Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Way of Grace -- Part 2: The Lacing of Grace and Truth

"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,
and we have seen His glory,
glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." 
John 1:14
I am a very curious person by nature. I like to know how things are made and what makes things work. I loved watching children's TV shows with my kids when they were young. These shows  would take the audience into factories and show how to make things like crayons, graham crackers, and musical instruments. I also love movies in which the plot not only reveals the actions of characters, but the reasons behind their actions. When we take road trips, I also love to get off the freeway and drive through small towns and take time to walk the main streets and look for a local restaurants to eat in. This fills my curiosity about the feel of the town and some of its residence. 
This curiosity I have is also often triggered when I am reading the Bible. Especially when I read a verse like John 1:14. When I did inductive Bible Studies, I often made lists of the names and characteristics of Jesus that I came across in the books I studied. There were many names and many characteristics on my lists. So, when I read the description of Jesus above I am curious as to why God chose just "full of grace and truth" to describe Him.  
It was not until I did a study on shame for one the books I wrote that I began to see the significance of the lacing together of truth and grace. We would do well to keep in mind that when Jesus came to earth, the Pharisee's had developed a legalistic religious system that was very burdensome for the people of Israel. They had written many laws that people were supposed to keep to insure that they were keeping God's laws. For example when God said to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, the Pharisee had written many laws to define what was work so that people could avoid working on the Sabbath. There were so many laws written to explain how to keep God's laws that they were burdensome. The religious system of the Pharisees was an in essence an appearance-based religion that looked only at people's actions. It failed to look at the conditions of people's hearts. The religious leaders even confronted the Jesus who was God for healing on the Sabbath. Jesus pointed out that their laws allowed them to rescue a animal, but here they were complaining about Him healing human beings.   
Last week we learned that most people have developed a core of shame because we haven't really understood how to get rid of shame. The Pharisees' developed a religious system and led people to believe it would help them deal with their sin and shame. They believed by keeping the Law and the additional laws that the Pharisees' had written they could obtain righteousness. Those who failed struggled with more shame and when people suffered it was usually assumed it was because of  was sin in their lives or the lives of their parents. They believed that sin caused suffering -- suffering like illness, loss, poverty, paralysis, epilepsy, unwanted divorces, demon possession, etc. Those who had been taught self discipline from a very early age could probably be pretty good at keeping the law and look pretty righteous outwardly, but for many the core of shame became masked by a core of pride and self-righteousness. This self righteousness was what drove people to be legalistic and judgmental.   
Then Jesus came on the scene and delivered the Sermon on the Mount. In that Sermon, we see Jesus strongly confronting their pride and self-righteousness and exposing the condition of their Pharisaical hearts. He does this by pointing out that adultery isn't just having sexual relationships outside of marriage, it was also the hidden heart issue of lusting found in their hearts. He also pointed out that murder wasn't just the physical act of killing another person, it was also an attitude of slow burning anger that lead to contempt, grudge-holding, and broken relationships. He even exposed their heart issue of wrongful motives when He exposed their giving to the needy publically to gain the praise of man. Then later in Matthew 15 Jesus tells them, "But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart and this defiles a person. Four out of  the heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone." Mark 14 tells us the response of the religious leaders was to plot to arrest Jesus and have Him killed. Their anger serves as a cover and an alleviator for the core of  shame with which they had never dealt.    
If we don't understand shame, we will mostly like attribute their anger to pride alone. But I think  pride may have its ugly roots in painful shame. The Pharisees avoided facing shame by covering it with a religion that fostered comparisons and judgments that allowed them to believe they were good. But it was a religion that allowed them to hide their true selves, maybe even from themselves.

To understand the actions of the religious leaders, we must keep in mind that shame is a very uncomfortable emotion experienced in the presence of others. It is an emotion that intensifies when it is first faced and that can feel unbearable at times especially if there is a strong fear of rejection. We must also remember that anger is a secondary emotion that can  cover or numb shame. Anger at others often comes across as contempt and being judgmental. It helps us avoid our shame by keeping all eyes(including our own) off of us and on others. This is especially true if we have a propensity to point out the flaws of others. Anger can also be turned inward where it can become self-contempt and depression. This helps us  avoid shame as well. If we are really hard on ourselves, no one else will confront us for fear of hurting us more allowing us to sidestep the feeling of shame that comes with the exposure of our wrong. If we are turning the anger in, we beat ourselves up and others become afraid to confront us. Both kinds of anger help to deflect the experience of shame--deflect but neither has the capacity to truly heal it. 
Going back to John 1:14. What if God chose to describe Jesus as being full of grace and truth because He wants us to understand the lacing of grace and truth are the key to setting us free from our shame. The shame that hurts. The shame that is caused by knowing we fall short--short of the glory of God, short of His righteousness, short of loving as He loves, short of being as faithful as He is, short of forgiving as He forgives, and short of being as truthful as He is.
If we want to truly be free of shame, we must experience grace and to experience grace we must face truth and face the experience of shame. First, we must face the truth of who God is--the Creator, the Sovereign Almighty God, ruler of Heaven and Earth. He is the righteous One who saves.  He is perfect and loving in all of His ways.

Second, we must face the truth of who we are. We are not God. We are fallen human beings who have a strong propensity to sin and live life apart from God. We are people who need to be honest enough to confess that we are people in desperate need of a Savior.

Third, as believers, we must face the truth that working out our salvation means that we live messy lives where fleshly desires war with our regenerated spirits on a daily basis. We desire to do good, but find ourselves not doing it. We hate sin, yet find ourselves at the end of the day longing for "do overs" so that we can excise harsh words we spoke, recapture moments where we missed the opportunity to love and encourage, take back the choice we made to numb emotions instead of feeling what God has designed us to feel, to rebuke the judgmental attitude that kept us from seeing our fault in the conflict we had, and to swallow the pride that kept us from apologizing for our failure to do good in the face of evil. 

Fourth we must face the truth of who we are in Christ. We are beloved children who, by faith, have entered a relationship with a powerful loving God who never ever stops loving us. That's humbling! To be able to accept that we are loved not for what we do, but because of who He is and because He chose to love us is a gift.

Fifth, we must face the truth that the way out of shame is to live in the truth. We must live out the truth of our stories. That includes the truth of our failures, because without facing them God can't complete the redemption story He is writing. That includes the truth of  the painful parts of our stories, because without the facing pain, there can be no healing. That includes facing the truth that we may have born an abuser's shame way too long and handing it back to them where he or she can choose to deal with it or not. That includes the negative thinking we have towards ourselves when we belittle our own hearts and live in disbelief of who God says we are. 

The way out of shame is to face the fear of exposure, acknowledging and confessing all that we are most ashamed. It is the confessing of the words so sharp on our tongues and words we spoke only in our minds. It is the confessing of all that is not honest--the misuse of company time, the white lie covering tardiness, or excuses of why we fail to love well. It is the confessing of hurtful actions as well as the passiveness of withholding ourselves and our love. It is the confession of betrayal through the failure to love on a daily basis. It is the confession of spiritual adultery when we go after or return to old idols of the heart--idols of self, people, jobs, monetary wealth, body sizes, or education. It is the confessing of passivity in our relationships with the One who loves us most. It is also finding believers who get the "grace-truth" concept and are open to building mutual relationships in which we confess our faults to one another and expose our own messy, sinful hearts so that we can experience grace and love in return. For it is in the relationships in which we speak truth to one another and encourage one another that we are most free to flesh out the truth of who we are in Christ that allows us to experience grace--and it is that grace alone that truly heals our shame.     

No comments:

Post a Comment


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!