Why Forgiveness is So Hard, and Why We Need To Do It

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On Sunday we looked at the topic of forgiveness. Forgiveness. I think. is something we all like when it happens to us, but find it difficult to give. We find it easy to give when someone takes all the right steps to earn the forgiveness, but giving it freely is hard.

So the question we looked at was this: Is it possible to forgive someone in the worst of situations? Where they are unrepentant, don’t care, and sadistic? And to reflect on this, we talked about Louis Zamperini’s story written in the amazing book “Unbroken” (Spoiler Alert).

Zamperini was a runner, who was drafted into World War II. Through an amazing and remarkable survival story, he ends up captured by the Japanese and put in a POW camp. The story that follows cannot be told in a few paragraphs with justice, but the basics is this. He was beaten, tortured, and abused for years. It was a brutal time, specifically abused by one guard nickednamed the Bird.

The question is, in a situation like this, is forgiveness possible? Is it an option? Is it even right to do?

If you are a follower of Jesus, the answer is simple but hard. Forgiveness is not only an option, it is the only option. Jesus says this in the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that the law of Moses says, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you.” He continues a few chapters later saying, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins”.

For Jesus it seems like forgiveness is the only option. And this teaching of Jesus’ is hard, and one I want to skim over rather than practice. I don’t want to forgive my enemies, I want to see them brought to justice. I don’t want to forgive those who hurt me, I want to hurt them back.

But here Jesus’ teaching pushes past what we want and feel, to what is actually best for us. And when Jesus is calling for forgiveness he is not calling for us to forget or stay in abusive situations. That’s not what forgiveness is. What he is calling for is for us to let go, and to end the cycle of hurt and revenge.

Jesus knows that to hold onto bitterness, hurt, anger, and vengeance doesn’t do anything but poison our own soul. To live with unforgiveness is to live with ghosts, haunted and hurt by our own choosing.

So is it possible to forgive even in the most hellish circumstances? Well the example of Jesus shows that it is. Even as he is killed he says, “Father forgive them”. And it’s Jesus’ example that even allows Louis Zamperini at the end to forgive his abuser. He doesn’t pretend that the abuses weren’t real, horrible, and absolutely wrong. He states the hurt he felt, but then he states his forgiveness. He says, that Christ said, “Forgive your enemies and pray for them” and he did that. He goes on to say that, “Love has replaced the hate I had for you.”

So is it possible to forgive even in the most difficult situations? Yes, but of course it is hard.

But sometimes the hardest things are the best things to do. To choose to live with unforgiveness hurts you, and no one else. So we ended the sermon with challenging people to forgive those who hurt them, big or small. To no longer live with ghosts and unforgiveness, but to let forgiveness start a fresh start in them.

Brian Zahnd writes,

“Conventional forgiveness, easy forgiveness, reasonable forgiveness is what most rationally minded people are willing to engage in. Christ’s followers are called to radical forgiveness, unreasonable forgiveness, reckless forgiveness, endless forgiveness, seemingly impossible forgiveness.”

He’s right – that’s our calling. Now let’s live it out.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Forgive your enemies, and pray for them

Teaching Points:

  • Band-Aids don’t fix bullet holes, you say sorry just for show, you live like that you live with ghosts – Taylor Swift
  • How is forgiveness possible in a hellish circumstance?
  • Enemies are by almost definition, people we don’t love
  • Forgiveness is not a feeling. Forgiveness is a choice to end the cycle of revenge and leave justice in the hands of God. Brian Zahnd
  • Jesus not only expects us to forgive. He commands us to forgive
  • When we choose not to forgive, we cut ourselves off from the heart of God, because God, at his heart, is forgiveness.
  • When we choose not to forgive, we don’t hurt the one who hurt us, we hurt ourselves.
  • Forgiveness does not mean forgetting or staying in abusive situations or relationships.
  • Conventional forgiveness, easy forgiveness, reasonable forgiveness is what most rationally minded people are willing to engage in. Christ’s followers are called to radical forgiveness, unreasonable forgiveness, reckless forgiveness, endless forgiveness, seemingly impossible forgiveness. Brian Zahnd

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new? What were your first impressions to the topic for today? What do you think of Louis Zamperini’s story? How do you think he was able to offer forgiveness? What happens when you choose not to forgive someone? How are bitterness and unforgiveness tied together? Who is it that you might need to forgive? Who can help you to continue to forgive them? What are the next steps with them? Do you need to just let them go, approach them, or maybe pray for them?

Discussion Questions for Young Families

Talk to your kids about how important it is to always forgive others. Ask them if there is anyone they need to forgive, and then spend time doing that. It’s also a great time to ask for their forgiveness, for the times you’ve been an imperfect parent or guardian. Why not practice with them what we hope to see?

Challenge for the Week: Forgive your enemies.

Seven Deadly Sins: Lust and Living with Love


On Sunday we looked at the first of our “deadly sins”, the sin of lust. But before we got there we set up some ground rules. That first, this whole series will be preached from a posture of grace not guilt. God convicts this is true, but God doesn’t send guilt and shame. Conviction says, “I did something bad”. Guilt and shame say, “I am bad”. And that’s a huge difference. Conviction is about change; guilt and shame are about hurt and pain. So that’s ground rule #1.

Ground rule #2 was that this is about personal introspection. So that means sending my sermon online to your mother-in-law to help with her “anger” is not the point. It’s about us looking within, not around for who else needs to hear it.

And lastly, ground rule #3 was that this was about being safe and transformed. That’s the perspective that this is a safe place to talk, and experience God’s transformation. If we can’t acknowledge what we’re struggling with – how will we ever see God’s healing?

Michael Mangis writes:

Every sin confessed is an invitation for God to work miracles though his grace. If I truly grasped this truth, I would stop obsessively working to round up all my sin marbles and keep them under control. Instead, I would go out in search of marbles that are lost or forgotten in the corners of my heart. I might actually become bored with the areas of my life that are tidy and presentable. I would search out new places in me that haven’t seen the full light of God’s transformation. I might even think, It has been a while since God performed a miracle in me. Let me find a forgotten pocket of sin somewhere where I can set God’s power free to turn water into wine and blindness into sight.

And I think that’s true and why we are doing this series. We want to see miracles in people’s lives.

So with that we moved to discussing lust. Lust is such a difficult topic to discuss. The reason for this is because this sin is most deeply tied to our identity and image being made in male and female. So it has the tendency to also be tied most deeply to guilt, shame, and feelings of being unworthy. So we took a look at Jesus’ teaching on it in Matthew 5.

Jesus, in Matthew 5, is really being clear, that yes lust is wrong, but temptation is not. Jesus is not talking about having a fleeting thought, or something pop into your mind that you try to push away. Jesus says that lust is like adultery, when it settles in your heart, when you engage it, and enter into it. His point is that this needs to go.

He even advocates extreme action to rid yourself of lust. He says, “If your eye causes you to lust gouge it out and throw it away”. Now he’s not being literal here because I bet you could lust with your eyes closed if you wanted to. The point is that lust is so damaging it’s worth taking deep action to get rid of it.

That’s where we focused the majority of our time. On how to find transformation from this area. And we began by reminding those who struggle with this something that they probably don’t tell themselves: God is about forgiveness, there is grace, and God is not ashamed of you. This sin more than maybe any other isolates, and creates spirals of shame. This is why we need to talk about it, so God’s transformation can change it. And it is the good and grace of God that leads to change. So we started there by centering ourselves in God’s grace.

We lastly gave two simple practical tips. The first was to make a covenant with your eyes. Jesus says, “Do not look”, realizing that what we see and focus on settles in our hearts. And while Jesus is specifically talking about lust and sex, the Greek word more basically translated means desire. So this means for any wrong desire for power, money, position, whatever – we are not to look and focus on it. Job writes that he made a covenant with his eyes in chapter 31:1. And I think that’s a good place to start. Going to God, praying, and covenanting asking for his help for us to focus on what’s good, pure, and loving.

And with that I think we need to change our gaze. We don’t get rid of lust by focusing on lust. We get rid of lust by focusing on love and putting it into practice. Loving God, loving others, loving even ourselves. The point is that if we want to get rid of lust we need to change our focus to seeking creative ways to love those closest to us. We need to change our focus and put God in the centre. This is how we find transformation.

And that’s where we ended – looking at something that is donea part of our world, but that hopefully isn’t a part of our hearts.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Lust breaks relationship, love fills relationships

Take Aways…

  • Ground Rules #1: Posture of Grace not Guilt
  • God convicts, God doesn’t guilt
  • Ground Rules #2: Personal Introspection
  • Sin leads to unhealthy lives
  • Ground Rules #3: Safe and Transformational
  • Rather than rooting out our sins, we try to keep them under control. Micahel Mangis
  • Sin died at Easter
  • Every sin confessed is an invitation for God to work miracles though his grace. Micahel Mangis
  • Seven Deadly sins are the root, or chief sins that cause the most damage and hurt.
  • Temptation is not a sin
  • Lust is self-centered, and misplaced desire.
  • difference between lust and love is the difference between selfish desire and other-centered desire
  • The gains of lust are trivial compared with the loss it brings.” Bonhoeffer
  • God forgives you and there is grace.
  • Covenant with your eyes (Job 31:1)
  • Overcoming sin isn’t about trying harder, but getting closer to Jesus
  • Commit to love, and changing our focus

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new?

Did you have any fear or worry looking at the “seven deadly sins”? How come, or why not? How important is it – to keep those ground rules in our minds when talking about these things? What are some of the dangers of approaching sin from judgement and shame? What might it be like to be freed from sin? Do you think that’s worth chasing after? How come? What did you take away from the lust teaching? How might this help you, or help others?

Discussion Questions / Actions for Young Families: Today talk to your kids about lust. This is a big deal for parents, especially as kids grow older. So why not just open up a conversation with them. If they are older they probably have questions, and it’s a good time to talk them through it. Also maybe now is a good time to explain the difference between temptation and sin.

Challenge for this Week: Focus on Doing Loving Actions

Do Good Deed Publicly, But not For Publicity – Matthew 6:1-4

On Sunday we looked at this teaching of Jesus found in Matthew 6.


Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

The point Jesus is making is that we should be doing good deeds. Christians should be doing acts of service, and generosity. And we should be doing them publicly. The point isn’t that our actions shouldn’t be seen, but that we shouldn’t do actions to be seen.

The paradox Jesus is teaching: we are to do our actions publicly, but we aren’t to do our actions to receive publicity.

Jesus is really trying to get at the heart behind the actions. Is our intention in doing good deeds to be faithful to God, or receive admiration from others? Are we giving out a response to God’s blessing, or a response to the recognition of those around us? Are we following God because it’s right, or because we want to be seen doing what’s right?

The only difference between a bribe and a gift ~ are the intentions behind the gift.

So I think Jesus’ main point is that our intentions matter in our actions. Dallas Willard writes “When we do good deeds to be seen by human beings, that is because what we are looking for is something that comes from human beings” And he’s right. Are we doing good deeds for God or others?

Jesus then gives this difficult teaching that we shouldn’t let our left hand know what our right hand is doing. Willard explains what this seemingly impossible teaching means: People who have been so transformed by their daily walk with God, have good deeds naturally flow from their character, are precisely the kind of people whose left hand would not notice what their right hand is doing…What they do they do naturally, often automatically, simply because of what they are pervasively and internally.”

What it means is that as we follow Jesus we can become the type of people who so naturally do the right things, that it’s automatic without premeditation and with pure intentions.

The question we ended with is how do we get there? How do we keep our intentions clear and pure? The answer is really simple: focus on Jesus, not on the action. We are to do good deeds keeping our focus on him, not on others, and not on ourselves. In this way we will actually hide our good deeds from ourselves.

Bonhoeffer in his usual brilliance writes this: “From whom are we to hide the visibility of our discipleship? Certainly not from other men, for we are told to let them see our light. No. We are to hide it from ourselves. Our task is simply to keep on following, looking only to our Leader who goes on before, taking no notice of what we are doing”.

This is the way to follow Jesus’ teaching here. Do good, but focus on him. And that’s the challenge we left with – to go out into the world doing good, but focusing on Jesus.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Your intentions matter

Take Aways…

  • What if we actually did what Jesus said?
  • The temptation: you stop doing the right actions because you are blessed by God, and start to do it because you are seen and noticed by others
  • “When we do good deeds to be seen by human beings, that is because what we are looking for is something that comes from human beings” Dallas Willard
  • Jesus is really presenting to us a paradox: We need to publicly do good deeds, but we must never do good deeds for publicity
  • That our intentions matter
  • Our good deeds are to shine before others, but we are not to do our good deeds so that we shine before others
  • “What matters are the intentions of our hearts before God” Dallas Willard
  • “From whom are we to hid the visibility of our discipleship? Certainly not from other men, for we are told to let them see our light. No. We are to hide it from ourselves. Our task is simply to keep on following, looking only to our Leader who goes on before, taking no notice of what we are doing”. Bonhoeffer
  • When we focus on Jesus we lose sight of ourselves and more importantly of the others around us.

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new? What did you find hardest about this teaching? What good deeds have become habits in your life? How can you focus on simply doing good, rather than the rewards of doing good? What good actions – giving, serving, praying etc – can you do this week with a focus on Jesus?

Discussion Questions for Young Families: Today rather than talking to your kids about this teaching, why not put it into practice with them. Give to them, care for them, really spend time with them. Not because then “you’re a good parent” but because its important. Focus on them and Jesus, and not yourself.

Challenge for this Week: Do good, but focus on Jesus.


Turning the Other Cheek

323963_9429On Sunday we are looking at one of the most radical and deeply practical teaching of Jesus Christ. We are going to be looking at turning the other cheek.

Jesus says do not resist an evil doer, instead, if you are hit to turn the other cheek.

This is a radical and explosive teaching.

But here is the thing, this isn’t something we are just called to think about, or to meditate on. We are called to actually practice it.

Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon write this:

What impresses about the Sermon is its attention to the nitty-gritty details of everyday life. Jesus appears to be giving very practical, very explicit directions for what to do when someone has done you wrong, when someone attacks you, when you are married, etc.

And this is true – Jesus is interested in the nitty-gritty practical details of everyday life. That when we come up against an enemy, someone who hurts and harms us, we are called to turn the other cheek. But what does that actually mean? And does that actually even work – or isn’t that a naïve view of the world? That’s what we are going to really dive deeply into Sunday. The question I have for all of us is pretty simple: has anyone you know ever “turned the cheek” in a difficult situation? What happened? How did it change them? Did it change the other person?

And if you get stuck not coming up with anyone…you could always try looking at Jesus.

Followers of the Truth, and Speaking Truth

592557_62660582On Sunday we are looking at an incredibly important piece of Scripture found in Matthew 5:33-37. The whole focus is on oaths, vows, and promises. And even though this might seem a little removed from our day to day life in our day and age – I think it does matter for us. I know that many of us probably don’t make large vows everyday to clients, friends, or our spouses by swearing on god, our mother’s graves, or other things. But I do think Jesus’ teaching matters for us, because its about telling the truth.

Jesus is asking his followers to be people of the truth. To be trustworthy, and to be people of integrity. The honest truth is this: we cannot be the church God has called us to be if our lives are founded and function in deceit, half-truths, and compromised integrity.

To be a true follower of Jesus, means that we would be committed to telling the truth. So on Sunday we are going to work out how that happens, what that means, and what’s going on. But for now I have one question to ask you that I think matters. Are you a person of integrity?

And here is a second but an even better one. How can you today, this weekend, and this week become a deeper person of integrity? And come Sunday that’s what we’re looking at.

Anger, Murder, and Following Jesus

1391171_98402089On Sunday we looked at the teaching of Jesus where he calls his Kingdom followers to root anger out of their hearts. This is where Jesus says, “You’ve heard it said that murder is wrong, but I tell you anger is also wrong”.

And as we explored this topic we realized why anger is so destructive. It is destructive because anger stops reconciliation. Anger fuels grudges, bitterness, and a prison of our own making. The point is that as followers of God it is not enough to simply refrain from committing homicide, while harbouring seething rage in our hearts. To do that is to miss the point.

Christians are to be a different community, called to live differently than those around us. But how can we live differently if we harbor anger, let it direct our actions, drag others into courts, refuse to reconcile, and hold onto our own self-righteous anger. And yes, all anger is self-righteous in a way. Because anger arises when our will is opposed, blocked, or stopped. We get angry because we don’t get what we want. The point isn’t that anger is wrong in and of itself. Anger simply points to the fact that something we want (which may be very good) is being stopped. The point is that if we harbor anger in our hearts, no longer is anger alerting us to a situation, it starts to direct our actions and attention.

The point is we cannot be the church God calls us to be, if inside of us our hearts are brimming with anger and resentment. We need to learn to deal with it, to root it out, and to not harbor anger against another.

Stanley Hauerwas writes: “Jesus’ life makes possible our reconciliation with the Father and with one another. That reconciliation creates a community of reconciliation, a  community of peace. So we should not be surprised that Jesus admonishes us not to harbor our anger at our brothers and sisters, but rather we are to seek reconciliation with them. He does not say that we are not to be angry, but rather that we are not to come to the alter of sacrifice unreconciled to one with whom we are angry.”

The point is that if we are following Jesus, we are following someone who practices reconciliation, and then so must we. We cannot hold onto our anger, to stoke our rage, or to let contempt take hold of our hearts. We need to be people who root it out, and pursue reconciliation. This was the main point on Sunday – root out anger, and pursue reconciliation.

We left ourselves with this challenge on Sunday to rid ourselves of anger, and work at reconciliation. We want to take this teaching of Jesus seriously. To examine the places where anger has taken root, to ask Jesus whom do we need to pursue reconciliation with, and how can we live as people of peace in the world. This is indeed a practical everyday challenge, but one that could truly change how we live and how we are seen in the world.

I want to close with a rather lengthy but a very poignant quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer who summarizes the idea and makes it personal:

Anger is always an attack on [another’s] life, for it refuses to let him live and aims at his destruction…Every idle word which we think so little of betrays our lack of respect for our neighbor, and shows that we place ourselves on a pinnacle above him and value our own lives higher than his. The angry word is a blow struck at our brother, a stab at his heart: it seeks to hit, to hurt and to destroy.

So long as we refuse to love and serve our brother and make him an object of contempt and let him harbor a grudge against me or the congregation, our worship and sacrifice will be unacceptable to God…Let us therefore, as a church, examine ourselves ….There is only one way of following Jesus and of worshipping God, and that is to be reconciled

Sermon Notes: 

Big Idea: Root out anger and pursue reconciliation

Take Aways…

  • What if we actually did what Jesus said?
  • “The only proper response to this word which Jesus brings with him from eternity is simply to do it” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  • “The whole sermon is not about how to be better individual Christians, it is a picture of the way the church is to look” Stanley Hauerwas, Will Willimon
  • Now the point is that we can follow the rules and still entirely miss the point of the rules
  • The root of murder is anger, and anger is murderous in principle. One has not conformed to the better righteousness of the kingdom simply by refraining from homicide. D.A. Carson
  • Anger stops reconciliation
  • This teaching is about overcoming the anger, that leads to murder, and learning to be people who reconcile
  • We cannot be the church God calls us to be, if inside of us our hearts are brimming with anger and resentment
  • Jesus followers are not to insult each other. Reconciliation must be a first priority in the family of God’s people, or else the worshipping community will be no different from the world at large where festering pride and resentment lead people to drag each other into court and throw each others into prison – Dallas Willard
  • Root out anger and pursue reconciliation
  • Rid yourself of anger, and work at reconciliation

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new?

Would you say you ever struggle with anger? Had you ever thought of anger in this way before? How has anger stopped you from reconciling before? Whom do you need to reconcile with this week? How might you go about trying? Who can help you and support you as you pursue reconciliation?

Discussion Questions for Young Families: Talk to your kids about anger, and how about in God’s kingdom it isn’t to be there. Ask someone being angry has ever hurt their feelings. Ask if when they were angry they ever hurt someone’s feelings. Ask them if there is anyone they need to reconcile

Challenge for this Week Rid yourself of anger, and work at reconciliation

Best Sermon Ever Given

65671_5202On Sunday you will be hearing the best, most moving, and most beautiful sermon ever given.

I hope you’re excited, and I hope you also know me well enough to get that clearly it won’t be coming from me.

Instead I want to read and focus on the most beautiful sermon ever given, and of course, it was given by Jesus Christ. On Sunday we are going to be exploring and going deep into the beatitudes found in Matthew 5. We are going to not only explore Jesus’ teaching, but actually experience Jesus’ teaching.

So before we get there why not simply spend sometime with the best sermon ever given. Why not read over the Beatitudes found in Mathtew 5 a few times, and simply let Jesus speak through it to you. And come Sunday, that’s what we’re going to do too.

Matthew 5:3-10

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.

God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.

God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God.

God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.

God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, 
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.