FORGIVENESS: THE REAL F WORD
Forgive For Good
April 24-25, 2004
[A park bench is sitting in the middle of the stage. When Ed comes on stage, he is carrying a dog leash.]
If you weren’t here last weekend, you might be wondering why I have these two objects up here—a park bench and a leash. In fact, how many of you were not here last weekend? Lift your hands. Alright! Man, that’s a lot of people that weren’t here last weekend. I might just repeat what I said last time. What do you think? No, I won’t do that, but I do need to explain these objects to you because I talked about these things. I had something pretty crazy happen to me.
A couple of weeks ago, I was at one of those fake gas stations. You know, it’s really a liquor store, but they have gas pumps out front. They call it a gas station. I was filling my car up and I noticed this guy jogging with a long leash, and on the end of the leash was this beautiful Doberman. I like dogs, so I was checking them out as they crossed the busy intersection. Then the guy jogged past the gas pumps, and he tied this beautiful dog up to this park bench that was secured in the cement in front of this fake gas station. Obviously, the guy was going inside to get something to drink.
Well, I was looking back at this dog, and suddenly the dog became frightened. You could see the whites of his eyes. He made a B-line toward the intersection, and he ran, and he had such force, such torque on the leash, that it jerked the entire park bench from its supports. Sparks were flying as this giant dog was dragging this park bench behind him toward the busy intersection. I said to myself, “He’s going to get killed! He’s going to get run over!”
Amazingly, he dodged the cars and he stopped just short of an SUV, and he slung this park bench into the SUV. Bam! Car parts were flying and glass was flying. Then he went south and slung it into a Volkswagen. Bam! It messed that car up too. And the whole time I’m like this. [Ed shows the expression of shock he had during the ordeal—which prompts laughter from the audience.] I started thinking, “What is this owner going to tell his insurance company?”
Last time, I said a lot of us are like that Doberman. We’re leashed up to anger, resentment, and unforgiveness; and we’re dragging it around from relationship to relationship. We’re dragging it around in our lives, and it’s causing all of this collateral damage. It’s messing us up, and it’s also hurting our connectivity with God himself. Then, I finished the story by saying that the dog’s master chased the dog down, grabbed the leash, untied it, and led the dog to safety. And that’s precisely what God has been doing throughout this series. Our God, our gracious God, has been untying a lot of us. He’s been unleashing unforgiveness, and he’s been leading us to freedom.
Speaking of freedom, a woman in her mid 50’s walked up to me a couple of days ago, tears streaming down her face, and she said, “Ed, I want you to know something. I’ve been praying that God would teach me about forgiveness.” And I quote her. She said, “And lo and behold you start a series of talks on forgiveness.” She said, “My husband has left. He’s moved in with another woman,” she said. “And because of Scripture, specifically this past week when you taught from Matthew 18, because of the visual that God allowed you to use, because of that experience,” she said, “for the first time in ten months, I’m free. And I want to thank Fellowship Church for that.”
UNLEASHING UNFORGIVENESS IS UNBELIEVABLE
What was she saying? She was simply saying this, “Unleashing unforgiveness is unbelievable!” Last time we learned that unleashing unforgiveness is unnatural. I don’t like to do it, and you don’t either. Releasing someone, forgiving someone, canceling the debt flies in the face of every instinct I have. When someone’s hurt me, when someone’s messes me around, I want to get them back. “I’ll make them pay,” I say. “I’m going to do something to get them.”
Well, today God is going to show us, as we go deeper into this whole forgiveness concept, that unleashing unforgiveness is truly unbelievable. We realize when we are leashed up to unforgiveness, it can mess up not only the present day situations and circumstances, but also our future. Have you ever stopped and realized the moment you harbor a hurt or resentment or unforgiveness, that you’re saying to that person, “Hey, you control my life. I don’t want to control my own life. I don’t even want God to control my life. You control my life.”
Who is sitting on your bench? Who? Maybe an ex-spouse, maybe a parent, maybe a teacher, an uncle, or a coach. Who is sitting on this bench? Who are you dragging around from relationship to relationship? You might be in a marriage right now, and you’re going, “It’s her fault.” Or maybe you’re saying, “It’s his fault.”
Could it be that you’re pointing the finger at the wrong person? Could it be that you need to point the finger to the leash that’s connected to the bench? Maybe it’s a friend, maybe it’s a parent, maybe it’s an uncle. And maybe you’re dragging them into the relationship, and you’re causing collateral damage. But the person you’re pointing the finger at is not the deal; maybe it’s someone else. Maybe you’ve never, ever truly allowed God to unleash unforgiveness in your life. I’m going to tell you something—it’s unbelievable. Well, how Ed?” you might be saying, “How is this unbelievable?”
I’m going to talk to you right quick about four unbelievable benefits of unleashing unforgiveness. Last time we talked about what keeps us tethered to unforgiveness. Now, I want to talk about the benefits of unleashing unforgiveness. The first unbelievable benefit is the emotional benefit that occurs in all of our lives when we allow God to unleash unforgiveness. God has feelings, too. He’s an emotional being and because of that, we’re emotional as well.
Job 5:2, “Resentment kills a fool.” The word “resentment” means “to think again.” It means to rehearse something. It means to turn something over and over again on the barbecue grill of our minds—just to think about it, to take care of it, and just to ponder it. And the more we do that, what happens? The more our emotions become whacked and the more miserable we become. And when I become miserable, do you know what I want to do? I want to make you miserable, too. Surely, you’re not like that. When I’m feeling negative, I want you to feel negative, too. And I’ll say some things and do some things that are negative towards you. That’s the way we are.
Unforgiveness can eat our emotions alive. They can tear us apart. So many people are negative these days. I challenge you to look behind the negativity. Don’t look at the “what.” Look at the “why.” Why are they negative? You show me a negative, miserable person, and I’ll show you someone who has never experienced the forgiveness of God. Yeah, they might have received it intellectually, but I’ll guarantee you they’ve never experienced it. It’s never touched the depth of their being. And because they’ve never experienced it, they can’t share it.
A friend of mine told me this past Thursday, “Ed, negative people are like the poor. They will always be with you.” Then he said, “But at least you can help the poor.” But I do want to add something to that. By God’s grace, negative people can change. They really, really can. They just need to have this unforgiveness unleashed, because it’s truly and miraculously unbelievable.
See this cell phone right here? This cell phone is supposed to be like on the bleeding edge of technology. I’ve discovered something about technology, though. Technology over-promises, and it always under-delivers. Have you noticed that?
This morning I was pulling out of my driveway about 7:30 am. I usually call my brother Ben who is also speaking in Houston. I’ll talk to him. We might have a prayer together or whatever. On my little screen here, it said “Call Failed” twelve times. Technology over-promises, but it under-delivers. I mean, I like technology, but we have to understand what we’re dealing with when we deal with technology.
Unforgiveness is the same way. It over-promises and under-delivers. You might say, “Oh, man, resentment works, Ed. It really does. Anger works.” But I’ve never seen a commercial on television that says, “Resentment will refresh your spirit.” That’s not going to happen. It will not get you where you want to go. So when I take a step of faith and allow God to unleash unforgiveness, when I allow God to take care of that person, when I give the situation to God I’m saying, “God, you are a better judge than me. You can settle accounts. You can settle the score much better than I can.” And that takes some serious faith.
Another unbelievable benefit is the relational benefit. Yes, you’ve got the emotional benefit, but also you’ve got the relational benefit. There’s a relational benefit that occurs the moment we unleash unforgiveness. The Bible says in Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other.” Let’s look at this next phrase together, “Just as in Christ God forgave you. Just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Jesus was involved in preemptive forgiveness. In other words, Jesus did his part. He did the work before we even thought about doing our part. Jesus took the initiative. He died on the cross for my sins and your sins, and he rose again before we ever turned from our sins, before we ever did our part.
Well, that verse is challenging me as a married man, as a father, as a pastor, and as just a human being, to involve myself in preemptive forgiveness. I should live such a life of forgiveness that I forgive others before they even do their part. I should forgive others even if they never do their part. Wow! We’re not talking Christianity 101 here. We’re talking about 301 or 401. Who knows? Maybe some PhD stuff. I don’t know. That’s tough stuff.
Preemptive forgiveness. But a lot of people say, “Well, you know what? I can’t forgive, Ed, until I feel like forgiving.” But 99% of the time, I don’t feel like it. I don’t feel like dropping it. I don’t feel like releasing the person. I don’t feel like canceling the debt, because I say to myself, “You know what, if I did that, I would minimize what they said about me. If I did that, I would kind of take away the hurt and the pain.”
That’s not true. I’m not minimizing it. I’m giving myself a gift that money can’t touch. When I forgive someone—yes, I’m giving them room for God to work in their lives, for God to take care of them—but also I’m giving myself forgiveness an amazing gift. I’m giving myself the opportunity to be the kind of person, relationally, that God wants me to be.
Love binds people together. We all know that. Well, unforgiveness also can bind people together. Have you ever thought about that? Let’s say you’re a divorced woman. Your husband has committed multiple affairs on you, and you’re still leashed up to him. He’s on the bench, and you’re dragging him around from relationship to relationship. You know that to release him, to drop him, to forgive him would mean to lose your last connection with him. Hate, maybe, has become your hobby. It’s consumed your emotions. It’s consumed your relationship, and you don’t want God to come in and untie the leash from the bench.
Well, see, what you don’t realize is that you are missing out relationally on where God wants you to go. God wants to free you up like the man freed the Doberman up. God will lead you to safety emotionally and relationally if you’ll just trust him and allow him to do it. Because I know right now God is bringing up so many circumstances, so many situations, so many people who can identify with this. Unleashing unforgiveness is truly unbelievable.
Here’s something else about doing the preemptive work of forgiveness. Yes, we’ve got to forgive those who have hurt us, who’ve messed us around. Also, though, we are called to do forgiveness work with those people we have hurt, we have damaged, we have messed around. And one of the biggest venues where this occurs is in the family. Wouldn’t you say so? As a parent—hey moms and dads—how about apologizing to your kids? Try that one on. What about apologizing to your wife, husbands? Lisa, I’m sorry.
I was thinking about that. Just saying, “Lisa, I’m sorry,” is pitiful. That’s not forgiveness work. “Lisa, sorry!” When I say that, I’m still in control. “Sorry, honey.” Or I say this, “Lisa, sorry. Now, if you took what I said wrong, hey, I’m sorry. Hey, I apologize if I hurt you in any way.” What is that? I’ve done that before. That’s pa-the-tic. That’s not truly apologizing or doing forgiveness work.
Here’s real forgiveness work: “Lisa, I was wrong. Will you forgive me?” Now I’ve made myself vulnerable. That’s what we should do when we ask for forgiveness. Don’t worry, “Well, what if they say, no, dude?” You’ve done your part. You have done your part, and you’ve got to give that situation to God. But many here need to go and eyeball some people and say, “I was wrong. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?”
Now, God is not saying we should chase down every single person we’ve hurt in our past, and carry this big bench around and drop it in their life to ruin their life. The Bible would not say that. And if you have some questions as far as who you should go to for forgiveness and when or whatever, seek Christian counseling, or talk to a trusted Christian friend about it. However, we do need to do forgiveness work. We need to do our part in the reconciliation, our part in the forgiveness, and also we need to do our part where we release the person. Relationally, great things occur, an unbelievable benefit.
Well, there’s a third unbelievable benefit, a physical benefit. Isn’t that crazy? There’s a physical benefit to forgiveness. Let’s say I took this piece of paper right here, and let’s say I cut myself—a little paper cut. Although small, that paper cut, if I didn’t take care of it, could poison my entire system.
The same is true with unforgiveness. A little bit of unforgiveness can poison my entire system. As I told you last week, for two years I dealt with this unforgiveness stuff. I was leashed up to a coach that messed me around. I’m telling you it does not work. It can poison your entire system. It can poison the greatness that God has for your life. That’s why Proverbs 14:30 says this about our physical bodies: “A heart at peace gives life to the body.”
And science is just now discovering this stuff. Wow! You won’t believe this. A recent study showed that giving up grudges can reduce chronic back pain. Here we are going around to this chiropractor and that chiropractor—and I have nothing against chiropractors—but we need to be going to the Great Physician, you know? Ha, ha, ha. I like that.
Another study found that forgiveness limited relapses among women battling substance abuse problems. An even more intriguing project explored how just thinking about empathy and reconciliation sparks activity in the brain’s left middle temporal gyres suggesting—check this out—we all have a mental forgiveness center just waiting to be tapped. Duh! Wow! That’s not a news flash. The Bible’s been saying this for thousands of years.
One study at Stanford University made sure to emphasize that forgiving doesn’t mean condoning the offense, and we all know that. God is not saying when we release someone, we have to become best buddies with them. We don’t have to say, “Hey, let’s go to the Mavericks game tomorrow night together. Let’s go to Six Flags next month.” You still might not have, you know, this great vibe with the person. But we are called to do what? Our part. It keeps going. But this Stanford study also stated that letting go of a grudge can slash one’s stress level by up to 50 percent!
Volunteers of that study have shown improvements in energy, mood, sleep quality, and overall physical vitality. Many have lost over 60 pounds! I’m kidding. I just made that last part up to wake some of you up! But the doctor in charge of the project is quoted as saying, “Carrying around a load of bitterness and anger at how unfairly you were treated is very, very toxic.”
It is. Don’t you see the brilliance of God? Don’t you see how loving God is? He does not want us to live life chained and leashed up to unforgiveness. He knows that unleashing unforgiveness is unbelievable.
It’s unbelievable emotionally. It unbelievable relationally and physically. And also, fourthly, it’s unbelievable spiritually as well. Mark 11:25 says, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Ouch!
Last time, we learned from Matthew 18 that there was this king rolling in the bling-bling, and this servant owed him ten million dollars. The king just forgave this guy the debt. He just said, “Debt forgiven.” Well, you would think this forgiven guy would go, “Yeah, man, I’ll forgive anybody!” Well, he tracks down a guy that owes him eleven bucks, starts choking him, and throws him in prison. When the king rolling in the bling-bling heard about it, he threw the forgiven servant to the torturers.
And here is the last verse in this story: Matthew 18:35 [Ed paraphrases] Jesus said, ”So it’s going to be in your life if you harbor hurt, if you harbor unforgiveness.” In other words, God is going to come after us. We will reap the consequences if we hold grudges, if we don’t forgive those who have messed us around.
That’s a tall order for a self-centered person like me. Supernaturally, though, God can unleash unforgiveness. I can walk in forgiveness, and I can walk in freedom. But this whole forgiveness issue starts with what God has done for me through Christ. And it should continue as I forgive others.
How many times have you talked to people and said, “You know what? I really feel and understand that God has forgiven me vertically, but horizontally, I don’t feel like I’ve forgiven myself.” Do you know what I’m saying? Well, the moment we not only receive forgiveness but experience forgiveness by releasing others horizontally, by doing the forgiveness work, then not only will we understand that we’ve got it vertically, but also horizontally. We will feel forgiven as well. And because we feel it and experience it, we can share it with others.
In Luke 19, Jesus met Zacchaeus. Remember that? He had the quintessential power lunch with him. Zacchaeus was the guy that routinely ripped off his fellow brethren. Zacchaeus was so ambushed and smitten by the forgiveness of God that he walked out on his beautiful porch and said this, Luke 19:8, “Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” He understood that unleashing unforgiveness is unbelievable.
Check Colossians 3:13 out, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
So, I want to talk to you about three quick things here against the backdrop of Colossians 3:13, against the backdrop of that last statement, “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” As a Christ-follower, I believe unforgiveness keeps people from discovering the greatness that God has as much as anything I can think about. As believers, we need to think about three things that would motivate us to release someone or to do the forgiveness work.
Number one, we need to consider the cross. I mean, as a believer, all I have to do, all you have to do, is consider the cross. Consider what Jesus Christ has done on the cross for us. Consider the preemptive forgiveness that he did before we even asked for it. And that should motivate us to do the work. This is not easy. Sometimes people see me—I think they think I’m perfect, but I am a sinner. If you don’t believe it, ask Lisa. I do not get up in the morning and sing the Hallelujah chorus and float around on clouds and have angel’s wings and….
You know talking about that—this is hilarious—one time one of my daughters had a friend over to spend the night and we were eating, you know, around the table. I decided to play a joke on her friend because I could tell she was a little bit nervous being at a pastor’s home, and I said, “Lee Beth, would you go get the Bible please. I said to her friend, “Normally we have a three-hour Bible study after our meal.” And this girl was like, “Wow! Really? Uh….”
No. I’m a sinner. So are you. We’re in this together, you know. Hey, Fellowship Church is a place for those who ain’t got it together yet. You know what I’m saying to you? That’s what we’re for. We’re a hospital for sinners. I’m a sinner. So are you. And that’s what we do here. Now, in heaven, we’ll all be perfect, we know. But here, we have to struggle and deal with the stuff. This is difficult stuff, but I’m telling you that supernaturally, God can give all of us the ability to walk in freedom. I’m a living testimony of this because I have struggled with this issue greatly. And I know many, many, many, many, many of you have too. But I’m telling you that life is too brief to mess around with unforgiveness. So just consider the cross.
Here’s a second thing: realize that resentment—I’ll say it again—does not work. It will not get you where you want to go. You will not get back at the person. Think about this. The person who hurt you probably doesn’t even realize they’ve hurt you. And even if they know they’ve hurt you, they’re out having a good time and doing this or that while we are in the corner licking our wounds, while we’re saying to ourselves, “Oh, I can’t believe they hurt me. I’m just all leashed up to them.” Just release them. Forgive them. Say, “God, you take care of them. I can’t get them back, God. I know you’re going to take care of it; you’re a better judge than I am.” Just remember that resentment does not work.
The third reason that we should be motivated to do this work is because all of us will need a giant monster infusion of forgiveness in the future. I know I’m going to sin in the future and so do you. Hopefully, I will not sin as much in the future as I have in the past, but I’m going to sin. I need forgiveness. I need grace. I need mercy. You do, too. And because of that, I should release you. I should forgive you. I should do the forgiveness work in my marriage, with parenting, in my position here at Fellowship Church, with friends. Whatever it may be, I’ve got to live a life of that.
Because the moment I live that kind of life, what’s gonna happen? I’ll discover that unleashing unforgiveness is unbelievable. And for so many of us, it’s right there. It’s just right there if we’ll allow God to come in and just untie the leash. [Ed begins to untie the dog leash from the park bench.] Hear that sound? See me working on the knot? That’s how God wants to unleash you, and he wants to unleash me if we’ll say, “God, have your way with me.”
Let’s do that together. Bow your heads with me for a moment. Every head is bowed, and every eye is closed. Hey, I know so many here, so many of us are just tethered. We’re hooked up. We’re leashed up to unforgiveness. Some of us may be dragging four or five park benches around with loads and loads of people that we have not forgiven. I know you might not feel like it. Most of the time, I don’t either. But based on God’s grace and truth, just say this, “God, give me the power to release them. God, give me the words to say, ‘I release them.’ God, I forgive them. That uncle, that person, that guy that ripped me off financially, that person that took advantage of me, that parent.”
As I said last time, this person might have passed away two decades ago. Just release them. Just release them because God wants us to experience the freedom, the freedom that only he can give. Others here need to do some forgiveness work. Others here need to go to certain people and say, “Will you forgive me? Will you forgive? I was wrong. Will you forgive me?” And doing that work is not dependent upon their response. We’ve got to do our part. Who do you need to talk to? Maybe a boss, a coworker, maybe a neighbor, spouse, a child? I don’t know. I don’t know, but God is dealing. God is dealing in many hearts and lives here in a very, very special way. God, thank you for what you are doing here.
Now, I want you to look back at me right quick. Look up here for just one second. 2 Corinthians 2:10 and 11, and we’ll develop this more next time, but this is a very powerful text. The Apostle Paul says this, “If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.”
As believers, we have to realize what the evil one is up to. The evil one wants to mess us around. So every time we are tempted to harbor a hurt, to place someone on this bench, to get leashed up to unforgiveness, we’ve got to say, “Hey, evil one, I know what you’re up to! You’re trying to mess me around.” Because his agenda is simply this: John 10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” He wants to do that to us emotionally, relationally, physically, and spiritually. So, by God’s grace and power, we can’t let that happen.
Now, we’re going to sing a song right now. It’s one of the most powerful songs I’ve heard on forgiveness. It’s by a band called dc Talk. We have their stuff in the Source Bookstore. But I want you to listen prayerfully and reverently to the words of this song called “Between You and Me.” It’s opening line says, “Sorrow is a lonely feeling, unsettled is a painful place.” It talks about living in that, and it talks about what forgiveness and unleashing it can do in our lives. So, let’s worship the Lord together as we give to him and also as God gives his grace and mercy to us.