I recently read a short book called Messy Grace (How a Pastor with Gay Parents Learned to Love Others Without Sacrificing Conviction) by Caleb Kaltenbach. The author does a good job of telling his story of becoming a Christian, facing rejection from his parents, but finding a way to combine grace and truth in his ministry and family relationships.
The longer we live the more we tend to understand the idea that life is messy, relationships are messy, and our own lives are messy – but God is always at work bringing peace, grace, and wisdom to our lives as we grow in following Jesus. I appreciate that Caleb Kaltenbach made the effort to put his story into writing and to challenge both the church and the gay community in various ways. The sexual ethic he outlines in the book is thoroughly orthodox, yet because of his background and life journey it comes across differently than many books on the same topic. His approach is to call everyone to the gospel core which combines both truth and grace — not an easy task, but essential in the offering of an authentic Christian witness.
Here is one of many helpful passages in the book:
If we are going to be honest, Christians do not have the best track record in loving people… Part of the problem is that we get trapped in the wrong thinking. We think that we are not supposed to love people who live in a way that is contrary to what God says. Atheists, abortion doctors, legalists, alcoholics, convicts, hypocrites, the sexually immoral, gossipers, and anyone who seems to be on the opposite end of any kind of spectrum from us – these are people we are fearful to get involved with because it seems messy.
It’s a good thing Jesus didn’t decide that we were too messy to get involved with! The apostle Paul said, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners… Not when we had it all together. Not when we started attending church. Not when we started acting the way Christians act. Not when we started believing. Paul said that while we were still sinners, God extended an offer of relationship toward us. We need to express that same kind of love – a love that doesn’t wait for people to be perfect or get everything in order before beginning a friendship with us. It’s imperative that we have grace for people while they are still thinking, speaking, and acting in ways we might not agree with.
As we journey toward Bethlehem and the celebration of Christmas, we do well to note that the incarnation (God becoming flesh) was a pivotal moment in human history where God enters into the messy world and begins a quiet revolution of love. As God has come into our mess – to offer us cleansing grace – so too we are called to enter into the messy lives of others to offer them love, truth, and grace.
I hope and pray that Jesus’ followers will not allow the polarizing forces of our culture wars to infect our calling to tell the One Great Story of Jesus through our words and our deeds. I hope and pray that we can be a model of Christ’s love as we live and speak with both grace and truth.
As we sing “he rules the world with truth and grace” let us reaffirm our commitment to both truth and grace. Let us renew our calling to be part of his army, his kingdom, not afraid of stepping into the lives of others and offering our hands and hearts in acts of sacrificial love in a messy world that God loves more than we can imagine.