There is no doubt that we all understand that it is important to forgive others.  We may not always feel like we want to forgive others who have wronged us or offended us.  But then we have to accept the forthright bluntness of the word’s of Jesus in Matthew chapter 6 verses 14-15, right after He taught His disciples how to pray to God the Father.  Jesus says:

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

We have plenty of material and many sermons that tell us the importance of forgiving others.  But what I think is more helpful for most of us today is seeing in person or at least hearing about real situations that exemplify and flesh out what forgiveness looks like.  That is why the following message written by a close missionary friend of mine caught my attention.  I hope that it encourages and challenges you like it did for me.

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When You Hurt Someone

If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”   Matthew 5:23-24 (NIV)

“An email I wrote last month hurt someone I love. I was in a hurry and I carelessly communicated the exact opposite of what I meant to say. For weeks my friend carried the burden of thinking I was angry at her when nothing could be farther from the truth. Another friend finally wrote and bravely, lovingly confronted me with my seemingly rude, uncaring words. I was shocked and could not imagine how I could have been so terribly misunderstood.

Until I found and read that email from her perspective. Ouch. Ever done something like that? To quote an Accenture billboard, “It’s what you do next that counts.” I firmly believe that mistakes like mine can actually strengthen relationships if what you do next is to ask for forgiveness – as fast as you can.

Don’t make excuses or try to avoid humiliation. The Bible says, leave church and go! The truth is we only avoid hurting others if we keep our relationships shallow. Misunderstandings, purposeful angry words and other hurtful things will happen and they will change the relationship, for better or worse.

In the last month I listened to a preacher confess during a sermon that he let his long work hours hurt his marriage, and I heard an elder in a different church confess that he spoke hurtful words when his preacher came to him with a problem. Both of these godly men quickly made things right with the person they hurt, and when they realized that their sin involved more than just one person they publicly confessed it – in tears.

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 What an impact that must have had on the two congregations to have that pastor and that elder make their public confession and to ask for forgiveness in such an open way.  Wow!!  I’m sure that it was not easy for them.  But the personal peace they must have felt after taking care of this issue of the heart, plus the relationships that are repaired are worth the risk.  This reminds me of what happened in our village in PNG in 2001.

For six months I had been holding a “Bible School” program with people under our house.  (In PNG, most houses are built up on posts due to the flooding of the river, the chickens and dogs that run underneath, for good shade, etc.)  Our area back then was almost completely a Catholic oriented region.  At the end of the six months of Bible teaching, I challenged the people to consider making a public declaration of faith in Jesus and mark it with adult baptism in the stream behind our house, if they felt God was asking them to do that.

We did have three baptisms that were witnessed by most people in the village.  I thought this was a tremendous event for the sake of the Kingdom.  But about a week later I was “chastised” by some leaders of the village Catholic church and told not to preach or teach the people any more.  I knew that theology was a big part of the reason for this, but I also realized even more importantly that in this Papuan consensus-and-discussion culture, I had offended the leaders simply by not asking them to be involved with the overall decision making process that occurred.  I believe that if I had, they very likely in the end would have been happy to see these individuals making a stand for the Gospel.

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Very quickly I went about to restore these wounded and broken relationships by doing the culturally correct Papuan action.  Namely, Jill and I cooked a huge rice and tinned meat meal and invited the leaders to a meeting where I could apologize to them.  Not for the baptisms, but rather that I had not respected their village leadership.

At the end of the meal, the other correct thing to be done to show full forgiveness and acceptance of one anther was to shake hands with each other.  This then marked the end of the “wrong”.  And you know what?  The regional Catholic Bishop just happened to be there that night, and he shook my hands and said, “I am so glad you are in this village and teaching the people about God.”  Wow!  So restoring our relationships restored me to a place where the Catholic leaders even approved of the teaching and evangelism I was doing.

I am grateful for this reminder from my friend about practising forgiveness.  May we all follow this example and see relationships restored, lives impacted, and God glorified through it all.

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