CHRISTMAS CLASSICS SERMON SERIES
DECEMBER 7, 1997
It starts the day after Thanksgiving. You can see it, taste it, smell it and feel it. Christmas is in the air. In essence, it is a 28 day countdown of carolers, concerts, parties, presents, football games, food, lights, trees and egg nog all building up to the blastoff of the big day; Christmas. In the midst of this habit, though, we always find time for those Christmas classics, don’t we? You know what I am talking about, those songs and movies that are ageless and timeless. So I thought during this countdown that I would do a series of talks on the Christmas Classics.
Today I am going to talk about a song popularized by Bing Crosby entitled White Christmas. A couple of days ago I decided to hit the streets of the Dallas/Ft. Worth area and find out what people actually know about this Christmas classic.
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Video features Ed speaking to people at Jack in the Box…some he requested to sing a part of that classic song.
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I have a startling announcement to make. The real White Christmas was not popularized by Bing Crosby, it was penned by Isaiah when he wrote in Isaiah 1:18, “though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow.” Granted, it would be wonderful to have a blanket of snow on Christmas morn, but that pales in comparison to the snow-white reflection of a repented sinner. It really, really does.
This morning I want to talk to you about something that swims against the current of almost every natural instinct that we have. It effects everyone, from the illiterate to the intellectual, from the millionaire to those on welfare. The absence of it can devastate friendships, families, marriages, corporations and even churches. I want to talk to you about forgiveness. There is no way that we can have a white Christmas until we have a right Christmas and to have a right Christmas we have got to be people who receive and welcome and give away forgiveness.
Now during this time of year I know family feuds tend to fester. You know what I am talking about, don’t you? As the holidays loom on the horizon we know almost intuitively that we will be thrust into situations where we will to rub shoulders with people and relatives who have hurt us or whom we have hurt. What do we do during those moments of truth? What do we say? Do we pretend everything is A-OK? Do we sweep everything under the carpet? Do we push it down deep into the subterranean level of our lives? Or do we have a white Christmas, a right Christmas? Do we give and receive forgiveness?
Today’s message is more about our future than our past. But for our future to flourish, we have got to make peace with our past. Now some of you right now are having conversations, not out loud, but you are having them in your mind. You are saying, “Why all this talk about a white Christmas, a right Christmas and forgiveness? What is the big deal about having a clean slate in my relational world, Ed? God has forgiven me. Isn’t that enough? Doesn’t that do it?” Ultimately, that is enough. That does do it. But God challenges you and He challenges me to be people who give and receive forgiveness.
So just briefly, I want to argue God’s case for a white Christmas. I want to share with you why God wants us to become a people of forgiveness. First, He want us to be people of forgiveness because we are much forgiven human beings. We are much forgiven human beings. Look at your neighbor and say, “I’m forgiven.” And that is the reason and the motivation for me to be a person who keeps a short account with God and short accounts with others. In Luke 19, Jesus described a short, shrewd man by the name of Zacchaeus. He routinely ripped off his countrymen. Zacchaeus was a Hebrew working for the Roman government. He was working in a clandestine fashion to take a lot of money for himself from his people. One day Jesus saw him and invited him to the first power lunch. And over this power lunch between Zacchaeus and Jesus, Zacchaeus received salvation. He received forgiveness. And then, because of his newfound relationship in the Lord, he walked onto his porch and announced to everyone that he was going to pay back the people he had ripped off four times over. Zacchaeus realized that he was a much forgiven human being. His attitude and actions moved the heart of Jesus and also marked all of those around him. What a powerful thing to realize, ladies and gentlemen. We are much forgiven.
Last weekend I traveled to Houston, TX to co-officiate with my father the wedding of my youngest brother. Now I don’t do weddings very much any more, but when I do weddings, I wear a long, black robe. It fits in with the whole wedding scenery. I was standing in my black robe. To my right my father was standing in his black robe. We kind of looked like the Supreme Court. I watched as the bride walked down the aisle. I watched my lovely wife, Lisa, who was a bridesmaid come down the aisle. To my left was my middle brother, Ben, who was the best man. I have to admit to you that I began to get a little choked up. I said to myself, “Ed, don’t lose it here because, if you start crying, you will begin a tear fest and everyone will become basket cases.” So I began to stare at the floor and think about things that had nothing to do with the wedding, like bass fishing.
I barely got through my part without breaking up. I knew it would be hard for my father to perform the wedding of his baby boy. Dad began to talk and I felt it was really beginning to get to him. He used a verse of scripture that he challenged my brother and his bride to live by. He also challenged all those in attendance to live by it too. I want to share this verse with you. Ephesians 4:32. “Be ye kind, one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.”
Are you harboring a hurt against someone? Are you turning resentment over and over on the rotisserie grill of your mind? Are you? Forgiveness does not mean approval. For a long time I used to think that for me to forgive someone I would have to approve of that human being. That is incorrect. The Bible challenges me and commands me to forgive them, to release them, but I don’t have to approve of their behavior. That reminds me of a song that I used to sing as a child. “What can wash away my sins? Nothing, but the blood of Jesus. What can make me whole again? Nothing, but the blood of Jesus. Oh, how precious is the flow that makes me white as snow, no other fount I know, nothing, but the blood of Jesus.” So the next time you get involved with someone or you think about a person who has hurt you or whom you have hurt, and you know that you have some forgiveness work to do, just say, “I am a much forgiven person.” What a motivation to do this kind of work.
The second reason that I should become a person of forgiveness is because unforgiveness can wreck my life. Unforgiveness can wreck your life. As I mentioned just a few minutes ago, I went to Houston over Thanksgiving for several reasons. First of all, I went there because my son, EJ, had some tests at a Houston hospital. They went well and I am very thankful for that. Secondly, I went because of the wedding. Thirdly, I went for Thanksgiving. While I was there and trying to relax a little bit, dear old Dad walked up to me and said, “Ed, you would really help me out a lot if you would preach for me this Sunday.” Well, you know, preaching down there is preaching for about 10,000. So I had to be on my best behavior. I started to get PMS, Pre Message Syndrome, as I always do. I did the wedding Saturday night with my father and then preached two times on Sunday. I was really tired but I didn’t want to hang out in Houston very much longer. The kids had school the next day and I was ready to get back home. Lisa and I piled into our cars, that’s cars plural, to drive home. We took two cars because of all the kids, the Christmas presents and the paraphernalia that you have to have with you when you travel. Lisa was in the suburban with the twins and I was in my truck, following her, with EJ and LeeBeth. It was between 3 and 4 p.m. We were cruising up I45, going the speed limit. I see Lisa kind of tap on her brakes and think that someone must have slowed down in front of her. I didn’t realize it, but a truck in front of her was completely stopped right in her lane. That truck started a chain reaction collision that wrecked our cars. Lisa hit him from behind and then, to my shock, I, wham, rear-ended her and in a nanosecond a little Toyota hit my F150 from the back. There we were amidst the wreckage while cars were just flying by. It is a helpless feeling. You have been there before, haven’t you?
Well, the wreckers converge on us like barracudas after baitfish. All of the people involved in the accident made it over to a little service station where we talked to a police officer. The wrecker charged me $65 just to raise the bumper off my tire so I would be able to drive the rest of the way home. It was a bad scene. It really is bad when you run into your wife! How many of you have ever run into your wife? Unforgiveness is a lot like that. Because unforgiveness can start a chain reaction pileup that can lead to wrecking your life and mine.
In Matthew 18 Jesus described a person who had wrecked his life due to unforgiveness. You see, Jesus talked about a king who was very wealthy. The king had loaned $10 million to one of his workers. The king decided to call in his accounts. When he did, this man came up to him and said, “King, I can’t pay you back. I don’t have $10 million. Please have mercy on me. Just give me some time and I will rearrange some things.” At that time there was no Chapter 11 or Chapter 13. The king said, “Hey, friend, because you can’t pay me back you are going to go into slavery, your wife is going to go into slavery and your children will go into slavery. See you later.” But the man kept begging him, “Have mercy, King, King, King.” I’m not sure if it was during the holiday season or not but the king turned and forgave that man for his entire debt.
Put yourself in this man’s sandals for a second. How would you feel if you owed $10 million and had someone tell you not to worry about it, wouldn’t you be jumping for joy? I would have a spirit of forgiveness for other people, wouldn’t you? This man didn’t. Do you know what this man did? Jesus said that he left and found a friend of his who owed him $17. He demanded payment at once. The friend said, “No.” And this man, the forgiven man, began to do the Latrell Sprewell thing. He began to choke him by the neck. Roman law said that if someone didn’t pay you back the money that they owed you, you could choke them to death. And that is what was happening.
Well the king heard about this guy’s attitude and he went on tilt. The king took this man, the Bible says, and threw him to the torturers, to a hell-like experience. Then Jesus concluded His text in Matthew 18:35 by saying, “So shall my Heavenly Father also do to you if each of you does not forgive his brother from the heart.” You will experience, I will experience, hell on earth if I harbor the hurt, if I turn resentment over and over and over on the rotisserie grill of my spirit. Unforgiveness will start a chain reaction pileup that can wreck any life. And a lot of you are sinking in your life right now. You are saying, “Something is wrong with me, I am in a wreck here, I am in a collision here, I am in a pileup over here. What is the problem? What is the common bond? What is the common thread?” More often then not you can trace it back to unforgiveness.
The third reason God challenges us to become people of forgiveness is that He knows we will need an infusion of forgiveness in the future. Our God knows that we will need a lot of forgiveness in the future. When I think about a lifestyle of forgiving, when I think about people making peace with their past, my mind rushes to Genesis 37-47. If you want to read a great text on someone who had the spirit of forgiveness, read about the life and times of Joseph.
Joseph was born into the quintessential dysfunctional family. His father was nuts. His brothers were mean-spirited and jealous and they talked about killing him since he was the favored child. Cooler heads prevailed, however, and they decided to sell him into slavery in Egypt. He was bought by a wealthy man, Potipher. Joseph began to work in his household and was elevated eventually to be the second in command of his the large household behind Potipher. Potipher’s wife, who was Ms. Egypt 500 BC, began to make advances to Jospeh. When he had said no repeatedly, she falsely accused him of sexual harassment. Joseph was thrown in jail. You would think that he was now forgotten, finished, done with. But God began to move in Joseph’s life. God, through a strange turn of events, used his interpretation of the king’s dream to free him from jail. The king elevated Joseph, this Hebrew hillbilly, to the second position in the most powerful nation on earth. Joseph was in charge of all the agricultural interests of the nation of Egypt. Joseph predicted what was going to happen. He told the king that for 7 years the crops would flourish and there would be plenty of food for everyone. But he added that following that time there would occur 7 years of famine. Joseph, being smart, collected and stewarded grain so that Egypt was ready for the famine. The people who lived in the surrounding areas did not prepare for the famine and Joseph’s brothers, the ones who had stabbed him in the back and sold him to Egypt, began to get hungry. Their father began to get hungry. The Bible says that the brothers went to the nation of Egypt and had an audience with Joseph. They didn’t recognize him because he looked like an Egyptian. They began to beg him for food.
When you read this story the temptation is to say, “OK, Joseph has got them now. He can take care of them.” You imagine that he will call in the royal guards and torture them. You are ready for him to retaliate and take them out. But he doesn’t do it. He releases them. He forgives them. Why? Because Joseph had made peace with his past. If you haven’t made peace with your past, there is no way your future can flourish. All that past will come up again and again in the present. You need to be a person of forgiveness because you’ll desperately want an infusion of forgiveness in the future. And Joseph was a man who exemplified that.
The fourth reason God insists that we be people of forgiveness is because He knows that blessings will accrue in our accounts when we give and receive forgiveness. Now, what kind of blessings am I talking about? First of all, I am talking about a clear conscience. You can’t beat a clear conscience. In fact, if there were no such thing as heaven, it would be worth it to be a Christian to be clean and clear, to have a white as snow conscience.
Just for a second, run through the photo album of your mind. Is there anyone that you can come in contact with at any time and have your conscience kind of flinch. “Oh, I have got something against him. Oh, I have got something against her. I had better turn and go the other way.” If there is, you need to do some forgiveness work. I will tell you this personal experience. When I feel that someone owes me an apology, usually that means that I also need to apologize to him or her. A clear conscience is a blessing that will accrue in your life.
Another blessing is a greater humility, a greater sense of who you are before God. People tell me all the time that I must be proud of what is happening at the Fellowship of Las Colinas. I answer, “Yes, I am proud, but I am also humbled because I don’t even deserve to be a part of this incredible work. I know my failures but I am here because I got hooked up with a forgiving God.” When we realize that we are much forgiven, when we realize what Jesus has done to secure our forgiveness, it makes us more and more humble. It is amazing that God hits those straight licks with crooked sticks.
Another blessing is that we will understand the failures of others in a more profound way. You will no longer say, “Oh, I can’t believe she did that. I can’t believe they did that.” It makes you more understanding, it really does.
I want to stop and ask you a question. Is the Lord bringing people to your mind right now that you need to do business with, talk to, write to? Is He? Now, how do we do this? How do we apply what I have talked about? Let me give you two suggestions. First, I suggest that you make a list and check it twice. We are always making lists during the holiday season. Make a list and check it twice. Make a list of circumstances and people where you have experienced hurt. God will bring up in your mind the people that you need to deal with. I would say that 99% of us need to do some sort of forgiveness, white Christmas, right Christmas work. Do that. Ask yourself the question, “Is there somebody who can point the accusing finger at me and accuse me of messing them around?”
The second suggestion is to give the gift, this Christmas, of forgiveness. You see you can’t say forgiveness without saying the word give. Give the gift of forgiveness. It is the greatest gift that we will ever give anyone.
I will give you a comforting verse. Romans 12:18. “If possible, as far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Now there are going to be times when you make a list and check it twice, when you give the gift of forgiveness but the other party does not want to mess with you. The other party does not want to receive it. The other party does not want to release you. Why? Because hate is their hobby. They like disliking you. And if that is the case, don’t worry about it, chill out. If possible, as far as it depends on them…no…on the situation…no…on you. So you do your part and that is enough.
A couple of years ago I went to a man’s office to make a situation right. And he was, in my opinion, more in the wrong than I was. But I was in the wrong. He wouldn’t even talk to me. I did what I had to do to make reconciliation, to make forgiveness but he wouldn’t even talk to me or discuss it with me. Sometimes you will have situations like that. Reconciliation cannot always be the goal when you do this forgiveness work. Sometimes the relationship will not be reconciled. But you do what God commands you to do.
Let me add this one caveat. Saying “I am sorry” is not saying “will you forgive me?” That is a cheap way, a superficial way, a sorry way to do it. People say this all the time. “I’m sorry if you are hurt.” What is that? “I’m sorry if I was out of line.” That is not an apology. That is not asking forgiveness. You are still one up. Forgiveness sounds like this. “I’m sorry I messed up in this situation. Will you forgive me?” You see those four powerful words make me vulnerable. We would much prefer to say we are sorry, period. That is not what we are talking about. We are talking about forgiveness.
Now, when you think about the application today, make a list and check it twice and giving the gift of forgiveness, you believe that it will take a lot of work. To set aside one’s ego and pride and really do itcan be hard. Go back to Jesus. What did Jesus do? Jesus set aside His majesty. He humbled himself and he suffered by living a flawless life and dying on the cross for your sins and mine in order to secure our forgiveness. He did that. And yet He sees people like you and me who will not swallow our pride and our ego and humble ourselves to get relationships right. Again, what a motivation that is to be a person of forgiveness.
So, during the countdown until Christmas, as we see it, taste it, smell it and feel it, what are you going to do? Are you truly going to have a white Christmas? Because if you make that decision, you can have a right Christmas every day of the year and your life will be a living example of a Christmas classic.