August 27, 2006
You guys didn’t get the email, did you? Guys, what’s wrong with you? Today is suit day at Fellowship Church! I guess you didn’t get the email. I’m the only one in the suit. Well, that’s all right. That’s okay. Thank you. I appreciate it.
A couple days ago, I pulled out of my garage and headed down the driveway. I had to do some stuff here at the church, and I noticed in our backyard piles and piles of dog do-do. I hate to say dog do-do, but what do you call it? Dog mess? Dog dooky? Dog droppings? It’s dog do-do. We have some giant dogs, so you can imagine the land mines that I saw.
So, I stopped my car, got out, and I said, “E.J.! (That’s my 14-year-old son.) Come down here and, if you would, shovel the dog do-do. It’s in the back yard; it’s in the front. Take care of it. I’ll be back in a couple hours.”
He said, “Yes, sir.”
I drove back in a couple of hours and what do you think I saw in the front and in the back? Dog do-do. “E.J.!” I said.
He came out. “Yes, sir?”
I said, “E.J., I told you to clean up the dog do-do.”
He said, “Dad, I’m sorry. I forgot. Will you forgive me?”
I said, “Yes, but shovel it right now.”
The next day, I pulled into our house and I saw our kids playing soccer in the front yard, but E.J. was sitting by himself on our front porch, dejected looking, shoulders slumped. He was down, I could just see it. I walked up to him and I said, “What’s wrong?”
He said, “Dad, it’s about the dog do-do. I still feel guilty about it.”
I said, “Don’t worry about it. I’ve forgiven you. I’ve taken care of it. I blotted it out of my mind. No big deal!”
Four years later, E.J. is graduating from high school. And as he receives his diploma, he stops, spins on his heels, and he says to the crowd, “Hey, Dad. I know you’re out there and I want to apologize once again for not cleaning up the dog do-do!”
I’ll be like, “Man, this is kind of strange.”
E.J. is now 30. He’s married with a brand new daughter. They come to see us. We hug his wife and hug him. We’re ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the granddaughter. But I can tell E.J.’s down. “Son, what’s wrong?”
He says, “Dad, I feel terrible about the dog do-do. I didn’t clean up after them. I feel horrible.”
Now, at that point, I’m going to stop and think, “My son does not believe that I have forgiven him. He just doesn’t buy it; he doesn’t believe it.”
Could it be that some of you are in the same situation? Could it be that some of you don’t believe that you’ve been forgiven by your heavenly Father? Could it be that you’re walking around in dog do-do as opposed to walking in the freedom and the joy that God has for you.
I’ve been talking about the promises of God lately, and today I’m talking about one of the great ones—the forgiveness of God. Last time we learned that God loves us unconditionally, irrationally, with a one-of-a-kind love. That’s how passionate he is about me and you. You’ve never locked eyes; I’ve never locked eyes with someone who does not matter to God. I’ve never seen someone who’s not irrationally and unconditionally loved by God.
God says he loves us, and then he boldly backs it up. What did he do? He sent Jesus Christ to die on the cross for our sins. Jesus did the forgiveness work, the preemptive forgiveness work before we ever turned from our sin and turned to him.
God is a God who forgives. God is a God who makes promises. He does what he says and says what he does. And we can stand on this promise of forgiveness. But too many people are sitting on the premises instead of standing on the promise of forgiveness.
Think about a promise. A promise is like a stool. It has a foundation. The foundation is forgiveness. On one leg, you have knowledge. On another leg, you’ve got belief. And on the other leg, you’ve got action. I’m talking about A-C-T-I-O-N. So we’ve got to know the promises and we’ve got to believe the promises.
E.J. knew that I’d forgiven him, but he didn’t believe I’d forgiven him. And obviously he was not putting A-C-T-I-O-N beneath the forgiveness.
Forgiveness is the master key, or you could say the Master’s Key, to all relationships. You want a great marriage? You had better walk in forgiveness. You want a great business? You had better walk in forgiveness. You want to be a great teammate? You had better walk in forgiveness. You want to be a great friend? You had better walk in forgiveness. Forgiveness is a foundation. It’s a promise of God.
What does it mean when I say the word “promise”? When I promise something, I’m making a declaration that I will or will not do something. God can be trusted. You can count on his word, the promise of forgiveness. I guess we need to realize who we are. We’re forgiven. We’re sinners saved by grace.
We’ve got to realize whose we are. We’re children of God. We’ve been adopted into the family of God.
We’ve got to realize what we have. We can tap into a force—friends, that is freaky. It’s so powerful! I’m talking about the force of forgiveness. We’re wealthy. We have this currency that God wants us to tap into; yet, a lot of us do life without ever realizing who we are, whose we are, and what we have.
The Bible is packed full of promises. There’s the Clorox promise. Did you know that? The Clorox promise is right here in the Bible.
Isaiah 1:18 says, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” That’s Clorox.
There’s also the coast-to-coast promise.
Psalm 103:12 says, “…as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” That’s the coast-to-coast promise.
Here’s the oceanic promise.
Micah 7:19 says, “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”
The word “forgiveness” means to hurl, to release. The word “resentment,” on the other hand, means to feel again.
Think about your life for a second. Do you have resentment and bitterness and negativity towards someone? When I’m revolving my life around resentment; when I think about the person, I feel what they did to me again. I relive how they harmed me, what they said about me, how they ripped me off.
Have you ever seen a person and you think, “Stay away from that chick. Look at her expression! Stay away from him. Man, that guy’s got some crazy eyes!” They’re full of resentment and bitterness and negativity, and I’ll bet you cash money you can trace their funk all the way back to un-forgiveness. They don’t realize who they are, whose they are, and what they have.
But see, the enemy comes in and the enemy says to you and me, “Hey, hey, hey. Here’s who you were, here’s whose you were, and here’s what you missed! You see, because of what you did a long time ago—that situation in college, or that deal years ago, or that relationship and how you messed that person around—God will not forgive you! God cannot use you any more! It’s curtains for you! Who are you to even think about confessing your sin and asking God to forgive you?”
That’s what the enemy does. But we’ve got to know that he’s a liar. He’s the father of lies, and we’ve got to realize who we are, whose we are, and what we have. Who we are—sinner saved by grace. Whose we are—we’re in the family of God. We can’t get out. And what we have—we have the riches of Christ Jesus, this force that’s freaky called “forgiveness.”
Jesus knew, in his sovereignty and his omniscience that we would struggle with this whole forgiveness thing. I struggle with it and so do you. It’s part of being a human being. And one day he began to talk about it, and he talked about it in a unique way. Jesus was the master storyteller. And Simon Peter obviously had this situation going on in his life. He was dealing with un-forgiveness. Someone had messed him around. We don’t know who, but we know he had this deal going on because of the question he asked Jesus.
If you have your Bibles, turn to Matthew 18:21. Check out Peter’s question. He came to Jesus and said, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”
That’s what Simon Peter said. “Jesus, you know when my brother messes me around when he stabs me in the back, how many times should I forgive him? Like, seven times? I mean, that’s borderline amazing.”
Peter was thinking this is pretty incredible, because back in this day, for a Jew to forgive someone three times, to three-peat, was like, whoa! You are holy, you are righteous, and you’re a spiritual superstar!
And here’s what Jesus said back to him. It’s a very interesting answer. Jesus said, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.”
Seventy times seven. And some of you are thinking, “Okay, is that like 490 times? That must be 490 times, so I better keep a ledger.”
No, no, no, no. It’s a phrase and it’s rendered in different ways throughout different translations, but it’s a phrase that means infinity. That’s what it means. Jesus was saying, “Keep on forgiving and forgiving and forgiving and forgiving some more, Simon Peter; and some more and some more and some more and even more…more…more…more…more.” That’s what Jesus said.
Well, obviously Simon Peter still didn’t get it, so Jesus launches into a story about a king and some servants. The king was settling some accounts, and this one servant owed the king $10 million in today’s money. So, the servant was in debt to the king. That’s not chump change, is it? Well, he couldn’t pay that back. Who could pay back $10 million?
Now, back in this day, you couldn’t file Chapter 11. You couldn’t call the attorneys and accountants. You couldn’t do all that mess. They could kill you on the spot if they wanted to settle the debt. They could sell you and your family down the river. And that’s what was hanging in the balance for this servant. He owed $10 million. And the king was saying, “I want my $10 mil now!”
And the servant was pleading, “I can’t get it. Please forgive me of my debt. Please forgive me of the $10 million.” I mean what a pipe dream!
And Jesus said the king forgave him on the spot. Now picture that for a second. You owe $10 million, and the person you owe it to goes, “Ah, don’t worry about it. It’s no big deal.”
Wow! We would all be partying and saying, “Oh, thank you, Lord! This is a miracle!”
But Jesus said the servant, the forgiven servant, found a guy that owed him $10 or $11, started choking him and saying, “Give me back my $10! Give me back my money!”
Well, the king caught wind of this. You know what he did? Well, let’s let Scripture tell us what he did.
Matthew 18:32-34 says, “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.”
Now, verse 35 is a verse I wish I could erase from Scripture. Verse 35 is one I wish I could delete. I don’t want to read this verse to you. I don’t like this verse. I don’t dig this verse. But I’ve got to teach this verse to you because I’m called of God to preach and teach the full counsel of God. That’s my responsibility before God. But I’m going to tell you, I don’t like this. So don’t think, “Well, Ed really likes this.” No, I don’t. But let’s talk about it, okay?
Matthew 18:35, are you ready for this? Here’s how Jesus concluded the story. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
I’m sure at this time, Simon Peter was thinking, “Man, I wish I hadn’t asked the question.” He began to connect the dots. He’s thinking, “Whoa, this forgiveness is pretty serious stuff.”
Simon Peter thought when someone had offended him that they owed him. And then that’s what I think in the natural. You mess me around, you hurt me, and then you owe me. You have created the debt, so you must pay me. Do you think the same way? They hurt me! They abused me! They stole from me! They aren’t fair to me! My ex-spouse did 1—2—3. They’ve got to pay. They’ve created the debt; they’ve got to pay me back. I’m not going to do jack!
But Jesus changed the whole deal. Jesus is saying right here that forgiveness is as much for the offended as for the offender. Jesus is saying that if we’re walking in the flow of forgiveness, if we realize who we are, whose we are, and what we have, we, as Christ-followers, should cancel the debt.
“But, you don’t understand, Ed! You don’t get it!”
I know I don’t. I’m not saying, nor is Scripture saying, you have to like them or go out to brunch with them this afternoon. But my Bible tells me and your Bible tells you that we must cancel the debt. If we don’t, we’re going to live a life of torture—anger and resentment and bitterness. I don’t want that, and I don’t think you want it either! Cancel the debt. Name the debt. Get specific about the debt. Then cancel the debt.
All we have to do as Christ-followers is look at the cross. Think about the debt that we have created due to our sinfulness! Do you think I deserve what Jesus did for me on the cross? Are you kidding?! You think you deserved it? No way! It’s mercy. That’s grace! It’s unmerited, free of charge, undeserved.
So, when I look at the cross and realize how much I’ve been forgiven and how huge my debt was and how that debt was covered, then I should rush to forgive my fellow man! I’ve been greatly forgiven; I should greatly forgive.
Naturally, though, I don’t want to do that. Naturally, I want to say, “I am going to get this person back! I’m going to make them pay.” Or I might say, “God, show me mercy. But give them justice. God, help me out. But blast that guy at work. He’s a jerk!”
That’s what we say. There’s a debt out there. People have caused debt in your life and mine. We’ve got to cancel the debt. If we don’t, we’re going to be like that servant. And I meet so many people who are tortured because of resentment and bitterness and un-forgiveness.
Recently, I was dealing with this whole situation, because someone hurt me and I was processing this un-forgiveness stuff. They created a debt by what they did, and I said to myself, “I’m going to make them pay. I’m not going to cancel their debt, not what they did to me. I’m not going to do it!”
And I felt some negativity and resentment. I felt my heart being hardened. And I talked to a friend of mine, who’s a Christian counselor, and he said, “Ed, do you know what you’re doing? You’re allowing this person to rent cheap space in your mind.”
Who are you allowing to rent cheap space in your mind? That’s a good question. I canceled the debt. I don’t particularly like the person. I love him in Christ. I know Jesus loves him and Jesus has forgiven him. But we’re not best friends. So, when Jesus talks about forgiveness and canceling the debt, and when I talk about it, I’m not saying you become buddies with them and hang out with them. I’m not saying you have to run with them for the rest of your life. No, no, no, no, no. Jesus also said to be wise as serpents and as harmless as a dove. You know, you touch the stove, it burns your hand. You don’t go, “Oh, I’ll touch it again.”
Jesus is saying, “If someone burns you (and we’ve all been burned), cancel the debt.” You’re freeing yourself up. You’re being able to walk in liberation. You’re able to throw negativity and resentment away from your life, and you can discover who God wants you to be. That’s why Jesus said in the model prayer, Matthew 6, “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors….” See the connectivity between God and fellow man? It’s a vertical and horizontal situation.
“Okay,” you’re saying, “Ed, I see the promise of forgiveness. I see that I’m to know it, believe it, and act upon it. Well, how do I do that? I feel like I’m sitting on the premises instead of standing on the promise. How do I stand on the promise of forgiveness? How do I put action behind it?”
FORGIVE FREELY, FULLY, FINALLY
Well, here are several things we can do. We need to forgive freely, fully, and finally. Say it with me—freely, fully, and finally. I’m to forgive and you’re to forgive freely.
The Bible says in Colossians 3:13, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
I lost my right to refuse to forgive 2000 years ago. You lost your right to refuse to forgive 2000 years ago when Jesus Christ hung suspended between heaven and earth, as he paid for your sins and mine, as he did the forgiveness work on the cross. He did that before we ever sought it and before we ever accepted it.
We have these people running around and the work of forgiveness has been done, the debt has been paid for. Yet, they’re just trampling and hydroplaning over the love and the forgiveness and the mercy of God. All you’ve got to do is accept what’s been done for you. That’s why Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished.” You will never know the depth of forgiveness until you make that decision. You will never, ever know it.
You see, I wasted time in my life over this person because I was so busy saying, “Look what he did to me,” when I should’ve said, “Ed, look what you’re doing to yourself with this negativity, and resentment, and feeling it over and over again.” Life is too short for it. Cancel the debt.
God, right now, is bringing up people in your life and you, for a long time, have been saying, “You know what? They created the debt and they’re going to pay. They’re going to come crawling back to me. I’m not going to say jack to them.”
But you know what? You smell like dog do-do. The poo is on you, and you’re tryin’ to get it off with the step. You’ve got a stick and you’re trying to wipe the dog do-do off. But it stays worse and worse and worse. And when people see you coming, they’re like, “Whoa, man! Stay away!”
Whenever someone kind of turns their nose up at you, that means the poo is on you! Well, I was in the dog do-do over this situation. That’s not where God wanted me to be.
In Matthew 6:14-15 Jesus said, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
There’s no explanation really there, is there? We’re to forgive freely. We’re also to forgive fully.
Ephesians 4:26-27 says, “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”
Now, we studied this a while back. It’s not always a sin to get angry. But there are certain types of anger that are sinful. The enemy doesn’t just come in and say, “Okay, I’m going to get a foothold.” We’re the ones who give him a foothold! With this situation that I’ve been tellin’ you about in my life, I was giving the enemy a foothold. I was saying to him, “Okay, let me help you up. There’s a little step; come on up.”
And the foothold, if I didn’t take care of it, can become a stronghold; and a stronghold will turn into a choke-hold. Un-forgiveness will choke the life out of you!
Job 5:2 says, “Resentment kills a fool.” It’s not worth it.
Some people say, “Well, I’ll forgive, I’ll cancel the debt when I feel like it.”
You probably will never feel like it. I’m not sure I would’ve ever felt like canceling the debt that this guy caused in my life. I would’ve never felt like it. I would’ve died saying, “He’s going to come crawling back to me.”
If you don’t feel like canceling the debt, that means you need to. If you do feel like it, it probably means you don’t need to, you know? And people say all the time, “Well, I’ve just got to feel it. If I feel it that means it’s real.”
No. If you feel it, many times it’s totally the wrong thing. Because so often, if I did what I felt like doing, it would be totally and completely out of the will of God. My faith and your faith should not be built on feelings. It must be built and grounded on fact. Feelings flow from facts. We’ve just got to be a fact Jack.
Fact—I’m loved by God. Fact—that God has forgiven me. But to wait for this sweet, syrupy feeling of forgiveness, and then you do it? Sorry! It’s not going to happen, especially if you’re married, you know? Ladies, do you ever feel like forgiving your husband. Do you ever feel like canceling the debt? No! Guys, do you ever feel that way? No. It’s not going to happen.
Do you think Jesus felt that way right before the cross? Did Jesus say, “Oh, I feel like dying on the cross for the sins of mankind. I feel that. I feel like being abused and tortured and whipped. I feel like that.”
What did he say? “Lord, if it’s your will, may this pass from me.”
We can’t wait for some feeling. We’ve got to forgive fully, though. We can’t hold grudges.
And also, we should forgive finally.
In Jeremiah 31:34 God says, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
It’s not that God has spiritual amnesia. God didn’t say, “Oh, I just totally forgot.”
No, no. God chooses not to remember, and that’s the miracle of the grace of God. We realize who we are, whose we are, and what we have. We choose not to remember. That’s why, when we have a memory of someone of a negative situation… Let’s say, for example, I think about that person that hurt me. He comes up in my mind. I don’t rent cheap space to him anymore. I use that memory and I think about that memory and I turn that memory into a memorial of the grace of God, because I have canceled the debt.
That’s why, no matter what someone has done to you; no matter how they’ve taken advantage of you; no matter how they’ve robbed from you; no matter how they’ve messed you around—that memory of that person can become a memorial to the grace and the mercy and the forgiveness of God if you’ll cancel the debt. Cancel the debt.
Okay, people have created debt in your life and mine. We’re to cancel the debt. But you’re saying, “What if I need to do some forgiveness work myself?”
Jesus tells us to do some forgiveness work, to take the initiative. As Christ-followers, we have this ministry of reconciliation. We’re to go to people. And there are three groups of people where we need to do the most forgiveness work.
Number One—the people we love the most.
Number Two—the people we work with.
And Number Three—our peers or our competitors.
Those are the three areas of humanity that we’ll have the most forgiveness work with.
What do you do when you have caused the debt or when you know there’s some disharmony going on? You go to the person in love and you seek forgiveness. But let me press a big ol’ honkin’ pause button right now and tell you what not to do!
Do not get involved in the fake apology. Oh, I’ve done that before—the fake apology. It goes like this: Hey, uh, I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings. Hey, I want to apologize if you took it the wrong way. I’m sorry if I damaged your emotions in any shape, form, or fashion.
What is that?! That is idiotic! That is so condescending! That’s so ego-driving it’s pathetic. And it’s from the pit of hell! And I’ve said those things before, too. When I’ve said those things, after the situation, I’ve thought, “Ed, you idiot!”
When you have said, “I’m sorry if I hurt you,” then you’re still in control! You’re saying, “I’m superior; you’re inferior. I’m sorry if I hurt your emotions.” In other words, “You’re an emotional basket-case. You can’t take it. You’re supersensitive and I’m not.” That’s hilarious, isn’t it? And we’ve all done that before.
What should we do? Well, here’s what I learned a long time ago. You go to the person and you say, “I was wrong.” You name the debt and say, “I’m sorry,” which is fine. Then you say, “Will you forgive me? Will you forgive me?”
Now, the person doesn’t have to forgive you, but you’ve done what you can do. That’s what Jesus says. We have to do as much as we can do and say what we can say, but we’re not responsible for their response. We hit the ball on their side of the court, and maybe they hit it back or not. That’s cool. Once we do it, though, we are freed up to discover this freaky force of forgiveness and live in liberation and live the kind of life that God wants us to live. So, stand on the promise of forgiveness.
The Christian life would be worth it even if there was no such thing as heaven. Let me say that again. The Christian life would be worth it even if there was no such thing as heaven, just because of forgiveness, just because of this promise. The Christian life would be worth it. Now, obviously, we know there’s a heaven. But we have the opportunity to walk in forgiveness.
Are you sitting on the promises and saying to yourself, “They’ve got to come crawling back to me. They’ve got to apologize to me. They have got to beg me”? Or, are you standing on the promise of forgiveness from our great God.