Merry Christmas! This will be my last devotional for the year. But this is important, so stick with me.
I've been thinking a lot about Christmas over the past week…and I was thinking, besides all the presents, decorations, etc., Christmas is really one of the most stressful and depressing times of the year for a lot of people. Do you know why?
Ever see a Cinder Block? I have one in my office to remind me of some important heart issues: unresolved conflict, relational breakdown, family arguments, personal grudges. You see, I was thinking if a grudge was something physical, what would it look like? What would it feel like? How would you convey it if it was a tangible thing? So, that Cinder Block, that's a grudge.
We all have things like this that we carry around. In fact, we have pretty interesting language about these things. We talk about them the way that we talk about babies: you can hold a grudge; you can carry a grudge; you can bear a grudge; you can nurse a grudge. Yes, you can actually feed it with real hostile thoughts, angry feelings, distorted perceptions, hostile intentions, and if you do that, I guarantee you, your grudge will grow. The tragic thing about this stuff is that people will walk around and carry one of these for weeks or months or years.
Now, you think about it for a minute for it is kind of ridiculous to carry things like grudges around. If your living metaphor is a Cinder Block, I mean, these things weigh you down. Overtime they are joyless. I don't think I've ever heard anybody say to herself or himself, "I can't wait to get up this morning and pick up my grudge and carry it all through the day. This is going to be a tremendous day, me and my grudge." Nobody says that, but, trust me, people do it everyday.
There was an article that I read in a magazine not too long ago where the author writes,
"When I was young, I occasionally heard tales of sisters who hadn't spoken to each other in years, or of a father who hadn't talked to his son in decades. Back then those stories were a mystery to me. How could anyone reject a member of their family? Family meant love and loyalty, and loyalty meant you never let a fight escalate into a feud. The author goes on to talk about one feud that has become quite public. Has any of you ever read "Ann Landers" and "Dear Abby"? These were twin sisters who for many, many, many years wouldn't speak to each other because of unresolved conflict. Now, one of them has died, the other one has Alzheimer's. Their daughters, who were both attempting to take over their mom's columns, are also carrying on their mother's feuds because grudges sometimes get passed down from one generation to another. One of them has accused the other one of exploiting her mom's death for success and for money. This is amazingly ironic to me. For decades and decades, the two people in our country who get more letters asking for relational advice on how to fix relationships than anybody else, the two who get asked that advice the most, are family members who don't speak to each other now for two generations."
Does this sound familiar in anyway? You know how it is…broken relationships happen. They happen between family members, people who work together, people who are friends….sometimes the hurts go so deep that people avoid each other and don't talk for weeks even years. For all of us, we've heard the stories…for some of us, we've written the stories.
Well, how about this for a pre-Christmas preemptive strike today-wouldn't it bring God incredible glory if we could do something about this? I believe it would….so for next few minutes, read on.
In the New Testament Jesus tells a story to drive home how serious he was about forgiveness. See Matthew 18. I don't have space in this devotional to completely reiterate the story so let me cut to the chase and simply tell you the amazing and bodacious words that Jesus said at the conclusion of the story. Here they are. Fasten your seat belt because the story ends with an unforgiving person being put in jail, experiencing judgment for his unforgiving spirit. Jesus then says, "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart (Matthew 18:35)."
I just want to stop for a moment…let those words sink in. These are what I think are some of the most sobering words in the Bible. There's a whole lot of people–and to tell you the truth, sometimes people in churches–who live as if Jesus didn't really say this; as if Jesus didn't really mean this." I think those are some of the scariest words in the Bible. Jesus says, to us all that if we're walking around with unresolved bitterness and resentment, and we refuse to do the work of forgiveness and to seek reconciliation with other people, we're at severe spiritual risk.
I'll tell you what I think. I think the only thing that allows one human being to withhold forgiveness from somebody else, to walk around carrying a grudge, is when they forget, or when they live in a kind of denial of the infinitely greater amount of forgiveness that they need and receive from God. Let me put it this way…my forgiveness and your forgiveness comes at the cost of the cross. It came at the price of the death of God's Son. The cost of our forgiveness to God was monumental. It cost him the life of his Son to forgive me and to forgive you.
Therefore, there is only one safe place to put a grudge, and that place is at the foot of the cross. Or, because I want to put a Christmas spin on this…the only safe place to put one of these is at the foot of the manger. The wise men brought their gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh. But the greatest gift you can give Jesus is the boulder you're carrying around that prevents you from experiencing freedom in your heart. I'm wondering today, whatever stone you're carrying around, would you be willing today to lay it at the foot of the manger in Bethlehem? Whatever your hurt and your bitterness is, would you be willing to lay it down and remember again the price that was paid for your forgiveness and for mine?
Consider this – when people live in the shadow of Christmas, they don't carry stones. When people live in the daily awareness of what God did for them, when people know the lavishness of God's mercy and grace, why would you carry your stone? Why would you dare?
Here's the truth friends…we all have relationships where there have been wounds…no matter who said what or who caused what, you were wounded to the core. Inside you you're saying, "There's no way….I'm not going to let them get away with that…Set that stone down? Give them a free pass? no way." I want to tell you something. Life is too short. Many of you have been carrying around that stone for a long time. Set it down. It's Christmas time! There is no miracle in the world like the miracle of forgiveness. There is none. I tell you this without apology. There is no miracle in the world like it. You can carry your stone/block to the grave, but I hope you don't because life is too short, and it will kill you. I don't know how badly you've been hurt. I know some of you have been hurt really badly, in some cases over a long period of time. I hope you'll forgive.
This is what we'll do…let's lay down some grudges at the foot of the manger this Christmas. I'll do it if you will. If you need help get help. The best book I know on the subject of forgiveness is a book called "Forgive and Forget" by a man named Lew Smedes, or "What's so amazing about Grace" by Phillip Yancey. If you need to talk to a good Christian counselor, talk to a good Christian counselor. If you need to make a phone call, Jesus says make it right now. If you need to write a note, write it today. Post that private Facebook message. Maybe you just need to go to a door that's been closed for a long time and knock on the door. Well, go there and knock. Do it today. Maybe it will take a lot of time and a lot of effort and a lot of persistence, a lot of wisdom, a lot of counsel. Because just to forgive someone can be quite a difficult thing, and then to seek reconciliation–that's a two-way deal. That requires two people. That's harder yet. Maybe it will take a lot of time and a lot of work and a lot of effort and lot of prayer. Then give it a lot of time and a lot of work and a lot of effort and a lot of prayer. There is no miracle like the miracle of forgiveness. If you're a follower of Jesus, if you love God, you've been forgiven an infinite debt. You have been cleansed of the ultimate stain. What God has given you, you've got to give it. See the manger bed? You know what you need to do!