Monday, February 11, 2008

Set Free Through Forgiveness

As I continue to consider moments, I realize the most wasted moments are those we sit too long in hurt and anger over being wronged. Until we forgive, really forgive, that person, what happened, owns us. It shapes us. That’s not what we want!

Unforgiveness steals our moments. New moments that God may have for us are lost because we’re unable to let go of the past. Our bitterness keeps us from enjoying today.

What is Forgiveness?

When we’re sinned against, disrespected, betrayed, it’s reasonable to feel hurt. It’s even ok to be angry. But there comes a time to move on, forgive. The more quickly we can do this, the better.

“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. ‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” Ephesians 4:25-27

“Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Hebrews 12:14-15

Forgiveness is not merely saying “I forgive you”. It’s a condition of the heart. Speaking the words may be required or even essential to heal ourselves or move forward in a relationship. But whether or not we are able or choose to speak it, we must do it, from the depths of our soul.

Forgiveness is a decision. I have to decide I want to forgive. However, the actual forgiveness may be a process. Some times a hurt is so deep, that we must “forgive” by decision over and over again, until the heart really lets it go. It could take days, months, even years. I’m free to mourn and heal (without this, the forgiveness might not “stick”) but it’s not ok to let a bitter root spring up; my forgiveness has to be active. I need to work through my hurt, until it is really resolved.

We have truly forgiven, when we can wish the other well and love again freely, keeping no record of rights or wrongs. It’s allowing the past to be the past and taking our lessons forward.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Why Should I Forgive?

We some how believe unforgiveness punishes the wrong doer. However, the truth is, we remain enslaved until we forgive. Not to mention, it puts us into sin, erecting a wall between us and God.

Unforgiveness denies God of his sovereignty and challenges his character.

When we refuse to forgive one another, its as if we’re saying one of four things:

1) God is not sovereign. He didn’t know this would happen. It was out of his control or occurred outside his jurisdiction.
2) God is not just. He didn’t handle the situation fairly, so we need to take matters into our own hands.
3) God is not loving. He was cruel to let this happen; he cannot be trusted.
4) God is a liar. He said he’d work all things to good, but nothing good has resulted.

All of these are FALSE (the enemy's lies) and dangerous to believe. When we're hurt, we somehow feel that God has lost control, so we put up walls to protect ourselves in case it happens again. And we deny each other our human-ness, the right to be ever improving vessels it the potter's hands. We can’t live in the moment when we’re living like this.

Let’s remember what is TRUE: God is all powerful and all knowing. Nothing happens outside what he allows. He is just, but he is also full of grace. I’m thankful he doesn’t give me what I really deserve! He loves each of us dearly, as his children. And though we don’t always understand, he has a purpose for everything, even if it’s just to teach us.

This means that whatever has happened, even the bad, he’s allowed, through all his love for me. He must have a great purpose, far beyond what I can understand. We should look for any good that has come out of a situation, acknowledge that value, and forgive.

For two years God has been teaching me that I need to trust people. When I struggle to trust a person, I need to trust God more. I need to remember that nothing occurs outside of his grasp and everything he uses to fulfill his plans for me. An ever growing faith should lead to an ever growing capacity to forgive, as we acknowledge who God is and that he’s sovereign.

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Hebrews 11:16

Let’s look at a few more verses on how God sees sin and forgiveness:

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23

“Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.” Micah 7:18

“Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits- who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.” Psalm 103:2-5

“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:11-12

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Luke 6:37

“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” Isaiah 43:25

How do I Forgive Others?

If a perfect God can forgive an imperfect person, surely an imperfect person can forgive another imperfect person. We should find a way to do this, understanding and acknowledging through our own circumstance how prone we are to failure! How many times have I hurt another out of honest mistake or just pure stupidity? More than I can count. Few if any of us intentionally sin against one another. And for even those who do, or who may show no remorse, it’s not that they won’t serve the consequences for their actions. It’s just not our's to dole out, only God’s.

"If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." John 8:7b

This verse, if you’re unawares, pertains to the woman caught in adultery. Jesus catches a group of men about to stone this woman for her sin. But he wisely points out, that’s not their right.

Some commentaries postulate that the older men were actually the first to put their rocks down. In their age, they were far more aware of the sins they’d committed over time. Likewise, the more religious knew how prone they too were to sin and could not hold it against her. As I age, and grow in faith, I too am aware of all my failings. I have to be ready to forgive others.

In the past month, there have been several people I’ve been called to forgive. In two situations, I was hurt by actions of friends, quite unintentionally. Because I love these friends, we talked it out and all is well. In another situation, I was hurt, but gave it to the Lord and just let in go. I was less invested and the infraction not as critical, so that was possible. But a final situation was for more troubling and has been more difficult.

Though details are unimportant, several years ago I was truly wronged. Someone said and did some things against me, publicly, that few of you would dispute as terrible. To this day, that person has zero remorse. I have reason to be angry.

Until recently, I hadn’t seen this person for years, so thought I’d forgotten about it. I may have forgotten, but my visceral reaction made it clear I hadn’t forgiven.

Terrible thoughts and feelings soared through my mind and heart. I was ashamed at how angry I was! I began to pray through it and time and time again, this one verse came up…

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Genesis 50:20

For those of you unfamiliar with the story of Joseph, Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him, so they sold him into slavery. They lied to their father and said he’d been killed. In spite of his own faith and righteousness, through a series of other twisted events, he ends up in prison. But then he interprets a dream for Pharaoh and is given a key position. This enables him to save his own brothers from famine, securing a future for Israel. He says this to them, forgiving them for what they did.

You see, God always knew what would happen. He allowed it. And he planned on how to use it. Neither Joseph’s brothers, nor any other, had power to harm Joseph beyond what God allowed.

Such is surely true in my situation. God knew it. He allowed it. He had a reason. I look back now and see how God used it for good in the lives of many. So how can I not forgive?

That’s when God gave me the words of this blog: Unforgiveness denies God his sovereignty and challenges his character. He’s proved himself true. Just because one intended to hurt me, didn’t mean God had lost control. The opposite!

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

I have some thoughts on forgiving God (yes, forgiving GOD) and forgiving ourselves, but this is enough to chew on for now. You’ll just have to wait for future blogs!

Father God, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lord, you know in our hearts, there are things that are easy to forgive and others that are far more difficult. Some times it is our pride that keeps us from forgiveness. Some times it is extensive, deep hurt. Help us to forgive. Help us to acknowledge your sovereignty. Help us to trust you, no matter how we've been wronged. Help us to heal and move forward. Show us the lessons you have for us and help us release any right or claim to retribution. Teach us to love those who its harder for us to love. AMEN.

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