Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you”. Paul’s words to the church…Ephesus 4:31-32
A Testimony of God’s Patience, Grace, and Mercy: By Randy Sharp
What comes to mind when you consider the words “perspective and understanding”? The story you are about to read is a testimony of God’s patience, grace and mercy with one of His children, me. It may seem a bit long but it is a story of life from my heart.
Brotherly relationships are often times close. When brothers are born within a year of each other obviously you spend the vast majority of any part of your growing up years together. I had a good relationship with my brother. Raised in a home with parents who believed in attending Sunday School and church every Sunday to help establish Christian values as a foundation in our decisions. Family was important, and we also followed similar interests in sports and extra-curricular activities.
When I was a senior in high school my older brother joined the United States Navy, and moved away. God used this time of his life to draw my brother back into a closer relationship with Himself. When I graduated high school, I decided to work for our dad in his plumbing business. I moved out of the house and moved in with friends, who were experiencing the world of freedom and independence away from the daily oversight of parental guidance. Independence can be fun, but with independence comes responsibility, and at the young age of 18 good decision making is not high priority when the world is pulling at you with enticements stronger than your will or good sense.
My brother would write me letters and share the Lord’s truth with me. He would share Scripture references he was learning through his association with the Navigators. These letters, his stories of experiencing a new level of relationship with the Lord, and the relevant Scripture references, made me very uncomfortable. Often I would receive his letter and not open it because I didn’t want to hear what he was sharing with me. They were too convicting.
I could fill a ream of paper sharing the details of this period in my life. Let me say this; God was patient with me and His plan for me was progressing. Have you heard the expression, “wasted on wine, women and song”? I was raised in a loving family that approved of excessive use of alcohol. The money I earned was spent on a frivolous, self-indulgent lifestyle which was abusive to myself and others, physically, emotionally, and relationally. The lifestyle I was living was definitely a life far from the Lord. Through several jobs, several residences, and many superficial relationships through dating I spent everything I had and earned. I had borrowed all the money the bank was willing to loan me and I was not able to meet my monthly expenses along with supporting my desired lifestyle. Because I was broke, friends began to disassociate with me because they were growing tired of paying my way. Not a good position to put your friends.
My brother kept sharing how the Lord was blessing him. I continued to do odd jobs to cover my rent expenses, and took another job working for my dad as a salesman during the late 1970’s. This new job gave me great hope of finally being financially successful. However, I learned through this I was not a good salesman. This brought me to a very humbling reality, and through this failure as a salesman I began to listen to the Lord. New friends came into my life, friends who lived life differently than I had lived in recent years, friends who loved the Lord and walked with Him daily. These new friendships paralleled the letters my brother had been writing, and the conviction in heart that I was not pleasing God grew. Along with this conviction, I began to appreciate what my brother had been doing over the previous four years through his letters. I had a dramatic, eye-opening experience while a groomsman at a friend’s wedding; the Lord turned my heart back to Him. After the wedding, I responded by getting on my knees to confess my sin.
I recommitted my life to the Lord, and over the next two years I grew in my personal faith through study, fellowship with believers, and through close personal friends all by God’s grace. He re-established a great relationship between my brother and I, and my brother was my best man at my wedding with my bride, Nedra, in 1982. This is only the first miracle God had in store for me.
Jump forward nine years to 1991, my brother left the Navy in 1983, after 9.5 years of service, and was working for himself; at times employed in the technology field. We ended up living in the same town in Kansas. He had decided to take on a new venture of custom home building through an association with a manufactured home company. Because we had a good relationship with him and his family at the time, and I wanted to help him get started, we agreed to let him build our first new house, and signed the contract. This was not a good decision in retrospect. Through the project we gave him money from our construction loan so he in turn could pay the sub-contractors as they performed their work. We learned later he had not been paying the sub contractors for their work when we received notices that leans had been placed on our property.
Without explaining all the details, simply place yourself in this situation. A conflict was brewing of magnum proportions. Extremely heated conversations developed over when and how the sub-contractors would be paid, but no resolution was reached because the money given was gone used for other “needed” purposes. This conflict escalated quickly and involved many other people including other family members taking sides, bankers, insurance agents, employers and attorneys. Why was such a good beginning and trust ending up so ugly and divisive? How could such a good relationship get so alienated over building a house?
Ultimately, my wife and I decided these things could not be resolved, apart from one of two things; take my brother to court, or absorb the costs ourselves. We decided we did not have biblical permission to take my brother to court. After all, he was not only a blood brother but a brother in Christ, right? So we determined to settle the matter by letting the existing sub-contractors go and hiring subcontractors to finish the project. We paid all the unpaid subcontractors from an increase in our loan at the bank and terminated the contract with my brother. This also drove a huge wedge between my brother and me, and set up a great case for family disunity with our parents and extended family for four years.
Resolution…or another lesson to be learned
My wife and I became convicted and reached an understanding through much prayer and wise counsel from others, that harboring a lack of forgiveness, bitterness, anger and a judgmental spirit toward my brother (and his family) over an unfulfilled contract and monetary loss was not God’s will. We made a cognitive decision to call and invite my brother and his wife to our house, to discuss our differences with the ultimate objective of extending forgiveness. Keep in mind we had not spoken about the matter since the break in our relationship. They accepted our invitation.
The evening was prayed over by many people who knew the circumstances and the turmoil of four years. As the conversation began we felt God’s peace and were able to visit in a congenial manner. As the conversation was beginning to wind down we said the words, “we want you to know we forgive you for all that took place surrounding the building of this house”. We had not anticipated the response we received from them. In return they simply said, “We forgive you as well”. No other conversation followed other than a friendly goodbye and a hug. On the surface the relationship looked much improved. However, my wife and I struggled with the question, “what did we do that they forgave us for. What wrong did we commit”? But we chose not to question the forgiveness extended and thanked them.
This allowed family relationships to be restored, and we began participating together in holidays, family reunions, and acknowledging annual family birthdays and anniversaries again. Forgiveness had verbally been extended, but rebuilding trust in the relationship was still a work in progress.
Another “more spiritually challenging” test ahead
In 2004, approximately ten years had passed. Much had happened in our respective families during this time. Our children had grown up, three of the five boys between us were off to college, and two were still in high school. My wife and I had continued in our professional jobs and had taken on leadership in our church. My brother now had his own business and doing well. He also served as co-lay pastor in a small church. All seemed to be blessed and good. Through a series of events my wife and I had experienced, we were moved to begin pursuing full time ministry with Campus Crusade for Christ to serve with FamilyLife, a marriage and family ministry outreach of Campus Crusade for Christ, serving to bring biblical help and hope to marriages and families. This pursuit was mostly confidential. I did not want our current employers to know we were pursuing other work because I was concerned how they would respond. We had not shared this with any family members other than our own children.
We reached a final decision to join Campus Crusade for Christ staff July 2, 2004. God provided many affirmations for our decision, and we were at peace with moving forward. It was time to share our decision with our family. We had not anticipated the response we would receive from many of our family particularly my brother!
We called them and said we had some news we wanted to share with him and his wife. When we met and shared what we were going to be doing there was more astonishment on their faces rather than excitement. They asked us a lot of questions, which is normal when someone has not heard of an organization. We answered their questions with the knowledge we had at that time, but the response did not reflect the joy or excitement we had anticipated from them.
The weeks and months that followed our discussions with my brother and his wife were anything but pleasant. They began to tell us that the work we were headed into was not the work of God. That FamilyLife was actually leading people further away from Christ than toward Him. My brother said we were using Scripture for our benefit, taking Scripture out of context to influence people so they would join our ministry monetarily. Many deep, hurtful things filled our conversations. The arguments and disagreements intensified during all the months we were sharing about our ministry as missionary staff and preparation for the move to Little Rock, Ark. My brother reached a point where he said he could not talk to me about this anymore and that he and his wife would be glad when we moved so they wouldn’t have to see us any longer. These discussions and comments cut to the core of our relationship once again, and we moved without saying goodbye, without any plans to talk again.
Six years pass! Casual conversations happened from time to time, but the desire to spend quality time together was absent from our relationship. In 2007 we were driven together when mom was diagnosed with lung cancer. We had to visit about the treatment and plans for mom’s long term care and talk with her about options. This stress was expected, but also added to the stress of our distressed relationship. Mom lived three more years before she graduated to her heavenly home. We were able to honor our mom’s life by creating a meaningful memorial service where many family and friends attended. What was left was completing her wishes spelled out in here will as she appointed my brother and I as co-executors, and a simple distribution of dad and mom’s personal and real property was to be divided equally between us. Looking back this was not the best option for settling an estate. A third party, non-family member should have been the executor, but this was not mom’s desire.
Dad and mom had collected and saved items over 50 years. Needless to say, there was a huge amount of household things to go through that had been stored in the two story, four bedroom house, with walk in closets, a two car garage with a full loft completely full and another building equivalent to a three car garage with a loft also completely full. We knew this stuff had to be surveyed. It spanned four generations of accumulation, and we said we had to do it together so we would see everything that was found. Remember the broken trust that existed? The lack of trust came to a boiling point during this process. After a year and a half we reached a point where we had divided the personal property, had many items appraised at my brother’s demand to determine value, and finally reached a point where we could have an auction of the rest of the stuff neither one of us wanted.
Once the auction was over all that remained was the real estate. My brother had made it known early in the process he wanted to keep the property. He was not ready to sell it because at that time he said he wanted to move back and live in dad and mom’s home. My wife and I had no interest in the property and agreed he could buy out our half of the property for an agreed price. This began a very difficult series of discussions because of three factors.