Reflection / Notes / Summary
- This sermon was definitely my most uncomfortable. I got vulnerable about my brother’s death, which is hard for me to do.
- The weirdest thing happened after this sermon. An older lady in the congregation came up to me and said she was convicted to get a divorce…thought a sermon on forgiveness…I freaked out. Then she explained. She separated from a man in 1998 and refused to sign the paperwork out of anger so that he couldn’t get remarried. That made more sense, but imagine being nine sermons into your preaching career and hearing, “Yeah, your sermon inspired me to get a divorce!” Ha.
Summary: Forgiveness is a big part of my story. In this sermon I get into the specifics of what forgiveness looked like with the woman who murdered my brother. I talk about how I really never even had a genuine connection to God until I was able to fully forgive. It was also only after I fully forgave that I was able to even accept a call into ministry.
Good morning, Church! First off, I just want to tell you once again what an honor it is to be here with you guys and gals. So, last week we had nothing but morning services last week so everybody could be with their friends and families to celebrate Easter. Did everybody have a good Easter? Or, a better name for the day, Resurrection Sunday? So, when Jeff asked me to come and be here with you guys, to share a message, I wasn’t really sure what to talk about, right? Then when we were talking about it, I started talking to Jeff about what he was going to do for Easter Sunday. Jeff told me he was going to talk about Forgiveness, and I realized that I pretty much had no choice but to KEEP talking about forgiveness?
You know, truth be told, we could stand up here and talk about forgiveness EVERY WEEK, couldn’t we? I mean, really, at the end of the day everything that we do as Christians revolves around what Jesus did for us, right? And what He did for us? That’s forgive us, amen? Not just for the things we DID, but for the things we’re going to do? Church, Jesus knows, God knows that when it comes down to it, we’re all pretty much boneheads, right? Jesus knows that even though you want to do things right, you’re gonna blow it, you’re going to mess things up. Jesus knows it, and Jesus has already forgiven. Remember, it’s not about what you do, it’s about what HE DID!!
So, I think it’s safe to say that forgiveness is pretty much the best thing ever? Last week Jeff talked about how awesome it is that Jesus forgave us. How awesome it is that He will continue to forgive us, and how important it is that we carry that torch that Jesus gave us, and spread the message of forgiveness. I’ll dig into it a little bit more later, but I’m here to tell you that there’s not only power in accepting forgiveness, but there’s so, so, so, so much power in giving forgiveness, as well.
Before we get into the message, let us pray:
Dear Heavenly Father, Lord God, I pray that you would get me out of the way this morning and that your Holy Spirit would speak through me. Lord, God I pray that this message would be a message that would break down walls in peoples’ heart and open their eyes to not only the power of forgiveness, but the danger of unforgiveness. Lord, God I pray that your Spirit would fill this room and that lives would be changed this morning. Amen.
As most of you know, or maybe if you’re new, you don’t. I’ve been working at the same company, with the exception of a little break, for about eleven years now. So, let me tell you a little story about when I first started there. If you remember last time I gave a message, I talked about being a bull in a china shop. Yeah, this story will probably shine a little light on that. When I first started, I was a yard service guy…so basically I did very routine maintenance on stuff. Think: oil changes, greasing equipment, basic stuff, right? Well, we also had to load and unload equipment for customers…and as a small shop, the owner would call back or drop off his keys and have us load equipment if he needed to take something home, right? Well, I know one of the rules of storytelling is that you shouldn’t give the punchline away too early, but let me just say this: to this day, no other person at Vandalia Rental has the honor of being “the guy that broke the owner’s windshield.”
So, back to the story. Our owner has this Chevy Tahoe, and he asks us (well, me) to load up a 10 foot stepladder. No problem, right? But this truck doesn’t have a ladder rack or anything on top, so the ladder is going in the back of the truck. A ten foot stepladder is….how tall? (Not a trick question, it’s ten feet). Does anybody want to take a shot at how much room’s in the interior of a Chevy Tahoe? Well, I’m pretty sure that answer is 9 foot, 11.9 inches. So I should have just left the doors open and tied the ladder off in the back, right? Nooope, I think ‘I’ve got this.’ So I end up slamming the back doors and getting them closed with the ladder inside the SUV. I walk around front and look. “Oh man, that ladder’s pushing pretty hard on the front windshield. That may not be good.” I think to myself that if I open the passenger side door, pull the handle on the seat and push the seat back a little bit, push it against the ladder, I’ll get a little pressure off….makes sense, doesn’t it? So, I pull the lever on the seat, the seat moves forward instead and I hear this “CRACK” sound. I look up, and this windshield had just spider-webbed and cracked in about twenty places.
So, I’m, maybe nineteen years old, I’ve been at this job for a couple of months, 3 months max, and I just broke the owner’s windshield. So, I walk inside the building, with my head down, but on a mission. My boss asks ‘what’s up’ and I just keep walking by like he didn’t ask me a question…and I’m pretty sure I looked like I was about to cry. I’m walking into the offices now, and my skin is the color of a sheet of paper. I’m white as a ghost. And another thing you should know about me: I’m very, very shy at this point in my life, I’m not outspoken at all….so I knock on the door. It’s a little tap. I’m interrupting a meeting. “Randy…Randy?” I whispered. “Yeah, go ahead, what you got?” “Randy I just broke your windshield” “HUH?” and I said even softer, “Randy I just broke your windshield” “You did WHAT?” “Randy, oh man I’m so sorry I broke your windshield I don’t even know what you want me to do. Take it out of my check, fire me, write me up, I don’t care. I’m at your mercy, just do what you need to do. I’m sooo sorry.” But you know what he did after he collected his thoughts? He laughed about it, he patted me on the back, and told me not to worry about it, it was just a windshield.
Now, I know most of you in here are like me, “Just a windshield??? that’s three hundred bucks, buddy!” But here’s the thing. By that guy not freaking out or going crazy over a three hundred dollar windshield….and let’s face it, a lot of people would have fired me over that…he’s had a faithful worker for over ten years. I think he’s made that $300 back a couple of times, don’t you?
So, I have to ask. Who here has been in that situation in their lives, church? Now, I’m not talking about the new guy who just happened to break a windshield….it’s safe to say we’ve all done bone-headed things like that…maybe not that specifically, but we’ve all messed up like that. When I ask whose been in that situation, I’m talking about the guy in the story on the ‘giving’ end of forgiveness. That brings me to point one on your outlines, church. Forgiveness is a CHOICE. Friends, forgiveness is a choice. When I broke that guy’s windshield, how could have he reacted? He could have went crazy, he could have overreacted, but he forgave.
See, when I say forgiveness is a choice, I mean that when you hurt me, I get to choose whether or not to forgive you, right church? And if I hurt you, you choose whether or not to hurt me. At the end of the day, we all have to CHOOSE whether to forgive or not to forgive, right church?
For today’s teaching, I’ll be focused mostly on the Sermon on the Mount. Do you guys know what the Sermon on the Mount is? This sermons takes place in Matthew 5, 6, and 7, and it is one of those sermons that really hits home. It hit home when Jesus gave it in person, and it hits home just as hard now. So, in Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus says this, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First, go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”
Do you get what a big deal this is, church? Here Jesus basically says that if you’re coming to the altar with an unforgiving heart, your offering isn’t even any good. And, I don’t believe this is just between Jesus and you. Let me ask you a question: how many times have you walked through those church doors when you have a chip on your shoulder? How many times have you walked through those doors still ticked off at something your husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, mom, sister, whatever, did? Now, as a rule, how distracted are you in worship? To me, if I’m mad at somebody, the Holy Spirit can fill the room and the message could be killer, but I’ll be so focused on my own anger that everything said that day just goes in one ear and out the other. How many of you can relate to that? So, where in your life do you need to ‘set your gift down at the altar’ and make amends. See, the thing about setting your gift down at the altar church? God can convict you, but the gift is in your hands. You have a choice to make. Do you set your gift down and make amends, or do you stand at the altar like nothing is wrong, put on a fake smile, and just “get through it?” That’s a dangerous way to live, church. Such a dangerous way to live.
The problem is, is that it’s not always easy to forgive, is it church? Especially when those things we need to forgive people for are things that cut deep, or they’re things that keep opening wounds. Here’s the thing. So many times we think that forgiveness means we just let the person say “I’m sorry,” we forgive, and then we let them walk all over us. Church. That’s not forgiveness, that’s enabling. Here’s the thing. Forgiveness is NOT pretending that you we’re hurt, church. That’s your second point. Forgiveness is NOT ENABLING OTHERS TO HURT YOU. Church, I mean forgiveness is NOT pretending that you weren’t hurt. That’s denial, and that’s a whole different thing. Amen? That’s where we really mess up this whole idea of forgiveness.
See, it’s OK for us to approach people and have an open conversation. “Hey, you hurt me. Let’s talk about it. Let’s work through it.” Then, if it happens again and again, it’s OK to start questioning those relationships and cutting people out. See, we’re required to forgive, but we don’t have to let those people hurting us continue to do so. I mean, there are examples of what this does to us all over the Bible. Proverbs 22:24-25: Do not associate with a man given to anger, or go with a hot-tempered man, or you will learn his way and find a snare for yourself. Proverbs 4:14-15: Do not enter the path of the wicked and do not proceed in the way of evil men. Avoid it, do not pass by it. Turn away from it and pass on. Then, Psalm 1:1-4: How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
Here’s the deal, forgiveness is NOT enabling someone to be a bad person, forgiveness is NOT enabling someone to treat you badly, and forgiveness is NOT permission for you to let someone walk all over you. What that person does to you, to anybody. That’s going to be between them and God. They will have to answer to God for whatever they’ve done in their life, good or bad. If they’ve accepted Jesus, that conversation looks a lot different, but they’re still going to have that conversation with God. God’s going to talk to them about what THEY did, and that conversation? That’s a two-way conversation, it’s not a town hall meeting. You, however, are going to have that SAME conversation with God. And you know what He’s going to ask you? INSERT NAME HERE, I commanded you to forgive others, how did you do?
But wait, a few minutes ago, Denny, didn’t you say that forgiveness was a choice? What do you mean God commands us to forgive? Well, forgiveness is a choice and a command? God gives us quite a few commands but it’s still your call as to what you do with them. So, a couple of weeks ago I was listening to a sermon in my car on the way to work and the pastor was were talking about the Lord’s Prayer and it rocked my world.
Do you guys know the Lord’s prayer? In case you don’t, it’ll be on the screen, but let’s go over it. Matthew 6:9-13
“‘Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread.And forgive us our trespasses, as we have forgiven those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil one. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever and ever, Amen.
So, the pastor was talking about that tricky ‘verse 12’. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we have forgiven those who trespass against us.” Church, that’s an ‘uh-oh’ moment. See, it doesn’t say “forgive us our debts, and help us *maybe* forgive others. It says ‘Do it.’ Which is the third point on your outlines, church. Forgiveness is a COMMAND FROM GOD!. See, that “as we” in there is a doozy. It’s not really in human nature to want to forgive, is it, church? And it’s definitely not in human nature to selflessly give out something like forgiveness. That phrase in the lord’s prayer, “as we” means that you need to forgive others, as much as you were forgiven by God. If that’s not enough, a little after that, Matthew 18:21-22, Peter asks Jesus about this very thing. “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven times.”
Church, do you get that? What does that look like? Now, that doesn’t mean you forgive somebody four hundred and ninety times, then on 491 you’re finally like “that’s enough, get out of my sight.” It means that you forgive…and forgive…and forgive. God commands us to forgive each other so many times in both testaments that He starts to sound like a broken record.
Now I honestly can’t tell you what that looks like for you, that’s a personal thing, but I can tell you what that looked like in my life. See, my entire God story revolves around forgiveness. The only reason I can even stand here in front of you today because of the grace of God when it comes to forgiveness. I haven’t really had an opportunity to share this story with many of you, in fact, outside of family, not many people at all know this story, just bits and pieces.…but forgiveness (or a lack thereof) defined who I was for a lot of years.
So, I actually grew up not far from here. How many of you guys know where Santa Clara Ave is? Used to be a big yellow building with a restaurant, the Upper Krust, on Main. That was about three blocks from my house. My brother lived two streets over, on Norman Ave. So, rewind to 1992. I’m in 4th grade. Labor Day weekend. My parents and I go to the lake with some friends, a little trailer on Lake St Marys if I remember correctly. So, we’re there the first day, and everything is great. Fast forward to 4:00AM the first morning. *Knock Knock Knock* There’s a knock on the door. I don’t know what happened, or why, but my parents grab me, have me throw everything we brought in the car, and my mom is losing it. Not a word is spoken on the way home, just tears, confusion, and a car going as fast as humanly possible. September 6, 1992. During an argument at that little house on Norman Ave that got out of hand, my brother, my idol, the guy I looked up to most in the world, who was 21 at the time, was taken from us way too soon. Gunshot wound during a domestic dispute. I won’t get into all of the court and police stuff here, that doesn’t add to the story, but when I was nine years old, twelve days before my tenth birthday, my brother was taken from me, shot, by his girlfriend. Talk about jacked up situation, right church?
So, basically all throughout fourth grade I was a zombie. Straight A student going to summer school because he was failing every class, I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t concentrate, and it took me about a year to get out of ‘that’ rut. After my brother died, I was angry. I was angry at God, I was angry at his girlfriend, I was angry at the world. But, I wasn’t a violent or ‘acting-out’ type of angry, I was just a sad, reserved type of angry. Have you ever known anybody like that, church? There was just a darkness that hovered over me, and I really just didn’t connect with people at all. Well, who could blame me, really? I mean the person I looked up to most in the world was taken from me in one of the worst ways possible. Anyways, I lived with that in my heart for a lot of years. On two occasions I ran into my brother’s girlfriend as a twenty-something guy and both times, I could feel this *hate* boiling over. If I would have acted on it, who knows what would have happened? One thing’s for sure it wouldn’t have been pretty.
So then, fast forward to 2010. I start getting plugged back into church and a pastor’s standing in front of me, talking about what I’m talking about with you guys right now. Forgiveness. During that sermon, God just took me out to the woodshed. My unforgiveness was crippling, church. What I had buried in my heart, locked up, with the key thrown away, was RIPPING ME APART on the inside. It was destroying me and it was because I was letting my brother’s ex live rent-free in my head. Have any of you heard that expression before? She was, she was living rent-free in my head. Here’s the thing. She had moved on, she didn’t care about what I was going through, as far as she was concerned, I didn’t even exist anymore…but, she had absolute control over my life. A little bit ago, I brought up Matthew 5:23-24, about leaving your gift at the altar. But, look at what the verse before that says, Matthew 5:21-22: 21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment as well.
See, my unforgiveness was eating at me, church. At the time, I *knew* that Jesus had died for my sins. I knew that Jesus had set me free, but I had never set myself free from the prison I had built in my own heart. I willingly sat there and built that prison, brick by brick, and then I locked the gate and tossed the key outside the door. See, I’m a pretty head-smart guy. I got the whole ‘Jesus died for MY sins’. But at the time, my heart was in such a weird place I forgot that, no matter how much I hated to admit it…Jesus? Yeah, he died for my sins. But you know what…he died for my brother’s ex’s sins, too. And here’s the thing, church. It wasn’t until AFTER I finally forgave her, that God started opening these crazy doors in my life. AFTER I forgave her, it was like the blinders had been taken off of my eyes and EVERYTHING changed. That brings me to the last point, church 4. Forgiveness SETS YOU FREE! God did this crazy thing and started to stir my heart. He stirred and stirred and stirred, and that concrete shell, that prison around my heart, started to crack. Pieces started to flake off, and once I finally forgave her, my heart was NEW church, do you get that? My heart was new, I was finally that new creation that God says we are. It was THEN that God started doing these crazy things in my heart, like calling me to missions and asking me to step out in faith and even look at becoming a pastor so I could go out into the world and teach people about His forgiveness.
You know what though, that forgiveness was still a process. It still hurt a bit…but you have to remember it’s not about what the sinner did, it’s about what Jesus did ‘for’ the sinner. Remember, the biggest change in my heart happened when I realized that God, who knows infinitely more than me, had already forgiven the person who wronged me the most. To hold on to that anger, to that contempt, to that unforgiveness, is to deny grace to to that person, and that’s one thing we cannot do, church. Jesus died so that we could be set free, amen church? Jesus also died so that OTHERS could be set free, amen, church? If Jesus can forgive, if God can forgive, who are you to say that it’s not in YOUR power to forgive? To do so is to DENY God’s command to you. You didn’t leave your gift at the altar, church. You’re hanging onto that gift selfishly hoping that no one notices what you’re hiding in your unforgiveness.
So, I want to ask all of you. Everyone in this room. Who here has unforgiveness in their heart? I know at times even I struggle with it, but I’m reminded of what God did for ME, and it reminds me that I need to pass it on. Who is it that you need to forgive? Who do you need to forgive NOW. Church, this isn’t something to put off. What if tomorrow never comes and you don’t get that chance to forgive. I want to ask that every one of you take time, honestly, I’d do it today. After you leave here. Pray about it. Ask God to point out a person or people in your life that you need to forgive. Or, better yet, who in your life tried to forgive you, but you denied them? Call them up and make it right. Leave your gift at the altar, get reconciled, then come back to the altar and watch what God does! Let me tell you, the woman that I HATED years ago. If she walked in that door right now, I would give her a hug, I would invite her to sit down, and I would talk to her about Jesus.
Church, I’d like to ask that we take a minute and pray. I’m going to invite the band back up for a final song, but let us pray.