College graduation not only awarded me a degree, but also a draft notice. One summer during this involuntary service, I took leave to work as a counselor at our church’s annual Bible camp in Wisconsin. That weeklong event had been formative for me as I was growing up, and I wanted to pay back by working for those who followed. At the time, the bank and I owned an old, tired car—the only kind a recent college graduate now army private could afford. It was also the very kind a kid in my situation could not afford. Managing the minimum down payment and monthly thereafter with otherwise unnecessary interest rates left nothing for repairs of all that kept breaking.
While away at camp, the universal joint went out in the car. It had to be repaired immediately so I could get back at the end of my leave and not be charged with AWOL. I had enough cash to buy gas but not repairs. My pastor lent me the money and I had it fixed.
I suppose it took me two or three months to scrape together enough from a private’s pay to settle the loan. I had to forego things, but I did so eagerly. I surprised myself as to just how eager I was to make repayment and how satisfied upon reaching my goal. Although I respected my pastor and loved him, repaying him became unaccountably important to me.
I sent him a check, which he promptly returned. Written across was “voided.” I remember the attached note and will always remember the exact words: “It is a gift, and a gift it will remain.” End of matter.
I had presumed it was merely a loan, because the car was my problem, and there was no reason for him to give any money to me. My father had always worried that the church didn’t pay the pastor enough, and I presumed that, like me, he had none to spare. Yet, I knew immediately what Pastor meant. Although he didn’t use the words in this brief note, I could hear him saying what I had already heard, “It pleases me to do this.”
Not just that he was willing, but that he wanted to do it. It wasn't just being “happy;” he found joy in its doing. I stared at the voided check thinking about its meaning. There was something here I didn’t quite grasp. Well, here I am telling you about it. And that was sixty-four years ago.
My pastor wasn’t the greatest preacher I’ve ever heard, but he was a good man. Goodness was part of his very being.
Although I still had a lot to learn about life, even then I recognized this much. It would have been a moral offense for me to try to push repayment on him. This would have reduced the act to a commercial transaction when it was, in fact, an act of love in goodness and generosity.
Not the end of the story, it was several years later I finally recognized why it had been so terribly important to me to save enough to send to my pastor. However, even at the time I had understood enough about my motivation to know my thought had not been repayment of a debt, getting it off my mind, or settling an account. If this were so, I wouldn’t be remembering it now. There was more.
Pastor’s goodness did something for me, but it also did something to me.
I’ve since learned the New Testament word for “goodness,” agathos (as in the fruit of the Spirit, Gal. 5:22), is an inner quality that unselfconsciously and by its very nature expresses itself outwardly—a generosity that springs from the heart that is itself kind.
My pastor was a good man, and doing goodness pleased him. That’s just the way it is.