The Past Comes Calling

I stood in the pasture with my heifers one morning when my cell phone rang. Looking at caller identification, I answered with caution. The call was from my parents’ phone. Since Dad had never called me, I assumed it was Mom. Somehow I always held out the hope that they would say, “Son, you’ve made a lot of mistakes but so have we. Let’s put the past behind us. We love you.” “Hello?”

“This is your dad.” Apprehension welled up in me, followed by a flash of anger. I forced myself to swallow it and think. Dad was a proud man and calling me must have been one of the hardest things he’d ever done. I didn’t want to take his dignity.“Hello, Dad.”“We need money!”I was stunned, not only that my father was calling me but that he was asking for money. I knew by now that there wasn’t enough money in the world to buy their affection. Their love wasn’t available to me at any price. So what was up? I realized that I finally had something he wanted. Money.
This was my chance to get back at them for the way they’d treated me.

All of a sudden, in my mind’s eye, I pictured Joseph being sold into slavery. I followed his journey from Potiphar’s house to prison. I remembered the way he’d become the most powerful man in Egypt except for Pharaoh.I imagined how Joseph must have felt watching his brothers standing in line for food during a famine. He could’ve have exacted vengeance right then.But he didn’t.

Joseph forgave, realizing that what his brothers meant to destroy him, God had turned into a blessing that saved the entire family. There were two lessons I needed to learn from Joseph. One was simple: If Joseph could feed his family during a famine, I had to do the same for mine. But to do that, I needed to forgive my parents, especially my father. Not from my head, but like the Bible says, from my heart. I had no illusions that my generosity would clean the slate and earn me good will. But I had to forgive.For years, I’d been asking them to forgive me. For the first time, I realized that hadn’t been the right question. The question God wanted me to answer was this: would I forgive them?

Forgiveness is a familiar topic in the Bible. In fact, God’s plan to forgive mankind of their sins is the major theme of the Bible (1 Peter 1:20John 17:24). So, when wondering why we should forgive those who sin against us, we need look no further than the example God gave us. Christians must forgive others because God has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32).

Jesus gave a parable in Matthew 18:21–35 about why we should forgive. He tells the story from the perspective of a king who has forgiven a servant of tremendous debt. But then that servant encounters another servant who owed him a few dollars, and the forgiven servant deals harshly with his fellow servant and demands instant repayment. When the king learns what had happened, he is furious and orders the one he had forgiven to be punished until the huge debt was paid in full. Jesus ends the parable with these chilling words: “That is how My Heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart” (verse 35).

Forgiveness is mandatory for all those who have experienced the forgiveness of God (Ephesians 4:32). Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12), reminding us that God holds us accountable for paying forward what He has done for us. Refusing to forgive those who wrong us is an insult to the Lord who has forgiven us much more. We forgive as an act of gratitude for all we have been forgiven.

Those who have been forgiven by God are transformed into forgiving people. To approach the Lord and ask for His forgiveness while at the same time refusing to forgive our brothers and sisters is the height of hypocrisy. If a person who claims to be a Christian refuses to extend forgiveness to others, that person is showing evidence that he or she is not truly born again. We forgive others because it is in our (new) nature to forgive (see 1 John 3:9).

Forgiveness is not letting an unrepentant sinner off the hook. Rather, it is an eager readiness to extend mercy to those who have wronged us. When we forgive, we free ourselves from the bondage someone’s wrong has created for us. It is impossible to live in complete obedience to God when someone else controls our emotions. Followers of Jesus are to be controlled by nothing but the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). In order to grow spiritually and live in submission to God’s Word, we must obey even the difficult commands about forgiveness (Luke 6:46).

Forgiveness is often a window through which the world glimpses the mercy of God. As the popular slogan goes, “You may be the only Bible some people ever read.” When we forgive, we model God’s teachings on kindness, mercy, love, and humility. People cannot see Jesus in us when we are walking in bitterness and anger. When all we can talk about is how we were wronged, how someone betrayed us, or the wounds we are carrying, we lose sight of our primary mission, which is to make disciples (Matthew 28:19). Unforgiveness makes us self-focused instead of God-focused and steals our love, peace, and joy (see Galatians 5:22).

Forgiveness comes more easily for some than it does for others, but we are all required to forgive if we want to walk in fellowship with God. Some find it hard to forgive because they have a misunderstanding of what it means to forgive. Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. We can forgive from the heart while keeping betrayers at a distance. Forgiveness does not allow unrepentant abusers back into our lives, but it does allow the peace of God back into our lives.

From the cross, Jesus prayed for His murderers: “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). We are never more like Jesus than when we forgive the ones who wronged us, and for believers that is the ultimate goal (Romans 8:29). Source

StevieRay Hansen

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