Repentance


A few weeks ago I had the privilege to read Grace is for Sinners by Serena Woods. I say “privilege” because this autobiographical book gives a look into some very difficult aspects of Serena’s life and she presents them with grace, honesty, and humility.

Serena, although being a Christian, made some choices that did not adhere to the standards the Lord has given to us and she is transparent about the choices she made, the effects of her sin, and what the results have been in her life. Serena, while married, became involved with a married man and committed adultry. The results of her moral failures shattered her life, her relationships, and shook her faith to the core. She honestly tells about the questions she asked, the struggles she walked through, and the reactions she received from others.

This book holds some very powerful messages if people are willing to listen. For those who have made choices that led them into sin, Serena talks about coming to terms with those decisions and accepting that although she never thought she was capable of this type of sin it was now her story. For those who have faced rejection, banishment, or judgement from other Christians when they needed love, there is a message of understanding, and some direction for how someone might overcome the pain and the disillusionment. For those who want to provide safe, loving, and redemptive places for those who have been hurt or who want to be restored after sin, this book gives a fantastic glimpse of the pain and suffering someone may go through and the issues they may wrestle through in coming back to faith.

Serena is honest about the struggle she faced to accept her own sin, and to find some message of hope. She knew that she had made mistakes, but longed to set things right and to be restored to faith. The honest and authentic approach to her quest for resources, words of encouragement, and places of truth and hope provide the reader with a heartfelt understanding of her pain and desire to change.

Serena’s answer to her pain, her sin, and her quest for answer led her straight to the Word of God. Scripture became her place of truth, and strength as she looked for answers. That message above all others is the one that I believe we need to hear. She didn’t find the answers in the sinful relationship with the man she became involved with. She didn’t find the answers in the words or support of friends and family. She didn’t find the answers in books, podcasts, journaling, or attending church services. She found her answers, her hope, her path toward righteousness and restoration by turning to God’s word and learning about God in new ways. Her relationship with Him became the most important thing. She now knows that her lack of relationship and understanding of the Lord kept her from recovering, and through growing in her knowledge of God and scripture she now has a firm foundation that drives her life, her recovery, and her quest for hope and purpose. She is now a living testimony that God can redeem lives. She is now a living testimony that Grace is for Sinners, and she is developing a faith that will be immovable. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). Serena is a witness to the power of grace and its power to change lives.

I commend Serena for her honest and authentic and transparent presentation of this time in her life. She does an amazing job of sharing the hardships and pain that her own decisions led to, and how difficult it was to return. She also presents us with hope that returning from a place of devastation and rock bottom is possible.

Thank you Serena for the message of hope and the witness of the Lord’s restoration.

It truly was a privilege to hear your story, and to see God at work in your life!

Check out Serena’s blog at http://www.graceisforsinners.com/

I have been reflecting on the differences between forgiveness and reconciliation and the Biblical support for both. My heart conviction is that because I have been forgiven by the Lord I understand forgiveness. I have been reconciled to him. As he has changed and altered my life and heart I am now able and called to give forgiveness to others, offer them grace, and work toward reconciliation. With the Lord at the center of the relationship I truly believe forgiveness and reconciliation is not only possible but necessary between two believers. Many I talk to do not share this same conviction though. They feel it is okay to say “enough is enough” and walk away from a relationship. They feel it is okay to create boundaries that keep the others at bay. While I am a strong support of discipline, boundaries, and accountability I believe these are only successful when done in love and with a heart of teaching others rather than building walls.

Steve Cornell has posted a good Biblically based article on Forgiveness and Reconciliation at his blog. Check it out for the full article, but here are two lists he posts: Actions the offender needs to take, and Guidelines for the offended.

The offender:

1. Accepts full responsibility for his or her actions. (Instead of: “Since you think I’ve done something wrong…” or “If have done anything to offend you…”).
2. Accepts accountability from others.
3. Does not continue in the hurtful behavior or anything associated with it.
4. Does not have a defensive attitude about his or her being in the wrong.
5. Does not have a light attitude toward his or her hurtful behavior.
6. Does not resent doubts about his or her sincerity- nor the need to demonstrate sincerity. (Especially in cases involving repeated offenses)
7. Makes restitution wherever necessary.

For those who are hesitant to reconcile: Ten Guidelines to consider

It is common for those who have been seriously hurt to feel hesitant about reconciling with their offenders. When your offender is genuinely repentant, however, it is important to open yourself to the possibility of restoration. Remember, Jesus spoke about reconciliation with a sense of urgency (see Matthew 5:23-24). If you are hesitant to reconcile, work through the ten guidelines on the next pages.

1.     Be honest about your motives
2.     Be humble in your attitude
3.     Be prayerful about the situation
4. Be willing to admit ways you might have contributed to the problem
5.     Be honest with the offender
6.     Be objective about your hesitancy
7.     Be clear about the guidelines for restoration
8.     Be realistic about the process
9.     Be mindful of God’s control
10.  Be alert to Satan’s schemes


I had a good discussion with someone this week about responsibility. An insurance company has a commercial out talking about responsibility. I like the commercial, but sometimes as I watch it I am left feeling that it is easy to do the right thing. Sometimes it is easy, but sometimes it isn’t, and when it involves other people it can be very messy.

If I make a decision to share information with someone I have made a choice. I am responsible for the choice I made to share. The other person would not have known the information if I had not shared. They are responsible for their choices regarding what they do with the information, but I am still responsible for the information I shared in the first place. That is exactly the situation from my last church. I made a choice to share information with T. She was a leader of a home group, the second eldest woman in the church, and by all I could see of her life she is a believer who is seeking to live a Godly life. I shared my story and my struggles with her and asked her for help. My intentions were good and were not to hurt anyone but were to work through all issues and resolve any conflicts that existed.

I made a choice.

I choose to share my story with T.

My choice cost me.

I believe T was well-intentioned, but I have learned that she does not have the best judgment about what and how to share with others. What T did and said are between her and God. I can only be responsible for my decisions and actions.

I am responsible for my decisions and actions.

When we do or say something we are responsible for it. Our feelings might change from when we first said something, but we are still responsible for what we said. Our heart might have been in the right place but our words may not have adequately reflected our heart…we are still responsible for our words.

In this case the things I shared with T made it back to the pastor and he interpreted it as me speaking against him. That was never my heart and I do not believe my words said anything like this, however I did share that there was relational and communication struggle between us. Due to this I was charged with disunity. I didn’t stand in front of the church body or even a group of people and say anything that blatantly opposed the pastor. I told a woman my story in confidence. I had prayerfully considered speaking with her. I went with a heart that wanted to work through things and not hurt anyone. However, I still made the choice to share.

I have to accept the fact that I did speak in a manner that caused disunity.

I have to accept that I stood against my pastor because I told someone that conflict existed.

It wasn’t my heart to hurt anyone, but in reality I did.

It wasn’t my heart to cause disunity, but in reality I did.

I did seek to share my story with others, but in reality it was shared.

I turned to a friend to seek counsel and guidance, but the friend I turned to was a bad choice.

I came seeking assistance to resolve things, but because I choose the wrong person the conflict grew.

I wanted to find resolve, but instead I took comfort in the fact that T shared some concerns and frustrations she had regarding the direction of the church. That was gossip and it was wrong.

I wanted to walk through the struggle with others, to be in community, to share life with others, but I did not do that in a healthy manner.

I am learning that taking responsibility and admitting our faults and shortcomings is hard, because our mistakes are not always made with an intentional heart.

I take responsibility for my words, my actions, and my choices. I was hurtful and sinful in the choices I made and I have to walk through the repercussions of those decisions. I repent of those choices and would not make them again.

In my case that means I can’t have relationship with people I love. I am not able to share life and faith with people I consider family. I am not granted forgiveness by leaders and others that I consider friends. The price I have to pay is high for the choices I made, but that happens at times. Many people have had to pay prices for being on a road when a car accident took place, being in a town when a natural disaster took place, or being at a wrong place at the wrong time.

Responsibility is hard, very hard, but I am learning that it is important to take responsibility. It is what a person of integrity, character, and truth should do. It is what I as a Christian believe Christ asks me to do.

One of the struggles I have wrestled through during my recovery over the last five years has been the idea of revenge or retaliation. It isn’t something I have come out and shared with others. It isn’t something I feel good about at all! It is that deep dark secret I have tried to hide because it shows me the depth of my heart and how sick it is. I have carried shame and guilt for these feelings. I have felt so despicable for the thoughts, but I have also had to come to terms with the fact that my feelings were real, and if I did not deal with them now they would just show up later in some other form.

What do I mean by revenge in the context of my spiritual abuse and struggle with church leaders?

I have been tempted to want to make them pay for what they did to me. I have wanted to tell others how I have been wronged in a manner that hurt and slandered the leaders.  I have wanted to smash windows, flatten tires, destroy property, slap them in public, or pour a drink over their head. The week I was suicidal I even thought about where I could die so they would find the body and feel the guilt over my death.

First, know that I feel horrible for every thought that went through my heart and mind. The thoughts were wrong! They were sinful! They hurt my relationship with those from my past church and they hurt my relationship with God. I have repented of those thoughts and have worked with God over why I ever even had to experience the thoughts and feelings, because while the world might tell me it is okay to think and feel them, just not to act on them (some would say it is even okay to act on them), I don’t feel that God’s word agrees. Yes I had been traumatized and hurt. Yes there are things others did that I consider wrong, but I did things wrong also. I can’t cast a stone at them knowing the sin and issues in my own life.

I haven’t known what to do with these thoughts and feelings though.

They were strongest at first. I was in so much pain from how I was mistreated that pain was all I could think of. My pain, wanting to give them pain. I knew it was wrong but I still thought it and felt it. I would try to force the feelings to go away. That doesn’t work. I would deny it was there. That doesn’t work. I would try to express it through writing or some other means. That at best was a temporary relief. I would lay awake at night feeling sick because of the thoughts. I would catch myself during the day wishing something bad upon someone.

Ultimately I had to deal with my heart. I had to make a choice to forgive. I had to make a choice to love. Even if they never spoke to me again I had to forgive them for me. My pain was eating me up inside and costing me tremendously. I had to find freedom because I was trapped in pain. I had to let go and surrender my right to get even. I had to surrender every vindictive, vial, cruel, hateful, evil, malicious, angry, painful, unloving thought and feeling.

It was hard! Very, very hard!

Today, I don’t live with the burden of revenge in my heart. I do not feel the hatred, but honestly feel love, compassion, grace, and forgiveness. That doesn’t mean that I don’t experience moments where my heart wants to deceive and betray me again, especially if some new negative aspect arises. That doesn’t mean that I don’t still have to fight for forgiveness and love. It is a choice.

Every day I choose to love, I choose to forgive, I choose to hope for reconciliation.

The reconciliation likely will never come as the elders have cut me off from any further contact with the pastor, and this week they were supposed to finally present the charges against me  (that should have been given eight months ago), but that didn’t happen. However, because I have chosen love and because I have hope in Christ and the Gospel I have hope that some day their hearts will be drawn to the Lord and they will forgive.

Revenge …. retaliation … hatred … pain … … … I have given them up and am trying to live with my eyes on the Lord.

At times on the recovery journey things happen or days occur when our hearts are heavy, things seem out of sorts, or circumstances lead to difficult steps. How we choose to handle those times makes a big difference in where we go and how we move forward in the bigger picture. They may seem like small things but they do affect the bigger picture of where we are trying to go.

One thing I have been learning about is perception. Someone who is in the midst of the last stages of marriage expressed deep sorrow to me when they shared their spouse has a perception of injustices that were done in the past that they can not move past. This person has set their mind on a certain belief and even though others don’t agree with it they continue to stand firm in their convictions. Due to that the other spouse has found there is no further room for communication, compromise, reconciliation, or restoration.

If you have experienced relational struggle, abuse, injustice, rejection, or abandonment then what is your perception? Do you believe the others were completely in the wrong? Have you taken responsibility for your part? Are you willing to accept that your perceptions may in some ways be incorrect? Can you see ways others are holding incorrect perceptions? Could the perceptions you have be the cause of the problems in the first place? How do you respond when others have incorrect perceptions about you?

The elders and pastor of my last church hold a perception of me that is incorrect. I have tried to correct it but they continue to believe that I desire to hurt the pastor and the church. It actually is the exact opposite of my heart. I have protected them and spoken highly of them so many times. I love the pastor very, very deeply. They are Christians who are part of the family of God and as such there is no need for division, hostility, brokenness, or separation, and I do not have any intention or heart to divide or disunify God’s family. I keep trying to see the situation through their eyes, through their perception, but so far I can’t find that point. I want to take responsibility for my parts, to repent of all sin, and to rectify things. Recently I was told that the elders still are open to see my repentance and to reconciliation but the pastor will no longer be involved in any communication with me. There are perceptions held on both sides that keep us from finding common ground. I wish it was different. I wish our hearts were not hardened against God’s ways, and that we could choose love, forgiveness, grace, healing, and unity. I miss my friends and “family” that I am separated from at that church, and I am really concerned about the future impacts of this brokenness on the Christian community in Portland. May God continue to redeem this and bring repentance, truth, and life where other things exist.

I was raised in a mainline denominational church. There are many things I love about the churches I attended growing up (we moved every few years so I went to several that I remember), but there are few things that I did not learn about in that denomination: the Gospel, making a personal commitment to Christ, putting off the old self and putting on the new, and sin.

I remember in late high school or college I struggled at times to even see sin in my life because I wasn’t doing things like drinking, drugs, lying, cheating, stealing, sexual misconduct, or even dishonoring my parents. I was a “good girl”, in fact I was often ridiculed because of that. Occasionally something would come up that I would struggle with, but usually I dealt with it quickly and moved on.

Over the last couple of years I have learned a lot about sin and where it exists in my life. It isn’t in my actions, but in my underlying beliefs which then affects my actions, especially in relationships. Again, it isn’t that I am blatantly doing those top recognized sins or living in ways that oppose my Christian beliefs, but instead I doubt, fear, struggle with my beliefs, and believe things that give me a wrong starting point so every step I take from there is incorrect. It is like the bird who accidentally flies into a room through an open window and keeps banging on the closed window on the other side because it can see out, but the bird has the wrong belief that this closed window will let it free, it only needs to turn around to see the truly open window behind it.

Sin is anything that separates, divides, or leads us from God. It truly starts with our deep, underlying beliefs. It starts with our heart. I recently heard someone say that all sin starts with the first and second commandments: you shall have no other gods before me, you shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything. If we have made something else an idol or a god in our life, even if that is a belief we hold in our heart then we are walking in sin. If we think lowly of ourselves, lowly of God, or do not trust his Word then we are living in sin. If we know a truth in the Bible and are not living by it then we are living in sin.

Honestly, life was easier when I couldn’t recognize sin in my life. I could move forward and not think much about what I am doing and what the condition of my heart was. Now, I am daily seeing how far I have to go and how wrong I am. It is humbling. I am not depressed or upset about it because I know it is bringing me closer to the Lord, but it is hard. I wish repenting of the sin was as easy as just saying I wanted it to end and that I choose to turn from it. Unfortunately many of the beliefs and actions are so engrained that it takes a very long time and a lot of work to change. I can get upset at myself because I know my heart wants to change, but my flesh is so weak. My heart is heavy at times because I have such sorrow over the sin I see in my life and how much I want it to be completely and permanently gone. I take heart in 2 Corinthians 7:10-11 because it gives me hope that my sorrow and struggle have an outcome ahead that I can not see yet.

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.”

What is sin? Sin is what I do, think, and believe that doesn’t represent Christ, show him and his truth to the world, and bring redemption, hope, and promise. Sin is how I have lived and what I want to move away from. Sin is what separates me not only from God, but from you, from others, and even from myself. Today I am overwhelmed by seeing and knowing about the sin in my life and I pray that my heart does change, that my life is repentant, and that my life is transformed by the power of the Gospel of Christ.

Have you ever witnessed a parent pushing a child to apologize for something when you can clearly tell they do not feel sorry? Confession needs to come from our heart or it really isn’t confession, at least it is a seriously flawed confession. Every day we sin and break the relationship with have with God and often with others. We need to confess, and truly repent of our sin so we can have restored fellowship with God. This quote from Whiter than Snow by Paul David Tripp brings that point to life.

“I admitted what I said was wrong, and that’s a good thing, but there are two potential flaws in this confession. The first is it could be that the only reason I admitted to this wrong was that I was caught red-handed. I may not have been grieved at all by what I’d said. I may have confessed simply because I was in trouble. The second flaw could be that the confession was only a confession of the behavior (and that’s a good thing as far as it goes) but not the confession from a heart that’s behind the behavior. Here’s the point. It’s only when I’m grieved by my sin and acknowledge that this sin is heart-deep that my confession will be followed by the turning of repentance. You see, I speak unkindly to my wife not because my schedule is busy or because she’s less than perfect, but because there are things that I want (such as success, control, approval) and when she gets in the way of these things, I’m immediately irritated.”

“What results when you confess because you’re deeply grieved by what you’ve done? What happens when you acknowledge that your physical sin is caused by a heart that’s run amok? The result is that you turn, really turn. What do I mean? I mean that you don’t just turn away from the physical sin pattern, but your heart turns to God in new and deeper ways. What does this mean? It means that rather than being driven by the craving of the delivery of your little kingdom desires by the people in circumstances around you, your heart begins to be motivated by big kingdom purposes. True confession always results in living for something bigger.”

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