Thursday, January 13, 2005

Forgiveness is the Key

"Come now, let us reason together," says the Lord. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool." ~ Isaiah 1:18

Both my father and my godfather have suggested that some of my columns are “a little heavy on the Bible verses.” If you agree, then this week’s column may not be your cup of tea.

To me, the subject of forgiveness is one of the most important issues addressed in the Bible – both God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others. So much hinges on our understanding of that one little word.

The first area of forgiveness I’d like to talk about is God’s forgiveness of us.

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” ~ 1 John 1:8,9

As a young girl growing up in the Catholic Church, I learned about the importance of God’s forgiveness from an early age. I remember going to confession and having to think up things to confess to the priest. “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned, my last confession was…..” Some of my old “standby sins” were lying or being disrespectful to my mother and talking in church. (Who me?) However, one time I did commit a more serious offense when I stole some candy from the corner store. I felt so terrible after I got home, I just cried and cried. In an attempt to right the wrong and clear my conscience, I decided to empty my piggy bank and return to the store the next day. I didn’t come completely clean, however, because I waited until no one was around and then I plopped my money on the store counter and ran like the wind.

“For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
~ Hebrews 4:15-16

So even though I don’t go to the confessional anymore, I still confess my sins on a regular basis and am deeply grateful for God’s forgiveness.

The other area of forgiveness involves our forgiveness of others – and the Bible has a whole lot of things to say on this subject.

“Then Peter came up and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”
~ Matthew 18: 21,22

I remember one time several years ago when I was really struggling with unforgiveness in my heart towards another person. I felt very justified in my position and had a real attitude of indignation about the whole matter. After all, I was right and what they did was wrong – there wasn’t any way around that!

Then one day my husband Keen came to me with his Bible in hand and asked me to read the following verses:

“For if you forgive people their trespasses – that is, their reckless and willful sins, leaving them, letting them go and giving up resentment – your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their trespasses – their reckless and willful sins, leaving them, letting them go and giving up resentment – neither will your Father forgive you your trespasses.”
~ Matthew 6: 14,15 (Amplified)

Suddenly, I wasn’t feeling quite so self-righteous. What choice did I have after reading those verses? If I didn’t find it in my heart to forgive and “give up resentment”, then God would not find it in His heart to forgive me for all of my “reckless and willful sins.” I would be like the wicked servant in Matthew 18:23-35 who was forgiven such a great debt (about $10,000,000) but was unwilling to forgive the man who owed him a very small amount (about $20.00). Once his master heard about it, he called him and said, “You contemptible and wicked servant! I forgave and cancelled all that great debt of yours because you begged me; and shouldn’t you not have had pity and mercy on your fellow servant?” He then turned him over to the jailers until he paid all that he owed. The story ends with the following verse: “So also My heavenly Father will deal with every one of you, if you do not freely forgive your brother from your heart his offenses.”

So by the grace of God, I made a decision to forgive that individual completely – from my heart. Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t change what they’d done one iota – but it changed me completely. (As author Stormie Omartian says: “Forgiving someone doesn’t make them right nor justify what they did – it just makes you free.”) I can’t even begin to explain the transformation that came over me after I made the decision to obey God and forgive. The bitterness and resentment immediately melted away and I was able to truly love them with my whole heart.

“It is a man’s glory to overlook a transgression or an offense.”
~ Proverbs 19:11

A Lesson in Forgiveness
Author Unknown

One day a while back, a man, his heart heavy with grief, was walking in the woods. As he thought about his life this day, he knew many things were not right. He thought about those who had lied about him back when he had a job.

His thoughts turned to those who had stolen his things and cheated him. He remembered family that had passed on. His mind turned to the illness he had that no one could cure. His soul was filled with anger, resentment and frustration.

Standing there this day, searching for answers he could not find, knowing all else had failed him, he knelt at the base of an old oak tree to seek the One he knew would always be there. With tears streaming down his face, he prayed:

“Lord, You have done wonderful things for me in this life. You have told me to do many things for you, and I happily obeyed. Today, you have told me to forgive. I am sad, Lord, because I cannot. I don't know how. It is not fair, Lord. I didn't deserve these wrongs that were done to me and I shouldn't have to forgive. As perfect as Your way is, this one thing I cannot do; my anger is too deep. Now I fear that I may not hear You, but I pray that You would teach me to do this one thing – please teach me to forgive.”

As he knelt there in the quiet shade of that old oak tree, he felt something fall onto his shoulder. He opened his eyes and out of the corner of one eye, he saw something red on his shirt.

He raised his head and saw two feet held to the tree with a large spike through them. He raised his head more, and tears came to his eyes as he saw Jesus hanging on a cross. He saw spikes in His hands, a gash in His side, a torn and battered body, and deep thorns sunk into His head. Finally he saw the suffering and pain on His precious face. As their eyes met, the man's tears turned to sobbing, and Jesus began to speak.

"Have you ever told a lie?" He asked.
The man answered, "Yes, Lord."

"Have you ever been given too much change and kept it?"
The man again answered, "Yes, Lord."

"Have you ever taken something from work that wasn't yours?" Jesus asked?

And once again, the man answered, "Yes, Lord."

"Have you ever sworn, using my Father's name in vain?"
The man cried, “Yes, Lord."

As Jesus asked many more times, "Have you ever ….?", the man's crying became
uncontrollable, and he could only answer, "Yes, yes, Lord."

Then Jesus turned His head from one side to the other and the man felt something fall on his other shoulder. It was the blood of Jesus. When he looked into His eyes, he saw a look of love he had never seen or known before.

Then Jesus softly whispered, "I didn't deserve this either, but I forgive you."

“Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another . . . even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.” ~ Colossians 3:13 (KJV)

By Brenda Terrell

When a hurtful word is spoken, or an unkind deed is done
I always must remember, I am not the only one
Who has ever been mistreated, stepped upon or pushed aside
By thoughtless, harmful actions, or selfish hateful pride.

The world is full of people, who purposely abuse
Who lie and cheat and slander, and manipulate and use
Anyone and everyone, who might get in their way
Of success or fame or power; no price too big to pay.

God's word is clear and simple, about what I must do
When I have been offended, by friend or foe's misuse:
"Forgive...and be forgiven" – I dare not keep a score
Seventy times seven, times seven hundred more.

When I am unforgiving, the battle I'll not win;
For I need my Father's mercy, to blot out all my sin.
Forgiving is not easy, yet I know it can be done:
I look to Christ my Savior, the holy, sinless One.

When Jesus died upon the cross, His words rang clear and true,
"Father, please forgive them, for they know not what they do."
As the Precious Lamb of God, Christ wants me to see:
Forgiving is the power that sets my spirit free!
Yes, forgiveness is God's wondrous gift, that sets my spirit free!

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of malicious behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”
~ Ephesians 4:31, 32 (NLT)