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Posts Tagged ‘forgiveness’

Forgive Seventy-Seven Times

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22

The context for this passage of scripture is that Jesus is teaching his disciples about sin and the separation it creates. He begins chapter 18 by saying we must become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven. He warns against putting “stumbling block(s)” before others. He goes on to illustrate how important each of us is to God, with the parable of the lost sheep. Handling members of the community who sin against each other is next, followed by this passage where Peter asks how many times we should forgive a community member who sins against us. Jesus says, in essence, that we should always forgive.

What does it mean, exactly, to forgive? Certainly, it does not mean to forget. An abusive spouse may be forgiven, but the abused partner should never forget the warning signs of impending abuse, nor the ways to best protect her or himself in the event of a reoccurrence. When a lender forgives a debt, the principal and interest of the loan are both wiped off the books so nothing is owed. The incurring of the debt still happened, but it no longer impacts life going forward. To forgive does not erase the offending event from our memory or from our past. Rather, to forgive is to release the tyranny the sin holds over us and others. It is a very personal and often difficult decision, and it is not necessarily the act of forgiving another as much as it is giving ourselves permission to let go of our attachment to the lasting physical, emotional, or psychological injury. There are two distinct impacts of sin of which we need to be aware, both very real. The first is the sin itself and what it did to us – the actual physical or emotional injury. The second is the aftermath of the sin, which is primarily our response. This secondary insult is a result of the power we grant the sin over us. It is this, too, that must be forgiven and healed for us to be able to move on with our lives.

Our emotional reaction, the secondary injury, is what tortures us long after the event and keeps it alive as an active, negative influence over our being. We may need to first forgive our seeming inability to let it go, before we can effectively release it. This may require professional therapy. How can we avoid finding ourselves in a similar situation in the future? How can we better recognize when circumstances are arranging themselves for a possible reoccurrence? What are strategies to minimize the damage of the original sinful act, should it be done to us again, and forgo the tyranny of the emotional aftermath?

The fact that it for our own benefit that we are encouraged to forgive is one lesson in Jesus’ words. Another is that our reaction to a sin against us is often much worse and longer lasting than the initial sin. Finally, and most revealing, is that many times, what offends us in or by another is something that triggers a deeply repressed, painful memory or feeling in our own self that we are reluctant to acknowledge. This is why our reaction to a perceived sin against us may be disproportionate to the actual sin. It is also why someone may sin against us and never know he or she hurt us. The place needing forgiveness in cases such as these is the place deep within that longs to be brought to conscious awareness where it can be acknowledged and brought to completion. Again, this may require therapy. Often, these hurting places have their origins in our childhood. In order to develop as whole persons we must “forgive” ourselves over and over again.

None of this is to say we should not forgive the other person, too. Jesus makes that clear. We should make every effort to also release them from the tyranny of the event. Forgiveness must begin within, however, or it will not be a lasting forgiveness. If, when someone sins against us, we discover a hidden and hurting part of ourselves that can now be healed, we will have turned an unfortunate occurrence into a personal blessing. How often should we forgive? Always.

This is the 32nd in a series of Life Notes entitled “What Did Jesus Say?”

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Rules of Forgiveness

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. Colossians 3:12-14

There is a popular saying that I do not care for. It goes like this: “It is easier to beg forgiveness than to ask permission.” Perhaps the reason I am not fond of this philosophy is that I usually hear it from an employee or child after they have done something I wish they had discussed with me first. I believe forgiveness is appropriate for anyone who is sorry for what has been done. If one continues to do something they know is not right, however, it is difficult to believe they are truly sorry for it. Perhaps they are not sorry for what they did, but only regret they were caught. Of course, there are others times when forgiving someone is in our best interest, even if the other person is not seeking our forgiveness.

The comedian Emo Phillips said, “I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn’t work that way. So I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness.” While I agree that God willingly and repeatedly grants forgiveness, I also believe there are expectations attached to forgiveness. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul advises us to forgive others as we have been forgiven. He also says to be compassionate, kind, humble, meek, and patient in our dealings with others.

Repentance – literally to turn around – is a common expectation for forgiveness. When we repent of our sin, we acknowledge a need to change something within, and so we seek to turn around. Confession of our sins is another expectation for forgiveness. When we confess, we accept responsibility for our actions. If there are rules of forgiveness, they likely include accepting responsibility for our actions and being willing to change.

Paul, however, sums up forgiveness in a word, love. In typical Paul-style, he uses many words to get to the point, but love is clearly there. Our need to forgive or to be forgiven always occurs in relationship to another – to God, to a family member, to a friend or co-worker. If we love that person, or at least if we value the relationship, we will not intentionally do them harm. When we say or do something harmful, we want to make it right. Thus, we seek forgiveness out of love. Likewise, we are more likely to grant forgiveness when we have been wronged if we love another or value our relationship with them. The rule of forgiveness, then, is actually very simple: love one another.

Come home to church this Sunday. If you must steal a bicycle to go, seek forgiveness.

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Owning Our Sin

Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. –Psalm 32:5

I do not like to be reminded of my sinful nature. I fear that by acknowledging my sin I appear as a weak and undesirable person, and others will think less of me. I can easily recognize sin in those around me, and I too often comment – if only to myself – on their feebleness. Sinners murder and lie and steal. They commit adultery and take the Lord’s name in vain. Surely my shortcomings are not, well, that short. I like to believe I am above such dreadful behaviors.

Although I have never committed murder, physically, when I am honest with myself I know my words and actions sometimes injure others. Is causing mental or emotional anguish less of a sin than causing physical injury? I fear it is not. Just because our legal system does not prosecute mental and emotional harm in the same way it does physical harm does not mean the sins are not comparable when viewed from heaven – or from the heart of a wounded soul. Indeed, physical wounds often heal more quickly and completely than emotional wounds.

We lull ourselves into believing we have only sinned if we get caught, or if there is some direct and negative consequence of our behavior, or if there is no one else to blame it on. We forget that we reap what we sow, and the seeds we sow grow from our thoughts, words, and actions. When we sow harmful behaviors towards others, the resulting pain stems from us, regardless of whether we are identified as its source. Our sins are actions that separate us from God, as well as those that separate us from others. We all sin and need forgiveness, so being a sinner is not something we can truthfully hold against another anymore than being a sinner is something we can realistically deny in ourselves. Recognizing and confessing our sin, however, is healing both for ourselves and those impacted by our sin. Taking responsibility for our actions is an important stage in our growth as human beings and as children of God. Accepting responsibility is also the critical first step in addressing our sins and moving past them.

“The importance of recognizing our sin cannot be overstated. Until we accept responsibility for something, we cannot do anything about it. We must therefore accept our status as sinners before we can begin to deal effectively with the sin in our lives. We need to reach out to God. To do so, we must lessen that which separates us from God – our sin – and we cannot begin to weed out our sinful, separating traits until we admit to possessing them.” Excerpt from Finding Grace in an Imperfect World, available at the FUMC-Lawrence office, my website (www.ContemplatingGrace.Com) and other outlets.

Come home to church this Sunday. You will find that confession is good for the soul!

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Life Notes—September 5, 2013 

  “…they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery.  Now in the law of Moses commanded us to stone such women.  Now what do you say?’  When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’”  John 8:5,7

My third-grade teacher, Mrs. Everett, taught me not to point at others.  She illustrated how each time I pointed a finger at another, three fingers pointed back at me.  The point was to use care when accusing others of wrongdoing.  All of us make mistakes and do things we should not do.  Jesus made the same point several times in his ministry.  In Matthew 7:3 he says, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?”  Likewise, in Luke 6:37 Jesus is quoted, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned…”

The Gospel of John records the story of a woman caught in the act of adultery.  A group drags the woman to Jesus.  They remind him the Law of Moses commands she be stoned. Jesus does not deny she deserves death for her sin.  Instead, he reminds the crowd of their own shortcomings by inviting those without sin to throw the first stone.  He knows everyone in the crowd has sinned.  No one dared throw a stone at the woman.  To do so would imply he or she had never sinned, an admission of impossible piety.  As the crowd disperses, Jesus asks who has condemned her.  She replies, “No one, sir.”  Jesus responds, “Neither do I condemn you.  Go your way, and from now on do not sin, again.” 

This story is intriguing in a couple of ways.  First, Jesus shrewdly warns the crowd about judging others.  He does so in a way that does not condone the woman’s sin.  Rather, he reminds the crowd of their own sinful nature.  We are often too quick to condemn others.  Second, while Jesus forgives the woman of her sin, he also tells her not to sin again.  In that sense, her forgiveness was not free.  She was told to alter her lifestyle so she would not continue to sin.  In order for forgiveness to result in positive change, we must repent of our sin.  Repentance requires (1) acknowledging we have sinned, and (2) turning away from that sinful behavior.  Forgiveness is not a get-out-of-jail-free card allowing us to freely judge others or continue unhealthy behaviors.  Mrs. Everett and Jesus remind us that one finger pointed at another leaves three pointing back at us.

A new sermon series begins this Sunday on “The Sermon on the Mount.”  This week’s sermon will be “Redefining Happiness: The Beatitudes,” based on Matthew 5:1-11.  Tom will be preaching downtown where Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Mitch is preaching at the west campus where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Leave your stones at the door.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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