“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.” – Matthew 6:14-15
In 1993, a
mother of one
experienced hell on earth. Mary Johnson’s only son, eighteen-year old Laramiun
Byrd, was gunned down in cold blood after a fight broke out at a party he was
attending. It didn’t take long for the suspect to be arrested: sixteen-year old
Oshay Israel, who was tried as an adult and sentenced to 25 ½ years in prison.
Although Mary was devastated by her son’s murder, at least she knew that
justice was being served. In her own words, “[Oshay] was an animal. He deserved
to be caged.” Minneapolis
But something unexpected happened several years into Oshay’s sentence. Mary, a devoted Christian, felt led by God to visit him in prison. She did. And she visited him again and again until he was released after serving seventeen years of his sentence. And miracle of miracles: By the time Oshay was released, not only had Mary forgiven him for killing her son, she actually had become like a mother to him. Upon his release, Oshay needed a place to live, so Mary put in a good word for him with her landlord. And today, Oshay lives in the same apartment complex as Mary. In fact, he lives right next door.
Wow! Do we serve an amazing God or what? If I wasn’t a Christian already, after hearing Mary Johnson’s testimony I’d say, “Sign me up! I want what that lady has. I want to have her kind of strength. I want to have her kind of peace. I want to be able to have the grace to forgive the way she forgives … especially when it comes to my dad.”
Sadly, my relationship with my father has been strained for a long time. We haven’t been close for many years. And that relational distance has been thrust to the forefront of my mind in recent months as my dad has struggled to bounce back from a major stroke. The stroke has crippled his ability to speak full sentences and process others’ speech. And my dad, who as long as I’ve known him has been able to fix anything with his own two hands, can barely button his own shirt or brush his own hair.
You’d think that witnessing my father’s struggles would break my heart. But to be honest with you, my heart has been a bit calloused these past few months because of some lingering bitterness and unforgiveness. You see, I’ve never completely let go of the bitterness I’ve felt toward my dad for being physically abusive to my mom, my sister and me. I’ve never completely forgiven him for tearing me down with his words. And I’ve never completely let go of the resentment I’ve felt toward my dad for trying to chase off my wife when we were dating.
Don’t get me wrong: I have many wonderful memories of my dad. But those wonderful memories are mixed in with a lot of bad ones that have strained our relationship. And our strained relationship has become more strained because of my unforgiveness. I realize that needs to change.
Even though I’ve been a committed Christian for a long time, I still find myself longing for what Mary Johnson has. She so eloquently reminds us, “Unforgiveness is like cancer. It will eat you from the inside out. It’s not about that person. Me forgiving him does not diminish what he’s done….But the forgiveness is for me. It’s for me.”
These are wise words, powerful words, life-changing words that I need to hear. And you need to hear them as well. For me, two of the most haunting verses in the whole Bible are Matthew 6:14-15 where Jesus says bluntly, “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.”
Ouch! These verses crush me. Long story short: God will only forgive my sins against Him to the extent that I forgive others’ sins against me. And if I refuse to forgive others’ sins against me, God will refuse to forgive my sins against Him.
So, the Lord has revealed to me in recent weeks what I must do. I must forgive my dad…not just mostly. I need to forgive him completely. I need to do it for him. And I need to do it for me. Most importantly, I need to do it for my Lord Jesus Christ. He is ready and willing to forgive me. How can I possibly refuse to be ready and willing to forgive my dad?
Jesus Christ has called us to get rid of all bitterness and unforgiveness, because they are a poisonous cancer that infects our hearts, our families and our churches. Jesus Christ does NOT want us to miss the grace of God, and He does NOT want others to miss the grace of God pouring out through you and me.
If we DESIRE it, Jesus Christ will give us—just as He gave Mary Johnson--the grace to forgive the unforgiveable, to give mercy to the unmerciful and to love the unlovable. And as we share these amazing blessings with others, Jesus will respond by sharing them with us. Therefore, if you and I are serious about wanting Jesus to forgive us, we must get serious about forgiving others. And if we are serious about walking in our Lord’s footsteps, we have no choice but to eradicate the cancer of unforgiveness from our hearts.
Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information,
visit www.YourVictorvilleChurch.com and join us for church tomorrow at 10 a.m.