all redneck now. But seriously. Watch a few episodes of that show and you’ll get more gospel than watching 24 hours of most christian television.

    Grace and truth indeed.


  46. I teach at a high performing urban charter school that takes kids from neighborhood elementary schools that have a lot problems. The situation is tough because we’re trying to take the lowest kids in the city to equal their peers in the burbs (and its middle school!). The hardest thing I’ve found about law/grace is to be more aware of God’s relationship with me than my relationship with the kids. If I think about how I can help my students before I think of how God has helped me then the day is much harder. When I am aware that God is with me in all his glory and love and power, then law/grace isn’t as hard for me to figure out, it just kind of flows. But like I said, its hard to remember God before kids in the first place.

  47. “Everything we do is a choice and every choice has consequences”

    This is the most important lesson we can teach our students.

    on the first day of school, I say, “Everything we do is a choice and every choice has consequences. For example, your friend calls you depressed and you spend all night on the phone, neglecting your homework. You may have made the right choice but it is a choice none the less and one of the consequences is that you receive a zero on your homework. The phone call is the reason for your choice, but it is not an excuse from your homework”

    I set expectations high and I am consistent with the consequences.

    Here is the GRACE… I still respect, encourage and work with students who do not meet my high expectations. I show them the their value does not depend on making the right choices.

    Often, It is the “trouble” students, the ones who travel to the next teacher with a warning from the previous, who respect me the most.

    The “good” students tend to dislike me because they are used to getting special treatment[grace]. Of course I am proud of them for making good education choices, and tell them when appropriate, but no special treatment.

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