On a summer Sunday in 1998 I heard the sermon that changed my life. I don’t remember the message, but I remember the scripture. What I heard and what I felt are as fresh today as they were 18 years ago. Here’s the passage:
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. ~ Matthew 6:14-15
[pullquote width=”300″ float=”left”]Let God’s words sink into your heart.[/pullquote]I hadn’t been to church since I was 12 when my parents divorced and the congregation my family had been a part of no longer welcomed us. This was my first time back in a church since 1972. Our good friends had invited us many times, but this time Dave said, “Terri, you can wear shorts and sandals.” I thought, “Okay, maybe this church is different.”
Sure enough, this church was different. My family was welcomed as if we were old friends. We were encouraged to take our time navigating life in the congregation. We eventually joined volunteer teams and a Bible study. Through the course of my two years at this church that scripture planted itself deep in my heart.
I believe the Holy Spirit brought me to that church to teach me how to forgive. I was deeply wounded by past experiences, which left me bitter. I was so jealous of others I couldn’t have relationships with them if I thought they had more than me. By the time I heard this sermon I was hard and cold and alone in a miserable world where forgiving others wasn’t an option.
That day, in that service, the tears came and didn’t stop. Every person I harbored hard feelings toward came to my mind, one and then another, and yet another. There were so many.
Fast forward 18 months after that Sunday, I’d made phone calls, written letters, and had dinner with them all. One by one I asked for their forgiveness for how I’d treated them in response to what they’d done to me.
Six months after asking others for their forgiveness, I gave my life to Jesus accepting his forgiveness in my baptism. I was finally free from the burden of holding grudges, casting judgment, and treating others with disdain. Once I’d forgiven others, I was able to ask God to forgive me.
All those I asked offered forgiveness. And in the years since that fateful message I’ve encountered many more situations where I needed to be forgiven or I needed to offer forgiveness. I haven’t always gotten it right and old behaviors have, more often than I’d like to admit, reared their ugly little heads.
But I know what it is to be forgiven by an amazing God, which means I must offer his forgiveness to others. Colossians 3:13 is a new reminder for me:
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
But I know what it is to be forgiven by an amazing God, which means I must offer his forgiveness to others. @Grace_and_Such
If you struggle as I have, my encouragement to you is to let God’s words sink into your heart. Allow his forgiveness be the forgiveness you extend to others.
By sharing her personal faith experiences, her thoughts about following Jesus and what it's like being part of his church, she hopes to help some navigate a new journey and challenge those already on the journey as they travel the faith road together.