Note: This is another guest post from my immensely talented wife, Dora. -Michael

For many years I worked in the meal plan office of a large university. In addition to making sure that the meal plans worked for the students, I was also responsible for answering the questions of students, parents, faculty or staff members. Most of the time the questions were what you would expect:

  • “When does my meal plan start?
  • “When is the last meal of the semester?
  • “When/How can I change/cancel my meal plan?”
  • “What happens if I run out meals?”

You get the idea. Sometimes, however, I would get a question that was unexpected. One that would cause me to have to pause for a moment before answering. One of those questions came when a mom called me early one morning and asked, “How many meals come with the Unlimited meal plan?”.

For a split second, I thought she was trying to be funny. Fortunately, before I opened my mouth, I realized she was being completely serious. I paused. Now, she didn’t seem to notice my pause, but it felt like an eternity to me while my brain raced to figure out a way to answer her question without implying that she was asking a silly or stupid question. Finally, the answer, “It depends on how many meals your student eats, I suppose.”, tumbled out of my mouth.

She was certain there was a catch. I assured her the only “catch” was that the meals could only be redeemed when our dining halls were open to everyone (no sneaking into the kitchen to make a 2 a.m. PB&J sandwich) and no taking meals out of the dining hall to eat later because of food safety issues. When she hung up the phone she seemed quite satisfied that the Unlimited meal plan was Unlimited, at least for the needs of her student.

Now, as silly as that mom’s question about the unlimited meal plan might seem, I find many of us asking the same question about God’s love, grace, and forgiveness. What’s the catch? We tell ourselves that we’re not good enough for unlimited anything from God. We get angry. We get jealous. We aren’t cheerful givers. Sometimes, we break our promises. The list of all our faults could go on and on.

The truth of the matter is that we aren’t “good enough” and we never can be. We live in a fallen and broken world. But that’s what is so amazing about God’s love, grace, and forgiveness. It doesn’t matter that we aren’t perfect, or that despite our best efforts we still make mistakes. He loves us anyway. He forgives us anyway. He pours His grace over us anyway.

But, there is a catch. It’s not that we can only receive His gifts during certain time periods or in certain places. The catch is that we have to accept His love. We have to accept His grace. We have to accept His forgiveness.

That’s it. The only catch to God’s unlimited grace is our choice of whether or not to accept it.

Can you make a comeback?

So my original goal was to have a blog post here about once a month, but unfortunately, it has been two months since my last post. I prefer to think I didn’t really fail in my goal…I just skipped March.

As the NFL Draft approaches this week, ESPN has been increasing its news coverage of the NFL, and as I was on the treadmill this morning, they had a story on JaMarcus Russell. JaMarcus Russell was the number one overall pick in 2007 NFL Draft and signed a contract with the Oakland Raiders for $32 million dollars of guaranteed money. After two disappointing seasons, he was fired by the Raiders and has not played a single minute of football for any NFL team since.

I have been following JaMarcus Russell’s story in the news, partly just because I am a sucker for the underdog. I love to see people overcome challenges, especially if the challenge is from their own mistakes. Stories of redemption are inspiring, but even more than that, they tell the story of Scripture. The Bible is one massive story about redemption and the lengths God will go to for His own children.

The story on ESPN showed JaMarcus’ efforts to improve his game, including losing 45lbs. and working with former quarterback Jeff Garcia and other experts to improve his throwing motion and decision-making on the field. The story also included quotes from JaMarcus’ family, who mentioned how much JaMarcus has matured and realized how much he does not want to fail in his goal of playing football again.

Many people will judge JaMarcus based on his results on the football field. If he never plays football again, he will be remembered as one of the biggest draft busts in history. Even if he makes it back to the football field, it would take years of exceptional play to erase the past. But in many ways, the journey is just as important as the result.

Don’t misunderstand me: results matter. If you are consistently failing to achieve your goals, there is something going on in your life that needs to be addressed, but don’t focus so much on the goal that you deprive yourself of the journey. Whether or not JaMarcus Russell ever plays football again, if his journey leads him develop a stronger work ethic, kick his codeine habit, and become a deeper (and hopefully Christian) man, then those are huge gains that are worth more than his ability to play football.

Once his comeback attempt is over, his journey will not be chronicled on ESPN, but whatever he gained during the process will still be with him.

Hard Reset

When working with a computer, many people (including myself) will get so frustrated with the computer, we force the computer to turn off by pulling the power cable out from the wall socket (just holding down the power button works too). It is called a power cycle or hard reboot; I have always thought of it as a hard reset. Sometimes we are not even frustrated, but we just recognize the computer can not do what we need it to do in its current state, and so we perform the hard reset.

I have been reading through Jeremiah for my morning devotional and I was struck by one of the notes in my study Bible. It said that 70 years passed between the exile of the Israelites and their return to the Promised Land. I thought to myself “it must have been a new generation of Israelites that returned to Jerusalem, because anyone who was exiled would have died in that time.” I do know there were some survivors of the Exile who returned to Jerusalem, but as a whole, it was new generation that came back to the Promised Land.

Then I remembered in Numbers 14 that Israel was forbidden to enter the Promised Land for 40 years because they had sinned against God and God wanted a new generation to enter the land. It was like God wanted to hit the reset button on the Israelites. He wanted to make sure they were not completely infected with sin the moment they settled in the new land; it would be hard enough to stay pure in the Promised Land as it was.

We need a hard reset too. Our new life in Christ is the Promised Land and we can’t be infected with sin to live in it. Perhaps you are a new Christian and are struggling and learning new ways to live and relate to others. Maybe you have been a Christ follower for awhile, but sin has snuck in the back door when you weren’t looking.

We will never be perfect; we are sinful creatures, but our encounter with God should change us in radical ways! Whatever that is…you might know already what God wants you to change. Oftentimes we need a hard reset…and sometimes God does it for us.