Grace in a Hottub

ImageThere are moments in our Christian walk when we hear the rooster crow, and realize we have blown it in our attempts to follow Jesus’ Way in our interactions with others. Today I heard the rooster crow. I looked in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw.

The scary thing is how “right” I was in my own eyes at the time. Even scarier is how right I would be in most people’s eyes as well. It’s a classic example of how different the “American Way” is from the “Jesus Way.” Here’s the story.

Today I was doing business with someone, and as the customer I was very unsatisfied with the service I received. The service I requested was blundered several times, they made a mess of our place, the product they delivered was faulty and didn’t end up working. I called them to come back and fix it. I also felt that they owed me a refund for the poor service and all day hassle. He would give me a refund, but then he would not finish the job that I needed done for this weekend.

I was wronged. I demanded “justice” or “recompense.” If they want my business again they better make things right. I demand my money back. He owed me. He was in my debt.

Are you with me? Can you feel my righteous indignation?

What was the service and product? I called a local guy who rents out soft hot tubs for our baptism service this Sunday. He brought the tub, and the motor/heater was shot. He went home and brought another back. It worked. So I filled the tub, and then it started leaking!  I pumped it out before it flooded our new sanctuary, and told him to come back with another tub. I also asked for a refund for all the hassle.

I think my exact words were, “If you want my business again in the future, you need to make this right and give us a refund.”

Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Business is business. Customer is king. He let me down, and I demanded payback.

Now I was upset because this entire fiasco (which should have taken an hour) had taken over 4 hours of my precious sermon preparation time. This guy’s crumbling tub rental operation was keeping me from crafting a dazzling message on the amazing grace of God and the forgiveness and mercy he extends to us sinners when we were unable to pay him back. “How can this guy still be in business with this pathetic performance today?” I thought. He’s unreliable, his tubs leak, his heaters don’t work, he’s too old and out of shape to deliver and set them up on his own. He made a mess of the church, and won’t give me a refund for the trouble.

I was upset. I had to leave for a bit to blow off some steam and take a deep breath. As I drove to pick up Peter from daycare, the inner voice of Jesus began to whisper. The light of the gospel began to go on and shed light on the state of my heart in this situation. The whisper grew louder and louder until finally Jesus’ megaphone was making plain the gospel truth I was completely missing at the time:

“Jeremy, you are a Christian. Christians don’t demand payback when other people wrong them. They don’t demand “justice” as the world does. Instead, they remember “that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  Like leaky tubs and broken motors, your life apart from me would be a mess spilling moral failure all over the place.  When a Christian is wronged, they follow my example by forgiving the debt and absorbing the cost onto themselves. Yes, there is always a cost. Either the offender must pay the penalty, or the one offended can absorb the debt themselves and extend grace. Law demands payback. Grace absorbs the cost and forgives the debtor. You set them free from their failure, and don’t hold them in your debt. Why don’t you forgive this man instead? Wouldn’t that be the Christian thing to do?”

[gulp]

I was not a Christian today in my dealings with this man. The Holy Spirit convicted me. My heart was suddenly softened. I began to look at this man through the eyes of calvary. I started to wonder if he was making ends meet with this small and shaky business. I started to feel bad that his equipment was all starting to fail him at the same time. I began to wonder if he could even afford to give me a refund and still pay the bills at the end of the month.

In the end, we got a tub that isn’t leaking (much) and I was able to apologize to him. We laughed it off by agreeing that somedays everything seems to go wrong, and in this life things tend to break at the most inconvenient times. I paid him full price. I chose to forgive him whatever debt I felt he owed me for the 6 hours of inconvenience. And instead of me preparing a sermon on God’s grace to preach to others on Sunday, I was the one in need of a message on forgiveness today. And the Holy Spirit preached a doozy.

While it is usually the waters of baptism that speak symbolically of God’s forgiveness, today it was the leaky tub that spoke to me.

Tomorrow I will try to be more like Jesus. How about you?

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