Mike Novotny - I Forgave. Now How Do I Heal?
What exactly does forgiveness look like? How do you heal from the deep wounds that people have caused in your past? Now that's the question in this sinful world all of us are going to have to answer. Which is why I'm so grateful the apostle Paul gives us an answer. If you know anything about the Bible, about 2,000 years ago there was this guy named Paul who wrote about half of the New Testament. And he had been sinned against many times. In fact, Paul literally had stones thrown at him. And he had to decide how to treat people who had hurt him very deeply. And in my opinion in Romans 12 the apostle Paul writes one of the best sections in the whole Bible on forgiveness.
Today Paul is going to tell you exactly what you should do after you forgive. He says, "Bless those who persecute you; Bless, and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. And be careful to do what's right in the eyes of everyone. If it's possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends. But leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It's mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord. On the contrary: 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he's thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good".
That's what Paul says you should do. Now Paul's honest, he's realistic, he knows exactly what you're going through, he knows that sometimes people curse you and sometimes they persecute you, sometimes they become your enemy, sometimes he even says they do evil against you, really bad stuff. And what should be your response? Well, if we're taking notes write this down. Here's Paul's big idea. He says, "As much as is possible, as much as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone". And the last word of that sentence is the offensive part, right? Paul didn't say live at peace with the good people or the people that seem really, really sorry. He says, "Live at peace with everyone". Jesus taught in the Lord's prayer, "God we forgive everyone who sins against us". And Paul seems to take it even a step further. He says, "We don't just forgive we try our best to live at peace with everyone".
Now how'd you do that? In the verses that I just read Paul gives two really helpful tips. And I'm worried that I'm going to offended most of you with either or both of them. Here's the first thing that Paul said. He said, "Don't be proud", When someone sins against you, when someone in your family or at your job throws a stone, when that stone hits, pride can puff up and spread like a purple bruise. You can be so hurt and so offended that you can forget the thing that you say every single Sunday in church, "I'm a sinner too". Very quickly in a relationship or in a marriage we go from this, you know, both people who both struggle and both sin to this, I'm the good person and you're the bad person. And so, Paul actually repeated it. He said, "Don't be proud". He said, "Don't be conceited". And then he added, "Be willing to associate with people of low position".
When you think they're down here be very, very, very careful. Because honestly here's the truth, you might be part of the problem too. In my Wednesday night old man soccer league, I play on multiple teams. And you know what's fascinating about playing on multiple teams? No one thinks they're the bad guy. That when I play with this team it's always, "That jerk on the other team". And then I go over and play with that team and they say, "Can you believe the guy on that team". And you find out that when there's conflict, and there's division, when the game gets aggressive, people tend to think very, very little of their own faults and a whole lot about the faults of others. And Paul says, "Be careful". There are some situations in life like, the abuse of a child where all the sin happens on one side. But most of the time in life you and I have a part of it.
You know, in the argument she said that scathing, ugly thing but maybe, maybe, maybe we raised our voice. And brought up the past. And weren't very respectful too. You know, maybe that guy at work is so critical and, you know, you're never good enough, all the work that you do, and he's such a jerk. But maybe I haven't been walking into the workplace and bringing them joy and serving them and letting my light shine. Maybe she threw the massive stone of infidelity in the marriage. And maybe you have to step back and think if you threw a thousand of these size stones first. But Paul says this offensive thing to people who had been hurt in this world. "Be careful. Don't pride". It's so hard but humble yourself because being humble leads to healing. "So, don't be proud," Paul says. And here's the other even more offensive thing he says, "Do good to that person". Paul doesn't just say, "Forgive them". Let the stone alone.
Did you catch how many times he said it? He said, "Bless those who persecute you. Rejoice with those who rejoice. Mourn with those who mourn. If your enemies hungry don't say, 'Ha told you so.' Nope, feed him. If he's thirsty, don't say, 'Serves you right.' Give him something to drink. Don't be overcome by evil," Paul says, "But overcome evil with," What? "With good". Unless you're in a really dangerous situation like, going back to that person who abused you, would put you in danger. What Paul wants you to do with that person that really annoys you and hurt you and bothers you is to serve them. Because here's what God knows. God knows when this stone hits you, and you're trying to leave it alone if you don't occupy your hands with good it will be almost impossible not to hold on to the past. And Paul says, "As soon as that stone hits as fast as you can you need to use those hands to bless people and to pray for people and to serve people who hurt you".
Healing rarely happens just with waiting it out. The holy and hard way that God heals your hurts is by having you serve your enemies. It's a little like physical therapy. Quick show of hands, how many of you have been though PT before? Yeah, dozens of you. Lots of you. You know, you go through this surgery, you hurt, maybe more than you've ever hurt before and you go to the physical therapist and what do they do to you? They make you hurt even more and you kind of want sympathy. Like, "Oh my God, my body was just cut open and now you want me to do what with my leg? And every bit of it is agonizing but why do they do it"? Well, because if you don't do the painful thing right now that part of you will never heal.
And it's the exact same with God. You want to play the pity card and say, "God, after what they said to me and what they did to me, I don't want to pray for them. I don't want to serve them. I don't want to go back to my spouse or to my ex or to that guy at work and just like... They don't deserve that". But God knows if you don't you're never going to heal. But when you start praying for someone, that God will bless them, when you reach out to them to serve them in confusing and maybe offensive ways, that slowly, slowly, slowly your heart finally starts to heal. You know, I've been a pastor for almost 13 years now and I got to tell you when a huge stone hits a couple in their marriage, where I see people get stuck is where the victim refuses to serve.
Here's what happens. Let's say, he sins, she's hurt by his sin. He feels totally unworthy of her love and affection so he's not complaining that she's not doing much, And she's just watching and waiting for him to do good works to make it up to her. But when that dynamic happens guess what never happens? Right. And so Paul says this shocking stuff. He says, "Be humble and do good". Just couple days ago I got an email from a guy here at out church. He's been listening to this series on forgiveness, and he gave me permission anonymously to share this email with you. Here's what he said. He said, "Pastor Mike, last week I started to pray that God would reach my ex-wife and bring good to her. Since I've done that my attitude towards her has changed, To the point where I'm no longer holding that stone ready to throw it at her if needed, I put the stone down. So, Pastor, here's to stones down, heads up, and moving forward in freedom".
I love that. So not to offend those of you who are hurting but what could you do in the 24 hours? How could you start to pray for God to bless that person even if they don't deserve it? What email could you send them honestly wishing them well in their next relationship? What comment could you leave on their Instagram or Facebook that would make the people who are on your side drastically offended? What could you do that would confuse the world because it looked a whole lot like Jesus? And if you take that step and people look at you and say, "Why are you doing this"? I want you to tell them, "Because this is what God did for me". There's a million passages that say this. Let me show you just one in Colossians 1. It says, "But now God has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation".
You know, Paul says, "Love people, bless people, serve people". But I wonder if you caught what Paul said in Romans 12:18? Look once more at his words. Paul said, "If", circle that word in your Bibles or in your brains. "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone". And Paul so realistic, right? He wants you to live at... He wants you to reconcile with that person, but he puts these two big things up there. He says, "As far as it depends on you". And, "Only if it's possible". Did you Christians know that living at peace with people doesn't just depend on you? Like, forgiveness is a one-way street. Whether that person loves you, whether they're changing, whether they're sorry, whether they're not. You can make the decision today to let that stone alone. But to live at peace isn't just about you, it's about y'all. It's about that person too. And so we have to ask the honest question, how does that person feel about the way they hurt you? Are they sorry for it?
Here's a good counseling question. What kind of sorry are they? Are they just sorry that they messed up their own life? Which seems like remorse but it's actually very selfish. Or are they deeply sorry that they sinned against God and they hurt you one of his children? Is a person willing to change? Willing to get the help that they need? Willing to accept the consequences of their actions? Because if not, this may offend you or surprise some of you, Jesus says, "Be careful and stay away". Jesus said that Christians should be as shrewd as snakes. They should be smart when it comes to people. Some people are not good, they're dangerous, foolish, manipulators and your job is to not go back to them. Some people want to use you for selfish gain and they want to hurt you. So as far as it depends on you live at peace but don't forget about them. The Old Testament book of Proverbs says that foolish people cause destruction, and those who hang out with them will be destroyed.
So someone makes a mistake that's one thing, but if they look like they're going to keep making that mistake and have no plans to change, I say this in love, stay far, far, far away. It's one thing to forgive the stone of the past, it's another thing to put your face in the target of someone who's surely going to throw that stone in the future. And so Paul agrees with Jesus in realistic love. Sometimes you have to have boundaries and brains as a believer. Be smart because it doesn't just depend on you. Sometimes the person needs to feel the relational pain of a separation, of someone who will not bail them out of their addiction. They need to know that God wants them to change. Because sin hurts people that he loves. And second the apostle Paul says, "If it's possible". I just love his wisdom there. "If it's possible".
Sometimes they are sorry and you're willing to forgive and you're willing to serve, But it's just not possible to go back to the way that things were. I'm a distance runner. Imagine if this week I was running on the streets of Appleton and I got hit by a truck. You know, I could crank out a good seven minute mile on a solid day. But I just smashed by an 18 wheeler. And I do all the work, and I try the best I can, and I go through physical therapy but maybe I can run as fast as I used to. Maybe that accident and that hurt change the way that things are. And sometimes that happens in life. You were such close friends but then they betrayed you and they shared your secrets. And you can forgive them and they can be very, very sorry, but trust takes a long time to grow. It's like a tree. And betrayal can cut that tree down and you don't always go back to the way that things were. You can love and serve and pray and forgive but you might not open up like you did in the past.
"If it's possible," Paul says. One of my favorite example is actually about divorce. Did you know in Matthew 5 Jesus spoke some incredible words about reconciliation? In my Bible they're right there. Jesus actually said, get this, that if you're sitting in Church right now and you remember that someone has something against you, that there's some conflict that you haven't dealt with. Do you know what Jesus wants you to do? Leave. Just get up. Go, take your offering with you, don't worry about that. God cares so much about living at peace with people he says, "If you have to leave in the middle of the service, offend the preacher, walk out and go fix it". God cares about that. He said that right here. But do you know what he said right here? He said a column later that sometimes you can't fix it. He's talking about marriage in this section and divorce. And he talked about some of the bigger stones that can be thrown. And that even if you forgive, even if you love your enemies sometimes a marriage just doesn't make it. And it's not because anyone's bitter, or we're trying to pay each other back.
Sometimes things happen, sin happens that just hurts so deeply that we can't go back to the way things were before. And so, you put all these things together, you have the Bible's incredibly wise, nuance, challenging and offensive teaching about what you should do. You should humbly do all that you can to live at peace with people. You should read their behavior and see if they're the kind of person you should go back to and reconcile with. And you should recognize that sometimes when you everything you can it's still not possible. And we then trust that God will bless us as we do our best. But friends it doesn't mean you have to be bitter.
In fact, I was reminded of that at a wedding that I did a couple years ago. I was watching as the photographer was taking pictures of the bride and groom, and all of them were laughing and posing for pictures. And during one of the breaks I asked the photographer, "How do you know the couple"? And she said, "Well, Pastor, the bride is one of my closest friends and the groom is my ex-husband". This the face I made for about a minute. Like, "Wait what? No, said that again". She must have read the expression. I was like, "No, no, no that's your ex-husband, that you're laughing and joking with"? She's like, "Yeah, we sometimes go on vacation together". "What"?
I never even... I was sure that I heard it wrong. I asked her again and again and she told me the story. She said, "Even though there was sin and it didn't make it, they both were humble enough to forgive, to serve, and to live at peace". And it wasn't possible for them to make it work, but it was possible for them to live with the kind of love that God called them to do. And I love the potential that it doesn't always go back to the way it was before but by the grace of God, it can be so good, so unique, so surprising. That one day someone might hear your story and say, "Wait, what"? And your light will shine so brightly in a dark world.
So if you have your pens at hand, let me summarize everything I just told you today. Here's what God wants you to do. Number one: they sinned against you, they throw some stone it hurts. Immediately, number two, you look to God. You humbly remember your own sin that it's way worse, way more frequent than what they did to you. Number three, you forgive. You make the choice day after day after day to let that stone alone. Number four, we learn today, you love, you serve, you bless, you feed, you give something to drink, you overcome evil with good. And number five, y'all reconcile. "If it's possible as much as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone".
So friends, it means you and I have some good work to do. It's going to be some spiritual therapy this week. It's going to hurt, it's going to be hard, you're just going to want to wait around till seven days from now and hopefully I move on. But I'm not going to move on, I'm going to pray for you. And I'm going to ask you to do what Jesus did for you first. But before I say amen, let me leave you with one last word of comfort. Doesn't all this make you love Jesus? Relationships on earth are so complicated. We do our best to make them work, sometimes we mess up, sometimes they mess up, sometimes the past is too much for the present. But don't you love the fact that, with Jesus, we don't have to worry about it. That Jesus love is so amazing. That his forgiveness is so complete. That at the end of the day you never have to wonder if you're going to make it with him.
Early in the book of Romans the apostle Paul said, "There's nothing, not the past, the present, the future, not angels, demons. There is nothing in all of creation that can separate us from the love of Jesus". And friends, I want that to be your rock this week. I want you to work at that strange relationship, but no matter what happens, no matter what your dad says, no matter what your sister text back at the end of the day know this, that you are reconciled to God, holy in his sight, blameless and free from accusation by the blood of Christ. Let that comfort you as you do the offensive and beautiful work of forgiveness. Let's pray:
Dear Father, I haven't been through that much in life just yet but I know many of the people here have. How many divorces are coming to mind right now? How many arguments and estranged relationships? How many faces can we picture? God, sometimes the hurt is real, but you are greater than all of it. I thank you, Jesus, for your forgiveness. You forgive us even when we struggle to forgive. You smile upon us even though we've been often bitter in our past. Your so good to us and we don't deserve it but we love you for it. We really need your holy spirit. You say that the fruit of the spirit is love and patience and kindness and gentleness and peace and self-control. And we need that so badly. We need you to empower us and strengthen us, work miracles through us, put words in or mouth that we never thought we could speak. God, you've already been doing it. Like I saw at that wedding, like that man emailed me just a few days ago, if we make this choice to serve you can do things we never thought possible. So free us, God, from every temptation. And help us to love with such passion that the world just simply couldn't understand how things could change through our love. We pray this with confidence, God, because we know who we are. Everyone who trust in Jesus knows that we are completely forgiven, that there's freedom from all of it. And so, God, we say goodbye to yesterday and we look into your face today knowing that we are forgiven. And every forgiven child of God who agreed, they joined their voices and they said, amen.