The Grace & Truth Matrix - Part 1

by GravityLeadership -

In a Kairos Cohort we start by exploring 7 paradigms for finding our center. This is the way of seeing the world as Jesus seemed to see it: God is present and at work in the world, calling all creation back into unity with himself is the first one. With this paradigm in place, we move on to the next phase of finding our center: learning to dwell in the posture of Jesus. If paradigm is the big picture, posture is how we embody this paradigm in our everyday lives. If paradigm is a way of “seeing” the world, posture is a way of “being” in the world. We are called to not only see things the way Jesus does but to be in our world the way Jesus is.

Centered in Love

“The center of our leadership is our life in God, and the center of God is love. So this first journey of finding our center is to discover that love is the center of our leadership, and learning to lead from a place of being at home in love. Confident and secure, not in our intelligence, competence, or likability, but simply in our “belovedness.”

This does not come natural and leadership with love as our anchor is something qualitatively different than “being nice.” It is a complete reorientation of our motivations and desires at the deepest levels of our lives. Finding our center is about learning to dwell in the love of God, letting love permeate and overflow through our lives toward everyone around us. So that’s a nice theological idea, but how does it work out in real life? If this is going to be a posture we can inhabit, it has to be practical and tangible, and that’s where most of us get tripped up.

Is love a zero-sum game?

When we think about love, our imaginations tend to go toward situations where love seems easy. Times where we’ve been “in love,” when the kids are happily obeying, when our spouse is in a good mood, when our congregation is appreciative and encouraging.

But what happens when life gets a bit more difficult? How do you live in love when your spouse is upset? Or when he or she truly hurt you? Or when you’ve done the hurting? When the kids are misbehaving? When you multiply angry emails in one day? When the board wants to fire you? Typically in these kinds of situations, we define love as either “being nice” or “getting tough.” Or, more commonly, trying to find a balance between the two. We often feel like we’re walking a tightrope, trying to maintain a perfect midpoint between the two, like this poor guy:

Because we feel like we’re living on a teeter-totter, we have to sacrifice one to get the other; the nicer we get, the less tough we can be. And vice versa, the tougher we get, the less nice we become. In the end, it feels like a zero-sum game where we are unable to love in the way of Jesus. To lean into one is to lean away from the other. We end up aiming at “balance” but seldom hitting anything that remotely resembles the posture of Jesus toward others. For example, parents sometimes notice that one of them tends to be the “tough one” and the other is the “nice one.” One of us brings niceness (“good cop”), the other gets tough (“bad cop”).

Loving toddlers who won’t eat their dinner

This kind of dynamic is common in my (Matt’s) home. Stories like this one from a few years ago can (and do!) happen any night of the week. One evening at dinner, our two-and-a-half year-old daughter Cece had finished off a spring mix salad with sweet red peppers, carrots, and broccoli, as well as a pork chop with mushrooms. (Both of our kids are normally pretty good eaters.) The only thing that stood in the way of her and dessert was four bites of a baked potato with cheese and butter on it. And even though she just wolfed down a bunch of other food that evening, she most definitely did NOT like “tatoes.” My wife, Sharon, and I struggled with this. On one hand, she’d eaten all the truly nutritious stuff. She ate a LOT of food for a two-and-a-half year-old. What’s four bites of potatoes in the larger scheme of things, really? But on the other hand we established the Tebbe Family Dinner Rules that state: (1) you eat what’s for dinner; (2) sometimes you get to love dinner, sometimes you just like it, and sometimes you don’t like it at all, but (see #1), you eat what’s for dinner; and (3) life is all about learning to do things that are good for you, but that you don’t necessarily want or like. This includes tatoes. So we decided she needed to eat her tatoes before she could have dessert. And Cece just sat there, twenty minutes after the rest of us were done eating, refusing to eat her tatoes. Parents, you’ve been here, right? What does love look like in this situation? We’ve walked the tightrope of “being nice” and “getting tough” in a LOT of different ways:

  • We’ve tried leaning toward “being nice,” acquiescing to her protest and just giving her something she wants to eat. We’ve tried leaning toward “getting tough,” using threats and punishments to force her to eat the tatoes.

  • We’ve tried a weird mashup of both, manipulating her by putting food on her fork for her, telling her it wasn’t so bad, arguing with her about how delicious tatoes really are, etc.

  • We’ve wrapped “getting tough” in a lot of “being nice” padding, bribing her with things she wants: “If you eat your potatoes you get 17 desserts!”

  • And then, when we get tired of it all (and it’s exhausting!), there comes a point where we just give up, take out a phone, and start looking at what’s happening on Twitter/Etsy/Instagram, etc.

We went through all of those scenarios that evening with Cece, and nothing helped her embrace our family’s culture by eating her tatoes.

Jesus doesn’t balance nice and tough

More on how that story ended later, but now we just want to note the contrast between the common ways we try to love those around us, and the way Jesus did. The love Jesus embodies doesn’t seem like a tightrope that he balances on. We want to suggest that the love that permeates Jesus’ character can be encapsulated in the phrase “full of grace and truth.” The prologue of the Gospel of John paints a paradigmatic picture of Jesus for us, culminating with these two packed-with- punch sentences: “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). As if to drive home the point, just a few verses later John proclaims, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Jesus doesn’t “balance” grace and truth. He isn’t walking the tightrope. He doesn’t become less truthful in order to express grace, or less gracious when telling the truth. Jesus is “full” of grace and truth. Grace and truth aren’t techniques he employs, grace and truth are the posture he inhabits, and it allows him to freely and creatively engage with others in love. In other words, love isn’t a tightrope; it’s a wide-open field full of grace and truth we get to live in! He is graciously truthful and truthfully gracious. His grace is full of truth and his truth is full of grace. Furthermore, in Jesus Christ, truth without grace isn’t really truth (it’s more like “getting tough”), and grace without truth isn’t really grace (it’s more like “being nice”). When we try to get one without the other, we end up with neither. Instead we create shadows, or parodies, of grace and truth. For the sake of length we can’t get into the many examples of this dynamic that we see in the life of Jesus (although if we ever write a whole book on grace and truth, we will do just that, and it would be a fruitful exercise to peruse the Gospels with this lens in mind). To illustrate the “both-ness” of being full of grace and truth, this article will introduce a 2×2 matrix that helps us get a vision for what it looks like to follow Jesus in his posture of love toward others. This tool is diagnostic; it will help us see when we’re missing the mark. It is also a training tool that helps us find our center and live in the posture of love in our homes, neighborhoods, churches, and businesses.