Recent comments by presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann have stirred up the discussion about gay marriage once again. While speaking to a group of high school…
I’ve had a chance to read a lot of articles on Provoketive about people who have had awful experiences in church life. These experiences put such a bad taste in their mouth, they ended up leaving for good. Typically, these experiences with church stemmed from one major problem – bad leadership.
I have to admit. Before my fall from ministry, I did some things I regret. I was very heavy-handed at times, I had a tendency towards legalism and I was very, very unforgiving. That being said, I don’t want to sound like a tyrant. Most people, I believe, remember me as a pretty decent guy. But the one thing I regret is my lack of forgiveness. It pains me to think about any I might have sent away with a bad taste in their mouth. They ended up rejecting church because of a man and never knowing the love of Christ.
My own peak of unforgiveness came with my relationship with my father. He and I were at odds for most of my life. He was very critical of me and had trouble expressing any love for me. While I was pastoring, he left my mother for another woman and I took that opportunity to judge him, condemn him and speak harshly to him. In return, he yelled right back.
I decided to shut the door on him completely. I hated him for how he had treated my mother. People would say, “Ray, you can’t do that. He’s your father.” I’d say, “I don’t care. If he wants forgiveness, I guess I’ll listen. But he has to come to me first. And he has to mean it.”
I was still in ministry when he died in an accident a year and a half after he left my mother. We had never reconciled. I had spent my days spewing venom at him. Toward the end, I tried to sit down with him and tried to have a civil conversation with him, but we would never have a father-son relationship.
A year later, my mother died in an accident and I found myself without parents, alone. Another year later, I committed adultery and needed my mom and dad more than ever. I began to rue the days when I cursed my father for his mistakes. I began to see him as human and understand that like him, I was imperfect. Woefully imperfect. I was, in fact, my father’s son.
And I began to understand the wide gap between the “forgiveness” of man and the restoration of God and how He wants us to practice it.
I began contemplating passages Like Matthew 18:12 where a shepherd has 100 sheep. One of them went astray. What did the shepherd do? Did he say, “Oh, it’s alright. I’ve got 99 other ones.” Nope. The shepherd left the ones that he knew were fine and he sought out the one. He didn’t wait for it to come back, he sought it out.
I started thinking about Galatians 6:1, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”
Paul tells the church that if anyone sins, that we ought to go get them and restore them. We shouldn’t wait for anyone to be thrown on the trash heap of society. We grab them, help them, shake them to their senses if we have to. But we walk with them and see that they are restored to the community of faith. We don’t stand idly by and hope that they come waltzing back one day and ask for our forgiveness. It’s our job to restore people.
Contrast that with my reaction towards my father. I was so angry, I wanted to ignore him. Forever. I wanted his heart to change. I wanted it to change the way I wanted it to change. I wanted him to act and conform to my standards. Sure, he was sinning. But I wanted nothing to do with his restoration. It was easier for me to sit and hate.
But that’s not what the community of faith is called to do. We are called to seek people out and restore them. That’s what Jesus does for us. He seeks us out. And as His representatives, He wants us to seek out those who need restoration. Is it easy? Nope. Does it require our time and compassion? Yes.
Ultimately, it is worth it. What Christ did to save us was worth it and He calls us to be sacrificial in our lives toward others as well.
Ray Carroll is author of Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World which is available at Amazon.com and is also available for the Amazon Kindle.