Summary: Steps to forgiveness

First Baptist Church

June 18, 2006


On January 23, 1999, missionary Graham Staines and his sons, Philip, 10, and Timothy, 8, were asleep in a vehicle in the village of Manoharpur, Orissa. Staines, who for 34 years worked in India with people who suffer from leprosy, had been conducting open-air meetings in the village. As Staines and his sons slept, a group of militant Hindus soaked the vehicle with gasoline and set it on fire, then they prevented Staines and his sons from getting out and kept would-be rescuers away.

The horrific killings called attention to increasing violence against Christians in India. But the remarkable witness of Staines’ widow, Gladys, has called attention to the overwhelming power of God’s love and forgiveness.

She said, “when Christians show that they are determined to continue in their faith, when people see that believers have a peace that others don’t have, and when people see a complete lifestyle change on the part of believers, they start asking, "What is this all about? We’ve taunted you and done this and done that, and still you stand here for Christ. Tell us what it’s all about."

After Graham’s death, everyone expected me to go back to Australia. They also expected me to take the bodies back and bury them in Australia. It never occurred to me to do such a thing. Graham and I would rather be buried in the country where we were serving. So we buried them in the cemetery at the leprosy home.

It is a tremendous witness now, as people come to the cemetery. We’ve got a gravestone inscribed with "Where, O grave, is thy victory? Where, O death, is thy sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:55).

When I was explaining to my daughter that Graham and the boys had been killed, we agreed that we would forgive those who did it. And I can say from my own experience that forgiveness brings healing.

That is an amazing testimony from Gladys Staines and her daughter. In some ways it may even sound to good to be true. How can someone just make up their mind to forgive another person, even a group of people who have killed your family? Last week I said that forgiveness is a choice, it is not a feeling. That will always hold true. We choose to forgive and we must also admit that forgiveness is not always fair.

Christian writer Philip Yancey wrote the following in his book called, “What’s So Amazing About Grace” ~ "At last I understood: in the final analysis, forgiveness is an act of faith. By forgiving another, I am trusting that God is a better justice-maker than I am. By forgiving, I release my own right to get even and leave all issues of fairness for God to work out. I leave in God’s hands the scales that must balance justice and mercy” (page 93).

It’s not easy to do because we want to see the other person suffer in our way and time, but as Yancey says, forgiveness is really an act of faith, our faith in a loving God.

This week ends our discussion about forgiveness. As I’ve said, if we want to be generous givers of forgiveness, then we need to be generous receivers of God’s forgiveness.

Today, I want to look at some of the more practical issues of forgiveness —

A) How do I know when I have truly forgiven?

You know you have forgiven when . . .

1) you no longer think about it day and night,

2) you no longer have to talk about it all the time,

3) you no longer feel the need to seek revenge,

4) you no longer live in bitterness and anger,

5) you can recall those who hurt you and can wish them well.

B) Is forgiveness an event or a process?

The answer is yes. It is both an event in the sense that you must at some point decide to forgive. And it is a process that often must be repeated over time. Christian psychologist Larry Crabb explains that joy was never shown in his home. He tells of a time when he was 8 years old, after watching a television program and feeling really good about life he spontaneously planted a kiss on his mom’s cheek. Crabb says her reaction “was to nod stiffly, as if acknowledging a stranger on the street, with a nervous dutifulness, then she looked back at the television.” Crabb says that event helped to strengthen his narcissism. It encouraged a longing and desire for affirmation, an unhealthy dependency.” (Christianity Today, May 2003, p. 57) Crabb also has had to forgive her, he’s forgiven his mother not just once, but many times over. That may not seem like a word of hope, but in fact it is.

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