My Problem with Grace: Part 3

We often do not discover our problem with something until it is right in front of us.  For example, I had no problem with asparagus until my mother encouraged me to try it and offered that it was “good.” Her words did nothing for the smell, appearance and texture of the food.  I believed that she liked asparagus, but I insisted that I did not.
The same seems to be true of grace.  I have been the one to encourage grace and promote its goodness.  But, unlike my mother, I have not been tasting what I myself am putting on other plates.  Be careful of the chef who does not eat his or her own cooking.  In my first post I shared how I learned to allow my slate to be wiped clean rather than remaining hung up on my imperfection.  In my second post I shared that I had to humble myself and acknowledge my own insufficiency.  This third part may have been the hardest, but also the best.

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – Ephesians 1:4,5

While I was uncomfortably waiting inside the bank, I thought I should seek out another option.  Maybe the bank would not be able to help me with the impending shortfall I was facing.  I took my phone and sent out a text for help.  An offer came back, but it would not be available until Monday – the day that I needed it.  Before I could finish the conversation, I was called into the bank office.  A proverbial dash, like the one after Ephesians 1:5, was hanging over my cry for help.
As I walked out of the bank office assured that my payment could still process, I glanced at my phone.  I had one text message with one word: “Done.”  In other words, not only would I have the amount that I needed, I would have it in time.  What a relief.
A few days after that, I received this text from that person:  “I’m very glad you asked me for money.”
That seemed to be an odd statement to make.  So I asked, “Because?”
I received this response:  “I know a lot of people that need it won’t ask, you did a lot for me and I’m glad I’m able to help in some way.”
Isn’t that so true of grace?  How many people need it but won’t ask?  How many people know they need it and won’t ask?  And how many people need it again and again but allow their pride or sense of self-sufficiency to prevent them from making that request?  Put me in that final category.

Verse 5 of Ephesians 1 ends with a dash, a “wait-for-it” type of marking.  Here is what comes after that:
to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. – Ephesians 1:6
There’s that word again: grace.  Freely given.  Freely given in the One he loves.  I have tried to repay my debt, not only with my friend but also with God.  I want to “make it right” or “even out” what has been done.  So not only do I get hung up on mistakes and have difficulty admitting my failures, but I also do not receive well.  As soon as I was able to repay what had been given to me by my friend, I made my intentions clear.  The loan was appreciated and I was ready to settle up.  The response I received was not what I had expected (nor hoped) to hear:
“You know I won’t take it.”
What?  I cannot repay? But how am I supposed to settle the score?  Don’t we do that with grace?  How often have you treated grace like a loan to “get you by” in a tough spot instead of receiving it for the gift that it is?
Ah, but grace is not about settling the score, at least not on our end.  Grace is freely given in order to settle the score from God’s perspective.  This morning I asked my sons about the word “reconcile” after we heard it in a song.  “Reconcile” is one of those words tossed around in Christian-ese, but we often miss the application it has to the accounting world.  (Those of us who have reconciled bank statements should understand.)  In that sense the word points toward accuracy and an accounting for of all transactions.  That’s grace.
We’re imperfect.  We’re woefully short.  We receive grace to balance out the account.  But it’s not a loan, so we cannot repay. If the account has already been settled and the cost paid, how would we make things even again?  How do you repay adoption into a relationship so undeserved?  How do you repay love?  (Many of you will try on Valentine’s Day.)  You cannot.
We are not used to gifts without conditions, so we may struggle to only receive.  It’s not that we cannot respond at all, for grace does compel us to action.  But the very simple point is that we cannot repay grace.  We can, however, respond in love.
I like asparagus now; my mother was right.  It makes me wish I had tried it sooner.  And people were right about grace as well.  In fact, I was right about grace.  I knew it was good.  The difference is that I now have a taste for grace, and I hope you do as well.  Don’t wait any longer to try it.

My Problem with Grace: Part 2

The easier thing would be to not write this.  Believe me, I weighed out the risks and here is what I found: by writing this piece others could come to all types of conclusions about my abilities, my wisdom, my self-sufficiency, my independence, my decision-making, and even my faith.  On the other hand, there are risks involved in not writing this: there is no glory given to God, no one can be helped by my struggle, I would continue to wear the mask that I’m sufficient, and all of us could miss out on grace.  When I put it that way, it became very clear that the weight of importance – eternal importance – fell in the second list.  That is why I share.
My problem with grace did not end when I found my slate wiped clean after arriving one minute late on my second day of work.  No, it would not be that simple; I had much more to learn.  I continued on in my work believing that everything was working out perfectly.  Clearly God’s provision and timing was (is) perfect because I could see all sorts of pieces falling together as only God could do.  I held that view until payday, the day my doubts began to pop back up.  God was still very much involved, but it was not in the way I could immediately see.  Those are the types of blindspots I have when paychecks don’t arrive.

Give us this day our daily bread. ~ Matthew 6:11

Have you ever wondered why Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread when we already have next week’s bread in the freezer?  Why do we ask God to supply what we have waiting for us?  I suppose it has something to do with an attitude of gratitude, right?  Something like “Thank you, God, for the food I put on the table with the work that I did because of my ability.”  It couldn’t really mean we should actually be in a state of daily dependence – could it?  Be careful with asking questions like that: you just might get answers that you would rather not know.
The money I did have was running low, but that was to be expected.  I had lost a job six months ago and, although eligible for some funds from unemployment, the actual claim would never process correctly.  When I submitted this form, I was told to submit that form.  When I appealed, I heard no answer.  Finally, as I approached full-time employment again, I was told to submit other claims that had already been submitted.  I did.  Still nothing.  I received not a penny of financial benefit in six months.  Mentally I said, “Ok, God, I get it – rely on you, blah, blah, blah.”  I don’t mean to be flip, but I felt like I had the point.  Clearly there was a lesson I had to learn, but how about some provision now that I understood?
When I woke up for my 10th day of work, it was payday.  Finally.  I had cut it close for the things that needed to be taken care of, but it looked like i was going to make it.  And then there was no pay in my bank account.  Maybe there’s a delay, I thought.  After all, it was the first paycheck and I had no specific timeline to measure the process.  So I asked my colleagues at lunch, “Did you get paid?”  Yes, yep, uh-huh.
Huh.  Odd.
Suddenly my questions became more urgent.  Why didn’t I get paid?  Where was my pay?  It was already Friday afternoon and there was a pending transaction at the bank for the coming Monday.  If the money wasn’t there, what would happen?  As I checked into the “why” of my dilemma, I found an unfortunate answer: the error was mine.  When entering my bank information for the deposit, I had accidentally typed in an extra zero.  The information was wrong and I had no one to blame but myself.  (The irony was not lost on me that I discovered this error on the same day I had to pass an assessment for handling emergency situations at 100% accuracy.)
Now what?

And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. 
~ Matthew 6:12

Not only does this prayer use the odd word of  “debtors”, but isn’t it strange that we ask for forgiveness right after we ask for provision?  Isn’t that backwards?  Aren’t we supposed to ask for forgiveness and then ask for provision?
I had no time to deal with the forgiveness petition; I literally needed daily bread.  With no provision in pocket, nor in the bank, I began my lament: “God, I just worked for 80 hours in these past two weeks and have nothing to show for it…I’ve been faithful…I’ve been obedient…I’ve been…” and all of this became about me again.  When I arrived home and realized that the miracle of finding money in my mailbox didn’t happen, I knew I was stuck.  To be more accurate, on my own I was stuck.
There was no student loan check waiting to be cashed.  No tax refund screaming through the internet to reach me.  Just me, my God, and my questions.  I did what I did not want to do: ask for help.  I found myself in a very busy bank on a Saturday morning with only a question of whether or not this would even work.  The bank is not the place I would expect to find grace.  To be transparent, it took a big swallow of pride to find myself in the bank with my question in the first place.  Here I was, a man (edit)…a white man (edit)…a college-educated white man (edit)…a God-believing, college-educated white man in the position of saying I didn’t have enough.  All of my life I have been sold the line that if anyone should have it all, it should be me.
Someone got that wrong.
The teller heard my question and passed it along.  One of the managers said she could talk with me if I could just wait a minute.  So I went to wait as she told me, and I fought the urge to walk out.  Why tell her my problem?  She probably can’t do anything for me anyway.  All that I wanted to know was if they could help me, and I was quite convinced that they could not.  After a short wait she called me to her office and I explained my situation.  She looked at my account and told me something I did not expect:
“Ok, Douglas, I can take care of that for you.  I’ll make sure the payment goes through and I see you haven’t had any fees waived for you before.  So if there are any fees, I’ll take care of that for you.  Here’s my card and feel free to call me next week if you have any questions.”
That’s it?! No more explanation from me?  No forms to sign?  No…nothing?  Just grace?
Just grace.
I’m pretty sure I thanked her, but I was mostly stunned that I could be helped that way.  I drove away with my quarter-tank of gas to pick up my sons to head back home to our cupboards full of just enough.  Grace had rocked me.
All the while I had wanted to find a way to make it on my own (giving thanks to God for what I had done), and God put me in a place where I could not.  That is the place where we all must find ourselves at some point.  We cannot.  God can.  I found myself in a state of dependence.  I asked for help.  When help was given, my daily bread petition AND my forgiveness petition were met all at once.  Jesus did not have his prayer requests mixed up, not at all.
I cannot.
God can.
God gives.
God forgives.
We humbly approach God, finally recognizing our own limitations, weaknesses, and insufficiency, and God responds with: “I’ll take care of that for you. Call on me anytime you wish.”  There have been so many times that i have short-changed God’s provision and God’s forgiveness.  I have also mistakenly thought that daily provision was more important than my own forgiveness.  In spite of my blind eyes and in spite of my continual need for forgiveness, God hears our cry and meets our need.
That’s it? Just grace?
Yes, just incredible grace.

My Problem with Grace

That time is insignificant on most days.  It holds more significant meaning on the second day of a new job. Not just the second day of a new job, but the second day of a new job that starts at 8:00.  Not only does it start at 8:00, but the better part of the first afternoon was devoted to stressing the importance of being on time.  Always.  And I took that information, hit snooze, got caught behind a slow-moving semi, and walked in to the classroom to see everyone else seated and ready to go.  Some of my new colleagues had driven more than an hour to be there.  I had a 15 minute drive on a bad day.

This righteousness is given through faith in Christ Jesus to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, ~Romans 3:22,23

No one wants to be the one with the bad mark, but that’s exactly what had happened.  With no excuses and no chance to change what had happened, I tried to focus on the content of our training.   I could not, at least not well.  That minute kept popping back into my mind.  I had heard about the process of discipline, and I had stepped right into it.
Then our truth moment, or at least mine, came up: we were shown how to record our working time in the system.  There was a quiet argument about whether or not I should record “8:00” since I was so close.  It’s only one minute, right?  But I was not there at 8:00; I was there one minute later.
I entered 8:01.
Our instructor came around to make sure that we had followed the process correctly.  She saw mine and quietly said, “Oh good, you have that in there.  I was going to mention it this morning but then we started right away.  It’s a very literal time stamp here.”
Very literal.  Much like when we fall short of the standard God has set.  There is no wiggle room.  There is no “so close” category.  There is no way I can earn what God offers to me in the gift of salvation.  Unfortunately, I often pretend as if I can.  I look at what I’ve done as well as what I haven’t, and I quietly argue that it’s close enough.

The end result of my argument is that I arrive at cheap grace.  The blood of Jesus means little if I came “pretty close.”  The journey Christ took to leave heaven and live on earth is invaluable if we’re grading on a curve.  And the suffering that our Lord endured for my sake hurts me a little less if I almost didn’t need him to do that.
But I absolutely do need it.  I’m not close.  I’m not a minute late, I don’t even show up on the radar when it comes to meeting the holiness and righteousness of God.  How dare I discount the cost of what was done for me?

and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  ~ Romans 3:24

Indeed.  I was the one hung up on my minute, not my instructor.  She proceeded to teach me with excellence in spite of my shortcoming.  I do the same thing with grace.  I’m overly aware of a few shortcomings, and woefully unaware of the rest. But, rather than looking at the goodness around me, I can stay stuck on that minute late.  Our shortcoming is not a problem for God.  He solved that already.  Now if we would only move past the truth of verse 23 and into the truth of verse 24.
The second week of my job started with all of us receiving evaluations from our instructor.  I gave it a glance and noticed a section for absences and tardies.  On my evaluation, the instructor noted that I had zero absences and zero tardies.
God loves you.  You do not need to prove your love by your perfection.  You will have shortcomings until the last breath.  But grace is available now – and always – for every moment your heart beats.  Be absolutely certain that God has no problem with grace.  Live with the knowledge and gratitude that lets others know you have been set free from your problem with grace.