Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Forgiveness (The Hardest Thing I've Ever Written)

This Sunday my husband Nate taught the last lesson in a series on the book Peacemakers by Ken Sande. I enjoyed the study because our church took an active interest in the subject. Nate needed more weeks to teach than he planned because people would ask questions and discuss the concepts. He usually only finished half his prepared lesson. All the discussion kept it lively.

Nate covered this material at our old church, but I taught a children's class at the same time, so this was my first time to be in a Peacemakers study. It helped me greatly.

I was most helped by the teachings on forgiveness. We are to keep our hearts free from bitterness and be ready to offer forgiveness at a moment's notice. This is possible only by the action of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. If we have a conflict with someone, we sometimes may need to pray, "Lord, help me to even WANT to forgive them. Forgive me for not wanting to!" The Holy Spirit will work in us to bring us to the place we need to be.

Keeping your heart free of bitterness and ready to forgive is not a one time deal. I have to shovel the bitterness out of my heart every morning, just like you would shovel out a horse stall. It is about as pleasant as shoveling an actual horse stall. And some days the horse eats more than others!

I learned that often we hold things against people because, when we examine our hearts, we think of someone's sin against us as more grievous than our sin against God. We are like the parable of the unforgiving debtor. We have been released from a debt of millions, yet we can't get over the couple dollars someone owes us.

Nate also taught on some verses that have meant so much to me in the past year:

"For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions." Matthew 6:14-15

"My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart." Matthew 18:35

And these two have become precious favorites of mine:

"Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you." Ephesian 4:32

"So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you." Colossians 3: 12-13

The first two verses are direct quotes from Jesus, giving us the command to forgive. The second two are teachings of the apostle Paul, showing us how to forgive. We are to forgive "just as God in Christ also has forgiven" us.

I once heard a teacher use the example of the apostle Paul's break with Mark over his desertion on a missionary journey to teach a wrong doctrine of forgiveness. The teacher said, "See, even Paul, though he forgave Mark, didn't accept him back right away. It takes time to earn back the trust and closeness of a relationship." At the time I pointed out that Scripture, while it never condemns Paul for his brushing off of Mark, also doesn't condone it. Likewise, it says nothing negative or positive about Barnabas' quicker reconciliation with Mark.

Nate teaches that we must never take the implicit in Scripture over the explicit. Our pastor here at Elm Avenue phrases it, "Don't use the descriptive over the proscriptive." This means we are never to take a story or example in the Bible, and use it to defend what we want to do, and ignore the clear commands that contradict our teaching.

To this false doctrine of forgiveness, I would now go to Ephesians 4:32 and Colossians 3:12-13 and ask, "Is that how Christ forgives us?" We don't even know the hundreds of ways we sin against Him daily, but when we are aware of one, and pray for forgiveness, what happens? Does the Lord say to us, "I forgive you, but I don't know when I will ever be close to you again?" Does He hold us at arm's length until we prove ourselves worthy? Sisters, that is the doctrine of works. We are saved by the grace of God, not our own worthiness, and we are to forgive as He does.

In the summer of 2011, my husband was diagnosed with cancer. He had surgery a month before to remove half his thyroid, and needed a second surgery to remove the other half. We had planned the logistics, who would watch Suzy, when his family would meet me at the hospital, arranged someone to preach in his place, and of course, choosing which of his books to pack, because if he had a lucid moment he would want to study.

It wasn't until the night before the surgery that we sat down and really talked about the big What If hanging over us. We didn't know if the surgeon would find more cancer in his remaining thyroid, or if it would spread to his other organs. We had a painful, tear-filled talk about what I was to do if he died. He advised me on where I should move (back near my parents), financial considerations, and some points on raising Suzy.

I cried, and Nate held me, through the whole discussion. I didn't want to lose my husband. My heart ached to think about it. On top of this pain and compounding it was my concern for Suzy. I had lost my father as a child, and I never wanted my baby to experience a loss that deep.

At the end of this conversation, Nate told me he had a friend in the church that he felt had pulled away from him lately. Even though it was late, Nate felt compelled to go to this man and try to work things out before his surgery. When he finally came home, he told me he had hurt the man's feelings. He asked for forgiveness, the man told him that though he did forgive him, he needed more time before he could
be close to him again. He was essentially keeping Nate at a distance.

I felt like I was shot through the chest, I was so shocked. Here I was, in tears and pleading with God to spare my husband, and this man was demanding more time. That is not Christlikeness. If your brother comes to you for reconciliation and you refuse him, you are in sin. If he is about to undergo cancer surgery, you are mean.

This spirit of hardheartedness and false forgiveness had already taken root. Nate is a good pastor. He is called of God to serve His people. I have witnessed this call of God in his life in the twelve years I have been his helpmate in ministry. As a pastor, he loves the flock. If someone has surgery, even at five a.m., he is at the hospital. If someone has housebound parents, he will visit them weekly. If someone needs help moving, mowing, mucking out, he will be there. If someone needs counseling, he will rearrange his whole schedule to do it. He will pour himself into his sermon so the people will hear God's word preached, because he knows that is most necessary to the growth of a Christian. He loves with his whole heart.

Two weeks before Christmas 2011, he was fired from our church. I remember the Wednesday night Nate was forced to resign. He had friends come to stay with me at the house, but I told him I wanted to go. If they were going to do this to him, I wanted them to have to look me in the face.

We were there early. I sat in the front row. I was trembling all over, not knowing what was going to become of us. We heard people arrive. To my shock, I heard people in the foyer laughing loudly and joking. I whispered to Nate, "This is like a party to them! They're happy!" I started crying harder. Nate took me outside to calm down.

As we went back inside, Nate stopped to say hello to someone, and I approached the doors to the sanctuary. The thought occurred to me that this was not a sanctuary for me any longer. I broke down in uncontrollable sobs. Heartbroken, I ran into the ladies room and into a stall, where I collapsed onto the floor.

Nate burst in and picked me up off the floor. He said, "I am taking you home right now." I told him I didn't wouldn't leave him to go through this alone. We went into the sanctuary together. I sat next to him, crying, as we looked out at these people we had served for five years. They looked back at us with hard faces. It was like getting divorced from twenty people all at once.

After Nate spoke, he asked if anyone had anything to say. Two men urged the church not to do this. When Nate asked if anyone else had something to say, no one spoke. Most didn't even make eye contact. Nate got up and led me out. After we left, they stayed for two hours talking about Nate, though he was not there to repute what they said.

And just like that, for ridiculous, unbiblical reasons, they excommunicated their pastor, the man God had sent to serve them.

We found work and a church here in Colorado, and moved far from friends and family. We lost friends. We lost our house. We lost our adoption. For many months, our life seemed like a spiral of loss and heartache.

We had other hurts. Our daughter's tears at not being in the Christmas program she had looked forward to. A text reminding us not to steal from the church as we cleaned out Nate' office. Our daughter's tears at not seeing her friends anymore. Threats to cut off our severance pay. Our daughter's tears that we couldn't go back to what had been her only church home. A letter written to the pastor of the church we started attending. Our daughter's tears at leaving our home. Family of church members storming out because we visited their church. (I think there's a theme here about my daughter.)

Though these type of hurts have abated since we've moved, I still deal with my daughter crying almost daily from homesickness. I still deal with grief. I still deal with not having adopted a child by now. I still deal with thinking of friends that didn't really love and didn't really care.

Maybe some of you reading this were a party to these events, either as an intentional planner and participant, or as a friend who was like a staff of reed to us, when we leaned on you you pierced our hand. Actually, thanks to google analytics, I know that some of you check this blog more than my mom does. I don't know why you read this blog, but I'm glad you do. That's why I'm writing this, to reach out to you. I blocked you from facebook and removed links to your blogs, because they tempted me to sin. I deleted your numbers from my phone. I don't have a holy reason for doing that one. I was just mad.

I realize that any sin you have committed against me, my husband, or my child is a minuscule fraction of the sin I have committed against God. I have been forgiven a debt of millions, I will not hold my two dollars against you. Should you ever want my forgiveness, it is here. If you want to leave a comment or email me, I am here. I know that God can do wonderful, beautiful things to work reconciliation in His church. I pray we see that happen.


  1. Lori--Thanks for your honesty in pouring out your heart. Blessings to you, Nate and Suzy!

  2. I read it when you post Lori, love Mom

  3. Oh the glory of the grace of God. Our great God removes friends, family, fame, fortune, and even former church members for the purpose of teaching us to be totally dependent upon Him for our comfort, stability, peace, hope, joy, and everything else that we need in this life and the life to come. I pray that all the losses in this life will result in all the gains in the life to come.

  4. thanks for sharing this with all of us. I am amazed at how well you and Nate and Suzie carry yourself, even after all this pain and hurt. Though I know how it feels to be torn away from all you know and cherish, I am so thankful that you are here amongst us here in CO. We are blessed to have you here with us. May we grow closer each day, so we can love you and help you heal from your pain. I know this family, loves you truly.