I described in the previous three blog posts the dilemma of unforgiveness and bitterness in our lives. The metaphor of a “hate bus” was used to describe how we go through life experiencing various kinds of hurtful offenses from minor to major events. Be sure to read the three previous posts to fully understand today’s post. When these offenses happen we throw the people who’ve offended us on our hate bus. Our hate bus is the vehicle by which we go through life carrying the grudges and wounds of these offenses. Forgiveness is needed to cure this poison in our body and soul. Today I’d like to describe forgiveness by describing what it is not. We have a few misconceptions which are rampant in our model of spiritual growth.
First of all, forgiveness is not understanding. I am for understanding, I think understanding is a great thing but don't confuse it with forgiveness. I asked a friend of mine who grew up with an abusive, alcoholic father who abused him and his siblings, how he forgave his father. He said, "As I read more and learned more about alcoholism, I realized every time my father treated us this way was because of his alcoholism." I think it is a great thing that he has understanding, but he claims now, that because he understands alcoholism, he has forgiven his father. He couldn't understand why he still has all the effects of the unforgiveness and bitterness in his life. I would suggest that finding some reason (understanding) for someone's sin against you and reducing it down to something that is more palatable, something that you can understand and handle and then forgiving that smaller offense is not a thorough forgiveness. God just simply never does that. When I go to God and say: "Father I have fouled up royally again. Please forgive me for the way I screamed and the way I hollered at my kids." He doesn’t say, "Matt that's okay, I understand you were under a lot of stress that day, preparing for that thing you were convinced was so important." He just doesn't do that. When you go to Him and confess sin, He never says that's okay, I understand your momma dropped on your head when you were young. God has complete understanding. He knows all the mitigating circumstances that affect our lives and increase the chance for us to act in all kinds of ungodly and destructive ways. He knows all that content but He never says “that's okay, I understand.” What He does say is “You're right Matt, you fouled up royally. I love you so much that my son Jesus is going to pay for that sin. He is going to pay for it. I forgive you.” When one of my kids sin against the other one, for example, we will be riding down the highway on a long trip and one of them will holler "she is looking at me" and I will say, "quit looking at your sister" and they will have to apologize to each other and we always require them to say "I forgive you", not "that's okay, I'll get over it." They have to say "I forgive you". Forgiveness is not understanding. Paul told the Romans in Chapter 12:19 – “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
June 8, 1996, Houston Chronicle, Saturday morning. “She was an attractive socially active mother of three who lead a comfortable suburban life in Pearland before this man walked into her living room and blew away the right side of her face on Dec. 19, 1993. After the jury accessed a life prison sentence and the judge called him a 'punk' and 'a sorry excuse for a human being,' Palmer calmly walked to the witness stand to give her victim's impact statement. 'I think there is only one thing left for me to say', she said to the man 'and that's that I forgive you.' Later on in the hallway, she said, 'God says, vengeance is mine, and I won't want to be in his shoes.' Palmer's husband David said 'the family's recovery has been helped by the people of Pearland and particularly fellow members of First Baptist Church.'" Folks, nobody gets away with anything in God's courtroom, if that man had walked away free, I am here to tell you, based on the authority of scripture, that he wouldn't have walked forever. All of us have been sinned against, and you know and I know, that often the consequences have not been paid. But I just want to encourage you that they will be someday. Nobody gets away with anything in God's courtroom. You can argue with God over the timing of consequences, if you’d like, but nobody gets away with anything forever. Nobody does. All sin is paid for either by the person that is guilty or Jesus on the cross. There are no loopholes in God's economy of justice. There are none.
Secondly, forgiveness is not amnesia. Some of you are angry because throughout your life you have been told perhaps by your parents, pastor, or peers that to forgive is to forget. Now I would suggest to you that you will probably forget this blog within the week, but you will not forget the fact that someone poisoned my or your puppy. I haven't forgotten it and you probably won't either. And you thought that if I have to forget this thing (an offense that you hate someone for) then I will have to minimize it, diminish it, or trivialize it, so I can forget it. And the moment you try to minimize or diminish someone's abuse of you, or the way they stole money from the business or whatever, you’ll start to get angry because you're thinking “God wants me to do something that I can't do.” I would suggest to you that you are right in being frustrated. Scripture says that God can forget. Scripture does not say that you can.
Several years ago, my daughter and I were mountain biking and I am looking down the trail seeing this rut coming up. The rut goes to the right and I am thinking, if I put on the brakes now, I will go over the handlebars and I don't want that. When I quickly arrived at the bottom of the hill, the rut did go to the right with my front tire and I went to the left. I was scraped up from the side of my face all the way down my left side and the worst was on my leg. It was nasty - a real screamer. It was one of those wounds that was not bad enough to go pay the hundred bucks at the emergency room, but bad enough that you could not ignore it. So I hobbled back to the house. My leg had gravel and every sort of dirt and muck in it. It really scared my daughter. She thought I was hurt much worse than I actually was. When we got back to the house, Julie said, "What happened to you" and I said, "I wrecked. Again..." What did I have to do at that point? I had to the very thing that was the most painful thing to do. I had to take my leg and put it under the bathtub faucet and run water over it. That was horribly painful and then after I ran water over it I had to take a washcloth and I had to clean it and that too was painful. I hated it. Here’s the point: The cleansing is forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not the healing. Forgiveness is the cleansing and healing comes after the cleansing. Had I ignored that nasty wound, what would have happened? It would have become infected and I would have a whole new set of problems. When you forgive, healing doesn't occur. You do, however, create an environment for healing to occur. Many of us wait until we experience some sort of healing before we forgive. When I begin to feel better about this, (as if that's going to come and it's not) then I will forgive. It just doesn't work like that. Forgiveness will cause the healing to begin. You can blame the offender for your wound but you can't blame the offender for your infection. You and I are responsible for our own infections. Infections are the result of our neglecting to cleanse the wound.
Thirdly, forgiveness does not originate in you and I. Paul told the Ephesians in 4:32 – “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” I can't give away anything I don't already possess. Forgiveness is not something that resides in me. Forgiveness is something that flows through me. If I'm not receiving it, I'm not giving it away to anyone else. We have to receive it in order to give it away. Peter was talking to Jesus (recorded in Matthew 18), and he said, “Lord how many times should I forgive my brother when he sins against me, up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you not seven, but seventy times seven.” After that Jesus began to tell them the parable about a rich guy who had a servant, who owed him more money that he could ever pay, and the servant came to him and begged for mercy and the rich guy had mercy and he forgave him his debt. Then the servant went out and found someone who owed him a little bit of money and started choking him, demanding that he pay him the money he owed him. And the master heard what his servant had done and he brought him back. “I forgave you your entire debt and you went out and choked a guy for a little of nothing. I am throwing you into the jail and over to the torturers.” And then Jesus in verse 35, turned to his disciples and said, "This is how my heavenly father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart". Unless you forgive your brother from your heart.
This is forgiveness. Forgiveness is holding hands with Jesus, not holding hands with the people you hate. If you hold hands with them, you will become more like them. It's holding hands with Jesus and taking the wrist (Metaphorically. Some of you are very concrete.) of the person who has offended you, and placing it in the hand of Jesus. Putting their hands together and stepping back and saying, Jesus you do with this person as you see fit. It's taking their hand and putting it into the hand of Jesus and allowing Jesus to deal with that person. This is painful. It's not easy, but you can do it. This is the cleansing. If it was an unkind remark, an insensitive statement or whether it was ongoing horrible abuse for years and years - it's taking that person's hand and putting it into the hand of Jesus and allowing Jesus to deal with that person with boundless mercy and perfect justice. Two things you and I don't have: boundless mercy and perfect justice. We can do this, we can do this. Here is how you do this. You do this with a simple prayer. The prayer goes like this: (Put it in your own words if you’d like, but use this intention)
Dear God, I forgive the man who poisoned my dog (put your offense in this blank). I turn him over to you to deal with as you see fit. Amen.
To my knowledge I had never forgiven that fellow until I began to prepare these thoughts. I don't know many things, but one thing I do know is a healing process began the moment I forgave him. Not an instantaneous healing but a slower, thorough healing. I forgave. That is the promise of scripture. A healing process began. I can tell you now that I still have memory of the event but no longer the pain and torment. There are many other offenses that I have experienced similar healing over. You may be thinking, “That’s too simple.” I know. It is simple. It’s not painless but it is simple. God’s principles are not complicated reserved only for the very bright among us. They are simple and available to all of us who trust in faith, relying on Him to do what we cannot.
When we empty our bus, we change. It's good news. For example, scripture says we live in the light. To live in the light means to be less of a hypocrite. I know some of you were hoping we would not be a hypocrite at all, but that's just not the case. We are less of a hypocrite. Secondly, we stumble less. The reason we stumble less is we are not in the darkness, we can see more clearly, we are no longer blind (At least not to that. We have no shortage of blind spots we still need to work on). We see things we used to not see. We have a better picture of where we are going and our hearts are beginning to soften making us more capable of healthy, trusting relationships. We’re changing. We’re a little different. There’s no need to throw us a parade but we are a little different.
We still have other problems in our life. For those of you who were hoping I would give you a few steps that would help you to arrive and now you got it, you're fixed, you're there. This isn't it. We still have other problems. There are lots of things we haven't dealt with. We haven't arrived yet. There is a party going on in heaven because we did anything at all and you have probably noticed that we don’t do it all perfectly.
If you are a single adult, for your friendships, empty your bus. If you are a young person, for your future, empty your bus. Parents, for your kids’ sake, empty your bus. Engaged person, for your future marriage, empty your bus. Divorced person, send your ex-spouse off the bus. Married person, strengthen your marriage, empty your bus. Church member, for the sake of your church, send your last church off the bus. Pastors and teachers, put power in your ministry, empty your bus. All Christians, because Almighty God commands us, He doesn't recommend, He doesn't suggest, He commands us to empty our bus.
Here on earth we are far from heaven but forgiveness in our hearts closes the gap.
God bless you. I welcome your comments. Matt.