I immediately sent the following email response to Steve and began an exchange that included phone calls along with at least a couple of dozen emails back and forth.
Steve:Over the next few months we worked through issues related to his repentance. He also was able to make contact and become involved with a great church with faithful elders who took him in and helped personally shepherd him through the process. Since he lives in a different part of the country, having the cooperation of a church that understands biblical church discipline to assist and nurture him was was great blessing from God.
I am very encouraged to get your email today. I have often prayed for you. Each time I see your old house I ask the Lord to rescue you and your family....I have fond memories of some of our times together here.
Steve, this morning I preached on some of the strategies of the devil that the Bible warns us to guard against. One of the things Satan does is misrepresent God to our minds so that we do not believe the truth about God. God is a true Father--the perfect Father--to all of His children who trust in the Lord Jesus. As such, He is full of mercy and compassion. He delights in mercy and He has mercy enough for you.
Jesus said "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.' For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners" (Matthew 9:11-13). If you know that you are sick (which you do) and you know that you are a sinner, then you can be sure that you are exactly the kind of person that Jesus came to rescue.
No doubt there are some confusing thoughts about your experience over the last 12 years. Was your faith ever real? Have you, as a real believer, been running away from God? What is the state of your soul? These and probably dozens of other questions can plague your mind and, if you are not careful, can paralyze you from doing what you should. And what should you do? You should take God at His Word. Trust Him. Believe what He says in the Bible and heed His calls. Your sin is great. His grace is greater.
Think about this gracious invitation that Jesus makes in Matthew 11:28-30: "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."
Read Luke 15:11-31. It is your story. Believe what it says about God.
I want to hear the rest of what you have to say. This email address come directly to me. I have friends and know of a couple of good churches in the Baltimore area. I will be glad to put you in touch with them and to help you in any way that I can.
Psalm 130 is one of my favorites. May the Lord enable you to pray it from your soul:
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy! If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” - Psalm 130
As Steve prepared his testimony, expressing his repentance and seeking the forgiveness of his church family, we made arrangements to bring him to Cape Coral for a scheduled Lord's Supper service. Only a handful of the current members of Grace know Steve from 14 years ago. But it was evident from the very outset that he was indeed among family.
As he spoke through tears, we listened through tears. We experienced a heightened degree of what every Christian must learn to experience regularly in order to maintain emotional health and spiritual stability--sorrow and joy at the same time (2 Corinthians 6:10). It was a God-honoring testimony. Sin was not minimized. Neither was it glorified. The grace of Jesus Christ for sinners was the dominant theme.
Next, I spoke briefly before we ate and drank at the Lord's Table. My remarks included reading this letter:
The elders and members of Grace Baptist Church love and forgive you. Many of us wept with grief 14 years ago when we were forced to take that most sobering step that a church can ever take and, in the words of the Apostle Paul, delivered you to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that your spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus (1 Corinthians 5:5). Today we weep tears of joy that God has indeed preserved you, that the wandering sheep has returned to our Lord and Shepherd, Jesus Christ.
We reaffirm our love for you and express our thanksgiving that the Lord has rescued you and brought you back from the far country. The same grace that pursued and restored you has rescued and sustained us. All of us in the household of faith are children of grace. All of us are dependent on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our lives. None of us has any reason to think himself better than others because each of us must say, I am what I am by the grace of God (1 Corinthians 15:10).
So, brother, as we rejoice in your repentance may you rejoice in our forgiveness. Live for the One who has saved us and is preparing us for heaven. Seek His glory and let the story of your life be the story of His amazing grace.
In behalf of Grace Baptist Church,
In the next (and final) post, I will mention some of the lessons that we have learned (and are learning) through this process.