Monday, July 12, 2010

Grace in My Face

And then came Friday. I felt like I had been walking pretty much in step with Jesus most of the week. And then came Friday. Though the ministers at our church try to take Friday off, we trade call. This past Friday was my call day. And it was going to be a busy day. I had to visit parishioners in three different hospitals. I’ve got rehearsals/weddings every Friday and Saturday for the next three weekends and had to cram a marathon premarital counseling session in with one of those couples who live out of town. I also had to prepare a funeral I would lead on Saturday. I was looking at the day and all I had to do, and honestly, I just wanted a day off. (I’m a notorious Sabbath-breaker and don’t take good care of myself and don’t take adequate time off, and when I don’t I get tired and irritable. But that’s another blog someday). Anyway, I was grousing to myself as I walked out the door to get on with the day. I was in a foul mood about the whole thing, lost in a bout of self-centeredness, throwing a little pity party for myself.

So off to the hospitals I went and that’s where the Lord met me. He met me in Lula Kirkland, a 98-year-old homebound church member, who I only see when she’s in the hospital. I went into her room thinking, “Get it done and get on to the next one”—now there’s a pastoral attitude if ever there was one! But Jesus showed up in Miss Lula and dumped a blessing on me. I deserved a kick in the pants; God gave me a blessing instead. He did it through this devoted Christian woman whose attitude lifted mine. She didn’t have a clue what her spirit did for my spirit in those moments. But she lifted me up. I deserved a thump on the ear; I got a gift instead. And as I walked out of that room, I got a little misty as I contemplated my unworthiness and God’s amazing grace. “I’m sorry, God, for my lousy attitude,” I said as I shook my head in repentance. “I deserved a stone and you gave me bread. I deserved a snake and you gave me fish. Thanks.”

But God wasn’t done just yet. My next stop took me to see my old friend, Frank Witt, in hospice care at St. Joe. I had seen him the day before right after he entered hospice; he was somewhat responsive. He was unresponsive on Friday. Having seen this a lot over the years, I figured Frank wasn’t long for this world. So I stood over him and spoke some Scripture into his ears and told him that I’d see him on the other side and to please tell Lottie I said hello. As I was leaving the hospital, filled with a mixed twinge of grief and gratitude, my phone made the sound it makes when I get a message. It was from a young man I used to pastor in his childhood—hadn’t heard from him in years. And in his message he reminded me of something I had told him prior to his baptism twenty years ago—something he’d held on to all these years, something that continued to give him courage and confidence to step out in faith with Jesus many times since then, something he’d shared with others along the way. I read that and my eyes welled with tears.

“God, why are you doing this to me?” I said. I started the day griping about a pastor’s life, and God decided to show me the rewards and the blessings of a pastor’s life. And it didn’t puff me up; it humbled me. It lifted me. And it made me feel so very unworthy to be a pastor of the living God. I deserved the clenched fist of God; He gave me His open hand filled with blessing instead.

And so God put me in my place with grace in my face. He didn’t do it with a 2 x 4; He did it with flowers, with kindness and with gifts of mercy and love. A part of me would have rather taken a beating than a hug, but in His wisdom God gave the latter. He put me in my place with grace in my face. He got my head right and my heart right. And He turned what was feeling to me like duty into a labor of love. I don’t understand it. I find it rather hard to accept sometimes—why God treats me so much better than I deserve. I do know it’s not really about me; it’s about God— the God who knows us by name, knows what we need, and gives it so graciously and generously when we need it most. It leaves me with only one thing to say: “Thank you, Father, for grace.”

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