A blog by Josh Humbert
I think there are times in life when you don’t fully realize the right choice you need to make until everything, and I mean everything, inside of you is pulling you in the opposite direction. In other words, maybe you finally recognize that you MUST go north when all you want to do is run south forever. It’s a curious phenomenon: a glorious epiphany in the midst of everything hostile to it.
I experienced this one day several years ago. It is a day sealed in my memory forever.
It was the day I saw grace win.
My father recently hit his tenth year anniversary as lead pastor of Thousand Oaks Bible Church in San Antonio, Texas. Our church isn’t perfect (none are) and my dad isn’t a perfect pastor (none are), but I want to tell you of one awesome day in our history.
When my father arrived ten years ago, our church was in considerable debt. For a smaller church like ours, it was an agonizingly slow process to chip away at this mountain of owed money. I remember quite a few years in a row when my dad offered and accepted to cut his own pay. Things were lean but we were making progress.
Then…the shocking and painful discovery was made.
One of the ladies who worked in our church office had been stealing money for some time. This wasn’t small time stuff either — it was confirmed that at least $73,000 was stolen. Even today, just typing that figure out takes my breath away. That was close to 1/3 of the debt we were trying to pay off.
The anger I and many others felt was strong. My dad was hurt and pretty upset. I’ll be real honest — I was ticked off. I’d seen my dad literally keep cutting his own paycheck shorter and shorter doing EVERYTHING he personally could do to help the church get out of debt…and here this woman was taking more and more. I’m not a man prone to a temper, but there was a rage inside me.
She needed to pay for this.
Initially, the normal steps to pursue justice were taking place. She would lose her church office job. The police were notified. Then there was the matter of adding this sum of stolen money into our church debt — just more to pay off.
However, my dad started to pursue a different kind of justice altogether.
Pops went back to the police and asked that no jail time be given. The police officer handling the case almost fell out of his chair and asked if Pops was serious. When Pops said he was serious in request for no jail time, the officer said, “Man! I want to know what church YOU go to, because I’ve never heard of anything like this. $73,000 isn’t a petty crime, this is a felony! I’ve never heard of such a request.”
Next, my dad went to some women in our church and put forth the idea of making her a “forgiveness scrapbook,” where our church members could make pages or write notes to tell this woman that we forgave her and still loved her.
Something rare and altogether different was happening now…
Soon, the woman contacted dad and asked about at least coming back to the church to attend services. Pops agreed but said, “you need to tell the church what you need to tell them.”
The woman got up that next Sunday with an 8-page script written out. She made it through about one page of her explanation before stopping and breaking down. She cried softly and repeatedly, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
The church presented the forgiveness books. Yes, that’s right “books” – plural. Our church body had filled up two books with notes of forgiveness and love to this woman who had wronged us and hurt us.
This wasn’t merely justice, it was MERCIFUL justice. The best kind.
But it paled in comparison to what was coming next.
“Josh, I haven’t told anyone else this and I’m not even sure I’ll do it…but what would you think if we take an offering for her at the end of the message this Sunday?”
I literally could not believe I was hearing my dad correctly. An OFFERING?? As in…let’s all get together and give money to a woman who has stolen so much of what we’ve given already?
Pops wasn’t joking. I didn’t even know what to say. Pops also wasn’t sure. We spent the afternoon talking through his upcoming sermon and how it would be about forgiveness. The idea of taking an offering for her would be a game-time decision. Dad wanted to preach the message and feel the Holy Spirit’s guidance in that moment.
That Sunday, my dad preached the lights out. He brought the Word of God in power. The whole message was on the theme of forgiveness and how true forgiveness is not just mere words, but a move of the heart. Just like Jesus said:
You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:38-42
Incredible words. Radical words. Truthful words. Forgiveness words. GRACE-FILLED words.
Words that reveal the awesome nature of true forgiveness and grace. To forgive someone isn’t to say a phrase or even just cease being angry at them. Graceful, Biblical forgiveness is to show love to them at great cost to yourself.
In the middle of that sermon, my defenses were shattered. I was done for. Everything in me had been angry and hostile. This woman had done our church wrong and she had done my father wrong. It was personal. All my flesh wanted for her was retribution and revenge. She needed GET what was coming to her!
And that’s when I knew the exact right thing to do.
Over and over and over in my mind, as my dad was preaching, I was just saying “Do it, Pops! Take the offering! Call for it! Call for it!” I don’t know why I kept repeating those phrases in my head. It’s not like Pops could hear me. It’s not like the Star Wars “force” is strong with me and I could somehow telepathically communicate this to him. I just knew I was the only one he had discussed the idea with and the one thing that felt right was mentally cheering him on.
It was that moment of glorious epiphany in the midst of everything hostile to it.
I realized all over again what forgiveness and grace were about. I no longer desired retribution and revenge for her — I wanted to BLESS her.
The time came. The moment of decision had arrived.
I love my dad and I would say without hesitation that he has lived an exemplary and godly life in so many respects. However, this day, this moment, this offering…I’ve been his son for 34 years now and I can say I’ve never been more proud of my dad than at that exact moment. He called for the offering.
“There are some little baskets up here on the altar. If you’d like to forgive her and show her grace, not just in word but in deed, you come forward and give as the Lord leads you.”
Tears flowed all over the sanctuary. People wept as they approached the baskets and GAVE to the one who had stolen. There were warm embraces and kind words between our church and her. This was the best kind of brokenness. Humble love. Reconciliation.
I witnessed others who had been angry now freely placing money in the baskets. I was privileged to look upon wonderful transformation happening in people (and myself) right before my eyes. I beheld the beauty of the Bride of Christ.
It was the day I saw grace WIN.
To that police officer and to the rest of the world, that idea sounds absurd. It doesn’t even make sense. It’s literally beyond their categories. Why? Why would we as a church forgive, bless, and give to one who has hurt us and done us wrong?
Well, that’s grace — and you see, this is what God has done for us, for ME.
I have done infinitely worse than steal $73,000. I have rebelled against the God of the universe. I have rejected the ways of the One who sustains my very breath. All my stupid arrogance and pride, all my foolish lust, all my inexcusable apathy, all my outrageous greed, and all my worthless self-righteousness are crimes worthy of eternal punishment. I SHOULD get the full and righteous wrath of the Holy God upon me.
But I don’t. Jesus stepped in and took that hit for me. The Cross. The Blood. Propitiation. Atonement. Redemption. Forgiveness. Grace.
At incredible cost to Himself, God made forgiveness and grace possible for us. Where we should face retribution and revenge, we instead find outrageous mercy, amazing love, and unending grace. He didn’t merely give an offering, He gave Himself. Completely. Sacrificially. Perfectly.
Our forgiveness and blessing to her wasn’t some loathsome obligation we had to perform. It was done from hearts melted by a renewed sense of the graciousness of our Heavenly Father toward us.
So why do we offer grace? Why do something so different than what feels normal? On what grounds do we offer this grace to others? Ours is the blood-soaked ground of Calvary, under the Cross of our King. That’s where grace begins.
As always, thanks for reading. Your comments and insights are welcomed. If you enjoyed this, please share it. You can also click the Follow button to be notified when I post new content.
Want to go further on what forgiveness is and is not? Here’s a clip I’ve found to be helpful: http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/videos-for-pastors/167039-mark-driscoll-things-forgiveness-is-and-7-things-forgiveness-is-not.html