Forgiveness

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Good morning and welcome to week 3 of this series we are going through called The Power of Prayer.
Last week if you were here you got to experience the beginning of one of our experiments where we circled up in groups to pray at the end of service, and I am so happy to say that none of them went like that!!  We’ll be doing it again today, so stay tuned for that.
As I said, we are in the third week of this focus on prayer here at Reality, and it’s not just a random happening that we are covering this right now. 
You may or may not know this, but I generally try to plan out what I’m preaching several months in advance. It’s a good practice that helps everyone else on the team work around it. Well, I had something totally different planned for this summer. I was going to do a summer-long series on the parables of Jesus. Conveniently, I just took a class on that topic in the Spring, so I was planning to basically have an easy summer. Well, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the famous proverb…
In their hearts humans make their plans…
and the Lord falls off of his chair laughing.
While I suspect He does get a chuckle, that’s not what it actually says.
Proverbs 16:9
In their hearts humans plan their course,
    but the Lord establishes their steps.
And this summer, I had a plan to take it easy…but the Lord clearly had a different plan and he showed me over the course of about a month that instead of talking about parables, we need to become a praying church, and we need to do it right now. 
For the whole time I’ve been your pastor, over the past year, God has pushed me to model us after the Acts 2 church. You’ve heard me say this often. And the specific model of the Acts 2 church was that they were
Devoted to the Apostles’ teaching (God’s Word), to Fellowship, to Breaking of Bread, and to Prayer. They also were super generous with each other and with the people around them.
And that’s where our missions came from – Doing Life Together, and Loving Others Together. And all that is toward the vision of Seeing Lives Changed by the transforming, restoring power of Jesus Christ. Because what that early church saw was the LORD adding to their numbers daily those who were being saved!  Not just filling the seats. God was changing peoples’ lives for eternity on a daily basis in that church, and that is what I want to see happen in our church.
And while we’ve seen a lot of good things and many new people and even some people coming to Christ, we have not seen what that early church saw. And the reason is because we have been doing all things well except one. Prayer!
I told you a few weeks ago that it is prayer that causes God to move. Yes, we need all those other things, but they are mostly for our own benefit. If we want God to move, we must go to Him in prayer. Not just in culturally normal times like before a meal or at bedtime or a few times from the stage during church. We need to be a praying church that is DEVOTED TO PRAYER, and last week and at the Agape Feast we started to get a taste of what that looks like. But there is even more to it that we will see in the coming weeks.
As I said, I’m learning this right along with you, and at least for me it is exciting. It’s that feeling you get before you go on a roller coaster. The cart is clicking up the incline and any minute you’re going to go over the edge on a thrilling ride. That’s how I feel about what God is working in us right now.
And that is why we are talking about prayer and we will keep talking about prayer until God tells me to stop. This was originally a four week series, but now it is 5 weeks. All I can say is don’t miss August 7th!!  A very special treat that Sunday besides the pot luck after service.
OK!  Enough of an intro and context setting, let’s get into some more teaching.

We’ve been going through what is commonly called the Lord’s Prayer, found in Matthew 6 where Jesus told us HOW TO PRAY.
Matthew 6:9-13
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins, as we also forgive those who sin against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
So far we’ve covered the first half. Last week I covered how to get God to say YES! Everyone loves that!
Today is the lesson that you are not going to like, but it is an oh-so-important part of how we relate with God. We’re going to talk about the part of the prayer where Jesus prompts us to ask…
And forgive us our sins, as we also forgive those who sin against us.
SIN
It’s a dirty word that no one likes to talk about, especially a lot of preachers. Because when you start talking about SIN, people get uncomfortable and they might leave the church.
Well, the problem with that approach is that God’s Word talks a lot about SIN, and it has some very definite and clear thoughts on the topic. So to avoid talking about SIN is to avoid LARGE and IMPORTANT parts of Scripture.
Something I cannot do.
My job is not to make you happy with yourself.
 
My job is to show you the truth in God’s Word so that you can have ultimate joy with God.
My charge come straight from Scripture:
2 Timothy 4
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
I take that charge seriously, and I cannot compromise. So, if my teaching does not tickle your ears the way you likethere are plenty of other pastors that will.  But, at least let me share this warning that Jesus gave before you go…
Matthew 7
13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
There is only one right way, one right truth, and one right life. All other ways are the broad road that leads to destruction. And there are many false prophets who are all too happy to keep tickling your ears so that you will think you are on the narrow road, when you are really on the broad road, and you will be surprised when Jesus doesn’t know you.
Because there is also only one REAL Jesus. He’s the Jesus of the Bible. Many people think they know Jesus, but what they know is a false Jesus, a caricature of Jesus, that has been watered down to make you feel good about yourself rather than remind you of two very important things:
The reason Jesus had to die that bloody and painful death on that torture device called a cross is to pay the price for SIN!!  Your SIN! My SIN!!  AND…when He comes back the second time He is going to JUDGE OUR SIN and PUNISH those who have rejected His forgiveness.
A lot of people like to focus on the love and acceptance of Jesus and leave out the judgement. That is a false Jesus.
The REAL JESUS does love us, and He does accept us, but He does not accept our SIN.  But, fortunately for us, He also has a solution to our SIN that He paid for Himself. 
Both Matthew and Mark record a statement Jesus made while lecturing a few of the disciples who were arguing over who would be the greatest in His kingdom. He set them strait and finished with an important truth.
Mark 10:45
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
You see, one of the reasons that Jesus, the Son of God, became a human being and suffered along with us was so that he could give his own life as a ransom, as a payment, for the debt we owe God for our sin. 
You see, in the Lord’s Prayer, the literal Greek actually says “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” The debt He’s referring to is the debt accrued by our sin.
And the debt accrued by our sin MUST be paid for because God is a JUST God. PERFECT JUSTICE MUST BE SATISFIED.
And there are only two ways that debt can be paid.
One way is we pay for it ourselves.  And the way we do that is by spending an eternity away from God.
Romans 6:23
23 For the wages of sin is death.
Wages are what you earn for whatever you did. Usually we think of that in terms of employment. But it also works in terms of consequence. What you earn for breaking the civil law is time in jail or a fine or worse. What you earn for breaking God’s law is death, both physical death AND eternal death. Separation from God’s presence forever in a place called hell. 
But the good news is that there is another way.  A way that is free to you and me.  It’s not something we have to earn or even CAN earn. In fact, it’s called a gift. This verse continued says…
Romans 6:23
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Jesus, the Son of God, became a human being, lived a perfect life, then gave up His life so that we could be forgiven.
That’s what John 3:16 is about..
John 3:16
For God loved the world in this way, he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
And so, God’s forgiveness is available to you and me if we believe in His son. But belief is not just mental acknowledgment. There’s more to it than that.
Romans 10:9
If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
To believe that Jesus rose from the dead is also to believe He is the Son of God. And the only sane response to believing someone is the Son of God is to fall down at His feet and make Him your master, your king, your Lord. And that is what Paul is saying here.
To confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord is not just saying something. To confess means to say something true about yourself. To confess Jesus as your Lord is to actually make Him your Lord. Meaning you are submitting your will to His. This is required to receive salvation and forgiveness.
In other words, you cannot have Jesus’ forgiveness without His rule.
A proper way to phrase what it means to be saved and forgiven is not to say that you have accepted Jesus as your savior and forgiver.
True salvation is making Jesus your Lord, and He throws in heaven and forgiveness on the side.
Salvation is not asking Jesus to live in your heart. Salvation is giving your heart to Jesus so you can live in Him.
There is no salvation apart from the lordship of Christ.
That is the false teaching that is so prevalent in the modern church. The false teaching that you can have forgiveness and be saved and going to heaven but not have Jesus as the absolute Lord and ruler of your life.
Jesus was very clear:
Matthew 7:21
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 
This is why you generally do not hear me making a “call to salvation” at the end of my messages. If I haven’t taken the time to explain what I just explained, then if I have you say some prayer with me at the end without having this understanding, then I have just caused you to think you are saved when you probably are not.
I do not want to be the cause of anyone thinking they are saved and then being surprised when Jesus doesn’t know them.
But now that I have explained it, let us go into a short time of prayer in case there are those among you who are ready to make this commitment to Christ.
Let’s Pray

If you, in your heart and mind, recognize that you are indeed a sinner, having not lived the way you know God would want you to, and you are ready to give up that kind of life and to start living for the one who made you and loves you, then now is a great time to make Him your Lord. I’m not going to give you some formula prayer, because it has to come from you. But the key elements include the recognition of your own sin, your belief that Jesus is the Son of God and that He lived a perfect human life, that He gave up his life by letting us execute Him on that cross, but that three days later He rose from the dead in a glorified body and He is still alive today. If you believe all of that, now make Him your Lord. Give your heart to Him. Salvation is not inviting Jesus into your heart, it’s giving your heart, your will to Him. It’s saying from this day forward, you want to know His will and follow it to the best of your ability. If that is the plea of your heart, then the added benefit of making Jesus your Lord is that your sins are forgiven, you are a new creation, and the Holy Spirit will now live inside of you to help you become what God made you to be.
If you believe all of that and want that, then just tell God in your own way and He will listen and save you.
Pray a little.
Amen.

If you made that decision today, then congratulations and welcome to the family!!! Please, pretty please, make a point to talk with me after service so I can help you with your new life.  All the angels of heaven rejoice every time a new soul is saved!
Now that we have dealt with SIN, we can talk about the great privilege, and also great responsibility, that comes with being a Christ Follower…FORGIVENESS.
One thing to understand about being saved is that all of your sins, past, present, and future are forgiven. Romans 8:1 tells us that we are no longer under condemnation. Your debt is paid in full. You do not have to spend eternity paying for it. It was totally paid for on that cross.
So, an honest question would be…why do we need to continue asking for forgiveness if forgiveness is already granted?
Well, there are two reasons.
One is because we keep sinning after salvation.  But asking God to forgive us when we sin after salvation has nothing to do with keeping our eternal salvation. That’s not something you can lose if you have the true faith.
Scripture is clear that when you join Christ, you can’t go back.
2 Corinthians 5:17
So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away—look, what is new has come!
Scripture often refers to the transformation as dying to your old self. Once your old self is dead, passed away, gone – there’s no going back. A new creation can’t go back to being the old creation. If you do, it’s because you never really were a new creation.
If you are unsure of your status, read through James or watch that recent series and you should know where you stand.
So, since a new creation cannot go back to being the old creation, asking for forgiveness after being a new creation must mean something else.
And so it does.
It turns out there are at least two aspects to our sin.  One aspect is that it makes us UNHOLY and thus UNFIT to be with God. That is the part that was rectified by Christ.
Another aspect is the relational aspect. Sin causes a break in and a strain on our relationship with God.
It’s really not much different than how our human relationships work.
Probably the best comparison would be the relationship between a parent and a child, since this is the way God speaks of His relationship with us. He is the Father and we are His children.
Most of us in here are parents or have parents or know some parents, so you should be able to understand this relationship. What happens when your son or daughter does something they know is wrong and you know about it but they never own up to it? What if it’s something they know is not only wrong but specifically against your will and personally hurtful to you?
For me, LYING would fall into that category. It hurts me personally when my children lie to me. It means a lot of things. But mostly it means they don’t trust me and my ways. So far the only thing my young kids have truly lied to me about was when they stole some snacks from the kitchen. They did that because in their young minds they didn’t trust Nicole’s and My reasons for not just letting them have all the snacks they want. 
So, what do you think happened during the time that my children refused to admit their lying and stealing? Did I disown them and make them not my children anymore – NO. But it did put a serious strain on our relationship. It broke my heart, and put an uncomfortableness between us. It destroyed the intimacy.  It was as if the sin stood always between us.
They were still my children and I would still do anything for them. Their sin did not break our POSITIONAL relationship, that of parent and child. Nothing can break that.
But their sin and refusal to own it and ask for forgiveness temporarily broke our PERSONAL relationship. The intimacy and trust were gone, and on both sides of the sin was a good deal of HEART-PAIN.
And this happens between us and God when we sin against Him. And guess what, ALL OF OUR SIN IS AGAINST GOD AND PERSONAL TO HIM. And when we sin, and we all do, it creates a strain on the personal relationship but does not change the positional relationship.
And the only way to release that tension and bring the relationship back to where it should be is to confess your sin and ask for forgiveness. 
And God’s Word tells us…
1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 
If we confess, God forgives AND clears the air. There’s no lingering after effect. The relationship is immediately restored as if you never sinned in the first place.
After salvation, God’s primary objective with you and I is to be in a close and intimate relationship with us. But the only way that can happen is if we stay open and honest with Him about our sin.
He knows we will sin, but he doesn’t condone it – so don’t just go on sinning with the attitude that you can do what you want and God will just forgive you. An attitude like that is a clear indication that you do not understand grace and you may not even be saved.  God’s grace and forgiveness is not license to sin, it is a solution to our weakness. 
So, a regular part of our personal and corporate prayers should be confession. We should admit our sins to God and ask for His forgiveness, and when we do…
He is FAITHFUL – meaning He will forgive you every time
 
He is JUST – meaning He has a right to forgive you. He is not just brushing it under the rug or ignoring. SIN MUST BE PAID FOR, and IN JESUS IT WAS. So, God is JUST, RIGHT, LAWFUL in forgiving you.
And He will not only forgive you, but He will PURIFY YOU, meaning your sins are not only forgiven, they are GONE!!  The AIR IS CLEARED! Relationship restored!
Here is a beautiful passage from David that speaks of that…
Psalm 103
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
    nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
That is the great privilege of being a Son or Daughter of God.
But it also comes with a great responsibility, which Jesus includes in the prayer.
And forgive us our sins, as we also forgive those who sin against us.
God has forgiven us, and He expects – no He demands – that we pass that forgiveness on to others. He includes it in the prayer, and just in case we missed it, he spells it out right after the end of the prayer.
Matthew 6
14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
I don’t know about you, but a statement like that makes me pucker up a little bit. He doesn’t just say it once. He says it in the positive and in the negative just to make sure we can’t misunderstand.
So, what is He saying here? Is He saying we won’t get to go to heaven if there is anyone we haven’t forgiven? No. That would make salvation something we can earn or un-earn.
He is talking about the personal relationship side of forgiveness. Basically, he’s saying that if you think you can clear the air between you and God without first clearing the air between you and another person, then you got another think coming.
It turns out, if you read everything Jesus said and did, and the rest of the New Testament and even the Old Testament, you will see that God cares very much about how his children treat each other. In fact, Jesus even said that would be the mark by which people would recognize that we are His disciples – if we love each other.
And we know from 1 Corinthians 13 that one aspect of love is that it does not keep a record of wrongs. Love forgives.
Jesus does not take unforgiveness lightly. And just in case we didn’t get the picture yet, he also illustrated the point in an unforgettable parable (looks like I’m teaching about parables after all!)
But before I read the parable, let me back it up to the conversation that prompted the parable.
Matthew 18
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy seven times.
It’s kind of a funny interchange when viewed from our western english culture. Peter suggests forgiving someone 7 times, which seems like a lot, then Jesus comes back with 77 times, which seems impossible. But there are some interesting cultural nuances in play here that we totally miss.

From BARCLAY
Peter was not without warrant for this suggestion. It was Rabbinic teaching that a man must forgive his brother three times. Rabbi Jose ben Hanina said, “He who begs forgiveness from his neighbour must not do so more than three times.” Rabbi Jose ben Jehuda said, “If a man commits an offence once, they forgive him; if he commits an offence a second time, they forgive him; if he commits an offence a third time, they forgive him; the fourth time they do not forgive.”
The Biblical proof that this was correct was taken from Amos. In the opening chapters of Amos there is a series of condemnations on the various nations for three transgressions and for four. From this it was deduced that God’s forgiveness extends to three offences and that he visits the sinner with punishment at the fourth. It was not to be thought that a man could be more gracious than God, so forgiveness was limited to three times.
Peter thought that he was going very far, for he takes the Rabbinic three times, multiplies it by two for good measure adds one, and suggests, with eager self-satisfaction, that it will be enough if he forgives seven times. Peter expected to be warmly commended; but Jesus’s answer was that the Christian must forgive seventy times seven. In other words there is no reckonable limit to forgiveness.

Now, about the number – there is often differences between translations on this. Some will say seventy times seven, and others will use seventy seven.  So, which is it? Well, we don’t really know for sure, but one common belief is that Jesus is referencing an Old Testament story, which was very common of rabbi’s/jewish teachers in His day.  The story this could be referring to is a statement made by Lamech, a descendant of Cain (Adam’s Son) in Genesis 4. 
Genesis 4:23-24
Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.
He is referring to what happened with his great-great-great-grandfather, Cain, Adam’s first born (and actually the first human born on earth).  Cain killed his brother Abel out of jealousy, and so God cursed Cain to be a restless wanderer.
Genesis 4
13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. 14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”
15 But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.”
So Lamech was basically claiming the same promise and then some. 77 times instead of 7 times.
But the point Lamech is making and the point that Jesus is also making is not about the number 77 or 70×7. They are both  making the point that the response – revenge in Lamech’s case, and forgiveness in Jesus’ case must be in abundance, must be overkill for the offense. Lamech wanted to overdo the revenge – Jesus says to overdo the forgiveness instead.
Also, in Scripture, the number seven has symbolic significance. It’s a number that signifies completeness. And so, for Lamech, he’s saying that he wants complete, no, overly complete vengeance if anyone harms him.  Jesus uses the same tactic but in the opposite direction toward forgiveness instead of vengeance. The reference to 77 would have immediately brought the story of Lamech to Peter’s or any Jew’s mind, and they would have realized what Jesus was doing. 
Then he told a story to illustrate the point.

Matthew 18
23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
Jesus was the master at parables. He tells this story that every audience from throughout time would easily and quickly understand completely. The servant owes an unpayable debt. He gets forgiven quickly and really without even asking for it. He actually only asked for more time to pay. Then when he is out of sight he goes after someone owing him pocket change in comparison and goes the full measure on him.  Every listener of this story throughout the ages no doubt sees the problem with this and immediately labels the servant an awful person, and they are overjoyed when justice is served in the end.
But then Jesus brings it around full circle with the final verse:
35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
In other words, when you have been forgiven completely by your Heavenly Father of your many, many, egregious sins and then turn around and refuse to forgive others of a much lesser offense – you are just like that wicked servant, and you are mistaken if you think your relationship with God is right and clear.
Jesus told us to ask our father to forgive our sins, JUST AS we have forgiven others. If you haven’t forgiven others, then what you’re asking is for God to give you the same treatment. 
My friends, this is serious. If there is anything we can do that is a complete slap in God’s face, it is our refusal to forgive our fellow human beings. If God himself will not hold their sin against them on account of what His Son suffered – then what right do we have to keep them on the hook?  How holy and righteous are we to demand an accounting from a fellow dirt puppet? That’s right. We are all made of dirt. Is your dirt cleaner than theirs? 
The only person that actually had the right to condemn, to not forgive, to hold it against them was Jesus.
But as the Romans were killing Him,
instead of demanding an accounting,
instead of requiring an apology,
instead of gloating it over them and withholding His love from them,
He said “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
As they drove the nails into his hands.
As they shoved the thorns into his scull.
As they ripped his flesh to shreds and mocked him and spit on him,
he said FORGIVE THEM!!
DON’T HOLD THIS AGAINST THEM!!!
And he wasn’t just talking about the soldiers – he was talking about YOU AND ME!!!
Because it was our sins that pierced his hands and feet.
Our sins that punched his face.
Our sins that pierced his side.
Our sins that KILLED THE AUTHOR OF LIFE!
And yet, He forgives us.
He did that FOR US, and as a MODEL FOR US. There is nothing another person can do to you that is worse than what you have done to God, and yet He has forgiven you.
And the beauty of forgiveness between us humans is that it doesn’t set the offender free, it sets YOU free.
Unforgiveness is a self-made prison.
It’s like this picture I saw on Facebook.
When we don’t forgive, we think we are serving justice to the offender –
but what we’re really doing is punishing ourselves for their crime.
Jesus says LET IT GO!
Vengeance is mine. I will repay.
You forgive, so that I can forgive you.
So that you can be free.
And we can be one.
Let’s pray