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I’ll begin today’s Conversation Starter with a look at biblical scripture …
I’ll be reading from Romans chapter 12 verses 9 through 21 it reads:
So let’s get personal…are you ready? Moment of transparency here ….I’d like to share a bit of my past for the sake of this message today to break the ice over the subject of forgiveness. Now I’m going to put myself out there first because I know some of you have already clenched your teeth at the sound of that word. But before you mentally tap out on me – as if “I’m good” or “I’ve heard this message before and ‘know’ all there is to know about forgiveness” – I ask that you put whatever your take is on that word aside for the next 15 minutes and hear me out? Deal?
You see growing up, I had a terrible problem with dealing with offense. It was extremely bad during my childhood and adolescent years. I had an especially difficult time dealing with offense from those closest to me whom I cared about. The hurt was intense and would hit me at such an extreme level that it would put me in the worst mood ever and I would literally nose dive into an emotional depression. I would take every offense as a personal attack which would cause me to feel an extreme sense of rejection and internal torment.
For years, I would bottle all these feelings up inside not knowing how to address the offense or deal with the offender. So I developed a pattern of “the silent treatment,” isolationism, and avoidance. Depending on the offense I would rotate alter egos from Bitter Betty, to Negative Nancy, Petty Patty or my personal fav Heisman Harriet.
In my early twenties ….as life continued to hit me with more and more situations of hurt and relationship offense, I found myself gripped by the need of doing things differently – mainly because internally I was going insane. I was losing it! I just couldn’t keep functioning that way! And as we all know the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again expecting different results.
So I resigned for a new way to handle offense …through healthy conflict resolution…. but I didn’t know where to start…. because for one – I had developed such an unhealthy behavioral pattern that it had become 1st nature to me at that point….and (2) healthy conflict resolution or dealing with offenses in a Godly way was not something that was successfully modeled to me growing up.
It wasn’t until I attended a prayer night church service that God would work a Psalm 37:4 in my life. That is a “Delight yourself in the Lord and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” Side note: most of us use this verse for the obtainment of material and fleshly passions when really it’s intent is rooted in the will of God not ours.
Okay so back to matter at hand….I was at this prayer service and walked up to one of the facilitators to ask to receive prayer. Before he agreed to pray for me, the gentleman asked if I had been struggling with anything that he could pray for?
I…. a bit timid….but courageously told him that I was really struggling with unforgiveness in my heart.
Immediately the gentleman told me “I feel like the Lord wants you to read the book The Bait of Satan by John Bevere.”
Mmm okay….Although a bit befuddled and taken aback by the seemingly random remark, I looked him in the eyes and said- “Ok! I will find it on Amazon, order it and read it.”
The man proceeded to say a brief simple prayer and I went home that night thankful I was brave enough to take the first step.
Now at that time, God had already been directing me to book after book after book through various other encounters with other people. So I took the gentleman’s remark serious, and went and ordered that book.
When I received the book in the mail I was overwhelmed by a hideous cat litter odor coming from the book when I opened the package. I quickly threw the book in the trunk of my car hoping it would air out as I didn’t want to bring that smell into my house.
Not at all now anxious to read it, I left the book in the trunk and finished reading the other more “exciting” books.
After a few weeks went by…. I finally gave the book a go as the smell had dissipated quite a bit. As soon as I began reading chapter one, I knew in that moment, that this book had been God ordained. Each line pierced me to the core as it literally felt like daggers were coming out of the book into my soul and spirit.
I was undone.
As I read, I specifically remembered hearing the voice of the Lord gently tell me: “hey…you remember the original stench of the book when it came in the mail?…well…that’s the exact smell of your heart from you holding onto all that un-forgiveness.”
What a physical representation for what had been going on spiritually in my life all these years!
Each day I read the book a new layer of un-forgiveness began to peel off of my heart. Despite these daily revelations, each day I would dread reading the next page of the book because it was so painful to see the truth about unforgiveness and the patterns and condition of my heart that I had developed all these years.
The book taught me that offense is the tool of the enemy of God to bring people into internal captivity. Often those who are offended do not even realize they are trapped, in which they are oblivious to their condition because they are so focused on the wrong that was done to them. They are indeed in denial about their captivity.
There are two categories of those who have been offended: those who actually have been treated unjustly, and those who believe they have been treated unjustly. Usually the latter group who believe they have been treated unjustly draw their conclusion from inaccurate information….or sometimes their information is accurate but their conclusions are distorted.
Pride will distort these conclusions as they will keep a person from admitting their true condition. Pride causes one to view oneself as the victim. The attitude becomes, “I was mistreated & mis-judged; therefore I am justified in my behavior.”
Because you believe you are innocent and falsely accused, you hold back forgiveness.
Though your true heart condition is hidden from you, it is not hidden from God.
Hebrews 3:13 states that hearts are hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. If we do not deal with offenses, it will produce more sin (bitterness, anger, resentment).
This hinders our ability to hear God’s voice, love others, and enjoy life.
You see the unforgiveness I was harboring inside was preventing me from enjoying life. I was miserable! Additionally, the mental and emotional wear and tear manifested itself physically as my body began to feel the weight of harboring unforgiveness. I was essentially killing myself!
Believe it or not- medical doctors & scientists have linked unforgiveness & bitterness with certain diseases, such as arthritis and cancer. Even many cases of mental sickness are tied to bitterness and unforgiveness. Some people are so tormented by unforgiveness that they hope for death instead of relief (i.e. forgiveness). This should not be so! We must deal with unforgiveness now, we must come to the place where we trust God to be our avenger for any wrongdoings.
As we just read – Romans 12 gives us the promise of this as it encourages us in verse 19 – it states “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.
Give. Place. To. Wrath.
God’s Wrath – Not ours
It is unrighteous for us as children of God to avenge ourselves, but that is exactly what we are seeking when we refuse to forgive. If you feel cheated by this then you have lost your view of mercy that has been extended to you (by Jesus). We must recognize that Jesus forgave us first and continues to forgive us. When we seek to correct the wrong done to us, we set ourselves as a judge. We must make room & give place to the only just Judge (Jesus)….don’t worry He judges rightly.
Why do we get so bent out of shape and question God when offense seems to not be given the wrath we feel is due?
There is need for patience in light of this apparent escape of the offender. We as Christians need to view the real role of offenders – not as victors but as temporary escapists. We need a renewed since of peace and confidence in our position as sons and daughters of a just and timely God who is eternally minded and works outside of our scheduled time according to God’s own will.
This is by far easier said than done! When we are in the midst of unfair situations or offense there is an automatic cry of immediate justice. We can’t seem to even understand why and how an issue could even get to a certain point and why, quite possibly, the culprit will leave unscathed. It is in these moments we are tempted to be our own avengers and get justice in the way we believe proper retribution should take place.
Despite our satiable desires to fulfill justice on our behalves, we must make room for God’s vengeance to take place in the timing of the Lord. While there are times where we are certainly empowered by God to proceed to take steps towards recompense. Overall, we must trust that God’s wrath is more powerful and righteous than our own. And we could never come close to distributing full punishment to the wicked -no matter how much we think can do the job ourselves.
So what is your knee-jerk reaction towards offense? And do you truly trust God to act justly without manipulating the situation?
Now I would be remiss if I did not make two additional points about forgiveness…. and that is ….while we wait on the full justice of offense to come from God, we are still called to do our part as peacemakers….as the previous verse in Romans admonishes us to do so. Verse 18 states that “if it is possible, as much as depends on YOU, live peaceably with all men.”
Notice the verse didn’t say “as much as it depends on the situation” or “wait on them to come to you because they are mind readers and know that they have offended you.”
No! To the contrary this is the ultimate personal accountability verse that puts the onus on YOU!
Meaning it is calling you to live a life of a peacemaker. This is the truest form of the Matthew 5 “Sermon on the Mount” or “Beatitudes” lifestyle which states “Blessed are the peacemakers. For they shall be called sons of God.”
Again one should note that the verse did not say blessed are the peacekeepers or those who like to “keep the peace” and sweep things under the rug and avoid conflict… but it says peacemakers. Those who take a proactive step towards healthy/godly conflict resolution and reconciliation.
Again, as much as it is possible to peace make with the offender. It may not be possible to reach reconciliation and resolution…and at that point it could quite possibly be a moment where after you’ve spoken to them in love (again its not just what you say but how you say it)….you may just need to “agree to disagree.”
Instead of getting to this point, many of us, resign to the “I don’t hate them, but I think it’s better that I love them from a distance.” What do we really mean when we say this? Can we truly trust the former statement of “I don’t hate them” as an honest assessment of our hearts towards our fellow person in question? Or is there just a tinge of underlying disgust and hopeful demise of their life festering underneath?
For many, the use of this phrase is one of two things. Most say this and use it as a cop out so as to not do the work of a peacemaker with the individual who has caused the offense towards them. Others, truly say this as a last resort after trying arduously to make peace and continue in a relationship with someone but simply need to create healthy boundaries.
As you assess which category you fall in make note of who you have said this about and the real reason behind your feelings towards this person. Ask yourself if the use of this phrase is truly Christ-like and Christ-honoring? If you come to find out that your use of this phrase has been immaturely self-serving then be encouraged to begin discarding this sentence from your vocal library. And work on true forgiveness and peacemaking with that person.
Oh how we can thank God that nothing separates us from the love of Christ…even our offense in our hearts towards God about an issue or a disagreement we have with God regarding an outcome or situation. The unconditional love of God chooses to fully love us as near as we allow it to. Let us use the same model as we overcome evil with good through true forgiveness.
The last point I want to make is this other popular phrase that I hear all too often and that is “I forgive but I don’t forget.” Again I ask, is this true forgiveness?
Scripture shows us that this too ought not be our way of living. Psalm 103:11-12 state:
“For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; As far as the east is from the west; So far has He removed our transgressions from us.”
Hebrews 8:12 displays how the Lord will forget the sins of Israel as it declares “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”
If the Lord will do His part…we should do ours….”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.
Now I know what many of you may have been thinking throughout this entire message…”Well…you don’t know what this person did to me….”
Well you’re right ….I don’t know….and it very well may have been incredibly traumatic and inconceivably tough thing that happened for you to even consider forgiving them…I in no way shape or form want to brush off the many terrible and evil things you may have had to endure….
Having said that…There is essentially only one sin that the Lord states in the Word that God Himself is unwilling to forgive and that is blaspheming the Holy Spirit….(which is in essence denying Jesus as Lord….which is a whole nother podcast)…but for the sake of staying on topic…if our infinite God has narrowed down unforgiveness to one act…albeit a pretty big thing…how much more should we re-consider forgiving that person who has wronged us.
The choice is yours.
With the help of the Holy Spirit….No offense is too small to begin exercising your peacemaking abilities
And ….No offense is too large to overcome if you truly desire the freedom of forgiveness.