love and forgiveness

February is a month all about love.  Our family memory verse for this month is "Let us love one another because love comes from God.  And everyone that loves is born of God and knows God.  He that loves not, knows not God.  God is love" (1John 4:7-8)   ....He that loves not, knows not God.  Those words came into my heart like a weight.  For months, okay maybe more like years, I have wrestled with how to love the people who act unloving towards me.  This month another word began to fester in my soul "forgiveness".

A few weeks ago there was a huge women's event that was simulcast across our country, IF: Gathering.  Maybe you heard of it.  Maybe you went.  I'm sure if you participated in any part you have also been chewing on some things.  One of the women shared about a very difficult time she went through when her marriage fell apart.  She wrote out Ephesians 4:31 - 32 "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you."  She read this everyday.  She did not feel like loving and forgiving but she purposed to act her way into a feeling.
A few years ago a friend of mine spoke these words to me:  "God has something amazing planned for your life, but I don't think you can take hold of your destiny until you resolve your issues with ...."  There was so much truth in that quick statement.  If I told you my story you would agree that what was done was wrong,  you too would become angry, you too would want justice.  That is part of our design.  We long for things to be made right but God did not intend for us to do this in our own strength.  He wants to be our Defender and the ultimate Judge.  And when we give up the hold to fight the battle on our own we find freedom.  Resentment and those seeds of bitterness anchor our souls into the past and hold us back from our destiny.

And so the questions swirled in my mind.  How do I forgive someone who continues to be so hurtful and yet at the same time boasts of their love for God?  How do I love someone who demands love of me?  And why is it important to even try? It is so difficult when the ones causing the hurt are people who consider themselves followers of Christ.  I have a much easier time offering love and forgiveness to someone who has rejected God and especially to anyone who asks for forgiveness.  Sure, done, easy.  But for the believer who will not admit to doing anything wrong, that is difficult.

Peter had this same question for Jesus.  He thought he was going above and beyond to offer forgiveness seven times until he heard Jesus's reply.  Not seven times.  But 7 x 70!!  Really?  But that's not fair.  There should be an apology, there should be a consequence, there should be justice.

God calls us to forgive because He understands what is hard for us to grasp.  Forgiveness has nothing to do with the other person and everything to do with our own hearts.  God calls me to forgive because it will save my own soul.  An offense is made and unforgiveness is chosen.  The seed called bitterness implants itself in my heart and it begins to grow.  The gnarly vines multiply and choke out all joy until my insides are diseased and rotten.  But there is hope, hope found only in Christ.  He came to bring freedom from the sin that desires to rob me of my destiny.

But how, how can I do this?

I love this explanation for anger from Andy Stanely:  "The root of anger is the perception that something has been taken.  Something is owed you.  And now a debt to debtor relationship has been established."  There is a debt that must be paid.  Something is owed.  The only way to be released from the bondage of this debt is for me to let it go.  I must speak it out.... that person does not owe me anymore.  And then can come the freedom.  If they don't owe me any more then I  can move on.  The person who has hurt me the most no longer has control over my life and my emotions.  I am no longer a victim because victims are powerless.  There is power in forgiveness.

And now I am beginning to see those who caused the hurt in a new way.  I need nothing from them.  I am free from the disappointment of expectations not being met.  I see them now as another soul in need.  A broken person in need of grace and mercy.  Because after all isn't that what we all are.

When Jesus offered himself as a living sacrifice to pay for our sin there was no guarantee that anyone would ever choose His love.  A friend shared that thought with me recently and I cannot stop thinking about it.  I had never really thought about it in that way before.  So many have chosen Christ since that day.  But at the moment that Christ died there was not a single one who stood by him,  even those closets to him deserted Him.  And yet He gave everything.  It is the perfect picture of love.  The passage I shared at the beginning of this posts tells us that we are to forgive  JUST AS Christ forgave us.  JUST AS.

I wanted to share one more quote from Andy Stanley.  Can you tell he has really been speaking to my heart lately?  But this one is just so great.

"Forgiveness is what enables us to be kind and compassionate to people who have given us neither kindness nor compassion"

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