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Im4God Newsletter 02.13.07@

Welcome to the / February 13th, 2007 Newsletter!
You can email Webservant Peter J. Louie by replying to this message.

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Love keeps no record of wrongs and is not resentful (1 Corinthians 13:5).  In this issue, we take a look at the nature of forgiveness.  Christian, your ability to forgive another is possible because God in Christ has forgiven you.  May our relationships bring glory to God by showing the world love and humility.

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Matthew 6:5-14 - The Lord's Prayer

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:

 Our Father in heaven,
 hallowed be your name.

 Your kingdom come,
 your will be done,
 on earth as it is in heaven.

 Give us this day our daily bread,
 and forgive us our debts,
 as we also have forgiven our debtors.

 And lead us not into temptation,
 but deliver us from evil.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

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Audio Sermons:

Forgive Us and Forgiving Others by Pastor Dodds of Covenant OPC
(32 minutes)

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As We Forgive Our Debtors
By Dr. Philip Ryken

"To err is human, but to forgive is divine."  This common expression reminds us that God has the capacity to forgive in ways that we do not- indeed, that we find it much easier to commit a sin that to forgive one.

Forgiven and Forgiving
We live in a cruel world where people do unspeakable things to one another.  We are reminded of this every time we use the Lord's Prayer and say, "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors" (Matt. 6:12).  From this petition we learn that we are not the only ones in debt.  We have debtors of our own, people who owe us something for what they have done to us.  And we are to forgive them. 

     What is hard to understand is the precise connection between our forgiveness and God's forgiveness.  Jesus sensed that this petition would be the most difficult for his disciples to understand and apply.  So he followed the Lord's Prayer with these words: "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matt. 6:14-15).  It was almost as if to say, "Yes, you heard me correctly: 'Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.'"  This is a hard teaching.  Yet it is the teaching of Jesus Christ. 

     The prayer for forgiveness is the only petition in the Lord's Prayer that comes with a condition attached to it.  But we have so much trouble forgiving others that this condition immediately seems to throw our salvation into jeopardy.  If we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven.  Yet sometimes we find it seemingly impossible to forgive.  How, then, can we be forgiven?

     A famous statement from John Wesley illustrates our difficulty.  As a young man Wesley was a missionary to Georgia, where he had a difficult time with the colony's founder, the proud and pitiless General Oglethorpe.  During the course of one conversation, the general made this startling comment: "I never forgive."  "Then I hope, sir," remarked Wesley, "you never sin."  Wesley was thinking of the fifth petition of the Lord's Prayer, which says there is no forgiveness for those who never forgive.  The unforgiving are unforgiven.

God's Forgiveness and Our Forgiveness
This petition does not mean that our forgiveness is equal to God's.  The word as joins the two halves of the petition together and draws a comparison between God's forgiveness and our forgiveness.  There is only a similarity, however, and not an identity, because God's forgiveness is much greater.  The debts he forgives are infinite, whereas the ones we forgive are relatively small, even if they do not always seem that way to us.  There also seems to be something significant about the fact that God forgives our debts, while we forgive our debtors.  The most that we can do is pardon the sinner, not the sin.  Only God can clear the actual charges of sin because he alone is the Judge of the universe.

     Also notice which part of the petition comes first.  Asking for our own forgiveness takes priority over offering it to others.  If we had to forgive before we could be forgiven, then forgiveness would become a work, something we had to do to be saved.  Yet we know that salvation comes by grace alone.  Forgiveness is the free gift of God's mercy to all who believe.  We cannot work off our debts; we can only ask for them to be canceled. 

     Those who are truly forgiven, truly forgive.  The ability to forgive is one of the surest signs of having been forgiven.  If we have an unforgiving spirit, therefore, it shows that we have not taken to heart what it means to ask for and to receive God's forgiveness.  The great English poet George Herbert explained why this must be so: "He that cannot forgive others, breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass if he would ever reach heaven; for every one has need to be forgiven." 

Forgive Your Debtors
If we must forgive, then how shall we do it?  What does it mean to forgive our debtors?

     If means to forgive everyone for everything.  Forgive the neighbor who backed over your begonias.  Forgive the sibling who colored in your books and the parent who never showed you very much affection.  Forgive the spouse who doesn't meet your needs and the child who ran away from home.  Forgive the coworker who stabbed you in the back and the boss who denied your promotion.  Forgive the church member who betrayed a confidence or the pastor who gave you poor spiritual care.  Forgive people for whatever they have done to you.

     If you are a Christian, you do not have the right to withhold forgiveness from anyone for anything.  The Bible says, "Forgive each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Eph. 4:32).  To forgive, therefore, is to imitate God.  It is to follow the example of Jesus, who even forgave his enemies while he was dying on the cross.  In Christ there is grace to forgive the greatest sinners, from the uncle who molested you to the drunk driver who killed your son.

     Forgiving our debtors means forgiving them even if they do not ask for our forgiveness.  Debtors do not always know how indebted they are.  Sometimes they know, but they don't care, and all we end up receiving is a half-hearted apology or maybe no apology at all.  This is why there is such a big difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.  It takes two to reconcile, so it is not always possible to be reconciled.  But it takes only one to forgive.  So if people do us wrong, we should forgive them, whether or not they ask for forgiveness.  We cannot cancel their sin.  Only God can do that, and he will only do it if they repent.  But what we can do is set aside our own anger, bitterness, and resentment towards them.  In other words, we can forgive them.

     Forgiving our debtors means forgetting as well as forgiving.  Sometimes it proves impossible to forget completely, of course.  There are also times when it is necessary to hold people accountable for their actions.  But forgetting means not holding on to a grudge.  Forgiveness has to do with the attitude of the heart, and forgiveness that refuses to forget is no forgiveness at all.  It is like the man who said he buried the hatchet, but he left the handle sticking out of the ground.  That is not really forgiveness.  True forgiveness means giving up my right to hurt you for what you have done to me.

     Forgiving our debtors also means learning how to say, "I forgive you."  Not "That's okay" or "Don't worry about it," but "I forgive you."  When people ask for our forgiveness, it means that they have committed a sin.  Forgiveness is the only response that calls sin a sin.  Sin should not be overlooked, covered up, or ignored.  It should be faced right up to and forgiven.

     Forgiveness is often a process, particularly when the wounds are deep.  What seems like full forgiveness at one time may later prove to have been incomplete.  The thing to do in that case is to forgive all over again, and to continue to forgive as often as necessary.  Like the rest of the Lord's Prayer, this petition is for everyday use.  Since people sin on a daily basis, forgiveness is a part of daily life.

The Joy of Forgiveness
Offering radical forgiveness is not easy.  It is not easy to forgive everyone for everything, to forget as well as to forgive, and to keep on forgiving over and over again.  Forgiveness is very costly, and the more someone has hurt us, the harder it is to forgive.  Here it helps to remember that we ourselves are debtors, and that therefore our forgiveness flows from God's forgiveness.  If we have been forgiven, we can and we must forgive others as well as we can.  We can forgive because God- who has forgiven all our debts in Jesus Christ- gives us the grace to forgive.  We must forgive because it is vital to our own spiritual health.

     Forgiveness brings great joy, not only to the forgiven, but especially to the forgiver.  The Greek term for "forgiveness" (aphiemi) comes from a word that means "to let go."  Forgiveness is a release, a letting go of self-destructive feelings such as anger, bitterness, and revenge.  Those attitudes poison our intimacy with God and our harmony with other human beings.  The only antidote for them is forgiveness.

     The Christian writer and missionary Richard Wurmbrand once met a man who had experienced the divine release that comes through forgiveness.  Wurmbrand was in a Communist prison in Romania at the time, lying in a cell reserved for those who were dying.  In the cot on his right was a pastor who had been beaten so badly that he was about to die.  On his left was the very man who had beaten him, a Communist who was later betrayed and tortured by his comrades.

     One night the Communist awakened in the middle of a nightmare and cried out, "Please, pastor, say a prayer for me.  I have committed such crimes, I cannot die."  The pastor feebly sat up and called for another prisoner to help.  Slowly he stumbled past Wurmbrand's cot and sat at the bedside of his enemy.

     Wurmbrand watched as the pastor began to caress the hair of the man who had tortured him.  Then he spoke these amazing words: "I have forgiven you with all of my heart, and love you.  If I who am only a sinner can love and forgive you, more so can Jesus who is the Son of God and who is love incarnate.  Return to Him.  He longs for you much more than you long for Him.  He wishes to forgive you much more than you wish to be forgiven.  You just repent."  There in the prison cell the Communist began to confess all his murders and tortures.  When he has finished, the two men prayed together, embraced, and then returned to their beds, where each died that very night.

     The pastor had learned how to forgive from Jesus, who first forgave the pastor his own debts and then taught him to forgive his debtors.

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Taken from "The Prayer of Our Lord" by Philip Graham Ryken, (c) 2002.  Used by permission of Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187,

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