This afternoon Carl Robbins invited different pastors, church planters and heads of ministries to provide brief updates on what has happened in their ministries over the past year. This was really an amazing time as we were able to see the diversity of Reformed ministries. We heard from missionaries raising support to head to other countries to begin churches or whole denominations. We heard from churches that are helping the recovery efforts in Gulfport, Mississippi, we heard from people who translate good books into Spanish and from people who have begun new churches. This was only the first round of these updates and I look forward to hearing more as this event continues. I really got the feeling as I sat here that the value of this event must grow with each year a person attends. A person who has heard updates and prayer requests year-after-year will be able to immediately recognize the answers to prayer and praise God for them. Most conferences have a clear beginning and end. It seems that this fellowship is merely paused at the end of each year and that each time these men gather they just pick up where they left off the year before.
Tonight we had the first of what will be four worship services during the course of the conference. Each is a full service and allows the ministers in attendance to gather ideas about how others conduct their services. Tonight’s service was led by Harry Reeder and the sermon was preached by Douglas Kelly. He preached from Mark 11:24-26 (and do note that verse 26 does not appear in some translations, the ESV included–Kelly preached from the King James) and dealt with the subject of forgiveness. Satan will not be likely to attack a conservative pastor on issues such as “the enlightenment tells us that miracles can’t happen.” Rather, he seeks to have him believe that prayer goes unanswered and seeks to keep him from having a vibrant, powerful prayer life.
The point of this passage is simple. You have to forgive in order to be powerful in prayer. The bad news is that this is one of the hardest commandments in the Scripture to practice. But it’s not really bad news because we have the Holy Spirit to help and guide us.
The sermon was framed around four matters raised by this matter of forgiveness for personal and ministerial prayers to be answered:
The importance of forgiveness – We know that forgiveness is important because Jesus says in several different places that we are to do it. In this passage he connects our willingness to forgive with the power and effectiveness of our prayers. There are never grounds for a Christian not to forgive since God has forgiven us the infinite debt we owe to Him. There are two major impediments to an effective ministry in the local church, one being lack of perseverance in prayer and the other being a lack of forgiveness. It is difficult to think that heartfelt prayers for other people within the church can be blocked because you have neglected to extend forgiveness to others. Yet this is what this passage preaches.
What forgiveness is not – We do not pay off God to forgive our sins by forgiving others. To accept the Divine forgiveness through Jesus’ blood and resurrection ushers me into God’s holy presence where I experience great changes of heart and mind and attitude. It means that the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in my deepest personality. To refuse to forgive others means you’ve never really understood the gospel in the first place.
How forgiveness works – Forgiveness day-by-day unblocks the barriers to joyful communication. Being a forgiving person unblocks any barrier between my soul and the Lord’s favor. Forgiveness on a human level unblocks the joy of communication with other brothers and sisters in the Lord, allowing happy, ongoing relationships.
Several objections to forgiveness – While we tend to agree that this is biblical, we often raise objections to actually having to do it. This is easy to understand but very hard to practice. Hence a self-protective device so we don’t have to go through the pain of forgiving is to come up with objections to forgiveness. Here are five objections: First, if we forgive someone who hurt us, we will be taken advantage of and they might do it again. The answer to this is, yes they might but Jesus told us to forgive seventy times seven. We do our part and leave what they do with God. Second, to forgive some unworthy person would lower our moral standards. This can’t be right because God the holy and pure forgives sinners without lowering His standards. Third, it is embarrassing to ask for pardon. Many of us feel that if we apologize the other person will know that we were in the wrong. But, of course, they already know that. Fourth, it is hard to forgive but the answer is to understand what it took for Jesus to forgive us. There was nothing easy about it. Fifth, we worry that the other person has not apologized to us. but we are to be like God in taking the initiative to forgive.
We closed with that great Getty/Townend hymn, “The Power of the Cross.”