3-crossesThe email asked if I was ready for my ministry the coming weekend. It came from a pastor friend in Miri (Sarawak) and it left me cold. I didn’t have the ministry commitment in my planner. I vaguely recalled that this was a teaching commitment for 2017. I checked my 2017 planner and there it was — a commitment to do some teaching in my friend’s church in Miri. I then checked my emails. The commitment was for 2016!

I was very angry with myself for making the mistake. I don’t like failing people. I wondered if this was another sign of my ageing. I contacted my friend to confess my mistake and to see how we could redeem the situation. I was down to speak on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The Sunday was completely out. I had to be in Singapore for an appointment I could not break. The Miri church arranged for me to do my Sunday stuff on Saturday. I would fly into Miri on Friday afternoon, teach on Friday evening, and spend one night in Miri. I would teach on Saturday and take the late flight back to Singapore on the Saturday night so I could be back in Singapore to minister on Sunday.

And as is so often the case, my darling wife was key in helping me to resolve the mess I had made. First she was my “emotional sink” and helped me calm down and regain perspective. Then she did her magic and tracked down and booked the flights I needed.

Then there was the matter of a small group I was supposed to lead on the Friday. They were very understanding and, after considering various options, decided to shift the meeting to another Friday. I was very touched by their kindness.

I flew to Miri and had a significant time of ministry. I enjoyed catching up with my old friend the pastor, met another old friend, and made many new friends. We discussed the possibility of my coming back again next year. And just to be sure, they said they would remind me much earlier and book my tickets.

I had made a mistake — I had confused the year I was supposed to minister in Miri. But everything was ok in the end because of the grace I received from so many — the church in Miri, my small group, and my wife.

Grace is essential in a fallen world. I learnt this a long time ago. I had made much worse mistakes in my life. Grace brought healing and allowed my life to continue. This is the gospel. Humankind had fumbled big time. We had tasted of the Lord’s overwhelming love yet we still bought snake oil in the Garden of Eden.

But God defined grace by coming to die for us, to make things right again. Grace is no mere doctrine. It is essential for life. One sign we know we are recipients of grace is when we extend it to others. Jesus said: “Freely you have received; freely give.” (Matthew 10:8 NIV)

To receive grace is also to be humbled. It is the recognition that one has fumbled and that sometimes one cannot fix one’s own mess. It is to humbly receive the gift of grace from others, often costly, so that life can continue. How is it then that I so often find it hard to extend grace to others? Here too I need grace.