Canvas, Week One
We began a Sunday message series called “Canvas: How to Forgive When You Just Can’t Forget” to start 2018. Since there was a technical problem with recording the first message, I am providing this manuscript for anyone interested. (Learn more about our church here.) Feel free to comment or ask questions in the comment section below.
Canvas, Week One: If it hurts, it needs to heal.
It’s nice to be back with you. We were away last Sunday, of course, and you probably don’t want to know where we were or what the weather was like. OK, we were in Florida for the holiday weekend and had the best week of weather there during the worst week of weather here in Maine. We stayed with my in-laws and had a great time.
But not everything went perfectly well. There was one occasion in particular that I wish I could redo. Some of you may know that my in-laws recently purchased a big fifth wheel camper; you may have seen it up here in town a few months ago. It’s a really big camper and so it needs a really big truck to pull it. So they bought a big pick-up truck, the kind with dual rear wheels. Before we left on our trip, we talked about whether or not to rent a car but decided that the two cars at my in-laws’ house would be enough for us all to get around.
This meant that I had to drive the big, wide pick-up with dual real wheels. And I did. We went shopping one night, and I drove the big truck to an outlet mall no problem. But the next day, we decided to go to a favorite restaurant and I needed to drive again. My in-laws left before us in their other car and we piled into the truck. And that is when it happened: I pulled out of their driveway, but didn’t turn wide enough, and I clipped their metal mailbox. I didn’t feel it or hear it; my brother-in-law was watching and told me. At first I couldn’t believe it, so I got out to look. And sure enough, there was a big tan stripe carved into the side of this fairly new black truck.
So now I had to think about telling my father in-law that I put a “racing stripe” on his new truck. We strategized about the best way to tell him. We considered just heading to the airport and flying home early. I thought about pulling back into the driveway to put a matching stripe on the other side to claim it was there all along. I didn’t really want to have that conversation, but I had to do it. And I think that any one of us would rather be the one to grant forgiveness in a situation like that, rather than the one to ask for it. We would rather be the forgiver than the confessor. I certainly rather would be.
And yet forgiveness is actually harder than confession, isn’t it? When I needed to confess something, it was a finite moment. I told the truth, apologized, and offered to pay for whatever repairs would cost. That was it. Done. But forgiveness isn’t over in a moment. Forgiveness is a process, and sometimes that process doesn’t end. We have to choose to forgive over and over after the offense. It’s hard, and it hurts. Forgiveness is adds pain on top of the pain of the offense.
Thankfully, the scriptures speak to these situations – and Jesus spoke specifically in Matthew 18:15-35. This passage will serve as the main passage for our Canvas series, but we won’t necessarily read the entire portion every week. Today, we’re going to focus on verses 15-20:
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (ESV)
Today we’re going to focus on one principle distilled from this passage: If it hurts, it needs to heal. I have three reasons why:
First, if it hurts it needs to heal because unhealed hurt does damage. It’s true that we should overlook offenses whenever possible. Proverbs 19:11 says, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” (ESV) So we should overlook an offense when we can; this is to our advantage. However, we should be aware that the enemy of our soul will use this against us when the hurt is too great. We sometimes believe the lie that our pain is a petty concern, and we are petty to be concerned with it. We may even believe a “christianized” version of it: Jesus suffered worse, so I must be a whiner. Or perhaps we misunderstand the Bible and think, “If God forgives then forgets, so must I – and if I can’t forget then the problem is mine.” This isn’t true. Yes, Jesus suffered in extraordinary fashion so that no matter what we go through we can find fellowship with Him in our suffering. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t suffering. That doesn’t mean our pain is petty. That doesn’t mean if we remember being hurt then we are refusing to forgive.
How can we know that the hurt is too great to overlook an offense? A ministry called Relational Wisdom 360 (formerly Peacemakers Ministries) offers four dimensions to forgiveness on their website (https://rw360.org/four-promises-of-forgiveness/). I have taken those dimensions and turned them into diagnostic questions:
- Are you dwelling on the incident or offense? (It consumes your thoughts or attention.)
- Are you bringing it up to use against the offender? (Hello, married people.)
- Are you talking about it to others inappropriately? (Gossip is a symptom.)
- Does the incident or offense hinder the relationship? (The elephant in the room.)
Now, that last question raises the issue of abuse or cyclical behavior patterns. I want you to know that we’re going to talk more about this in the series later on. There is a time to establish safe boundaries for forgiveness, and ongoing mistreatment stands in the way of forgiveness. But those questions help us understand when an offense can’t be overlooked.
And suppressing or misdirecting the hurt only does damage. You’ve seen what happens when paint brushes aren’t cleaned between colors. The colors bleed together and you wind up with a sickly greenish brown color. What would happen if an artist didn’t clean the brush between colors? No color would retain its vibrancy. But, something else happens too. The overall picture would get darker and darker and darker. And that’s what happens to our view of life. Unresolved pain colors the way we see the world and the people in it. Suppression leads to depression. Misdirection causes relationship misdiagnosis, as we let pain from one relationship impact another. Pain hurts for a reason. Don’t ignore it. If it hurts, it needs to heal because unhealed hurt does damage.
That’s the first reason. Here’s the second: If it hurts, it needs to heal because forgiveness is vital spiritual business. Notice how the process in Matthew 18:15-20 begins with acknowledgement of sin. Forgiveness is spiritual business because we identify sin according to God’s definition. The process also prioritizes relationship over the offense. Among believers in the Gospel, this is actually a family matter: it’s a brother or a sister. This is so important, that Jesus instructed us to basically “drop” our worship to pursue forgiveness in Matthew 5:23-24.
Well, what if the offender isn’t a fellow believer? The process can be adapted; it can’t be followed because going to the church isn’t an option (at least not a helpful one). But attempting to solve the matter one-on-one and then bringing in a third party if needed will show how you prioritize the relationship; this is wisdom and a powerful part of our witness.
The Matthew 18 process also invited God and His people into the process. It is vital spiritual business because it is part of discipleship in the local church. And the outcome of the process will reveal spiritual realities. We go as far as needed for reconciliation. If we win the offender over because we acknowledge sin, prioritize the relationship and use the discipleship resources of the church if needed then a fellow believer is revealed and we rejoice. But if the offender refuses to listen even to the final stage of the process, we are left unsure of the validity of that person’s faith. The outcome of the process has valid spiritual significance. And what is decided by God’s people on earth has significance in heaven; God is at work in this process.
When we begin this process, we need to understand the nature of the offense in order to understand the kind of work God is doing. To better understand the nature of the offense, four contextual questions are helpful:
- Who is the offender?
- Whom was the offense against?
- What was the offense (sin, not sin, etc.)?
- When/where/how/why of the situation?
(Questions derived from The Peacemaking Pastor: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Church Conflict by Alfred J. Poirier, Baker Books, 2006.) We can push several situations through these questions to see how different situations present differences in the seriousness of an offense and, therefore, how a different outcome would be needed.
A new coworker wrongly criticizes your work. Perhaps this is worth overlooking. The offender is new, there isn’t much trust (yet) and criticism isn’t necessarily a wrong even when incorrect. But consider the differences in the situation if the coworker is a subordinate…or a supervisor…or conducts the criticism publicly. You can see the dynamics changing with each change I mentioned.
Your elementary age child calls you a name s/he heard at school. The offender is young, perhaps acting his or her age. S/he may not know what the word even means. On the other hand, maybe this isn’t the first time you’ve had to correct this behavior. Let’s hope it’s in the privacy of your home, because a public situation would change things. A parent would need to know the child and details well enough to know how to approach and correct.
A family member has a very tough day and snaps at you. Perhaps you can overlook this. Everyone gets grumpy sometimes, especially when sick or after a tough day. But a spouse committing this offense is different that a child or teenager against a parent. And what was said is significant too. Some lines should not be crossed regardless of a difficult day.
Things are getting more complicated now. Your best friend spreads a vicious rumor about you after a breakup. That’s probably not going to be overlooked; it can’t. Lying is especially hurtful. It’s someone you trusted and you are especially vulnerable at the time of offense. It’s easy to see why forgiveness is a process and how details matter in a situation like this.
One more: I tried to think of the most horrible and difficult situation possible. I’m not mentioning this one because I want to make us uncomfortable or because I want to remind anyone of something horrible that may have happened. What about the extreme hurt of sexual abuse of a child by a family member? That’s a terrible situation and terribly wrong and painful. The injured is a child, vulnerable and powerless. The offender is someone who is trusted, perhaps with authority over the child. The offense is a violation in a deeply personal and vulnerable part of identity; a part that a child may not even have much awareness about. And that violation can have damaging effects that must be overcome for the rest of the offended person’s life. And often this sin happens in a home; what was supposed to be a place of protection for the child is transformed into a place that insulates the wrong from others’ detection. It’s a deep and multi-level wrong with profound damage against someone. Likely, any process of forgiveness is going to require the help of a professional counselor and take time.
So you see how understanding the nature of the offense matters. Understanding the nature of the offense helps us understand the nature of the pain it causes. And understanding then nature of the pain will help us better understand the kind of healing work God is doing in us and around us. It’s like a painting: it’s more than just color on paper or canvas. It is that, but it’s also more. It creates a picture that communicates a message or invites the viewer into a world that it creates. Forgiveness is that way, too. It is about the details and about the particulars of an offense, but all that serves a bigger picture about what God is doing. Don’t just react to the colors: look at how God is at work. If it hurts, it needs to heal because unhealed hurt does damage and because forgiveness is vital spiritual business.
That leads us to the third reason naturally. If it hurts, it needs to heal because God is present in the middle of your pain. We see in this passage that things happening on earth correspond to things happening in heaven. It means that the presence of God is not passive. He is at work. He knows your pain, extends fellowship in your suffering, grieves with you over your losses, takes the shame of your situation on the cross, and invites you to know Him more deeply than ever before.
Remember, believer in Jesus, that you have been bought with a price and sealed under a tremendous promise. Romans 8:28-32 tells us:
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[h] for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be[i] against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
Do you realize that only the wounded are given the opportunity to forgive? Think about that. Only those who are hurting are given the call to take steps toward forgiveness. God is doing something in the heart of those who hurt, and we need to trust Him.
On one level, we are an artist at work. We are making decisions and creating the life we live one stroke at a time. But at another level, we are a masterpiece being made. God is at work on us. The master’s hand is on ours, so we take bold and confident strokes toward forgiveness. If it hurts, it needs to heal because unhealed hurt does damage, because forgiveness is vital spiritual business, and because God is present in the middle of your pain.
Recently, a painting was discovered at an estate in Scotland. It was thought to be the work of Innocenzo Fancucci da Imola and valued at $2600. The painting caught the eye of art expert Dr. Benor Grosvenor during the filming of a BBC television series while he was looking at other artwork. The expert suspected and later confirmed it was an original painting by Renaissance artist Raphael. It is now valued at $26 million. The difference? It was the work of a master. (“Painting Valued at $26 Turns Out to Be a Raphael Masterpiece Worth $26 Million,” Huffington Post, 10-03-16)
Your $2600 or even $26 conflict becomes a $26 million masterpiece with God’s hands on it. Let Him work on you. If it hurts, it needs to heal. Let him make you into a masterpiece as you trust Him by taking steps toward forgiveness.
We have provided a series guide with the Canvas message series. It is for you to use as you wish. It’s yours. If you’re not sure how to use today’s space, I have a suggestion: list the hurts, the ones that can’t be overlooked. Go through those four diagnostic questions and list the people or situations that need your forgiveness. If you aren’t comfortable writing a name or a situation detail, use a code word or symbol. It’s up to you. But let that list of hurts become a prayer list as you begin to trust God and take steps toward forgiveness. Our live event (http://bible.com/events/336570) will be up all week in case you want to come back to what we’ve covered. We’ll be praying for you and we hope to see you soon!