In my book, The Riches of God's Grace, I explain about a time when I was learning the difference from being grace-filled versus being a sin-noticer. The journey is illustrated nicely by two wedding stories. Here's part one.
The young couple had called our church and asked to meet with a pastor, saying they wanted to get married. Our new church was filled with young couples. I had high hopes of helping them fit right in.
They came into my office that Saturday morning holding hands, excited to be taking this next step. I had them sit across from my desk and we began to talk about their pending marriage. I always like to interview folks before I agree to marry them. It can be a good time to introduce them to the Lord as well.
Like many young couples do now--more today than back then--they had moved out of their parents' homes, found an apartment, and were already living together as man and wife but not yet married.
They had come to me wanting to be married by a minister. They said they wanted God's blessing on their marriage. They also said that they were Christians but hadn't become members of any church.
Sitting there while talking with them, I lost my ever-loving mind. Religious insanity gripped me.
I put on my (figurative) Pharisee's robe, stared straight at their blatant SEXUAL SIN, and proceeded to strictly judge them. I lobbed my religious stones at them, fast and furiously.
The first thing they would need to do, I told them, was move out, separate, stop seeing each other as man and wife, and go through our church's marriage counselling program--the elite version that our elders had designed, certain to make them strong disciples of Jesus just like we were.
The meeting did not go well. Their faces melted. Their smiles vanished. They left promising to discuss it and get back to me. They didn't argue with me or defy the man of God. They just left, looking defeated, rejected, sad and lost.
I failed to represent the Lord to them. Instead I presented our culture and values and rules. I had set the bar too high. I had dashed their hopes. They couldn't measure up. They encountered law instead of grace. And predictably, I never heard from them again.
At first, I was thinking that they were the ones who were wrong. Perhaps they weren't sincere. Maybe they were weak in the faith. I excused myself, proudly knowing that I had "stood for the truth." For a while, I kept on doing church as usual.
But something didn't feel right. I started noticing things we had allowed to creep into our church culture. Our pride, our certainty, our being exclusive, being better, being right; our conviction that all the other churches and all the sinners "out there" were wrong. I also noticed that we were not being evangelistic anymore but growing by attracting members moving from other churches.
I spent weeks sensing the Lord was displeased with me. I couldn't shake it. I began searching my heart, listening, asking the Lord what was wrong. I examined my motives. I examined my ways. I judged myself and saw where I had failed. And I repented.
God rubbed my nose in the spot where I had pissed on the carpet of grace.
I began to see what had been hidden in my own heart and what was concealed among us who were the church elders--an issue we were as blind to as the proverbial trees in the forest. (This article concludes with Part 2 next week.)
Ron Wood is a retired pastor and author living in NWA. His books are available on Amazon.com. Email: [email protected] The opinions expressed are those of the author.