When I opened the envelope, I began to cry. Acts of grace, truly free gifts, are rare. They’re nearly non-existent in our world. We grow up hearing how there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and for the most part it’s true. Nothing is free. Even Christmas gifts sometimes come with strings attached.
Yet here we were, my wife and I, on the receiving end of such a gift. Tears were inevitable but also inadequate.
I was in my first year of seminary, and we were way over our head. Shortly before the start of the Fall semester, my car broke down in the worst possible way. I needed a new engine. $2200 that I simply did not possess. We borrowed the money, uncertain how we would repay it.
Two months later, I had a frightening episode of heart palpitations after dinner one night. Fortunately, a series of medical tests revealed that I was basically healthy (just a little bit overstressed). Unfortunately, my cheap insurance plan didn’t cover any of the medical costs. Another $5000 we didn’t have.
I’ll never forget the feeling of absolute helplessness. Three months into my ministry training and we were financially sunk. I asked a couple of friends for prayer.
About a week later, one of the pastors at my church invited Shannon and me to breakfast. He said he just wanted to encourage us and pray for us. As we were leaving, he handed me the envelope.
“A few people heard about your needs. They got together and decided to help you out. They want to remain anonymous, so they sent me to deliver this gift to you.”
We waited until we got to the car and opened the envelope. Inside was several thousand dollars in cash. In fact, it was enough to cover the gap between what we had and what we needed. (Actually we were $15 short, but that only added to the hilarious joy of the moment).
I cried, but my tears were only partly about the money. I cried because I knew grace when I saw it, a grace that seemed to mirror the One Wonderful Act of Grace so long ago.
It was a gift I could not have earned, and one I certainly could not repay. They didn’t give me the money because I deserved it — to be honest, we had only attended the church for a few months, and we hardly knew the congregation. They gave because of grace, because they had received and they felt compelled to give. They didn’t do it expecting a special reward, a pat on the back, or a chance to repay God. They did it because Jesus was in them. They loved because He loved.
That’s what grace means, by the way. Anything you have to earn isn’t grace. Anything you’re expected to repay isn’t grace. If you have to prove you’re worthy of it, it is definitely not grace. Grace is a gift. It’s free. It’s the payment of our debt by the only One who is qualified to pay it. And it’s in short supply, even among those who claim the name Christian.
I want to live and breathe and preach and give away grace. It was the mission of Jesus’ life, the reason He died and rose again. God, let it be my mission as well.
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