Law vs Grace

Eph.2:8 – For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.

Many years ago, on the last day of moose hunting season in Southcentral Alaska I shot an illegal moose. My violation was not intentional, but the event happened. Here is the abbreviated story.

Early on a Saturday morning, the last day of moose hunting season, I was looking through the scope of my rifle.  The cross hairs fixed on a moose hiding behind a clump of brush and tall alders, a hundred or so yards away.

Mr. Moose was standing carefully in the trees as he repeatedly poked his head out from behind the branches to look at me tauntingly. With each of the rapid appearances I counted the number of brow tines on his rack to make sure he was legal to shoot. In Alaska, game regulations state that the male moose horns must be at least 50 inches in their span and/or possess three brow tines on either side. The brow tines are the small horns located on the bottom of the horns and protrude downward. Each time this moose extended his head out from behind the tree limbs, I would begin to count… one, two and… he would then quickly withdraw back into the tangled branches. I swear that moose knew how to count too. I was committed to not pulling the trigger until I was certain he was legal. After 20 minutes of playing this game with him, a snap was heard in the wooded area behind him. It startled him and he lunged from the alders toward the woods, and now I could see that third brow-tine. I was certain that I had a legal shot, and I took it.

When I saw the animal drop to the ground, I shouted THANK YOU JESUS while waving my left hand towards the sky in gratitude.  I then ran through the swampy terrain to where this critter lay and I stood above the lifeless body.  Then a deep loud and agonizing groan came out of me. OH JESUS!!! What I clearly thought was a third brow tine, was in fact a deformed horn hanging downward in the same area where the tines were located. Meaning, by law, this was not a legal moose. I then, in hope, measured the horn width only to discover that it was also 1 ½ inches short of satisfying the state minimum horn regulations.

In Alaska, hunting/fishing violations can carry very significant penalties when violated. I had personal knowledge of people who lost their guns, vehicles, and paid large fines for their errors and a couple of cases where jail time was served. Now, I was in that category. I remember my heart pounding and the intense sadness and fear I felt in the woods that day. How could I do such a thing? I stared down at that animal a long time and wondered, what do I do now? I then stood on the horns hoping to increase the width by 1 ½ inches, but to no avail. ☺  In pondering and praying, I then made the decision to field dress the animal, take it home, and turn myself in to the authorities.

I am aware that most Alaska hunters would have not reported their violation and just moved on. They would say that the measurements were close enough. I could not do that and be a man of integrity. I was sick to my stomach daily and terrified of the consequences and embarrassment awaiting me still.

By the way, I was the senior pastor of a church. The next day I was preaching a message on integrity. I had already prepared that message prior to that fateful Saturday morning.  I also knew I had to tell the congregation of what I had done, and I did.

I took the meat home and the next day a Trooper came to my home to collect the meat and to issue me a citation. On the ticket was the date to appear in court. I felt horrible and was on the verge of crying the entire time the officer and I loaded the meat into his truck. He tried to console me, but it did not help. I was too embarrassed to tell him what I did for a living.

When arriving at the courthouse weeks later to face the consequences, I found that my name was not on the court docket at the courtroom door. I went inside and asked an attorney what I should do? He told me to “call the office tomorrow and get another court date.”  I did that and reported to the courthouse again, now several weeks later. This time the same scenario took place again. I was then given another date to appear in court. Fast forward… Many months have now passed since the hunting incident. I arrived at the courtroom again, my name was on the docket. I finally was going to have my case heard and I would be able to unload this horrible emotional nightmare of guilt, embarrassment and fear.

There I was, standing before a Judge agonizing and anxiously imagining the worse-case scenario. The State Prosecuting Attorney sat at the table to the left of where I was standing. I was white knuckling each side of the well-worn wooden podium. When the Judge looked over my file, she looked at the prosecuting attorney while shaking her head, apparently confused. All of a sudden, the prosecuting attorney jumped out of his chair and shoulder butted me out of the podium. It knocked me off balance and I stumbled. He then took my place. He said to the Judge, “Your honor, I know that the recommendation in that file you are reading is not usual practice. But this man turned himself in. In my district, this almost never happens. That is why I have put the recommendation in the file as I have.” The Judge, in a very frustrated tone and motion acknowledged his statement. She then said to me. “Mr. Irwin the prosecutor is recommending that the Court fines you $100.00 to pay for court time and let you go with no future penalties. “How does that sound to you?”  I responded with a very shocked, big sigh. I then said, with a Cheshire grin, “that sounds like a good idea to me your honor.”  The gavel came down and the court audience erupted in laughter and cheers. I then walked out of the courtroom in a daze. I went across the hall from the courtroom and paid my fine.

When I walked away from the courthouse that day, I still felt sick to my stomach just as I had in the months leading up to that appointed day.  I intensely pondered why I was still feeling this anxiety, guilt and shame. After several days of continued internal misery, I had a revelation. The Law has no ability to pronounce forgiveness. All this time, I was so longing for the Judge to say, “you are forgiven!” But she could not and did not. The Law could only condemn. The Judge extended grace, unmerited and undeserved favor.

Grace is extended to you by Jesus Christ for your sins and mine. Gods plan is not for you to live your life in shame for sins you have committed. Turn away from your sin and turn towards God. Ask for God’s forgiveness. Rest assured the slate has been wiped clean.

There are countless people who need to have grace extended to them. So many desperately need to hear the words, “you are forgiven.”  

Rom.3:23 For all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. Man’s only hope is this amazing grace!

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