(NOTE: For this talk, we had a 3 ft wooden stained 2x4 cross, a couple hammers, nails, a stack of notecards, pens and a fire going nearby.)
When I was about 16 my best friend kissed one of my ex-girlfriends that I had dated for a couple of years without talking to me about it first. Now, that is not a technical offense, but that is definitely not cool. Man, that messed with me. I told him it was not cool, and he eventually came to me and apologized. I forgave him. We are still friends to this day. But until we talked about it, things were not the same.
What is very sad about this story is that as bad as that hurt me, my friend kissing my ex-girlfriend, I turned around and did it to another friend of mine. I did! I started messing around with his ex-girlfriend. After that, I couldn’t even look him in the eyes. I avoided him in the halls at school. It destroyed our friendship. Years after Highschool, we unintentionally got together with some mutual friends one night. We had superficial awkward conversation but mostly avoided one another. At the end of the evening, as I was leaving, he followed me out the door and told me that he forgave me for what I had done. Even after all those years, I could not believe the relief I felt! How odd that whether I was the one who gave forgiveness or needed forgiveness, the relationship was not good again until forgiveness was given and received.
Read Luke 15: 11-24 aloud. Note the fact that even though it is not mentioned explicitly in the text the prodigal son greatly offended his father by asking for his inheritance. The son basically told his father that he wished he was dead so he could have his money. (NOTE: Allow the youth to answer the following questions aloud.)
Was the runaway son forgiven by the Father?
When? (I would suggest that he was forgiven before he was born)
What was the result of that forgiveness? (PARTY!!!, do you think God likes to have fun?!)
What if the son had never returned?
What would his life have looked like?
How would his Father have felt?
Did the son forgive himself? At what point?
GOSPEL PRESENTATION (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.” God is able to forgive our sins because He loved us enough to send His Son Jesus to die on the cross and pay the price for everything wrong we could ever do.
So, if you have questions about that, talk to someone here. And whether you have come to Jesus and received his forgiveness or not, many of us have people we have not forgiven or things we have done that we cannot forgive ourselves for. we will talk more about that in a minute.
SO… What does life look like when we don’t forgive?
Now read Luke 15: 25-32 aloud. (NOTE: Allow the youth to answer the following questions aloud.)
Was the runaway son forgiven by his brother, the “good” son?
What was the result of that?
(NOTE: If possible, this might be a good time for some soft music)
I don’t want you to answer this out loud, but is there someone who has hurt you that you have not forgiven? Have you ever had a hard time forgiving yourself about something?
(Pass out a card and pen to each youth AND adult.) On these cards I want you to write down who you need to forgive. You may need to forgive someone else who hurt you. You may need to forgive yourself. This is for the youth and for the adults. Many of us adults have things we need to deal with here today.
When we don’t forgive, we feel angry and resentful, we hold a debt over someone’s head, like they owe us something. (NOTE: Allow the youth to answer the following question aloud.)
What does that accomplish, Not forgiving someone… including yourself?
Be thinking or writing as I talk a little bit more about forgiveness. Because it is simple but there are several ways that we make it complicated. Is it better to forgive or not to forgive? Which is easier?
Why is it harder to forgive?
· Sometimes we feel that forgiving someone means that we are saying what they did was ok. But that is not true. All we are saying is that we recognize they are not perfect, just like we are not perfect. We are choosing love instead of hate, life instead of destruction. Their offense still carries penalties. A murderer does not walk free just because you forgive them. Someone who stole from you still needs to earn their trust back. But you are simply saying that you are not going to let the other person’s offense against you hold you captive in resentment and anger.
· Sometimes it is hard to forgive because of our pride. We may not be used to dealing with these problems like a real man. We may have grown up in a home where you were told to just “get over it”. Well, that is a very unhealthy way to move forward in life. Because honestly, you don’t just “get over it”. When you avoid the situation, you get stuck. A real man learns to face the problem head on and with love in their heart.
Now, why is it hard to forgive ourselves, to ask for forgiveness?
· Eeeww! Here is that pride thing again! As a man it is difficult to admit that we made a mistake. But if we can talk to a trusted friend or safe adult, we will often see that we indeed have messed up. Remember my story about messing around with my friend’s ex-girlfriend? Years went by and I was stuck in fear of talking to my friend. I should have been a real man. And a real man is able to admit when he is wrong.
· Now, sometimes there is simply a misunderstanding and you may have only caused half of the problem. And you won’t admit to your part in it until the other person admits their part in it. Well, let me give you a secret… The more mature man will be the one to apologize first. Here is the catch. You have to apologize knowing full well that the other person may not admit their part in it. Don’t mention it. Just be the bigger man.
· We need to make right what we can. The second part of apologizing is to make right whatever we can. This is not always possible but often it is. About three years ago, the Lord started dealing with me to go and make right things I had done wrong. Some of these were stores I had stolen from 20 years earlier! Others were people I had lied to or stolen from within the last ten years… I realized I had carried around the guilt of my mistakes for a long time. What was amazing is that none of the people I apologized were mad! Every single one of them thanked me for coming clean. What a release of guilt from my life!
So, If you haven’t finished I want you to take a minute to write down whatever the Lord has laid on your heart that you need to let go of, someone you need to forgive, or something you need to forgive yourself for. If there is something standing between you giving yourself over to the Lord. Write it down. Take care of it today. As you finish, we are going to get rid of these things today. Come up here and nail it to this cross. Say, “Lord I let it go! I will not let this thing rob me of joy any longer. I will not let this thing keep me from giving my life to you so that I can be the man you designed me to be!”
Don’t you dare worry about anyone seeing what you wrote down. No one is looking at your stuff. Fold the card in half if you want. And if someone else sees what you wrote down, who cares? Do this for yourself. This is your life and it is the only one you get. Don’t walk around carrying the burden of guilt or anger and holding a grudge.
When Jesus was nailed to the cross, all your mistakes and other peoples’ mistakes and my mistakes were nailed to the cross too. Because He forgave us, we must forgive others and we must forgive ourselves.
Remember the father in the story. He gave his son a robe, a party, a ring, new shoes…He was overjoyed that his son decided to make it right with his father. God is waiting to throw a party with the angels in heaven if you will give your guilt to him, give your anger to him. There may still be a long process of removing the anger from your life after you forgive. Sometimes that happens especially if you have carried it around for a long time. You can find Christian counseling or trusted friends to help you walk through that. But sometimes the Lord will simply remove that anger and guilt instantly!
Don’t let pride keep you stuck in a life of resentment, stealing your happiness and joy. In just a minute we will get rid of this guilt and anger forever. We are going to tear these off the cross and toss them into the fire to be destroyed once and for all. So, if you have not written down that thing or that name that you know is holding you back from living the life that the Lord has in store for you, now is the time. We can wait. Remember the Father looking for his son to come home. The father ran to his son when he came over that hill. The father is watching for you to come home, to get rid of this thing that has pulled you down for too long.
I am going to take a minute to write mine down. Please be praying for me and for the others in the room who may be dealing with some very tough situations. Remember, forgiveness is for yourself more than it is for others. Jesus has already done all He could to forgive us and all we need to do is receive that forgiveness. Once we receive that forgiveness we are called to forgive others.
Last call for cards before we tear these off and burn them in the fire forever.
(Have an adult volunteer begin tearing off the cards and throwing them in the fire. As they begin to burst into flames, begin to cheer and clap, saying “Let’s Praise the Lord Jesus together today for taking away our sins!” Pray a benediction over the youth and adults.)