This is the story of approaching a pastor from Sojourn Church in Fairfax and asking for forgiveness. I was a militant skeptic who greedily reached for the Christopher Hitchens Kool Aid. In the course of time I realized I went too far. This is the story of approaching Justin Pearson and asking to be forgiven. Today’s post is about the 66th story of forgiveness.
***Guys I made a mistake. I made some major edits. I had mistakenly thought Sojourn Church in Fairfax was a plant from the Sojourn Network in Louisville. It is not…its an Acts 29 plant. My mistake, I own it. I was walking out of work and I had a nagging feeling and I looked it up on Acts 29 and realized my error. So I made major edits, removed all the research and articles about Sojourn Network. I decided to leave in the song. This story today is about how I approached Sojourn once for forgiveness, if they are offended I can approach them a second time. I have no problem owning my errors(Edited September 10, 2015)***
“I’m honored to have served with Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler and everyone within Acts 29. I expect to continue serving and contending for the faith alongside them for many years, if God wills.”
Daniel Montgomery on breaking away from Acts 29
“One of the secrets of a long and fruitful life is to forgive everybody everything every night before you go to bed.”
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Psalm 51:10 NIV
In coming posts I plan to also write about how I approached people and sought forgiveness. Today’s post deals with how I sought forgiveness from Justin Pearson of Sojourn Fairfax. This is the story of the 66th case of forgiveness in my journey, in the end I approached 140 people in my season of repentance and the unique thing about what I did is that I was able to do something that CJ Mahaney and Mark Driscoll were unable or unwilling to do. All this talk about the Gospel and yet they couldn’t practice Christianity 101. As I learned mistakes are often opportunities to show grace, redemption and help a community heal. Yet I would suggest that many Christians often fail to practice that. The existence of communities like the Wartburg Watch and SGM Survivors illustrate how awry many parts of the Christian faith have gone in that many Christians won’t own the mistakes or pain they have caused to others in their life. Christians are known for being arrogant and in addition to the original claims of hypocrisy I wonder if that is also due to the likes of individuals such as Mark Driscoll or CJ Mahaney who are incapable or unwilling to repent or say, “I was wrong and I screwed up.” Many people want to forgive but they also want to see deep remorse and empathy. This is one of the things I learned in approaching 140 people and working out things person by person.
McLean Bible, Justin Pearson, Acts 29 Plant, a Faith Crisis, and a Militant Agnostic/Atheist
When I moved to the Washington, D.C. area for work from Wisconsin I eventually got involved in McLean Bible. I interacted a couple of times with Justin Pearson who led the small groups ministry at McLean Bible in the 2005, or 2006 timeframe. During this time I tried to change small groups. In the process I raised some questions about the small group program at McLean Bible. This was a part of Frontline when it was running, which I believe is no longer operating. I did some quick research and it looks like Frontline no longer exists. If I am wrong then I invite correction. In the lounge downstairs near the coffee shop as I expressed some concerns Justin got angry and almost started to yell. I was taken back, and thought, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrott!” It was the first time I recall being yelled at by a pastor or someone in a position of authority (minus a football coach when I jumped offside in High School a couple of times, but I’d also suggest that football coaches are paid to yell.) In the course of time Justin Pearson left McLean Bible, went to Southern Seminary and did a church plant with the Acts 29 network in Fairfax, Virginia. It was sponsored by Portico. I was so close to it that I could have walked a block or thrown a rock and hit it.
While Justin went that way with the Acts 29 network, I sadly went mine. Mine included a prolonged and painful faith crisis that consumed half my thirties. In my faith crisis I got burned at a funeral, overwhelmed by doubt, and what I did to my Mother when I greedily reached for the John Piper Kool aid and deeply wounded my mother further. My Mother felt guilty about surviving pancreatic cancer and along comes her son drunk on the Kool Aid who caused her additional pain. As I say from time to time in the ESV (Eagle Standard Version) with Kool Aid all things are possible. As a result I told God off and in anger I pushed away from Christianity for years and I thought of myself as agnostic during this time and embraced it. While I thought of myself as agnostic, those around me considered me to be hard core atheist. During this time I consumed Christopher Hitchens, and other atheist material. I was so crushed by the problem of evil that I just could not understand how a loving God could allow a 3 year old to be molested and murdered, a 767 to tear through a skyscraper on a beautiful September morning, or a gunman to go on a rampage in an elementary school in Connecticut. I didn’t know and could not work past the problem of evil. I looked at Christianity as a cancer on the earth and barked about how it would be best had it not even existed. During this time I had a co-worker, an Air Force Captain who tried to get me involved in Sovereign Grace. It was actually Eric Simmons Redeemer Arlington. When I was agnostic/militant atheist I was stunned as to what I was being invited to because I called Christianity a cancer and then I was being pressured to attend a “family of churches” that was allegedly involved in covering up child sex abuse. For an agnostic/atheist to be invited to Redeemer Arlington helped justify atheism for me and feed my mindset. I talked about how corrupt Christianity is and then I was being invited to a denomination that was known for allegedly engaging in questionable and illicit activity. It was like pouring gasoline on a fire. Furthermore being invited to Sovereign Grace was the first time since my experience with Mormonism in college 15 years prior that a church raised red flags and hemorrhaged so much negative information online.
During this time in life I watched my Facebook feed and saw Justin Pearson’s comments about the Sojourn Church Plant in Fairfax. Like I said…it was down the street from where I lived. And as a militant skeptic it was too rich of a target not to have fun with, after all doesn’t Christopher Hitchens say to challenge and to clash? To seek confrontation? And that is exactly what I did, so on Justin’s Facebook wall I stated that the end result of fundamentalism will be a million plus congregations each one convinced they have a corner on the truth and every other one engaged in heresy. This is the logical outcome of fundamentalism. That got a strongly worded message from Justin which honestly was rightfully deserved. In the course of time I saw another post and as a skeptic who knew the origins of the Acts 29 network I couldn’t resist. So what I did was ask Justin if he was going to be a Mark Driscoll clone and talk about the Biblical basis of blow jobs. Well, that got me unfriended. Remember at the time that is what I was doing with others as a militant skeptic in a full fledged faith crisis, I was on the rampage and very much under the Christopher Hitchens Kool Aid. At the time I thought it natural where as today it feels me with shame. Mark Driscoll’s policy on oral sex is well established but its not something you hammer a person on.
Then as I was pulling out of my faith crisis came the false accusation from Andrew White which you can read about in great detail here. It sent me into the darkest season of my life. An Air Force Officer, 2005 graduate of the Air Force Academy, and a Care Group Leader from Redeemer Arlington gave birth to a false accusation that threatened my name, reputation and employment. In the course of time I had an attorney who explained to me why I was sitting on a defamation of character lawsuit.
Hitting Bottom Seeking Forgiveness
After starting to work things out with others while realizing my faith crisis was over and that I had gone too far I had to figure out a way forward. The plan for me at the time is to continue seeking forgiveness in mass. It was challenging to do because in all honesty there were many people who I didn’t initially want to approach. However when I examined myself I realized I had to. In a phone conversation I recall Dee Parsons explaining to me why when it comes to forgiveness its an all of nothing package. You can’t hold back. Its important to note that when it comes to reconciliation and forgiveness the one thing a person cannot do is practice favoritism or be partial. Favoritism is both sinful and derails the entire point of reconciliation and forgiveness. I realized that my effort at forgiveness would be incomplete and flawed if I didn’t include a number of individuals that I needed to speak with. I knew privately that in order for this to work I had to go all out, I had to go all the way. When it came to working things out I had to do it in a way that left no room for doubt. The reasons why were multiple. I felt I would be mocking God if I were partial. I also felt that it would diminish the likelihood of working things out with Andrew White or Archie Griffen one day. When I did work things out with Archie one day the most difficult relationship that was permanently fractured was nursed back to health, and today I think its much healthier than it was before hand. So in going forward I knew that I needed to approach a number of additional people. It was during this time that I remembered the comments I made about Mark Driscoll and oral sex, and as true as it is, that’s not something you go around saying. Realizing I needed to contact Justin and work out what I said I sat down at my computer and composed the following letter, and sent it out on June 25, 2013.
I’m sure you remember me, I was the one who posted a number of things on your Facebook page as an agnostic. I’m writing you seeking forgiveness for those comments I made in anger. Over the last 5 years I went through a faith meltdown and probably reached the lowest point in my life. It came about through doubts, past church experiences and it resulted in an incredible amount of anger and rage. I have treated many people, such as yourself Justin in ways that they should not have been treated. In short I denied them the respect, dignity and love they deserve.
I’ve tried to do this in the past but stopped out of pride. Plus I also realized that one cannot selectively forgive, one has to go all the way. So with that I made a determination to contact a number of people that I once interacted with from California, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C. I need to learn to love and forgive, and I need to learn to let go of anger and hate.
Through this experience I learned an ugly side to me that I never knew existed. And I’ve learned how painful anger and hate can be; not just to myself but toward others as well. I guess you can say that I’ve started the process of figuring out my way back into Christianity after walking away years ago. It hasn’t been perfect and as I re-engage at Fairfax Community Church I see a lot of what drove me away. I am working hard to wrestle through these feelings, and doubts. My doubts which also gave birth to rage were something that I could not shake. But after exploring secular humanism I feel like I have come full circle. Christianity does make sense when you think of the big picture. Trying to separate the Lord from humanity, and human action is incredibly difficult. But its something that I need to do. How to get there is another story.
I’m trying to do this in a way to do what is right. My soul needs peace, hope and a new morning. It’s with that Justin that I ask for your forgiveness. If I have angered, or offended you with my anger, or other behavior I ask for your forgiveness. I so desperately want to do what is right, and I realized that I can’t move forward with faith again unless I let go of my past. That is why I am taking this action. I was wrong in how I acted and I am hoping you can forgive me.
Thank you for the email. My delay in responding has nothing to do with a lack of desire to forgive, only that I was out of town and away from my email.
Eagle, as I have been forgiven by God for my wretched sin and rebellion and through the death and resurrection of Jesus I wholeheartedly forgive you. Your comments in the post were hurtful, but I often prayed for you, that the Lord would work in your life to bring you to a place of repentance and faith.
If there is anything I can do to help you in your spiritual journey please let me know. The church I pastor is called Sojourn for that very reason — all are on a spiritual journey and we want to come alongside people to help them journey to know and follow Jesus as Lord and become sojourners in this temporary world.
Thank you for humble asking for forgiveness. I really appreciate it.
May God give you true peace in Christ
When I got that email it was like I felt a weight drop from my chest. In a journey that I deeply hoped would take me to 140 people eventually Justin Pearson was number 66. I was grateful for that email and when I got a response I was busy working on other contacts and following up with others. I sat down again and wrote a longer response to Justin in return. Below is what I carved and sent back as a reply on August 1, 2013. As you will see between July 1, 2013 and August 1, 2013 I worked things out with an additional 13 people.
I apologize it took a while to acknowledge your letter. My evenings have been consumed by contacting people, writing emails, and Facebook messages, making phone calls, and seeking forgiveness for past behavior and working at mending bridges with many Christians in California, Wisconsin and the Washington, D.C. area. It has been a lot of work but its is important to do. I do want to own my mistakes, especially to those like yourself, who I hurt over the past 5 years or so. My list keeps growing of people to seek forgiveness from and today stands at 112 individuals. I have about another 25 or so people to contact but so far I have been forgiven by 79 people. When this is done I’ll have worked through a large chunk of my life.
I did want to express my gratitude for the prayers by you and other of Sojourn Fairfax for me. That means more than I can say. However, I am grateful for many who have prayed for me as I drifted off and become a Prodigal (Luke 15) for 5 years and lived in anger, confusion bitterness, divisiveness and hardcore skeptical thinking. As I have moved forward and sought out forgiveness and worked at patching fences, I have been amazed to learn how many people did pray for me. I’ve had many, like yourself, who expressed how I hurt them, and how they in turn prayed for me. Just the other day I learned that one individual who I burned bridges with several years back put me on his prayer list of 5 items he prayed for daily. After I sought forgiveness from him he scratched it off knowing that he prayer was answered.
My anger was the result of my sin, and living in my sinful desires and feeding them. (Galatians 5:20) My anger also made me a fool as I did not control my temper (Ecclesiastes 7:9; Proverbs 14:29; Proverbs 29:11) . And I often let the sun go down on my anger giving a foothold to another power (Ephesians 4:26-27) shows that now is the time to crucify anger, slander, and rage (Colossians 3:8; Ephesians 4:31). By losing my temper I only brought harm upon myself (Psalm 37:8). Furthermore I should have listened more and not spoken so quickly. (James 1:19-20)
My speech was also the result of my sin. I spoke in pride with a desire to crush others (Psalm 73:8) and spoke in arrogance (Psalm 94:4) . Furthermore there is more hope for a fool than someone who speaks without thinking. (Proverbs 29:20) In the end I need to be slow to speak and quick to listen. (James 1:19)
Sometimes you have to hit bottom Justin in order to find faith. Sometimes you need to hit bottom in order to be open to receiving grace. The Lord disciplines those he loves (Hebrews 12:6), and discipline from the Lord leads to health and life (Isiah 38:16) In short, when the Lord disciplined me the Lord did so out of love, and such discipline is to be embraced.
You had asked how Sojourn Fairfax can help, and I do have a couple of items I would appreciate if you and others in your prayer team can pray for internally.
First I am trying to reach about 112 people. I’m trying to take ownership for my mistakes, seek forgiveness and make things right. I have a lot of work ahead of me with those who forgave me. In other situations I need to overcome cynicism , earn trust, and shower many people with love and grace. As I said above I have resolved things with 79 people, can you, and Sojourn Fairfax pray that I can get to 112 when this is all completed?
Second there are three individuals who I especially hurt out of my own insecurity and pride. They do not want to be contacted and after screwing up so much I am honoring that request. I am hoping, and praying, that the Lord will change the minds of Archie, Zach and Andrew and that I can restore things with them one day as well. Archie is a member of an Acts 29 church down in Atlanta. Zach I am unsure, and Andrew is a member of a recent Sovereign Grace plant in the northern Virginia area. But after working out so much of my past with so many people I’m praying that one day hopefully the difficulties can be resolved in the future.
If you can pray for those 112 people as well as Zach, Archie and Andrew I would be grateful. For all people I have been praying hard and often to the point of exhaustion for the Lord to help resolve the situation. With 112 people I’m hoping that I could create a Paul and John Mark situation and not a Paul and Barnabas situation.
Thanks Justin, I very much appreciate it. Thank you for accepting my apology, and thank you for releasing me. It means more than you know. Doing this with 79 people has taught me the power of the Gospel and helped create a way forward again in Biblical faith.
It was due to this situation that I expanded my contact list by about 30 names. It included people from prior jobs, college, places where I lived, churches, ministries even high school. I worked back through so many people that it was exhausting but needed. Forgiveness and repentance is not like a drive by shooting in Compton, California meaning its not something you lean out the window and do and then take off. In order to do forgiveness and reconciliation it takes a full blown effort. As I learned on a scale of 1 to 10, I had to aim for a 15. That is what I did to the best of my ability. In the course of time I worked out things with the most difficult relationship in Archie Griffin, and I also approached Sovereign Grace and asked for forgiveness for having hate. In drawing this to a close I would like to close with a song from the Sojourn Network. Its a modern version of a hymn from Joseph Hart a Calvinist minister in London who lived from 1712 to 1768. He is best known for the hymn “Come ye sinners, poor and needy.” I will close with that today. If all goes well I will have a post about atheism up on Friday. Love you guys!