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Sermon: How to Forgive Your Enemies—and Your Friends

By Michael A. Milton | Chancellor and CEO-Elect of Reformed Theological Seminary. He resides in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Five Scriptural Steps to Total Forgiveness

Psalms 51; Matthew 6:9-12; Col. 3:1-2, 12-13

I recently read a story about a well-known lover of dogs. He was very active in giving speeches to raise money for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. If you could imagine a man who truly loved dogs, this was your man.

One day, his love was put to the test. He was pouring a new sidewalk from his house out to the street. He was just smoothing out the last square foot of cement when his neighbor's beautiful Golden Retriever strayed from the yard and walked up to the man for a pet on the head. The Golden Retriever also walked right into the wet cement. This noted dog lover muttered something under his breath and waved off the dog.

Again, this SPCA superstar smoothed out the concrete; this time, another dog, a cute little Cocker Spaniel owned by the little girl down the street came by. This dog was also drawn to this king of canine kindness; so he ran to the man, plopping foot after little foot into the wet cement. The man got up and threw his trowel at the poor little beast. Cursing openly, he knelt again and for the second time smoothed out his concrete creation.

Then as he was finishing and standing to admire his work, his wife pulled up in her car and out bounded their little Schnauzer. The happy little critter went straight for its owner and sort of skated across the whole wet concrete. The man began to chase his own dog around and around in the yard with a shovel, swinging to kill! His wife, aghast, yelled: "But I thought you loved dogs!" You see, he loved dogs in the abstract, but not in the concrete!

Christianity is well-known for its emphasis on forgiveness. Today we want to get past forgiveness in the abstract to forgiveness in the concrete.

What are the benefits of forgiving someone? Harvard Women's Health Watch recently discussed the following five positive health effects of forgiving that have been scientifically studied:

1. Reduced stress.

2. Better heart health.

3. Stronger relationships.

4. Reduced pain.

5. Greater happiness.

I don't think anyone will argue with the positive effects of forgiveness. The problem is how to forgive.

I hear the voices from the walls of my pastoral study through the years of ministry. What does it mean to forgive?

• The middle schooler's voice says: How do I erase from my mind the pain of your betrayal of me? You know I wasn't cutting up in class; yet to save your own hide, you said I was. How can I forgive you?

• The jilted lawyer's wife says: How do I forget the affair you had with your fellow student as I gave up my life for four years to put you through law school? How could I possibly forgive you?

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