A Safe Place for Sinners

One of those sayings we like to use in the Christian realm is, “The church isn’t a showcase for saints but a hospital for sinners.”  Another famous one is, “Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar how they found bread.”  These are great sayings and ones that I am sure are lived out in the lives of many Christians.

I just don’t feel this today at all, nor do I see it being lived out nearly enough where I live.   I’m a sinner.  A bad one.  And I don’t feel like I can go to church right now, because my sin is too messy.  I haven’t really known how to communicate what I am feeling just talking about it.  I write much better than I talk.  

Someone from church asked me the other day when I tried to explain why I was feeling ostracized, “Are you saying that we aren’t showing you grace?”  No, that wasn’t what I was saying at all. They’ve tried to show me grace, but something is missing.  

Today I started to see more clearly what it was.

Recently, I went to my pastor and confessed a major sin I had been caught up in.  I was convicted by the Holy Spirit to do so and bringing this secret out into the light really gave me a lot of freedom, just because I didn’t have to carry this secret around anymore.  But the way the way my pastor and the leaders have dealt with my sin has been an absolute train wreck.  

Let me just give the gist of what happened.  I went to my former pastor years ago to be counseled for sexual abuse that I’d suffered at the hands of my father when I was a little girl.  In the process of that counseling I was manipulated and what resulted was a totally inappropriate  relationship that my counselor calls abuse not an affair.  There are two camps on this issue.  Some will say it was abuse. Some will say it was an affair.   Actually three camps, some call it both. Can I just simply things and say it was sinful, no matter who was to blame? However, I will say I am in the camp that says it was abuse from the beginning and God knows that and God forgives everyone involved that trusts Him for salvation. Dealing with abuse in a Christian environment doesn’t need to be taken lightly. I’ve written a whole another blog on that subject.

That’s not what I am here to write about.  I’m here to write about sin and how the church reacts to it.

After I repented of this sin, I was forced to have my name given at a congregational meeting so the entire church could be told about my former pastor’s sin.  They said the congregation needed all the facts including who I was in order to protect the church from hearing it through malicious gossip. Well, so much for being a victim of pastoral abuse and having a voice. Can you tell I feel sorry for myself? Well I do!

After that congregational meeting a couple of weeks ago everyone has known what I did, and since my husband and I were out of state in counseling and not at the meeting I don’t know if the sins were called an affair or abuse.  I’ve heard different interpretations from people there and I still don’t know the truth.  I apologize, I’m a little sarcastic, too. 

People in the church don’t know what to say to me. The few that have tried have said they miss me and they forgive me and they are praying for me.  I’m very thankful for those kind words.  They could certainly not be so gracious and call me names that would be true.  I also have three ladies who have stuck by my side, cried and listened to me feel sorry for myself and get angry at everyone.  It’s been a rollercoaster ride.  I couldn’t have made it without those ladies. 

But the leadership hasn’t communicated to me what these people have. Rather, they’ve been trying to do damage control by holding  meetings and making sure the church gets “the right message” which resulted in my only voice at the congregational meeting, a letter my counselor and I composed, being edited without my permission.  But that didn’t stop the gossip in the community, because it’s already being talked about at school football games.  I’d be unrealistic to expect anything different.  Too many people thrive on gossip, and when it involves a pastor it makes it that much more juicy. 

I can honestly say I’ve hurt more over this mess than I’ve ever hurt over anything.  I would give anything to change the past but I can’t. Some might ask what could anyone do to make this easier for me. How can the church become a safe place for a sinner like me?

I read this article by Alex Duke http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/what-if-told-you-place-ray-rice on Ray Rice today on the Gospel Coalition blog. The writer of this article was talking about how there was room in the church for Ray Rice.  He said this,

“What if I told you this kind of place exists? What if I told you that God intends the Christian life to be lived out in public, with other Christians who won’t let you pretend and languish in your so-called privacy?

What if I told you that, every Sunday across the world, former cowards and cold-cockers, former lazy-legs and door-proppers, former God-haters and Bible-disbelievers, former chauvinists and misogynists, all come together as one enfleshed gathering, one body of Christ, for the purposes of singing to and worshiping the God who both saved them individually and united them all to each other corporately?

What if I told you there’s a place where even the most hardened abusers can reconcile with God? Where victims can find safety and the grace themselves to forgive?

Better yet, what if I showed you?”

That all sounds good.  The church is a hospital for sinners, right?  A place where we can come, recover and find grace.

Maybe it’s a place to come clean up my act, but if I mess it up I don’t get to stay?  That’s not the Gospel.
Rather, the church is a place where we can come and be loved and shown grace even when we fall. 

I watched Tullian Tchividjian this Sunday rather than going to church.  Listening to his sermon, encouraged my heart so much.  In his sermon he described a near car accident where Tullian is cussed out by the other driver who almost hit him in front of a  bunch of kids from the school associated with his church.  Tullian stayed calm and controlled the entire time. Once the incident was over the kids were ready to give him the Christian of the year award for staying cool and not knocking the other guy out. Rather than allow those students to believe he had his act together, Tullian tells the church the following Sunday what he really wanted to do to the guy cussing him out which was take a gun and shoot him. He admitted the sinfulness in his heart and his desire to commit murder.  Once again revealing that the Gospel is for sinners, and yes, even the pastor does it.  I would feel right at home and safe in Tullian’s church, because he gets it.  The church isn’t a showcase for sinners. It isn’t the place where the sinners in the world look at us and compare their lives with ours and say they could never fit in.  It’s a place where we are just like them, but the only difference is we have found hope. 

I confronted the elders the other day about how I’d been hurt that they’d given my name at the meeting. I asked the question how would they feel if someone named all their sins in front of everyone. They didn’t have a reply.  I think about my own sins in the course of a day, the little white lie to make someone feel better, the judgement I feel toward the guy walking down the street with his pants hanging down that I don’t know, the short words at my children that hurt them, the thoughts I linger on too long. They all indicate the sin in my heart and my need for God.

Maybe the church could  make more of a difference in the world when we just start to be honest about our own sins. Maybe if we didn’t try so hard to keep ourselves looking so good others might recognize Christ’s strength in our weaknesses, rather than our own strength. Maybe if we were more honest with each other about our sins we would know we don’t have to pretend. Maybe we could forgive and love instead. Maybe then the world would see our love and call us His disciples. I long and I pray for God to place our family in an environment that looks more like an AA meeting than a showcase.   A place where I don’t have to sweep my sins under the rug, but rather confess them to my Christian brothers and sisters and be healed. A place where we can walk this Christian walk together bearing one another’s burdens. A place where all is grace and Jesus is on the throne giving it freely.

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