Grace Upon Grace
At the moment I write these words I feel undone. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt this way before. I’m afraid of telling this story. It’s fresh and a little dangerous. I haven’t had a significant amount of time to process it. I’m afraid I’ll speak too soon and make claims that are untrue. I’m afraid this story will be twisted and abused. I’m not worried you’ll twist it. I’m worried I will. I’m afraid my own sinfulness will tarnish its beauty. Yet, I have a greater fear. I’m afraid I’ll forget. I’m afraid that time, often our friend and foe, will cause my memory to blur. I don’t want that to happen. I feel compelled to share. I must share.
Three years ago my third child was born. After three days in the hospital, my wife and I left with a beautiful baby girl, a few congratulatory words from the hospital staff, and a bill that would be typical of a week-long stay at a nice hotel…on a private island…with a large wait staff.
Two years ago after a jog with a friend my heart started to race. Against my own free will I went to the ER because, despite stubbornly trying to wait it out for 8 hours, my heart didn’t want to slow down and I was told that was a pretty important organ. After a literal shock to the heart, cussing like a sailor (at least the nurse claimed I did), and a night in the hospital I was sent home with a pat on the back, instructions to lay off the caffeine, and a piece of paper with the name of a cardiologist. A week later I had a procedure done on my heart. I left with a small scar and a large hospital bill.
Last year when it rained outside my house it also rained inside my house. I was told that’s a bad thing and waiting it out wasn’t a viable solution. I got a new roof, a few extra shingles, and a rather large bill. Do you notice a theme? I’m a pastor. I try to save for new tires, date nights with my wife, and new shoes for my kids. I don’t save for births, heart surgeries, or home repairs that cost more than a gallon of Benjamin Moore paint. I found myself under water. Actually, I felt like I was on the bottom of the sea, but with no sight of the sunken treasure.
Recently something happened that could potentially alter my life. I say potentially because I’m trying to give myself an out, if I look back a year from now and change my mind. That’s an annoying part of my personality. Okay, it’s probably a character flaw. I digress.
The Sunday before Christmas my blue, 2001 Crown Victoria decided it was time to retire. It was right after church. I was turning out of the parking lot and my front tire essentially fell off. It cost more to fix than the car was worth so I decided to do what any mature, God-fearing pastor would do—I started worrying about what in the world I was going to do with mounting debt, no car, and no great solutions.
When I woke up on Christmas morning I headed downstairs to join my oldest son. It was early. It was too early. He had already organized all the presents in order to speed up the present opening process. He’s so thoughtful. I started a pot of coffee and, for some reason, remembered that I forgot to get the mail the day before. I put on my shoes, opened the front door, and looked up. There it was in all its glory. There was a car that did not belong to me in the driveway. It had a large red bow on the hood and those goofy deer antlers coming out the windows. There was a note on the car: “Merry Christmas. Thanks for leading our people well.” A handful of families at church heard of our need, gave generously, and unexpectedly met our need for a vehicle. I was overwhelmed. I can’t put into words what I felt in that moment. I felt like God had delivered grace to my doorstep on Christmas morning. I was speechless. Little did I know that Christmas was just an appetizer for the meal that was to come.
It was Tuesday when I walked out my front door with my dog, Jack. Nothing spectacular happens on Tuesdays. Maybe awesome things happen on the weekends, but not usually on Tuesdays. We were going for a run. I decided to hit the mailbox before we hit the streets. There were two pieces of mail. One was a bill. The other looked like a letter. It had my name handwritten on the front. The return address was from a place far from Charlotte, NC. It was a bit odd looking, so I opened it. I looked in the envelope. Inside the envelope sat a single check. I turned the check over to see what it was for. It had my name on it. Then my eyes scanned to the right and I looked at the amount. I fell on my front step and wept. Even as I write this I haven’t been able to stop crying. The check was enough to cover my debt. All of it.
Have you ever tried to hold your breath under water? Maybe as a kid you challenge a friend to see who can stay under the longest. You end up staying under longer than you ever thought possible and at the very moment it seems like you will lose consciousness, you press your legs against the bottom of the pool and break through the surface. Do you remember that feeling of gasping for air? Do you remember what it’s like when you feel the air fill your lungs? That’s what that moment felt like for me.
I’ve had breakfast twice with the person who sent me the check. Twice in my whole life. I’ve spent a total of 4 hours with him. I tracked down his number and wept like a baby on the phone with him for 10 minutes. I told him, “You don’t even know me! How could you do this?” His reply was, “I don’t have to know you. I love you. That is enough.”
It’s hard for me to believe that is enough. It’s easier for me to swallow the idea of a fair trade or a business transaction, but this wasn’t a trade or business transaction. This was something more. It was something I didn’t deserve. My debt is my debt. Sure, I had some pretty significant and unexpected expenses. I also go out to eat too much, spend too much at Christmas buying gifts I can’t afford, and generally speaking think about how I can justify saying “Yes” to purchases instead of saying “No.”
I didn’t deserve that gift. I wish I could tell you that leading up to that gift I fasted twice a week asking God to deliver me from my foolish spending habits and mounting debt. I wish I could tell you it was a reward for good behavior and faithfully doing “God’s work” while ministering to His people. The cold truth is I’m a ragamuffin. I wrestle with sin just like anyone else. My life is filled with good days and bad days. I usually try to highlight the good ones and go out of my way to not talk about the bad ones. I assure you this was not a reward for good behavior or something given for faithful years of service. This was something else.
The gift was grace. It was unfair, undeserved, unexpected, and it left me undone. God’s grace does that to us. God gives us “grace upon grace.” It’s not awarded based on good behavior. In fact, it’s just the opposite. What amazes me is that God gives that kind of grace to you and me each and every day, only it’s too valuable to put on the memo line of a check. I assure you that you could never out spend the grace of God no matter how hard you tried. One of my favorite authors said that Christians burn more grace than a 747 burns fuel. How true!
As I type these words it’s January. January is the time of year when I usually dream about what I could be if I got my act together and started being the very best version of me. Unfortunately, by mid January I’m already behind in my Bible reading, find myself watching sports too much to meet my reading goal, and have already decided to wait until the weather warms before I start my exercise program. This year I have a new goal. I want to learn to be a better grace recipient. Thankfully, by God’s grace, he’s already given me enough opportunities.
James Metsger is lead pastor at Renaissance Bible Church in Concord, NC. He holds a master’s degree in theology from Dallas Theological Seminary. He is husband to Melissa and father to Caedmon, Noah, and Amelia. In his spare time he likes to read, follow Michigan sports teams, and practice writing his bio in the third person.