I got an e-mail from a church member recently telling me how disappointed she had been in the way I handled the vote on the 2011 budget at the end of the 8:30 worship service last Sunday. She said, "You told everybody that it was a done deal, that we had already voted on it, and that we were just giving our affirmation to a previous decision. You asked for a show of hands if we were for the budget, but not if we were against it. It made me feel like I don't really have a voice in the decisions that are made at First Baptist Church. "
I wrote back immediately, saying: "Please forgive me. I was confused. I thought we had already voted on the budget at our last quarterly business meeting, and that we didn't really need to vote on Sunday. Then I looked down at my bulletin and it said, 'Vote on the Budget.' So I asked people to raise their hands if they wanted to affirm the budget but didn't give them a way to oppose it. I blew it in almost every possible way at 8:30, but got it right at 11:00. I'm very sorry."
She wrote back to me and said: "Thanks for the explanation. That's a very good explanation."
The explanation of course is that I messed up. I made a mistake. I didn't deprive her of her voice intentionally; I did it unintentionally. But what she did was a perfect illustration of the sermon I had preached that morning. I had said that if someone in the church does you wrong you should confront him, just as in says in Matthew 18:15: "If another member of the church sins against you, go to him and tell him his fault when it is just the two of you alone. If he listens to you, you've won your brother back."
I wrote back to her, congratulating her on the way she had handled things. "This is what you did," I told her. "I sinned against you. You confronted me and made me aware of what I had done. I listened to you, apologized for my mistake, and you forgave me. That's just what Jesus was talking about! And," I added, "I hope you've won your brother back" (smile).
"Absolutely!" she replied, and went on to tell me that she had appreciated the sermon very much, but after the vote she hadn't been able to think about anything else. Once we got that cleared up, we were free to move on to other things.
I wanted to share that story here, because it seems like a perfect illustration of how to make peace with someone who has offended you. You don't talk about that person: you talk to him. You tell him what it was that offended you and why. You give him a chance to explain, and perhaps even apologize. If he does, then you forgive him and move on to other things.
Doesn't that seem like a better way than fuming about it quietly for days or even weeks, holding a grudge against the offending party until you can't even stand the sight of him anymore? Jesus understood: if you don't go to your brother when he sins against you, if you don't tell him his fault and give him a chance to apologize, then you lose your brother-not because of his feelings toward you but because of your feelings toward him.
I don't know about you, but I need all the brothers and sisters I can get these days, and for that reason I'm thankful that one of my sisters was brave enough to write to me and tell me my fault. It's not easy to hear such things, but believe me, it's a whole lot better than not hearing them.
[Taken with permission from the Rev. Dr. Jim Somerville's Blog, originally posted 2/19/2011]