Wednesday, July 27, 2011

How Would You Treat Someone Who Robbed Your Church?

Wednesdays on The Wooded Path

Years ago, our pastor made a shocking announcement in church. He told us that someone had broken into the church office and stolen the previous week’s offering. I can remember just sitting there stunned. Anger swelled up inside of me. I wanted to go find this guy and share a few very unchristian thoughts with him.

The pastor went on to explain that the church security cameras had helped the police locate this man, and that most of the funds from the offering had been recovered from a field by his house. Whew!

 What the pastor said next didn’t compute or make logical sense within the normal workings of my mind. I wanted this guy to pay dearly for his offenses, but the church had decided not to press charges. But that wasn’t all. Apparently, this man had been living in captivity to severe alcohol and drug addictions. An associate pastor from our church had gotten him into a rehab facility and had been visiting him regularly throughout the week. Pastor Jeff shared that this man had a load of delinquent bills, then quietly set an offering plate at the front of the church. He invited the people in our fellowship to come forward and contribute to a “special offering” if they wanted to. The money would be used to help pay this man’s outstanding debts. I’m sure he wondered how everyone would respond. I know I did.

 What happened that day is one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever witnessed. Hollywood couldn’t have written it any better. In my memory banks, this one sits on hallowed ground. One by one, I watched my church family rise out of their seats and walk down the aisle to the front of the church. Entire families, children holding their parents’ hands, older couples, young couples, affluent, middle class, those with modest incomes . . . individuals from every walk of life filtered to the front. So many in fact that a line stretched down the center aisle of the church. People actually waited in line to extend grace and compassion to this man who had committed such a heinous act against the church!

To me, this was an incredible real-life lesson of the grace God has shown each of us! We’ve all rebelled (committed crimes) against the God of the universe. We’re all guilty, and He has every right to want to see us pay dearly for our offenses. God is a just God and I am thankful for that; but instead of giving us what we deserve (punishment), he had compassion on us and chose to give us what we don’t deserve. He saw our back story, our human condition, and our need then sent His Son as his “special offering” to take our punishment and pay the debt we owe for the “crimes” we’ve committed. 

If we’re going to be people of compassion, it is imperative for each of us to remember what God has done for us.

A couple of weeks later, the robber spoke to our church. With deep remorse, he confessed his crime, expressed his shame, and gave us a sincere and humble apology. He was incredulous about the money we’d given him and thanked us sincerely. He then shared that our actions had led to his decision to change the way he’d been living and put his trust in Jesus Christ.

So what do you think about this story? Do you think the pastor and this church accurately reflected the heart of God? Have you seen this kind of compassion in the church today?  Or did the thief deserve to be punished? How would you have handled this situation?

The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. Psalm 145:8-9
(New International Version)

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