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What God Has Joined . . .

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

Before time began, grace and truth were joined in Jesus Christ. What God has joined, let no man separate—the problem is, we keep trying to do just that.

We somehow believe grace and truth stand in opposition to one another; that truth is hard and cold; that grace is soft and shallow, but somehow not really the truth. We are wrong: grace is no more opposed to truth than Jesus is opposed to the Father.

We talk about finding a balance between grace and truth the same way we talk about balancing calories and exercise, unaware that one fuels the other. Grace loves truth, and truth welcomes grace.

Grace speaks the truth without a hint of judgment, confident that the truth sets us free. Grace is the medium of truth: if you change the medium, and you change the very message itself. Grace offers truth the way a guide offers to show the way. Grace rejoices in the truth.

Truth delights in grace because truth is made full only in grace. Truth is robed in grace—and truth would never show herself indecent. Truth speaks but one language: grace.

There is no glory in truth alone, nor is their glory in grace apart from truth. Together as one, grace and truth are the stuff of glory, and this world has seen to little glory. We saw such glory once, and we tried to tear it apart. But our everlasting good the glory was resurrected. Resurrection is truth. Resurrection is grace. To walk in newness of life is to walk as one with grace and truth.

One Dozen Liberating Life Lessons

Knowledge can become a terrible burden. The weight of information can bend the back of the strongest man. We are loaded down with so many shoulds we find ourselves paralyzed by the inability to apply what we know. We open up our web browser and ten thousand voices shout for our attention, each one urgent. Through our computers, radios, televisions, and even our friends urgent knowledge reaches out and tries to shake us into action.

 

Here are a dozen smooth stones with only one aim: to provide rest. These lessons do claim ultimate authority; they are not a call to action; they do not command obedience. They whisper simply, “Here . . .”

One dozen liberating life lessons

1). I don’t have to know the answer.

2). Just because I know an answer doesn’t mean I have to answer the question.

3). The answer is rarely as interesting as the person asking the question.

4). Knowing the answer sometimes keeps me from asking the right question.

5). Facts are never true. They are merely facts.

6). God’s presence is an observable, objective fact, and we can recognize his presence.

7). Faith, hope, and love are abiding, eternal things, and I can start cultivating them now.

8). Celebrity authenticates no one—but neither does it disqualify anyone from speaking the truth.

9). The wisdom of Yoda was not very deep, but it was interesting because he was small, green, and funny-looking.

10). If a picture is worth a thousand words, actually being there is worth a trillion.

11). The end of a matter is better than its beginning; patience is better than pride.

12). Lists convey a false sense of authority.

What about you? Do you have a collection of quiet truths, the kind that give you peace and rest? What gems have you picked up along the way?

Practical Glory

Moses saw the glory of God. The encounter was transformational—it changed him so much the people of Israel asked him, “Please, cover it up, you’re freaking us out.”

Glory is a strange word these days. It has the feel of movies like Gladiator, or the hyped opening of a Super Bowl. Religious people use it, too, but I’m not sure we know what it’s all about. It conjures up notions of Pentecostals run amuck shouting “Glory, Hallelujah!” or even that God’s glory is in the sunset—which is true, but not very useful.

But what if the glory of God wasn’t the stuff of Old Testament stories, Hollywood hoopla, or religious delusions? What if glory was a substance so real it killed cancer better than chemo? What if God designed his glory to be an agent of change? Apparently the Apostle Paul had such a notion: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Another what if: What if, in quoting Romans 3:23 we focused on God’s intention instead of our sin? The famous verse reminds us “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But we have walked the Romans road so often we think only of our shortcomings, but not the destination. In this case, that we were made to live in his glory, to reflect his glory, to interact with his glorious, manifest presence. That’s a game-changer for me, and the possibilities are quite literally, endless.

If we dare to circle back to the 2 Corinthians verse quoted above we are faced with the question, "What would it mean--in real-life, practical terms--to progress from glory to glory?" What would it mean in real life if our expectations were focused on an infinite path, a path designed to transform us more and more into his image? How would it change things if we awoke to our destiny to be conformed to the image of Christ?

One of the unspoken needs of the western church is to rediscover the stuff of Biblical legend, called glory. We, too, could ask “Show me your glory!” Someone has seen that day. He spoke of what he saw when he said the sons and daughters of the kingdom will shine like the sun, but we thought he was just being poetic.

Untimely, Unlikely Grace

Jesus, fresh from the grave, revealed himself to quite a list of people. In fact, we have the actual list: “ . . . He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” (1 Corinthians 15) Notice the list-maker puts himself at the end of the parade, as he should. He knew he didn’t belong. A preschooler playing “one of these things is not like the others” would’ve removed Paul from the list in a heartbeat. The Apostle Paul, last of all: one untimely born.

Paul didn’t walk with Jesus on the roads of Galilee or hear the Sermon on the Mount firsthand. Years later, in the most untimely way, Jesus appeared to Paul, roughed him up on the highway, and left him blind in foreign town. Yet when he was healed something more than scales fell from his eyes: he saw God’s grace as both comfort and provocation.

Grace sees things for what they are: Paul understood he was not fit to be called an apostle. He persecuted the church of God. Paul himself points to his violent, murderous heart, but not like one asking for parole—he was a man pardoned--but divine pardon does not change the facts. Paul says simply, “by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain.” He is strangely content with his past. Grace doesn't whitewash history: it builds on the ugly facts and makes them the foundation for a glory unimagined. The one untimely born became the herald of transformation.

Paul would be the first to tells us, though, that contentment is only half of gracework: “. . . but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” The very grace capable of bringing contentment fuels the work of the herald. As plainly as Paul would tell you he is the least of the Apostles, he also looks you in the eye lays claim to being the strongest hand in the field.

Both are grace: “I am what I am” and “I labored even more.” Grace lives between contentment and hard work, entirely at home with either neighbor. The pardon becomes fuel for the fire.

The Dance of Grace

Last year I saw a real dancer dance. I sat just ten feet away and watched: I marveled at the motion. His leaps seemed effortless; his steps flowed like water; his hand opened a pathway through which his arm, his shoulder, his torso, and his legs followed. As I watched, the music melted away and I beheld motion, pure motion, become a paintbrush. Air was a canvas; the painting vanished after each step, yielding straightaway to another. When the dance ended, I was left with a memory of the painting. Months later, the memory remains.

Nor is the memory about the dancer, but rather the dance. Although the dance did not exist apart from the dancer, he and the motion were indistinguishable. He disappeared in the dance.

The single word for this description is “graceful.” Yet such grace was anything but natural: this grace came as the result of years of discipline, practice, effort and sacrifice. The dancer, I’m sure, had fallen and suffered injury again and again. Certainly he had struggled with doubt, embarrassment, pain, fear, awkwardness, and discouragement. What emerged from the studio was a kind of resurrection, a resurrection of grace and beauty.

Grace grew from effort and focus. His motion inspired others. His art gave glory to God, and while it had the look of spontaneity it was anything but spur of the moment. Such grace grew from devotion: love of craft and creator.

I saw grace in motion, and my idea of grace deepened and grew. What he had done in the natural, I began to desire in the Spirit. What does grace look like in everyday life? No dictionary can tell the tale; no theologian can describe the beauty: we must see it firsthand—but look sharp, this kind of grace disappears as quickly as it comes.

What if grace dances all around us? What do you suppose such gracefulness looks like in our relationships with others? And in what studio do we learn the dance of divine love?