Steve Went Looking for Grace

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The angels rejoiced when Steve finally laid down his burden and surrendered his life to Christ. He was 39 years old, which is older than many converts, but his switch from death to life was clear, and not a person who knew Steve before could stop from marveling at the change they saw come over him. Though he was once a hard taskmaster at the shipping company he owned, his demeanor gradually shifted to one that thought of others’ needs before his own. He got better at remembering names and even the names of employee family members. Someone even saw him tear up when Martha in accounting shared her mother was in her last stages of cancer.

That never would have been Steve before.

But Martha’s mom’s was not the real case of cancer in accounting.

“Sharon, I don’t understand what I’m seeing here,” Steve said to his office manager one day.

Sharon Gibbs, who had been with Steve from the founding of Presto Shipping, could only shake her head. “Those are the numbers we got from Bergenthaler & Bergenthaler. I know they seem a little off, but I’m not sure exactly why or how.”

Steve had known Wilfred Bergenthaler for years. He and Bergie had gone to high school together.

So he got on the phone and placed a call. Bergie didn’t pick up.

Steve returned to the numbers. If what he was seeing was right, a million dollars had up and vanished from the books. A one followed by six  zeros. It was January, but sweat began to trickle down Steve’s back.

By the time the newspaper broke the story of CPA Wilfred Bergenthaler and his disappearance with the funds of several local companies, including a good chunk of Presto Shipping, the boards on the windows of Steve’s warehouse had already started to gather dust and the stench of failure.

Steve stood outside the only work he had ever known and thought about the 47 people who now had nowhere to go. Including himself. It wasn’t like the economy was booming, and the Bergenthaler blowback was proving tough for the entire region.

You work and build a good name for yourself and then, one day, you wake up and all you see is taint. You were on watch when it all came down. Doesn’t make a difference who the real villain was. It was your company.

Steve found that his phone calls to other shipping companies in the area yielded nothing in the way of work for someone who had fallen asleep at his post. He’d never been a money man. He just knew how best to get a package from one place to another faster and in better condition than the other guys. It’s why he left almost everything financial in Bergie’s hands.

That’s the script Steve kept running in his thoughts.

When Steve tried to get a loan to start a new Presto, banks had their own two-word script: No way. They had no proof the new Presto wouldn’t go the way of the old one. Besides, the same name would be at the top of the paperwork. And when Steve approached a few old buddies about putting their names there instead, the look he got again and again was one of disbelief.

After a couple months, Cassie, Steve’s wife of 19 years, decided she and the kids had had enough. Getting out to the mall a couple times a week was good for her psyche, and not having that critical need fulfilled was too painful for her to bear. Though Steve was a changed man for the better, this accompanying financial fortune shift sort of overrode everything else.

The courts didn’t take kindly to a man who seemed unable to manage his own affairs, so Steve woke up on a Saturday in July to a sprawling, empty house he could no longer afford. No arguments between twins Cicely and Celia over which boy in their class was cutest, and no yelling from the basement from Ben, “Dad, what happened to my mitt? I put it down here after my last game!” Nothing but silence.

For a while, Steve ignored the pile of bills on the kitchen island. He knew if he opened them they would all read Final Notice.

Steve picked up the church directory and ran his finger over the names. He called Stan Brantley first. Stan ran a florist shop. “You need a delivery driver?” Steve asked. Stan didn’t. He’d let his only driver go and started delivering everything himself. Bill Cahill was next on the list. Steve asked about a job repairing computers. He had some skills. Nothing with a certificate, but decent nonetheless. Bill said no.

The names trailed on, and so did the rejection.

The next morning, Steve opened his Bible and read that grace was sufficient. Grace. He thought about grace that entire morning.

One day, Steve forgot to get the garbage cans from the curb fast enough, and some neighbor complained. Others complained that the grass had gone uncut for just a little too long. No one had priced gas lately, Steve thought. He could still cut, but he had to wait a dozen days between cuts now. That was just reality. People would just have to deal.

Steve showed up in church one Sunday and people commented that he had failed to shave. It wasn’t planned, though. You get to thinking about things the way they are and other things slip from your mind. There was no intention beyond simple distraction. Can’t a guy be distracted? Didn’t he have good reason?

Steve also found his role on the church’s financial team had up and blown away. He wasn’t sure how it happened. They just didn’t remind him of the next meeting. They knew he was not a money genius, he had not pretended to be, nor did he ask to be on the board, but he had been a respected businessman in the area and that looked good. Or so some must have thought. Once.

With so little to do, Steve asked around about volunteer opportunities at church, but there never seemed to be any openings. It felt strange, and so did Steve, since he still wanted to be a part of the church’s life, yet at the same time he seemed to be drifting away. He hadn’t planned that. People just didn’t call. And there wasn’t much to talk about apart from problems. Without his kids with him, he now felt lost on Sundays.

The sermon series for the past month had been on grace. Steve thought back to that verse on grace being sufficient. Each week, Steve found it harder to rouse himself from bed to sit in the pew and sing songs and hear about grace. The topic nagged at him.

When he finally approached Pastor Gene to talk about the sermon series, the pastor said, “I’ve been praying for you daily regarding your needs, Steve, and I just wanted to share that the Lord still asks us to remain faithful to tithing, even in difficult times. It’s how we show we trust Him. And God won’t send any blessings our way if we don’t trust Him.” Gene patted Steve on the shoulder. The pastor seemed not to see whatever it was that was brewing in Steve’s eyes.

Three weeks went by before Steve made it out of bed on Sunday. Instead of going to his church, he just got in his car and drove till he couldn’t stand to be behind the wheel anymore. The church he stopped at wasn’t anything to behold. In fact, it looked a little beaten down, just like he felt. He had no feelings for its particular denomination either. He just stopped the car in the lot, got out, and walked inside.

A cheery older lady in a floral dress that seemed to be alive handed him a bulletin and said, “Are you visiting?”

Steve nodded. He then realized his shirt wasn’t pressed, so he kept his gaze on the floor.

“I am,” he said.

“Well, we’re glad to have you,” the lady replied.

Steve suddenly could not move. The woman bore with this for a moment but then asked, “Sir, are you OK?”

Something broke inside Steve and he could not prevent the tears that now formed in his eyes.

“I keep hearing about this thing called grace,” he said, his voice wavering, “but I can’t seem to get any. Do you have any here?”

10 thoughts on “Steve Went Looking for Grace

  1. Pingback: Edelen: Steve Went Looking for Grace
  2. Mr. Poet

    I know a guy who kinda, sorta went through this. We weren’t close, close friends. But he and I were closer than I was with a lot of people at our church. The hard times came. He lost his career, which made him a nice chunk of change. He suffered from mental illness. Panic attacks, I think. Then his wife of many years admitted to him that she had married him for his money. She never really loved him. He had left the mother church of our church long before this particular hard time in his life because he had gotten ill, and no one called him from the church except to ask for the annual pledge. That happened two years in a row.

    He seemed like a faithful Christian. I think he was. He had a popular forum for end times discussions, and I went to his house for a suburb Passover Seder presented from the Christian worldview.

    He has left the faith. By that I mean, not so much drifting away, though I lost touch with him for several years. And I have not come right out and asked, because I do not want to come at him like some kind of hellfire evangelist: but what he writes now is out-and-out heresy.

    • Poet, et al.,

      The Church is defined by two realities that make it unique. Primarily, the Holy Spirit dwells in believers. Secondarily, believers are vessels of and dispensers of grace.

      If we are not operating in those two realities ALL THE TIME, then we are blowing it. Big time.

      I would contend the world is dying for want of grace. If people can’t get grace from the Church, then what is the point of the local church at all?

  3. linda

    Hi Dan,
    Just off my head this morning I think we need to be careful about this thing called ‘grace’. Many in other parts of the world contend that North America has skewed what grace really is biblically. God gives grace. Believers provide forgiveness. In my mind these are different. Grace provides what we do not have. We are saved by grace and faith. Even this faith is from God. So that man cannot boast.

    The story here is touching my heart, no doubt. I think that what this story shows is the effects of false teaching and of worldly following by church leaders and consequently the people attending the church. Some worldly teaching is being wrapped up and presented in the church as spiritual gifts. Some worldly teaching is being wrapped and presented to believers as ‘God wants you to dominate the world’ in the flesh. Really? Show me this principle in the new testament.

    God says that at some point before the end of time believers are going to have to be careful about what they speak to the person who shares their bed. Their families, and closest friends. Betrayal. I’ve lost my husband to divorce. I was not able to continue living with him any longer. My health and mental wellness depended on me leaving the matrimonial home.

    There are costs to godliness in a wicked world. Does the man in this story really want a woman who cannot survive unless she can go shopping twice a week? How sad really. How petty and shallow. How worldly. We all like shopping to some extent, but our ability to live should not be governed by this activity.

    • Mr. Poet

      And I’ll ask you, too, Linda. Other than provide true teaching, what do you think Steve’s church should have done for Steve?

      • linda

        Hello Mr. Poet,
        I think that relationship plays a part in what should be done for Steve. Where are those people who know Steve best? I’m not responsible for meeting everyone’s needs in the church. I may be responsible to help out a friend, if I can. It just makes sense that as a Christian I would be concerned about my friend and how she was doing.

        I don’t believe that Steve sinned. He was foolish to trust his outsourced financial company and that’s so sad. Trust is so often broken in our world and it seems in the church also. As believers we need to be able to be trusted by others.

        What I see in this story is Steve engrossed with his situation. This is ok but Steve is focusing on the worldly things more than he is focusing on his God. For sure the house is unaffordable unless Steve finds a way to get the mortgage payments made. He could downsize perhaps. Buy a smaller house outright and pay if off in full.

        He needs a job. He’s checked out his supposed network friends and has come up empty. Now he starts looking seriously at where work is located and whether he should move. He may have to.
        At this time he changes his lifestyle. He can no longer afford to eat at expensive restaurants. He either eats at home or he eats cheaply outside his home. He could check at the church to find out if there is a ministry for home cooked meals and whether he could get a few of these.

        He sells some of his valuables if he has any. If he has 2 cars he sells one or parks it. If there is no support for him at his church then he can look for free counseling in his town. He needs to run some ideas by someone or find out if someone else has some ideas he could try.

        What his goal is now is to make the resurrection of Christ. He’s a middle aged man. Life is half over for him. He may determine that he should not remarry. He needs to concentrate on his walk with God.

  4. Mr. Poet

    So what would you have had Steve’s church do, Dan? Eyeballing the article again, I would say, if I had been so inclined, I could have stopped by Dan’s house, rolled his trash can back for him, cut the lawn for him (while footing the bill for the gas), and sat him down to confront his bills. If there was not enough money for the bills, then I would help him file for bankruptcy. After that, I might have rounded up some guys to get the house ready to be sold. We also would work on his resume and try to find him a job. If I had been so inclined…

    What would I have been able to do beyond that? I would not have enough extra cash to pay his mortgage. I, too, would balk at putting my name on a company whose business I did not understand. I do not volunteer enough at church to know what kinds of positions would be available to men, but I can tell you most churches, outside of finances and men’s groups, are mostly run by women, even those churches which are the “only men should be in positions of authority” types.

    And there are forty-seven other people out there besides Steve. What should I do for them?

    • Poet,

      A few thoughts on what Steve’s church could have done:

      1. How does any church and the people in it handle failure? A long time ago, I wrote about this, but I’ve never seen a really good response on what we do when godly people fail. The worst part of it is that we tend to lump those who fail due to a moral failing in with those people who have little to do with their own failure. In fact, I think the church would actually rather deal with the moral failures than the inexplicable ones. Yet who really needs that grace? Don’t both? Does it merely come down to morality? I mean, what was Steve’s “sin” with regard to his business other than he trusted someone who proved untrustworthy in the end. Is that a sin? Even if it isn’t, doesn’t it merit some grace?

      2. What is grace, really? I don’t believe it only comes from God. I believe Christians can dispense grace all the time, if we know what it is and who needs it. I think someone stopping by Steve’s house to see how he is and to bring him a meal now and then is grace. In fact, the simplest graces of all are little human kindnesses. Someone at Steve’s church could have taken him out for a meal after church every now and then. Anyone could have seen to his loneliness in dozens of good ways.

      3. Someone could have talked to Steve about taking in a roommate to fill that empty house and help pay for it. I think that people who are blindsided by “fate” sometimes need a push to help make decisions. That’s a grace in itself. Someone could have helped him sell that house. Or offered to help with his job search by plugging him into a network on connected people outside the network he had used in the past. No one on the planet should be better networked than Christians, yet I find that we biff in that regard like crazy, and I don’t know why.

      4. We talk about the “most tender” part of the Body and how we need to guard it. Isn’t that Steve and people like him? Why do we not think that way? If we did, maybe we’d come up with great ways to help.

      5. I’ve seen a weird distancing happen in churches. A person runs into a streak of bad luck and people start withdrawing. It’s like the bad luck is viral, and no one wants to risk being the next to get it. A bizarre phenomenon, but I’ve witnessed it repeatedly, especially in wealthier churches.

      6. Don’t think of those people who need grace for what they can give. Give them a break for a while. A guy like Steve may have been a giver for a while. Now, how can we gracefully allow him to be a receiver for a period of time?

      7. Why don’t churches have some organization within whose sole purpose is to help people within the church when they hit rocky times? I would think that would be natural, yet almost no churches have such groups in place. Why not?

      8. Does Steve know people are praying for him? If not, why not? And what if people aren’t? What greater grace is there than to know someone is actually praying for you? How simple is that?

      9. People jump churches a lot when they hit a wall and feel like their church won’t help them. Why does that EVER happen? Are our expectations for help too high? Or are they just right and the church simply blowing it? The description of the Church in Acts said that the Church provided in a way that no one lacked for anything. No lack. No area of need overlooked. Why aren’t we like that?

  5. Eli

    The questions about what the church could or should have done… almost sound like what government could or should do for the vulnerable.
    Organizations and systems do not love, they are faceless entities that are notorious for injustices and letting people slip through the cracks.
    If his church was more like a family, then there would be more chance he would have received solid support and grace. But then the sort of family church he needed is rare in this culture where people order their lives around high material consumption and wealth.
    Grace is out there, we just don’t realize how so much of the way we order our lives and organisations militates against it. Only when troubles come do we maybe start to realize that.
    We need more people who are relatively rich and full by world standards waking up to their poverty and solidarity with all the rest who are crying out for mercy and grace.

    • linda

      Hi Eli,
      you say here “We need more people who are relatively rich and full by world standards waking up to their poverty and solidarity with all the rest who are crying out for mercy and grace.”

      mercy and grace? For a living? The scriptures in Acts speak about apostles and elders providing food for the believing widows in Jerusalem (and area?) These widows were destitute. They were very poor. We see this example when Jesus was before the treasury in the temple and widow put in all her living because she was so poor.
      I’m not sure that this is the situation of people in the church today. They appear to have clothes, food, and shelter. What mercy and grace are these people crying out for? To be like the world and living like the world? This is death to all believers whose goal it is. The scriptures in my mind do not teach eternal salvation after believing. A walk of faith is required. A realtionship with God is required. An abiding in the vine is required. A new creation is required. A life surrendered is required. A trust in God is required. A picking up of our crosses is required. Love is required (that is given to us by God) not the love of the world.

      Who in the church is crying out for these? Very few it seems.

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