FIRST-PERSON: A real-life story of forgiveness
NEW ORLEANS (BP) -- Forgiveness is a significant theme in God's Word.
The Bible tells us: "As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us" (Psalm 103:12). "I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will remember not your sins" (Isaiah 43:25). "He [Jesus] was delivered up because of our offenses, and raised because of our justification" (Romans 4:25). "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
Scripture is clear; God's forgiveness is for all, but each one of us must receive His forgiveness personally.
Our family has experienced forgiveness in a clear and visible way. My dad, Bob Harrington, was dramatically converted on April 15, 1958, when I was only 6 years old. He attended a revival meeting in his hometown of Sweet Water, Ala., to find some insurance prospects, and instead he found the Lord. During the fifth stanza of "Just As I Am," Dad was forgiven of his sin and saved by the grace of God.
He preached his first sermon three days later and led his parents to faith in Jesus Christ. My mother, sister and I followed Dad in faith and became active in church. The Lord called my dad to ministry and led him to attend New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
In a chapel service, then-NOBTS President Leo Eddleman presented a challenge to students: "Any pocket of sin is a mission field, and the closest Christian to it is a missionary." Dad responded to that call and began a ministry in the French Quarter of New Orleans. In 1962, he was proclaimed by the mayor "The Chaplain of Bourbon Street."
His ministry expanded in the 1960s and 1970s from the second block of Bourbon Street to nationwide crusades and national television. Many people were converted and called to the ministry through his personal soul-winning and powerful preaching. God used Bob Harrington to share His gift of forgiveness with thousands of others.
At the peak of Dad's ministry, "the devil threw him a pass and he ran for defeat" (drawing from his own words). He left the Lord, left the ministry, left my mother and left our family. What a painful time for each of us.
God immediately spoke to me about forgiveness. I needed to forgive my dad even though he did not ask for forgiveness. Initially I did not want to forgive him, but later I chose to obey God's clear command. We prayed faithfully for Dad's restoration for 17 years before he returned to the Lord. What a time of rejoicing for our family! We were a part of his redemption story as Dad sought forgiveness from each of us.
After Dad returned to the Lord, he again had “fun being saved” and became “happy in the Lord.” He was bold in his witness and called to preach to others like him who had left the Lord and needed to get right with Him. He titled his message on prodigals, “Loving the Left Back Right.” What a beautiful picture of forgiveness!
In his later years, Dad had dementia. He was completely at peace in his condition. He spent his days sitting in his big red chair watching television.
As I walked into his little house one afternoon, God gave me a vivid example of total forgiveness. A divorced couple on the Jerry Springer program was screaming at each other. Dad looked up at me and said, "Isn't it wonderful that no one in our family has ever been divorced? We all love each other." Wow! Who would have ever thought that such truth could come from a Jerry Springer moment? Dad himself had been divorced twice, but God had forgiven him and taken his sin out of his conscious thoughts. What a perfect picture of forgiveness! When God forgives, our sin is completely removed.
My sister and I rejoice in the forgiveness of God which allowed our family to be reunited and our dad to have joy until his last breath. To our knowledge, Dad had no memory of the time he was away from the Lord. He talked often about our family years ago and remembered many amazing days of ministry. When once asked by a reporter what led him back to the Lord, Dad sincerely replied, "I have never left the Lord. I have always loved Him." God literally removed his sin and blotted it from his memory, so he remembered it no more. I will always be grateful for being a part of a real-life story of forgiveness!