When my first grandchild, a beautiful little girl, was born, I was surprised to learn that grandchildren are born with an integrated GPS. The Grandpa Positioning System can be initiated with a simple smile aimed at the old guy, a pudgy little finger pointing PawPaw in a specific direction, or a cute giggle triggering Granddaddy Gymnastics (which—let grandpas beware—may lead to lumbar consequences).
At one point a few years into my grandfathering career, led by the aforementioned GPS, I found myself, a father of four sons, in the strange position of perusing YouTube videos trying to learn how to French braid a little granddaughter’s silken hair. A major goal, of course, was to do a good braiding job. For an amateur, I did okay. (May I strongly suggest a good comb and dampened hair?) The overriding goal, however, was to elicit smiles and giggles and hugs. On that score, I did much better than okay!
For this grandpa, the tricky part of French-braiding hair centers on the fact that the good Lord saw fit to give most grandfathers only two hands. The process requires holding at least three strands of hair and a comb, all at the same time, while juggling a spray bottle, and not fumbling hair strands, comb, or water sprayer in the process. (I can juggle balls, but hair is harder!) I will admit, PawPaw’s fingers found the multi-tasking to be a bit challenging. But the giggles were wonderful compensation!
“All at the same time” can be a challenge—and not just for grandfathers.
When Jesus came into this world at Bethlehem, the Apostle John described him as being “full of grace and truth.” In his ministry, Jesus himself made it clear that those who love and follow him are to be people whose lives are filled with love, grace, compassion, hope, joy, and so much more—all at the same time. What a beautiful braid! But what a challenge!
In that “braid,” so many wonderful qualities are, by the power of God’s Spirit, woven together beautifully. But integral in that lovely weave, a special strand intermingles with the others lending a deeper tone, a richer sheen, and producing in the whole braid a magnificent beauty, lush and lustrous and, at the same time, providing a marvelous strength. That strand is truth.
Grace and truth. Our world is in desperate need of both. Real grace. Real truth. Together. When they are separated, each suffers. Grace separated from truth becomes an anorexic wraith. Or change the image. “Cheap grace” is no more real grace than those pathetic globs of poultry Gary Larson once drew in his Far Side cartoon under the caption, “Boneless Chicken Ranch,” were real chickens!
And truth separated from grace? It is cold and hard and brittle, quickly lost as our society tries to force truth to be anything at all that anyone at all might find useful at any given moment at all. Hurling a rabbit off a mountaintop and calling him an eagle won’t help with the landing. Truth matters. But our self-destructive culture is often unwilling to admit that objective truth exists. Many people don’t want it to exist. And many, because of their approach to life, can’t afford for it to. No wonder Pontius Pilate’s cynical sneer is as modern as tomorrow: “What is truth?” (John 18:38). But as Christians, we know that truth exists and that all genuine truth is God’s truth. The real thing is no chameleon or shape-shifter changing hue or form to fit the latest opinion poll or fashion. Accepting the truth about ourselves, our world, our Creator, is the only way to life and healing.
Two Pairs of Pairs
Notice that in John 1, the apostle highlights two pairs of pairs—grace and truth, light and darkness. Let’s consider the latter pair first.
When light and darkness combine, what is produced is a gray twilight, not quite night, not quite day. What you have, an old Texan might say, is a rustler’s moon situation, just enough light for cattle thieves to steal efficiently, but also enough darkness to do a dark deed and not get caught. But John says that Jesus, the Word, brings such light into the world that darkness is completely overcome and banished. In the battle between light and darkness, light wins!
Darkness is overcome as that first pair, grace and truth, are combined in Christ Jesus. What is produced is not gray; it is beautiful. We’ve seen it happen in our own hearts. Accepting the truth of our own human sin and need, coming into the light, we’ve found life and healing in the One who said, “I AM the truth,” and who died to save us by his grace. Amazing indeed! In Christ, grace and truth embrace. And our Lord’s people, having received grace, are called and empowered to live gracious lives.
But it’s not always easy, is it? We know how short we often fall. We know how constantly we need grace. At the same time, we see hurting people all around us whose lives, built on false foundations apart from truth, are crumbling. They also are in deep need of grace—and of truth. How—and when—can we speak truth to them graciously?
We live in a tough climate. The prevailing view holds that tolerance requires accepting that all beliefs are equally valid; a strong belief is one seriously or passionately held, not one that is actually nearer genuine truth than another. With that in mind, would you indulge me in a silly illustration?
A Bridge Story
Let’s say that your neighbor is about to cross a new and hitherto untested bridge built by an engineer who happens to believe that two plus two equals five. All of his bridge-building calculations have been based on that deep belief. Of course, you and I know that his bridge will not stand. The sincerity of his belief is irrelevant and will not in any degree help his bridge to stand. This situation would bring up a multitude of questions, but two come quickly to mind. Is it gracious to the engineer to ignore the truth regarding his false math? More to the point, is it gracious to withhold the truth from your neighbor and allow him to blindly drive out onto a dangerous bridge?
Of course, I’m not really talking about bad engineers and dangerous bridges and theoretical neighbors. I’m thinking about the neighbors whose lives meaningfully intersect ours. Christians know that real grace is empowered by the blood of Christ. We know that real truth is strong and freeing. The real question is, how can we help our neighbors experience the wonderful grace of our Lord as we also point them to God’s genuine truth as seen in his nature and expressed in the precepts and teachings of his Word?
We ask for the help of our Lord! With eyes full of mercy and love, Jesus extended God’s grace as he freed a woman trapped by sin—and sinful men—as she was about to be executed. He saved her and said in complete grace and truth, “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11). Yes, we ask for Christ’s help, so that the marriage of grace and truth so beautifully seen in his life will also bless our lives and the lives of our neighbors. Let’s ask him now.
“Lord, Help Us”
Lord, you’ve taught us (yes, we remember the good Samaritan) that the neighbor we are called to love is anyone who has a need, but open our eyes particularly to those you put around us in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and schools.
Lord, help us to live honest and open lives, not seeing others as faceless targets for evangelism but as fellow human beings created in your image and deeply loved by you.
Lord, give us a strong awareness of what a holy privilege it is to walk on this journey so genuinely in companionship with others that we truly feel their joys and share their tears.
Lord, as we live quiet and godly lives immersed in your grace, freed and guided by the truth, may we make this journey with the kind of deep faith and peace and joy that is unobtrusive but remarkable, winsome, and strong—calm and abiding even in personal and/or cultural storms.
Lord, when we have earned the right, and when your Spirit shows us that the time is right in the journey that we and our neighbor are traveling, give us the words to gently “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) and, in your grace, walk on together.
And so, Lord, in you, may grace, mercy, joy, peace, and truth be beautifully braided together yet again in love.
Curtis Shelburne is a minister, author, editor, musician, audio book narrator—and grandfather!—who lives and serves in the Texas Panhandle.