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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Graber

Christ has risen! I'm forgiven! ...right?

Have you seen the 2023 movie Champions?


For a recent girls night out, some friends and I went to see a movie. Champions is about a semi-pro basketball coach who was sentenced to coaching a team of adults with disabilities after being convicted of a drinking and driving charge. One of the players in the movie refused to play for Coach. Spoiler alert: the player, Darius, sustained a brain injury after being hit by a drunk driver.


I watched Darius hold back his team by withholding his talent. I watched Darius be unhappy because holding a grudge prevented him from doing what he really liked to do. I watched as Darius struggled against what God wanted him to do, firmly declaring "Nope" each time Coach invited Darius into the thing Darius most desired.


My first thought was, "Yeah, Darius! You show that coach just what he is missing out on!" When Coach found out that Darius had brain damage because a drunk driver caused an accident, Coach went to Darius' house to tell Darius he understood why Darius wouldn't play with the team while Coach was coaching. As the movie progressed, though, I started to think about how Coach wasn't really missing out on anything; Darius was.


Ephesians 4:31-32 (NIV) commands, "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."

Holding on to all his anger was holding Darius back--not Coach; Coach was fulfilling the consequences of his mistake through his commitment to coaching the team. One day, Darius appeared in the doorway of the gym and told the coach about his mom, who was a Christian and who suggested Darius do what Jesus did: forgive them--Coach and the drunk driver who caused Darius' brain injury. So, Darius came to the gym to practice forgiveness. Then, I saw God work in Darius' life. When Darius was practicing forgiveness, Darius received the greatest rewards. Darius got to experience the joy of playing basketball with others again. Darius got to have fun with his friends. Darius experienced the joy of victory with his team.


Matthew 6:14-15 (NIV) says, "For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." Based on this verse, Darius must have received the ultimate reward: Forgiveness. Think of the sacrifice God made so this could be possible: Jesus' death on the cross!


This is a fact—not a declaration: I am not perfect. I am a sinner.


This is a fact and a declaration:

I am strong.

I am loved.

I am free.

I am an overcomer.

I am forgiven.

I am all of these because I am a child of the most high God.


Being imperfect doesn’t define me; God defines me as He refines me. I, too, am practicing forgiveness. Unlike my omniscient, perfect deity, I do not have the capacity to see and know all. In fact, I am very much like Darius. No, I don't mean I have semi-pro dribbling skills. Haha. No one would tell you that about me! I mean, I tend to focus on the pain of what was done to me instead of the rewards and victories God has in store for me!


Now, I am repositioning how I look at things. I am trying to forgive people who have hurt me. Holding on to the hurt doesn't hurt the people who did me wrong; holding onto the hurt hurts me. Even after 50 years, I don't think the realization of this truly dawned on me as explicitly as I am realizing now how holding on to a grudge really prevents me from moving forward and receiving all of the victories God has planned for my life.


Colossians 3:13 (NIV) tells us to "Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you."

Vengeance is not my reward (or even mine to pursue). In Colossians, Paul reminds us to bear with each other. This means we should support each other even through difficulties. Upon learning about the cause of Darius’ brain injury, the coach went to Darius’ house to tell Darius he understood and to ask Darius to forgive him. Darius asked the coach if the coach would drink and drive again. Coach said no. Coach was realizing the consequences of his own sins and paying the debt owed to society. Coach also tried to make amends, which must've been difficult to do. After all, hurt is a heavy load--like the cross Jesus bore. Holding on to hurt by withholding forgiveness is equally weighty.


But not everyone attempts to right their wrongs like Coach did with Darius. Sometimes, the Darius' of the world, those who have been wronged or hurt, have to forgive anyway--for themselves, for their own salvation. I am reminded of Peter who in Matthew 18:21 (NIV) asked Jesus "Lord how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?" In Matthew 18:22 (NIV), Jesus does not hesitate: "Jesus Answered, 'I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.'" Like Peter, I find forgiveness takes repetition...or practice.


I found Champions to be an apt metaphor for a number of reasons, but the prevailing themes of forgiveness denote some messages God seems to have been trying pass on to me. When Jesus was on the cross, he implored, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34, NIV). Even when I fail or I am not aware of my own sin, I am comforted by God's grace. Yet, I also have an imperative to practice what Jesus taught. So, like Darius, I am practicing forgiveness.


On the heals of our celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, I encourage you to fill your cup with love, compassion, mercy, and grace. Put the light of Jesus at the center of your thoughts and actions. Practice forgiveness.


Wishing you blessings in the name of Jesus,

Michelle

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