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#361 - "Forgiveness" by Matthew West
Matthew West shares with Kevin Davis the real-life story that inspired his latest hit song, "Forgiveness."

With two GRAMMY® nominations, a Primetime Emmy® nod, a sold-out arena tour and a Billboard Music Award nomination, 2012 has been quite a year for Sparrow Records recording artist Matthew West. West augments this already-stellar season with the release of his fifth studio album, Into The Light. The project quickly climbed to the No. 1 spot on the iTunes ® Christian & Gospel Albums chart upon release.
After receiving more than 10,000 personal stories from all over the globe for his heralded 2010 album, The Story of Your Life, the acclaimed singer-songwriter, who has been forever impacted by the outpouring of stories, felt as though there was even more for others to say during this season of his music. 
The new studio album, Into The Light, features 12 tracks inspired by 10,000 new letters submitted after West invited people to, once again, send him their stories. The songs comprising Into The Light were inspired by stories touching on everything from the power of forgiveness, drug addiction, the rejection of apathy, domestic violence and many other topics. 
The songs making up this sixth studio project were written mostly while he was on tour this spring.
Each of the storytellers who inspired these tracks were in attendance for West's Storytellers Weekend 2012 and were surprised with a special dinner, concert and commemorative plaques, presented by West, bearing handwritten lyrics to the song their story inspired. In addition, they were treated to a night at the Grand Ole Opry, where West performed.
I had the great opportunity to speak with Matthew about the story behind lead single from Into The Light, "Forgiveness." This is what he shared with me.
Please tell me about the background in writing the song "Forgiveness."
It's been an exciting journey and it has really been my honor to tell people's stories through these songs. I can't believe how it just started with my simple request for people to write me their stories, and here we are three years later. I'm able to make not one, but two albums inspired by the true stories of peoples' lives. When I read a story that would make me have an emotional response like no other, I found myself jumping to my guitar, whether it was amazingly heartbreaking or amazingly redemptive. 
The song "Forgiveness" chronicles a mother dealing with the death of her daughter at the hands of a drunk driver. It was one of the first stories I read and it stuck with me the whole time and I was waiting for the right time to deliver this message through a song. Now the song is seeing the light of day, and it is my honor to share it. The song is about Renee, who lost her daughter Megan in a car accident at the hands of a drunk driver, a 24-year-old named Eric who was by all accounts a great young man, but made a tragic mistake. Renee's been on a journey of hatred, and bitterness, and she's learned how to forgive the young man who took her beloved daughter's life. 
Do you have any Bible verses you used in writing the song?

Matthew 18:21-22: The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. Then Peter came to Him and said, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven."
Romans 5:8: But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
...and 1 John 1:9: If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
What's the take-away message for listeners regarding the song and the album?
In a miraculous way, after Megan's death in 2001, Renee began giving presentations, and in time, God put it on her heart to forgive this man and reach out to him in prison. She learned that until she was set free of the anger and bitterness she held towards Eric, she was going to be the prisoner even though he was the one behind bars. 
As a result, Eric found his own personal faith in Christ and they developed a unique friendship to the point where she feels like she gained a son, and she even went to the courts to cut Eric's sentence in half. He made a terrible mistake taking the life of two young girls, and yet he's been forgiven. Renee told him that she serves a God who commands her to forgive and she needed to be set free as much for herself as for him. After Eric leaves prison this November 2012,  he'll be standing by Renee's side at these presentations, which is a story the world needs to hear! He'll be a free man, in more ways than one. Renee's story is life-defining as we all need to think about how forgiveness can set us free.
Regarding the stories on this album, sometimes I respond in some way and encourage people with Scripture, which has created a unique dialogue. People have been thankful that they've been able to share what's been going on in their life and I've found it wasn't even as much that they were a fan of my music or dreamt of having a song written about their life. It was more that somebody asked them to share it, and in some cases, they had no one else to talk to. It dawned on me that maybe this whole idea is not about music after all. Though it's awesome to make records inspired by true stories, it's more special that there's a chance for dialogue and to give people an outlet to let them know somebody's listening and praying for them.
It's the hardest thing to give away 
And the last thing on your mind today 
It always goes to those that don't deserve 

It's the opposite of how you feel 
When the pain they caused is just to real 
It takes everything you have just to say the word... 
Forgiveness, Forgiveness 

It flies in the face of all your pride 
It moves away the mad inside 
It's always anger's own worst enemy 
Even when the jury and the judge 
Say you gotta right to hold a grudge 
It's the whisper in your ear saying 'Set It Free' 

Forgiveness, Forgiveness 
Forgiveness, Forgiveness 

Show me how to love the unlovable 
Show me how to reach the unreachable 
Help me now to do the impossible 
Forgiveness, Forgiveness 
Help me now to do the impossible 

It'll clear the bitterness away 
It can even set a prisoner free 
There is no end to what it's power can do 
So, let it go and be amazed 
By what you see through eyes of grace 
The prisoner that it really frees is you 

Forgiveness, Forgiveness 
Forgiveness, Forgiveness 

Show me how to love the unlovable 
Show me how to reach the unreachable 
Help me now to do the impossible 

I want to finally set it free 
So show me how to see what Your mercy sees 
Help me now to give what You gave to me 
Forgiveness, Forgiveness

Matthew Henry's Bible commentary: "Here Jesus begins the fourth discourse in Matthew, addressing relationships in the church, the community of the kingdom. Relations with the state, with one's spouse and with children surround this section. Yet Jesus' teaching on relationships here especially addresses relationships among disciples. As God's community, they are to watch out for one another, expressing patience toward the spiritually young as well as seeking to restore the straying, gently disciplining the erring and forgiving the repentant."
Now that the journey's come completely full circle, West decided to take the concept one step further and launch a new nonprofit called population WE, a name gleaned from "My Own Little World," a song about trading selfishness for a spirit of community. The ministry is designed to go much deeper than just the storytellers series, seeking to provide resources and spiritually centered assistance to those struggling with urgent issues.
"This is an opportunity for prayer, counseling, support and follow-up," West confirms of, which officially launched Sept. 25 alongside the album. "If there's an 18-year-old kid who's a meth addict and says he needs help, we have channels lined up with Teen Challenge and know a center close to where he lives. And if he can't afford the tuition to get clean, our nonprofit pays for it. There's no way that kid's not going to get the help needs!"
This powerful song "Forgiveness" and Jesus' parable of the unforgiving servant displays how much God wants us to dispose our hearts to forgive each other. This is not enough, we must seek the welfare even of those who offend us. The humbled sinner relies only on free abounding mercy through the ransom of the death of Christ. Let us seek more and more for the renewing grace of God, to teach us to forgive others as we hope for forgiveness from Him. 
We all need to be unashamed of our faith in Jesus and we all need to be bold in expressing our faith. You are doing friends and family members who aren't believers a disservice to not fully share the Gospel. As the song beautifully states, "I want to finally set it free, So show me how to see what Your mercy sees, Help me now to give what You gave to me, Forgiveness, Forgiveness." Amen to that!
(Listen to this powerful song here.)

NRT Lead Contributor Kevin Davis is a longtime fan of Christian music, an avid music collector and credits the message of Christian music for leading him to Christ. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and three daughters.

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