how much are we willing to forgive?

i had a weird experience a couple of sundays ago.

i was standing in the entry of our church building greeting people as they arrived when a big, cream-colored car glided by, slowed to a stop, and then backed up and parked in front of our building.  an old friend (whom i have not seen in years) got out of the driver’s side and greeted me.  the man that got out of the passenger’s side of the car i recognized immediately: it was larry lea.

for those that do not know (or remember) larry lea, here are a couple of snippets from his wikipedia page…

Following a stint as an itinerant preacher in the late 1970s, Larry Lea was invited to pastor Church on the Rock in 1980 with 12 people in Rockwall, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. Within 5 years, the church had shot up to over 5,000. In 1986, Lea began a television program called Change Your Life. Also, that year, Lea released his first book, the best-seller Could You Not Tarry One Hour?, which was his teaching on The Lord’s Prayer. He also began a partnership group where his partners were referred to as “Prayer Warriors”.

In June 1990, Lea stepped aside as pastor to oversee Church on the Rock International, which was a group of churches that was called a “virtual denomination” according to Christianity Today, that today includes over 350 in the U.S. and thousands worldwide.

A year later, ABC’s Prime Time Live aired an exposé involving Lea and fellow Dallas-area televangelists W.V. Grant and Robert Tilton. The incident involving Lea came as a result of his fundraising appeals, questions as to how much money was going to mentioned projects, and accusations that Lea implied a fire at one of his homes left his family almost destitute even though they still had the home in the Dallas area.

Lea’s organization had grown so quickly, he made the decision to allow the National Religious Broadcasters financial integrity arm, EFICOM (Ethics and Financial Integrity Commission), to audit his ministry to look into the charges. Their findings revealed that Lea had actually exceeded his original claims of what had been stated and presumed to be false by the ABC expose, though it did reveal Lea had been late in sending the financial audits from 1989 to EFICOM. Lea’s ‘second home’ was in fact under contract to be sold by a local Dallas real estate brokerage at the time of the ABC interview.

Nevertheless, his credibility and prominence in the charismatic community evaporated (though not as quickly as Tilton’s), as he traveled with Morris Cerullo at the latter’s crusades in the mid-1990s. Lea also claimed that he suffered a relapse of bipolar disorder. In 1994, he took a position as a pastor in San Diego. This lasted until 1997.

After 27 years of marriage, Larry filed for divorce in April 1999. Lea has since remarried and has returned to the Rockwall area.

larry lea shook my hand and explained that they were driving around the area praying for churches.  he told me he had asked god to bless my efforts.  lea also told me that he had been traveling internationally, and that his ministry was thriving.  my friend (the driver of the big car) told me i needed to schedule larry lea to speak in my church.  in fact, he was taking larry lea to speak at another church in my community (he told me the name of the church…they have a small handful of people on sunday mornings).

i did not respond to my friend’s invitation, but i am ashamed at what i was thinking.

i had a very negative opinion of larry lea and his ministry.  upon further consideration (and a little research), i realized that my opinion was based almost exclusively on hearsay.  the church attacked, and then abandoned larry lea (one of our specialties) and i had silently acquiesced.  i’m not saying that i will schedule larry lea, but i shamefully acknowledge that my attitude toward him was sinful.

along a similar line, on his blog last week carlos whittaker described an encounter with a volunteer at one of his concerts.  the guy was a convicted child molester who had moved to the area to start his life over.  he spoke frankly about being forgiven and set free by the power of christ.  carlos asked the man how he had been received by the church.  “i was kicked out of my last church. they asked me not to come back,” he answered.  “i’m thinking in 20 years i’ll still be outcasted for what i did. which was a disgusting and repulsive thing. i used to think i deserved death and harm until i met jesus. now i’m confused because he says i deserve grace and a second chance. but from what i see. i’m not getting one.”

if you have time, read the entire post here.

carlos whittaker has two daughters and a son.  he asked himself some hard questions: who am i to judge “healed” or not? how long should my friend be kept away from our children? will we ever believe COMPLETE healing happens? could i forgive this dude if it was my daughter?

i appreciate carlos’ honest handling of this difficult, delicate subject.  in fact, he had 337 comments and, for the most part, the dialogue was candid and grace-filled.  there are no easy answers this problem, god knows i don’t have one.  but these are the types of questions we (the church) need to wrestle with going forward.  and these are also the types of questions that we need to wrestle with as individuals.  these are questions i need to wrestle with.

because i don’t know whether or not larry lea sinned.  but i know that i did.

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3 thoughts on “how much are we willing to forgive?

  1. Powerful post Randy. You raise some very good questions and some very poignant accusations against the church. We are recipients of grace. do we give it? We don’t want people to pre-judge us. But do we do that to others? It says he divorced but do we know why? We need to be discerning but not harsh and too jump-to-conclusion-ish. You made me think. 🙂

  2. Last year I taught on the book of Philemon. There aren’t many verses in the book but it took some time to get through because forgiveness was a major topic.

    I remember asking the question to the class if forgiveness required forgetting as the old adage seemed to indicate. I don’t believe we came to a hard and fast rule for handling those two thoughts. Somewhere there is a balance between releasing the feelings that you have against someone and holding them accountable for past actions.

    Maybe the question we should begin with is this: How can we best give God glory in a given situation? I don’t think it is the same rote answer in every circumstance.

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