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FIRST-PERSON: Real forgiveness amid lingering consequences

DURHAM, N.C. (BP)–Following a recent speaking engagement a member of the congregation walked forward. “Before we complete the service, let me say something.” He paused for a moment, trying to control his emotions and collect his thoughts.

“Some of you have heard this story; some have not. Several years ago I was nominated to serve as a deacon in this church. When the committee asked if I would serve if elected, I gave a hesitant, but affirmative, answer. I knew that my lifestyle was not what a deacon should live, but I was certain that I would not be elected. I got a big surprise when you selected me as a deacon!

“I was a good guy, a professing Christian. I regularly attended Sunday School, worship services and Wednesday night services. In your eyes I was a righteous man. But you did not know what I was doing the rest of the week. I loved to party and have a good time, which included drinking liquor and beer with my buddies. Before I was ordained as a deacon, I quit using alcohol and still do not use it today. This could be the end of the story, a happy ending, but it is not.

“A few years ago an old drinking buddy died from alcohol-related problems. Just before Christmas a former drinking buddy was finally released from the hospital after fighting for his life. He, too, suffers because of drinking-related problems. Today I have another drinking buddy who also is fighting for his life in the hospital, and his health difficulties are also related to his drinking habit. There is a young man in this neighborhood that I often took fishing and frog gigging when he was a young boy. I did not hesitate to drink beer in his presence then, and today he does not hesitate to drink beer in my presence.

“I cannot tell you how often I think of these old friends, asking myself if I bear responsibility for their actions. You see, I was in church every time the doors were opened. Did these friends set me on a higher ground than they walked because I claimed to be a Christian? Did they think that because I drank that it was all right for them to drink? Did that young boy say to himself that he wanted to grow to be like me?

“My God has forgiven me for these sins, and he gives me as much peace as I will accept. I beg you, my friends, to ask yourselves how responsible you are when you drink alcohol with your friends, and especially in the presence of impressionable young people. You hurt not only yourselves, but them!”

We often proclaim to our audiences that we are on pedestals. We are not confined to islands by ourselves. Others expect the best of us. As Christians we represent Christ here on this earth. It is quite true that God is willing to forgive us for our mistakes if we ask for his forgiveness. But the consequences of our misdeeds linger on.
Stone and Barber, of Durham, N.C., are coauthors of two books on alcohol and drug abuse, “The Drug Tragedy — Hope for the One Who Hurts” and “The Drug Tragedy — Hope for the One Who Cares,” both available from LifeWay Christian Stores. Stone & Barber will be speaking the morning of March 2 at Cross Memorial Baptist Church, Marion, N.C., and that evening at Warlicks Baptist Church, Connelly Spring, N.C., and the morning of March 9 at First Baptist Church, Beaufort, N.C., and that evening at Woodville Baptist Church, Beaufort, N.C.

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  • Ted G. Stone & Philip D. Barber