September 29, 2019
We’re nearing the end of a short sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer, it’s arguably the most famous and well known prayer among Christians and one that has been passed down from generation to generation, ever since Jesus first shared it with his disciples some 2,000 years ago. Last week we looked the line where we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” and one of the things we talked about is that while everything we have is a gift from God himself, often times God wants to provide for us through the generosity and abundance that others have. One of the things that I find so compelling about the early church is that they generously shared what they had with their brothers and sisters in Christ. And so last week I introduced the “Our Daily Bread” board, a place where we can share with one another things that we’re in need of or things that we have to share as a way for us to meet one another’s "daily bread" kind of needs, whether it’s a ride to Butte or to shovel your snow. And so the board is simply a way to encourage us to continue to serve one another in tangible, practical ways. And one of the things I should have shared last week, and that I’ll share with you now, is that you all already live this out so well – one of things that has stood out to me from day 1 about our church is the way you generously share with one another and treat one another like family. And I’ve experienced that in just this past week. Last week I told you about my need for a leaf blower and I am now the proud borrower of not one, but two leaf blowers, I now have dueling leaf blowers or should I say snow blowers. Either way it’s awesome, one for each hand I guess. But yet, sadly, no kids have shown up at our house yet, so that’s kind a bummer. Oh well. If you weren’t here last week, Callie and I offered to any and all parents to watch their kids so they can get away on a date night. Anyway, you can find the board down in the Fellowship Hall, encourage you to take a look.
All that said, while last week’s part of the prayer was relatively light hearted in many ways, today we come to a part of the prayer that’s much, much heavier and surely much more emotionally charged.
Where Jesus calls us to pray …
“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
So yes, you guessed it. We’re going to talk about forgiveness today - what it is, what it isn’t, as well as some practical steps on how to do it well.
Now in some ways, I personally feel highly qualified to teach on forgiveness because as a married man for the past three years, friends, I get the opportunity to ask for forgiveness almost each and every day.
But yet, all kidding aside, in many ways I feel deeply unqualified to talk about forgiveness because I know that there are some difficult life circumstances and relational conflict and turmoil that some of you are experiencing currently or in years past that I just haven’t experienced. Over the course of studying this subject this past week, I was reminded of just how difficult and sensitive this topic can be, especially when you take into account the complexities of life and relational wounds and pain that many of us have experienced. As many of you know all too well, it’s one thing to talk about forgiveness as some kind utopian ideal, it’s another thing to live it out in the messiness and complexity of our everyday life. And so it’s probably worth saying right up front – there’s just no way we can say everything that needs to be said in 20 minutes, and so it’s very possible that there are real life questions that you’re currently wrestling with when it comes to forgiveness that we just won’t get to this morning. And so, if by any chance this is something you’re thinking about or living through right now, I’ve left a couple book recommendations in the sermon notes if you’d like to explore the subject further.
Now, if you’re anything like me, forgiveness isn’t something that’s all that exciting or thrilling to talk about or think through. To be honest, this morning is probably going to feel like eating your vegetables. But here’s the thing, it’s important that we talk about forgiveness on one hand because the bible has a lot to say about it, but also because in order for us to have meaningful, deep, intimate and life giving relationships, you and I have to learn how to ask for and offer forgiveness.
Because here’s the unavoidable truth. You and I are sinful, messy, broken people. We say and do things that hurt the ones we love. And so the only way sinful and broken people can be in any kind of meaningful relationship with one another that has any chance to go the distance is if we learn how to ask for and offer forgiveness. There truly is no other way.
Forgiveness, while difficult, is the only way you and I can have the life giving relationships that we so desperately want and need. And if by any chance that’s not convincing enough, then just do me a favor and take notes for the sinful, messy and broken person sitting next to you, because, Lord knows and you know, they really need to hear this.
Anyway, here’s how I want to structure our message for today. We’re going to walk through the four steps of forgiveness and talk about what forgiveness is and what it isn’t as we go.
And these four steps work in both directions – both when we’ve hurt someone and need to ask forgiveness as well as when someone has hurt us and we’re in the position to extend forgiveness to someone else.
And just to be clear, I didn’t make up these four steps. I first learned them from the Senior Pastor at my previous church, Scott Dudley. So let’s get started …
Here’s the first step toward forgiveness …
When someone hurts us, or when we hurt someone else, don’t pick up your phone. Don’t get in the car. Don’t write a passive aggressive email. At least not quite yet. Actually, there’s never a good time for a passive aggressive email, but you get what I’m trying to say. First things first, take a moment, or maybe even a few days, to pray.
And, I know, I know. This sounds like a very Christian thing to do. Always begin with prayer, yeah, yeah, yeah. This can just feel like a box to check off on our to do list. But it’s important for prayer to be the first step in the forgiveness process for a couple reasons.
One one hand, it helps us to settle ourselves down, reflect, take a deep breath and really think through what it is we want to say, because, if we skip this step and move too quickly, let’s be honest, there’s a very good chance that we’ll end up staying something stupid and now have yet another reason to ask for forgiveness.
And so as we pray, as we prayerfully consider the conversation that we need to have with that person, it’s a chance to do some thoughtful reflection and ask,
"Why was I hurt by what was said or what transpired? Why did it stir up the emotions that it did?"
Or ask, "What is it exactly that I want to say, and how can I say in a way that is filled with both grace and truth?"
Or ask, "What are my motives, what’s the outcome I’m hoping for in this conversation?"
Because sometimes in our worst moments, there are times when we think - I want you to feel guilty for making me feel guilty. I want you to experience shame for making me feel ashamed. But yet that’s not forgiveness. That’s revenge, that’s retaliation, not forgiveness.
And of course, more importantly, pray not only for wisdom and guidance for when you have that tough conversation, but even more, that you would experience God’s forgiveness in that moment.
You see, when Jesus tells us “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” he’s clearly drawing a connection between the forgiveness that God extends towards us and the forgiveness that we extend towards others. And so take some time to reflect on the ways in which God has forgiven you. By the way, the word debts, or trespasses, is simply another word to describe sin.
Friends, if we haven’t and don’t regularly ask for God’s forgiveness, then it’s maybe or likely a sign that we are blind or indifferent to our own sin and shortcomings, and if we’re blind or indifferent to our own sin, then we will likely be impatient and unsympathetic to other’s people’s sin. So ask God to gently reveal your sin to you, to show you what you have to own in this particular situation, because when we see our own sin and experience God’s forgiven we’ll be so much more likely to forgive one another. After all, forgiven people forgive people. Forgiven people, forgive people.
Think back to how we address God in the Lord’s Prayer. We call him “Father.” Which means we’re children. Which means we’ve been adopted into His family. Think about the very nature of adoption. Adoption is not merit based, it’s grace based.
So in prayer, remind yourself, “I am a child of God, and I got here because of grace, not merit.”
And finally, pray that you would be filled with and exude the fruit of the Spirit. That your words, your tone, even your body language would exude love, patience, gentleness and self control.
Remember, scripture tells us, it’s “God’s kindness that leads us to repentance.” Not condemnation, not a strongly worded email, no, “God’s kindness that leads us to repentance.”
So pray that would embody God’s kindness and that your words would be filled with grace and truth.
So first things first, pray. Here’s the second step.
That is, go to the person that you hurt or who has hurt you.
Now, in many ways, this should be the easiest step. In fact, this shouldn’t even have to be a step. But it is, because too often we take our hurt and pain and let’s be honest, gossip, to the wrong person. Instead of taking our hurt and pain to the person who hurt us, instead we take it to our friend, or our neighbor or our barista or our barber or you get the idea … we take it to the wrong person.
And this is problematic for a couple reasons, one it keeps us from reconciling and forgiving the person we’re in conflict with, but in addition it unnecessarily introduces a third person into our mess.
This is, often times, the unseen or forgotten consequence of not taking our wounds and pain directly to the source. It creates an unnecessary triangulation of sorts.
For example, say Barb says something hurtful to me. (Sorry, Barb, it’s just an illustration). And then, in response, say I tell Sandy about it. Not only am I distancing myself from Barb by not going directly to her first, but I’ve also damaged Barb’s relationship with Sandy as well. Because now, Sandy hears my version of the story, and thinks to herself, “Ugh, I can’t believe Barb would do such a thing!” And now Sandy has a possibly biased perception of Barb because she’s only hearing my side of the story. And now Sandy feels distant from Barb because she now knows something about Barb that she can’t talk with her about because she wasn’t supposed to know about it in the first place.
Now, if you’re thinking, I am so lost right now, I can’t keep track of who’s who in this hypothetical scenario, well then, it’s Barb’s fault. I’m kidding. Anyway, here’s the bottom line, when we don’t go directly to the person who’s hurt us and instead take it to someone else, we unnecessarily introduce a third person into our conflict who should have never been a part of it in the first place.
In Matthew 18, Jesus tells us this simple, yet important step towards forgiveness and reconciliation, when he says, “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and tell them their fault, between you and them alone.” So many of our world’s problems would be solved if we simply obeyed him on that one.
Now, you may be thinking, okay, sure, but there are sometimes when I want to talk to a third person before having that difficult conversation. You want to talk things through with them. You want to try and get another perspective. You want to ask them, “Am I thinking clearly? Am I understanding this right? Have I lost my mind?” - those kinds of conversations.
Absolutely, that makes great sense especially when they’re a trusted friend who knows both of you well. I think the key here is asking yourself, "Am I having this conversation with a third person in order to prepare myself for a conversation with person who hurt me or am I simply gossiping? Am I just unloading my hurts and wounds on this person because it’s easier and because I think it’ll make me feel better?" I think those are the questions you want to sift through. And when it comes to gossip and what’s not, here’s a helpful way to think about. Generally speaking, gossip is saying something about someone behind their back that you would never say to their face.
And last thing on this point, let me say this. Friends, because I am a sinful and broken person, I almost certainly will at some point say something or do something that hurts you in some way. Please, please, please, if and when or if I already have hurt you, please let me know. I never want there to be unresolved conflict and I always want to be ready to ask for forgiveness from you.
And secondly, if you ever find me saying something out of turn about someone else, please, please, please, gently call me out on it and tell me to stop talking and take it directly to whomever I happen to be talking about.
Alright, let’s keep going. Here’s the third step in forgiveness and here’s where we’ll really dive into what forgiveness is and what it isn’t or more specifically, what we’re saying and not saying when we ask for or extend forgiveness.
At this point, you’re face to face with person. And simply say, “Here’s how I think I’ve hurt you … and then, simply and humbly ask them, “Will you forgive me?”
Friends, notice the difference between “I’m sorry” and “Will you forgive me?”
“Will you forgive me?” when we mean it deep down, is much more powerful because it puts us in a position of need. It’s far more vulnerable. And while “I’m sorry” is a perfectly fine thing to say in the relatively small and trivial things in life, “Will you forgive me?” is a much more transformational and healing thing to say and ask for when we’ve really hurt the ones we love.
And here’s where it’s important to mention a few things about what forgiveness is and isn’t.
When we forgive someone, we are not excusing or tacitly endorsing their actions or behavior. No, not all. We can forgive someone and say “what you did was wrong” all in the same breath.
In addition, just because we forgive someone doesn’t mean that there won’t be real and felt consequences. And even more, in the most extreme cases, there may even be legal ramifications. You can forgive someone and yet at the same time, know all too very well that it may not be life as usual. Especially in cases surrounding abuse of any kind, there may be very real consequences, because even though forgiveness may be extended, trust has been eroded. And it’s in these kind of cases that the topic of forgiveness gets really messy, and I’m admittedly way out over my skis, so it’s probably best for me to say less than more here.
All that said, those are a couple things we’re not saying when we forgive one another.
But yet, what are we saying when we forgive one another?
Ken Sande, in his book, the promise keeper, says, that there are four promises that we are making in that moment … He says, we promise and say to the other -
“I will not dwell on this incident.”
“I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.”
“I will not talk to others about this incident.”
“I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.”
Four promises we make when we forgive.
And for what’s worth, please, please, please, for the love of all things good and beautiful, do not offer an apology that sounds like this …
“I’m so sorry if you were offended by what I said.” That is just the worst. That is like the microwave pizza of apologies. It’s a distortion and corruption of the real and beautiful thing. And even, more it’s not apology, it’s an accusation. In it we’re saying, “It’s not my fault, it’s your fault for having feelings and emotions in the first place.”
Instead ask, “Will you forgive me?”
Now, there’s a second question that we ought to ask after asking, “Will you forgive me?” and it can sometimes be an even more difficult question than the first.
And the question is this … “Did I miss anything?” That is, is there something that I’ve missed, something that I’ve said or done that I’m not aware of, that I haven’t asked forgiveness for. Ask “Did I miss anything?”
You see, one of the false assumptions we often make when asking for forgiveness is believing that we know exactly and fully what it is that we’ve said or done to hurt the other person. But yet, if you’re anything like me, I have to remind myself, I’m not always as self aware as I think I am. As a sinful and broken person, I sometimes hurt the ones I love without even knowing it. And so I need to ask, “Did I miss anything? because there’s a very real chance that I’ve done something wrong that I’m unaware of.
I recently heard a story about a mom who was texting her son to tell him the sad news that his grandfather had just passed away. And so the mom texted her son, writing, “Your grandfather just passed away,” and then wrote LOL, which in text jargon, means “Laugh out loud.” Not exactly the note you’re trying to hit when a loved one passes away. And so the son texted back, “Uh, mom, why did text laugh out loud? You know LOL means laugh out loud, right? And the mom’s like, “What? Are you serious? I always thought it meant “lots of love”!! Friends, we are sometimes painfully unaware of how we are coming across to others.
So after you ask, “Will you forgive me? Don’t forget to ask, “Did I miss anything?”
Pray, Go, Ask, and last but not least …
If it all possible, stay in the relationship. Pull up your sleeves, embrace the messiness, be willing to have difficult conversations, ask for and extend forgiveness graciously and if at all possible, stay. Stay in the relationship.
Now, I need to be abundantly clear here. Staying is the ideal situation, but yet, but yet, and I cannot stress this enough, there are times and occasionally there are circumstances where staying is either not the right or safe or healthy thing to do, where staying is simply not an option.
But if it all possible, stay.
After all, think about the way in which and the reasons why God forgives us. God forgives us in order to, for the purpose of being in relationship with us. God is not a police officer, who pulls us over for speeding, but then graciously let’s us off the hook, only never to be seen again.
Our God is not like that. God forgives us so that He can stay with us, so that He can be in relationship with us. God’s desire to be in relationship with us is greater than our ability to sin against him. When we repent and believe, God forgives us, essentially saying what we say to one another, “I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.”
So if at all possible, stay.
Finally, let’s clear up one last misnomer around forgiveness. At times, you’ll hear people say, “Forgive and forget.” And while that can be helpful advice for the small and trivial things in life, when it comes to deepest wounds that we experience, it’s in many ways unrealistic. Truth is, we probably haven’t and won’t forget. So be gracious and patient with yourself.
And remember one of the four promises when we extend forgiveness …
“I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.” While we may not forget, the hope or the goal is that we would never use that hurt against them. Or for example, that we wouldn’t get defensive or accusatory and say, “This is nothing compared to how you’ve hurt me in the past.” After all, love keeps no record of wrongs.
Alright, one last thing about forgiveness and this is where we’ll finish for today.
One of the things we have to remind ourselves, is that forgiveness, by it’s very nature, is very, very hard. Yes, there’s an incredible joy and peace to be found on the other side, but yet, the fact remains, asking for and extending forgiveness is hard. It’s incredibly costly.
Forgiveness demands humility. It requires vulnerability. It forces us to confront our hurts and wounds and personal demons. It makes us look in the eyes of the ones who have hurt us. Forgiveness is incredibly, incredibly hard.
And so, whenever you are asking for or extending forgiveness and think to yourself, “Man, this is hard!” in that very moment, fix your eyes on Jesus. Look to Jesus.
Remember what it took for God to forgive you and me. It demanded Jesus’s very life.
Jesus once asked the crowd a question, “Which is easier? To say to the paralyzed man, get up and walk or to say your sins are forgiven?
Because on one hand, you think to yourself, it’s easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” after all, their just words, right. Just say the darn words. But of course, as we all know and have experienced, if only it was that easy. If only it were that simple.
Do you realize that for Jesus to say your sins are forgiven would demand his very life. God said to you, “I’d rather die than lose you, so that’s exactly what I’ll do.”
Friends, forgiveness is hard, it’s incredibly costly. It was for Jesus and it’s that way for you and me. And I don’t say that to make you feel guilty, to imply, “Well if Jesus went to this extreme, surely, you can forgive the ones who hurt you.” No, no, no, there’s no guilt intended.
Rather I just tell you this to encourage you. That whenever you are struggling with your forgiveness. First look to Jesus. Rejoice in what Jesus has done for you. Ask for his forgiveness. Rejoice in his forgiveness.
God looked at you and said, “I’d rather die than lose you, so that’s exactly what I’ll do.”
8 The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 9 He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever. 10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us.