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I forgive you

By Troy Hartman

In December of 1999 I had just graduated college with a criminal justice degree and was heading toward a career with the Kansas Highway Patrol. I lived for everything and everyone else but God. I was a young man with good intentions but destructive habits.

Parties, drinking and girls took my time, money and heart. When I was invited to a New Year’s Eve party with some of my teammates from the basketball team, saying yes was an easy decision.

It was around 3 a.m., Jan. 1, 2000, as I sat in the Taney County (Mo.) Jail that a highway patrolman broke the news. Due to injuries suffered in our car accident, my friend Matt Jones was pronounced dead upon arriving at the hospital.

“Troy,” the patrolman said, “since you were driving under the influence of alcohol you are being charged with involuntary manslaughter.”

I remember telling myself I would never deserve to have another moment of joy in my life! All I could think about in the days that followed was why I was still alive. I didn’t deserve to be alive. I was the one who deserved to die. What did Matt’s family think of me? Did they hate me?

Then came the three words that forever changed and restored my life. Matt’s mom, Mary, called wanting to talk with me. What she said was the last thing on earth I ever thought I would hear from her.

“Troy, I forgive you!”

I couldn’t understand it. I couldn’t comprehend it. It was beyond reason. When I arrived at Matt’s funeral Mary found me and embraced me and said it again, “I forgive you!” How could she say that? I was prepared for any kind of response because I deserved the worst. But “I forgive you” dropped me to my knees.

Then she said, “If you ask Him, God will forgive you too, and He will use this tragedy for good.”

I didn’t believe God could forgive me, but out of respect for Mary I had to ask God for His forgiveness. On Super Bowl night 2000, instead of watching the game, I got on my knees at a small church service and said those three words, “God forgive me!”

Even though I didn’t think He would, or He could, I felt God say to me, “I forgive you!”

Today and every day those three words continue to be the source of strength in my soul that allows me to live life free and full. My life, my story, is an illustration of God’s forgiveness.

It is only by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ that anyone can be saved. We all are in desperate need of the undeserved kindness of God. A tragedy like mine causes the need for that kindness to become clear for those who have stories like mine. But the truth is, every human being is in just as much need to have those three words spoken into their lives by a living and loving and forgiving God!

The power of forgiveness is not only beyond reason, it is beyond comprehension. For nearly five years I’ve served as Student Ministries director at North Point Church (AG) in Springfield, Mo., where God has given me the opportunity to display my life as an illustration of His forgiveness and reach and teach our teenagers to experience the undeserved forgiveness of God.

I challenge them, “What if we were to live out the command of Christ to forgive as He has forgiven us? What would the power of that choice change in your life? What would the power of that choice change in your schools and in your community?”

I’ve learned God’s forgiveness is beyond understanding. I’ve learned from Matt’s mom, Mary, that the power of God’s forgiveness lived out in a life is beyond understanding as well.

TPExtra: Read "Forgiven at Last," the story of how Troy Hartman survived his sentence and found his Savior.

TROY HARTMAN is the youth director at North Point Church in Springfield, Mo.

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