Early in my ministry I was naive. I had been raised in a family that said,”It doesn’t matter if you like the preacher, or if her/his sermons are so bad, we are still going to church. We will be here long after the preacher has come and gone.” We always supported the preacher by supporting the church and the work of God, with our time, talents, and gifts. When I received my first appointment out of seminary, boy was I in for a rude awakening, I was about 27 years old at the time. I thought everyone had the same philosophy of my family when it came to preachers. You treated the preacher with respect because they were the preacher. I was young, single and still was trying to get this preacher thing down pat. There was a certain man in the church for what ever reason just didn’t like me. I wanted everyone to like me and at that point in my ministry I had yet to figure out that to be liked by everyone is an impossibility. One day the SPPRC Chairperson came to me and said, “preacher so and so is out telling a lot of bad things about you, and we need to squash this immediately”, so we did. It was not a pretty squashing. I actually thought he and his wife would stop coming to church. I must admit, that secretly in my heart, I wanted them to quit. “Let them go to the Baptist or Presbyterian Church,” I thought. Well, as you can imagine they kept right on coming. One Sunday I was up preaching on the need to forgive, others. I announced the Hymn of Invitation and sure enough I heard this still small voice in my heart saying, “Preacher you’re up here preaching about forgiveness when you yourself have un-forgiveness in your heart.” I didn’t have to ask God what he talking about because I knew what God was talking about.” Better yet I knew who God was talking about. So, I stepped from the pulpit, and walked right up to the second row where this man who I had so gleefully squashed and extended my hand and said,”I’m sorry, I have done you wrong as your pastor, and as a fellow Christian please forgive me.” I extended my hand he took it and he began to cry, and he said “same here preacher. I’ve got out and told things that were not factual, will you forgive me?” “Yes,” I replied.
The Bible is very clear about forgiveness. It’s not optional for we Christian’s. Ephesians 4: 32, reminds us, “and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you,” (NRSV). “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses,” (Matthew 6: 14-15, NRSV). Scripture is real clear on this issue, no wiggle room here. No getting out of this one. No saying, God I can’t forgive what so and so did to me.” Matthew makes it plain, if you can’t forgive others then you Heavenly Father can’t forgive you. It’s not that he doesn’t want to forgive you, but he has given each of us “free will.” When our will, goes against the Father’s will on this issue, God leaves our will intact.
Biblically speaking and from a spiritual standpoint we hear the call of God to forgive. However, have you stopped to realize there is an emotional toll that goes along with un-forgiveness? “And the longer our interactions go without resolution, the more overdrawn our accounts become, the red ink in our personal ledgers leaves us feeling bankrupt and bereft.” This is the personal and emotional feelings that un-forgiveness leaves us, (Stephen Levine). Levine goes on to say,”We think forgiveness isn’t necessary, or that it might be seen as a sign of failure if we forgive.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The ability to forgive others is a sign of strength, and maturity. It takes a big woman or man to forgive. I pray that I will never grow so hard that I cannot forgive. If I do then may God have mercy upon my soul.