Have you ever had one of those experiences in life that just blew you away? It made your head spin and you felt your chest getting tight? It happened to me recently. I like to think that when it comes to my emotions I keep things even – not too high, not too low. But this one messed with my mind and my emotions.
First a little background. Around eight years ago I became the pastor of Schuylkill Valley Bible Chapel. When I moved into my office there were a few boxes that I never got around to unpacking. I put them in the closet in my office and shut the door. Problem solved. They weren’t crucial; mostly filled with odds and ends.
Two weeks ago I decided it was time to unpack the boxes and free up the space in the closet. When I finally reached the bottom of the pile I discovered a box that hadn’t been opened in more than ten years. Inside were old high school and college yearbooks. I pulled out the first yearbook I saw; it was from my freshman year in college and I began a stroll down memory lane. It was fun looking at friends that I had known forty years ago and wondering what they had done with their lives and where they were today.
Then I came to one picture. It was a picture of a good friend from college days. I’ll call him Matt. Matt was one of those guys who just stood out from the crowd. He was talented, handsome, and popular. But there was something else; something about Matt that was even more important than all of that. In a Bible college filled with Christian students he stood out as godly. If anyone was going to accomplish something for God, Matt was the guy. Or so we all thought.
That’s when I did something that I wish I had never done. I decided to Google Matt’s name. I was curious. Was he the pastor of a mega church? Had he had become an evangelist preaching to overflow crowds? Perhaps he was a missionary reaching thousands of unreached people with the gospel. What I found blew me away – and not in a good way.
Without getting into a lot of detail I found that Matt is on his third marriage and is currently serving a six year sentence in a federal penitentiary for conning people out of almost half a million dollars. At least one business went bankrupt because of his con and many more people lost money they could not afford to lose. He took advantage of people and violated their trust.
There was more on the internet but some of it seemed to be gossip. At least I couldn’t verify more than what I’ve said. But that’s enough. My friend Matt, one of the godliest young men I have ever known is a con artist. A cheat. A liar. My heart sinks even as I write these words. I want to say it isn’t so. Something’s not right. But the FBI report is there for anyone to read. He’s listed on the penitentiary web page.
I’m still struggling to process all of this. I want to tell myself that something terrible must have happened in his life that caused him to act the way he did. Maybe he suffered a head trauma that changed his personality – it’s happened before. I want to justify his behavior.
I’ve thought a lot about Matt the past two weeks. I’ve wondered if finding those old yearbooks was a God thing. I’ve wondered if I should take something away from this besides a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I’m still processing it.
In my effort to make sense of what I discovered I’ve thought a lot about grace. I’ve thought about the fact that God has shown so much grace to me in my life. Without His grace I could easily have done what Matt did, or worse. I’ve thought about the truth that what Matt needs right now is grace – from God and from me. I know that what he did was wrong but I also know that there is grace for the sinner.
I’ve also thought a lot about forgiveness. Matt needs to find forgiveness from those he hurt and from God. On the other hand I’m still struggling in this area. Somehow, and this surprised me, I’ve felt betrayed. Not that Matt owed me anything because he didn’t – forty years is a long time. I just expected more. Maybe I got my eyes on the man instead of on God. What I know is that I need to look into my soul and find forgiveness – not for Matt’s sake but for my own.
Pray for my friend Matt. I decided to reach out to him after forty years – maybe that’s what God wanted all along. So I wrote to him because he needs a friend and because he needs to know that grace and forgiveness are still available. Maybe I can help him find what he needs.
Stay in the Word