Red Letters: I Did Forgive Didn’t I?

If we are honest most of us struggle with this week’s word for our Red Letter Challenge “Forgiving”.  You see, forgiving isn’t one of those easy words to move past, to come to terms with or to ignore. Honestly you can only ignore the need to forgive in your life for so long and then it will rear its monstrous head and consume you.
My go to dictionary is the Webster's 1828 Edition. Pretty old and antiquated meanings you think, but the truth is Noah Webster used scripture throughout the dictionary. So, I looked up Forgive: To pardon; to remit* as an offense or debt; to overlook an offense, and treat the offender as not guilty.
All that to say, to forgive is an action, it isn’t a passive comment, such as; “Oh, I forgive you for taking my favorite seat at service this week.”. No, it is an active choice to overlook an offense. Some offenses are easier to forgive than others, some are gut wrenching life altering decisions to not seek revenge, to treat the offender as not guilty.
For me that offender was a complete stranger who came unwelcomed into my life and turned my life upside down because of their choice to allow evil to rule their life.
I walked through one of those unimaginable events that started on May 2, 1989 when I received a phone call from my Dad that my cousin had been murdered in my aunt house, with my aunt, present by her ex-boyfriend who she had recently left.  Now I had to tell my Mom.
Forgiveness was nowhere on my radar, I wasn’t a believer in Jesus Christ, I was a good church attender doing all the correct Christian things, but I didn’t know the saving power of Jesus and I hated this man.
Coping with my cousin’s death came only through getting busy making plans and caring for my Mom and family. What I didn’t know was how this would be the most life altering event in my whole life. God used the murder of my cousin, who was like my only sister to change me forever.
May 5,1989 in the middle of the funeral service for my cousin in the depths of my pain, despair, anger and confusion (She knew and loved Jesus why her?), I heard Jesus calling my name and inviting me to come, rest and hand the unbelievable pain over to Him.  I had heard the sinner’s prayer and had been invited to pray it many times before, but it was at that moment, when I heard Him call MY name, that who Jesus was became real, I prayed and accepted His call on my life.
Now the stage has been set, I gave my life to Jesus, but what do I do with this man who took my precious cousin? It would be nice to say all was good. I laid my pain and hate down at the foot of the cross, actively began the process of forgiving and allowed Jesus to heal me, I was good. But the truth is I took that pain and anger back from Jesus and buried it deep in my heart.
Over the years I heard teachings and sermons on forgiveness and read the scriptures, I thought I had moved on. Not realizing I had buried one hurt after another, small and large incidents in life were left unforgiven. Then one day I was cleaning out an old file and came upon a large envelope, I opened it and pulled out multiple newspaper articles about my cousin’s murder and trial, including a picture of him. Then the call came that her murderer could be up for parole even though he had been sentenced to life in prison.
Everything came tumbling down and even though I had said I forgave this man, and others who had hurt me, I realized all those unresolved hurts had only been buried in my attempt to appear altogether, as a super Christian forgiving all who offended or hurt me. That monster of unforgiveness had reared its ugly head and I had to look it square in the eyes for the sin in my life that it was.
Honestly, I had not fully understood that forgiving was an action, an ongoing practice that was beyond my doing. I had to come to terms with the fact that pretending to forgive without deep on-going forgiveness was unrepentance. I had to come to terms with the fact my unrepentance was just as great a sin as the murder of my cousin. Forgiving is an ongoing process and totally dependent upon Jesus’ healing grace to pardon the guilty.
Without God, forgiving is not going to happen. Without the honesty like King David had in so many of his Psalms that openness to God allowing Him to remove, dispose of and heal our broken unrepented heart of the monster of unforgiveness there will be no healing.
Listen with fresh ears to what Jesus tells us:
∙   “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name…And forgive us our debts,
 as we also have forgiven our debtors. Matthew 6:9,12
∙       Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:36
∙       And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:25
∙       For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.  Matthew 6:14-15
Do you see the key to forgiving? It is not burying unforgiveness, it isn’t how much you repeat, “I forgive, I forgive…”, or pretending all is forgiven when it isn’t. No, the key is beyond us alone it is a partnership with God, the key is what Jesus said as He called out to the Father as He hung on the cross dying:
∙       When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. Luke 23:34
Jesus didn’t arrive at this place of yielding His right for revenge overnight, yes Jesus was fully God, but he was also fully human. It was the human Jesus that spent so much time with His Father in prayer, listening to His Father’s voice, remembering and quoting scripture and resting in the Father’s unending love. Jesus gained the strength to withstand every evil Satan threw at Him through his relationship with his Father.
You may never have to walk through a murder of a loved one and be faced with laying down you desire for revenge. Perhaps you are the offender. You have hurt one or more of your loved ones or a stranger and daily live with the reminder that because of your sinful choice you created that unimaginable pain. Perhaps your victim has forgiven you through the grace of a loving Father, but you can’t forgive yourself.  That my friend is an unrepentant sin too. You need to trust the good, good Father who said:
  • Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” John 8:10-11
  • For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10
What are you waiting for? The invitation to be healed has been offered through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The opportunity to face that monster and call Satan out has been offered. Not so you can walk in arrogance, but so you can walk in humble forgiveness…
  • When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12
  • Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. John 11:25a
  • Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6a
My prayer for you is that you will open your heart to the loving I AM and allow the light, the resurrection, the way, truth and life to shine in the dark places where forgiving seems impossible and you can have a pardoned life instead.
*Remit: To forgive; to surrender the right of punishing a crime

Pastor Deb Munson
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