(This is an ongoing series on prayer and how it relates to Whole Life Worship that began on May 15, 2013)
This last weekend my oldest son, Tim (@spoofer56, #intervarsitystaff, #calstatefullerton) preached an amazing sermon at his mom and dad’s home church (@communityrancho, #communitybaptistchurchranchocucamonga). This is the church he grew up as a child and teenager. He did a fantastic job! Yes, his mom was very proud (as was his dad and the home town folks). In fact, you can listen to his sermon on podcast (https://www.findcommunity.com/index.cfm/pageid/911/index.html )
This weekend, in striking parallelism, I will be preaching at my mom’s home church (a big shout out to Northminister Presbyterian Church in Bakersfield, CA). Like Tim, this was the church of my spiritual roots. I learned about Jesus and was first involved in worship ministry here. As well, I hope to make my mom proud, as well as the home town folks who were instrumental in my spiritual growth.
It’s not every day that you get to go back to your “home town” and share the Word of God with people who knew you when you were “knee high.” So, what am I going to preach about to the good people at NPC?
The power of forgiveness.
Why preach on this topic? It’s not because I think that this church has a specific issue with forgiveness. It’s because I believe this is one of the big issues facing the credibility of Christianity for all churches, for all Christians. This is a topic that needs to be preached many times, to many congregations, as often as possible – regardless of whatever else is happening in the church. Why? Because …
If Christians cannot forgive, the integrity and credibility of the Gospel is lost.
Forgiveness is central to the Gospel: First, it is Christ’s sacrifice on the cross that grants us forgiveness of our sins. The greatest price that could be paid – the blood of God’s only Begotten Son – was shed on our behalf so that we can be, among other things, forgiven.
Second, the evidence of forgiveness of sins in our lives is the ability to forgive others for the sins committed against us. As Jesus explained in his parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matt. 18:21-35), God expects those who have been forgiven much to show mercy and forgiveness to others. In his rather theologically perplexing statement, Jesus also mentions that if we do not forgive people their sins against us, how can we expect God to forgive us our sins (Matt. 6:15)?
Third, forgiveness is also central to the ministry and calling of Christ-followers. We are to forgive others as we have been forgiven by God through Christ (Eph. 4:32). The Gospel gives each of us to a “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18-19). This involves reconciling people to God and to each other. But how can we call people to this amazing reconciliation, if we have not yet taken steps to forgive others?
But to forgive others is easier said than done, even with the knowledge and understanding of God’s forgiveness of our great sin through the Cross of Christ. There is something powerful (the lethal combination of the world, flesh and devil) that wants to keep us from letting go of those who have done us wrong. We feel like we might lose something significant if we really forgive others. This is why Jesus includes the issue of forgiveness as a major topic for prayer:
Forgive us our sins/debts/trespasses, as we forgive those who sin/debt/trespass against us.
We need the power of prayer, as well as the power of the Cross, to see the movement of forgiveness take place in our lives. The forces of darkness know that if they can keep Christ-followers from forgiving others, they can keep a lid on the power of the Gospel. Forgiving others requires faith, dying to self, and relinquishing control. This is a humility that can only come through God’s grace in prayer.
But forgiveness is the most transforming force in the universe. When forgiveness is given (by even the least or most ordinary person), it is more powerful than nuclear weapons. It releases the power of truth, grace, and healing to people’s lives. It can soften the hardest of hearts. It can bring low the proudest of egos. It can raise those who are dead in bitterness and resentment from their graves. Most of all, it points to the existence of a loving, redemptive God who works and moves powerfully in a realm made cold and hard by the sins of humanity.
So that’s why I’m preaching forgiveness this Sunday. Yes, I hope I make my mom and the home town folks proud. But even more important, our “Daddy” wants us to forgive, and He gives us the power to do so.
Is there someone in your life that you need to forgive?
Do you see forgiveness as something we need to ask God for power to do?