Things can happen fast on the road. Old tire debris, rain-washed gravel, cell-phone-using drivers, road construction and huge trucks displacing massive amounts of air can turn a pleasant motorcycle trip into a nightmare – in an instant. But despite all of the harshness of the road, there’s a pleasure that I get when I ride. It’s hard to describe, exactly, but I’ll try.
I don’t listen to music. Although I use earplugs to abate the wind noise at highway speeds, I can still hear the thundering of my exhaust. That’s music to my ears. As one good friend says, whenever he hears a group of motorcycles rumbling down the road, “Ah, the angels are singing”.
I love the way the road looks at highway speeds. There’s just a blur of pavement a few inches from my boot heal. White, broken lines become fused into a solid stripe and the texture of the asphalt disappears beneath the rolling rubber of my tires.
There’s a beauty that I see and feel when I ride. I disconnect from the stress of life as my focus gears towards concentration on the ride, drivers around me and the scenery so magically painted about me.
I love to ride!
My recent cycle trip took me to the northern city of Montreal, Quebec, Canada and to the panhandle of Florida. Nearly 3,400 miles round trip. Some of that was with a newfound friend but most of it was alone. But you’re never really alone. There are wonderful things to experience and find on a trip like this. On this one, I found grace.
Although I grew up in church, I didn’t grow up following Jesus. My early church experience was ritualistic, necessary, and diminutive. I got little out of it other than lost time on the weekends and weeknights taking classes to get “confirmed”. It was all born out of a law-based system. It wasn’t until age 16 that I was introduced to the idea that God wanted to have a relationship with me. Really? I thought it crazy but somewhere in the depths of my heart there started to beat an excitement and a craving for something bigger than a Sunday morning.
The Bible tells us that we’re saved by God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8). It tells us that we come into a renewed and forgiven relationship with the God of the universe because of His goodness given to us at His own expense – the slaughtering of His only Son. That’s what saving grace is. Ephesians 2:9 states that we aren’t rescued from sin by our own deeds for everything we do falls short of perfection when compared to the backdrop of a perfect God. Instead of His massive thumb pressing down upon us to keep us stifled, He lifts us up and offers His goodness at the expense and price of His Son. I love saving grace and I embraced it in a small, stone farmhouse over 30 years ago.
Then grace ended.
But it didn’t end because of God. I won’t get into details but the transition from grace back to law was via subtle teaching and experience within my new evangelical culture. Although I was saved by grace and many within evangelicalism are rabid proponents of “grace alone”, the culture develops a very subtle, “live by law” undertow. The interesting thing is the law is no longer the law of the Older Testament but the law of the local church culture. It covers everything from what you wear on Sundays to what you eat and drink to where you spend and how you spend your recreation time. It’s subtle. It’s pervasive. It’s condemning. In fact, if you watch carefully, your spirituality will be measured by the law of your local church. And that’s not grace!
As I rode a consistent 450 or more miles each day on my trip, there was a lot of time to think and pray. In west Georgia asked God what the difference is between law and grace. The answer was profound and freeing and would later be supported in a book suggested by a good counselor friend. I love it when God speaks through His Spirit and then, in the loving manner of His nature, He confirms it. God always confirms His word – did you know that? He does. That’s part of what I now call, “living grace”.
What I heard and learned as I rode mile after mile to see good friends was this: Law is imposed, grace is imparted. Law is forced upon you and whether you follow it or not, it’s always there to whip you along it’s path or condemn you as you wander off of it. And that’s not grace!
As I rode through Alabama, I thought about this truth. Law, specifically religious law, is imposed on people. This is just as true for modern Muslims as it was for First Century Jews. In fact, any religious system, whether based in Christianity or not, if rules and regulations are imposed, you are participating in a law-based system. The imposition can be as overt as Sharia Law or as subtle as the rolling of the eyes on a Sunday morning. And that’s not grace!
But grace is not imposed, it’s imparted! There’s a significant and essential difference. As grace is imparted it comes in smooth, consistent, daily waves as you wander through life. It comes in love and kindness and always in proportion to your need. It’s in the middle of pain and tears as well as jumping-for-joy, off-the-charts excitement. Grace comes through the Holy Spirit who according to the words of Jesus would, “Teach us all things” (John 14:26). Grace does have boundaries but they aren’t accompanied by the words, “must, ought, have to” and the like. Grace is always partnered with love.
As I entered Florida, at the first welcome sign, I pulled over and made a photo. “Welcome to Florida”! What a thrill! A smile that you couldn’t punch off my face appeared. There was a massive amount of personal achievement as I arrived, solo, to the furthest southern state on my trip. Although I had a few more miles to go before arriving at the house of my long-time-friend, Charlie, I was very satisfied. It was as though I could turn around and go home. But my trip wasn’t over nor was God’s lesson on grace.
I’ve known Charlie for 16 years. He doesn’t know it but I took a lot of cues from him in the early days of my ministry career. He taught me a lot about love, compassion and strength. Since that beginning, both Charlie and I have come through some hard times. Charlie’s were much more trying and severe than mine, without a doubt. As we shared a bowl of tuna dip at the local seafood dive, I saw in a man the living grace of God. Through tears and joy, God had walked with Charlie and lavished His grace on him many times over. Charlie became a living example of what it looks like for grace to be imparted. Like waves of the Gulf of Mexico, grace washes us from the sweat of trying to achieve through our own efforts and imparts refreshment that we could never earn. That’s the beauty of living grace.
My time with Charlie came to an all-too-soon end. I’d reached the point of my travel southward where I had to head north, to home, to my grace-filled wife and my crazy dogs. And although I’d collected a few Victory motorcycle T-shirts along the way to commemorate my trip, the lesson on grace was far more valuable, pleasant and life changing than I have planned. Grace is imparted, law is imposed, and that’s the beauty of grace!
There are a lot of things we can discover as we wander through life. Some of them are intentional, some of them aren’t. But think about this: As you evaluate your life, how you live and the religious system you function under (everyone has a religion, whether you admit it or not), what are you functioning beneath? Do you know the loving, saving grace of the LORD and are you living under it, every day, as it was meant to be? Whatever you do, find grace. I just happened to find it on a motorcycle.