It’s a noisy world – constantly grappling with power, greed, control, and politics permeating every level of human interaction. Everywhere, every day, every topic – floating anchors adrift on oceans of offense or self-justification, buffeting against the shores of public opinion, megaphones full throttle. Yesterday it was Covid vaccination mandates, today it’s Putin bullying Ukraine, tomorrow it’s the golf world torn asunder as the obscenely rich battle for even more. Travel the world and every country, tribe, and nation is fighting internally about something: financial inequality, drugs, sex trade, voting rights, gender inequality, religious freedom, education, gang violence, racial prejudice, tax reform, exploitation….
That was written yesterday. And now Putin has invaded Ukraine. Or to be exact, like every coward dictator he sits protected in a plush building with bodyguards. It is others who die to implement another demonic plan spreading fear and shedding innocent blood. How? Why?
And in the midst of this tangled birds nest of very real life, where is God? Not an easy question when we discover that his name is used by almost every group involved in the turmoil to justify their actions. Seventy percent of Ukraine are Christian. Putin was baptized into the Russian Orthodox Church as a child and professed to becoming a practicing Orthodox Christian at the age of 41 in 1993. Then there’s the rest of us. The Bible is the continuing best selling book of all time. A massive number of the population of the world profess to believe in a Higher Power. Where’s the impact; light in darkness, salt of the earth?
I think a great deal about grace. To me it is the central strand of Christianity. Sadly, like every other great gift is has been cheapened and knocked off in a counterfeit image of the real thing. Grace means being undeservedly forgiven, having a second chance, being unconditionally loved and accepted, embraced on your worst day and offered hope, never being rejected, never abandoned, never cast out, never accused. Grace is a free gift from God to every human being. It is not abstract, theoretical theology, pie in the sky, or without substance.
There are three words inextricably linked to God’s grace that define it and root it – Jesus, Love, Truth. Those three bound together infusing one another, inseparable, each impossible to know without the presence of the other two. The most perfect revelation of grace made visible in human history is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Nothing abstract, nothing impersonal, nothing hard to see or to understand.
Grace looks like God so loving the world that he was born as a baby in a stable amidst a hostile and broken people. Grace has a face – the person Jesus. Grace touches a blind man and gives him new eyes, grace forgives a woman caught in adultery and does not condemn. Grace dines with a tax collector and reaches out to include the leper. Grace is patient and kind. Grace is the essence of salt and light; it makes a real difference in the real world. Grace chases down the lost, the poor, the ones who have made mistakes, the people just like us who never had the breaks.
When we tear grace from love, truth, or Jesus, we peddle in abstraction, empty words, meaningless gestures, and powerless actions of compromise. Cheap grace turns away and looks in the other direction. It sweeps things under the carpet, it feeds the elephant in the room, it makes excuses, it draws the curtains and keeps secrets. Cheap grace makes Jesus a figurehead, love a feeling, and truth a matter for debate buried in political expediency and religious dogma. Cheap grace costs nothing and complies with what the lowest common denominator demands. I’ve seen it for most of my life in the church, in myself, and all around me. It’s a shortcut, easier, avoids conflict, keeps the peace, reinforces our mantra that we’re all basically good people. It causes pain, betrayal, rejection, denial, conflict, anger, and entertains darkness and duplicity with wide-eyed innocence.
Truth be told -God says that we are all sinners, whom he loves, but there’s work to be done for change to be real.
If we want to discern and know the real thing (which is never present outside of a person) hold the relevant person, action, word, character, and behavior up to the light. If Jesus, love, grace, and truth are not visible and in alignment, something is wrong. The same would be true for teaching, Christian ministry, and every aspect of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. And to be clear, we’re not expecting perfection, but we would expect to find the trace elements being intentionally held together.
Consider Jesus and Putin, held up to the light. And for the sake of humility, let’s consider ourselves. What would others say about us when we are tested?
|God is relational, the center and foundation of my life||God is a belief, little if any impact on how I live||God is……|
|Servant leader, first into battle, laid down my life on Cross||Dictator, others serve me, last into battle, |
exploit the lives of others
|My approach to life…..|
|Truth will set free, nothing else acceptable to achieve any end||Lies and deception, any means to my end||How I handle truth…..|
|Subject to his father||Subject to no-one||Who do I submit to….?|
|Love is unconditional, embraces all||Love is conditional, very exclusive||How do I express love…..? To whom?|
|Grace is always present||Grace perhaps only to cronies – but never a sure thing||What part does grace play in my relationships?|
|Could add: joy, patience, kindness, long-suffering, generosity, humility, and……… 🙂|
I would humbly suggest that we can all do better. Truth is tough to swallow sometimes, but when it is offered with love and grace… a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down. Truth has to be tough in the face of evil, both in us, and in others. Putin thinks that people can be forced and coerced, that toughness and war machines, money, and raw power will win the day. He hasn’t got a chance, history bears witness to that reality time and again. The human spirit reflects the very nature of God: it cannot help itself but bend toward justice, love, and freedom. The battle on earth is how to realize the fulfilment of those deep yearnings that beat within every human heart.
God says that we can never realize justice, love, and freedom without his son, his truth, his love, and his spirit at work, manifest (however imperfectly) in our daily lives and relationships. But here’s the kicker. It’s our choice. He refuses to roll into our lives as Putin is invading Ukraine.
God is not totally unconditional. Grace can only be present and experienced where its absence is acknowledged and the gift is willingly received. The woman caught in adultery could not know Jesus’ grace and forgiveness if she refused to stay beside him and engage. I can never be forgiven if I will not acknowledge specifically where I need forgiveness. The beautiful truth is that when we catch a glimpse of God’s love and grace he makes it easy for us to acknowledge the parts of which we are ashamed. Because his presence never condemns and never pushes us away. It draws us in to admit our broken truth in order for us to receive his healing grace. Acceptance and love in those moments transforms our hearts and lives. When we have been forgiven much it is so much easier to pay it forward and pass it on to others. But we can never make that choice for them. Relationship is the only context on earth where God’s love and grace can be experienced by another human being. Therein lies our challenge.
If we want to see a better world… By all means let’s be tough in resisting the actions of people like Putin. At the same time let us be truthful and courageous, inviting God to search our own hearts and lives in the light of his truth and grace.
Please follow link below to pray for Ukraine.