A Word of Grace – November 4, 2013

Monday Grace

Dear Friends,

Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Luke 12:32-34).

Hank was smart, experienced, tough and deeply religious. He ran the engineering and construction departments of one of my Christian health care clients that was involved in a major building project.

The client and the contractor were in a dispute over a change order. The amount involved was relatively small, $184,000 against a multimillion dollar project budget, but the change seemed intended to cover a contractor mistake, and neither Hank nor I was inclined to concede or compromise.

After reviewing the plans and the contract, I agreed with Hank that the contractor’s claim for additional payment had no merit, but the contractor owed us the $184,000 instead. We prepared to meet with the contractor and his attorney to seek resolution short of legal action.

We finished our preparations with a prayer for success as stewards of Christ’s assets in making our claim. We asked for the Lord to be glorified in all that we said and did.

As the meeting began and we stated our case, the contractor’s attorney interposed that Hank’s calculation was off by $6,000. “So what,” I said, “that goes to the valuation. I am talking about the contractor’s liability regardless of the total amount. I pressed forward asserting our position.

Hank stopped me and asked for a moment to review his calculation. His brow furrowed as he checked his numbers with a pocket calculator. Then he asked, May I have a moment to confer with counsel?”

We stepped outside the room and Hank said, “I am sorry, Kent, but he’s right. I got the number wrong.”

“More than the $6,000?” I asked.

“No, but I was wrong.”

“That’s OK, Hank. We are still talking about $178,000. We are still correct under the contract and entitled to an offset against payment.”

“Yes, but I was wrong.”

“That’s no big deal, Hank. Really, it’s no big deal. Snap out of it. We have to go back in there and get this done.”

As the discussion continued, I could tell that Hank “could not get his head back into the game,” so to speak. He was one of the most confident men and hardest bargainers I knew. Now, he was uncharacteristically unsure of himself and passive. He was defeated.

I was making all the arguments, but Hank started making concessions. To my frustrated annoyance, he kept giving in, until finally he made a fifty/fifty split with the contractor, leaving $89,000 of the client’s hard-to-come-by money on the table.

When I returned to the office, I told my senior partner what happened at the meeting and my disappointment. He said, “That was Hank’s embarrassment talking. He felt — not thought, mind you, but felt — that everything depended on his being right about everything. That type has to be 100 per cent correct or else he is 100 per cent wrong. The slightest flaw in his argument will undo him.”

My mentor continued. “You represent religious types so you’ll get a lot of this. They get it in their minds that if they aren’t perfect, God won’t love them, so they make terrible negotiators. If the other side can embarrass them or make them feel guilty, the negotiation has just become about them and not about the facts. They would rather look good than take any risk of losing on the merits, so they usually end up leaving a lot on the table. It makes it hard to represent them.”

The old lawyer was a cynical agnostic, but a shrewd observer of human nature even when it was cloaked in piety.  I have unfortunately seen the scenario he described repeated many times in my 34 years of law practice. It always frustrates me because it reflects the graceless self-righteousness of an “owner” who alone is responsible for the maintenance of his or her possessions. The flip side of self-righteousness is self-recrimination because when sin, mistakes and failure occur, the self-righteous face the guilt and fear of loss alone and loathe their inability to overcome it.

On the other hand, a steward in the service of God knows that God is the owner and will provide the means to maintain what is entrusted to the steward. Such a steward has faith that there is a future for us secured by God’s love and his will for our good. With that security, the steward has the freedom to draw upon God’s provision to cover the mistakes and failures of the present (See Tit 2:11-14).

Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). He states this as a fact, not a promise. It gives our heavenly Father deep satisfaction to give us the kingdom of heaven because he loves us so.

Our Father’s gift of eternal life is so well-intended and complete that its acceptance changes the way we live here and now. Jesus tells us that the trustworthiness of that gift allows us to unload all the stuff we have acquired in the faithless fear that we will have to work out our salvation on our own. “Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:33-34).

As long as we view life in terms of our successful performance, we are doomed to live in fear and the desperate compulsion to do more and acquire more. No bank vault can be built strong enough to eliminate the threat of loss and no human performance will ever be adequate to ensure permanent safety and prosperity.  As author Wayne Jacobsen observes, “If God isn’t bigger than our mistakes, then ultimately we’re not trusting him; we are trusting our own performance. What kind of trust is that?” (Wayne Jacobsen & Clay Jacobsen, Authentic Relationships [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003], p. 98).

When our lives consist in giving and praising, there is nothing to be taken from us that has not already been given up, and no danger that has not already been met and conquered by the cross. We can speak and act as the confident stewards of what God has provided from the riches of his glory and vested heirs of his kingdom rather than as the fearful, mistrustful owners of a meager hoard of stuff who are always anxious that what we have accomplished isn’t enough.

The demands of self-righteousness are both ceaseless and futile. Years later, Hank’s son was terminated from his job because of inadequate performance. I worked out a good financial settlement with references with the employer. Hank insisted that his son reject the offer because to accept “would be an admission that my boy wasn’t in the right.”

“Hank,” I said, “there is documentation of the problems. He won’t obtain more in court than what he is being offered in settlement. Most likely, he’ll lose if he litigates and he’ll have nothing to show for it.

Hank was furious with me. It was still “all or nothing” when it came to how he viewed life and performance. He paid for another lawyer to sue on behalf of his son. The case was lost and Hank and his son were embittered. They would rather be “right,” than trust the mercy of the Lord. They would not receive grace because they would not confess to imperfection. They suffered the judgment that inevitably comes from those attitudes.

The goal of perfection will always overwhelm our capacity. Our needs loom large and our inability to deal with them is woefully apparent. But the Shepherd knows his sheep, the Father knows his children, and Christ knows our every weakness. If we bring our poverty and need before the throne of grace and ask for help with a boldness that comes from the knowledge that God loves us and desires our good, we will find the mercy and grace to help us in our time of need (Heb 4:16).

The voice of Love resonates in the hollow chambers of our inadequacy, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” When we hear that voice, it’s time to sell everything, give away the proceeds and follow Jesus Christ into that kingdom with assurance.

“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him (Psalm 34:8)

Under the mercy of Christ,



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