October 5, 2009

Forgiveness is FREEDOM!

Yesterday at The Brook everyone who entered into the Worship Center was given a penny and told to hold onto it. "Can I put it in my pocket?" No. Hold it in your hand. "What's this for?" You'll find out. "What in the world is the Pastor up to now?" Curiosity was about to kill the cat. And dog!

The sermon began with a drama on "The Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor" from Matthew 18. In the end, the debtor who was granted grace, yet couldn't extend the same mercy to his own servant, was ordered to pay back every penny and was hauled off to prison.

We asked a couple of very important questions during the message:
  • What is Christianity without forgiveness?
  • What is a Christ-follower who can't forgive?
The answers we came up with? Pretty simple. "Christianity" without forgiveness is NOT Christianity. And a "Christ-follower" who can't forgive is NOT a Christ-follower. Period. Let's do the math: Jesus Christ calls us to "come and follow" Him - to pursue Him and live, walk, talk, give, serve, and FORGIVE as He did. If we claim to know Him and be His "followers", by nature we are going to desire for our lives to be a reflection of His. This isn't always easy, but it's something we choose to do as His disciple. [See Matthew 6:14-15, Ephesians 4:31-32, 1 Peter 3:8-9, Romans 12:17-20]

At the end of the message everyone still had their penny in hand. (I should note that I preached both services with a penny in my hand - making it extra fun to hold my Bible). Thinking about the debtor who held his servant's debt over his head, I asked everyone to prayerfully consider releasing themselves from the slavery & bondage of bitterness - to finally surrender the right to get even or repay the offense. And yes, forgiving someone releases YOU from slavery, not the other person. Forgiveness is FREEDOM! It changes things. It changes YOU!

"...not forgiving is like drinking rat poison & waiting for the rat to die." - Anne Lamott

I encouraged everyone - if they were ready - to respond to the Lord by bringing their penny to the front and dropping it into a glass bowl. [To hear the sound of pennies - one after another - clanging in the bowl was worship!] But if they weren't ready to forgive - if they just couldn't take that step - to have the courage to keep that penny in their hand until that time had come. Yes, KEEP IT IN YOUR HAND! While you're driving. In the shower. On the phone. Brushing your teeth. Keep it in your hand! And then of course we acknowledged how difficult it would be to carry on - to function - to truly LIVE while trying to hold onto this penny.

I love the "A-ha" moment.

When we hold onto bitterness - when we're unwilling to forgive - our grip (and our heart) has no ability to truly reach out to the heart of God. We become consumed and paralyzed. We throw ourselves into prison. The shackles around our feet are self-imposed. We CHOOSE slavery! We hold it over our own heads. No one wins. But when we have courage - when we trust that the Lord is good and faithful - when we surrender to Him and release it - everyone wins!

Forgiveness is FREEDOM! It changes you.

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