Monday, August 30, 2010

The Balance of Truth and Grace

"And the Word (Jesus) was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth."

John 1:14

What does it means when the Word says Christ was full of grace and truth? I think that is a very good question. So often we tend to be people who are characterized by black and white thinking. As a result we tend to be either legalistic truth speakers who exhibit little truth or people who only focus on God’s grace and seldom speak the truth. If Christ was the embodiment of both truth and grace, maybe, just maybe, that is His desire for us as well. If we are to be people who are embracing the truth then we have to acknowledge that it is just as wrong to have premarital sex today as it was in Christ's day. It also is just as wrong to lie, to dishonor our parents, to covet, to take God's name in vain, or to have idols as it was in Christ's day. Sin is sin even though our culture has come to call it by other names like dysfunction or developmental issues. We really don’t have the right or the authority to change God's standard to avoid offending others. In fact, for someone else to understand God’s grace they have to fully understand what sin is.

I find it fascinating that Christ mingled with sinful people. He seemed to be more comfortable in the company of sinful people than He was in the company of the self-righteous Pharisees who put people under bonds of legalism. He taught, healed, ate with, confronted, and loved people who reeked of sin. As we call sin "sin" we also need to remember sin hurts the sinner, too! When practiced sin can become addictive strongholds that are difficult to break. So, we need to develop compassion for those who are struggling.

I was born with a very sensitive conscience that hurts deeply when I sin. When I struggled with patterns of sin I felt too ashamed to go to God again and again with the same sin. Christianity seemed to work for everyone but me. Then God began to show me some awesome things! The more time I spend in His presence seeking Him and praying the more His holiness exposed my sin. At first, that exposure discouraged me and people often leave the church for that reason. I learned that God wanted me to see His love is unconditional and deep enough to embrace me even with my sinfulness. I was guilty of distancing myself from God's open arms by my shame, but He never left me. I searched the Gospels and never found Christ rejecting a person who was confessing his or her sin. He did turn away those who thought they were holy enough to merit His favor rather than relying on His grace.

It is important for us to understand that healthy guilt drives us to God when we need grace, while toxic shame that is based on lies drives us away. When my children were young, we lived in Mississippi where dirt is a beautiful red and it rains a lot. One night at a ball game my kids were playing in the mud. Toward the end of the evening one of them bounded toward me and threw his muddy arms around me and I hugged his dirty little body tight. I loved him and his brothers dirt and all. Don't get me wrong my favorite time of evening was right after baths when I could snuggle with little people who smelled like baby wash, but there was just something about the smell of dirt and the outdoors that was cool, too. When my kids hit the teen years, there were times that I offered them hugs only to feel their bodies stiffen rather than getting a warm hug back. It hurt me to hug a stiff child, but never a dirty one. I can’t help but wonder if that is true of God, too. We can run to Him and no matter how “dirty” we are and He will embrace us. As we confess our sin, He assures us that His blood continues to cleanse us from unrighteousness. However, when we harden our hearts with pride and don't confess sin and come to God with pretense of being something we are not, we are grieving His heart.

One of my children went through a stiff time. Afterward he wrote me a letter and told me he had been hurting from leaving home and over lost relationships. He didn't know how to deal with hurt and admitted he had taken it out on me. He told me he realized our love is always there and always consistent. Do I want him to feel any more guilt over his behavior? NO! I want him to take joy in our love! That is the way God is -- always seeking us. His arms are open wide! If you struggle with sin, it is proof that you are alive in Christ, because dead people don't struggle. There is not a sin that God cannot love us through or help us overcome. However, sometimes He chooses to do that with a once for all deliverance and sometimes with a minute-by-minute dependence on Him.

The questions we need to ask ourselves are: “Am I a "stiff child" whose heart is hard and don't think truth is relevant?” “Am I a "stiff child" who doubts that God will continue to forgive me?” If so, be like my kids when they were little and ran into my arms without giving it a second thought. Run to your Abba’s arms, which are always open and ready to receive you, dirt and all. If you are lucky enough to truly understand the balance of truth and grace you know God loves to hug dirty children. Another couple of questions we might want to grapple with is: “Is God calling us to speak His truth to a stumbling friend?” “Is God calling me to extend His grace to one of His "dirty" children that longs to be held?” It is okay to hate a person’s sin and the damage that it does to him or her, but God has called us to be a people who have the capacity to love the dirty child and offer him a shower and a fresh pair of jeans.

Father, thank you for sending Christ to demonstrate Your love. Thank you for demonstrating the beautiful balance of truth and grace. Help us to love others the way You did. Give us the wisdom and discernment to speak truth boldly with words that are bathed with humility and grace. Give us courage to love and embrace the dirty children You died for. Amen.

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Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!