A Reflection from Pastor Rick Brown

  by Tammy’s husband

"Forgiveness is not a one-time act, but rather a lifestyle that has to be maintained. The opposite of forgiveness is unforgiveness, and unforgiveness has two cousins. The first is resentment; the second is bitterness."

One of the things you are going to experience when you fall in love with Jesus is being overwhelmed by His forgiveness for you. You’ll be blown away that God can forgive you for everything: for your past—no matter how rotten you were, your present—no matter what you’re struggling with, and your future—His forgiveness even awaits the things yet to come. Past, present and future—the cleansing blood of Jesus is there to change and transform our hearts.

So when we discover and embrace Jesus’ forgiveness in our lives, it follows with good logic that we shouldn’t be mere recipients of His forgiveness. We shouldn’t just be a dead-end of grace, but grace should also flow through us to others. We not only become a forgiven people, but we should become a forgiving people.

Yet for some, there’s a disconnection between what God has done for them and what they should extend to others. And this is where a question arises in the Apostle Peter’s mind. You see, earlier in the text, Jesus was talking about offenses. He’d been talking about when people sin against you, and how you work through that conflict resolution. That’s what prompted Peter to ask this question.

It says in Matthew 18:21, “Then Peter came to Him and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’” Again, Jesus had just been talking about reconciliation: You confront somebody, they say they’re sorry, you say you’re sorry, and you reconcile. Peter then says, “How many times should I go through the process of forgiveness with a brother or sister? Seven times?”

Realize, Peter has grown up listening to the rabbis, who believed three times was the maximum number of times you need to forgive someone, or that if you tried to work through a conflict three times, then you didn’t have to forgive any more. Perhaps that’s where the original “three strikes and you’re out” came from.

So Peter thinks he’s onto some really incredible spiritual truth. Can you imagine his thought process? Now he’s been hanging out with Jesus, who seems a lot more gracious, merciful, loving and forgiving than all the rabbis he had grown up around. He guesses that perhaps Jesus is a little more than twice as forgiving as the rabbis, so he suggests forgiving others up to seven times.

Peter probably thinks that’s as generous as a person needs to be with forgiveness. So he says, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother? Seven times?” I think at that moment he is sitting there waiting for the praise, “Oh Peter! Unbelievable! How magnanimous of you! How generous! I didn’t realize what was going on in your spirit, Peter, you’re really coming along well. Atta boy!”

But Jesus blows his mind. He says, “I do not say to you up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (v.22). Peter gets his rudimentary Galilean calculator out: seventy x seven = 490 times?! Now he is in shock. He thought he was being generous— the rabbis said three, he thought seven, but Jesus said seven times seventy?!

That had to take the breath right out of Peter’s lungs! And yet, is Jesus saying, “Well, Peter, it’s seventy times seven, so get your notebook out and start recording and keeping track of people”? Was Jesus trying to teach His disciples to become good counters, good record-keepers? Not at all!

Yet some people think that’s what relationships are about. They become counters. They get a notebook (although they might not need a notebook, because they have a mind like a steel trap) and start keeping a record of wrongs. How are we going to get through life if Jesus is teaching us that He doesn’t want us to keep score?

Before you came to Christ, maybe you felt like I did. I grew up without Jesus in my life. Because of the difficulty of life, I was quite jaded and hard-hearted from an early age. Three strikes from the rabbis was way too generous for me. If you hurt me once, unless you were in my family, you were done. Then I got saved, and all of the sudden I’m basking in God’s forgiveness. I realized He wanted forgiveness to flow through me to others. In life, there will be a lot of conflict but through the grace of God we can be changed.

When Tammy was young, she used to go over to her cousins’ house a lot. Her parents thought they were taking her to the safest place possible, because it was her aunt and uncle’s daycare. Tammy was in first or second grade at the time. But what her parents didn’t know was that when they dropped Tammy off, her uncle was molesting her and the other children in the daycare. They kept dropping off their precious little girl at a pervert’s house.

Tammy was so traumatized by this perverted uncle that in second grade she totally shut down. She couldn’t learn because of what was going on in her life. Her teacher called her parents for a parent-teacher conference and said, “I’m sad to inform you that your daughter is retarded.” It wasn’t that she was retarded, but that she was so traumatized by what her uncle was doing to her.

Tammy was 19 years old when we got engaged. She had never shared her entire story with anyone until she told me. And at that point we realized the daycare was still there, and this uncle was still doing these things. He was a predator and his wife had a daycare where he could molest all these little kids. I was incensed and enraged over the issue. I wanted to kill the guy!

It was before the TV series “Cold Case,” so I couldn’t learn how to do it and not get caught. I’m good with a rifle at long range, I thought about that. I thought about poison, but I’m not really a good chemist. While I was thinking about how I could kill this guy, Tammy’s mom went one step further: She drove to his house with her husband’s police revolver. She thought about it, but at the last minute went home.

Meanwhile, we discovered that not only had this guy molested Tammy and all the kids in the daycare, but all Tammy’s cousins as well. So we found one cousin that was within the statute of limitations, and we pressed charges. We thought it would be great; he would be arrested and off the streets so the kids would be safe.

But you see, he had children of his own that he had been molesting all those years. The day he was arrested, Tammy’s cousin Nicki, a popular, cute, 16-year-old whose father had been molesting her all her life, went home and hung herself on her closet door. Nicki’s funeral was the same week her dad was arrested.

His son Steve killed himself several years later because of the perversion his father had tortured him with all those years. His other son Tim, was in a mental institution for years and in 2013 he ended his life by jumping off a bridge. His other daughter is a meth addict.

When we chose to take this crime to the law to get this predator off the streets, it destroyed our family. It absolutely obliterated the family because of what he did. He went to prison for 15 years in the Idaho State Penitentiary. On the day of his sentencing, the judge sentenced him for 30 years, then realized he could only give him 15, and said, “Well, I want to give you 30.” I was filled with such hatred toward this guy for what he had done to Tammy. I’ve never wanted to murder anyone in my life, but I wanted to kill him.

You know what changed my life? When Tammy and I started praying. Tammy, having learned in His Word that the Lord wanted her to forgive, said, “Father I forgive Tom, and I pray for his salvation. I pray that you would save his soul in prison, that he might go to Heaven and not go to Hell.”

I wanted him to go to Hell. I wanted him to have the hottest spot. I wanted him to be the Walmart greeter in Hell: “Hi, you’re in Hell—I’m Tom.” But when Tammy made the choice, the decision of the will, to forgive him, I thought, “Who am I to harbor any unforgiveness?” I realized I needed to pray, “Lord, please forgive me, I need to forgive him. I need to let it go because it’s eating me alive.” And when forgiveness flowed through us, we were no longer in bondage.

Now, this guy had never asked for forgiveness. He didn’t want forgiveness. Just because Tammy and I forgave him, doesn’t mean what he did was okay. When his parole hearing came up 10 years into his sentence, our forgiveness didn’t stop us from testifying against him to protect other children. We realized he is a predator and if given the chance, he would not only molest children, but he’d probably kill them this time like he had threatened before. This guy is that wicked.

There are going to be people throughout your entire life whom you need to forgive. I want you to know that on a regular basis I have somebody in this category that I am praying for as I go through struggles in my life. That’s just the way it is. That’s real life. With Christ’s help, and the forgiveness He has given to us, we are able to extend forgiveness to others.

Jesus has come that you might have forgiveness, but once you taste and see that the Lord is good and experience His forgiveness, you are now able to extend forgiveness. Watch your blood pressure drop, watch your appetite come back, and your sleep be sweet again.

“Bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do” (Colossians 3:13).

There is a choice in pain, an opportunity in every trial. Pain makes us focus either inward or outward. It makes us either martyrs or merciful. The choice is ours.

“When forgiveness flowed through me, I was no longer in bondage.”
- Rick Brown

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