March 13th 2016

listen to last Sunday’s worship set.

Have you ever tried to think back and figure out what your earliest memory is?  Not one that you’ve seen in pictures or stories that you’ve heard, but genuinely the thing from your past that’s the very first thing that you can remember.  For me, I was five years old.  It was my birthday and I had been given a Big Wheel for my birthday.  Huge wheel in the front, two mini wheels on the back —- I was in love!  I begged my parents to let me take it on an inaugural spin around the block.  I was ready for my birthday party; I was dressed in a red-and-white shirt that had horizontal stripes on it.  I had red shorts on and on the left pocket was a little green alligator.  I begged my parents mercilessly; I now know where my seven-year-old gets it from.  They finally gave in.  I took my red and yellow Big Wheel on a spin around the block.  I went tearing out of the driveway, made a left hand turn, made another left hand turn, another left, another left and I was about to make my final left hand turn on the final stretch and I’m not exactly sure what happened.  Other than the little wheel on the back got caught in the groove that attached the curb to the sidewalk.   The next thing I knew, I was lying on my face, in the gutter, covered in mud.  I can remember getting back on my Big Wheel and making that final left hand turn and heading home.  I pulled up the driveway and put the Big Wheel off to the side and stood there, not exactly sure what was going to greet me when I knocked on the door.  It was the first time in my life that I can remember feeling shame.  It was the first time in my life I can remember failing.  The first time in my life where, regardless of anybody else’s standard for me, I didn’t live up to my standard for myself.  Can you remember the first time you felt that way?

Part of the struggle we have being human is that regardless of whose standard we compare ourselves to, even if it’s our own, we fall short of it.  I’m always amused and befuddled by people who assume that they’re going to heaven because they’re good people.  Maybe they’re way better than me, but I just know that even by my own standard—let’s take God out of the equation for a second—I fail to meet it time and time again, day after day after day.  There’s something on the very sort of DNA level of us as people, isn’t there, that we have this internal way of measuring and keeping track and remembering when we just don’t live up to our standards, don’t we?  The first thing I can remember from growing up is the Big Wheel.  Standing there in the front of my house, covered in mud, knowing that I’d failed.  We don’t have to look too far into the past to have our own list going.  Maybe it’s lies that we’ve told or….let’s just call them partial truths, right, because we’re Christians here.  Maybe it’s that we’ve cheated at times on things.  Or maybe it’s just these internal rhythms of our heart where we have evil thoughts or evil desires or we have things that go on inside of our minds and our hearts that we wish we could take back.  All of us know, in regards to this list, that it is impossible to hit rewind, isn’t it? Some people in the room wish they could.  Maybe there’s some things they did……(Ryan writes ‘adultery’ on the board)…..and their marriage……    There’s some places we’ve been and some things that we’ve done.

All of us have to deal with this list in some way, don’t we?  We have to.  It’s a human problem.  It’s not a Christian problem.  It’s a human problem.  How do we deal with not living up to the standards that even we set for ourselves.  How do we deal with the list?  We’ll try to ignore it and pretend that it’s not there.  We’re really good at this for a time.  But you and I have these moments where we lie in bed and right before we fall asleep we stare at the ceiling and aren’t there some nights where this list just comes up and pops up in your head. You can try to ignore it and ignore the things that you’ve done that you know don’t even live up to your standard, but we all know that ignoring it doesn’t work.  We try to rationalize it.  We can say listen, Big Wheel made that back right wheel a little bit too big.  It’s Big Wheel’s fault that I fell into the gutter and if Big Wheel had made that wheel the right size I never would have been in that predicament.  We can blame other people and find other things to blame people about and the list goes on and on and on of the ways it’s other peoples fault that we didn’t live up to the standard.  But we all know, in those quiet moments, that it’s not somebody else’s fault…it’s ours.  The other devastating thing that starts to happen is this list starts to haunt us.  This is the record that stands against us.  Some of us have so thought about this list and we’ve tried to ignore it and we’ve tried to blame other people and that hasn’t worked and we’ve just had to be stuck with the list.  The list is not just something that we’ve done, it’s something that we are.  We call that shame.  When we start to internalize the list and it just becomes part of the tape that plays in our mind, over and over, everyday.  I can’t believe you did that!  I can’t believe you made that decision.  I can’t believe you failed so bad, so terribly.  And all of us have this to some degree and to some level.  The other thing we try to do is…..this is my method….repair it. I’m going to try to make up for it, so I’m never going to do that again.  Have you ever had that conversation with yourself, right before you do it again?  I’m never going to do that again—-I’m not going to think that, I’m not going to say that, that is not who I am and you know how I’m going to prove it?   I’m going to prove it because from here on out I am not going to be that guy.  We all have a list, don’t we?  We all have different things on the list.  And sometimes the list is ours and we make it up and sometimes the list is given to us.  For those who follow Jesus, we’ve got a list of things that we’re not suppose to do and people we’re not suppose to be and it just seems like the harder I try not to live on the list the more I find myself writing more and more things down.

And so, when Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray, he doesn’t want to shrink back and away from the things that make us deeply human.  He doesn’t want us to pray about things that are just somewhere out there.  He wants us to pray for the things that actually really matter, the things that are very present in the world and in our world.  When he teaches his disciples to pray, he says after saying our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name—you’re completely holy and distant and other and yet you’re loving and present and here—that’s the tension of prayer.   Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven—-God, make your name great.  He then says God, there’s stuff that we need.  God, graciously give us everything that we need today to survive.  The very fundamental building blocks of human life.  Give us food.  Give us bread.  The next thing he does after the fundamental building blocks of physical life…he’s going to invite us to pray for the fundamental building blocks of our spiritual life.  Here’s what He says:  …and forgive us our debts  {The list.  The failings. The shortcomings.  The ‘we didn’t add and we didn’t make it even by our own standard.’  God, forgive us our debts.}  ….as we also have forgiven our debtors.    Right after asking for the fundamental building blocks of physical life, Jesus invites us to ask for the things that will allow us to restore our humanity.  That we would be forgiven.  That the debt would be wiped clean.  That the things that we are ashamed of would not translate into living lives of shame.  That’s what Jesus is inviting us to bring before the Father.  There’s a better way than just ignoring.  There’s a better way than rationalizing.  There’s a better way than trying to forget it ever happened or we ever made that decision.  And the better way….the way that takes the things that we’re ashamed of and does not allow them to turn into shame… by bringing them before our God, our Father in heaven, and saying, I have messed up big time.  Would you, in your grace, shower me with forgiveness?  Dale Bruener, the great commentator writes:  “Food is humanity’s priority need, but forgiveness is humanity’s profoundest need.”  So Jesus invites us to pray hey, talk to God about the list.  Talk to God about the records that stand against you and so, if we are going to be people in prayer who ask for forgiveness, we’re going to be people who need to unearth the things in our life that would potentially cause us to live in shame.  And we’re going to need to be people who bring those before the throne of God with confidence that He is a God who forgives and wipes the debt clean.

Matthew 18:21-35.  We’re going to camp there for a few moments today.  Jesus tells a story about this idea.  He tells a parable in order to illustrate just how significant this issue is.  And it’s a story you may have heard before, if you’ve been a part of church.  If you’ve heard this before and you go listen, Paulson, I know the punch line, I know where this is going….can I invite you to hold off for just a second, step back from it, try to wipe your memory clean from ever having heard this and let’s look at it with fresh eyes together today.  This is Matthew writing about the words of Jesus.  Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? {Translation by Peter–This is going to get crazy, God, if we do this over and over again.  Like we can’t be people who just whenever somebody wrongs us we forgive them.  There’s gotta be a limit.  Otherwise, we’re just going to get run over.  And for most rabbinic teachers of the day, they had a yoke, a teaching, that said you forgive somebody up to three times for something that they did wrong. And that was big.  Three different times for the same offense!!!!  Jesus says hmmm.}  As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.  {In order to illustrate that He tells a story.}  “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.  When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. {Everybody say wow!!  That’s a lot a money and we’ll talk about that in just a second.}  And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.  So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’  And out of pity for him, the master of the servant released him and forgave him the debt.  But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’  So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’  He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.  When his servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place.  Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant!  I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.  And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’  And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.  So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”   Wow!!

Five characters.  You have the king, who’s the ruler of land and personifies God in the parable.  You have the servant, who owes the king a ton of money.  You have the servant of the servant, who owes his servant some money.  You have people who are looking on, observing, and wondering how this is all going to play out.  Then you have jailers.  The parable starts with the king simply.  It says calling to account the money that’s owe him. So this king is a wise business person.  This king has a record.  He has an account.  He has a ledger.  He’s a good bookkeeper.  He knows who owes him and how much they owe him and he says it’s time to call to account and for people to pay up what they owe me.   This person, the servant, owes the king ten thousand talents. One talent would equal 15 years of wages.  Ten thousand talents equals 150,000 years of wages.  That’s a long time, is it not?  Let’s just assume that this servant is making minimum wage and let’s assume that’s $8.00 an hour, for round figures.  $8.00/hour for the next 150,000 years….here’s how much debt is on the books. $2,250,000,000! That’s a lot of money.  This is like Donald Trump-type of money here.  Here’s what the servant asks the king–have pity on me.  Literally, in the Greek, it’s be ‘big-hearted’ towards me.  Have patience.  Don’t call this all to account at one time.  Have patience, or be big-hearted, have pity…..which would mean be moved in the very bowels of your soul with compassion towards me.  That’s what he wants.  At the core of his asking is I just need more time.  It’s insanity, isn’t it?  I need more time.  I need 150,000 years, whereby I will work constantly and somehow acquire no debt that goes on top of that.  It’s a terrible ask, isn’t it?  It’s a crazy ask.  Because he could never work enough or earn enough or do enough and that’s the point of Jesus’ parable.  You can’t earn enough, you can’t do enough, you’re not going to find any sort of magic ball or any DeLorean to make time go backwards, I’m sorry, friends, but we are essentially stuck with the record that stands against us.  Most of us….what we ask God for….most of us ask God for a little bit more time.  If I could earn a little bit more, if I could do a little bit more, if I could be a little bit more than I’d be okay.  God says no, no, no, no, no, the king in this passage… look at this passage and what the king does is he does not acquiesce and say back to the servant, “That’s a great idea!  Wonderful thinking!  Let’s do that!  You work and I will sit here and I will keep track of how much you owe and how much you’ve earned and let’s do the bookkeeping thing…..forever.”  The king is so much better than that!  The king says okay, here’s the deal.  We’re not just eliminating the debt, we’re changing the system.  And the system is God is not in the bookkeeping business anymore.  That’s great news.  He’s not keeping track.

I’ll prove it to you.  Some theological undergirding.  Colossians 2:13-14.  Listen to the way the Apostle Paul writes this to the church of Colossae:  And you, who were dead {You had so much stacked up against you…there’s no way you were digging yourself out of any of these holes, individually or as a whole.  Not going to happen.} ….in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record {This word in the Greek, ‘canceling,’ literally means ‘to obliterate.’  Love that.  Because here’s what the cross does.  The $2.25 billion dollars you owe?  God doesn’t remember it anymore.  Those thoughts of your heart that are so evil and so decrepit and so messed up, the things that you’ve done, the ways that you’ve lived….he goes listen, listen, listen, by the cross—it’s not that I’m going to forget those, it’s that I’m going to just erase them.  I’m taking them down.  He’s cancelled the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.  This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.  Friends, what the cross declares is that Jesus is no longer in the bookkeeping business.  If you go back through this parable and you look at the way that this book or the ledger or the record starts to show up, when the king forgives the record, the wrongs, the failures that the servant had against him, I think what the servant actually hears is I’m going to give you all the time you need.  But what actually happens is the king says it’s erased, it’s done for, I’m changing the entire system.  When the servant walks out of the king’s chambers, he’s still holding his ledger.  He’s still holding his book.  He still thinks there’s still a debt that he has to pay even though the king has clearly said this is forgiven, it’s over.  Did you know that the type of people who are able to offer this kind of forgiveness to others are ONLY people who have heard from the King of kings and the Lord of lords, I’m not in the bookkeeping business anymore.  I’m not in the business of keeping track of every little right and wrong.  I’m in the business of canceling the records that stood against you.  Until we know that we stand as forgiven, we will never stand in the gap as forgivers.  And until we know we are forgiven, we will run from the things that we’ve done that are wrong, we will try to justify our wrongs, we will internalize our wrongs and we will end up living lives that are not defined by God’s grace, but that are defined by our shame.  THIS, friends, is a HUGE deal!  Jesus wants to ask us this morning, are you still holding on to the records?  Are you still keeping track of the score?  We may say we’re not, just like they say they’re not when my son plays basketball and then I was asked to keep score.  I’m like whoa, I thought we weren’t keeping score here.  And they’re like oh no, we keep score, we just don’t tell anybody.  And I’m like oh, that’s like church!!  We keep track of the score, we just don’t tell anybody.  Hey, hey, hey, most of the time, we keep track of our score and how much wrong we’ve done, even more than we keep track of everybody else’s score, don’t we?  Oftentimes, the hardest person for us to forgive is the person that stares back at us in the mirror.

We wonder what we do with this shame.  Jesus has some hints for us in the Lord’s Prayer.  He says, first, before you ever try to be the type of person that forgives, you need to know that you stand forgiven.  Before he invites us to ask and to beckon help us to forgive those who have debts against us, he says listen, you need to know as a child of God that you stand before the throne of God pure, holy, spotless, blameless….the debt has been cancelled.  $2.25 billion dollars was in your account that you owed and the King of kings and the Lord of lords has said listen, I know you can’t pay it and I’m not waiting for you to pay it, that’s why I paid it on the cross with my own body and with my own blood.  And until you know you stand forgiven, you will never stand as a forgiver.  But when you do, when you know—-listen, I stand forgiven by the King of kings and the Lord of lords—the most natural thing then that starts to flow out of us is forgiveness.  If God is not holding the record above my head, then how can I hold it above anybody else’s.  John Chrysostom, the great early church father and prolific preacher, said: “To ask forgiveness from God is a great benefit, and then to deny the same to others is to mock God.”  {Would you look up at me for just a second?}  If I receive forgiveness from God, I forfeit the right to not offer it to my fellow human beings.   And there’s no footnote there, you guys.  That’s the hard part about this.  Unless they hurt you really deeply, unless they abuse you, unless they dehumanize you, unless whatever happens happens, right?  Because we all have those what-ifs, what-ifs.  There’s no footnote there.  If I receive forgiveness from God, I forfeit the right to not offer it to my fellow human being.  Jesus at the end of this says: And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you? When we realize that we are freely forgiven, we are freed to forgive.

Here’s the thing.  I don’t just have a record in my mind in what I’ve done, do I?  Because you don’t just have a record of what you’ve done and the wrongs that you’ve done.  Some of you might realize, I’ve got $2.25 billion on that, but you recognize, just like I do, that there’s people that have wronged you also.  In fact, in the story, it tells us that another servant owed this man one hundred denarii.  That’s a hundred days wages.  So using the same math that we used before, that would be a total of $4000.00.  Could he pay that back?  Probably, over time.  And the man refuses—-this is Jesus’ point, the climax of the story is this man forgiven of 10,000 talents is unwilling to forgive 100 denarii.  He goes if you don’t realize how much God has forgiven you, you’re going to end up in the same spot.  Either we hold on to the books or we release the records, but we can’t have it both ways.  The hard part about forgiveness is that I need to look in the mirror and see this number before I’m willing to offer anybody else forgiveness.  I have to look in the mirror with honesty before I look on anybody else with mercy.  The longer I ignore this and the longer I try to run away from it or justify it or rationalize it or hide it, the further I find myself from actually genuinely forgiving the people that have wronged me.

The second reason forgiveness is really, really difficult is because when I screw up, I want grace, but when somebody screws up towards me, I want judgement.  Who’s with me?  This is the confounding part of being human.  So much of the time we’re unwilling to offer what we long for in the deepest parts of our soul.  Jesus says I’m going to give you exactly what you want.  When you pray forgive me, he says I have, by my body and my blood, and now I’m releasing you to be forgivers.  Do you know the only thing that keeps us out of the kingdom of heaven?  The only thing that keeps this servant out of the presence of the king is his unwillingness to let go of the books.  He’s clinging to the books.  In the parable, you have this king who absorbs the wrong. You have the king who pays the debt, who says this one’s on me, it’s absolutely forever gone, I’m changing the system, I’m not playing the record collecting game anymore.  He looks at his servant and asks, will you do the same?  The only thing that will keep me out of the presence of God is refusing the grace of God.  The very thing that I need.  The very thing that defines who I am as a person.  The only thing that puts me in the jailer’s torment is an unwillingness to say I’m done with the bookkeeping business, the records are released, it’s done for, it’s gone.  Which is what forgiveness means.  It means ‘to send away.’  It means ‘to release.’  Jesus ends this parable with his statement: Should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you? And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers until he should pay all his debt.   Jesus goes if you want to play the record keeping game, I guess I’ll play it with you for all of eternity.  But if you want to release the records, forgiveness is freely offered.  It just requires that we would then, in turn, be audacious, ridiculous forgivers.  So the question I have for you, and for me, is are we still holding on to the books?  Listen, I had some faces in my mind as I planned this message.  I had some events in mind as I planned this message.  I just sense God saying, Paulson, are you going to preach this and hold on or are you going to preach it and release?  Immediately when you found out that we were talking about forgiveness, you had some people in your mind too, I’m guessing.  I’m guessing you had some events, maybe, that started to play back and you go listen, every time we talk about this THIS is the person on my mind and THIS is the event that happened and THIS is the abuse that I suffered and THIS is the wrong that was done to me.  God’s asking us today, collectively, will we be the type of people that recognize that the bookkeeping is over and will we release the wrongs that people have done to us, in the same way that our failures have been covered by his grace and our shame replaced by the name that He gives us.  Robert Capon, in his great book on the parables, says: “If we refuse to die—-and in particular, if we insist on binding other’s debts upon them in the name of our own right to life—-we will, by not letting grace have its way through us, cut ourselves off from ever knowing the joy of grace in us.”   What might it look like to become the type of people who receive forgiveness and then freely give it?  THIS. IS. THE. GOSPEL.  You stand freely forgiven and therefore, freed to forgive.  It’s the only thing that can actually motivate the human soul to say to the perpetrators of the deepest wrongs we’ve experienced, I forgive you.  I forgive you.

Here’s what I’ve run into as a pastor.  I’ve talked to a lot of people and they go well, I could never forgive this person and that person and when they start to describe forgiveness, I go well, that’s not forgiveness at all. What you want to do isn’t what you’re describing and what you’re talking about.  For the next seven minutes, I’d like to switch into ‘teacher mode’ and answer the question, What is forgiveness?  And what isn’t forgiveness?  My hope and prayer is that in defining this oh-so-important word, God might free us to live the kind of lives that He purchased for us on Calvary’s Hill.

Here’s what forgiveness is not—-I think it’s important that we define what forgiveness IS NOT before we jump in to what forgiveness is.  Forgiveness is NOT ignoring or overlooking the wrong.  Forgiveness is not saying, I see that but I’m going to choose to look the other way and pretend like it didn’t exist.  In fact, genuine forgiveness requires and demands just the opposite.  In his great book Exclusion and Embrace, Miroslav Volf, writes about this.  That “genuine forgiveness demands that we name the wrong that was done against us.  We cannot forgive if we are not first willing to condemn.”  In order to forgive, we must say THAT was wrong.  Otherwise, there’s nothing to forgive, is there?  We can play this nice game of platitudes and nice little sentiments and talk about forgiveness, but unless we’re willing to say that was wrong, we never have anything to forgive.  So forgiveness does not mean that we look the other way and it does not mean that we ignore the wrong that was done.

Second thing it doesn’t mean:  It does not mean that we forget the wrong.  I meet with so many people that say I could never forget what so-and-so did to me, so therefore, I can’t forgive.  The Enemy loves, loves, loves that you think that you have to forget in order to forgive.  Because you can choose to forgive and still remember what happened.  And you probably will.  But it does not mean….it’s a non sequitur to say well, I can’t forget, therefore, I can’t forgive.  Those two things never have to intersect.

So forgiveness does not mean overlooking the wrong or ignoring the wrong, it doesn’t mean forgetting the wrong.  It does not mean that there are no consequences left for whatever happened.  It does not mean that we eliminate the consequences.  You can forgive and still long for justice.  Those two things are in different categories.  The nation of Israel is forgiven by God for their lack of faith and willingness to follow Him into the Promise Land.  They’re forgiven by God (Numbers 14:20-23), but they still don’t get to enter the Promise Land. The consequences of their decisions remain.  And for people that have wronged you, or people that you have wronged, you may have to live with the consequences.  You probably will, but that does not mean that you are not, and cannot be, forgiven.

Finally, what forgiveness is not.  Forgiveness is NOT reconciliation with the wrongdoer.  When you forgive somebody, it does not mean you’re holding hands, singing “Kumbaya” around the fire.  It does not mean that. You may be forever, permanently estranged from whoever you need forgiveness from, and whoever you need to forgive.  Forgiveness takes one person—-YOU.  Forgiveness takes you.  Reconciliation takes two people—-you and whoever has wronged you.  In order for there to be reconciliation, somebody needs to look in the mirror and say, I was wrong, that one’s on me and I’m not going to make excuses and I’m not going to rationalize it and I’m not going to run from it and I’m not going to hide from it.  I’m going to look in the mirror and I’m going to own it—-that was on me and it demands repentance and a turning back and even then, it may take years and years and years and great boundaries in order to come to a place of reconciliation.  Please don’t come out of here saying well, Paulson says that in order to forgive we need to reconcile and then you call up somebody who’s been horribly abusive to you over the years and think you need to make amends with them.  You can make amends with them in your heart and not make that phone call.  Reconciliation does not equal forgiveness.

So we need to ask what DOES forgiveness mean?  Forgiveness means that we release people from the debt that they owe and we absorb the wrong.  In the story of this king, who pays the $2.25 billion debt that the servant owed the king?  Who pays it?  The king.  In the same story, who is intended to pay the $4000 debt that the one servant owed the other?  The servant.  And that’s what forgiveness is.  Forgiveness is saying I am not holding that over your head anymore.  Here’s the beautiful thing about that, guys…..let’s just play this through for a second.  The things that people have done, the wrongs that they’ve perpetrated against you……how could they pay you back for them anyway?   The things that people have said that are just seared in your brain?  They’re not finding a DeLorean any sooner than you are.  They can’t turn back time and go back and say listen, I’m not going to say that.  And you know and I know that saying sorry goes so far, but it doesn’t go far enough because they can’t take back the things that they’ve said.  So we’re hoping for something and longing for something that’s impossible.  Jesus wants to free the human soul.  Forgiveness releases people from the debt—they say, you don’t owe me that anymore.  I’m out of the bookkeeping business, praise the Lord, because I stink at math anyway.  You don’t owe me anymore than I owe God.

Secondly, forgiveness is a ceasing of the cycle of retributive violence and it’s an entrusting of justice to God. Miroslav Volf, in that same book, talks about the reality that in the Bosnian-Serbian genocide, the only way that anyone could offer true forgiveness is believing that God would make the world to rights.  That he would bring about justice.  That was the hope, that was the thing that people clung onto and allowed them to move forward.  “Forgiveness is a letting go of my right to hurt another person because they’ve hurt me,” writes Steven Tracy.  It’s what it is.  It’s I’m not playing the tape over in my mind of if I could talk to them again, here’s what I’d say.  And if I got to meet them wherever, here’s what I would say and here’s what I would do.  Forgiveness is saying God, you’re going to make this right in your time and your way.  Forgiveness is the penultimate expression of……I trust you and taking my hands off of it.  There’s an old Chinese proverb that says:  “Refusing to forgive is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.”

Forgiveness is refusing  to give the Devil a foothold in our life.  You know that the Enemy loves the fact that you replay in your mind what you would do if you had the chance to do it to that person…fill in the blank.  Loves it. Forgiveness is a fight for our joy, friends.  It’s a fight to say back to the Enemy, I know you want darkness to have a foothold in my life and by replaying these things and hoping that I can get revenge for them.  The gospel says back and the love of Jesus says back because I’m freely forgiven, I will freely forgive.   Enemy, you have no place in my heart and in my soul.  I am not carrying bitterness.  I’m not carrying the weight of that around my neck.  I’m not carrying anger anymore.  I AM forgiven, therefore, I will freely forgive.  It’s a fight for our own joy.  I’m not drinking the poison anymore.  Forgiveness fights to see the humanity, even in the people that have wronged us deeply.  I’m not going to dehumanize because I’ve been hurt, which is so much of our natural tendency.  I’m going to fight to see the image of God, even in the people that have wronged me deeply.  I’m not giving the Devil a foothold.  How about you?

Three secrets to forgiveness then I’m going to land the plane.  How do we offer forgiveness?  First, your greatest resource for forgiveness is the gospel.  Remember that you have been deeply forgiven.  Slate wiped clean. Records no longer being kept—completely released and sent away by the King of kings and the Lord of lords. And when I have trouble forgiving the other, I just need to remember for a moment—I am he.  And God has graciously and freely forgiven me.

Secondly, forgiveness is a choice before it’s a feeling.  I hope this brings some freedom for some people in this room today who are going I don’t feel like forgiving.  You may never feel like forgiving, but you have to decide are your feelings going to dictate your life or what you know to be true going to dictate your life.  You can forgive somebody before you feel like you want to forgive them.

Finally, forgiveness is not a one-time decision, it’s an active daily choice.  And if you’ve ever had somebody that’s wronged you deeply, you know this.  You know that you can choose to forgive them and genuinely mean it, then find yourself carrying the weight of the wrong in a day or a week or maybe five minutes later.  I’ve done that—five minutes later, I’m still carrying the weight of it.  What we need to remember is forgiveness is ACTIVE.  It’s saying whenever I find myself carrying the weight of the wrong, I’m going to shed it—-that’s not who I am anymore, I’m not in the record keeping business, I’ve released the records.  God has released the records against me and I’ve released them against anybody who’s wronged me, regardless of what the wrong is—-there’s no footnote.  {Look up at me for a second.}  I understand that it’s hard.  I understand that it feels like it’s wrong.  Like they should have to pay for what they did.  Here’s the thing—you can keep holding onto that and it will keep killing you and keep haunting you OR you can remember that Jesus is not in the record keeping business anymore and you don’t need to be either.  He will make it right.  Our job is to trust him and to live in the path that he’s purchased for us.

Would you close your eyes and let’s go to the Lord in prayer.  That’s a lot to take in.  So who popped into your mind, what situation, when you found out that this is what we were talking about today?  Maybe an ex-husband, ex-wife.  Maybe a person who abused you, wronged you.  Maybe somebody who you did that to.  I just want you to imagine, in your mind’s eye, Jesus with the books and all the things that you’ve ever done.  Maybe the shame that you carry, the guilt that you have, the regrets that if you could go back and take them back, you would. I just want you to imagine Him going to the cross carrying those things.  He’s canceled the debt.  He’s obliterated it by His cross, because of His love.  And He’s made a new way for you.  A new way for you to move forward and to live—without the bitterness, without the anger, without the shame, without the regret.  You see, the same thing that keeps us from saying “we forgive others” is the very thing that prevents us from hearing God’s forgiveness over our life.  You show me somebody who’s a forgiver and I will show you somebody who knows that they’ve been forgiven.  Jesus, today, we all have lists of some sort in our head and we just want to say that we are handing those over today, Lord.  We want to get out of the bookkeeping business.  The people that have wronged us—we want to make that daily choice to say, we forgive.  Whenever we find ourselves carrying the weight of it, we want to remember that you’ve already expunged it, that it is over, that it is done with.  We want to live in that type of freedom.  And Jesus, as we live in the freedom that you’ve so graciously offer to us, would you help us, in turn, be people who graciously offer the freedom of forgiveness to others.  Lord, help us live in your way—-with your heart, with your freedom.  So Father, forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.