"God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself." He came in flesh to forgive usto run down the road from heaven to earth and say to a world of prodigals: Come on; come home.
I want to address forgivenessthe forgiveness of God. As I type my notes out in script form, I always run the spell-check program when I'm done. To my surprise, it kept coming up with one word I'd spelled incorrectly all throughout my manuscript: forgiveness. I had spelled it "forgivemess." Which is fine. I left it. There it is in my script: "For the forgiveness of God forgives the mess." He forgives the mess in our families, the mess in our world, the mess that we make, and the mess that others make for us. He wants to forgive it all.
But where do we even start in the process?
Think of the prodigal sitting in the pigsty, coming to his senses and saying: I'm going to go home to my father. I've just had it. What's the point of sitting in a pigsty when I could be a prince?
He was at the point of conversionof turning around and heading back where he belonged. He was heading back to the heart of God.
Along the way, he rehearsed what he was going to say. Do you ever do that? Do you ever have a looming confrontation with a child or an employee or a friend or somebody in the family, and you sit there in the pigsty of those relationships, thinking, What am I going to say? What's the first thing to say? Where do I start? Where do I begin when I sit on the steps of our soul in the deep place where nobody goes?
God can forgive the biggest of messes.
How about starting here: "Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors."
"Keep us forgiven with you, God, and keep us forgiving others."
"Forgive what you need to forgive me for doing."
I have a friend who went to see a woman who was about to be executed. The woman asked her to be present at the execution. My friend asked the convict, "Francis, are you absolutely sure you are a believer? That you've come to know Jesus? Do you know your sins are forgiven? Do you know in one hour's time you're going to go through that front door, and you're going to be with God. You do know that, don't you?"
"Yes," she replied, "I know. But my sin is so big. I've killed. I've taken a life. That's so big."
My friend then told her about walking along the beach on a holiday and seeing a little crab come out of a tiny hole. She walked along, and a child was making a sandcastle. The hole was bigger. Then she walked along, and there were some men excavating in the area. It was now a huge, great hole. As she walked along, the tide came in, filling up the hole.
That's what the blood of Christ doesit fills up the hole. I don't care if it's a big hole. I don't care if it's a tiny hole. Even the little hole hurts God as much as the big hole. Sin hurts God.
An African once told me about a dream he had. He saw a man walk up a hill. He soon recognized that he was the man. The hill was Calvary, and the crosses were at the top. Then he noticed that Jesus was walking behind him, but Jesus was having a hard time, staggering up the hill. He was almost crawling because he had this huge great burden on his back.
The African went to help Jesus, saying, "Lord, are you carrying the sins of the whole world to Calvary?"
The Lord replied, "Oh no, just yours."
Guess what? God has forgiven itwhatever it is. God the Father forgave what we did as the Son took our sin to Calvary. Even now he offers that forgiveness to us.
We must forgive the messes of others.
And we must offer this forgiveness to others. Remember: "Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors." Keep us forgiven with you, God, and keep us forgiving others.
First Corinthians 13: "Love doesn't keep a record of wrong." In other words, love doesn't keep books. Are you keeping a book on someone? Are you writing down every little thing they've done to you, said to you, or thought about you? Are you keeping a running record? Love doesn't keep books. Love cancels the debt, like Christ canceled the debt against us.
Once we believe in the size of what God has forgiven us, we will have no trouble forgiving the little things that people have done to us. The knowledge and the experience of knowing you're forgiven should cause you to turn around and bless other people. That's how it works. Those of us who have not murdered our mother with an ax or committed adulterythose of us who have "little" sinsmay find this hard. Those of us who are big sinners will find it easy. A big sinnersomebody that's made a big mess and has seen God forgive that big messnever has to think twice about running toward somebody else who's hurt them.
To withhold forgiveness from someone is a sin. It's a sin of omissionjust as big a hole as a sin of commission. The nursing of the grudge, the pampering of those bad memories, and the firing up of the bitterness inside of you is a sin. God wants you to be free from that.
"Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors and deliver us from evil." Deliver us from temptation. We need to be delivered from the evil one, as Jesus prayed in John 17. We have an enemy. You can see his footprints around your life, around your family. But we also have a Father. When we cry, "Father, are you there?" God is always there. The devil is there to destroy us, but God is there also to strengthen us and deliver us from ourselves.
So the wonderful prayer finishes, "For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen."
Jill Briscoe is executive editor of Just Between Us, serves on the boards of World Relief and Christianity Today International, and is a minister-at-large with her husband at Elmbrook Church in Wisconsin.