I CHOOSE GRACE!

Written By: John - Aug• 15•12

Recently I’ve faced a situation in my neighborhood that has really caused me to stop and consider the power of the Gospel and the need for God’s grace.  While Kim and I were at the beach our girls came running to us saying, “Mom, Dad! A sex offender is moving into our neighborhood!”  After a few minutes of excitement I discovered that a sheriff deputy had posted a notice that a registered sex offender was moving into our neighborhood. 

I sat on the deck of the condo and thought about our neighborhood.  We live in a great community.  On our street alone there are 23 children under the age of 16 and one of the things we’ve enjoyed is a real sense of safety.  Our children walk around the block, they ride bikes, they cruise the neighborhood in the golf carts, and they swim down at the lake in the commons area…it is often like a scene from one of the old TV shows set in the 50’s.  I love our neighborhood and as I thought about the neighborhood I wondered if all of that was going to change…would we still feel that same sense of safety, would we still feel free to let our children roam the neighborhood. 

I also thought about the man who was moving into our community.  I won’t go into detail about what he did, but it is suffice to say he is a registered sex offender who was found guilty, who served time, and is now free.  How would I respond to him?  Would I be the first in line to run him out of the neighborhood on a rail?  Would I shun him?  Would I treat him like the woman in the Scarlet Letter?  Would I place “GO HOME!” signs in his yard? I knew that I had to make some real choices and that the choices I made would be a testimony of what I actually believed about the Gospel.

I’m not sure I really knew what I would do until the day I came home.  As I mowed my yard I thought about what we would do and I just kept thinking about statements I’ve heard about men like this.  Statements like, “You know people like this don’t change…”  It was then I knew what I would do.  I would do all that I could to keep open the door of grace with this man.  I would welcome him to our neighborhood.  I would be kind.  I would invite him to our church (more about that in a moment), and I would do all that I could to prove the words of Romans 1:16

Either the Gospel is the “power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” or it isn’t.  If I truly believed that the Gospel could not change anyone…if I truly believed that a living person sinned themselves beyond the reach of God then I would have to stop preaching.  I believe in the power of the Gospel and I believe God can change anyone.  If I believe that then I must also live that.

Now let me say, being Gospel centered and Grace giving does not mean being stupid!  Grace loves a kleptomaniac—stupid is leaving your family heirloom in the room with them.  Grace loves the alcoholic—stupid is sending them a bottle of wine for Christmas.  Grace feeds a junkie—stupid is giving them money for food right outside of a crack house.  Grace loves a registered sex offender—stupid would be inviting him over to baby sit your daughter.  Have I made my point?

At FBC we are going to welcome anyone who wants to come to hear the Gospel preached.  We want anyone to come to hear the Word preached and to sing and worship with us.  We want anyone to come and attend our Small Groups and to hear the Word taught.  We want anyone and everyone to come because we know the Great Physician is here for the sick and the needy.  That doesn’t mean certain sins will not have consequences.  For example the man I’ve spoken about will be welcome to attend our church, and to attend our adult Sunday School classes, but he would not be welcome to walk through our Children’s Building or our Student Building.  First, it would not make sense to place someone in a place where they might be tempted, second, it would not be safe for our children, and third, it would be against the law. 

So let me boil it all down to one statement.  When it comes to sin and sinners, of whom I am the worst, I WILL CHOOSE GRACE!

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45 Comments

  1. Wally Bromberg says:

    John,

    Tough perspective, but in my opinion, on target.

  2. Kim Jennings says:

    You have chosen Christ’s way, the right way. However difficult. Our children see the Father through their father’s actions; well done.

  3. Clay Shadix says:

    This is why I am honored to call you my pastor.

  4. John says:

    Wally, Kim, and Clay,
    Thanks. Just pray that the Gospel will transform his life and continue to transform mine!

  5. Amanda Wilson says:

    I don’t have a personal affiliation to this church or preacher, this article was shared with me. However, I was blessed by his words and actions and pray that others will recognize his stance as one that Christ would take and mimic it. Praise God for teachers, leaders, husbands and fathers like this one.

  6. […] good friend John Thweatt is a pastor in Pell City, Alabama. He recently wrote about how he decided to reach out to a […]

  7. Anonymous says:

    Your right John everyone deserves to be forgiven, but that doe’s not mean someone like you are talking about can or should be trusted alone with children. As a victim of sexual child abuse myself, it took years for me even to remember it. Then it came rushing back like a train and then it took a lot more years for me to realize that this person was more than likely molested when she was a child. Thank God I stopped that cycle.I have forgiven her, even feel sorry for her, but she would not be a welcome guest in my home. There is more to this story but that is between me, my sponsor and God. Yes I am a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. Do I blame her? No but my drinking and drugging did escalate after the memory came back.

    • John says:

      You are right about being alone with children and that is why I said there is a line between grace and stupid. I am sorry that you lived through that and I pray God’s continued healing upon your life.

  8. […] the rest here, then click through to the full post. Share this:Like this:LikeBe the first to like this. Posted in Offenders and tagged Denny Burk, […]

  9. As a dad of 3 kids, I totally understand the need for safety. But I really do hate the idea of this “list.” Either someone has paid the price and is able to return to society, or he hasn’t & isn’t. Our current process puts them in a torturous limbo for the rest of their lives.

    So glad and encouraged to hear your heart and your trust in the gospel.

    • John says:

      Joey, you are right. there are several ‘types’ of people on the list. Some that would cause what little hair I have left to fall out and others who may have made a stupid decision in high school. I’ve yet to understand how a 40 year old man can legally have sex with a 16 year old in Alabama, but not a 15 year old–BOTH are wrong. Molesting children is heinous and should be protected, but there must be some common sense in our legal system. thanks

  10. Deborah Yuck says:

    I understand what you’re trying to convey, grace indeed, even for the most vile offender…but, for all offenders? For unrepentant vile offenders? Or for the repentant vile offender?

    Brother, before allowing the man access to the flock you’ve been charged to protect, it is your duty to go to the man with your co-elders, to speak to him of his sin, and to endeavour to gauge whether or not the man is repentant. If the man is truly remorseful for his actions, he will readily bow to being supervised at all times by an elder, not simply comply with avoiding certain areas of the building. He will understand the necessity of informing the flock of his sin, in order to give them opportunity to protect themselves and/or their children. If he refuses such, claiming he’s “done his time”, or has “served his debt to society”, he must be treated as one who is unrepentant until such time as there is clear and convincing evidence that the Holy Spirit has convicted him of the gravity of his sin and he has yielded to Christ’s atoning work.

    While I commend your desire to reach out to the lost, this man included, your responsibility is first to the flock you’ve been entrusted with, including your own children, and you must do due diligence before potentially inviting a wolf into fellowship.

    When it comes to opening your door to this type of offender, it’s not enough to make certain parts the building off-limits. A man like this must be supervised, 100% of the time, indefinitely, and regularly mentored and held accountable. Anything less is to possibly give him opportunity to offend the lambs in your fold.

    • John says:

      You are right and as I said in an earlier comment he has not attended our church. I understand what you are saying, but we have many unrepentant sinners of all kinds in our churches today. We are not even talking about membership, but we are talking about how Christians love their neighbors.

    • Dave D says:

      I don’t know Deborah. How about maybe making friends with him first — before ganging up on him and telling him he must repent. How about giving him a helping and understanding hand with the struggles of his life — before demanding that he submit to more judgement. How about introducing him to Jesus before requiring that he jump through YOUR hoops.

      The craziest thing about the place of the “sex offender” in our culture is that we de-humanize them in a way that we do with no other. That makes it easy to place ourselves above them. The gospel tells us that we are ALL great sinners, and that Christ is a great savior. This man’s sin is no greater than mine or yours. We just find it more odious. Yet Jesus came for him — just as much as he came for you and me. Praise God that the grace of God through Jesus is not reliant upon our ability to achieve some kind of perfect repentance first.

      It could just be that the best way to keep your children safe is to help this man to know Jesus. Then Jesus can take care of any repentance that is required.

  11. Ben Thorp says:

    You have taken the narrow path and I congratulate you wholeheartedly. We need people who are willing to make a stand for grace, particularly in a world that is so keen to be “tolerant” and yet is so intolerant in many ways. I often think that sex offenders (in particular child sex offenders) are the lepers of our day.

  12. marsha heyboer says:

    Thank you this morning for this message. The life of a Christian is difficult when we do the right thing. How easy it would be to go with the crowd, some of them even fellow saints, and shun or protest this new neighbor. I often need to remind myself that the malefactor who hung on the cross alongside our Savior, and was very publicly given the gift of salvation, was also a very unsavory character…and I need to recognize that my own sins are as dark as his, and plead GOD’s loving mercy and forgiveness. Thank you for this reminder!

  13. Me says:

    Wow. I thank the Lord for your grace-centered, gospel-oriented perspectives.

  14. Reed Here says:

    Well done pastor.

    Reed, pastoring in Montgomery

  15. Tara Barthel says:

    Dear Pastor John,

    Thank you for this post and for showing what wisdom and love look in real life.

    Our church also reached out to a registered sex offender and my pastor wrote about it in his book, “The Peacemaking Pastor,” just in case you, your leaders, and your members would like to see another picture of what that looked like.

    Thanks again for your ministry for God’s glory and His Bride!

    Your sister in Christ,
    Tara Barthel

  16. Mike L says:

    Hi John, When I first heard what you had done, or considering to do, I thought you were making a big mistake, you were putting your church children at risk and I believed that sex offenders cannot change.
    But that was my perspective as a retired policeman of 27 years and dealing with numerous sex offenders. However after thinking about it and me being a believer in Jesus Christ and considering the power of the Gospel to change lives. I believe you did the right thing and we all as Christians have to do what Jesus did and reach out to those who are perishing. For He is the only one who can heal us. We cannot pick and choose which sinner or what sin we want to deal with as a church. After all, Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:10-11 listed several sins that the believers had been involved in and said that “so were some of you” but that they were now washed, were sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
    But…. having said that you are also right in saying that we should not be stupid and put that person in tempting situations. The sexual urges of the sex offender are very strong and you will have to be vigilant as a church to protect your children. Anyone who has sinned and that is all of us, will struggle with temptation and it is a daily battle.
    This is a hard thing for you and your church to do, and in some way I still cringe deep inside. But I know that God can change this person and heal him of sexual tendencies.
    God Bless and thanks for your post, it forced me to rethink things and my old attitudes.

    • John says:

      Mike, Thanks for your service and thanks for your thoughtful words. We have several police officers in our church and should this man choose to visit with us they will know of his presence and background.

  17. Doc B says:

    Unless I missed it, you did not say whether he is a *child* sex offender or not. If he is not, he is of no more danger to the children in your church or neighborhood than you are.

    If he is, and is of a particular psychological make-up, he is a threat no matter what intervention takes place. You really need more information, and because of your position as pastor of the church, can probably get it if you ask.

    • John says:

      This particular man was arrested for soliciting sex from someone he thought to be underage who in fact was a police officer in a sting operation. He did not have sex with a child…or should I say he was never convicted of having sex with a child and no children ever came forward. I don’t know if he did or not, but I do know he needs grace. thanks for taking the time to comment.

  18. Romelle says:

    My father reached out to parolees in grace on several occasions and our family got burned every time.In addition to grace, you need what my father seemed to lack at the time: humility.He felt that God’s omniscience would cover all the bases and that we were equipped to deal with the skillful, professional manipulation of convicts.He did not have the discernment required to deal with these men.I am glad that you have not put him past the love and grace of God, but never put anything past him either.”Be wise as serpents and peaceful as doves.”

    • John says:

      Thanks for your comments. I’m not sure what you mean when you say I lack humility due to the fact that you’ve never met me. I know this one thing to be true–if God can change me…he can change anyone. Thanks for your advice and we are seeking to be wise and peaceful.

      • Larry Geiger says:

        He did not say that you lack humility. He said that you need humility. You may already have the traits needed. Neither Romelle nor I would know that. He is just saying you need it. It would be like me saying you need a fishing pole to go fishing. Maybe you already have one or maybe you need to purchase one, I don’t know.

  19. Melissa B says:

    What would you do if such a person came to your church and the children’s classrooms were not in a separate building, but rather in fairly close proximity to the sanctuary? What if there is only one set of restrooms? Would that man be allowed to go into a restroom, where there might be a child alone in there? Are you required by law to inform parents that there is a registered sex offender in attendance, and specify who he is, so they can be on their guard? Should parents tell their children never to be in a room alone with “that man”? Can you require that if he wants to attend your church, he must have a designated adult, perhaps a deacon, at his side at ALL times, EVERY week? What if the man wanted to attend your church as a “seeker,” before he had had a genuine conversion experience? Would you bend over backward to help him feel welcome, or would you start with the “restrictions” on him on day one, recognizing that he might never want to come back to church again if he is made to feel too uncomfortable?

    I’m asking these questions as a parent of three young children. I do believe that the gospel is true, but in the back of my head, I can’t help but wish that sex offenders would be locked up forever to prevent even the possibility of them re-offending.

    • John says:

      There is no easy solution to any of this. Each church must set the policy that best fits their situation, but what do we do with the growing number of sex offenders? do we simply ignore their need to hear the Gospel? We must reach them, but we can’t do it without setting protective policies. I have 4 daughters and my heart is just as concerend for them as you would be for yours. Thanks for your questions.
      I will add that our DA, and several judges are in this church and we are currently working on set policies to make sure we ensure the safety of our children and our church members.

      • Lyndsay says:

        Tara pointed out in an earlier comment, “The Peacemaking Pastor” book…It’s last chapter deals with these exact questions. I highly recommend it as well.

  20. Very Concerned says:

    Scripture teaches, “…for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth…” Gen.8:21 Grace is afforded to us all and we all have been forgiven much, but, this is a predatory sin. The risk is great to any near-by children. This man needs to be cared for by Christian MEN and for an extended period of time. The husband/father’s job is to PROTECT his family. Let the men of the congregation embrace him and counsel him apart from the body, till they reach a consensus of seeing genuine repentance and behaviors that reflect a changed disposition and heart. He must learn to guard his eyes.

    • John says:

      You are right. My main focus is upon how he will be treated in our neighborhood. If he chooses to visit our church we will welcome him, love him, preach and teach him, but he will not go anywhere without someone being with him. Grace is messy and Stupid is even worse! Thanks.

  21. […] John Thweatt writes a fascinating post on the challenge of showing grace when a registered sex-offender moves in to your community, and potentially your church: Recently I’ve faced a situation in my neighborhood that has really caused me to stop and consider the power of the Gospel and the need for God’s grace. While Kim and I were at the beach our girls came running to us saying, “Mom, Dad! A sex offender is moving into our neighborhood!” After a few minutes of excitement I discovered that a sheriff deputy had posted a notice that a registered sex offender was moving into our neighborhood. […]

  22. Deb says:

    I can understand people’s fear of someone who has been convicted of a sexual offence coming into their congregation. But the truth is, most sexual abuse happens with people the family knows and trusts, not people we are “on the look-out” for. The idea that keeping this man out of church would keep all our kids “safe” is a myth! Safe practices and policies are a better option, along with parents being careful with who spends time with their kids. Because even if this man never attends your church, you don’t know the hearts and lives of everyone else who does!

  23. David Affolter says:

    The Lord has given me the opportunity to minister to sex offenders for the last 15 years as a licensed and specially trained counselor in Florida and Ohio. In my work/ministry I have found many offenders who have become genuine believers and men of faith, who change their lives completely. It is very humbling to see the grace of God work in men’s lives and bring change from the inside out. Most people think these men can’t change, but they can and do with the grace of God. As it says in I Cor. 6:11 . . .and such were some of you. But you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” God’s grace and the blood of Jesus Christ covers all sin, even sex offenders’. I am blessed to have this work for the Lord to be His means of grace to these men.

  24. Mike H says:

    My wife have done some prison ministry, focused on youth incarceration in California. The ward we worked on was a sex offenders unit. When they are released, they have to register. Now imagine being 14-15 years old and being sentenced to 5 years. You miss your first car, first job, some of them get a GED or diploma in the prison. But when they get out, they have a gap. Not saying they shouldn’t be in, or didn’t do the crime, but for a societal “scarlet letter” to be placed on them that will never go away at 16-18 seems to be lacking any type of hope for rehabilitation or recovery from their past.

  25. Pam says:

    Speaking as someone who has experienced sa, and grew up on the “mission field” where one of the missionaries was offending for 10 or more years (others knew but were extending “grace”), I thought these articles might be of help to you and others who might read your blog and not be as careful as you seem to be.

    http://biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/blogs/2012/06/21/when-prevention-fails-a-sexual-abuse-response-policy-for-churches/

    http://wisecounsel.wordpress.com/2012/06/22/abuse-reporting-what-you-dont-do-can-get-you-into-trouble/

    http://biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/resources/response-plan-for-sexual-abuse-against-a-minor-at-church

    http://netgrace.org/wp-content/uploads/Developing-Effective-Church-Policies-on-Child-Maltreatment.pdf

  26. […] I Choose Grace! A pastor shares about his response when a registered sex offender moved into his neighborhood…A test of what we really believe about God’s grace. […]

  27. […] neighbour (which means opening up your neighbour to the possibility of reconciliation with God) in “I CHOOSE GRACE!” by […]

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