An Envelope of Grace

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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5 Ways to Start Your Post-College Life Well

College graduation is a huge milestone. For most people, it marks the transition into adulthood. You’re now responsible to find a job, pay the bills, figure out a career path, and plot a course for the rest of your life.

For Christian students, I think it’s an especially critical moment. Will you set your priorities based on God’s values or the world’s values? Will you approach money, relationships, work, and the spiritual life in a way that honors Jesus? Too many graduates find themselves wandering around aimlessly. After ten or twenty years, many look back and are forced to admit that their life choices don’t really match the priorities they say they have.

For those of you graduating this month, here are a few steps to help you start your post-college life well: 

1. Determine your priorities. What’s important to you? Do you want to invest your life in sharing the Gospel? In knowing Jesus well? If you’re married, do you want your family to reflect God’s values? Most people fail to live meaningfully because they fail to consider their priorities. Decide now what matters to you — who do you want to be and what do you intend to invest your life in? Once you know what matters, begin arranging your time and energy around those priorities.

2. Find a church quickly. You cannot walk with the Lord in isolation. We all need encouragement and support, and too often I see college graduates hop from church to church for years without really connecting with one. You won’t find a perfect church, and you might not find one as “good” as the one you attended in college. That’s alright. Just find a place where they preach the gospel, believe the Word of God, and provide opportunities for you to serve and to grow. Find one within 2-3 months of graduation, and commit to it. If church doesn’t quickly become a part of your routine, it will become more and more difficult to fit it into your schedule.

3. Be careful with your money. Some of you will be on a very tight budget, while others will have more money than they’ve ever seen before. Either way, live below your means. Don’t try to match your parents’ lifestyle with your first house or car. Leave some room to save, and more importantly, to give. If you are married and both of you work, live on one salary if possible. Doing so will allow you flexibility if and when you have children. If you are single, live cheap and set aside as much money as you can. Don’t allow money to become a barrier to following God wherever He leads you.

4. Be careful with your time. Time is a more valuable resource than money. You can always make more money, but you can never make more time. Spend your limited free time engaged in meaningful activities. It’s quite easy to fall into a pattern of simply surfing Facebook or watching television with every spare moment. Don’t waste your time away. Use your evenings and weekends to serve others, participate at your church, spend time with other people, read, learn, and grow in your walk with the Lord. Use your 20s well.

5. Invest in other people for God’s glory. In the final analysis, your life will be evaluated by your impact on other people. Will you take the time to love others, to tell them about Jesus, and to help them know Him better? Will you leave a legacy of love and faithfulness to Jesus, at home and at work and at church and in your community? People matter because people will last forever. You have a limited window of opportunity to influence others for eternity.

If you just graduated, congratulations! I hope and pray that your life will be effective and purposeful, that you will reflect God’s values and know Him more and more each day. Hopefully the ideas above will give you a good start.

If you are a recent graduate, what other advice would you give to those starting their post-college life? 

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The Heartbeat of My Church

I’ve had the privilege of serving as the college pastor at my church for the past nine years. I am making a transition to a new role at Grace, one centered on communication. I’ll be helping Grace expand its reach around the world, because I believe strongly in our message that God’s grace is freely given through Jesus. I think it’s a message that the world needs to hear, and I want to use my gifts as a teacher, writer, and communicator to get the message out more broadly.

I also believe strongly in our church’s ministry to college students, which is why I’ve given the past decade of my life to it. I don’t see my new role as a complete departure from college ministry, but instead as a way of furthering the church’s ministry to students around the world.

Some of my readers might be unfamiliar with Grace’s college ministry, so I thought I’d use this week’s post to share a short video that highlights what we do. If you’re interested in learning more, go to our website at www.grace-bible.org.

Impact The World For Christ – College from Grace Bible Church on Vimeo.

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