Greetings from Al Ain! Returning to the desert after a nice cool week in Kenya was really a shock. Walking to the hospital, I feel I enter an oven as the convection currents swirl and bake my skin. Thankfully, the walk is not too far, and I try to find shade under the few trees along the route. Maybe I will have to break down and buy a sun umbrella.
To follow up on my previous report, Michael received his student visa. August 9th, Michael will move to Baton Rouge to become a LSU Tiger! We are both relieved and thrilled. Thanks for all your support and prayers.
Although we indeed have the fourth of July here in Al Ain, the day was not a holiday. Isn’t that an old joke? A group joined in the evening for hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill, surrounded American foods, to celebrate the anniversary of American independence. As an American who has lived and visited different countries, I do not take the freedom we have in the US lightly. Many countries and peoples would like similar situations in their lands. We hear and read of the ‘Great Satan’ but still note there are many people immigrating and seeking to immigrate into the US, even from the countries that are the most vocal.
I have now been moving on to another of my yearly books, The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. If you have never read this book, I would recommend reading through it — slowly. I find the thoughts and concepts challenging. You don’t just grab a cool drink and read this book at the beach.
Bonhoeffer was a remarkable man from a remarkable family. He lived in Germany prior to and into the rise of the Nazi regime. Bonhoeffer stood up proudly and vocally for what is truth and what is right. Bonhoeffer was finally placed in a concentration camp and later killed there.
As I think about American independence, Bonhoeffer’s life of integrity, and the ‘costly grace’ of Bonhoeffer’s book, I find the three carry along a common idea. Freedom, moral integrity, and God’s grace all come at a cost. To treat any of these as anything less than a costly gift is to cheapen their value and to not understand their true worth. Nothing of true value comes without a cost. American freedom has cost numerous brave men and women their lives over the many years of the United States’ existence. Sitting safely by the beach eating a picnic lunch, you find it easy to forget America did not just happen.
Moral integrity means you have a plumb line in your life you use to guide your decisions. All too frequently the world around you — so-called friends, work, government, and even your own wishes — will challenge you to follow another path. Costly? You bet! Ask those who refused to follow a crooked path and were fired for their choice. Ask those who step up and say, “This is not right!” and are persecuted. All over the world people are martyred for speaking boldly the truth that others do not wish to hear or accept. Integrity is slow to develop and is quickly lost. Once integrity is lost, you will struggle long and hard to regain your integrity in the eyes of others.
Grace is a term that is often bantered about, sought after, and misunderstood. When we make a mistake, we ask that others treat us with grace, forgiving our error. As I enter a foreign governmental office, I often must ask for grace of those officials as I bring the wrong forms, carry the wrong documents, or fail to follow a procedure well known to them but strange to me. If I keep on repeating the same errors and expect there will always be grace given, I cheapen grace.
As a Christian, I know that I live in a state of grace. Grace means getting what you do not deserve, but this grace is not something to assume, allowing you to do whatever you wish, whenever you wish. That cheapens grace. The grace I receive is very costly. God shows me grace and welcomes me to eternal life with Him at a huge cost. Jesus left his heavenly status, assumed the trials and restrictions of a human life, and was persecuted and finally killed as an atoning sacrifice. Jesus then conquered death, demonstrating His Godly power. And He did it all for us. Amazing!
To claim I live by grace but have no visible difference in my life cheapens grace. We must walk our talk. That, of course, does not mean we are perfect; perfection is delusion when we live here on earth. Grace to me means that when I fail to follow and do what I know is right, I seek God’s grace and other people’s forgiveness, then go a different path than the previous one. To turn around and intentionally do the very same thing and expect forgiveness and grace cheapens the gift I received.
Likewise, grace is not something I can earn or deserve; grace is a free gift. So rules, traditions, special clothing, or a trip may bring order to my life, but in and of themselves they do nothing to earn God’s favor or receive His grace. We can only agree we fail at what counts and accept God’s gift of His grace because of His love for us.
A question sometimes asked is: “If you died today and were at the gates of heaven and were asked, ‘Why should I let you in?’ how would you answer?” Is praying, or fasting, or not wearing colors, or being a “good” person (Really? Are we good or just kidding ourselves?), or not eating a particular food, or volunteering once in awhile a good enough reason? We all fall short of perfection. We can only enter through costly grace, taking our just punishment and allowing us passage. We are seen and evaluated through the atoning sacrifice of Christ.
American freedom, Bonhoeffer’s bold integrity, and true grace all come at a cost. As we complain, face difficult decisions, or fail to follow a true path, we need to stop and show wisdom. We need to count the cost and then look at the goal. We need to live in the joy of true grace as we live securely in His grip.