Friday, July 1, 2005

What We Need, Not What We Deserve

It’s a Saturday night in October of 1988. I’m 19 years old, and I’m ready to go have some fun! I’m grabbing some friends and we’re going road-tripping down the highways and back roads surrounding my hometown of Waverly. But what kind of fun would it be without a case of beer and a two bottles of Mad Dog 20/20? It seemed like the perfect touch to an evening of fun and laughter – until…

Our fun and laughter ended up in fear and screaming after my inattentive eyes missed a “curve ahead” road sign on the gravel road. Amazingly - and thankfully - this part of the story ends with no one getting seriously hurt. In fact, as all our friends drove by the following day to view my totaled car which had been towed from the ditch in which it had landed upside down, they marveled that we were alive at all.

But the most amazing part of this story is yet to come. Something that has impacted me in a far greater way. And it all centers around grace. Back up to the previous year. My pastor-dad and mom had gone beyond their means to purchase this car for me so I would have wheels while I was 100 miles away at college. When I dropped out after only 4 months my parents were undoubtedly disappointed but they graciously welcomed me back home and granted me the continued use of the car and all the other benefits of being a son. I sure had a fine way of showing them how thankful I was, eh.

After sitting with my buddy in the local jail overnight, we were released early Sunday morning. We walked across the river, viewed my smashed up “college” car for the last time (at the place where it had been towed to) and then I slowly and hesitantly walked home, not exactly eager to face my parents. My mom was standing in the kitchen, getting ready for church. I didn’t know what to say. I’m sure my parents were angry. I’m sure they were deeply disappointed. I’m sure they weren’t even sure what to think or say. But five words came out of my mom’s mouth that would eventually have more of an impact on my relationship with God than I ever would have imagined at the time.

“We’re just glad you’re ok.”

Disappointment and anger were probably only the beginning of the flood of emotions mom and dad were having, and add to that the fear and worry about their seemingly messed-up son’s future. But whatever dismal thoughts may have been going through their minds, there was something else on the inside of my parents which superseded all of it. Their main concern was to let me know I was loved. They most certainly had every right to go all off on me and let me know how I had let them down, and those thoughts probably tempted them more than I’ll ever know. My neck deserved a good wringing. But they didn’t give me what I deserved. They gave me what I needed.

They confirmed to me that I was still their son. The deafening silence - there were no long talks, no sermons, no preaching – spoke to me more than anything else could have. That said, I still had a lot of growing to do, and it’s not as if I didn’t push the limits from time to time. My life was by no means instantly transformed at the time. It wasn’t until a few years down the line that this experience spoke even more clearly to me about the love of my parents – and the love of God.

I came to a stage in life when I was beginning to learn more about the grace of God – His favor and blessing that is given to me freely, that I have done nothing to earn, and in fact which is given to me despite the fact that the absolute total of what I have “earned” really only amounts to death and condemnation. One day I was thinking about this time in my past when I had been given what I didn’t deserve by my parents. Suddenly the magnitude of how they had responded to my needs rather than reacted to my actions hit me like a ton of bricks and I was swept up in a huge emotional wave. My experience from the past provided me with a clear picture of a loving Father who gives grace to those who need it, not to those who deserve it. And for perhaps the first time in my life I truly appreciated the immeasurable freedom and grace which had been given to me over the years by my earthly parents and my Heavenly Father.

I don’t want to imply that the way my parents treated this matter was the only way. I can’t guarantee that when both my kids become teenagers, my wife and I will respond in the same way to their misdeeds! I hope and pray that by the Spirit of God in us, we’ll raise them with godly love, grace and discipline. But what’s really wonderful is that we have a Father who always knows exactly how to treat us. The good news is that while He is well aware of our faults, He is much more interested in providing for us what we need rather than what we deserve. He proved it with the Cross.

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