Last week I had the privilege of attending my niece’s college graduation in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Factoring in all sorts of “things”, I decided the best way to get there would be to fly into Atlanta on a really cheap ticket and then rent a car to drive to Huntsville, Alabama to visit dear friends for a few days before going on to Chattanooga.
So last Wednesday found me tooling west on Interstate 20, somewhere in the middle of Nowhere, Georgia or Even-More-Rural, Alabama. And then it happened. A little rock flew up from the roadway, propelled by a large truck, and found its mark on the windshield. I jumped, startled by the sound, but was relieved to see that it hadn’t done any damage. In fact, I couldn’t see where it had struck – I only knew by the sound that it had.
Fast forward to Friday evening – the next time I drove that rental car after parking it in my friends’ driveway. I got in and immediately saw the crack. It was impossible to miss! It stretched in a thin line for about a foot from the edge of the windshield, running parallel to the dashboard.
Right in my line of vision.
On my RENTAL car.
Tons of lessons and spiritual applications have come to mind since making that discovery Friday night. But one resounds, resonates and demands to be shared: GRACE.
Because here’s the thing – I didn’t pay for the extra insurance provided by the rental car company. I had a vague memory of my insurance agent telling me that a rental car would be covered by my regular insurance. I also had the confident arrogance to believe that nothing bad could happen to me. After all, I am a good driver! So I said, “No, thanks” to the offer and went on my merry way.
But now it was Friday night. Too late to call my insurance agent. Too late to really do much of anything except battle the overwhelming worry of what could be. And wonder what I should do. Call a repair company and try to get it repaired sometime between Friday night and Saturday’s graduation? Would I have time? Was that even ethical? And would they do a repair on a car that isn’t mine? If so, try to do that Sunday instead of church? Or throw myself on the mercy of the rental agency Monday morning? File a claim with my insurance? Did they even cover windshields on rentals? Or just major accidents? And how much was my deductible again?
So. Many. Questions!
But, in the course of the evening, my friend did a bit of digging online. And he asked me if I had rented the car with an American Express card, because if I had, they would cover it.
I had not.
But it got me thinking. I DID pay for the car with miles earned on my traveler’s credit card. And I had used it to cover the “incidentals” when I signed the forms. Could it be? Would I be covered?
Early, early Saturday morning I started digging in the forms and documents on the website for my card. And sure enough, it was covered! And not just the repair. They will cover the entire cost of the incident. Including any “loss of use” fees the rental car company charges. Without a fee to me. With no deductible being paid. Simply because I “belong” to that company. Paid in full without me having to pay a dime.
I am sure you see where I am going. But let me spell it out, just in case.
My life is FULL of cracks in its windshield. I tool along merrily through life, arrogantly confident in my own abilities to be a good person, to go through life unscathed by sin or its effects. I am trusting in my own driving abilities to get me safely to my destination.
But then it happens. I fall from perfection quite easily – with a small pebble, my illusions of my own strength to be “good enough” are cracked. Because I realize the standard is perfection. Not my definition of it – but God’s. And I suddenly realize that even my “tiny” sins are a big, big deal. In fact, one “small” sin that seems to be no big deal is enough to separate me from the holiness, the perfection, that is God.
And I am in trouble. Because I can’t pay the debt that is owed. The Bible says that the wages or earnings of sin are death. Death to peace. Death to relationships. And eternal death, being separated from God forever.
But then I start digging in the documents left by God for my reference. And I hear the staggering news. It is PAID IN FULL. Completely covered. I don’t have to do one good thing to earn my redemption, my freedom from this debt I cannot possibly pay. It is a gift, simply because I choose to belong to God. That’s mercy – NOT getting what I do deserve – and that is grace – getting what I DO NOT deserve.
Now someone will pay for my windshield repair. And in the same way, Someone paid for my sin. The rental car company is not going to just look the other way and say, “Never mind, it’s all good.” And God doesn’t either when it comes to sin. He can’t because He is holy. Instead, God provided a substitute in my place. Jesus took all of the wrath of God that was due to me – due to you – and put it on Jesus on the cross. He took my place because He had no “cracks in the windshield” of His life. He never sinned and therefore did not deserve punishment. Be He willingly died on the cross in my place. And because He did, God offered me eternal life. All I had to do was accept the gift He offered. And I did. So I am completely and totally released from any condemnation that I deserve. Grace.
For some reading this, that is an old, familiar story. And because it is, it is easy to forget the enormity of what God has done. It is easy to get arrogant and cocky, somehow thinking that I am better than others who have not accepted that grace – or even others who have. It is also easy to swing the other way and think, “That can’t be right – I have to DO something to make God love me – or at least to make up for what I have done.” But that’s not the way it works – in either direction. It is so incredibly simply – and yet enormously breathtaking at the same time.
I owed a debt I could not pay.
But God loved me just as I was.
Completely. Utterly. Not based on my performance – my “good driving” as it were.
His love for me did not change when I cracked the windshield of my life. He hates the sin that I commit – but He is passionately for me. In my corner. Loving me as a parent loves a child. Not because I have done or not done a single thing – but simply because He made me. And because His character IS love.
And once I accepted that gift of eternal life through Jesus, His love for me did not change. He does not love me more because I accepted it. As singer/songwriter Michael Card wrote, “He CANNOT love you more and He WILL NOT love you less.”
Grace. Inexpressible, freeing, redeeming, life-changing, powerful, incredible grace.
And one last thought. Knowing the car was completely covered by the credit card company did not change how I drove it. I didn’t suddenly become Evil Knievel, trying to break land-speed records or take crazy risks.
How much more in my life! I don’t have any desire to abuse this incredible gift of grace. In fact, knowing how much I am loved, how much grace has been given, and how little I deserve it drives me in the other direction. It drives me to respond in gratitude by choosing obedience. Choosing service. Choosing to love as I have been loved. Not so I will be loved more. Not so God will cover my sin better. Those are both impossible. But simply out of incredible gratitude. I have been forgiven much – it drives me to love much. I have received ridiculous, scandalous grace. It drives me to offer the same. I am thoroughly and completely loved by the God of the Universe, who is intimately concerned about the details of my life. It drives me to give Him my very best as an act of worship, a response of gratitude, a declaration of love in return.
Scandalous, amazing, incredible grace.
Do you know it your own life?
Are you living like you do?
You are passionately loved by an incredible God.
I pray for you (and me) as Paul did for the Church, that we, “having been [deeply] rooted and [securely] grounded in love, be fully capable of comprehending with all the saints (God’s people) the width and length and height and depth of His love [fully experiencing that amazing, endless love]; and [that you may come] to know [practically, through personal experience] the love of Christ which far surpasses [mere] knowledge [without experience], that you may be filled up [throughout your being] to all the fullness of God [so that you may have the richest experience of God’s presence in your lives, completely filled and flooded with God Himself].” (Ephesians 3)