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The Tension Between Truth and Grace

Have you ever struggled with the tension between truth and grace? You disapprove of someone’s behavior, and you wonder what you should do about it? If you do nothing, are you condoning sin? If you address it head on are you being judgmental?

These are typically questions we ask about others, not ourselves. When we sin, we want grace. When others sin, we want to make sure they know the grievance of their offense (especially if it was against us). Even if we were okay with someone speaking truth into our lives, we would much prefer a gracious rather than caustic approach.

Here’s another perspective. Don’t condone sin (in yourself or others), but offer Christ to redeem it. In his book, Messy Spirituality, author Mike Yaconelli once wrote, “Christians do not condone unbiblical living; we redeem it” (54).

He tells the story about a small group of American soldiers during World War II who sought out a burial site for one of their fallen friends. They were pulling out the next day and were hoping to bury him in a fenced churchyard cemetery nearby.

As the sun was setting, they approached the house next to the church and knocked on the door. The priest answered. They asked him if they could bury their friend in the cemetery. “I’m sorry,” he replied, “but that’s only for members of our church.”

The priest went on to tell the soldiers they could, if they chose, bury their comrade near the cemetery but on the other side of the fence. They were saddened but had few options, so that’s what they did.

The next day, they wanted to visit their fellow soldier’s gravesite one last time before moving on. When they came to the churchyard, they were shocked: they couldn’t find his grave. It simply wasn’t there.

One of them went to the parsonage door and knocked. “What happened to the grave we dug?” one soldier asked when the priest answered. “It’s not there. We did it last night, and it’s not there.”

“It’s still there.” The soldier was baffled. “You see, last night, I couldn’t sleep,” the priest confessed. “All I could think about was what I’d told you, that you couldn’t bury your friend inside our fence. I regretted that. So, last night, I got up—and I moved the fence” (retold in Unoffendable, 81-82).

I want to be someone who moves fences. I want to be a part of a church that moves fences. Not truth. Not God’s Word. Not the core of the Christian faith. But let’s move fences. We need to be people who say to others what we hope will be said to us: “Yes, I see the mess you’ve made of things, just as I have. But God wants us, mess and all. No matter what.”

Our goal is not to change people but to introduce them to the God who can. God is already reaching toward them with His love. Are you?

“But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

There Is No ‘There’

True confession: I used to think that if I preached to more people, served a bigger church, and was asked to speak at more conferences, I would be a better person. Wrong. Maybe you’ve been there, too. Have you ever thought if you were more successful, had a bigger income, or lived in a nicer home, that would prove you’ve “arrived,” and you have become somebody of worth and value?

Last week I wrote about the struggle of attaching identity to a career, and that significance is not defined by what we do. The struggle I’m talking about here is much deeper; it’s about true identity and the lies we tell ourselves.

Meet Cameron Russell, supermodel. She explains: “If you are ever wondering, `If I have thinner thighs and shinier hair, will I be happier?’ you just need to meet a group of models, because they have the thinnest thighs and the shiniest hair and the coolest clothes, and they’re the most physically insecure people on the planet” (quoted in Brant Hansen, Unoffendable, 112).

If self-worth and security were dependent on income, the wealthiest people should be the most secure. They’re not. The most powerful politicians would feel the most powerful. They don’t. The best-looking people would feel the most comfortable with their looks. According to Cameron Russell, it just doesn’t work that way.

Many of us have lived the lie that once we “get there,” we’ll finally reach a point where we’re secure, comfortable with who we are, and at peace with our true identity. But there is no “there.”

The issue is not what’s out “there,” it’s discovering what’s going on in “here”—in living a life centered around Jesus Christ. The pervasive lie is that our identity, security and self-worth come from something external. But when we drink from that fountain, we always leave thirsty.

Even those who serve churches, mission organizations and non-profit ministries can radiate insecurity. We think some level of applause will satisfy our craving for approval. It’s a lie.

If you turn to anything for validation other than God, you will be sorely disappointed. Here’s what God thinks of you: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1). “For whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and He knows everything” (1 John 3:20).

Self-loathing is just as offensive to God as self-praising. Both place the emphasis upon self rather than God. When God is at the center of our lives, identity, security, and worth, then we are free from the condemnation of others . . . even if that condemnation comes from ourselves.

When you orient your life around God, you take your focus off self and place it on Him. Then you are able to grow in humble confidence that none other than the One who created you in the first place defines your identity. The worth of self is not determined by platitudes and accolades but by God’s love. “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

Be set free from the burden of comparison or the insatiable desire for the approval of others as the measure of your worth. You are a child of the God of the universe who sent His very own Son, Jesus Christ to die for you! Make this prayer of David your own: “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings” (Psalm 17:8).

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