A Broken Mirror, But No Bad Luck

I wanted to be home. It had been a long day at the office and my trip had been delayed by an empty gas tank. I was late, I was hungry and I was in a hurry. I was two turns from home, on the busy street beside the local park that backs to our housing tract, when I saw it coming towards me. Bouncing out between the cars was a bright yellow soccer ball.

My foot instinctively moved to the brake, fearful that the ball would be followed by a child running out from between the cars. My fears quickly passed as a I saw a fence along the curb. The ball was alone on its journey into the street. As I came to where the ball was it took a high bounce that brought it to the exact height of my passenger side mirror. At 30 miles an hour a soccer ball generates significant force. I heard a “pop” as the ball hit the side mirror and then saw the mirror disappear from its plastic casing. I pulled over to survey the damage.

The plastic casing was intact and still attached to the car but the reflective piece was completely gone. There was naked black plastic in the place where reflected objects are "closer than they appear to be". I sighed and walked the 100 yards to retrieve the missing piece, back to where the soccer ball had appeared and the mirror disappeared.

As I walked, thoughts of frustration and anger began to rise, including, “Why was a child kicking the ball toward the street?” “Why wasn’t the coach paying attention?” and “I shouldn’t have to pay for this!”

I found my cracked mirror underneath a truck parked adjacent to the low fence alongside the practice area. I picked it up and turned toward the field and looked for the coach. He was a young man, in his late twenties or early thirties, standing about 30 yards away. He was absorbed in the impossible task of trying to get the attention of fifteen 6 to 7-year-old boys. I held up the mirror and called to him, “Excuse me!”

He immediately looked over. When he saw the mirror in my hands his head dropped and his hand went to his forehead in a gesture of frustration. He walked over to me with an apologetic look on his face. His words matched his expression. “I’m sorry,” he said, “They were supposed to be on water break and he kept kicking the ball. I told him to stop. I will tell him and tell his mom.”

All thoughts of anger and frustration faded as I realized the truth of what had happened. A young coach was doing his best to control a group of energetic little boys. One of them had kicked a ball at a time and in a direction he was not supposed to and a freak accident had occurred. The young coach was now confronted with a middle-aged, shirt and tied man holding a damaged mirror. The coach was fearful of anger and a demand for compensation.

I looked at the coach and the players and realized that the cost of replacing the mirror would likely be a significant burden to them and little burden to me. I could likely rant and rave and claim my right to compensation but what was the point in that? I felt my angry heart soften.

“I can afford to have the mirror fixed,” I said, “but I think he should know what happened so he can learn to be more careful.” The coach called the little boy over. The boy looked fearful as he approached, as if he was expecting to be yelled at and punished. He was clearly relieved when he learned that neither was going to happen. I showed him the mirror, told him I knew it was an accident, but that he needed to be more careful, because it costs money to fix things even when they are accidentally broken. Then I walked away.

As I walked back to my car I realized how much I had changed over the years. Growing up my parents had instilled in me a strong, albeit corrupted sense of “right” and “wrong.” I was taught to assert my rights and get what I deserved. Grace and forgiveness were not Barrett family values. On the rare occasions that forgiveness was given it always came with a price, a debt that would have to be paid or guilt that needed to be felt. There was no such thing as an innocent mistake to my father.

I thought back to the lectures and verbal abuse I had received as a child for innocent mistakes I had made and the associated ever present fear of doing wrong. I remembered times when my father insisted that I confront someone who had wronged me to demand that I get what was coming to me. That was the Barrett way. As i got into my car I took comfort in the realization that it is not the Barrett way any longer.

I drove away with the realization that the coach and the boy had no idea who I was, no way of knowing how to find me in the future, and no way of ever paying me back for the damage that I had been done. I decided that this way, the way of grace, is the best way to respond.

-          Bart

Thanks for reading and sharing and commenting. Remember you can subscribe to the blog by clicking on the subscribe link on the page

Preaching Grace at 80

We live in a culture that worships youth and vitality and that devalues the wisdom and experience of our elders. Many churches have responded to the culture by hiring younger pastors, embracing contemporary music and emphasizing ministries that appeal to society. Sermons emphasize the need to perform community service and meet the needs of our neighbors. Topics such as sin and repentance, considered unappealing to the young, are seldom mentioned and evangelism, actually talking to people outside the church about faith, is a footnote to the church’s social justice agenda.

Chuck Swindoll stands out in stark contrast to the youth movement that has invaded the church. A nationally known pastor and Bible teacher, he is approaching his 81st birthday with no plans of retiring from the ministry. He continues to preach on a regular basis in the church he began in Frisco, Texas at the age of 64, launching a new ministry at an age when most others would be looking for the exit.

Chuck was the senior pastor at the First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton, California for 23 years. I had the privilege of sitting under his teaching for 13 of those years. From Chuck I learned innumerable lessons including the importance of Scripture. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was also being taught how to preach. The hundreds of sermons I heard from Chuck taught me how to think about the Bible, how to organize my thoughts and how to apply lessons of Scripture to daily life. When he left Fullerton to lead a seminary in Dallas it was a sad day for me.

Chuck returned to Fullerton on Sunday, the guest speaker for the worship service celebrating the Fullerton church’s 60th anniversary. It was an emotional service for me. Sitting next to me was the wife I had met at that very church and our two children, whose child dedication ceremonies had been led by Pastor Swindoll so many years earlier. It was the first time my children had heard him speak.

During the message Chuck related a story of Howie Stevenson, the man who served at his side as worship pastor for 20 of his 23 years in Fullerton. Chuck told us that each Sunday before he would rise to speak Howie would lean to him over and quietly say, “Preach Grace.”

The message Chuck preached on Sunday was a beautiful sermon from Isaiah 6, a passage where the prophet shares a vision he had of God in His infinite glory. As only he can, Chuck took the congregation into the vision and reminded us of the awesomeness of God. The response of Isaiah to this vision of God’s holiness was to feel the weight of his sin and shame. Isaiah was completely undone by the realization that God is Holy and that he was wretched and sinful.

Then Chuck preached grace. He read the verses describing an angel touching Isaiah’s profane and unclean lips with a hot coal, burning away the sin, taking away his iniquity and bringing forgiveness. Isaiah was wretched, God was Holy, and in His grace, Holy God took away His sin.

We were deeply moved by the message. After the service my 25 year-old son, member of the modern church’s targeted demographic, said to us, “I would pay to hear preaching like that!”

That morning was a wonderful reminder of what matters in life. In addition to being reminded anew of the amazing truth that a Holy God loves and forgives a sinful man like me I was encouraged by the fact that God is not done with me yet. If God can use a man in his eighties to touch the heart of a man in his twenties, there is hope yet for me.

- Bart

You can listen to Chuck's message here . More of his messages can be found at www.insight.org.

It's a Zit Emergency!

“My son needs see the doctor about his acne, TOMORROW!” The receptionist was caught off guard and unsure how to respond. While it is our policy to always see patients who have an urgent she was pretty sure that there was no such thing as a zit emergency. The call came on a Thursday afternoon and we were booked solid on Friday so she decided not to work the patient in. She took a message and told him we would call him back later.

At the end of the day they brought the message to my attention. It seemed a little absurd and unreasonable to the staff that someone could expect to be seen last minute for pimples. I almost never turn a patient away but they let me know this was not a time to go soft.  They told me that I spoil my patients and do not say “No” enough and they made it clear that this was a time when I should put my foot down.

“This is ridiculous!” they said, “they should have planned ahead of time. It is not your responsibility to bail them out because they forgot!” The rant lasted a few minutes/

They were right on every count. It was absurd and unreasonable. No doctor could reasonably be expected to squeeze in a last minute pimple appointment. (Pun intended!) They should have planned in advance and it was not my responsibility that they hadn't. I had every right to deny the request and no one could tell me I was wrong if I did.

But the thought came to me, “Is it only about being in the right?”

I thought about my Christian faith, which teaches that all people have gone astray and turned against God’s plan, and that we are all deserving of punishment. I thought that God could have looked at me and said, “You are going to hell!” and He would have been RIGHT. But God didn’t do that. He looked at me in my ridiculous stupidity and wrongness and decided that instead of punishing me, He would send His Son instead. He overlooked my wrongness and went above and beyond to help me.

With that in mind I told my staff that while we could turn the patient away and be “right”, overlooking their wrongness would only add 15 minutes to my workday. So together we all agreed that we were right and the patient was wrong, but that we would see the patient anyway, because that is how we would want to be treated.

We saw the patient the next day and I refilled the acne medication. I do not think that he appreciated or understood that he was being done a favor or that a special allowance had been made. That was okay. For me, the reminder that it is not always about being right was its own reward.

-          Bart

To receive future posts by email click on the subscribe button. You can also follow me on twitter @bartbarrettmd. Comments and feedback are welcome.