On Sunday nights I am preaching verse by verse through the book of Ephesians. Recently I preached from verse 7 about forgiveness of sin. While trying to come up with a good illustration of Biblical forgiveness, God brought a memory to my mind of something I had seen a couple of years ago here in Cambodia. This illustration is about an old train that looks kind of like the one pictured above.
Over the past 20 years, many families (most of them poverty-stricken) have built small houses and shacks along each side of the tracks where the train slowly rumbles through our city. When I say along the tracks, I mean that literally. In many of the houses you can stand in the front door and touch the train as it passes. The railways in Cambodia are in a state of great disrepair, but still the train (an engine pulling a few cars) comes through these neighborhoods periodically. Sometimes it comes several times in one week, and other times it may be a couple of weeks between trains. People have ropes and awnings strung across the tracks where they have set up small market stalls, makeshift restaurants, and laundry lines, and they have to move those things out of the way if a train comes through. When they hear the train coming, they usually have about 2 minutes or so to clear the tracks.
One of the first times I visited a family along the tracks, I was inside witnessing and we kept hearing the whistle blowing over and over as it approached. The incessant blowing of the horn seemed a little over the top to me until the neighbors outside started shouting for the owner of the red moto to move it out of the way. It was mine! I had parked it on the side of the house where I was visiting, but it was sticking out a bit into the path of the train.
One day I led a one-armed man to Christ. Most people in Cambodia who are missing a limb lost it to a land mine, but this man told me that when he was a teenager he was asleep on the tracks and didn't wake up in time to move. Many of the young people who live along these tracks have lived there all of their lives.
While out soulwinning with some of our church people one day, I saw something that made me (and the others) laugh long and loud. While waiting for our last soulwinning group to come to the van, the train came slowly down the track. Like always, there were young boys jumping on and off the train and having a great time, but it was something else that caught my eye that day. Along the side of the engine, where lots of bars and bolts stuck out in various places, hung a plastic bag filled with garbage and neatly tied at the top. Someone in one of the houses had decided that the easiest and quickest way to get rid of their garbage was to hang it on the train as it went by. They probably didn't have any idea where the train was ultimately going or when it would stop. They just knew they wanted their garbage to go away.
One of the definitions of the word "forgive" is "to send away" and "forgiveness of sin" is one of the numerous spiritual blessings that Christ has provided for all believers (Ephesians 1:7). When God forgives sin, he sends it away (Psalm 103:12). He takes that smelly bag of garbage, hooks it on the train of God's grace, and it disappears into the distance never to return. When I ask God to forgive me for some wrong that I have done, I really don't know where that sin goes. I just know I don't want it anymore. God takes it and disposes of it somewhere in the depths of the sea where no one will ever find it again (Micah 7:19). And once sin has taken the journey on the grace train, it's gone forever (Hebrews 10:17). It's really pretty amazing when you think about it.
Sadly, we humans aren't nearly as good at forgiveness as God is. Oftentimes we forgive only in a guarded and begrudging way. It's kind of like part forgiveness/part probation. We figure we can forgive today, but if it suits our purposes, we can always bring the offense back up tomorrow. But forgiveness means "to send away". Many of our relationships would be greatly strengthened if we would learn to "send offenses away". It doesn't even require the other person to ask for our forgiveness for us to simply decide that this garbage (the anger, the bitterness, the resentment) needs to go. Most of us probably are familiar with Ephesians 4:32, "And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you." But there is also a very important truth found in the preceding verse, "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:" If we keep the bag of garbage in our house (instead of sending it away), it just makes our own house stink.
Is there someone you need to forgive today? Have you been storing up hurts and offenses in your heart? Are they starting to fester and ferment? I hear God's Grace Train coming down the track. Hang your garbage on the train and send it away.