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Forgiving Yourself - A Donelson Fellowship Pocket Paper

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Forgiving Yourself

| A Pocket Paper
The Donelson Fellowship
______________Robert J. Morgan
Robert J. Morgan

The knife sliced through the man's shirt like a razor, entering his back at the shoulder and cutting diagonally toward the spine. Skin and muscle melted like mutton before a cleaver. The shock paralyzed him, and searing pain tore through his body like currents of fire. He tried to scream, but the knife had punctured a lung. Being withdrawn, it was plunged in again. And again. The third plunge was most cruel, stabbing, carving, nicking spinal cord and puncturing heart. The victim twisted toward his attacker, seeing through anguished eyes the face of his betrayer. Three times the scalpel lacerated the man's chest, scoring the skin, cutting along carefully drawn lines. Its surgical steel grew red. Flesh and fat separated, the chest opened. Soon the heart was bared. Two knives. One in the hand of a killer, the other in the hand of a healer. One cut into the back, the other into the chest. Three stabs for the betrayal. Three for the surgery. The surgeon, being healed, was operating on the man who had attacked him. This is the story found in Luke 22 and John 21: Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. But when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, "This man was with him." But he denied it. "Woman, I don't know him," he said. A little later someone else saw him and said, "You also are one of the them." "Man, I am not!" Peter replied. About an hour later another asserted, "Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean." Peter replied, "Man, I don't know what you're talking about!" Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times." And he went outside and wept bitterly (Luke 22:56-62). When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?" He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep." The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you. Jesus said, "Feed my sheep..." (John 21:15-17). Three times Peter stabbed Jesus in the back. And three times, Jesus cut Peter to the heart. The Lord knew that Peter's guilt and his sense of shame was blacker than coal. But he also knew that Peter would never become the bold and brilliant leader of the early church if he spent his days groping in the coalmines of guilt and moping in his mineshafts of shame. So he told him, in effect, to get over it. To put it behind him. To renew his love for his Master, and to get busy feeding the sheep. When we have betrayed a father or mother or husband or wife or friend, how do we forgive ourselves? When we have done the unspeakable, how do we get past it? It is one thing to be forgiven, but is another to forgive ourselves. I read of a man who had gotten drunk, swerved into the opposite lane of the highway, and collided head-on with a Toyota driven a woman, eight months pregnant. She was killed along with her unborn child. Now the man is sitting in prison, reliving that moment over and over and over. He has confessed his sin to God. He has begged the woman's family for forgiveness. But he can't forgive himself. How do we do it? Peter Three examples in the Bible provide us, I think, with clues. The first case is Peter, and his example teaches us that if we are going to obtain self-forgiveness, we must first appropriate and appreciate the power of the blood of Jesus Christ. Peter's darkest moment was when he thrice betrayed his friend, and history is not kind to traitors. As long as American history endures, the name Benedict Arnold will be etched in infamy. As long as Christian history continues, the name of Judas Iscariot will be a synonym for treachery. How, then, did Peter overcome the shame and stigma of betrayal? He appropriated and appreciated the acidity of the blood of Christ. We know from 1 Corinthians 15 that Jesus appeared privately to Peter on Easter Sunday. We don't know what they said, for no record of the conversation found its way into Scripture. We assume they talked about the betrayal, and that the Risen Lord assured the broken apostle of forgiveness. At any rate, shortly afterward Jesus dealt with Peter in the John 21 passage, telling him to get on with it, to get busy feeding the sheep. Ever after, Peter spoke of the wondrous extent of God's forgiveness. On the day of Pentecost, he told the crowds in Jerusalem, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins" (Acts 2:38). He told the temple worshippers in Acts 3, "Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord" (Acts 3:19). The power of Christ's blood has the ability to turn times of regretting into seasons of refreshing. When Peter went before the Sanhedrin, he said, "God has exalted (Christ) to his right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins..." (Acts 5:31). He journeyed to Caesarea, telling the Gentiles: "All the prophets testify about (Christ) that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name" (Acts 10:43). This was still his message years later. Writing in 1 Peter 2, Peter didn't get past the second verse of the book before talking about being sprinkled by the blood of Christ. And he didn't get out of the first chapter before reminding his readers, "It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed... but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect" (1 Peter 1:18). When we come to Jesus Christ for his forgiveness, he washes away our guilt. It is gone, and we are clean as snow. No record of it exists, for God abundantly pardons. We are justified by the blood of Christ; it is just as though we had never sinned. Therefore when we continue to brood over sin that God has forgiven, we are underestimating his love, doubting his grace, and discounting the scope of his forgiveness. When we wallow around in guilt banished by God, we are refusing to accept his view of things. In simple terms, when you refuse to forgive yourself, you are saying, in effect, that the death of Jesus Christ wasn't adequate-his blood isn't strong enough-to really justify you. Self-forgiveness, on the other hand, is simply aligning your thinking to God's Word. Joseph The second step in self-forgiveness is found in the advice given by Joseph to his brothers in Genesis. These ruthless brothers, remember, had committed a horrendous act of betrayal. They had savagely abused their own brother, selling him into slavery for twenty shekels of silver. As the years passed, their collective guilt ate away at their souls. Meanwhile, the overruling hand of God's providence was at work, bringing about a famine in western Asia and raising up Joseph to deal with it as Prime Minister of Egypt. In the course of time, the brothers stood before Joseph, though they did not yet recognize him. Genesis 45 records the story like this: Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, "Have everyone leave my presence!" So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh's household heard about it. Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph! Is my father still living?" But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence. Then Joseph said to his brothers, "Come close to me." When he had done so, he said, "I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!" Underscore these next words. What counsel does Joseph give to his brothers who he has forgiven? Their sin and treachery was as high as the sun in the Egyptian sky. They had committed unspeakable betrayal. But Joseph had forgiven them, and now he was going to tell them how they should feel, what they should do, what their attitude should be: And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you... Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves. In today's terms: Stop beating yourselves up over this. Turn the corner. Put it behind you. God is so great he has even brought good from it, so get over it and stop hating yourselves. So not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves. I talked to a friend of mine this week who had once run over and killed a child. He told me, "You come to a point when you've prayed, you've asked forgiveness, you've done everything you can do. And you just decide you have to forgive yourself, stop brooding over it, and get on with life. That's all you can do." That was Joseph's counsel to his brothers. If you want to get past the regrets and the "if only's" you've got to first appropriate and appreciate the grace of God. Then you must decide to turn the corner, to put it behind you, and to stop dwelling on it in your mind. Stop being distressed and do not continue to be angry with yourself. Paul There is a third step in self-forgiveness, and we see it in the example of Paul. The hands of Paul had once held the documents that sent Christians to prison, ripping apart families. His hands had held the whips that tormented Christians, ripping apart their backs. And his hands had once held the garments of those who stoned the church's first martyr. How did he get over the guilt and shame? He said in 1 Corinthians 15:9-11: I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them-yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed. Paul, having been forgiven by God, devoted the rest of his life to preaching the Gospel he had once labored to destroy. He spent his days seeking to strengthen what he had once sought to tear down. He considered himself a debtor, and while he could never make up for his sin or atone for his guilt, he could dedicate himself to help those whom he had previously hurt and extend the church he had once opposed. His forgiveness fueled his Christian service. One of the most earliest missionaries in Christian history was Columba, born in Ulster, Ireland, on December 7, 521. His grandfather had been baptized by St. Patrick himself, and Columba's parents were believers of royal stock. He possessed a powerful presence with strong features and an authoritative voice, but Columba was strong-willed and combative. His fiery temper and iron will caused problems. One day, Columba copied the contents of a book without permission, and when the owner requested the copy Columba refused. The argument took on a life of its own, involving more and more people. Eventually a war erupted in which 3000 men lost their lives. Full of remorse, Columba sought and found the forgiveness of God. Then he committed himself to win as many to Christ as had died in the war. Thus he left Ireland at age 42 to become a missionary to Scotland. With twelve companions, he established himself on Iona, a bleak, foggy island just off the Scottish coast, three miles long and a mile and a half wide. He built a crude monastery which soon became a training center for missionaries, one of the most venerable and interesting spots in the history of Christian missions. It was a lighthouse against heathenism. From Iona Columba made missionary forays into Scotland, converting large numbers. An entire tribe of pagans, the Picts, were won to the faith. He confronted the Druids, contesting with them over their alleged magical arts and demonic powers. He spent the rest of his life as the apostle to Scotland and as a trainer of missionaries. What motivated him? He considered himself a debtor. He felt obligated to win as many as he had destroyed. I had a high school basketball coach who would tell players during games, "If you make a mistake on the floor, quickly do something right to make up for it. Let past mistakes motivate future excellence" Sin and forgiveness can motivate us to build up what we once damaged. Often we do our greatest work for Christ in areas of former weakness and sinfulness and shame. Often those who feel most forgiven of the greatest sins become the highest motivated of God's servants. Jesus said about the immoral woman that she loved much because she had been forgiven of much. But, he added, "he who has been forgiven little loves little." Now, when you appreciate and appropriate the fullness of God's grace, and when you decide not to despise yourself any longer, and when you allow the pardon you've received to fuel your Christian passion, the liberation in your spirit is incredible. What freedom! What joy! What seasons of refreshing! Mary Anna Martin grew up during the depression, but her family, despite its poverty, was rich in love and happiness. Her dad and mom were caring and tender parents, and laughter filled their home. Her father always whistled and her mother sang while doing her housework. Her father was a baker, but he lost his bakery shop in the first years of the depression. He had to take any job he could to pay the family's rent and keep food on their table. He worked at the local YMCA for awhile, then with the WPA. When that job ran out, he found a job as a janitor. He was an older man, small and gray, and it was hard work. But he did his best and whistled as he worked. Mary Anna said, "My life was happy and carefree until the year I left elementary school and started junior high. I was 13, and soon became part of a new group of friends. I knew that Daddy was a janitor, but I didn't know where, until that awful day during lunch break." Mary Anna was seated at a table with her new friends when she heard a teacher call her father's name in a loud voice. Someone had dropped their tray, and food and milk covered the table and floor. She saw him walk toward the table, carrying a mop and old rags. One of the girls said to Mary Anna, "That janitor has the same last name as yours. Do you know him?" Mary Anna slowly raised her head and looked at the little, gray man cleaning up the spilled food. She hesitated, then said, "I've never seen him before in my life." A wave of intense embarrassment swept over her, and she instantly felt ashamed of denying her dearest friend on earth. She hated herself for those words and tried to make up for what she had done by showing her father that she loved him more than ever. He loved for someone to brush his hair as he sat in his easy chair. She would do it. She sang to him and read to him and spent time with him. But regardless of how hard she tried, nothing made her feel better. The years passed, and her father developed Alzheimer's disease. One day when he was ill and she was sitting with him, she started crying. Her mother asked her what was wrong, and Mary Anna poured out her heart and told her what had been bothering her for more than 15 years. She said, "I have been asking God to forgive me, but I can't get over what I had done." Her mother drew her close and held her tightly as she wept. "Honey," she said, "your daddy knew you loved him, and he would have loved you even if he had known about your being ashamed of him when you were so young. You know Simon Peter denied that he knew our beloved Jesus before he was crucified on the cross, and Jesus loved him just the same." Suddenly Mary Anna felt at peace with herself for the first time since she was in junior high. She knew that because of the love of Christ, it was time to turn the corner. You and I can do the same. For if we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins, and will cleanse us from all unrighteousness. ----

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We grant permission for any edition of The Pocket Paper to be photocopied for use in a local congregation or classroom, provided no more than 1,000 copies are made, the material is distributed free, and the copies include the notice: "Copyright (year) The Donelson Fellowship."
For any other use, advance permission must be obtained from The Donelson Fellowship church office.


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