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“Unlocking the Treasures
of the Lord's Prayer”

Part :4
"Bridging Barriers with God, with Others

Based on Matthew 18:21-35 & The Lord's Prayer
Delivered on May 9 & 10, 2009
by David J. Claassen
Copyright 2009 by David J. Claassen

        I'm going to show you a map.  There are all kinds of maps: road maps, maps that show population, maps that show annual precipitation, and maps that show elevation.  We can also create maps to show various aspects of the reality of our lives.  We could map out the different places we’ve lived, where we've gone on vacation, or where we've worked.  I'd like to suggest that we can also create maps about the less visible or tangible parts of our lives.  We can map out our various relationships, putting some people closer to us than other people.  I want to map out the reality of the barriers we experience in our relationships — and how to overcome those barriers.  I'm talking about all of our relationships, human and divine.
            Picture on this map a sea with many little islands.  One island represents you and the other islands represent the people you know and that you have some kind of relationship with.
            Now picture on this map a huge country that goes off the top and the left and right of the page, with the islands offshore.  Mark this huge piece of land “God's Country” or “The Kingdom of God.”
            Let me explain, using this map, the basic reality of life that the Bible describes in many places and in many ways.  The sea in which our little island of “self” is set, with the other people's islands, isolates us from the “mainland,” which is God, and from the other “islands” of the people we know.  On this map the sea is called “The Sea of Sin.”  What we do against each other and against God — what's called sinning — alienates and isolates us from each other and from God.
            Originally, there was no “
Sea of Sin” that separated people from God, though to see that you have to go way back to the Garden of Eden, when there were only two people: Adam and Eve.  The map was different then: there was no “Sea of Sin.”  There were just highlands and lowlands with nothing separating people from each other or separating people from God.  Then the world was flooded with sin through the choice of Adam and Eve, according to the Genesis account.  Now we’re islands alienated from the mainland — the continent of God's Country, the Kingdom of God, from God Himself — and from each other.  That's the reality we can map out: the geography of our relationships.
            In the Lord's Prayer, which Jesus gives us as a model prayer, He has us include the key to bridging the alienation between God and us and between us and each other.  He has us pray, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12)  Only forgiveness bridges the barrier created by the “
Sea of Sin.”  The Lord's Prayer, like the rest of the New Testament, has had to be translated for us from the original Greek, and with all translations you often have a choice of words.  Sometimes in this part of the Lord’s Prayer we use the words “debts” and “debtors,” as does the New International Version quoted here, or we can use “sins,” as in Luke's account of the Lord's Prayer.  “Trespasses” is another word you can use, which we happen to use here at Mayfair-Plymouth.  When we do wrong to each other or to God we trespass into ways of relating that are wrong (getting ourselves into places where we shouldn't be) and we create a debt to the person done wrong to.  We’ve sinned against the other one, whether that’s a person or God Himself.  Trespasses, debts, or sin: it's the same alienation.  A distance has been created between us. 

A Story of Two-Way Forgiving
One day the apostle Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?  Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21)  Peter undoubtedly thought that he was being extra generous, because the rabbis taught that you were required to forgive someone no more than three times — a “three strikes and you’re out” attitude.  Jesus said, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:22)  Don't misunderstand Jesus; He wasn't telling us to keep track and that when someone hits that magic number of seventy-seven we can forget about him.  Jesus was using an exaggerated number to show that we're always supposed to be ready to offer forgiveness.  Then He told the disciples a story.
            There was a king who decided to settle accounts with the people who served him.  He came across a man who owed him 10,000 talents.  That was an unbelievable sum of money.  King David had donated a whopping 3,000 talents of gold and 7,000 talents of silver toward the building of the temple; it was the same total amount that the man owed in this story, and was probably tens of millions of dollars by today's figuring.
            The man couldn't pay; he was the Bernie Madoff of the day!  The king was going to have the man and his family sold into slavery to pay off the debt. 
The man begged for forgiveness, and the king offered him a bailout plan that would make the news even today.  What the bailed-out man did next was unbelievable!  He found a man who owed him a mere hundred denarii.  A denarius was about a day's wages, so it was about a hundred days’ worth of salary.  The indebted man begged for an extended payment plan, which was possible, but the newly-forgiven man wouldn’t forgive him and put him into jail.
            The king heard about it, and he was furious.  He reversed his order and had the man who owed him millions put into jail.
            The application is obvious and simple to understand.  If God has forgiven us for so very much, the least we can do is forgive those people who by comparison have sinned against us a whole lot less than we’ve sinned against God.           

Our Heavenly Father's Forgiving
Jesus would have us pray to the Heavenly Father, “And forgive us our debts.”  We can't have a close relationship with God, and we certainly can’t call Him our Heavenly Father, unless we deal with the forgiveness factor.  He’s perfect and we aren’t; God is holy and we’re sinful!
            There's a lot of talk these days about spirituality, but you don't hear much about the need for God's forgiveness.  If you watch Oprah on her talk show discussing spirituality with a spiritual guru like Eckhart Tolle, any mention of seeking God's forgiveness is conspicuous by its absence — yet when Jesus teaches us to pray, He has us ask our Heavenly Father to forgive us.  The New Testament, which is all about Jesus, is also about God’s giving us forgiveness through Jesus.
            In a sermon the apostle Paul preached he stated, “I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.” (Acts
13:38)  Jesus came into the world to go to a cross so that our sins could be paid for — so that God could take care of our “debts.”
            Let's check our map showing the barriers between God and us and between us and other people by the “
Sea of Sin.”  First, let's add an overlay to the map showing how we can bridge the barrier between us and God.  The map is different from the first one because now there’s a bridge from God to us.  I've drawn the bridge in the shape of a cross to remind us that the cross is the bridge over the “Sea of Sin” that separates us from God.
            When a bridge is built between two countries, the cooperation of both countries is required.  God is willing to build the bridge and to pay for it; we just have to let it be anchored to our little islands called “Me.”  If you've never seen the absolute need for this bridge, I ask you to consider that need now.  Accept God’s forgiveness, now and forever.
            Those of us who have already accepted God's forgiveness through Jesus and what He has done are still regularly supposed to pray for His forgiveness.  It's not that we aren't forgiven once and for all, because we are; it's just that it's really important that we recognize our need for God’s constant grace and mercy in our lives — our constant need for His ongoing forgiveness. 

Our Forgiving
Jesus' statement about forgiveness in His famous prayer has a second part.  Let's look at all of it, giving particular attention to the second part: “And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”  While we’re in the process of asking our Heavenly Father for His forgiveness, we’re supposed to act the same way we want Him to act: we’re supposed to be forgiving, too!
            The apostle Paul followed up on this two-sided forgiving process in statements he made in two of his letters: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)  “. . . and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13)
            Now we’ll put a second overlay onto our map.  There's the bridge of the cross of Christ to us: the bridge of forgiveness.  Now we're supposed to build bridges of forgiveness to people who have raised the waters of the “
Sea of Sin” by sinning against us.
            This is sometimes a very difficult process.  As a pastor I've counseled many people who have had terrible things done to them.  How can a person forgive when the hurt is so deep and it has had so profound a negative ramification on one's life?  With prayer, and with the awareness that I haven’t suffered through what some of you have suffered through, I offer what I believe are some helpful facts concerning forgiving.  These have been gleaned from counseling people, from my own experience at having to forgive, from God's Word, and from the writings of others, particularly Lewis Smedes and his book The Art of Forgiving. 

Helpful Facts Concerning Forgiving
(1) Forgiveness often takes time.  It can't be rushed.  I compare forgiving someone to trying to walk up a steep sand dune.  It's all uphill, the sand is deep, and you keep sliding back.  Time can be a healer of wounds, or at least one of the tools.  Give yourself some time, but don't use this as an excuse to keep putting off forgiving someone.  It must be done!
            (2) Don't try to figure out why the person did what they did.  Can you even imagine an explanation that would fully satisfy you so that you’d say, “Oh, now I understand!  No problem!”?  If someone has sinned against you, it ultimately makes no sense.  Sin is always a stupid, ultimately illogical act.  Don't expect to make sense out of it.
            Don't project all kinds of wrong motives and reasons that may not be accurate.  Usually the other person didn’t intend to destroy your life.  The fact that it has come close to happening doesn’t mean that it’s what the other person planned.  Should the other person have figured it out?  Probably, but he probably didn't!   Don't imagine reasons for the other person's actions that probably aren’t true and only make things seem worse.
            (3) Don't wait for an apology.  The person's sin against you was something beyond your control.  By waiting for an apology, you allow the other person to remain in control of the situation!  You continue to allow yourself to be made a victim all over again.  The person may never admit that he was wrong; don't keep waiting for what may never happen.
            In other words, don't expect the guilty party to fix things.  If someone is physically assaulted by another person and is injured, the assaulted person doesn't expect the one who did the damage to bandage it up!  The injured person goes to a doctor.  You need God and other people to help heal you, not the offending party. 
(4) Seeking justice is God's job, not yours.  Paul wrote, “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.” (Romans 12:19)
            (5) Forgiveness doesn't always mean that the clock will be turned back.  Sometimes relationships can be restored or even made better, but not always.  Sometimes for a whole lot of reasons forgiveness doesn’t obligate you to try to go back to what the relationship was before.  Smedes wrote, “Being forgiven does not qualify a person to be a friend, a husband, or a partner.” (The Art of Forgiving, p.28)
            (6) Don't expect to forget, even if you forgive.  The memory will always be there, and to one degree or another it will be painful.  There will always be a scar left, but forgiveness heals a hurtful wound and turns it into a scar that a person can live with.
            (7) Talk about your hurt with others.  Be sure to choose the person carefully!  Don't keep going to a person who affirms your view that the offending party is a real jerk and deserves to suffer forever with the fleas from a thousand camels.  Find a friend, counselor, pastor, or someone else who will patiently listen and respond in helpful ways.
            (8) Forgiveness will set you free.  We talk about holding a grudge, carrying a grudge, and bearing a grudge.  Holding, carrying, and bearing are all burdensome words; forgiveness takes away the burden of the grudge!  Smedes wrote, “When we forgive we feel like a person who has just done himself a splendid favor.” (p.74)
            (9) We forgive others because God has forgiven us.  We don't forgive others so that God will forgive us; that would be salvation by good works.  We have the impetus and the wherewithal to forgive other people because we’ve received the forgiveness of Christ for our sins, which have hurt Him far more deeply than any sin done by some mere human could possibly hurt us!
            (10) Go to God often and ask for His help.  Ask Him to help you to want to forgive the other person — because you probably don't want to!  If you can't honestly pray for God to help you forgive someone, do what I call the “step back” prayer: take it a step back and pray, “Lord, I don't want to forgive this person.  Help me to want to want to ask You to help me forgive.”      

            This is by no means a complete list of things to remember when it comes to forgiving others, but it's a good start!  Forgiving is hard: just think of what it cost God to forgive us!  It isn't easy for us to do, either; that's why we need to keep asking God to help us with this forgiveness business, and that's why it's part of the Lord's Prayer.  “And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”  May the Lord answer this part of the amazing prayer that He gives us to pray!

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