Last Wednesday I began my day at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Minneapolis for the 2009 MN Prayer Breakfast. Governor Pawlenty gave a few opening remarks and a few congressmen & women read Scripture. Tony Dungy, the recently retired coach of the Indianapolis Colts, was the featured speaker. Coach Dungy is widely respected both on and off the field as a man of faith and integrity. Coach Dungy clearly communicated his love for Jesus and His desire to obey God by making this world a better place to live for troubled youth. The theme for the morning was “The Power of Forgiveness” and he did a great job exhorting us to believe in the forgiveness found in Jesus’ death and the forgiveness we should and must extend to others. But no offense to Coach Dungy, the story of a broken yet recovering family impacted me the most.
In 2003, teenager Nolan Myers was assisting stranded motorists in NC until he was struck and killed along with six others by a drunk driver. At the MN Prayer Breakfast Nolan’s mother & father spoke of their son’s death and their ongoing struggle of extending forgiveness to the man who killed their son, Mr. Larry Veeder. Nolan’s mother said her forgiveness of Mr. Veeder has been given and taken back several times over the last six years. I can only imagine how intense this battle must be. I want to think if I were the parent in this situation I would find it within myself to follow the Nolan’s example. But I don’t think any of us definitely knows how we would react until it was our journey. In the midst of this immense duel of the heart between forgiveness and bitterness the Nolan family has done an incredible thing though. They took either part or all (I can’t remember…sorry) of Nolan’s remaining scholarship money and donated it so Mr Veeder could get the proper assistance in recovering from alcohol abuse. They have publicly forgiven Mr. Veeder over and over again as well. In the last six years Mr. Veeder began attending chapel services in prison and has accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord & Savior. He currently is an inmate chapel leader and is deepening his faith in Jesus.
The story of Nolan Myers and his family’s journey through forgiveness gave me a more tangible illustration of another incredible story of forgiveness. During Jesus’ crucifixion He uttered one of the most amazing statements ever spoken in the history of mankind. Despite the mockery, beatings, unjust trials, and excruciating pain, Jesus found it within himself to utter these unbelievable words – “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” What is even more amazing is that in the Greek the word “forgive” is spoken in the imperative mood. Jesus’ tone is so fierce it is as if He is commanding His Father to forgive them. He passionately desired for all of them – the Roman soldiers, Caiaphas, Pilate, Herod, the angry mob – to not be held accountable for this horrendous offense. Such forgiveness seems almost impossible to extend but Jesus did it and I’m pretty sure we are to do the same.
Paul, writing to the saints in Ephesus says, “be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Forgiveness releases the offender and us from the prison of bitterness. We are freed from resentment and anger. Our extended forgiveness also provides people with what I believe to be the greatest picture of Jesus’ love and forgiveness of us.
I needed the exhortation last Wednesday from the Nolan family to forgive. I have been carrying around some bitterness from past offenders. Nothing that comes even remotely close to an offense like the Nolan’s experienced but the bitterness was there…lurking, waiting to overtake me. It feels good to release them and move on. I’m sure I will want to take back the forgiveness at times. People are bound to continually disappoint. But the same power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in me. And if He (Jesus) could forgive, then it is possible for me to wade through the complex feelings that result from negative actions or words at my expense and continue to choose forgiveness.
If you would like to read a little more about the Nolans, click HERE. That will get you started on their journey.