As a high school student, I worked for a hardware store in Cedarville, Ohio. Fred Lutenberger ran the store—a fine man and a tough taskmaster. He sent me to the attic to clean the oily metal shavings from pipe threading, and each night I came home filthy. The work wasn’t fun; I felt I was getting the lowest assignments.
One day I was hard at work when a customer came in to make a purchase. No one was there to help him but me, so we made the twenty-dollar transaction. Stuffing the bill into my pocket instead of the cash register, I returned to my labor. I was in a hurry to be finished. When I arrived home, I found the store’s twenty dollars still in my pocket. It hadn’t been theft on my part—just an honest mistake. And yet, I got to thinking. This was a lot of money for those times. I was a teenager without much, and here was this boss underpaying me for hard labor. Why, he required overtime and didn’t pay me for it. I was able to create in my mind a complex rationale for keeping the money.
So I kept the money and went on about my life. But the strangest thing happened. I didn’t think about the money except in those times when I wanted to do something for God. And then the issue of the twenty dollars always sprang into my mind. It weighed upon me. But the problem was that any way I could think of to make restitution would embarrass me, as well as my father, who was the president of a local Christian college. Like David, I had entangled myself in a mess. My new rationale was that I was protecting my father from embarrassment by not returning the money.
Time passed; I attended seminary and married. Soon we accepted our first ministerial calling in Haddon Heights, New Jersey, working with youth. One day I received an invitation to speak to the young people at a Bible Club camp. So I set off alone for Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, in my car. During that trip, the old incident of the twenty dollars arose from the grave where I’d attempted to bury it. All the suppressed guilt came back, and I was overwhelmed with remorse. On a car trip alone there’s a lot of time to think and nowhere to hide. You can’t turn the radio loud enough to drown out a conscience.
I found myself computing the interest on twenty dollars over the intervening years. Soon I pulled over in a small town and pulled sixty dollars in traveling money from my pocket. I stuffed it all into an envelope and made out the address, without any note, to that old hardware store in Cedarville. An anonymous restitution. Now, I thought, I can have peace.
I’d repaid the money. I’d even been on the generous side in estimating the interest. But there were things I hadn’t done, too. I hadn’t confessed the sin. I hadn’t asked for forgiveness. I hadn’t moved through the steps that David laid out for us in these psalms. I found that the blot on my hand hadn’t washed away.
More years passed, and I became a pastor in Fort Wayne, Indiana. One day the hardware dealers came into town for a convention. So there I stood at the pulpit when the sanctuary door swung open and in came Mr. and Mrs. Fred Lutenberger. It was as if Nathan himself were coming down the aisle of my church, pointing his bony finger right at me.
The Lutenbergers found a seat in the third row. I can assure you I didn’t do my best preaching that day. I couldn’t help wanting the service to be over as soon as possible. After the sermon, there was a brief invitation. Then I came down and found the couple. “Come with me,” I whispered as I took each of them by the hand. I led the Lutenbergers to my study and asked, “Do you ever remember receiving an envelope with sixty dollars and no explanation?”
Fred Lutenberger nodded and looked at his wife. “Yes, as a matter of fact. That was a strange thing.”
Then I lost my composure. I began to weep as I told them the whole story. I’d been carrying the burden for all these years. A little thing—a few dollars—is enough, over time, to bring about misery, even destroy a life. I confessed everything, and begged for the Lutenbergers’ forgiveness. They quickly wrapped their arms around me and told me they loved me. They thanked me for doing the right thing. And I felt such joy that it’s difficult to put into words. I felt light enough to dance. An old, heavy weight had been lifted, and I was free.
Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. (Psalm 32:
David Jeremiah, Slaying the Giants in Your Life (Nashville, TN: W Pub., 2001), 12–14.
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