When I started working at NCC I was the administrative assistant. Part of my job was to handle bulk orders for Pastor Mark's books. Individuals, small groups, and coaches would request cases to give copies away as gifts or use them for book studies. Entire churches even requested them for sermon series. About a month into the job I received an order that I read as, "22 cases." I sent the books and took care of the paperwork. Done and done... until I received an email from the curiously grateful recipient thanking me for the extra books she received.
Scrambling back to the original email I wanted to cry: 22 BOOKS. Books, NOT cases. The math scrolled through my mind like a film strip. 24 Books per case times 22 cases is 528 books, which is exactly... 506 too many. Not the best way to begin a new job that I really wanted to stick around for. I should just quit now. I slloooowwwwly moseyed my way up to Pastor Mark's office to admit my mistake, ready to pay for the shipping and all the rest. At this point I need to change gears because you should know that Pastor Mark's office has a certain feel to it. It's like you've stepped into peace when you walk in. So not only am I breaking the news but I also felt like I was violating his serenity as well.
I sadly shared the story in a nervous and therefore inarticulate way. He just gave me a grin and goes, "that's okay."
That's all? It is not okay. This is really really bad. Maybe I didn't properly clarify: I sent CASES NOT BOOKS. But again he just says, "nah, it's okay." So there it was: the gospel preached to me not with words but with grace. And I even got to keep my whole paycheck. I expected reprimand and I got blessed.
Besides the fact I was on the receiving end of forgiveness, what made this story a picture of the gospel was that it had a price tag. It was at somebody's expense. It cost him something.
In 1 Corinthians 8 and 9 Paul talks about giving up his rights for the good of others.
And isn't that what Christ did? He gave up his rights, saw equality with God not as something to be grasped, humbled himself by becoming a man, lived a sinless life to be our spotless lamb and died the death of a criminal. It is all so unfair. It truly is the great reversal; a huge injustice. We rightfully celebrate the resurrections so let us never overlook the sheer inequality of the cross. Paul is simply mimicking what Christ has already done: given himself up for his neighbor.
The question is simple: Do our lives preach the gospel to one another? Does mercy - real, costly mercy - inundate the interactions we have?
Do we give up our rights to serve other people, especially if it is going to cost us something or be inconvenient? Do we know Christ and what he has done well enough to submit our lives to Him so we are free to genuinely love and outdo one another in showing honor?
Let's decide individually to be a community that builds one another up.