potter and claySo we are full go into the holiday season!  This is such a special time of year.  It’s a time to engage family, friends, and to enjoy our family’s.  This is a time to really slow down and enjoy everything we have been blessed with.  The kid’s activities will slow down and I can’t wait to try to soak it all in.  This is a special time of year…but I think for many of us, as beautiful as this Christmas season is, it is just as difficult because we are walking head on into our pasts, into some hurts, and maybe into some relationships that we would rather avoid and never have to deal with…ever.  You may have been hurt by someone.  Probably if you are going to hang out with them over the holiday season it means they are someone you truly care about, which is why hurts, and issues with them matter to you so much.  In many ways it would be easier to never go back, never look back, and never have to engage them again right?  When you are in that spot, it’s like the Christmas get together is just looming out there, and you find yourself wishing it would never come, hoping that the kids get sick, or something…because it isn’t easy to go engage that person, or that relationship, where that wound is and in many ways you know how it will go too don’t you.  You will try to muscle through, plaster the smile on your face, do your best to be nice, and get out of there as fast as you can!  You leave tired, and swimming in the emotions of the day, thankful that it’s over.  For some the Holidays are a festive time, a time of fun, laughter and reuniting with loved ones, but for others the last thing they would ever want to do is go back, and the Christmas season isn’t about enjoying family, and celebrating the amazing gift of Christ’s birth but going back to open hurts and unresolved issues, and frankly it is about surviving it, and getting out of there as quickly as possible.  For some of us, the last thing that we would ever want to do is go back.  Maybe for those of us in that spot, going back is exactly what God would want for us.

Today I want to talk to you about something, and I think it could be a little confusing even cause some tension in here today, so I’m going to try to lay some ground work for you on the front end of this talk.  We talk a lot about grace.  Which we know is something (a gift) that is unearned.  It is something God does for us.  This is what we believe, that God sent his son Jesus to do for us what you and I could never do on our own…

Ephesians 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. NIV

We can’t earn it.  We can’t do anything to gain our own salvation…now many people try, because they get caught in the trap of religion and try to do those works to earn their salvation.  But this is our reality.  Through Jesus’ amazing work for us on the cross we have been saved.  This is the good news.  This is why we worship in here each and every Sunday.  We have been saved by God’s amazing grace.  There’s nothing we do to earn our salvation!  This is awesome news!

Now let me press in on something here…What if I told you that there actually is something that you have to do though?  “Wait, what did you just say?  I thought this was all unearned!  Sam this is the grace church, now you are telling me there is something that I have to do?”  I shouldn’t have to do anything if the cross covers it all right?  That is correct, the cross is bigger than all our sins.  The grace of God is shown in our salvation through Jesus, but Jesus tells us that there is a requirement of you and I as he teaches us how to pray in Matthew 6.  Now Matthew 6 is a very popular scripture, but there is a part of it that isn’t necessarily something people want to bring up all that often.  I can hear you know, “I knew this place was too good to be true, sooner or later they were going to lay this on us.  I knew the other shoe would drop sooner or later…they have stuff I have to do too!” Well while you try to breath, let’s read what Jesus says about what we have to do:

Matthew 6:12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ 14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.  NIV

Wait a minute, Jesus is saying that if we don’t forgive others, God won’t forgive us?  Jesus is saying there is a direct connection between your relationship with God and your ability to forgive those that hurt you.  Yikes!  I thought God was a God of grace, love and mercy?  I thought that the cross was bigger than all my sin.  Now you take us to a scripture where Jesus is saying that we have something to do in the process.  This sounds like the opposite of what you read earlier in Ephesians Sam!  You told me earlier that I have been saved by grace, and that I couldn’t do anything to earn that, and now you are telling me there is something I need to do!

So let’s take a timeout.  How are you doing?  Can you feel the tension?  Forgiving others is not optional for a Christian but that feels like I’m having to earn something that you told me earlier I don’t have to earn.  Well before you run out of the sanctuary let me try to help take this tension from you.  Look at what Paul writes here…this is so important:

Colossians 3:13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. NIV

So if we tie this all together, the reason Jesus says that God won’t forgive you unless you forgive others is because a true sign of a Christian is a person who has been forgiven of a lot!  Think of how loved you are by God.  How many times you have turn your back on Him, and He never stops forgiving and loving you.  The reality is that we have been forgiven of so much, and that is why we forgive.  The reality is that forgiving people who hurt you doesn’t change God’s perspective of you and it certainly isn’t going to make God love you more than He already does.  It is a sign that you yourself have been forgiven.  So forgiveness is a really big deal.  If you can forgive it is a sign that you understand that you have been forgiven by God of so much, and if you struggle to forgive it is a sign that you don’t understand just how much you have been forgiven of…forgiveness isn’t optional for a Christian.

The reality is that some of us, all of us have been hurt by people.  Really hurt by people that we care about, and we could be walking right back into relationships this holiday season that we have been trying to avoid all year long.  For some of us we are holding on to real pain.  We have been hurt badly by people that mattered, and we can’t stand the idea of letting go of that hurt.  It almost feels like if we let go of it somehow we are letting them get away with what they did.  The brutal thing about holding onto these hurts is that while we sit stuck in them, that person is moving on with their life.  The reality is that when we don’t forgive we only are hurting ourselves.

Forgiven people forgive people.  Not because it is an easy thing to do and not because the person deserves it.  We forgive because God forgave us.  Now I need to stop and make a few important statements here, because I don’t want things to get taken out of context here:

This doesn’t mean that you forget.

This doesn’t mean that you allow someone to abuse you.  If you are in a situation where someone is hurting you, you get to safety first, then you work on forgiving them from there. 

You do not allow someone to continue hurting you, but it does mean that we won’t hold onto their sin anymore!  Listen forgiveness isn’t easy.  It doesn’t mean that what happened to you is ok.  It is not ok.  But what it means is that we are going to walk in freedom from their sin.  We aren’t going to be stuck anymore.

Here’s the deal, God wants you whole and healed.  He wants you walking in freedom and joy.  To find this kind of freedom you have something to do.  God won’t do it for you.  You must forgive.  If you hold onto hurts you simply can’t walk in freedom.  God forgave us of so much which is why we forgive. Because it releases us from the bondage of bitterness.  Forgiven people, forgive people.

So how do I do it?  How do I walk in that kind of freedom?  How do I let go and move forward?  Well it may start with you taking some steps backward.  One of my favorite characters in scripture is Elijah.  He is an amazing prophet of God and where we are going to pick this story up God has just moved through Elijah in an incredible way.  It is a very godless time in Israel where the people led by King Ahab and Queen Jezebel are worshiping the idols Baal and Asherah, and have really turned their backs on God.  Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal to a duel in front of the entire nation of Israel.  It is an incredible moment and Elijah stands tall for God, and God shows Israel who the true God is.  So here’s the challenge, they each have an altar, and a bull.  Whoever’s God lights the altar on fire is the true God.  So the prophets of Baal go first, and they obviously can’t get fire to fall from the sky.  Elijah even talks trash as they try to do it, which is pretty funny you can read about it in 1 Kings 18, and they fail.  Then it’s Elijah turn and he has them saturate the bull and the altar with water until even the trench around the altar is full of water and then He prays one of the most awesome prayers ever prayed…

1 Kings 18:36 “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37 Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” NIV

I love it, let everyone know that you are God, and that I am your servant.  Fire falls from the sky and burns up everything.  The people are in awe and finally see who the true God is…victory for God, victory for Elijah and the prophets of Baal are put to death.  What a great moment.  God has moved mightily.  Everything is going well, and not even a day later, we see Elijah running for his life.  Wait, how in the world does that happen?  Elijah has just watched fire from heaven fall from the sky as an answer to his prayer.  He has prayed that it would rain, and it did rain.  Then Ahab goes home and tells his wife Jezebel that all her prophets are dead because of Elijah…and with one threat from her, he is running for his life.  Wow!  Elijah runs for his life, he runs to the point of exhaustion and just wants to die.  He has gone from on top of the world to wishing he was dead.  He has nothing left in the tank, and is completely ready to give up.  This amazing prophet is in a terrible spot.  After an angel comes to take care of him, he continues running, he literally walks for 40 days, and 40 nights all the way to the Mountain of God, where he crawls into a cave to spend the night.

Then we see the beginning of an amazing conversation between God and Elijah, which starts with a pretty interesting question…

1 Kings 19:9 And the word of the LORD came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” NIV

I love it!  What a question!  In many ways Elijah handles this better than I would have, I’d have been like “Why am I here God?  I just walked 40 days and 40 nights and that is your questions…what!?!?!?”  Elijah responds much better than I would have and says…God I’m working hard, I’ve done everything you asked, I’m now all alone and everyone wants to kill me!  And that is where I want to really pick up this story…

1 Kings 19:11 The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” 15 The LORD said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus.

What an incredible moment.  Don’t you wish you were there, to see this unfold?  All of this chaos comes before him, but God wasn’t in any of the big, noisy events.  Then a gentle whisper…amazing!

What I really want to focus on is what God told Elijah to do because it was not easy.  In fact I think it is probably the last thing he wanted to do.  God said to Elijah, “Go back the way you came.”  Can you imagine how hard that must have been to hear?  “Go back the way I came? God what are you talking about, I’m running for my life.  Everything I’m trying to avoid is back there!  Don’t know if you picked up on the fact that there is an angry queen back there that promised to kill me when she finds me.  God, I’m tired and everything I’m trying to avoid is back where I came from…it would be so much easier for me to not go back there.”

You know life hits us all hard at times.  We all have hurts, and at times find ourselves in spots like Elijah was in here.  Hurting, tired, stressed, and just wanting to check out of the game.  Going back to where we came from is often the LAST thing we would want to do.  It’s so hard to face hurts, to engage issues, and even for some of us to engage our pasts head on.  Remember, God is up to more than just forgiving your sins he wants you whole and healed, and a huge part of this healing is forgiveness.  We may not want to do it but God doesn’t want us walking through life carrying those open wounds that we are trying not to deal with!  He actually wants us to be healed from them…which may require you to go back from where you came!

Now I want to stop for a moment here and bring this up…some of us have come from very unhealthy situations, we have broken out of addiction and a scene that we may not be ready to go back into.  You may need to keep some distance from some situations so that you aren’t hurt, or so you don’t fall back into the issues you have broken free from, so we need some discernment there.  If that is you please keep your healthy distance from those situations and forgive, move forward and find closure from there.

You know, for some of us we head into the Holiday’s here and we are stressed and maybe we don’t even know why.  You are about to see family, and friends…some of which you have probably tried to avoid all year long.  So through the holiday’s we walk right back into our pasts.  We see people that matter to us, that may have hurt us, that may still hurt us.  We are literally engaging our pasts which can be hard.  It can be stressful.  It really isn’t easy.

Ken did a great job last week of telling you that God wants you whole and healed.  He is up to something so much bigger than just forgiving us of our sins…which is so huge.  We need to find closure.  We need to find a way to forgive and move on with our lives.  We often times need to do the exact thing we don’t want to ever do, just like Elijah we need to go back from where we came.

If you think about it, I bet Elijah was really hoping God would just wipe out his issues and just take the weight off of him.  But God doesn’t do that.  God told Elijah what to do but wasn’t going to do it for him!  This was something that Elijah had to do.  So yes, this is the tension that you and I must walk in too.  We do have a God in heaven who saved us by love, and grace.  This isn’t something we can earn.  There truly is nothing we can do to earn God’s love, or earn our own salvation, Jesus did that for us.  But God wants you whole and healed…and for that to happen there is something you just have to do…and that is forgive.  We can’t avoid it, and hope it goes away because forgiven people forgive.

God isn’t going to take that from you, you have to be willing to give it to him.  There are no short cuts to healing.  There isn’t a miracle pill or an instant solution to the issue.  There is only you and I standing up and going back to where we came from…even though that is the one thing we may not want to do.

Listen Jesus forgave us, not because our sin was ok, but so we could have life with God.  So as you leave here today and get ready to move head on into your Christmas season, I want you to think this through.

Is there someone you need to forgive?  Do it!  Maybe you have been avoiding them all year…maybe for decades.  Go back where you came from and let that go.  LET IT GO!

If there is someone you have hurt ask them to forgive you.  Make it right!  Go back where you came from…LET IT GO!

It may be the last thing you would ever want to do…but go back!  Go back and work on your marriage.  God back and seek forgiveness.  Go back and forgive!

God is in the business of healing, of shaping and molding us as the potter shapes and molds the clay.  God shows us what to do, but the reality is in this area of dealing with hurts and pain…we have something that we have to do and your loving Father knows it and it is typically the last thing in the world you would ever want to do.

Go back where you came from…sometimes you have to go backwards to go forwards.