Saturday, January 12, 2013

Grace to Forgive


“God does not have problems, only plans.” Corrie ten Boom

Matthew 6  NKJV
9  "In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.
10  Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven.
11  Give us this day our daily bread.
12  And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors.
13  And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
14  "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
15  "But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

I imagine forgiveness to be one of the most powerful forces and one of the greatest hurdles in the universe.

For those of us who have been forgiven it is a gracious and cherished gift. However, for those who are challenged to forgive – it can at times seem like a heavy and terribly unfair burden. Nonetheless, only forgiveness can set the captive free.

Forgiveness is an act of the will, not an emotion. It’s a decision made by choice in hopes that God will grant His grace to make it so.

How can we forgive without God’s help … How can we forgive without God’s grace?

The Story of Corrie ten Boom
        Corrie was born in the Netherlands to a Dutch Reformed Christian family in 1892. Her family had a history of heart-felt concern for and outreach to the Jewish community. Corrie’s grandfather worked during the early 1800’s in attempts to improve Jewish-Christian relationships. Corrie was raised, along with her brother and sisters, joining their father in attending Jewish Sabbath worship and bible studies. Corrie’s brother, Willem, the Pastor of a Dutch Reformed Church, was assigned the duty of converting Jews to Christianity. Instead of attempting to agressively force conversions he instead studied Anti-Semitism and then opened a nursing home for people of all faiths eventually converting it to a safe house for Jewish refugees during the war.
        Following the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands in 1940 and the ensuing Jewish persecution, the ten Boom family began providing aid to the persecuted families first by giving food and then by sheltering individuals and families from arrest by the Gestapo. Of course, any assistance given to a Jew under Nazi rule was strictly forbidden by law and punishable by imprisonment and/or death. Nonetheless the ten Boom’s were Christians, what else could they do?
        On one occasion Corrie ten Boom recalled asking the local Pastor of a Christian Church in town to help by taking in a Jewish infant. He replied that he could not do so because of the great risks it would present to him and his family. Corrie’s father entered the room about that time and upon hearing her request and the Pastor’s reply, he took the child up in his arms and declared what an honor and privilege it would be for the ten Boom family to give their lives for such a cause.
        Not only did Corrie and her family provide food and shelter for Jewish refugees but they also networked with the underground movement in the countryside to send many Jews to safety abroad. This continued until February 28th, 1944, at 12:30pm, when the German police raided the ten Boom house in response to an informant. Fortunately the family had built a small “hiding place” on the uppermost floor of the home into which the current six Jewish refugees crammed themselves to escape capture. However, Corrie, her sisters Nollie and Betsie, along with their brother Willem, their father and a group of about 30 people who were holding a Bible study in the living room of their home were arrested. Of those arrested all were released except for Corrie, Betsie and their father. Ten days after being arrested Corrie’s father died in prison.
        Soon afterwards Betsie and Corrie were moved from one prison to another eventually finding themselves assigned to the Nazi death camp, Ravenbrueck. Corrie had managed to smuggle a little Bible and keep it hidden from the guards and with it she and her sister held Bible studies among the camp’s prisoners. One of the sisters would read the text in Dutch then translate it into German and it would pass through the congregation being re-translated in the native tongues of each prisoner group so that everyone could understand God’s Word. Corrie remembered those times as a glimpse into heaven’s international congregation as the light of God’s Word illuminated faces from all walks of life.
        On December 16, 1944, Betsie, frail from the starvation, persecution, and the conditions of the camp, now only skin and bones, died in Ravenbrueck at the age of 59. Before she died she told her sister Corrie, “There is no pit so deep that God is not deeper still.” (Betsie ten Boom)
        Twelve days later, on December 28th, 1944, due to a clerical error, Corrie was released. The following week all of the other women in her group at Ravenbrueck were put to death leaving Corrie ten Boom, this woman of faith, as the sole survivor. One more story about Corrie and I will get back to the message for today.
        After Corrie’s mistaken release from Ravenbrueck Nazi death camp, she continued following her faith in Christ by preaching forgiveness and returning to the Netherlands where she established a post-war home for camp survivors, and those Dutch neighbors of hers who had collaborated with the Germans during the war. She went on to author books, travel to 60 countries where she gave her testimony and encouraged people with her life message – a message of trust and forgiveness. She passed away in California on her 91st birthday, April 15th, 1983.
        Once, while giving her testimony in a Church in Munich, Germany, she noticed a balding man dressed in a heavy coat, clutching a wool hat. As he approached her she flashed back to her days in the Ravenbrueck camp and remembered this man, a bit younger, dressed in his blue suit, staring down with the swastika emblem on his Nazi hat as she and her frail sister, Betsie, were forced to disrobe along with the other female prisoners and pass by him day after day in humiliation. She remembered her sister’s cruel death and then he spoke.
        He said, “You spoke of Ravenbrueck … I was a guard there and did cruel things … but since that time I have become a Christian and God has forgiven me … will you forgive me?” And with this he stretched his hand out towards her.
        Corrie recalls that she stood there, she whose sins had been forgiven, unable to forgive another. Betsie died there … could this man now gain forgiveness simply for the asking?
        Knowing in her heart that she had to but also realizing that forgiveness is not an emotion but an act of the will – Corrie told herself that through Christ all things are possible and with God’s help she mechanically lifted her arm, trusting God that He would supply what was missing in her heart by His grace alone. She gives the testimony as to when their hands touched and their eyes met, the most incredible thing happened. She felt it begin in her shoulder, down her arm and through her hand – the forgiveness of God and she loudly proclaimed: “I forgive you brother, with all my heart!” In her words:

“I had never known God's love so intensely as I did then.”

There is a grace of forgiveness, first there is a grace to be forgiven and then there is a grace to forgive.

It has been said by someone who knows that:

“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength … Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” – Corrie ten Boom

1.   If you need to be forgiven this morning, come forward. You’ll not be asked to reveal your sins but only to God.
2.   If you need to forgive someone else, come forward. I’ll not ask you to recount anyone else’s sins committed against you but only to God.
3.   God will forgive you and give you the grace to forgive others. It is available for the asking.

… Go with me to God to obtain this grace we all need.

1 John 1:9  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Ephesians 4:32  And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.