Life Apps 3.0 - Chapter 10: Forgiving Better message by Lead Pastor Terry Brisbane with Video Application by Rusty Rueff. For more information, visit cornerstonesf.org
I’m going to go out on a limb here, and guess that every one of us has someone that we need to forgive. But, for a myriad of reasons and rationalizations, we just haven’t been able to do so. Someone at work has done something to us recently that we’re having a hard time getting over. It’s a grudge that’s growing. A friend or loved one has heard or betrayed us, it’s a growing chasm that puts an enduring relationship at risk. Something that happened to us in our past has become a stumbling block for us and keeps us from feeling fulfilled or happy. Forgiveness is about our choice, our openness, our decisions, and our resolve. It has little to do with someone else’s actions or attitudes. It’s all about our ability and capacity to forgive.
In this Life app that I’m calling the What Happened app, we will ask ourselves the question, “What happened?” Three different times, to learn how to better forgive. The first question, “What happened,” is asking ourselves the question to know and understand the situation or occurrence that has caused us to be hurt. Many times we allow ourselves to feel something bad. We don’t stop and think about the severity of the situation. So we have to ask what happened? Then honestly and objectively place the event upon a spectrum that can span the embarrassment or offense through the more critical areas of betrayal, violation, or even the breaking of who we are as human beings.
Fortunately, we live in a place where most of us won’t ever have to deal with the worst of the worst atrocities that break and destroy a human spirit. It doesn’t lessen the fact that we can feel the same kind of emotions when what’s happened is that we’re only embarrassed, offended, or lightly betrayed. All of which can happen daily in our work lives or our relationships. I say all of this, not the lighting that fact that any of us could experience serious betrayal or real violation. If that happens, in those cases, we must have the courage to reach out to others who are professionals, like counselors, pastors, and doctors, who are trained to help us understand what happened. The point is if we can honestly answer, “What happened,” and accept that in many cases, it seemed worse than it was on the spectrum of hurt. Understand, this is something that we can get over if we only allow ourselves to do so.
This brings us to our second, “What happened,” question we must ask ourselves. We need to do something to move into making forgiving a verb. I see this as doing what needs to be done to react appropriately to the event. Also, to be sure we’ve protected ourselves as best we can from putting ourselves in the same or similar vulnerability in the future. Many times, to put something behind us, we have to move forward or move to a place of more security and protection. It is the ‘many times’ in the moving and doing, that we can begin to see the solutions on how to forgive. Consider that just by talking out our hurts with others, or finding examples of others who have gone through the same thing and how they forgave, overcame and coped, can be what gets us over the hump. It might be that daily writing in a journal about what has happened, that we can see our progress. Regardless, to answer our second, “what happened,” we have to have done something to move towards forgiveness. Otherwise, we’ll find ourselves answering the question with, “Nothing’s happened.” This is saying we’re stuck, and that’s not where God wants us to be.
The last, “What happened” question, is the one that we can ask ourselves when we’ve truly moved beyond the forgiveness, into a place of potentially forgetting. Some things can never be forgotten, but many things can and will be because we were able to replace those earlier events with new memories. This is hard to do, but it also begins with us and our willingness to not be suspicious or look for the worst to happen again. Years later we could be able to answer the last, “What happened,” question with, “I don’t even remember.” In our walk with God, He asks us daily, “What happened?” To which we’re to ask for His forgiveness in the areas where we’ve strayed from Him. He then asks us, “What happened?” For us to be able to make the changes in our lives, to keep from repeating our same transgressions. Then because Jesus took all of our sins from us, God never even considers the third, “What happened” because our sins are not only forgiven by Him, they’re forever forgotten. It is in this example that we can truly learn to forgive better. With our What Happened app, hopefully, we can also be a model for others on how to forgive better.
I love that last shot of Mount [inaudible], I like to go up there a lot. I love Rusty. How many of you, and I know he’s going to forgive me for this, while you were watching there, wanted to go with little thing? “What is that? How did you get it so white?” That’s not taking away from what he said because what he said, he’s going to get to practice forgiving for me with me. No, I’m kidding. Last week we talked about overcoming the hurts of life. We talked about how wounds in our lives can be real and might be connected to things or situations of our past. I talked about how our family was wrestling together over losing our family dog and how that really hurt us. It was traumatic. I know to a lot of people, that may not seem like as big of an issue as it was in terms of how it affected us. But it could be other things in our lives. Things of our past that happened, that were nobody’s fault. We really can’t say, “Oh, this was the reason it happened.” We live in a broken world. We live in a sin-impacted world. Jesus even talked about how bad things happen. When we get to the beginning of the year, Lord willing, as He allows, I have this series I’ve been mentioning. We’ve been working on, praying about, and pouring my soul into something called Growing Through Adversity.
I want to talk about the different ways in which adversity comes at us in life. How the Lord wants us to position ourselves to overcome that, to face things, how to get past things, and how to deal with things that come at us in a number of levels and directions. There are not always easy answers as to why bad things happen. Some things we might say, “Well, I brought it on myself.” That’s a self-inflicted wound. We talked about that. Some wounds are a product of choices that other people have made. They have to do with the fact that we’ve trust injuries where we’ve been betrayed and hurt by someone else. Those wounds that hurt at the hand of another have to be dealt with. Forgiveness, as Jesus taught us, is not just something we ought to do. It is the way to get better. It’s the way to bring life from certain things that have death all over them.
We’re going to sit with that in the few minutes that we have. There’s this great passage in the Scriptures, Matthew 18. Let’s look at it together. It says, “Peter came to Him and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me? I forgive him?'” The question of how much am I obligated to forgive, is what Peter was sitting with. If you look at the chapter as a whole, I think part of that had to do with the fact that Jesus was having a discussion with His disciples. The discussion was how they were supposed to interact at a community level, as a church. They were talking about issues with discipline, correction, and how to restore. There was a lot of interesting back and forth taking place. It is quite likely that Peter was very engaged in that discussion, thinking about the implications of offense. So when he asks the question, “Lord, how many times, how often shall my brother sin against me? Am I supposed to forgive him? Is there a limit? When do we confront something? Am I obligated to forgive? If so, is there a limit to how many times am I supposed to do it?” Peter throws out a number, now.
If you were to look at the teachings of the rabbis and scribes in the time of Jesus, the prevailing teaching of the day was you were to forgive, that at least one time was appropriate. Two, if it was a similar offense would it be considered a magnanimous gesture. If you were to extend forgiveness a third time, which was for them, the outer limits of forgiveness, you were being an extraordinarily forgiving person. After that, there was no need to forgive. The teachers taught that after the third offense, you were no longer obligated to forgive. If you ever were, you were released of that. Peter is thinking in his mind. Now, remember there’s nobody in the world whose opinion matters more to Peter than Jesus. Peter is thinking about it, and he’s the one that poses the question. Then he answers his own question. He says, “Lord, how many times do you think we’re supposed to forgive? I’ve come up with the number. I think seven is a good number.” Maybe Peter thought, “Three is what’s required, I’ll double that and add an additional one, seven.” It’s a Biblical, good, and perfect; seven’s a Bible number. “I’ll just pull that one out.” I think Peter is waiting and thinking as he says this in front of the rest of the disciples, “I think I’m going to get affirmed here because I went way over the number of forgiving times you’re supposed to do.”
I think Peter’s in that moment where he says, “Lord, how many times are we supposed to forgive? Seven?’ In his mind, he’s expecting to hear Jesus say, “Peter, your magnanimous gesture so exceeds anything that would be required of a normal human being. You’ve extended this out. Once again, you show yourself to be above the rest when it comes to spiritual maturity. It knows no bounds.” Peter is at least expecting something like that. What he gets from Jesus is, “No, not seven.” Maybe Peter thinks for a moment, “Oh, maybe I overshot.” “Not seven, I say to you, 70 times seven.” By which Jesus meant it’s numberless really, “I don’t even want you thinking about a number. I just want you to think about the fact that there should be no limits to your forgiveness. You are to be a forgiving person.”
Jesus says, “I would like to share a story with you.” Whenever Jesus says, “I want to share a story with you,” watch out, because usually, that means He’s about to teach us something that’s going to get deep. He says in what is known as the Parable Of The Unforgiving Servant or the Unmerciful Servant, “Therefore, the kingdom of Heaven, can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with his servants who had borrowed money from him. tIn the process, one of his debtors was brought in, who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn’t pay. So his master ordered that he be sold.” That was commonplace in that day, “Along with his wife, his children and everything he owned.” His family was sold off into slavery or servitude to pay the debt, “But the man fell down before his master and begged him. He said, ‘Please be patient with me. I will pay it all back. Every cent.’ His master was filled with pity for him and released him,” Jesus said, “He forgave his debt.” When we take a closer look at it, it’s almost impossible to miss the illustration that Jesus is using here. The picture is of a king settling as accounts. One servant, we don’t know how he did it, managed to lose what to Jesus’s listeners would’ve seemed to them to be an unimaginable amount, something in the millions, by some estimates, as high as 20 million.
How this guy lost the money, Jesus doesn’t say. What He says is that it was a fabulously, enormous debt. Something that man could never repay in his lifetime. It’s not like he was going to be able to earn back enough money. The implication is that if all of his pay for the rest of his life was used, it would never have scratched the service of what he lost. What was at stake for him was everything that he loved. According to the law of his day, his assets could have been liquidated and his family sold into servitude. In response to this, he’s utterly distraught in his plight. He sees himself in major trouble. He has no way out. He throws himself at the King’s feet. He’s terrified. He cries out for mercy, “I’ll pay you back. Just give me time please.” The amount was so big, so astonishingly enormous that the offer wasn’t even realistic, “You can never pay me back. You lost so much of my money, you can never pay me back.”It was, in response, almost laughable. It’s quite possible the disciples said, “There’s no way he could pay him back.”
I look at that and say, “wow.” It’s quite possible that his disciples, as they were listening to Jesus share this tightly woven tale, thought, “Yeah, there’s no way, you can’t pay that.” Everybody was probably lighthearted about it, except for Peter who was still scratching his head about what had happened. The way Jesus told it was the king was moved towards compassion, so much so that he didn’t even bother with a payment plan. It was like he said, “You know what? The payment plan, you don’t make anything to pay that back. I have two choices. I either hold you tightly accountable for what you’ve done, or I just forgive you. I don’t want your payment plan. I’ve decided, I forgive you. You’re free. Don’t do it again, but you’re free.”
It’s a picture of a lot of things. One, he was saying, “No, there’s nothing you can do to pay me back.” It’s a reminder, at least at one level of the extraordinary debt that Jesus paid for us. God was about to give His only Begotten Son for us. It meant the cost of forgiveness would cost God everything. In that sense, there’s a great picture of a debt you and I can never pay. We can only receive. The amount of debt is so extravagant that God commended His love toward us while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. But at a relational level, Jesus was underscoring a great principle that had to do with forgiveness. Forgiveness, Jesus makes clear that He has forgiven us in such an amazing way, but you and I are also to be this kind of a person. We are to be a people who forgive. That would’ve been a great way to end the story. “Look God wants us to forgive, there’re no limits to your forgiveness. Here’s the example of this king.” Jesus doesn’t end it there. He takes it one step further. He says, “When the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars.” He was forgiven millions, and he found this man who owed him a few thousand.
Maybe he was trying to get all the money he could get to try to make some type of an offer back to the king, “I could pay you this amount of money.” Maybe he is trying to pull it all in. But one man stood out in his mind. After he was let go, I can only imagine his happiness. But then he gets home and starts thinking about the fact, “That guy owes me a lot of money.” You would think that someone who was rescued on the plank, would have a very difficult time pushing somebody else off of it. Jesus says, that his servant finds him, “he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars, and he grabbed him by the throat. He says, ‘You owe me my money.’ he demanded instant payment, ‘Give me what you owe me now.’ His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time, ‘Be patient with me, please be patient with me. I’ll pay you back,’ he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested, put in prison until the debt could be paid in full. How could someone treated so mercifully be so merciless? How could someone forgiven so much be so unforgiving? At least part of this has to do with how we forgive people who hurt us.
It says, “He, the creditor, wouldn’t wait. He had him arrested. When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset and went to the king. They told him everything that had happened. The king called in the man he had forgiven. He said, ‘You are an evil man. What kind of man are you? What kind of person are you?’ I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me, you begged me. You said, ‘Please,’ and threw yourself down and asked for mercy and forgiveness. You could never have paid me back. I let you off. You’ve been given a pass off of death row, then you go back and treat someone else like this. What’s wrong with you? I’m so upset with you. Throw this man in prison, have him tormented.” This was the anger of a king. Jesus then comes back on the back end of that. He says, “So My heavenly Father will do to you.” That is maybe not tortured in the exact sense, I don’t think that’s what He was saying. I think what He was saying, is, “There’s a consequence to treating people like this. There’s displeasure that God has when we treat others like this. When we have been forgiven, and then yet we are so tightly wound.” I look at that and I think, “Lord, okay, I get it. You’re going to hold us accountable. I get that.”
I want to put this up and get us thinking in a certain direction. What I’m looking for here is, “Okay, how do we grow in our capacity to forgive?” One of the ways I think we need to remember as we’re exploring this, is we need to begin by thinking of forgiveness as a way of being, rather than just a number or something we need to do from time to time. Peter wanted a number, “Can we settle on a number, Lord?” Jesus said, “I’m not going to give you a number. I’m going to give you a way of living. I don’t want you to be like someone who marks a fence. I want you to learn how to live as one who has been forgiven. I want that lightness of being to define who you are.” In one sense, we’re taught about the relationship with God. In another sense, we’re talking about how we treat and love people.How we relate, get along, forgive, and get past our wounds. This is what Jesus is getting at. One of the things I think He’s reminding us of is that His yoke is easy. His burden is light. He doesn’t want us locked up in grudges, offenses, and stuff from our past. The Lord, “Whom the Lord says is free,” Jesus said, “Is free indeed.”
There are things where I say, “Lord, I know I’m all tight right now, everything’s tight. This issue is, I’ve got so much anxiety, or I’m angry about it. I know it is not how You want me to be here.” The Lord doesn’t want us to be like that. It’s not how He wants it. There is a lightness of His way, “My yoke is easy. My burden is light.” It doesn’t mean problem-free. It means as we make our way through things in this life, with all these ups and downs, fairness, unfairness, whatever else stuff comes our way, that we learn how to be nimble in our heart so that we’re not getting stuck in places. One of the places we get stuck is when people do things wrong to us. It could be at our workplace. We get stabbed in the back. It’s all political. Everybody’s out for themselves. People misrepresent things. It could be in our homes. It could be in our own friendships. We feel betrayed It could have to do with things in our past, “You hurt me, I’ll never get past that.” Things we carry. This is what we’re talking about. The Lord doesn’t want us to be a person who’s always, “I’m watching you.” Ready to pounce, “You let me down before.” It’s not His way.
Secondly, remember that in some cases, the more cognizant we are of how much we’ve been forgiven, then the easier, I didn’t say easy, it will be to forgive. The more we live in the awareness of how much we have been forgiven, that’s a key principle, the more we will in turn forgive. The second thought is in some cases, forgiveness needs to be continually applied. I’m going to read something that I wrote for the book. I would like you to hear it. It’s true that Jesus used seven times 70 as a metaphor for something limitless and without number, but in so doing, He also gave us another magnific and forgiveness tool. He showed us that in a lot of cases, forgiveness is like a balm that needs to be applied over and over again until the wound heals up. Depending on its severity, it either disappears, heals up, or scars up, but it’s not infected. We may forgive, place our injury in the Lord’s hands, only to have our anger, bitterness, or hurt return at an incidental memory, or the mention of someone’s name. All of a sudden that stuff just rushes back in. The point is, something pokes us, and all the pain we thought we surrendered in the forgiving returns like a torrent, like a flash flood in a desert canyon after a thunderstorm.
In such moments, we find ourselves clinging to the canyon wall for dear life, overwhelmed by emotions. Emotions that we assume we had left behind. Doesn’t forgiveness work? Why are we dealing with this? What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with God? What happened to all His promises? Jesus said, “It’s seven times 70, not one and done.” Certainly, the majority of our forgiving is one and done, and we move on. It’s like, “Eh, it’s just a minor scrape.” But every now and then, the wound is so severe, some of us might have that right now, that we must give ourselves time to convalesce, time to grieve. No easy answer will do. There will be no quick escape. This is going to take, barring some rarity, time to get better, but not just time, for time alone does heal all wounds. It usually makes them easier to bear, but not always. In some cases, time makes us worse. We find ourselves more and more bound by a wound we cannot bear. This is where Christ will help us. When we cry out to Him for help or receive prayer or encouragement from another person. Forgiveness is the decision to yield our wound to the One who loves us. Instead of tending it like a dark garden of pain, feeding on its poison, torn up on the inside like a wounded animal. It is something we must do over and over again as a feeling or memory we have left behind returns to us with a force unexpected. What do I do if it returns again? Forgive again. How many times? Every time until it dissipates like blood in an ocean of grace.
I was thinking about this and remember as a teenager I had a lot of anger for my father. It was real. My anger was real because it wasn’t hot. It didn’t run hot. It ran cold. As in, “You hurt me, and I’m not going to care about you.” That was the kind of anger I had. It’s not, “You’re going to cripple me.” It’s that “I’m going to live my life without you and it’s not going to bother me.” I spent some time thinking about this, and whether I should even share. What happened for me, was when our family fell apart, I broke apart. When it died, Mom and Dad went their own ways. We went with mom, my brother and me. My dad disappeared. I’m a teenager getting ready just to go into high school, and he’s gone. I was thinking there are certain moments where all of a sudden you could be 30 years down the road, and still remember something. All of a sudden it can hit you. You remember it and you can feel it. You can feel your eyes water.
I remember a moment where it came when I was thinking about forgiveness, about what Jesus was saying, and what He had done in my life. I remember there was this moment where I was a freshman. I was looking in the mirror, getting ready for the first time ever, to shave. I had a razor blade, I didn’t have much hair. It was just like a little bit, but it was a sincere effort. I was scared a little bit. I only had seen people do it on TV, but I knew that I needed to try. It was at that moment, where I said to myself, “Where’s your dad? My father should be here.” I remember that moment. I remember how, for those four years, I played soccer and was on a traveling team. I would play for my high school too. I remembered how my dad never came one time to see me play, not once. I would see other people with their families, I didn’t get one, nothing. My mom couldn’t come.
There are moments where I had that anger. I say that because I remember how I was a young teenager and had this experience with the Lord. I grew up in Sunday school and I knew about Jesus. I knew the stories of the Bible. I had wonderful teachers. Those stories have been part of my life for all the rest of my life. They formed the foundation. Lord, bless the ones who gave, they formed the foundation of my faith. Having said that, there came that point where I had all that anger in me. What am I going to do? I had this moment where I had genuine interaction with the Lord. It was right here, after service. I started praying and felt like the Lord moved in my life. I went back to school and was a different person. I started wrestling with what it meant to live out the faith that I had been raised to be around. How does that affect my relationship with my grandfather? My grandfather was a Godly man and gave me a lot of love. I still had my father. What do I do about that? What do I do about the utter disappointment I had in him? The cold anger that is there? It’s real. How do I forgive that?
It led me to the place where I said, “Lord, how do I go from being angry and apathetic as a mechanism of protection, to learning how to be merciful and how to bless. I can see that’s what You want me to do. You showed me that. I’ve been given so much.” That led to this third piece. I want to put it out there, tying it together because this is going to help some of us. For some of us, it’s best to begin the forgiving process with modest steps. Let me tell you what I learned. A couple of weeks back, we heard someone say, “Jesus said, bless your enemies.” That’s high ground. We have a hard enough time blessing some people who mildly irritate us. To bless someone who genuinely hurts or wounds us, or we feel is responsible for unfair baggage is hard. “I have to carry that because of the choices you made,” that’s a different level. One of the things I come to understand in the Lord, this is not going to sound hyper-spiritual to everybody, sometimes the first step is saying, “Lord, would you teach me to be free of malice in my heart?” What is malice? It’s ill will. That is to say, “I no longer desire you to experience pain or punishment or retribution.”
I’m not saying justice should not be served. I get that. There are times for boundaries and mercy, I get all that. I’m saying there are a lot of times where the Lord is saying, “The first step in forgiving is to say, “Lord, I don’t know if I can pray this prayer up here, but I’m going to start praying right here. What I’m going to say is would You who have loved me so much, not only forgiven me, but continue to forgive me, not only have I experienced Your astonishing mercy, but I need that mercy every day, if I’m honest. Help me not to hold things that bind me down. That’s not who You made me to be. I can only pray here, Lord, I start here. I will ask you to remove the anger.”
I’ll pray. I will come against this thing and will not desire to see evil. I’m not praying any, I don’t want any garbage. I’m not sending that out. I’m letting it go. “Lord, I ask You to free me enough to not curse that person. Free me.” Start there, “Get me out of, ‘I want you to get yours,'” and watch how the Lord then takes us along. The next thing that we would say is, “Lord, would you help me to pray that Your mercy, which has been such a blessing to me would be extended out.” That might come a little further down the road, but you get to a point where you can say, “Lord, not only do I ask for You not to harm them, but to give them what they do not deserve as You gave me what I did not deserve, You’re grace and Your love. I also pray that You would be merciful to them. Give me compassion in ways I never had before. Give me, Lord, the ability to look a little bit more like You in ways I could not do on my own. I ask that you would give me the capacity to bless the one that is not worthy of it, even as I have been blessed, totally unworthy of what You have done for me.”
When it came to my own dad, I can’t say that I ever got back to a deep, loving, wonderful, warm, classic Hollywood feel-good ending. I will say that I had a healed-up heart. I ended up being able to bless my father before he died. We were able to make sure that we prayed together. He reaffirmed his faith in Jesus. It was not a great ending, but it was way better than it could have been. My heart was freed along the way. I could really bless. That’s what God wants from us. Bless as we have been blessed. That’s His way.
Let’s pray. Lord, I thank you for so many things. Maybe some of us right now need to pray this prayer. Maybe some of us feel a little bit locked up. Maybe some of us are supposed to put our hands out before You just say, “Lord, I’m open to Your healing touch as well.” Help us to live as ones forgiven, free to live, free to love, free to get better, and free to bless, even as we have been blessed. May we, every one of us here, be free to go Your way, to follow in Your steps, to give our hearts to You, and let go. If some of us have quiet rage, let it go, and surrender it. Some of us need to forgive. Maybe we start by saying, “Lord, I release my desire to curse. I pray for mercy. I apply the balm of forgiveness a little at a time. May it bring healing.” For we know that when we forgive, the one we really set free is ourselves. May we forgive as we have been forgiven. Help us to live this way, to get there, grow there, and move along the way better. I asked for this blessing, and let the song that we close with be soothing, a freshness. Let there be cleansing as we share that song after our time of giving. May there be a feel like a cleansing time of hopefulness around this word. I ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.