No sin is so great, no bitterness so deep that God's grace cannot transform the heart and rewrite the story. Grace is Greater is a three week series that looks at Grace, based on Kyle Idleman's book of the same title. This week we'll see how we can receive freedom from our past wounds when we choose to forgive.
This weeks message is based on a reading from Acts 7:54-60.
This is the second week in our series called Grace is Greater, based on the book by Kyle Idleman. Two weeks ago we looked at how Grace is Greater Than Our Mistakes, and that line that I liked so much, the idea that we can use our past mistakes as “Trophies of God’s Grace.” And how Paul seemed to brag about his past mistakes and past sins, because they showed how much greater God’s Grace is - God’s Grace was big enough to save even Paul, His grace is big enough to save even you.
This week we look at the idea of God’s Grace in relation to our hurts. We’ve all got those hurts in our past that we struggle to get by. Things that have happened that seemed to leave scars, and I’m not talking about physical scars. I’m talking about the emotional hurts that leave us angry or bitter or afraid to be hurt like that again.
In the book, Idleman talks of a time when his wife began really getting into the craze of “decluttering.” I’m not sure that’s a word, but she wanted to really clean out everything they didn’t really need, get rid of the old – not to buy more, just to live simpler with less clutter. He wasn’t really convinced. But the more thought about, the more he came to the conclusion that we all need to do this, at least emotionally and spiritually.
He wasn’t necessarily sold on getting rid of the physical stuff, but we all gather a lot of emotion and spiritual stuff over the years that we seem to want to hang on to. Past hurts we keep replaying in our mind over and over again. Things that caused us pain that we can’t seem to get past. We try to bury it, to put it out of our mind, but we never really deal with it, so it can come again without warning, hurting us all over again. We need to “declutter” our minds, and deal with our hurts.
We do this by forgiveness. Forgiveness is the key. We need to forgive those who caused the hurt – otherwise it will never go away. We can get past it, we can forgive, it’s hard, but that’s what we’re going to talk about this morning. We’re going to see three steps on how to do that, three steps to forgiving someone.
Step 1- Release your feelings of anger, bitterness, and rage over to God. As I just said, we tend to remember our hurts, rehearse them, rehash them, replay them. Again and again. Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:26-27, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” You’ve probably heard that verse several times, but did you ever really think about it. The first part is okay, don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, that sounds like good advice, but the second part. Do not give the devil a foothold...
One thing that came out last week with Renovation House here was that we are in Spiritual Warfare. We are at war with the evil in the world. Don’t downplay that, don’t pretend it doesn’t exist, but rather, stand firm. Don’t accept what you see and hear. If it doesn’t sound like it’s from God, reject it. But listen to what Paul is saying here, “Going to bed angry gives the devil a foothold.” Allowing anger to fester and to grow gives the devil a foothold. We’ve got to deal with it, and the only way to deal with it is to forgive the one who hurt you. And the first step is releasing the hurt, turn it over to God. Let go of the feelings, give them to God.
We know the physical effects of anger. There are all kinds of health issues related to chronic anger, like heart disease, stroke, blood pressure, arthritis, insomnia, gastrointestinal problems, ulcers, lupus, skin problems, and sleep problems. Bitterness can create all kinds of health issues, and if we’ve got them already, it can make them much worse. Anger isn’t just spiritually harmful, it’s physically harmful, too. We need to be willing to release these feelings of bitterness and anger over to God.
I know it’s hard, but let me give you a key. In our reading this morning, we heard about Stephen, one of the first deacons. He’s out doing miracles, healing people, casting out demons, doing good, when some people oppose him. Eventually, they get so angry at him that they begin to stone him. Knowing they aren’t going to stop until he is dead, Stephen looked up to the heavens and prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” In Luke 23 we read about the crucifixion. If ever someone had a time to be angry at someone, it would be when that person was killing them, right? But Jesus, in v.34, said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
The key, and this is something I hadn’t seen before. But if you find it too difficult to approach them directly, pray for God to forgive them first. Had you ever noticed that neither Jesus nor Stephen looked their murderers in the eyes and said, “I forgive you.” They prayed to God to forgive them. If you find it particularly hard to forgive someone, start to ask God to forgive them first. Then with time, you may able to talk to them directly.
One more reason this is so important. Idleman points out that “Grace is only grace if it goes both ways.” Receiving grace from God but not giving to others isn’t an option. Matthew 6:14-15 says, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” That’s pretty clear. If you don’t forgive those who hurt you, God won’t forgive you. If you withhold grace from those who hurt you, God will withhold His grace from you. This idea of forgiveness is really big deal.
Step 2: Release the person who hurt you over to God. This is closely related to the first one, I know. In the first one, we acknowledge our feelings to God, let God know you are hurt, then turn over those feelings to God. Here we are releasing the person to God. And we know this is important. If we don’t, it’s easy to begin to think of retaliation, how can I get even?
A key here to make this easier is to do some math. Think about your past. How much has God forgiven you? We think of Paul almost bragging about how sinful his life was before he met Jesus. He readily confessed that as much as he thought he was doing right, he was the chief of sinners. But God forgave him.
I know myself better than anybody, I know the times I’ve done wrong, even knowing it was wrong. I know the times I’ve fallen short, taken shortcuts, acted without thinking about the consequences. And honestly, I think Paul might have been mistaken when he said he was the greatest of sinners. I know that God has forgiven me of so much. How can I forgive someone else, when God has forgiven me of so much more?
There are four things we need to do to apply this in our lives: First, we need to Acknowledge our hurt. Paul wrote a lot about forgiveness and grace, but he was hurt on occasion. In 2 Timothy 4:14 he said, “Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm.” He doesn’t go into what he did, but it must have been significant. Paul doesn’t get caught up in recounting and complaining about everything, but one thing we can learn from Paul is that you have to acknowledge you’re hurt. Acknowledging your hurt is the first step to dealing with it. I’m sure you’ve heard that before.
Second, Release your rights. If you’re like me, when something happens that hurts, my first instinct is to get even. I have a right to retaliate. In our human nature, that seems like the next step, right? If we get hurt, we get even. But in 2 Timothy 4, after acknowledging that he was hurt, Paul wrote, “The Lord will repay him for what he has done.” He doesn’t minimize the hurt that was done, he just releases his right to get even.
In Romans 12:19, it says, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” Let God worry about getting even. When we refuse to release this right to God, we’re showing a lack of faith. We’re saying, “God, I don’t trust you to handle this. I don’t trust you to take care of me. So, I am going to deal with this situation myself.”
Third, Pray for your enemies. In the book, Idleman tells the story of Ruby Bridges. Ruby was the first African-American to attend a white school. It was 1960 in New Orleans. She was six years old, and she was the only African American in that school. Every day, in order to get to the school, she had to walk by crowds of angry protesters lined up in front of the school, yelling obscenities at her. She was only 6! Imagine the hurt she must have felt. Imagine the bitterness that grew inside her. Maybe you can, because you’ve got your own hurt, you’re living with your own bitterness.
Ruby handled it well. Every day she walked past them, she prayed for them. She said her parents taught her to pray for her enemies, so she did. Every day, those who turned out to oppose her, as she walked by them, she prayed for them. She turned them over to God.
Fourth, Lean on the Lord. Back to Timothy 2, Paul has acknowledged that Alexander had hurt him, and he released his right to retaliation, leaving it in God’s hands. In verse 16 he writes about another time he was hurt, “At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them.” I’m sure you’ve felt deserted before. Someone you thought had your back, didn’t. Paul was on trial and was expecting his friends to show up and defend him, but nobody showed.
Then, in verses 17-18, he writes, “But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it.” Even though he was hurt, he was able to acknowledge that hurt, Release any right to God, he didn’t hold it against them, and he leaned on the Lord for his strength.
Step 3: Reconciliation. Reconciliation is an important part of forgiveness. Idleman says in his book, “The Bible says we are to forgive as God forgave us. When God forgave us, he didn’t say, ‘I forgive you, but we can’t have a relationship. I mean, I won’t hold your sins against you, but we’re not going to have anything to do with each other. You go your way, and I’ll go mine.’ No. God’s forgiveness of us leads to him reconciling with us despite our sin.”
Reconciliation might not be possible. Sometimes, the people we need to forgive move away, or die. And we can’t make it right with them again. But If possible, try to reconcile.
In the book, Idleman relates a story that appeared in the Los Angeles Times and in People magazine. It was the story of Elizabeth and Frank Morris. They had an 18 year old son, Ted, home from college on Christmas break. He had gone back to work during the break. On his way home from work one day, a car coming the other way crossed the median and hit him head on. Ted died almost instantly.
Tommy Pigage was driving the other car. He had been partying and had gotten very drunk. His blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit. His friends told him not to drive, but he didn’t listen. He blacked out and never saw Ted’s car coming down the other side of the road.
The trial started about a month later. The trial was delayed again and again. Finally, two years later, the trial ended when Tommy agreed to a plea deal that allowed him to be free on probation. Tommy was free. And Elizabeth began having revenge fantasies where she would kill him.
But the Morris’ were Christians. They had been forgiven by God. So Elizabeth took her pain to God, and as she prayed she realized that her heavenly Father had also had his innocent son murdered. And she eventually came to the realization that she had to forgive Tommy, as God had forgiven her. So she reached out to Tommy, they met and she told him she forgave him. He had got drunk again, violating his probation, and he was sentenced to three months in prison. But she visited him regularly in jail, and when he got out, Elizabeth and Frank began intentionally building a relationship with the young man who killed their son, sharing their faith along the way.
Eventually, Tommy accepted Jesus and was baptized in the Morris’ church. Now, they view Tommy as their son. Every Sunday, they attend church together, then go out to lunch. They often do things together during the week. Tommy calls them every day.
This is an amazing story of grace that really happened. The question is, though, will it happen in you? Is there a hurt in your life that needs to be forgiven? A reconciliation that needs to happen? Is there someone you need to forgive, to pray for, to be reconciled with? Who is it? What do you need to do?
You can do this. Grace is greater than your hurt. Just let God’s grace flow.