Did you really think being forgiven was free? C’mon now.

As hard as it may be, forgiveness is the first step on the road to redemption.

Conflict Resolution

I will never forget my 3rd grade school year. I was one of the lucky ones who displayed exceptional character and got picked to be my grade’s “conflict manager.” I, along with three others, had the esteemed honor of wearing bright green vests over our clothes at recess every single day.  Needless to say I was quite the trendsetter when it came to fashion. This was part of a national initiative to end bullying in grade schools. My role was to help two or more individuals in disagreement understand both sides and come to terms and forgive one another.

We were trained in what to say and communicate in hopes of finding resolution at the end. We had ground rules that were explained and things they would have to agree to as we talk. Things like not interrupting, not using bad language, and so on. Believe it or not that was the easiest part. I ended up mediating probably 15 fights that year and help my fellow classmates “hug and make up.” Looking back,  the hardest part of each conflict was always the conclusion.

In all of those instances we would end with a promise to go and show the same forgiveness to others that they both experienced. I would go through my little speech on this and they would roll their eyes and say “yea yea I get it, I have to forgive just like I was forgiven. We get it Noah.” Needless to say, I wasn’t really the cool kid in third grade. Even despite my huge collection of pogs. Click here to see what these were.

The Hardest Part About Being Forgiven

Twenty two years have passed since I was a conflict manager on the mean streets of Suffield Elementary in Ohio. However I find myself in very similar situations as a pastor. I often help people come together, reconcile, and demonstrate grace and forgiveness when it seems impossible. Sure the problems and issues have changed but the hardest part of the entire process has not.

I am convinced that we as followers of Christ (let alone humanity) struggle very much with showing grace and forgiveness even after we have experienced it ourselves. That same thread of hypocrisy runs deep whether its on the playground or in adulthood. We can embrace forgiveness but hesitate to extend it. We can hear I am sorry a lot easier than we can say it.

Jesus was a fan of forgiving others. In fact he thought it was so important he said this:

14 “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. 15 But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. Mat 6:14-15 NLT

I have heard this verse preached on and written about on many occasions. Sadly the powerful potency of what is being said is stuffed with exceptions and excuses. “Well if such and such did this… or… If the sin was so grievous then…” There is a strong temptation to pacify what Jesus meant to be bold. You know what I think should follow it? This:__________________. Nothing. We should take it for what it is and wrestle with it.

There are times when we need to allow the words of Jesus hit us square in the eyes and challenge us at our deepest places. Being a forgiving person is one of those. We, as followers of Jesus, are to be forgiving people because we of all people have experienced the tremendous joy of that very same forgiveness. This is the hardest part about forgiveness; its never cheap.

Forgiveness is Not an Emotion

I was talking to someone a few years ago who genuinely wanted to forgive her husband who had abused her. She wanted to forgive him like this verse says and move on with her life. She talked to me and with tears explained how she felt she was not forgiving him because the emotions were still very raw and difficult for her. She then asked me if she truly forgives even if she feels hatred and anger.

I explained to her that forgiveness is not an emotion. It is an act. It is difficult and takes humility. Saying “I forgive you” does not take away the memory or emotion involved. Forgiving is a process that takes time to develop to where the emotions come into alignment with the reality of our will in showing forgiveness. There is still common sense involved and we may choose to forgive someone but still flee from them for practical reasons such as sanity, safety, or any other reason. There are even  times when we may have to forgive from a distance because of the seriousness of the situation.

Forgive and Forget

Short side note: we would do well as the body of Christ to do away with the phrase “forgive and forget.” That completely takes away the beauty and depth of forgiveness. I understand Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 says, “Keep no record of wrongs.” This is in the context of hanging ones faults and bad deeds over the head of the other. This is different.

Forgiveness, the kind that we experience in Christ (click here for more on this) and are to extend to others, is an act that says “I see this [insert offence or grievance] and I want you to know that I am forgiving you for [insert offence or grievance].” Paul explains this same thing  to the church at Rome regarding Jesus and us as sinners. He says, ” While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 NIV.

Do you noticed what came first? Our sin. Our grievance. Our offenses towards God. What followed? Forgiveness and grace. Paul never says, “Christ died for all of you!” Person in crowd says, “Why? For what?” Paul replies, “I don’t know and he doesn’t either!” No. This would be foolish. Real forgiveness acknowledges the pain involved and stares it straight in the eyes and says, “I forgive you.”

Real forgiveness acknowledges the pain caused rather than forgetting it.Yes its hard. Yes it takes time.

Forgiving is hard work. Never easy. But always freeing. Trust me. When you choose to withhold forgiveness you are the one who suffers more in the end than the one who caused the hurt.

What do you feel the hardest part about forgiving others is? Feel free to take the poll below. This will give us a window into the struggle of forgiving others.

 

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The Greatest Wonder of All

He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. Psalm 103:10-13 ESV

“God has the Power to Forgive”

To this very moment, I have certain songs stuck in my head from this summers V.B.S. I could probably sing and dance more than half of the songs the children learned. For those of you who don’t know V.B.S. stands for Vacation Bible School. It is that one week out of the summer when we give the parents a much needed break and the kids come to learn the truth of Gods word and grow as followers of Jesus. It is a time that we here at HighMill cherish and love.

Each day of VBS there are certain “Bible points” the children learn and memorize. They learn what they mean and why they are relevant and they set the course for the given lessons each day. On one particular day of VBS the Bible point was, “God has the power to forgive.”

Pretty simple huh? Very straightforward and to the point.

I can hear that statement, like I did, and let it go in one ear and out the other–unfazed and unimpressed on the inside.

That’s what happened to me on that day when I first heard it. I had my coffee. I was walking down the hall way. Heard it yelled by all the kids where I was and delightfully agreed  saying, “yes He does.” I then sipped my coffee and returned to my study. In one ear and out the other unfazed and unimpressed.

However this was not the case for one little boy here at VBS a few hours later. I overheard one of the leaders sharing with this boy about that same Bible point.

The conversation went something like this:

Little Boy: What’s the Bible point again for today?

Leader: God has the power to forgive.

Little Boy: WOW! He does?!? That is so exciting! Like He forgives everything we have ever done that was wrong!!?? (insert smiley faces, high fives, and genuine jubilation)

Leader: Yes, if we come to Him and ask him to.

Little Boy: OH MY! I am so excited that He has the power to forgive. That is awesome!!!  I am so thankful!

After eavesdropping, I went back into my study both overjoyed and convicted. Overjoyed because a child here at HighMill was able to comprehend something so beautiful and amazing: that God forgives us. Convicted because what was so exciting and amazing to this child had become mundane and common to me.

One Thing That Must Never Become Common

There is a serious danger lurking when something beautiful and uncommon becomes dull and routine.  Things like the passion or fun in our marriages or the awe and joy when beholding God’s creation. Even something as normal as the joy of hearing your children laughing. Those are three things that should never become common. But they do. It is of course common for material things to become routine and dull. I mean, I don’t get as excited as I used to about my Legend of Zelda play sword. This is understandable. But there are some things that we can never allow to become normal and mundane.

“God has the power to forgive” is certainly one of them. Do you know (if you choose to believe so) that God,  going by the name Yahweh in the Hebrew Old Testament, Apocrypha, and New Testament created and loves you? Do you know that he sees and understands everything you have been through and have done and still with everything you are and have been through–genuinely loves and forgives you? Of course on our end we must repent, come to him, and embrace this gift. But still, the fact that he even allows us to even do that is mind blowing.

To some of you this may not register just yet. That’s OK. Give it time.  I still struggle with this reality. I know me. I know where I have been and who I am as a broken person. And to think that He still loves and forgives me…wow. This has to be the greatest wonder of all. Not that he created Everest or the Pacific. Not that he created the Big Dipper or Milky Way. But that He, as perfect and holy as He is, extends His hand to a broken and sinful humanity awaiting our response to His open forgiveness and embrace.

I encourage you to simply remember that one truth. That you are loved. That there is grace for you. That he extends his hand of forgiveness to bring you into a life that is new–leaving behind the old.

3 Things Worth Contemplating

  • There is nothing you have done or have experienced that cannot be healed or forgiven by the One who Created you.
  • God was, is, and always will be the God who sympathizes. He has never been a marionette puppeteer, genie, or buddy. He is the descending God who gets you, knows you, and is with you even at your deepest point.
  • Lastly, the bridge from knowing “about” God’s forgiveness and grace to experiencing it daily is prayer, Scripture, and the believing community. Listening/talking with Him and reading/meditating on the narrative of His love for humanity, and doing so with others along the same journey.

Those three things, at the expense of simplifying,  if focused upon will make that simple “Bible point” stand out to us every time we hear it.

One More Thought…

In an obscure book of the Bible called Zepheniah, God is speaking through this prophet many things about the people of Israel. He goes to great lengths to explain His anger and frustration regarding their infidelity but then says something pretty exciting about the people He was angry with. He says,  “For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” (Zep 3:17)

Though the context may be different, I have to believe that God still dances over his children each time one of them returns back into his loving arms of forgiveness and grace.

An amazing and perfect Father forgiving a broken and repentant people…you, me, and us. That has to be the greatest wonder of all. I pray that hasn’t become common to you.

Your turn

What is the hardest part about accepting God’s forgiveness?

Be honest, does this truth ever become mundane to you?

How do you keep this fresh and real in your own life?