Myths - Believe It Or Not
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Myths About Forgiveness

I saw a cartoon in Peanuts the other day; I enjoy Peanuts. It had the pictures of Lucy chasing after Charlie Brown. And she's yelling out, "I'm going to get you Charlie Brown, I'm going to get you." And all of a sudden Charlie Brown screeches to a halt, and he turns around and looks at Lucy and says, "Lucy, if we don't forgive each other as children, how will our parents learn to forgive each other? And how in turn will the world learn?" And about that time, Lucy takes her fist and just punches him out right then. And then she turns around to the audience reading the cartoon and says, "I had to. He was beginning to make sense."

You know I think that's just about the way our world has done with forgiveness. We had rather not listen to that which makes sense. We'd rather just emotionally and sometimes even physically punch one another out. We'd rather take a low road than a high road. Today we're going to debunk myths about forgiveness. Forgiveness, first of all, coming from God and then flowing to everybody else. So let's get right at that.

The first myth that I want you to look at today is about God, and it's simply this: God could never forgive me. If I've heard that said once, I've heard it said a thousand times. Through the years, I've noticed that most people tend to gravitate to one or two extremes. Some people don't think they need any forgiveness at all. They are kind of like the Pharisee in Luke 18 that Jesus talked about. Remember he said, "Lord, I thank you that I'm not as other men are." He was praying God, aren't you glad that I'm on your side? But I've found that far more people gravitate to the other extreme. They look at themselves and see their long list of sins and shortcomings, they contrast that with the realization of God's ideal will for their lives and they just conclude: God can never forgive me. God could never accept me. I'm not worthy of him.

The great news I've got to share with you today is, that's a myth. And the truth about God's forgiveness, well it can be found all the way through the Bible, but there are two passages I've cited for you on your outline that really bring it to light.

The second is the parable that we call the "Parable of the Prodigal Son." It's probably the most familiar story in the world and really for lack of time, we're not going to be able to read it through in its entirety. But let's do read the first Scripture reference. You see Romans 5, beginning at verse 6, here's what that great passage says. "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die." And I have underlined, highlighted, and circled verse eight. "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Oh that's a mouthful.

There are three great truths that unfold from that major premise, and here's what they are: God forgives because it's his nature to forgive. You see Romans 5:8 again, we just read it, "God demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." What prompted God to do it? One thing, it's his loving nature. I John 4:8, the old apostle said simply, "Our God is love."

In Luke 15, that parable that we called the prodigal son is really inappropriately named. It would be more aptly called the "Parable of the Loving Father." But the whole message of the parable is not on the prodigalness of the son, it's on the magnificent love of the father. What the Bible makes clear in these three passage and in a thousand other places is that there's nothing about us that makes us worthy for God to forgive. And there is nothing that we can do for him that makes him anymore complete by our being on his side. The only reason God forgives is because it's his nature to forgive. He is the perfect, loving Father, and we praise him for that.

The second truth that I see unfolding is simply this, He has already forgiven us. The myth is, God can never forgive me; the truth is, he already has. Think about that parable of the prodigal son, you parents, you can identify with this. Let me ask you a question. The boy took his inheritance, he walked away, he squandered it, we don't know how long---weeks, months, maybe even years. Finally he comes walking back, wretched and hungry, but let me ask you. When did the father in the prodigal son forgive his wayward son? When did he forgive him? When did that dad want that relationship to be restored and have that forgiveness ready to give to him? I'll tell you when? The minute the boy walked away. The minute he walked away and every minute that boy was gone.

When Jesus told the story, he said as the young man was coming home, the father saw him while he was still a long way off and he ran to him. I just love that part. I suspect that dad perched himself on a high spot near the road many a day anxiously peering down that path, hoping to see the silhouette of the one that he remembered as a boy. And through that whole saga his love never wavered and the forgiveness was always there for the taking. But do you know what? The boy didn't realize that. See the boy bought into the myth. The boy bought into the lie that when he walked away, daddy could never forgive me. It's over. The relationship is shot.

If you remember the story, he got so hungry that he would have even eaten with the pigs that he was feeding for a little part-time job. When that hunger pain hit him, he finally came up with a plan. But do you remember the plan? He said, "I think I'll just go home and beg to be a slave. Do you know why he thought of that place? Because that was the lie the devil wanted him to believe. You can never go back, and if you do, you'll be a slave. Folks, that's the same lie the devil wants us to believe about the heavenly Father today. That our God is up in heaven with his back to us and with his nose in the air and arms folded saying, "You can beg and you can plead and I want you to jump through some hoops and we'll see how worthy you are." Wrong! Wrong! God's forgiven us. Would you see Romans 5:8 again? He demonstrated his love to us in that while we were yet sinners 2,000 years ago. He let the perfect one die on the cross in our place.

But here is the third truth that unfolds from these glorious passages and that is: Forgiveness is meaningful and realized only when it's accepted. Now this isn't real deep, but follow me here. Again, in our parable, let's reiterate the point. When did the boy's father forgive him? Well, he had forgiven him the minute that he walked out, but the boy was lost until he realized and accepted that forgiveness. All that time, his dad was ready and waiting to put a robe on his back and a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet and food in his belly. But all that time, the boy was penniless, starving and dying in every sense of the word, and you may be, too, right now.

Listen to me. God has forgiven you. You say, "God can never forgive me." MYTH!! Here's the truth, he already has, but you will live and die wretched, miserable, and lost until you turn around and head to that cross for forgiveness in an unlimited supply is heaped up on a platter for you. That is the perfect and only source of forgiveness.

You know the great news is, our God doesn't want us to jump through hoops to come to that cross. He has made it just about as easy as it can be. He said if you want the forgiveness, I just want you to believe that cross is where it's at, that the Son of God died there and be willing to tell people that. That's the idea of confession, don't hide it, believe it enough you'll tell somebody. Love Jesus and then he requests and demands that symbol that we in baptism literally re-enact. That saving death, claiming that power by being symbolically buried and raised to walk in a newness of life. All that's waiting for every human being if they'll only accept it. Well that's about the best news that a human being could hear if you've never heard it.

But now let's talk in the last part of that lesson about how that applies to the way we are agents of forgiveness to other people. The next big myth: I can never forgive _____________________________. You've got to fill this one in yourself. I don't know who it is you think you could never forgive. But I dare say that for most of us here, there's somebody in your life that you find it extremely difficult to forgive. Maybe they did something to you, maybe they said something about you, maybe they didn't do or say something that you thought they should have done or said. The reason for your resentment may be severe, it may be minor, it may have happened a long, long time ago, it may be very recent, it may be a repeated series of things, or a one time thing. But the truth is, as you look into your heart, it's making you miserable. You're bitter against them and you would like to bring punishment on them, but the fact is, your bitterness is keeping you in prison in a cell of anger, disillusionment, and agitation.

Am I hitting home with anybody today? The great news I have is that forgiveness is the key to unlock you from that cell, and it's right there in your pocket. You've got the key right here. What keeps us from reaching in and pulling out that key are the myths that we've come to buy into about forgiveness.

Here's the first myth: Time heals all wounds. Have you ever heard that? Time heals all wounds. That's a lie. That old cliché is too often misused and inaccurate. In the fear that we have of facing the issue, we assume that if we'll just ignore or put off the hurt and the resentment that we feel from someone's offense, it will just go away. No the passing of time heals unforgiven transgressions like the passing of time will cure an inadequately laid foundation for a house. Or like the passing of time will cure an infection in your body. See, in every example that I've just cited, the passing of time only makes the condition worse. The myth is time heals all wounds. Do you want to know what the truth is? Here's the truth, the passing of time aids healing only when the right choices are made.

Here's a second myth I've got to deny my hurt in order to forgive. See a lot of folks don't forgive because they think well man that hurt me bad. And if I forgive, I've got to act like it didn't hurt me. I've got to just put that smile on my face and go through there and say, "Oh, I forgive you. No, that didn't bother me at all." (Grimly) And that's not the truth. The fact is, the denial of hurt is a sign of immaturity. When you have been offended and you want to forgive, here is what maturity does. It looks at a situation honestly and says, "You know, I was hurt by that, hurt badly. But by God's power, I want to work through that and I want to get over that." And folks that honesty is the key to getting us on the road to recovery in this issue of forgiveness. Pulling the rug over my hurt only hampers the forgiveness process. Now be careful, I didn't say dwell on it, I didn't say nurture it, I didn't say fester that hurt. Get over it, but don't deny it.

Here's the third myth is forgiveness and trust are the same thing. They're not. I run into people all the time who think that if they forgive a person, somehow they've got to open up their whole lives and be totally trusting of that person. And I've heard other people who have been the transgressor say, "Oh, they said they forgave me, but they don't trust me now."

Listen to this, forgiveness and trust are not the same thing. Here's the basic difference. Forgiveness is given. See it's in the word: For-give-ness. Trust is earned. Jesus taught us to forgive somebody who offends us 70 times 7 times. And people we must do that even over the same offense. Do you think you could do it on the same offense? 70 times 7 times? But trust in that relationship has to be built back very slowly. And every succeeding transgression or offense makes that trust just that much harder to deal with.

C. S. Lewis wrote this about forgiveness. He said, "This forgiveness doesn't mean that you necessarily believe the next promise. It does mean that you must make every effort to kill any trace of resentment in your heart, every wish to humiliate hurt, or pay that person back." That's forgiveness.

And the fourth myth is the old adage that to forgive is to forget. Someone says, "You know they've never really forgiven me because they've never forgot about it." Folks, let's just get real a minute. Okay? Let's just get real. We're human beings and something that brings great pain to a human being makes an indelible mark on our memory, and it doesn't just instantly go poof when we want it to go poof. That just doesn't happen. God has the capacity here that we don't have, frankly.

Jeremiah 31, God says, "I will forgive their iniquity and their sin, I will remember no more." A God in a way that I cannot fully relate to. It's not because God is suddenly getting senile or touches of Alzheimer's, God says I have the capacity to choose to forget your sin as I forgive it. But the truth of the matter is, you and I don't totally have that capacity. And while we cannot totally do that, here's what we do, we make a conscious choice to put that thing behind us and not let it keep popping up and hampering my relationship with that person. The more mature a person is, the better he or she can do that.

I love the story of Clara Barton, does that name ring a bell? She was the founder of the American Red Cross. Clara Barton was asked by a reporter she had received a lot of criticism as the Red Cross was getting off the ground. Somebody brought up a slur that somebody had made against her. And she said, "I don't know what you're talking about." They said, "Oh sure you do," and brought it up again. And that went on for several minutes and finally they even showed her a documented quote and she looked at it and said, "Oh that," she said, "I distinctly remember forgetting that." What a great attitude. Now those are the myths about forgiveness.

With those myths debunked, what's the truth about forgiving other people? Four key things and let's look at them as we close. Here's the first: Realize that God has forgiven you. That is the absolute key and that's why we started this lesson with that assertion. If we fully embrace this reality, we would have precious little problem forgiving other people.

Paul said in Ephesians 4:32, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ, God forgave you." Folks, you show me a person who has a hard time forgiving others, and I will show you without exception a person who has an inadequate sense of the grace of God. I repeat that. You show me a person who has a hard time forgiving other people, and I will show you without exception a person who has an inadequate sense of the grace of our God.

Matthew 18, Jesus told another parable about a servant who served a king and somehow accumulated a debt to him of 10,000 talents. If that was 10,000 talents of silver, that's about $16 million on today's market. If it was about 10,000 talents of gold, that's about $3 billion. I don't care which one of those it is, that's a lot of money, isn't it. And that servant had no way of paying that. So he started crying about his family and the king just looked at him and said, okay. I forgive him, just forget it. Can you believe that? Sixteen million dollars, just write it off.

But then the more incredible thing happened. That servant went out and found a fellow servant who owed him the Bible said a hundred denarii, that in today's market is about $4,000. And he grabs him by the lapels and starts to shake him; and he's choking the man like he's going to choke the money out of him. And he's going to throw that fellow in prison until he can pay. Folks, there's a guy, that first guy, who didn't have a clue about what had been done for him. And here's the clincher, God expects me to do for others what he has already done for me. That's it. God expects me to do for others what he has already done for me. But that will only happen when I realize what he's done for me.

Number one, realize that God has forgiven you. Number two, realize that forgiveness is a choice not an emotion. So many people say, I can't bring myself to forgive, or I can't bring myself to ask for forgiveness. Folks, it's a choice, not an emotion. The trouble is emotions are all around this business of forgiveness, and sometimes you and I are called upon to forgive when every emotion is flying in the face of that. And here's the point, it's like everything else in life, it's like when you wake up at 5:30 and 6:00 a.m. and your emotions don't want to get out of bed. But are you? You've got too. And once you do, your emotions begin to get in line. You've got a choice about forgiveness, when somebody offends you, you can rehearse it or you can release it. You can just rehearse it over and over again and fester it, or you can just release it. It's a choice, not an emotion.

Third, understand the consequences of an unforgiving heart. In that parable in Matthew 18, I told you the bulk of it, how that servant went and choked the second servant. Listen to what the king did after he heard about that. Verse 32, "'Then the master called the first servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all that he owed.'" When the king found out the way he treated the other man, he said, my forgiveness was there for you, you claimed it, I cut the tether to it; and he hands him over to the jailer to be tortured.

Somebody says is that torture that's talked about in the parable symbolic of hell? Yes, it is, but more than that, it's symbolic of a hell on earth. Because when resentment infects you, it tortures you. It locks you up in prison. And frankly, you're doing it to get at the other person and it kills you.

Is there a bitter memory robbing you of happiness? Is there a hurt that's hurting you? Let it go. It's only tormenting you. You may be holding it against the other person and they might not even know it. It may not be hurting them at all, and it's killing you.

Look at verse 35 as Jesus closes. "'This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.'" You know there are precious few things that would cause our God to pull back the offer of forgiveness that's always on the table, but he says here's one. It's the only one I think of offhand. He says if you blatantly refuse to forgive other people, you've cut the bridge to me. Folks, let's don't burn the bridge that you and I've got to cross to get to heaven. That's too important of a bridge; it's the bridge called forgiveness.

The Lord taught us to pray, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." Remember? Or like the little girl said, "Lord, forgive us our trash baskets as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets." I don't know, that's the Good News version or something, that's pretty good commentary. Now think about that prayer though. Do you really want to pray that? That's a good test today. Lord, I want you to forgive me in exactly the same way that I'm forgiving other people. "Forgive us our trespasses just as we are forgiving the trespasses against us." Now that's a thought provoker, isn't it? It's a pretty good thought to begin every day with. Remember the consequences of unforgiveness.

And then finally, do it now. Don't put it off. Do it now. Don't wait till tomorrow, don't think about it, don't let it smolder, don't let it fester. Do it now. Forgive. Teacher - Steve Flatt Lesson #1248

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