God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. (Ephesians 2:8-9 New Living Translation).
Grace is one of the most significant words in the Christian vocabulary. While it’s a good idea to avoid jargon, it’s simply a fact that all specialties have their vocabulary. In dealing with computers and data, I’ve had to learn megabytes, gigabytes, and terabytes. In caring friendships, I’ve had to learn about gluten-free and vegan. So what about grace? It’s not an easy concept to grasp. Before I share what it looked like once for me, it will be helpful to define grace and how it differs from mercy. The Apostle Paul used these two terms together in the greeting of some of his letters,
“I am writing to Timothy, my true son in the faith. May God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord give you grace, mercy, and peace” (1 Timothy 1:2 New Living Translation, NLT).
In brief, grace is getting what we do not deserve. Mercy is not getting what we do deserve (usually in terms of consequences). Mercy is, well… merciful. It is pardon for breaking a law; it is forgiveness for an unkind word or act. Mercy cleans the slate so we get a new start. Grace is something added. It is a gift that blesses us. It is not only forgiveness, but reconciliation and restoration. Mercy removes the negative. Grace adds the positive.
So now let me share one of my special experiences of grace. Every once in a while I get an email that is quite understated. Here’s one that came out of the blue. I needed to read it twice to fully appreciate it:
“Doug, one of the board members in my motorcar hobby association is Bernie Leadon, founding lead guitarist of the Eagles (the rock group known for “Take It Easy”, “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and “Witchy Woman,” among countless other hits). They are playing at the Inglewood Forum in LA this week and next, and he has set aside 2 VIP tickets for next Wednesday for me and a guest. It also includes 2 back stage passes… Would you like to go with me? Just a thought. Should be a great show. (Signed) Bill.
Would I like to go??? Would I?! I play guitar and have enjoyed playing in a band with some church friends—and I’ve listened to the Eagles for decades. I told my wife, Sarah, the news… and let’s just say Sarah was fine with my attending—so long as she came, too! I didn’t want to presume on Bernie’s generosity, but we asked Bill if he could possibly ask Bernie for another ticket and backstage pass. (So you’re already seeing us pushing for more grace….). Bernie came through, “No problem!” he said.
It was an unforgettable experience. When we arrived at the Forum in Los Angeles, we went to a VIP entrance and were ushered to Bernie’s dressing room, where he greeted us warmly. Bernie really respects Bill and truly appreciated Bill bringing his pastor and wife. After some conversation, Bernie asked if we wanted to do anything special, and I asked if we could walk backstage and see his guitars. (I was thinking I might get some pointers for playing with my cover band, The Fabulous Edsels!) So Bernie took us backstage where we saw racks and racks of some of the finest guitars I will ever lay eyes on. In addition to Bernie’s guitars, we also saw two racks for Joe Walsh (of “Hotel California” fame), and guitars for Glenn Frey and the back-up band. Beautiful! (Sorry for all the exclamation points!). Most of the guitarists played a different guitar for every song. We also met the guitar technicians who continually tune and care for the instruments. Then there was the whole backstage set-up with the lights, computers, video equipment and so on.
After that tour we went back to Bernie’s dressing room and “hung out” for nearly half an hour, meeting some of Bernie’s family members and other friends he’d invited to the show. It was such a relaxing time. About 10 minutes before the concert began Sarah, Bill and I were ushered into our seats in Row Six, just to the right of center stage. I have never had such seats before—and never will again, I’m sure. I could watch all the chord progressions and lead-solo fingerings of Bernie and Joe Walsh—a guitarist’s dream! The concert was a blast—in more ways than one—and we felt a connection that really enhanced the whole experience.
The next day I wrote an email to Bernie to thank him. I said, in part, “Last night was a great illustration of grace for me. Grace is getting something we don’t deserve, and there’s no way Sarah and I deserved the VIP treatment we got last night. We ‘coat-tailed’ on Bill’s friendship with you, and you accepted us. That’s a lot like God’s grace toward us. Just had to let you know how deeply it touched us.” Bernie wrote a very thoughtful reply, and we’ve actually corresponded a few times since.
There are many grace-gifts in our lives every day, but some certainly stand out—like this backstage, behind-the-scenes experience. Thanks, Bill. Thanks, Bernie! And thank you, Lord, for your mercy and grace.