The Greek word for Grace is “charis” and is used about 150 times in the New Testament of the Bible. The word refers to favor that God gives freely without expecting something in return. God provides his grace to us not because of anything we have done to earn it and not because of anything God desires to get from us. In fact, grace is dispensed in spite of the low-life scumbags we can be. God’s grace is free of charge…but it ain’t cheap.
The apostle Paul referred to the gospel of grace as a “mystery.” The inability to wrap our puny minds around something as awesome as grace doesn’t negate its profound reality. Like Paul, I sure don’t get it, but recognize grace when it presents itself.
Here’s an example.
An old friend called me fourteen months ago. Knowing I was struggling to get back on my feet after a sabbatical with the Michigan Department of Corrections, he wanted to help. He also sensed some kind of value in my writing and encouraged it. Without having to ask, this brother provided a flight to Florida to gift me with a 1997 Honda Accord and drive it back. He paid for everything, even the gas for the return trip. No strings attached. The only caveat was a commitment he wanted to pursue writing.
That’s a pretty good deal. We’re not talking the prison kind of Ramen Noodle grace. This was Radical Grace.
The Honda has faithfully served this Irishman. I knew when receiving the car that it wasn’t just about my needs. Bill Keaton who was a brother, mentor and sponsor, spent the last year of his life rollin’ all over southeast Michigan in the Accord. It was an honor and privilege to be his chauffeur. Now at 234,894 miles, my brother Joe would have quipped, “Hey! It’s just breaking in.” Alas, the reality is El’ Hondel started running a little rough.
Hoping to get by with a tune-up and the elimination of a “small leak” coming from “somewhere” (my words), I took the trusty Accord to a shop in Berkeley, Michigan my sister had recommended. The mechanic tried to break the news gently. Discerning he was a pro, Nick called me into the service bay to watch as he performed electronic diagnostic testing. Codes began flashing and numbers started jumping like my poor car was on meth. It wasn’t good. Then hoisting the car up on the lift, he grabbed a flashlight and invited me to join in for a further inspection.
The “small leaks” turned out to be rivers of un-living waters. An Unholy Mix of coolant, oil, power steering fluid and sludge coated the under-carriage of the motor compartment. At this point, I wasn’t exactly over-flowing with the joy of Jesus. The $1,100.00 estimate for a new distributor, crankshaft sensor, timing belt, water pump, axle boot, head gasket and a few other items did nothing to warm this soul on a cold Michigan morning.
After meditating on the situation, it became clear that getting a comparable runner for the cost of repairs would have been an exercise in futility. I told Nick to pull the trigger. Living in the “D”, you gots to have wheels.
That’s not the real point of this blog. We all go through this stuff. It’s called life on life’s terms. No biggie. In twelve step programs we call these “gold-plated problems” because we could be dead. Amen?
The higher struggle was this.
How could I afford the repairs, rent, bills and tithe at the same time? Having my butt planted at the Renaissance Vineyard Church in Ferndale, Michigan since being released from the Jackson Cage has been an awesome experience. They opened their doors and hearts to provide this prodigal with a place of restoration. Now slammed with a demonic bill, what was a disciple to do? Because my faith & trust are still in the developmental stages, a short period of vacillation ensued. After ten minutes of worthless bartering, the next right thing became clear as crystal . Tithing when everything is going great with money in the bank is one thing. To stop when things get tight is kinda’ lame. In spite of the present financial crisis, I’d feel like a punk for folding under pressure. We’re not called to give a tenth so we can barter with God or get something in return It’s not about that. Father wants to know if we’re gonna’ be faithful stewards of the stuff He’s provided. As I hit the “enter” button to tithe through PayPal, a sense of obedient joy supplanted anxious thoughts of the present moment. In fact, I started chuckling at the thought of how easily I can resort to being a dick. Then I started laughing at the thought of Jesus laughing with me. It made no sense, but it was sovereign and cool.
Within 24 hours, provision for paying for the car repair came from a couple moved by grace.
Tickets for a Chris Tomlin concert this month that came right after, serve as icing on the cake. Please hear my heart on this kids. I’m no spiritual giant. In fact, I really didn’t want to bake that cake. God knows the desires of our heart and will move heaven & earth to drive home lessons we resist.
None of this is written as any kind of boast. There have been countless financial crisis’ where I blew off tithing in lieu of trying to figure things out on my own. I’m ashamed to admit being such a petty jerk. At the end of the month, it never worked. Not once did I get ahead of the game by being a putz. When withholding from Father, I’m basically telling God with my actions;
“I don’t trust you.”
My sense is God doesn’t give one hoot about our money. He’s not bankrupt. He wants our abandoned trust. He knows how selfish I can be and only uses bucks to further His Kingdom. The choice is clear. Either we can remain bankrupt souls, enslaved to a world economy going south, or we can strap on a pair and trust God. Dad never gives up on His kids.
Just For Today, I thank God for his patient chastening, His long-suffering love & radical grace.
Mad props to Mat for the ride. Know that I’m writing up a storm my brother.
A very special thanks to Jeff & Karen. You guys are the bomb.
The Tomlin gig in Toledo is gonna’ be dope.
Check this out.