Unloading Cargo

by Tom Wacaster

(note: originally written November 11, 2014)

Reading the title to this week’s column, you might think that what follows has something to do with hard labor, unions, shipping, or even personal burdens that someone might be carrying around on their shoulders. While I would be tempted to write on those things listed (and may even do so in the future, with the exception perhaps of commenting on labor unions), I will refrain from doing so at the moment.

I need to lay some background and tell you about an incident that occurred a few weeks ago.  Prior to our recent gospel meeting here at Handley I was placed in charge of preparing a newspaper ad to be run in the Fort Worth Star Telegram.  Due to my being out of town for the mission trip to India, I was running late, and the deadline was staring me in the face when I got home. So, I was sort of rushed to get things completed, and get the check to the Star Telegram office in order to meet the deadline. I finished the final details the day prior to the deadline and needed to get the check to the newspaper office.  Mailing the check by snail mail was not an option; a mail courier would be a waste of money.  So I chose to deliver the check myself. 

The business office of the Star Telegram is on Throckmorton St, in the heart of downtown Fort Worth; easy in; easy out. Getting into and out of downtown Fort Worth is much easier than a city like Houston.  I’ve been there, done that, and any future trip into what is commonly called “Oil City” is not on my calendar. The Star Telegram office closed at 5:00 pm, and when I arrived it was 4:30. Plenty of time, especially since there was a parking space right out front that was empty. The sign at the curb read, “Unloading Cargo: Reserved for Delivery to Star Telegram; 30-minute limit.” OK!  30 minutes to drop off a check. I can be in and out and on my way! 

The lady at the reception desk called the ad manager, located the paperwork, received my check, and gave me a receipt—five minutes max! I walked out the front door pleased that things had gone so smoothly. Wrong! Standing by my car was one of those policemen dressed in leotards, who rides the streets of downtown Fort Worth on a bicycle, pen and pad in hand, writing a citation. Since I got to the car before he left, he handed the ticket to me and proceeded to explain why he was writing the citation. He was kind enough to inform me that I needed a permit to park there, but that I could contest the ticket if I would appear before the civil judge within 10 days at the municipal court building a couple of blocks up the street.

Early the next morning I headed for downtown Fort Worth; easy in, easy out!  Locating a parking space by the curb was not a problem; how to pay the meter was not as easy. Fortunately, with a little assistance I managed to purchase enough time for a visit to the municipal court, see the judge and head home. I must admit the judge was very courteous, as she listened to my complaint that there was nothing on the sign that said “permit required.” The judge explained to me that the area was for unloading cargo and that permits were required, and that ignorance of the law was no excuse. But since I had no prior tickets on record, and since this was evidently my first time I had a run in with the law (that makes it sound like I am some kind of common criminal; I’m thankful they did not fingerprint me, take a mug shot an put me in a line up), and that the preponderance of evidence on my part was convincing, she rendered a verdict of “not liable.”  I walked out of the municipal court building a happy man. My $30 ticket had been overturned, and my faith in the judicial process was restored. Had I used a little wisdom I might could have avoided a citation in the first place.

On occasions I have made the statement that we often recognize what I call the “authority principle” in everyday life. On this occasion I was blinded by my preconceived ideas, and in my rush to drop off the check at the Star Telegram and go along my merry way I simply forgot to follow my own advice. Now for a few observations.

First, I assumed that the past guaranteed the present. My first experience in dealing with the Star Telegram business office was last year. When I dropped off the check then, I parked in the same place, conducted the same business, and did not get a citation. It was not because I was not breaking the law, because I was. I just did not get caught! The fact that I did not get a citation then, mistakenly reassured me that I was not in violation this time.  You might say that I was acting on tradition, misguided tradition, and even short-lived tradition, but tradition just the same.  How many people, spiritually speaking, act on tradition?  Long established tradition, or even short-lived tradition (as in the case of my experience) is not authoritative.  Jesus told us that the Pharisees made “void the word of God” because of their tradition (Matt. 15:6; Mark 7:13).  All that can be said about tradition is that someone did that before.  Tradition is not a safe guide for what you do in matters of religion.

Second, ignorance of the law does not make you innocent. I was unaware that I had to have a permit sticker to park where I did; but my ignorance did not excuse my actions. Paul warned us that our Lord will come again “in flaming fire rendering vengeance to them that know not God, and to them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thess. 1:7-8). Pay close attention to the words, “them that know not God.” Men will be lost because of sin. Unawareness of the remedy for sin does not change a person’s sinful state any more than an unawareness of a life preserver saves one from drowning.

Third, there is a proper standard by which all men will be judged. Paul told us there is a day when “God shall judge the secrets of men, according to my gospel, by Jesus Christ” (Rom. 2:16). Jesus declared, “the word that I spake, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:48). As I stood before the municipal judge of Fort Worth, she told me that the city ordinance regarding parking permits, citations, and the law was precise, clear, and distinct.  She even quoted book, chapter, and verse to me! The judge did not say, “I think,” “I believe,” “my fellow judge said,” or “I’ll excuse you because you were sincere and honest.”  Legally speaking, I was liable!

Fourth, I was reminded that mercy can, and often does, overshadow law. Notice I did not say mercy ignores law; there is a difference! The judge obviously had mercy on me; exactly why I may never know. I am grateful that God is willing to extent mercy to this poor, guilty soul. Without His mercy I would have no hope.  I am glad that God “delights in mercy” (Micah 7:18, KJV).  But I am reminded that mercy will only be extended to those who are in Christ, who have access to the blood of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:3).

Finally, I experienced the joy that comes with knowing I have been pardoned. OK, pardon may be too strong a word for being found “not liable.” But there was a certain sense of relief when the judge said that the preponderance of evidence would excuse me from the penalty. After the proceeding, she handed me a slip of paper that had this note under the section titled, “Penalty Assessed”: “Not liable; $0 penalty.” Beloved, is that not what our Judge will write on our eternal citation for sin?  “Zero Penalty.” Not because I was sinless, but because mercy was extended!  I confess that when the municipal judge stamped “$0 penalty” on my release paper I felt great joy. I will feel greater joy, immensely greater joy, when the Judge of all the earth stamps “forgiven” in the book of life and I am permitted access into that heavenly home that awaits all the redeemed.   Won’t that be a grand day?

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