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Uncensored Grace

Recently I was asked to speak at Lincoln Christian University (www.lincolnchristian.edu) for their chapel services on the topic of "Uncensored Grace." That's not much to go on, but I went with it and started to think about what "uncensored" grace might mean. Jud Wilhite, pastor of Central Christian Church in Las Vegas, wrote a book titled Stripped: Uncensored Grace on the Streets of Vegas. The book tells the stories of people far from God who experienced His transforming grace. God's grace is "uncensored," because it reaches out to the hurting, broken, and disenfranchised at their point of need. We don't get our act together, clean up our lives and then come to God and receive His grace. We receive God's grace through Jesus Christ, and He makes us clean.


Some churches, however, "censor" God's grace, meaning they suppress, edit, or delete it. Just like the older brother in Jesus' story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15), we want to withhold grace from certain individuals, because we believe they don't deserve it. But that's the point, isn't it? None of us deserves God's grace. If we're willing, we can receive it "uncensored"--unedited, unfiltered, and unaltered. And we can be agents of grace as we reach out to others who may be far from God, love them, and introduce them to the One who bestowed grace on us, Jesus Christ.


There are times in life when it seems like God has censored His grace from us. Consider a couple who loses a child. Has God withheld, suppressed, or edited His grace for them? How about the couple who, for whatever reason, has been unable to have a child? Has God censored His grace? And then we see marriages rich in joy and delight and parents with happy, healthy children, and it seems that the reverse is true: God has lavished on them His uncensored grace.


In our American, pop-theology, we have the formula: Blessings = Uncensored Grace and Problems = Censored Grace. If you're facing challenges, hardships, difficulties, and pain, then it must be that God is withholding His grace. But if you're happy, healthy, and whole, then you must be one of the "lucky" ones upon whom God opened the spigot of grace.


In the Old Testament, Job lost everything (except his wife). His "friends" came to him with this same formula and tried to get Job to see the error of his ways and repent. There had to be some hidden sin in his life in order for God to censor His grace and Job to be cursed. Job defends his integrity and character, and eventually lashes out to God at the injustice of His suffering. God responds by affirming His sovereignty and His covenant relationship with Job, even in spite of Job's suffering.


The entire book of Job points out that formulaic approaches to receive God's grace are misguided, and that in our lowest point of suffering, God uncensors His grace. It's in the darkness we need a light to shine all the brighter. When things are going well in life, yes, God's grace is there. But when things aren't going well, it doesn't mean God's grace and presence are gone. In those moments, we draw on His uncensored grace to give us light and warmth. We turn to Him who is "our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling" (Psalm 46:1-3). God's uncensored grace reaches out to us, for even in those moments, "the Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress" (Psalm 46:11).