Friday, August 10, 2007

Choosing to Forgive

Okay, I’m going to give you the bad news. Sit back, relax, and breathe deeply. I’ll do this as painlessly as possible.

In life, people are going to hurt you. There will be those you love who betray you, those you call friends who stab you in the back, and those you trust who will deceive you. You’ll be gossiped about (yes, even you!), lied to, and ridiculed. You’ll be robbed, you’ll be wronged, you’ll be mistreated, and yes, even discriminated against. You’ll be falsely accused and punished unfairly. I know that’s hard to believe, but it’s true.

Friends, if you are luck enough to read through the last paragraph, and still think “oh, no, not me!” then you need to hear this so you’ll know how to react when it does happen. If you read the paragraph and know all too well the truth it speaks of, you need to know how to react to what has already happened.

When people hurt you, you have a choice. It’s an A-B multiple choice, a 50/50 chance to get it right. You can chose: (a)To forgive or (b)To hold a grudge. (Hint: pick A – forgive!)

Forgiveness is not for the assailant, but the victim. You’re grudge will be in your heart, not theirs. The problem with grudges is that they get heavier as you carry them. As you think about them and dwell on them, they began to become an infection in your heart. Eventually, the grudge will grow and your whole heart will be filled with anger and hatred. Every ounce of love will be pushed out, squeezed out and dried up.

Someone once said “Forgiveness is love in its most noble form.“ I like this quote because it points out the source of forgiveness, love. Someone else once said, “Love isn’t love until you give it away.” There are so many of us who are selfish about who we will love. We want to segregate those we love from those who have wronged us. We want to withhold our love, and therefore our forgiveness.

But Jesus said to love your neighbor. His answer to the question of “And who is my neighbor?” in Luke 10:29 was not a territorial one describing how many miles of circumference designated a neighbor. His answer pointed to the actions of the one who became a neighbor. Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan who took care of a wounded man, and showed mercy on him. Mercy is what Jesus desires from us (Matthew 9:13), as a way in which we show our love to each other.

Sometimes forgiveness can only be given by acting out of love. Doing something nice, above and beyond the ordinary, for the person who has wronged you does wonderful things within your heart. It allows you to concentrate on ways to love them rather than ways to hate them. Your heart will be filled with that love, and a funny thing happens when you put love in your heart. It fills it up and pushes everything else out! In fact, we’ve all been given one of these “above and beyond” gifts. It was called the crucifixion, and by it we can have eternal life, and be free from our own sins.

Now here’s one last warning on the subject of forgiveness. Listen carefully. (Are you listening?)

If you don’t forgive those who hurt you, God will not forgive you of your sins. Don’t believe me? You don’t have to! Mark 11:26 says “But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” That’s God’s word, not mine.

Friends, more than anything else in this world we need God’s forgiveness. Far more harm can be done to us by not receiving that forgiveness and living a life dredged in sin than could ever be done to us by our enemies! It’s a simple matter of power. God has it, and without Him, we don’t. You need Him to get through the trials that will come your way (see second paragraph). You need His love, which comes from being forgiven. Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.” If God’s mercies are new every morning, shouldn’t yours be as well?

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