I don't know about you guys, but the Christmas season always seems to highlight the best and the worst in my life. I'm always very thankful for what I have, as the Lord seems to remind me in not so subtle ways how much He blesses us each day. In the midst of all of that though, I am also reminded of my own shortcomings. I have so much to learn, and I tend to beat myself up during the holidays for bad choices I've made, for things I wish I'd done differently, for the relationships that went sour in the past. Two Sundays ago, our pastor said that the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas has a higher suicide rate than the other 11 months of the year combined. The enemy wants nothing more than to highlight hurts and pain in our lives during the one time of year that we celebrate the birth of our Savior... a time that should be filled with joy and celebration.
Well, I choose to not fall for that anymore. The past couple of weeks at church have been a series of sermons based on forgiveness. We've only done the first two weeks, but in those two weeks, I have been so incredibly blessed and set free. So, I wanted to share with you what I've learned so that if you are holding onto some unforgiveness, you might experience release and freedom as well.
The reason it's so hard for most of us to forgive is because we have a wrong understanding of forgiveness. We think that forgiveness is somehow minimizing the seriousness of the offense, or that it means reconciliation HAS to happen, or that we must forget what happened. Forgiveness is none of those things. The offense IS serious, you don't always have to reconcile, and you certainly can't be expected to forget what happened. But the problem is, we don't think it's fair for us to have to forgive. As Pastor Chris said two Sundays ago, you don't want to go the fair route. We didn't receive what was fair when Jesus paid for our sins, died on a cross, and reconciled us to God... WHILE WE WERE SINNERS. So, why are we so harsh with others when we didn't even receive what was fair?
Something else about forgiveness is that we usually just don't think that we can do it. Well, in a sense, that's kind of correct. I read a book called "The Hiding Place" by Corrie Ten Boom several years ago. At the end, she is faced with one of the very guards who had held her captive in a prison camp. And as he asked her for forgiveness, she said there wasn't an ounce of her that wanted to forgive him. It still hurt too much. So she asked the Lord to do the forgiving through her, because she knew that He was the only one who could change her heart toward this man. And as she embraced that man, she wept with a flood of forgiveness and love that she knew couldn't have come from her own flesh. We can't do the forgiving in our own power. When we begin this work, it doesn't feel like we're forgiving anything, much less anyone. But as you continue to walk it out, the Lord does a work in our hearts. I promise- I've been there. In the beginning, I couldn't go off of my own feelings. I had to just keep walking it out and choosing to forgive, and eventually I knew that the Lord had changed my heart.
There are three things you can do to walk out forgiveness for others:
1. Pray for them. It's REALLY stinking hard in the beginning of the prayer, but by the end of the prayer, you'll find yourself genuinely praying for their wellbeing because you can't truly pray for someone without turning out to love them. Matthew 5:43-44
2. Bless them. This means resisting the urge to talk badly about them. Human nature makes us WANT to talk badly about them though. But don't. If you truly want to walk out forgiveness, bless them and do not curse them. Romans 12:14
3. Do good to them. Don't give them what you think they deserve. Do good to them. Taking revenge leaves no room for the Lord to do anything. You've taken it into your own hands and decided to play God. That's prideful. It's not up to you. The Lord calls us to overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17-21
The best takeaway I had from this lesson was three simple words: The forgiven forgive. If you really know forgiveness from Him, then you are able to forgive others.
I feel sure that there will be more on this subject, as I have just been in tears the last two Sundays at church. Don't for a second think that I am not walking this out right there with you. I am still debating on whether or not to share anything about that part of my life. For now, until I know that I know that I should, just know that this is very real to me- it's a part of my history. We can all walk this out together. I pray that the Lord blesses you through this message as much as He did me.
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