Earlier I shared a post in a series about how I became a follower of Jesus Christ. One of those posts dealt briefly with a series of events that have marked my life beyond all others. I shared about how my father had a stroke and was subsequently asked for his resignation as pastor. This series of events occurred when I was 14 years old and still impact me to this day.
My initial response was rebellion and hatred. For years I was bitter and clung to a hatred of the church in general and this church in particular. It was a poison in my soul. It wasn’t until years later that I would look back at this series of events and say with Joseph, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). And with the Apostle Paul, “For we Know that He (God) works all things together for our good” (Romans 8:28).
The transition took place when I found a way to forgive this church and trust God to remove the bitterness from my heart. In theological circles they debate this matter of forgiveness like its optional. Some say that we have a right to hold on to unforgiveness until someone repents of their sin against us. This is a position that I used to justify my greedy and unforgiving heart.
Then it happened. I was confronted with the simple text of scripture. Matthew 6:14-15 tell us that if we don’t forgive others as God has forgiven us, we won’t be forgiven. Some debate that God doesn’t forgive us until we repent of sin, but they miss the bigger picture. My repentance doesn’t merit God’s forgiveness. God’s forgiveness was purchased for me through Jesus Christ who died on the cross for my sin. God the offended, made the peace-offering. As the offender all I had to do was receive the terms of forgiveness. I needed to agree with God that I was a sinner, turn from my sin and follow Jesus (repentance).
So now, if I was to forgive others as I have been forgiven I needed to be the one who would make the peace-offering. That is what God did for me. That is what the king did for the servant at the beginning of the parable in Matthew 18:23-35 when he realized the servant couldn’t pay. He assumed the debt. That is what the servant is guilty of not doing with his fellow servant.
So one day I made my way back to the church where it all happened. I sat in the back wondering how one goes about forgiving a church and wrestling with what to do. Then they did something peculiar. They opened the door for the people in the congregation to share what the church had meant to them. I was resistant. I had a burning inside that I had to get up and share. Finally it seemed like they were closing the door for people to share and I awkwardly sprang to my feet and began the slow walk to the front.
By now the eyes of the congregation were on me. They knew who I was. I imagine they were all wondering at what I was about to say. Some gave me an ice-cold glare. Others had a sympathetic smile. Still others looked on with a puzzled look on their face. And I shared, “This church hurt me. Several years ago, you hurt my father and you hurt my family. You have left wounds on me that cut deep. I carry scars and nightmares to this day because of what happened here. But today I have come not to curse you, but to bless you. I forgive you! I forgive you all for everything!”
At this point tears were gushing from my eyes and knowing we were at the end of the service, I asked to close in prayer. I put my hands on their pastor and began to offer a prayer for blessing upon him, his family, and the ministry of the church.
Later that night I found out from the pastor and other that the church had begun a process of repenting of their past sins. I was blessed to have the pastor pray and offer a blessing over me. Today I pray for that church on a regular basis asking God to move in them.
Given my past it is somewhat ironic that God would call me into the ministry. Since then I have been blessed to serve with two really great congregations (one for over ten years) and alongside two great pastors.