Outrageous Grace

Outrageous Grace

By Lee Strobel

“This is embarrassing,” my friend said to me over the phone.

“That’s okay,” I assured him. “Go ahead. You can tell me.”

He sighed. “Well, we found out our little girl shoplifted a book from the church bookstore. We were really surprised because she’s a good kid. Anyway, I was wondering whether you would help us out with something.”

Frankly, I was relieved the news wasn’t more serious. “Sure,” I said. “What can I do?”

“We’d like you to represent the church so she can come in and apologize,” he replied. “Maybe you could figure out some sort of restitution. We want to use this as a teaching moment.”

I agreed to help, but I have to admit I had an even bigger lesson in mind.

The next day, the parents and their eight-year-old daughter walked hesitantly into my office and sat down. The girl was so small, she was almost swallowed up by the chair. Her eyes were downcast; her mood was somber.

After I exchanged some pleasantries with her parents, I sat down on the edge of my desk so I was facing the girl. As gently as I could, I said to her, “Tell me what happened.”

She hesitated, her lower lip quivering. “Well,” she said as she started to sniffle, “I was in the bookstore after a service and I saw a book that I really wanted, but I didn’t have any money.” Now tears pooled in her eyes and spilled down her cheeks. I handed her a tissue, which she used to dab her eyes before continuing.

“So I put the book under my coat and took it,” she blurted out, almost as if she wanted to expel the words as fast as she could so they wouldn’t linger. “I knew it was wrong. I knew I shouldn’t do it, but I did it. And I’m sorry. I’ll never do it again. Honest.”

She was so contrite that it broke my heart. “I’m glad you’re willing to admit what you did and say you’re sorry,” I told her. “That’s very brave, and it’s the right thing to do.”

She nodded slightly.

“But,” I continued, “what do you think an appropriate punishment would be?”

She shrugged her shoulders. I knew from her parents that she had already thrown out the book to hide the evidence. I paused for a moment, then said, “I understand the book cost five dollars. I think it would be fair if you paid the bookstore five dollars, plus three times that amount, which would make the total twenty dollars. Do you think that would be fair?”

“Yes,” she murmured, though I could see fear — almost panic — in her eyes. Her mind was whirring. Where was she going to come up with twenty dollars? That’s a mountain of money for a little kid. She didn’t have the five dollars to buy the book in the first place, and suddenly her debt had spiraled completely out of sight.

At that moment, I got up and walked behind my desk. Sitting down, I pulled open the top drawer. The little girl’s eyes narrowed. She couldn’t figure out what I was doing. I pulled out my checkbook, picked up a pen, and wrote a check from my personal account for the full amount that she owed. I tore off the check and held it in my hand. Her mouth dropped open.

“I know there’s no way you can pay the penalty that you deserve,” I told her. “So I’m going to pay it for you. Do you know why I’d do that?”

Bewildered, she shook her head.

“Because I love you,” I told her. “Because I care about you. Because you’re important to me. And please remember this: that’s how Jesus feels about you too. Except even more.”

With that, I handed her the check, which she grabbed and clutched to her heart. She simply blossomed with a look of absolute relief and joy and wonder. She was almost giddy with gratitude. The same little girl who had slinked into the office under the weight of shame now left lighthearted and skipping.

I don’t know how God ultimately used that teaching moment in her life. But I do know this: once a person, even at a young age, experiences a taste of the kind of grace offered by Christ, it leaves an indelible mark on the soul. Who could resist being attracted by the forgiveness and unmerited favor extended by Jesus?

This is one of the greatest dimensions of the unexpected adventure. The message we convey isn’t based on condemnation or shame. We’re not offering people a life sentence of hard labor to try to somehow make themselves worthy of heaven. Instead, we have the privilege of telling people how they can find complete forgiveness as a free gift that was purchased when Jesus died as our substitute to pay for all of our wrongdoing — past, present, and future.

“Grace means there’s nothing we can do to make God love us more,” writes Philip Yancey in his classic book What’s So Amazing About Grace? “And grace means there’s nothing we can do to make God love us less. . . . Grace means that God already loves us as much as an infinite God can possibly love.”

Wow! When I try to let that sink in, I’m just as overcome with gratitude as that little girl. At the same time I feel a renewed desire to let others know about this incredible message of redemption and reconciliation. After all, with good news like that, how could we possibly keep it to ourselves?


From Investigating Faith by Lee Strobel

What God’s Hope Is, What It Isn’t, and Why It Matters

What God’s Hope Is, What It Isn’t,
and Why It Matters

By Lee Strobel

God’s hope is different from what you might expect. We use the word hope all the time to mean different things. In fact, much of what we call hope could fall into three categories: wishful thinking, blind optimism, and personal dreams.

Wishful thinking is when we try to hope things in or out of existence. It’s when we blow out the candles on our birthday cake and say to ourselves, “I hope I stay healthy for another year.” It’s when we pick up the Wall Street Journal and say, “I hope the prime rate drops again.” It’s when spring training begins and we say, “I hope the Cubs don’t disappoint me again this year.” (Hey, hope springs eternal!)

Wishful thinking is a kind of hopeful feeling that maybe, somehow, some way, things will go the way we want them to, even though we really don’t have any power whatsoever to make it happen.

Another kind of hopeful attitude is blind optimism, like the guy who fell off a thirty-story building and yelled out as he passed the fifteenth floor, “Well, so far, so good!”

While it’s good to have a generally optimistic outlook, some optimists see everything through rose-colored glasses. They paper over their problems as if they didn’t exist. They avert their eyes from the ugly aspects of the world. To them, everything’s just fine all the time-never mind the facts.

It’s like the joke about the parents of two young twins. One of the boys was a depressed pessimist; the other was an incessant optimist. The parents were getting worried because each child’s personality was becoming increasingly extreme. So just before Christmas, the father said, “We need to do something to break them out of their molds.”

The parents decided to put dozens and dozens of shiny new toys in the pessimist’s room, and to fill the optimist’s room with piles of horse manure, hoping this would change their attitudes.

The children went to their rooms for a couple of hours, and then the pessimist came out. “Did you play with your new toys?” the father asked eagerly.

“Nah,” moaned the pessimist. “I never even opened the packages. I was afraid that if I touched them, they’d just break, and then I’d be disappointed.”

That’s when the optimist came bounding out of his room that had been filled with horse manure. He was all smiles. “How come you’re so happy?” asked the dad.

The little boy beamed and said, “I just know that if I keep digging long enough, I’m going to find the pony!”

Do you know people like that—optimists who pretend everything’s always great and who gloss over problems in their lives?

And then there’s hope that takes the form of personal dreams. These are the lofty goals we set for our lives and which we work so hard to achieve. In other words we don’t just hope for a new car, but we begin saving for one. We don’t just hope we’ll become a better golfer, but we take lessons and spend time on the practice tee. We don’t just wish for good health, but we begin to watch our diet and participate in an exercise program.

Generally, there’s nothing wrong with that. But problems arise when our personal dreams are restricted by our own limitations or when they fall victim to factors beyond our control.

For instance, I suppose a lot of General Motors workers had personal dreams of job security and retirement, but that didn’t stop GM from announcing one day that they were going to eliminate thousands of employees. Unfortunately our dreams are often at the mercy of others.

Biblical hope is different. For most people, hoping is something that they do, but the Bible talks about hope as something they can possess. We can actually grab hold of it. For someone who follows Jesus, hope is the secure expectation that He is both willing and able to make good on the promises He has made to us.

The Bible refers to this as “living hope,” because it’s linked directly to the resurrection of Christ. The apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:3-4: “In [God’s] great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you.”

You see, through His decisive conquest of death, Jesus demonstrated that He really is God and that He really does have the power to fulfill His promises in the pages of Scripture. Promises to change our lives. Promises to guide us. Promises that He’ll cause good to emerge from our personal difficulties. Promises that His followers will spend eternity with Him.

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure,” says Hebrews 6:19. Usually I hate to use sailing analogies because I can get seasick drinking a glass of water, but an anchor is a great metaphor. Our hope is only as good as what we anchor it to.

Let’s face it: In and of itself, hope doesn’t have any power to change reality. We hope for this, we hope for that, and we might feel better for a while. We may even fool ourselves into thinking everything’s okay. But the only way hope has any real power is when we anchor it to the God who has real power. And not only real power, but a heartfelt desire to help.

And I think Jesus would say to you, “Whatever you’re facing, I can infuse hope into your life—a hope that’s firm and secure. In fact, let Me describe for you two specific ways I can introduce hope to you—by absolving you of your past, and by assuring you of your future.”


From Investigating Faith by Lee Strobel