"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'"
March 17, 2010
This is the last and final devotional on the subject of forgiveness. The Bible has so much to say about it, that I believe God is serious when it comes to forgiveness. It's not optional, but a command.
The seriousness of it is found in Matthew 6:14,15. Jesus is speaking and says, "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
Wow, that's pretty strong! A trespass is a sin or offense. But it also means to make unfair claims or take advantage of. If someone sins against us, offends us, makes unfair claims or takes advantage of us; we are required to forgive. It's not a matter of "do it if you want; but forget it if it's too hard." In order for God to forgive us our sins and offenses, then we have to forgive others. And we all need the love and forgiveness of God.
I know this isn't an easy thing to always do. When you've been fired from a job for no good reason, or been falsely accused of something, or been abused or mistreated, been betrayed, or any number of things.... it's difficult to forgive and move beyond the feeling of hurt and betrayal. But it can be done. And once you have, you will come through it a better and stronger individual.
The Lord's prayer is in Matthew 6:9-13. In verse 12 it says, "And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors."
In other words, we're saying, "Lord forgive us of our sins and offenses (debts), in the same manner in which we forgive those who owe us or have done something that requires a debt be paid (our debtor)."
If we were to receive God's forgiveness in the same manner in which we forgive, what would our lives be like?
I think one of the greatest examples of forgiveness occurred in 2006. We were all stunned when we heard of the gunman who killed five little girls in a one-room Amish schoolhouse, then killed himself. The Amish are well known for their peaceful way of living, and it was shocking that such a tragedy would happen to them. Yet, it wasn't so much the shooting that drew media attention as much as what took place afterwards. By 9:00 that evening, Amish neighbors had already been to the shooters home to offer forgiveness to his wife and children. This act was so uncommon and unnatural that the media wasn't sure what to make of it. One person said, "The hurt is very great, but they [the Amish] don't balance the hurt with hate."
This Amish community were grieving the loss of these five little girls and were shocked by the event that had taken place in their 'safe' schoolhouse. But they were able to recognize the fact that the wife of the shooter was also grieving. She had lost her husband that same day, too; even though it was by his own hand. But I'm sure she was also feeling shocked and horrified that her husband had committed such a heinous act. But instead of the Amish community heaping guilt and condemnation upon her for the act of her spouse, they opened their arms and offered forgiveness. I'm sure that by them doing so, she was able to emotionally heal more easily.
In Luke 6:27-29 Jesus says, "But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either."
We read those words and think, "Impossible!" We see no way that we could possibly follow these instructions that Jesus gave. Yet the actions of the Amish show us this is truly possible to do. We don't have the power to do so ourselves, but with the help of God, we can.
In the Psalms, we read where King David struggled with this over and over again. In one Psalm he is pleading with God to destroy his enemies. But in another he speaks of mercy and forgiveness. Then he goes back to feeling overwhelmed and questioning where God is, and why He's allowing the enemy to seemingly triumph over him. Then once again he remembers the power and strength of God, and is encouraged to be strong in his faith and trust God. But in the next chapter he may be asking God to put his enemy to flight or kill them. But then he chooses to forgive those who have tried to destroy him.
That is much like my struggle with forgiveness; and I believe it's how most people battle forgiveness over and over again. It doesn't sound too difficult if life is good and everyone loves you and is treating you well. But let something happen where you feel threatened or someone hurts you, and you once again recognize the fact how tough forgiving someone truly is.
I have heard it said before that harboring unforgiveness in your heart is like drinking poison, hoping the other person will die. That's not going to happen. You will only destroy yourself, not the other person. And not forgiving someone is like drinking poison. It will eventually destroy you. It will mess with your mind and ability to think clearly. And it will effect your ability to open your heart and completely love others.
I have been around individuals who are so filled with bitterness and anger that no one enjoys being around them. They are critical, negative, hurtful, and filled with unhappiness. It not only affects them, but brings hurt to their family. After a while, they find that their friends are avoiding them, because they are so unpleasant to be around and no one wants to spend more time than absolutely necessary with them. They have very little good to say about anyone, and gripe about everything. You could give them a new car and they'd complain about the color!
Many times if you could go back to the one event that caused them to become so embittered, it is wrapped around a matter of unforgiveness. They didn't just become like this overnight, but never were able to forgive someone for something, and it grew and grew until it consumed their life. It may have been a parent who hurt them and can be traced back to their childhood; it may be something that happened at school and is tied to a particular teacher; it may be a business deal where they were taken advantage of and were wronged; it may be where they were wrongfully fired from a job; perhaps it was a close friend who betrayed them; a spouse may have cheated on them or left them; the list could go on and on. But it was something that cut so deeply that they never forgave; and eventually it began to destroy their life.
You may think that not forgiving someone is no ones business but your own. But by holding onto it, you eventually will hurt and destroy yourself. And you're going to inadvertently hurt others around you. The other person isn't going to die from the poison of unforgiveness; you are.
Recently I heard of a lady who went in for surgery on her stomach. The original plan was to remove part of the stomach and reattach the small intestine. But after the surgeon began the operation, he found that she had so much scar tissue around her stomach, gallbladder and pancreas, that he was unable to do the surgery as planned. Did the scar tissue just suddenly appear? No, it was something that had built up over time.
It's the same way when we hold onto unforgiveness. It will cause scars to build up in our lives. It will cause damage that could have been prevented if we had only gotten rid of and worked through issues as they arose.
But there is also a flip side to forgiveness. I have written a lot about the necessity of forgiving others, but let me add one more thing to this. Not only is it important to forgive and let go; it is essential to accept forgiveness when others offer it to us. If someone has hurt us or been hurt by something we've done, and they come offering forgiveness, then we have to be big enough people to receive it.
In the old movie 'Love Story', the tag line from the movie was, "Love means never having to say you're sorry." Sad to say, many people believe that to be true. But love doesn't mean that you never have to say you're sorry, it means that you are quick to say, "I was wrong; please forgive me." That willingness to admit our mistakes and our willingness to seek forgiveness can play a powerful role in maintaining a happy marriage; as well as maintaining any healthy relationship or friendship.
Asking forgiveness and granting forgiveness can make all the difference in the world. Not only in relationships with others, but for our own peace of mind. May each of us strive to be people who practice forgiveness.
I've heard something along the lines of, "That jerk. I said I was sorry, and he wouldn't forgive me."
It's awfully hard to forgive someone who isn't genuinely sorry for what they've done. But that's obvious.
Why is it sometimes hard to forgive someone for not forgiving us? If someone refuses to forgive me for something I've done wrong to them, why should I make things worse by not letting it go, either?
There was a fad some time ago, where people asked, "What would Jesus do?" It's not a bad principle. But in cases like this, perhaps it's better to ask, "What would Jesus think of us?" Friendships, families, and even marriages have fallen apart because each member won't forgive the other for not forgiving them for not forgiving the other for something that was really minor to begin with.
Sweet Fruit Dip
4 oz. (1/2 of 8 oz. Pkg.) Cream Cheese
1 cup whole berry cranberry sauce
1 cup Cool Whip - thawed
Let the cream cheese set to soften. Beat cream cheese and cranberry sauce with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended. Gently stir in thawed Cool Whip. Cover. Refrigerate at least 1 hour or until ready to serve. Serve with strawberries, red and green grapes, pineapple or kiwi, cut into bite-sized pieces for dipping.
My dad had a tendency to gag easily and just hearing someone talk about something gross would often make him sick and he'd throw up. When one of my sisters was a teen, she had the same tendency. Occasionally family who knew this would start talking about something disgusting in front of them, just to aggravate them to try to see if their stomach would handle it. But one time my sister had heard a gross joke and wanted to tell my dad, to see if she could make him sick. Our family was in the car and she started telling it to my dad. She would start telling it, then would start gagging herself, and couldn't finish. Of course, a couple of the other sisters were laughing at her and egging her on. At that point, Daddy was laughing at her because her orneriness was backfiring on her. Finally, she was able to get the joke told, and Daddy had to pull over, and he and my sister both jumped out of the car and threw up. Of course, the rest of us were laughing. She found out that it really wasn't worth it to try to see if she could make Daddy gag! Later they both found the whole thing funny and could laugh about it too.
When you forgive someone, you can't force them to accept. But you can choose to not take it back and hold onto it if they do refuse it.
Springtime will be arriving this weekend. We can begin looking forward to sunnier, warmer days.
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We love you!
Loretta & Jon