Rick, a former gang member, became a Christian and soon after began coming to our church because relatives of his attended there. He worked for a large fun-park with batting cages, arcade games and miniature golf. He was genuinely converted to Christ and when he came to church he brought his family with him. One day after he had been there for a few weeks he called me.
“Pastor,” He said. “Could you come over to my house? I have something I need to show you.”
I hopped into my car and drove the few blocks distance to Rick’s house. He was waiting for me. As I pulled in front of his home he motioned for me to follow him over to his car. He opened the rear hatch of his vehicle and pointed to a partially opened duffel bag in his trunk. I could see that it was filled with change.
He said, “See that? I always have plenty of money. I make a pretty good living, plus I have all the change I want from the money boxes in the machines where I work. But”, he went on, “I haven’t been able to touch that duffel bag since last week. I guess I always knew it was wrong for me to take it, but since your sermon last Sunday I can’t touch it. What should I do?”
I was a little taken aback and wasn’t quite sure what to say. But after a few moments of silence I took the coward’s way out and asked, “I don’t know Rick, what do you think you should do?”
He answered, “Well, God won’t let me spend it. I don’t feel right about giving it to someone. And it doesn’t make sense to throw it away. If I go to my bosses and tell them what I’ve been doing, they will fire me and throw me in jail. I have a house, a wife, a little girl and one on the way. They won’t do well with me in prison. My wife will likely divorce me if that happened. She has already given me a few ultimatums about other things. But I’m pretty sure this will be over the top for her. But that is probably what I am going to have to do.”
Right then I was faced with a decision. I could think rules and regulations, or I could think grace.
In an instant, several thoughts ran through my mind.
First was the idea I have seen in movies and read in books. Go face the music of confession and suffer the consequences. That certainly seemed to be an honorable thing to do.
However, other thoughts also were racing through my mind.
Second, I had no doubt that the Holy Spirit had spoken to him loud and clear. It was evidence to me that Rick was indeed a changed man. His experience of being unable to touch the money was confirmation Rick had met God.
Next, my mind was rushing through my Bible knowledge and rested on the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8.
I quickly assessed the account and concluded that Rick did deserve to be taken away, jailed and suffer the consequences of losing his job, house, family and freedom; just as the woman before Jesus deserved to be stoned for her sin. But that wasn’t what Jesus gave her. Instead, He gave her grace.
And I thought…How could I say to Rick the same kind of thing Jesus said to the woman?
I asked Rick, “How easy is it for you to steal that change?”
Looking at me a little funny he said, “It’s real easy. I could take three hundred dollars a day if I wanted. Why Pastor, do you want me to take some for you?”
“No,” I chuckled. “I just figured if it was easy for you to take the change out of the machines, it might also be easy for you to put it back in the machines.”
A light came on in Rick’s soul and shone all over his face. Almost jumping up and down he said, “I can put it all back really easy. I can do it tomorrow. Thank you Pastor.”
So, in effect, the words; “Go put the money back and never do it again,” sounded like Jesus response to the woman, “Go and sin no more.” It sounded like God’s grace.
I’m not sure I would respond to a similar situation in the same way. But this was the way I felt God lead that day.
Rich put the money back and never took another dime. He became one of the most dynamic members and leaders in our church. He led his family into the faith as well as dozens of others. I am reasonably sure if I had thought rules and regulations that day, instead of grace, it would have been very different for Rick, his family and our church.
Lord, teach us how to think grace before we think rules and regulations.
I know this will be a controversial spin on God’s grace for some. I welcome your responses.