Read The Miracle of Forgiveness text version

Ron Vanden Brink SCRIPTURE: 1 John 1:5 - 2:2 DATE: November 20, 2005

Main source(s): [Stuff by L. Smedes] Video: Angela's Ashes: 48:10 ­ 49:36 (Frankie's confession)

Title: The Miracle of Forgiveness Perhaps none of us have every been dragged into a confession booth by our grandmothers ­ most of us have probably never even been in a confession booth ­ but it is probably true that you've been in situations where you either needed to receive forgiveness, or to give it. In fact that's the reason I decided to write this message for this morning. Over the past 6 weeks or so I've had numerous conversations around this topic. It just keeps coming up. It's come up a number of times in some of the counseling I've been doing. It came up in a discussion I had with some folks after they finished a seminar called the Dark Night of the Soul ­ they said that reflecting on confession and forgiveness would be a good place to go next. It's come up regularly in the marriage course that I've just helped to facilitate. It's come up over and over and I've seen it's effect on relationship after relationship... But, while it seems that most of us feel that confession and forgiveness are important parts of relationships we don't always understand what's actually involved ­ what it is and what it isn't ­ so this morning we're going to scratch the surface of some of this... As we begin, listen to what a friend of Jesus ­ named John ­ once wrote about how God looks at confession and forgiveness... He wrote that... If we confess our sins [to God], he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. This says that unlike us God can be counted on to forgive. His heart is filled with unfailing grace. So even if we can't get it right with each other ­ the promise of God is that we can get it right with Him. So, if you think you've got some stuff to work out ­ some things to confess or someone to forgive ­ a good place to start is through prayer. Talk it over with God. Now the thing is... God's actions can be a model for ours. His forgiving can remind us not only that we need to be forgiven but that we need to forgive ­ and can forgive ­ each other. It may not be easy, but it is possible, and it is healthy... Now let me say at this point that if you want to learn more about this topic I'd encourage you to pick up one or both of these books by Lewis Smedes ­ The Art of Forgiving and/or Forgive and Forget (much of what I'll say is borrowed from them).

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So let's start with confession ­ and let's first of all be clear about what it's not... Confession is not talking about our junk or our sin ­it's not simply talking about the way we've hurt each other or been hurt by each other. If talking about sin was same as confessing it, then our society would be on a confession binge! People love to talk about sin. Celebrities rush to their publishers with books filled with accounts of their "secret" sins. Now at some level making a record of our stuff, of our sins, can be good for us (in fact I recommend it to a lot of people that I meet with) but to spread it all around ­ to brag about it is not confession ­ and is not helpful. And confession is not explaining sin either ­ it's not explaining our mis-behaviour. I mean we're all willing to explain our faults. We're actually so good at it that we can explain most of them away. We can always find extenuating circumstances which explain why we misbehaved the way we did. In fact, a while back I met with a man who had abused his wife ­ it was amazing how easily he could explain his behaviour away ­ it was amazing how he could justify himself. And the other day as I was channel surfing ­ I stumbled across a Jerry Springer show ­ man if explaining away our behaviour is confession that show has it all. But finding excuses for sin is not confession. Rather true confession ­ healing confession between 2 people ­ always begins with an acknowledgment of responsibility. It doesn't point fingers at others as much as ourselves. I know, it's true that most of us have been hurt as much as we've hurt others... It's true that we are the victims of many forces. And I don't know how much your genes or your childhood have influenced who you are. But the truth is that somewhere in the dynamics of your decisions, somewhere in the dynamics of your actions, you made a choice. You decided what you should or shouldn't do. And you acted or didn't act. And so we have not confessed until we've acknowledged our responsibility for our behaviour. And so true confession also involves shared pain. When I truly confess to you that I have hurt you and except my responsibility for that, I'm saying to you that I can feel the pain that I've caused you. I'm wounded by the bruises I've caused in your life. I come along side of you and I hurt with you. Only when the pain is shared does true confession begin. And so the fact is, and note this carefully, confession is always a gamble on grace. It's nerve wracking and tough work because there's no way to know, when you hold out your hand and risk being honest, there is no way to know how the other person will react. You can't know for sure if the other person will hug you or slam the door in your face.

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And the truth is that sometimes the door may be slammed. Sometimes you may gamble on grace and lose. But, if you need healing - confession is worth the risk. It's a gamble worth taking ­ because without it the relationship is damaged and can not be completely restored... (Now as a brief aside ­ it is true that sometimes confession shouldn't be made face to face ­ as people in 12 step programs have learned ­ sometimes confession needs to be made through a third party ­ if you're not sure ask a trusted friend or counselor for advice.) Now what about forgiveness ­ and again let's first of all be clear about what it's not... Forgiveness is not forgetting. Forgetting only requires that you have a bad memory or that you're filled with enough fear that you can drive the memory into your sub-conscious. You don't need a miracle of grace to get you to forget. In fact that could lead to more trouble. One lady I read about recently had taken her abusive husband back into her home more than a dozen time. Each time she forgave him ­ in her mind forgiving meant forgetting the past ­ but that only led to more abuse. Forgiving is remembering and still forgiving. With time the memory will fade but true forgiveness requires remembering. Not every detail but at least the big picture... Remember, forgive, learn and move on... And in same vain forgiveness is not excusing either. We all need a lot of excusing to get on in this life. We may excuse someone for being late to a meeting ­ or for missing a touch down pass. We might excuse our kids for forgetting to clean up their toys or for accidentally spilling their milk. Excusing things like this is relatively easy. But it's not the same as forgiving. In fact, in serious cases it's an end run around the pain and the challenge of true forgiveness... Because true forgiveness is about fresh starts. At it's most basic core forgiveness is providing the miracle of a new beginning. Forgiveness provides the miracle of a new beginning which starts at the place and at the moment that you're at when the forgiveness is given. Not where you wish you were but at the place you are together. That's the place you begin from again. When you truly forgive someone you holdout your hand and you say "I can't fully excuse what you've done to me...I may not even understand it fully...I probably will never totally forget it, but here's my hand. I want to be your friend again... your husband again... your father again... your child again... I won't bring it up again.

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When you forgive someone you're saying to them, "let's begin again". Of course this doesn't turn back the clock. What happened in the past ­ happened. It's not going away. But we can start over. We can have a different future ­ not one that dwells on the past but one that looks ahead. Sometimes this means that we have to begin a brand new relationship. A divorced person, for example, may forgive his X-wife (husband) but then they move on to a different status of dealing with each other. They are no longer man and wife so they need to begin again... from where they are. And the same goes for all relationships. After forgiveness the relationship will not be the same but it will have a new status. A new beginning. A new start point. But whatever the quality of the moment, whatever the status of the relationship, you are ready to forgive and you can forgive ­ IF YOU HAVE GRACE ENOUGH TO DO IT. And there's the rub...there's the problem. We are sinners ­ or to put it another way we are people who keep making mistakes. We keep hurting each other. So forgiveness is hard. Watch the news sometimes and notice how hard it is for people to forgive some one who has robbed them, or beaten them, or stolen from them. Very few people forgive ­ very few are satisfied that the judge has been hard enough. So remember this: Relationships don't thrive because the guilty are punished but because the innocent are merciful... Now this morning, perhaps some of you have some confessing to do ­ let me say to you: "Go for it". Acknowledge your responsibility. Share the pain that you know you've caused. Gamble on grace. It's worth it. It will not only clear your own conscience but it will open your life up to the possibility of a new beginning. Without confession there's no chance of that. And perhaps some of you here this morning have some forgiving to do. Perhaps you can't forget what has been done to you in the past but do your best. Look at the model that God has provided, and do your best to provide a fresh start. Do your best to share grace. And as you do that ­ remember what we read earlier... If we confess our sins [to God], He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins. We can depend on it. With God there's no gamble. With God there's only love and grace.

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That's what communion is really a reminder of. It's a way in which we can not only hear about forgiveness and learn about grace ­ but it's a way in which we can actually touch it and taste it. Communion reminds us that Jesus suffered on a cross and in His suffering He held out His pain to God as though to say: O Father, the pain that the human race caused You, I am feeling with You now. I share your pain O God. I, as a representative of the human race am sharing pain with you. And in that sharing of pain on the cross, Jesus made a perfect confession of sin for us all. So, as you eat and drink ­ think about the fact that Jesus suffered and died for the forgiveness of your sins ­ and, in your minds eye see God reach His hand out to you ­ hear God speak to you saying: Here is My hand, I want to be your Lord again. I want to be your Father again. I want to be your fellow traveler into a new future. Let's begin again. © 2005 Ron VandenBrink Feel free to use sermons, ideas and illustrations but acknowledge the source of these. If you know the source of a quote or illustration that is incorrectly acknowledged here, please email me <[email protected]> Unless otherwise stated scripture references are taken from The Message® or The New International Version®.


The Miracle of Forgiveness

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