Allen Jackson - The Freedom of Forgiveness - Part 2
I think we all understand our need for forgiveness, but oftentimes we're not nearly as anxious to extend forgiveness. Let's take a minute and see if we can understand the process. But just as a definition, forgiveness is the act of setting someone free from an obligation to you, typically an obligation that is imagined to be the result of some wrong that was done against us. In fact, in the process of forgiveness, it helps me to think of it in terms of elements. I think there's three elements. There's the injury, the offense, there's a debt that is incurred, you're owed something. Something needs to be done to make this circumstance whole. And then the third part of forgiveness is the cancellation of the debt. You tear up the marker. You don't owe me anything. There's nothing I'm looking for you to do to make restitution. I set you free. The obligation's been canceled. I release you.
Now, here's the mystery in that. When you forgive and you release somebody else, you're the one who's set free. See, what is not as intuitive is anger, and resentment, and bitterness chain you to whatever that event is that you're angry, and bittered, and unwilling to forgive. You're the one that is held captive by it. You ever been angry at somebody and they didn't notice? How annoying is that, right? You're gonna give them the silent treatment and they don't know so you have to make some noise. Gotta slam some doors or snort or something. And then inevitably you'll ask the question, is there something wrong? To which we answer, no, of course not, why would you ask?
You see, anger and resentment makes you a captive, even if you're convinced there's justification for it. Bondage is always the result when the process of forgiveness is abandoned. Now, here's the challenge. We have to forgive the hurts that we don't deserve. There are some places when we forgive and we realize perhaps we contributed, but there are times in our lives when we have suffered and we're confident we didn't deserve to suffer, and we still have to forgive. There's some things that we need to go ahead and establish. One, it's a universal opportunity. Nobody makes the journey without this. Hurts, disappointments, pains, they come to all of us. And hurts which we don't imagine that we deserve can very easily give rise to an unforgiving spirit. And you may think you've polished it, and hidden it, and covered it, and buried it, you've got your facade in place, but it is limiting your life. It's keeping you in chains of bondage and limiting what God can do through you.
Don't allow yourself the emotional luxury of harboring anger, and resentment, and hatred, and unforgiveness. I'll give you a little bit of a test for an unforgiving spirit. Maybe there's some memory that you just can't seem to completely shake of how you were hurt, and if you remember the circumstance, or you see one of the persons involved, or you see a picture, or just something, anything prompts your memory, there's a whole host of emotions that come right back. Maybe there's some circumstance in your life, some person, some institution, someone you just can't wish well. You don't want them to do well, truthfully, you want them to fail. Or maybe there's someone or some group of someone's that you want to hurt just like you have. You want them to know the kind of pain you felt. After all, they caused you pain.
Listen to it when it's displayed in public. You can catch expressions of it almost every day in some media cycle. Listen to the anger, the resentment, hatred. It's wrapped in a very seductive package of self-righteousness. I'm completely justified in feeling this way. There is no justification before God in being filled with unforgiveness. This is serious stuff. Questions we can ask ourselves, are there are people in your past upon whom you think revenge would be a really good thing? Maybe you suffered abuse as a child. It's unjust, it's wrong. You don't have the physical or emotional maturity to defend yourself. Tragically, it opens the door for anger, and resentment, and hurt, and we have to learn to forgive.
Maybe you suffered through a parent's divorce or just trauma in a home, again, where you lacked the maturity or the strength to resolve it, but there were consequences that came to you. Maybe you were forced by circumstances to pursue a career other than the one that you'd hope to pursue, but you had responsibilities and you had to persevere anyway. Maybe you didn't attend the school of your choice for some set of reasons. Maybe you lost a job opportunity because of someone else's bad behavior towards you. Maybe you just wish your pastor would stop asking you questions, forgive him. There are some consequences of an unforgiving spirit, one is emotional bondage. You can be incarcerated, you can be totally locked up by anger, and resentment, hostility. It will limit your perspective. It's a filter through which you see the world and interact with other people. It can damage your relationship with others. Other people will have to adjust because of the emotional pain in your life. It can damage your relationship with the Lord.
You say, "I sit in church every week," you can, but you can still be filled with bitterness, and anger, and hatred. Now, healing comes to our lives as we forgive. We've got some misconceptions around forgiveness that I think makes us reluctant forgivers, and we oughta identify at least a few of them. Some of us have imagined wrongly that forgiveness means that I'll have to submit for further mistreatment. That's not forgiveness. Forgiveness doesn't mean you have to get back in the queue. Forgiveness means, remember, I'm canceling that bet. You don't owe me anything. Doesn't mean you have to endure more. Sometimes we wrongly think that if we forgive, they get away with it as if your anger, and bitterness, and hatred is somehow punishing them.
Again, we all know people that have mistreated us and seem to live completely free of that. In 1 Peter chapter 2 and verse 23 it's discussing Jesus. It says, "When they hurled their insults at him, he didn't retaliate, and when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly". You see, when we forgive, we put ourselves in God's hands. As Joseph walked through the evil that was perpetrated against him, time and again, circumstance after circumstance, he would put his life in God's hands. Daniel understood that. It tells us directly of Jesus that he entrusted himself to the one who's just. Justice comes from God. Justice does not come to us from governments or institutions. All of those things are built out of human beings. We're a flawed lot. Justice will come from God.
Sometimes we mistakenly think that forgiveness is weakness, as if we just capitulate it. Forgiveness is not a sign of weakness, it takes strength to forgive. Again, another misconception is that forgiveness is about justifying, or understanding, or explaining away someone's behavior, as if I could explain why they behaved in that way, I've forgiven them. Not necessarily, behavioral insight, understanding into circumstances or family systems doesn't mean you've forgiven. Forgiveness begins with a decision, a choice in our will. Another misconception is sometimes we have wrongly thought that if we really forgive, it'll result in restoration, it'll bring complete and total healing and restoration of those relationships. Reconciliation requires everybody involved to respond. That's beyond our control. Forgiveness says I'm canceling that. My marker, I'm tearing it up. I'm not carrying that anymore.
Again, sometimes we mistakenly think that forgiving others is denying that we've been hurt, or it's pretending that hurt is no big deal. I picked up that message somewhere along the way. You know, it didn't hurt. I like sports and I was competitive enough that I would stick my nose in places it probably shouldn't go, and sometimes it would encounter things. And in order to stay in the game and not lose your place, one of the lines I learned is, "That didn't hurt". You know, there's blood running down your face, "It didn't hurt". Yes, had teeth knocked out, "That didn't hurt". I'd like to revisit that scene. Actually, that hurt quite a bit. You see, refusing to acknowledge what's happening isn't forgiveness. And then sometimes we have mistakenly thought that truly forgiving others requires us to go to them personally and acknowledge our forgiveness. I'm not suggesting that.
Sometimes that's a far more selfish act. Go knock on the door of somebody you haven't seen in ten years and you say, "I just came to tell you I think you were awful, evil, and wicked in the way you dealt with me, but I forgive you". Well, you have unleashed something upon somebody else. You made decisions far beyond yourself. So, I'm not suggesting the privilege of disrupting others. You know, in the world I live in, from time to time, people will come to me and say, "Pastor, I need you to forgive me. You know, I got mad at you about X, Y, or Z. You put up an ice rink".
I made this one up. And you know for the last three years, I've gone all over this community telling everybody I met what an evil person you are, and I came back and I just wanted you to forgive me 'cause I lied. Well, I understand they're processing something, but it really doesn't, it's not always a great blessing to me, 'cause I think about those three years and all the people they told. Are we emailing them? So, understand that truly forgiving other people doesn't always mean you have the license to go to them and unload your pain. Cancel the debt.
Maybe if there's one big-rock idea in here it's that forgiveness is a choice. It's not an emotion. Your emotions will follow your good decisions. Most of us don't go to church just because we feel like it. In fact, if you're at church, most of you probably didn't want to come. We all go to work on days when we would prefer not to go to work. You understand that your emotions will follow your better decisions, and forgiveness begins as a choice. In Romans chapter 6 and verse 11, there's an intriguing verse. It says, "In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus". "Count yourselves dead to sin". The King James says, "Reckon yourselves dead to sin". Imagine the places where you know you're vulnerable to temptation, we all have some. We're not vulnerable on all points, but we all have points where we're vulnerable. I'll give you a safe one. I like chocolate. Alright, when I'm dead, you could float me in M&M's. I will not be tempted, I'll be dead to that temptation.
See, when you're dead to something, it has no attraction to you, and it will elicit no reaction from you. The ultimate goal of forgiveness, when it's fully worked through, it begins as a decision, but when it makes it all the way through your soul, your will, your emotions, you'll come to the point that you're dead to that sin. It won't elicit from you any reaction any longer, no emotional churn, no anxiety, no frustration. You'll see that picture with a recognition that that's absolutely a scene from my life, but God took that scene and brought something good from it. Now, that won't happen in a moment. Forgiveness and forgiving others, can we talk about that for just a moment? We have to recognize the need that we have to be forgiven. In Colossians chapter 2 in verse 13, it says, "He forgave us all our sins. He took it away, nailing it to the cross".
You see, if God hadn't provided forgiveness for us, folks, we were destined to an eternity separate from God. We couldn't earn the kingdom of God. We're not smart enough. We're not kind enough. We're not good enough. We can't afford it. The opportunity to participate in the kingdom of God was made in spite of us, not because of us. God took away my guilt and nailed it to Jesus's cross, and what was his response? "Father, forgive them". I read one time, it's a nice image, I know it isn't factual, but that if you could've looked behind Jesus's hand on the cross, you could've found a piece of paper with my sins written on it. "Father, forgive them".
So, the basis, why would we even consider this? Why would we deal with it? Why would we go back and explore those places in our lives that we have survived and come through? Because God in his mercy has forgiven me. So, the second step in forgiveness is release the person from the debt that we believe is owed us. Just release 'em. I cancel it. Say it out loud. I cancel that debt. I'm not owed an apology. I'm not owed restitution. I set you free. I'm not looking for anything from you. You can't take hostages. Can't hold them emotionally hostage until they do what you want them to do. You can't sit with bitterness, and resentment, and hatred festering inside of you until they respond in the way you think they should. You can't retell the scenario to make yourself look good in front of others. You can't keep replaying the video and retelling it to justify your anger and hatred, because there is no justification for unforgiveness.
Persons who refuse to forgive refuse to cancel the debt. They live with it, and before long it begins to define us. It's how we see the world and how we understand the world. We have to mentally bundle up all those hostile feelings and surrender them to the Lord. I've got this mental image of forgiveness. It's as if I take whatever the event is, or the circumstance, or the feeling, and I put it in a trash bag and I tie the rascal up. And then I got this mental image of a conveyor belt, starts on this horizon and it goes all the way to that horizon, and I drop that bundle of stuff that I want to offload on that conveyor belt, and I say, "In Jesus's name, I set you free. You're not mine anymore, you go," and I watch it disappear over the horizon.
If it's something you've lived with for a long time, you've got a lot of triggers for that scene, and those feelings, and that rascal will show back up. And when it does, you go, "Uh-uh, December the fifth, Sunday morning, that goofy church out there, six flags over Jesus". I put that thing in a in a bag, and put it on that conveyor belt, and it disappeared. You get outta here, you're not mine anymore. Now, if that's something that you've lived with a while, you may have to do that 50 times the first day. By the end of the week, you may only do it four or five, and in a few more days it'll only show up every once in a while. That's not mine. Yeah, that's me in the picture, but I'm not carrying that anymore. We have to choose to bundle it up and to offload it.
Sometimes you have to forgive people that are no longer available to you. They may have died, or distance may have come and they live in different places in the world or different places in the country, and forgiveness isn't about proximity. Anger, and hatred, and bitterness, and resentment aren't limited by time or dates. It may be helpful, you may want to sit down and have a conversation with somebody that's not there, and say, you know, I've been mad at you for a hundred years. I've been mad at you for as long as I can remember. I've hated you because you abandoned me, or mistreated, or whatever it is. But I want you to know that today by the grace of God, I forgive you. I'm not saying what you did was right. I'm not saying you did your best. I'm saying I forgive you. I set you free. I'm canceling the marker. And now, God, I thank you that I'm free. You can do that. You can do that.
If the Spirit of God brings someone into your mind, and when the picture or the image comes, there's a lot of emotion that comes with it. Say, "Lord, is that something I need to forgive? Is that's something that I need to pry out? Is that a speed bump in my progress with you"? Again, we want to lead those triumphant lives of Joseph or Daniel. It says of Jesus that because he walked that path, God gave him a name that's above every name. That at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. God will deal with you fairly.
One of the most powerful stories of forgiveness I've ever read was about Corrie ten Boom, do you know her? I'm done, she was the daughter of a Dutch watchmaker during World War II. They reconfigured their home to hide Jews who were being hunted. And a neighbor betrayed them, and the whole family was arrested. And Corrie's father and sister died in the German camps. There was one particular guard that had been so cruel to them and she was released by a clerical error just a few days before she was to be executed, a clerical error. And she spent the remaining years of her life teaching people about the goodness and the grace of God. I heard her speak when I was a young man. She told a story that in one of those sessions where she'd presented her story and shared with people about the love of God, a man walked up to her, and it was that guard, and he said, "Miss ten Boom, I need to ask you to forgive me". And she said in her book, she thought, I can't. I cannot forgive you, then she said I remember what? Jesus had forgiven me, and she said completely contrary to feeling or emotion, she said because of God's love to me, I forgive you.
Folks, some of the most remarkable gifts in my life have come when I've been able to forgive places where there were the most remarkable hurts. And here's what will help you. When you begin to get real clarity, you realize you've created hurt in other places. None of us makes the journey without bruising and hurting other people, and we need to have the humility to forgive others, so we can have the benefit of being forgiven. It's the only way I know through the hatred and the toxic nature of what's tearing us apart. We have to forgive. I brought you a prayer, I put it in your notes. I gave you some ways you can personalize it, because I hope it'll have use for you far beyond this particular session. It's really a prayer of forgiveness, and I'm going to ask you to pray it with me.
It's kind of a practice run. You can fill in the names and the specifics, you may need to pray it a few times today. Or we can pray it in general, we can forgive every one of everything, but as the Spirit of God makes it real to you, you fill in the specifics. It's a powerful doorway to a better future. And if you will trust the Lord and practice that little habit, you know, if you give it to the Lord one time and it shows back up, don't pick it back up. Don't wander back through the emotions of it. Don't revisit it. Don't replay the discussions. No, no, no, no, I release that. You go right on back out. You don't belong to me anymore.
Why don't you stand with me? Have you found your prayer? Alright, I'm gonna give you a little space there if you want to mention a name and a specific you can. If you prefer everyone and everything, I'm okay with that, but at some point you'll want to be more specific. You ready for some freedom? You know, we get sober when we talk about this, it's a great day. We're gonna cancel some debts. There's gonna be some doors opened in our lives. We're gonna leave here, some of us, with some freedom that we haven't had in forever. You'll be able to take a deeper breath. There'll be a joy and a hope in you. You'll begin to see the future in a new way. I'll tell you, unforgiveness and hatred are more powerful than any virus, far more destructive. Jesus said don't be afraid of something that can only kill your body and after that it can't do anymore. This stuff can destroy your eternity. It is toxic. But thank God he's willing to forgive us, amen? Let's pray together:
Lord, I forgive. I forgive everyone for everything. I take authority over the enemy. And in the name of Jesus Christ, and by the power of his Holy Spirit, I take back the ground I have allowed Satan to gain in my life because of my attitude toward whomever, and I give this ground back to my Lord Jesus Christ, amen, hallelujah.