Steve Went Looking for Grace


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?”

Tunnel Vision


It is rare that I read anything on the Web that sets me a-nodding from the first line. Josh Harris’s reprint of “Exposing Major Blind Spots of Homeschoolers” by Reb Bradley gave me motion sickness from my perpetual head-bobbing in agreement.

Beyond its look at how homeschooling parents can miss the forest for the trees, it exposes the general disconnection from simple reality that often plagues the most zealous Christian families and churches. Bradley’s confession at how his son received more love from the boy’s tat-laden, stoner co-workers than from his own Christian family is a tale oft-told yet one rarely comprehended.

It’s also an article woven through with examples of overt gracelessness, as holier-than-thou condemnation takes center stage in households that should know the core of the Gospel better. But knowing isn’t always living, and if anything, better praxis in the American Church is the one area of needed growth no rational person can argue against.

I’ll also put in props for my previous post (“Fear: The Ruination of the American Church“), as the Bradley article amplifies how fear of the times and the world as it is contributes to the errors committed by well-meaning Christian homeschoolers.

More than anything, I believe this article argues for the Way of the Average. I continue to note that the people who seem to get on best with life are those who were neither too outstanding nor too underperforming. I learned this at a reunion many years ago: The people who were average in high school (and possibly overlooked then) were enjoying the best, happiest lives.

One could argue from the experience of averageness that it is not the spiritual superstar in the youth group who goes on to achieve the greatest ministry. Same goes for the über-student held out as the homeschooling pinnacle. For every Nobel prize winner, there’s a Todd Marinovich. It very well may be that it is possible to be too Christian, especially when that which is gaged as “Christian” has more to do with impressing the spiritual Joneses than with clinging to the Faith as expressed in Palestine AD 60.

Hat tips to Challies for bringing this one to light and to all the others who noted it. Do read this one. It’s an 11 out of 10.