FORGIVENESS: THE REAL F WORD
May 1-2, 2004
Several years ago I was in the middle of one my sermons, and I’ll never forget what happened. There were several ladies sitting about right here [Ed walks down the aisle to the seats the women were sitting in]. And during the crucial point of the message, they got up and just slowly walked out of Fellowship Church.
Now, as a speaker, one of the most distracting things that people can do is to get up and leave while you’re talking, or bring a fussy baby into the church, or take a cell phone call while you’re talking. I’ve seen all of this while I’ve been speaking. If it’s an emergency, you know, it’s cool for someone to leave. But for people to get up—man, that’s rude. That’s being irreverent. That’s trying to mess up the business that God is doing in people’s lives. Yet, people do it, you know? I understand it, though, because a lot of people that show up to Fellowship Church have never really been to church before, and they’re not thinking about disturbing people and all that.
But as these ladies walked out of this facility, I got angry. I mean I was mad. And I looked at them, and I said, “Ladies, I’m getting ready to read Psalm 105:13. You might want to memorize that verse as you’re leaving Fellowship Church early!” Everybody started laughing, but I was totally out of line. I was wrong. I sinned. I messed up. And after the service, I was trying to kind of justify what I’d done with the staff members, but some of the staff were like, “Ed, you were out of line, brother.” Then I talked to my wife about it, and I really knew I was out line then. Ha, ha, ha, ha! So, I thought to myself, “How can I track down these women? How can I find them?”
Well, we have 40,000 some odd people that come to Fellowship Church once a month, so I was thinking, “How can I find them? They’ll probably never come back to church. I blew it. I messed up.” So that next weekend, I apologized to the whole church, and the following day, Monday, I got this note in my office from the ladies: “Dear Ed, I’m so sorry that we disrupted the service, and we accept your apology. Also, please accept our apology. Here is a token,” they said, “of our appreciation to Fellowship Church.” And they made me a big dish of lasagna. And man, it was amazing! So, see? It pays to forgive! It really does.
We’ve been talking about forgiveness, as you know, and we’re calling it “the real F word” because forgiveness is the real F word. Today, I’m talking more about your future than your past, because forgiveness is a futuristic thing. But for our future to flourish we’ve got to make peace with our past.
In week one of this series, we learned that unleashing unforgiveness is unnatural. We said that there’s something in all of us that likes to be leashed up to unforgiveness. Someone messes me around, someone hurts me, someone takes advantage of me, I want to get them back. I want to make them pay. I want to seek that sweet revenge. We asked ourselves this question in week one, “Who is sitting on the bench of our lives?” It may be a parent, a former boyfriend, an ex-spouse, or a business partner that ripped us off. Who is sitting on the bench of our lives? Who are we dragging around and causing all of this collateral damage with? Who are we leashed up to?
Last week, we learned that unleashing unforgiveness is unbelievable. God wants us to unleash it because it has unbelievable benefits. The upside is huge—emotionally, relationally, physically and spiritually. We also found out that just like love binds people together, unforgiveness also binds people together. You show me someone who is harboring a hurt, you show me someone who is leashed up to unforgiveness, and I’ll show you someone who enjoys their hate, who enjoys their anger, who enjoys the animosity they feel toward that person. And in many circumstances and situations, it’s the only connection left in the relationship.
UNLEASHING UNFORGIVENESS IS UNENDING
Well, today, we’re talking about something else. We’re going to find out that unleashing unforgiveness is unending. God tells me, as a Christ follower, that I should live in a state of forgiveness. And that’s something that I cannot do naturally, but we’re going to find out in the fourth dimension that we can do it.
What do we have? Three dimensions—height, width, and depth. The fourth dimension is that supernatural dimension, the dimension that God wants us to walk in. We can only do this forgiveness work when we live our lives in the fourth dimension. And that is why unleashing unforgiveness is unending. Because if you’ve dealt with unforgiveness very much, you know that unforgiveness is unforgiving, isn’t it? It’s tough. It’ll mess you up. When I harbor a hurt, when I’m into resentment or anger or unforgiveness, do you know what I’m doing? I’m giving the leash in my life to people who’ve hurt me. I’m saying, “You control my life. You control me. You run the show. You control me.”
UNFORGIVENESS HINDERS OUR FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD
What happens when I allow that? Well, the Bible talks about it. The Bible says when I don’t forgive people, I totally blow my connection, my fellowship with God. In Matthew 6:15 Jesus said, “But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
In other words, if I’m not right horizontally with the people in my life, with the human beings in my life, why should God forgive me? Why should God do the vertical forgiveness if I’m not doing the horizontal forgiveness? After all, as a believer I’ve been greatly forgiven. I’m a sinner. I’m a moral foul up and so are you. And our gracious God has done the work of forgiveness, and because of that, I’ve got to forgive others. So I need to defer to God, to give him my life. Because if I don’t—if I don’t live this forgiveness thing out, whether I’ve hurt the person or they’ve hurt me—then I’m going to break my fellowship, my connection with God.
UNFORGIVENESS HINDERS OUR GENEROSITY
Here’s something else that messes up. I become a selfish person when I harbor unforgiveness. It totally guts the generosity that God wants me to have. Whenever you hurt me and I forgive you, I’m giving you a gift. I’m being generous to you. If I hurt you, and come to you and say not just “Sorry,” but, “Will you forgive me?” I’m giving you something.
When we forgive, we’re being generous. And usually the person who benefits the most from forgiveness is you. Isn’t that something? It’s supernatural. You show me someone who is selfish, and I’ll show you someone who’s never experienced the forgiveness of God. Yeah, they might have intellectually received it, but they’ve not experienced it. And because they’ve not experienced it, they can’t really share it with others.
UNFORGIVENESS HINDERS OUR LOVE
Also, sitting on this bench and being leashed up to unforgiveness will level the love I should have for other people. God is love. And because God loves me and he’s given me this love, I should love others. And part of expressing love is forgiving others.
Colossians 3:13 is a verse we saw last time: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive (there we go again) as the Lord forgave you.” Instead of asking, “How could they do this to me?” We should be asking, “Why am I doing this to myself?” Instead of saying, “Well, they hurt me. They took advantage of me. I can’t believe they did this to me.” We should be saying, “Why am I still leashed up to all this junk?”
Look at the next verse of Colossians. Look at Colossians 3:14. “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
Here’s what I’ve discovered about my own life when I harbor a hurt, when I’m leashed to this bench. I like to share my hurts with others. I like to play the victim—poor Ed—and I’ll tell all my friends, “Can you believe what they did to me? Can you believe what he said about me? Can you believe her? Can you believe this?” And I rehearse it over and over and turn it over and over again on the barbecue grill of my mind. I tell all my friends about it until finally, I can tell they are thinking, “Ed, chill. Man, just shut up about all that stuff.”
And if your friends start running when you start coming, you better think about unforgiveness. We play this victim mentality, but do you realize all of the energy we burn up when we’re replaying it time and time again? Oh! It’ll just wear us out.
Attorneys have something called billable hours. That’s right, you pay them by the hour, and they build a case and just bill it hour after hour. Then you look at the bill and you go, “Wow!” You know? We do the same thing in our lives when people hurt us. We have these billable hours and, man, we’re just building a case against our ex, our former best friend, or that person that totally just messed me around in the business deal. We build the case, and we tell our friends about it. “Wah, wah, wah. Wah, wah, wah. Wah, wah, wah.” And the currency that we pay for the billable hours is an emotional currency. It zaps our energy. It keeps us tethered to unforgiveness, and it messes us up because unforgiveness it’s unforgiving.
Well, in essence, here’s what we’re doing. To really put it to where we understand it, do you know what the Bible says about our being involved in unforgiveness? I’ll just tell it to you straight, just as straight as I know how. We are putting the leash in the devil’s hands. Maybe you’re thinking, “Ed, how can you say that?” Well, I didn’t say it. The Bible said it. I’m just telling you what the Bible said. Ephesians 4:26:27—let’s read verse 26 together…one, two, three, “‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” Ah, we can do better than that. One more time, “‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.”
Okay, here’s the big question. Do you remember the girls right there who interrupted the worship service? The ones who were irreverent? The ones who got up and walked out? Do you know why they walked out early? They told me in the letter—because of a dance recital! Anyway, here’s the question I have for you. I got angry. I was mad. Here’s the question. Was that a sin when I had the feelings of anger? Yes or no?
No! It’s not a sin to be angry. God gets angry. We should get angry. If you don’t get angry about the right stuff, you better check your [Ed simulates a heartbeat sound] EKG, man. We better get angry. We should get angry at injustice, angry at sin. As a pastor, I should get angry when someone disturbs the business of God. I should get angry when people are irreverent, when they take cell phone calls in church. I sin, though, when my anger, which was justified, gets the best of me, when I allowed it to get into my feelings. And I sinned when I said, “Wham! That verse in Psalm 103:15… memorize that, think about that,” to those women. When I abused them, made fun of them, that is when I sinned.
So once again, being angry and feeling feelings of anger, that’s not a sin. It’s when your anger gets the best of you and it fuels these feelings and these words and actions that mess us up. So the Bible says, “In your anger, do not sin.” If I allow anger to metastasize in my life, that is a sin. If I allow anger to boil up in my life, if I Tupperware my anger, that is a sin. If I shove anger in a little container and put the top on it and put it back into the refrigerator of my life; and then two or three weeks later all of a sudden I open it up—Whoa, oh, oh, oh, the stench—that is a sin.
And for too many of us, we have forgotten the source of our anger. We don’t know where the source of our unforgiveness is leading to. We think it might be the person we’re married to or the person we’re working with or our neighbor or whatever. But I’m going to tell you something. It could be way, way back in your past. “In your anger, don’t sin,” the Bible says. There is a righteous anger, and I’m going to do a series on anger in a couple of months which will be awesome. But don’t let the anger get the best of you.
This last verse we read together, the last part of the verse says, “Do not let the sun go down while you’re still angry.” Isn’t that great? I try to live by that verse. “Don’t let the sun set on your anger.” Lisa and I try to live by that verse. We try to settle issues before the sun goes down. If we have a fight, an argument, a rift, or whatever, we try to settle it before the sun goes down. Now, sometimes we’ve still been going back and forth when the sun’s coming back up, but we live by this principle. And I would challenge you to do the same thing, to keep short accounts with God vertically and short accounts with others horizontally. Don’t let it lie, because if we allow—oh, listen to this; this is good—if we allow the sun to set too many times on our junk, on our unforgiveness and anger and resentment, then we forget the source of it.
We forget where the leash is connected. And because of that, we think to ourselves, “Well, I’ll just change environments and everything will be okay. I’ll just move from this marriage to that marriage…from that friendship to this friendship…from this partnership to that partnership…from this church to another church. Or I’ll move; I’ll move to the mountains. Yeah. Or the seashore. Yeah. And everything will be cool.”
No, it won’t. You’re just changing environments. And for so many of us here, the sun has set so much on our anger and resentment and unforgiveness that we don’t know the source of it anymore. That mentality would be like me doing this. It would be like me driving home after church and all of a sudden… [Ed simulates the sound of a car wreck] I get into a wreck. And here I am lying on the side of the road. “Oh man, my leg is cut! Oh, my leg hurts. Get me some help.” [siren sound] Then the paramedics rush to the scene and say, “Ed, hey man, I want to help you with your leg. I want to fix the leg.” But what if I said this, “Don’t touch me. Do not even think about touching my leg. If you’ll take me to another place, if you’ll just get me away from the crash site, my leg will be okay.” [laughter]
Hello?! We laugh at that, and I laugh at that, but we all do the same stuff. We do the same thing when it comes to unforgiveness. We say, “Well, yeah, they hurt me; but if you’ll just change my environment, just get me away from the crash scene, then I’ll be okay. Really, really, really, really. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m really okay.” But are you?
Well, this verse continues. It says [Colossians 3:14], “And do not give the devil a foothold.” Who gives the devil a foothold? We do. I do. You do. We do it when we harbor a hurt, anger, resentment, unforgiveness. We say, “Satan, I want to open a big, old door. Come on into my life. Here is the leash. Just control me if you would, please.”
That’s what we’re doing. It’s that serious. I think the biggest thing that keeps most Christians from experiencing the freedom that God desires is this whole thing called unforgiveness. If I’m Satan, I’m going to try to infiltrate believers’ lives and mess them around and mess them up with this unforgiveness thing. Here’s what Satan does. He gets a foothold and if we give him a foothold, we control that, then he’ll take a stronghold. A stronghold is a base of enemy operations and from the stronghold, if we’re not careful, he can put us in a [choke sound] chokehold.
It shouldn’t be that way. Life is too short to live that way. Unforgiveness is unforgiving. It’ll burn our lives up. We’ll miss the best that God has for us. “Well, Ed,” you might be saying, “What do I need to do? Now, you’ve been talking about all this information concerning forgiveness, what do I need to do?”
You need to live in the 4-D land of forgiveness, the fourth dimension. There are four things that all of us need to do today about forgiveness. And all this stuff comes from the grace and the mercy of God, because in and of ourselves we don’t have the octane to do it.
DEFER TO GOD
But the first thing we need to do, the first “D,” we’ve got to defer to God. Defer to God. Just say, “God, this whole forgiveness thing is from you. It’s a God thing. I’ve been greatly forgiven, and because I’ve been greatly forgiven, I want to greatly forgive others. God, I want to live on the final frontier of forgiveness. That’s what I want to do.”
Let’s pick up John 20:22-23. Here’s the context. Jesus had just risen from the dead. The brave [sarcastic] disciples were locked in a little room, scared to death, doing the Barney Fife thing. Jesus walks in, and the Bible says in John 20:22, “He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” And what did he say next? Look at verse 23. He talks about forgiveness. “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Jesus had just done the work on the cross of forgiveness. His resurrection was evidence of his perfectly righteous life and his sacrifice for all of our sins. And now he’s talking about forgiveness. It’s got to be a God thing. The Holy Spirit came upon them. Then the forgiveness thing. It’s got to be from God. So, we’ve got to defer to him. Say, “God, I don’t feel it. I don’t want to do it. I know forgiveness is who you are. It’s intrinsically woven into the very fabric and framework of who you are. God, help me to forgive.” That’s the first “D.”
DECIDE TO TAKE THE INITIATIVE
The second “D” is this: decide. Just decide to take the initiative. God gives us the grace to do it, but we have the option to make the choice to either live it out or not. The power is there. The stuff is there. We make the choice. It’s your call or it’s my call. Think about all those stories Jesus told, all the parables. It was all about taking the initiative.
Do you remember the prodigal son? He cruised away. His father took the initiative and welcomed him back home. Do you remember in the first episode of this series I talked about the king, rolling in the serious bling-bling, who forgave his servant a ten million dollar debt? He took the initiative and said, “Debt forgiven.” What was Christ saying? “Take the initiative.”
One time this wealth guy, Jesus said, hired a worker at the eleventh hour and he paid this eleventh hour worker the same amount that he paid from the guy he hired for the whole day. He took the initiative to pay this guy. Remember one time Jesus talked about a gentleman having this huge banquet, this black tie affair. And this guy who put it together went out to the highways and by-ways and found someone who did not deserve to be there. He invited him to sit at the table. That’s initiative.
We serve an initiative-taking God. God is all about preemptive forgiveness. Jesus did the work on the cross. He did his part long before we even thought about doing our part. As Christ-followers, that’s what we’re called to do. Romans 12:18 underscores this: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” As far as it depends on who? You. Live at peace with everyone. It’s our choice. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other.” And that’s in the present tense meaning a continuous thing. “Just as in Christ God forgave you.” Defer to God. Decide to take the initiative.
DISENGAGE FROM YOUR EMOTIONS
Here’s the third “D.” Disengage from your emotions. I don’t feel like forgiving people who hurt me. Do you? Am I the only one here? I just don’t feel like it. I don’t like them. I’m mad at them. They disrupted the service. I don’t feel like going in front of Fellowship Church and apologizing to those two women. I don’t want to do it. I don’t feel like it. You know what? I’m just not there, man. My feelings aren’t there. I’m not going to forgive until I feel like it. Wow! If that’s the case, then you’ll never forgive! Nor will I.
We’ve got to live on the other side of our feelings. Our feelings are freaky. We can’t trust our feelings all the time. I don’t feel like speaking right now. I feel like bass fishing! This is a beautiful day. Well, I just felt like bass fishing. I’ll see ya. I’m going to leave. My rod and reel is in the car. See ya! You’d say, “Ed, you left us hanging right in the middle of the message.” Well, I feel like fishing though. See? I feel that way. But here’s what I’ve learned about my own life. If I don’t feel like forgiving, then that means I probably should forgive. Do you hear me screaming?
Galatians 5 talks about the fruit of the Spirit. In other words, the moment Christ comes into our lives, the Holy Spirit infiltrates us and the Holy Spirit produces this supernatural fruit. Well, one of the fruits Galatians talks about in Galatians 5 is self-control. Not emotions. Not feelings. Self-control.
In Isaiah 43:25, God is speaking, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions.” Boy, I sure am glad God’s done that in my life. He says, “I am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” Whoa! It doesn’t mean that he goes, “Bam! I just, I just forgot.” That’s not it. But God chooses not to remember your sins and mine.
So the miracle here about forgiveness is not forgetting what someone has done to us. The miracle is remembering it and choosing to forgive. Because when we remember it and choose to forgive, our memories can become memorials to the grace of God. And the more we make those memorials, the sooner we won’t think about it as much, and we won’t remember it as much. And that just continues to free us up to be the kind of people that God desires.
DELIVER YOUR ENEMIES TO GOD
Now, to me, the fourth “D” is even more convicting. Deliver your enemies to God. You’re probably thinking, “Ed, are you, are you saying what I think you’re saying?” Yeah, I am. I’m saying what the Bible says in Luke 6. We’re to pray for our enemies. Oh, oh, oh. This stuff will mess us up, won’t it?
Think about it. It swims against the current of who we are. I journal my prayers, and here’s how I like to journal my prayers when I’m praying for my enemies. “God, show mercy to me, but justice to them. God, get ‘em!” That’s what I want to say when I pray, you know?
Well, here’s what Jesus tells me to do, because after all we’ve got to live in the fourth dimension. In Luke 6:27-28, Christ says, “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
When I do that—and I’ve been doing that lately—my whole outlook and my vibe and my opinion changes concerning them. I’m not excusing what they’ve done. I’m not acting like it didn’t happen. But I’m praying for them. I’m giving them to God. God is going to settle the score. We don’t have to worry about it. It’s a huge step of faith, but as you bless your enemies, as you pray for your enemies, great things will happen.
Now, I have in the margin of my notes here, the “Big 3.” Because you might be saying, “Well, who should I do this with?” There are three different types of people that we need to do this forgiveness stuff with. The first ones are those people that we love the most. That’s the first group. Those people that we love the most. God will test us on these things, and we’ll have to go through these things with them. Spouses, parents, whoever.
The second group would be those in authority over us. And the third of the big three would be those we’re in competition with. Maybe our peers or someone like that. Those are the people that we need to forgive.
I struggled with this for a long time. I think I am doing a better job today than yesterday, but I still struggle with it. When I was in seminary, I was ordained as a pastor, and I worked at a church in Houston. I started this basketball league, and I was like the commissioner of the league. I also played on one of the teams. That was a big mistake. Don’t ever do that. Any time you have a church basketball league going on or any kind of rec league, you always have a bunch of FAA’s, Frustrated All-Americans.
In this one particular game, we were playing this team that I really wanted to beat. You know, there were kind of guys who were a little bit arrogant, you know. That might be hard for you to believe. Well, the refs didn’t show up, so I was like, “Man, we can’t play. The refs aren’t here.” I was looking in the stands, and I saw this guy who looked like a basketball player. So I walked up to him, and I said, “Hey, would you mind reffing this game?” I introduced myself to him and said, “I’m Ed Young, one of the pastors here.” And he told me his name. He told me he was visiting this particular church, and I said, “Well, just put the whistle around your neck and call the game, you know? Just—you know—officiate the game.” He said, “Okay, okay.”
So the game starts, and this game began to get out of hand, you know. Elbows and arguments were flying. Well, my brother also played on my team. Ben went up for a shot, and after he shot it, this guy just undercut him and slammed him to court. Well, I had had enough. I walked up to this guy and got in his face. I said—I didn’t yell at him—but I said, “Give me your whistle. You don’t know up from down about basketball. Let me have your whistle.” I said, “Go and sit back down in the stands. Someone is going to get hurt.”
You know what the guy did? He didn’t sit down in the stands. He walked out of the gym in disgust. I just said, “Well, he deserved that.” I said that to myself. “You know, when we’re in competition that’s just the way it is.”
We won the game by 30 points. But anyways, after the game I forgot about it. I tried to pray. My prayers fell like air balls. I knew I was wrong. I had sinned against him, but I tried to justify it, and said, “God, I can’t track the guy down,” I said, “I mean, you know, I’ll never see him again. God, this guy messed up, you know? Someone was going to get really messed up so I had to do it, you know?”
And then, finally, I was broken by the grace and mercy of God, so I tracked this guy down. It took me two days, but I found him. I called him up, made an appointment with him, and walked into his office. Man, I was shaking. I was scared to death. I said the four most difficult words in the human language, “Will you forgive me?” And he said, “Yes.” And that was it.
As the guy left the meeting, he was still in a lot of pain. He was still hurt. He was still damaged, but I did the work that God wanted me to do. And that’s the last time I’ve ever said something like that to someone on the basketball court. So you see? I am a project in this whole realm, and so are you.
But I’m going to tell you something about God’s grace and mercy. Unleashing unforgiveness is unnatural. We don’t like to do it, but when we do it, it’s unbelievable. And as a Christ-follower, it’s unending. So I want to ask you, as we conclude this series, just one more question. Are you leashed up to unforgiveness? If you are, who is on the bench? Just ask God to unleash you, because he wants to. And then we all can walk in 4-D forgiveness.
Well, next weekend is Mother’s Day. It’s going be a great, great weekend here at Fellowship Church. My wife will be up here. Lisa Whelchel will also be up here. You know, she’s the girl from “The Facts of Life.” And we will have just a wonderful time of worship as we celebrate motherhood.
Then, the next weekend, I’m kicking off a series that I’ve done a couple of times in the history of Fellowship Church. It’s one of the top two or three most popular series we’ve ever done on dating. It’s called RPMs. If you’re single, you need to be here. If you’re a student, you need to be here. If you’re married and have kids, you better be here because one of the big responsibilities we have as parents is to teach our kids about spouse selection. So, that’s what’s on the docket over the next several weeks.
Some of you, as I said last time, need to pick up this tape series, and maybe you need to listen to it once a day. That’s how tough, that’s how all encompassing this subject is in your life. Do that.
Thank you, man, for being here. I really appreciate what God’s doing in your life. And I think I may have learned more about forgiveness as the teacher than maybe some of you did as pupils.