July 31- God Is Forgiveness

          A married couple had many disagreements,
but somehow the wife always managed to stay calm and collected. One day her
husband commented on his wife’s restraint. “When I get mad at you, you never
fight back. How do you control your anger?” “I work it off by cleaning the
toilet.” “How does that help?” “I use your toothbrush!” A motorcycle cop
crashed his bike, suffering injuries to his foot and ankle. But when he woke up
in the hospital, he had a large bandage securely taped to his rather hairy
chest; removing it was going to be a slow, painful process. As he examined the
bandage more closely, he saw a note written right on it with a Sharpie. The
note read- “A gift…from the nurse you gave a ticket to last week!” Forgiveness
is tough!

     Today we continue our current sermon
series, God Is…, which focuses on 10 characteristics of God- 10 things about
God that are designed to help us better understand…and connect with…Him. So
far, we have talked about the fact that God is here, God is freedom, God is
prayerful, God is the Arbiter and God is security. Today, we focus on the fact
that God is forgiveness. Forgiveness deals with perhaps the most unpleasant
thing in life- when somebody wrongs you. I’m not talking about some piddly
little thing here- I’m talking about someone who has DONE YOU WRONG!
Forgiveness deals with behavior- if the behavior could be excused, it wouldn’t
need to be forgiven, just accepted. The reason forgiveness is so difficult is because
it deals with that which seems inexcusable, unacceptable, unforgivable. Hearts
easily become fertile fields for the roots of bitterness.

     The word itself points to how difficult
the whole thing is. “Forgiveness” literally means “to let go of” or
“to send away.” Forgiveness is when you let go of the bitterness you feel
toward someone else and give it over to God. It’s a willingness to turn the
offense AND the offender over to God…let Him take care of it. I’ve heard
forgiveness defined as: “Giving up my right to hurt you for hurting
me.” There is only one cure for the cancer of bitterness…forgiveness.

     Few old saws have been more used, and gone
more unsharpened, than “forgive and forget.” Our ability to recall
old injustices, dredge up insignificant slights and reopen old wounds is
masterful. How many of us remember our parents’ anniversary date? On the other
hand, how many of us remember vividly the day we were punished for something we
didn’t do? Though we can’t recall all the times our brother helped us with our
homework, we remember the way he ridiculed us in front of his friends. The same
mind that goes totally blank during an important presentation can clearly
recall every injustice it has ever suffered at the hands of an employer. “Forgive
and forget” is an oft-mouthed but rarely remembered recommendation.

     Maybe you’re thinking: “I AM mad at
somebody. I DO have a grudge against somebody. There IS someone that’ done me
wrong. What business is it of YOURS?” More than a few of us have just a
list like that in the back of our minds in case something happens to us. But you
can’t keep a scorecard. Forgiveness is free, but NOT cheap. We tend to think,
“I don’t get mad…I get even.” But in the end, you never get even when
you TRY to get even. Sometimes instead of offering someone total forgiveness
when they’ve done us wrong, we pray our own version of an old Gaelic prayer:
“May those who love us, love us; and those who don’t love us, may God turn
their hearts; and if He doesn’t turn their hearts, may he turn their ankles so
we’ll know them by their limping.”

     Preacher Dwight L. Moody said it this way,
“The one sin that keeps revival from coming to the church, more lost
people from being saved, and more of the blessings of God from coming upon His
people, is the sin of an unforgiving spirit.”

    There’s a difference between enjoying
forgiveness and experiencing forgiveness. James Oglethorpe once said to John
Wesley: “Sir, I never forgive.” to which Wesley replied, “Then
sir, I hope you never sin.” A lot of people enjoy forgiveness but never
experience forgiveness because they can’t show it.  Forgiveness experienced becomes forgiveness
expressed. Those who have truly experienced forgiveness can’t help but show
forgiveness. Forgiveness is both an attitude and an action. The attitude frees
the forgiver, and the action frees the forgiven. Forgiveness is both real and
liberating- it will free you to forgive others and also free you to carry out what
is often the hardest task of all- forgiving yourself. Being able to forgive
means being able to expose a weakness to someone else- admitting that they have
successfully hurt you.

     Of the seven deadly sins, anger is
probably the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances
long past, to roll your tongue around the prospect of bitter confrontations
still to come, to savor both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving
back…is a feast fit for a king. The problem, however, is that what you’re
wolfing down…is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you. Let’s see what
Jesus says about the whole thing.

     Matthew
18:21-22- “Peter came to Jesus and asked, “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-seven times.”

     A man was bitten by a dog. Later it was
discovered that the dog had rabies. The doctor gave him a careful examination,
left the room to look at some tests, came back in with a very somber expression
on his face, and said: “Sir, I don’t know how to break the news to you,
but you DO have rabies…and you’re going to die very soon.” The man very
calmly got out a piece of paper and began furiously writing. The doctor said:
“What are you doing, making out your will?” “Oh no, I’m writing
out a list of people I’m going to bite!”

     Thomas Fuller said: “He that can’t
forgive others burns the bridge over which he must pass himself.” Peter
asks the question that’s on all of our minds: “How many times do I have to
forgive a brother who sins against me?” Notice Peter gets pretty clever
here- he follows up the questions with a 2nd one…that sounds a LOT like a
suggestion, “Up to 7 times?” The going rate in those days was 3
times, so Peter seems pretty generous here. He doubles the number…and then
adds one more for good measure. I mean, the number 7 is seen as the perfect
number in the Bible. So Peter thinks he’s arrived at the perfect answer. But in
typical Jesus fashion, Peter gets an answer that’s not only surprising,
mind-blowing. Not 7 times…but 70 TIMES 7! And Jesus isn’t simply raising the
bar REALLY high- this doesn’t mean that after 490 times, all bets are off.
Instead, 70 times 7 is another way of saying, “As many as it takes.” Peter was
appealing to the law, but Jesus was appealing to love. Forgiveness has nothing
to do with the law and it has EVERYTHING to do with love. The law has limits,
love does not. The law keeps count, love does not. The law keeps records, love
does not. The law has a long memory, love has no memory. And as hard as it may
be to stomach, Jesus is not offering a suggestion here- He’s giving a command.

     In this passage, Peter asks for help
regarding forgiveness. I’m glad he asked for help because I too need help with
forgiveness. I think we see forgiveness as something we do for God, or because
it’s the nice thing to do. But forgiveness is ultimately a gift we give
ourselves. For our own well-being, we need to purge ourselves of our negative
feelings toward someone who’s hurt us. Sometimes our hurt goes so deep that we
feel we simply can’t let go of it. We say, “But I CAN’T control my temper. I
CAN’T forgive.” That’s not true. We don’t HAVE to carry around bitterness,
resentment and anger. We can choose to forgive. We can…and we need to…for
our own well-being. Forgiveness is one of the best gifts we can give ourselves.
And forgiveness is central to the Christian faith. The Bible is clear- if we
don’t forgive others, we won’t be forgiven. There’s a reason for this- God’s
love can’t live in an unforgiving heart. Not forgiving has the effect of
locking the door to our heart…from the inside. In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray,
“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against
us.” In the Apostles’ Creed, we say, “I believe in the forgiveness of
sins.” It’s not just a piece of theological jargon but a lifestyle.

     Do you remember the famous Brink’s
robbery? It happened in Boston, in January 1950. The robbery netted nearly $3
million, an extraordinary amount of money 61 years ago. Do you know how the
robbers were apprehended? 11 days before the statute of limitations was set to
expire, one of the robbers confessed. His motive? Revenge. The other members of
the gang had let him down and this was his payback. 11 days before the statute
of limitations expired! He sure showed them. He was punished right along with
them. Why? Because he couldn’t forgive.

     Author Philip Yancey wrote: “Not to
forgive imprisons me in the past and locks out all potential for change. I thus
yield control to another, my enemy, and doom myself to suffer the consequences
of the wrong. We forgive not merely to fulfill some higher law of morality; we
do it for ourselves. The first and often only person to be healed by
forgiveness is the person who does the forgiveness.” Forgiveness is at the
heart of who we are as Christians. We’re not supposed to hold grudges, carry
resentments or harbor bitterness. It’s a tough teaching, but one of Jesus’ most
important teachings. It’s at the center of everything we believe about Jesus. It
IS possible to forgive another person- people do it every day. We need to
understand that. We can choose to forgive. The damage we do to ourselves
through unresolved anger and resentment is far more deadly than any damage we
are likely to inflict on someone who hurt us. Why keep hammering yourself? It’s
a medical fact that hating people can cause ulcers, heart attacks, headaches,
skin rashes, asthma, and even death! We are able to forgive because we’ve been
forgiven by our Father in Heaven and we in turn can then share that gift of
forgiveness with others. You can be theologically sound and morally upright and
still be spiritually bankrupt if you don’t have a forgiving spirit.

     A young man got a job with the Illinois
Department of Transportation (IDOT) painting the white lines on a nearby
roadway by hand because the equipment that did that was currently unavailable.
The 1st day he painted 8 miles. The 2nd day he painted 4 miles. The 3rd day he
painted 2 miles. The 4th day he only painted 1 mile. His supervisor became
curious why his production level continued to decrease. The young man replied,
“I’m getting slower and slower because the paint can is getting further
and further away.” If you find your ability to forgive is getting further
and further away from the will of God, maybe it’s because you’re not as close
as you should be to the heart and mind of Jesus. Is there someone you need to
forgive, not for their sake, but for yours? When you find it hard to forgive
someone, remember this: forgiveness is as much for us as it is for the other
person. If you can’t forgive, it’s like holding a hot coal in your hand; you’re
the one getting burned. True forgiveness is complete…not partial, final…not
temporary.

     The alternative to refusing to forgive is
to carry around a lifetime of bitterness, resentment and simmering hatred. Why
would we do that to ourselves? Benjamin Franklin said, “Doing an injury
puts you below your enemy; revenging one makes you but even with him; forgiving
him sets you above him.” Harboring resentment is like taking poison and
waiting for the other guy to die. It’s like burning down your house to get rid
of the mice. When we refuse to forgive, we hurt ourselves most of all. Forgiveness
isn’t a prisoner of your emotions but a servant of your will. Whether you FEEL
like forgiving or not is irrelevant. Not only CAN you forgive…you HAVE to
forgive.

     Rusty Woomer was executed in the electric
chair in South Carolina in 1991. He had been on death row, for the brutal
murder of a young woman named Della Sellers. While in prison, he met Jesus and
was forgiven him for his sins. But there was one final piece missing from
Rusty’s personal puzzle- he wanted Della’s brother Lee Hewitt to forgive him.
Sitting on death row, he watched every day for some kind of a sign that Hewitt
had forgiven him. In the summer of 1989, a plain envelope was slipped under the
door to his cell door. He caught his breath when he saw the return address- it
was from Lee Hewitt. The letter said: “For years I hated you with all my heart.
I could have blown your brains out for what you did to my sister. I only
regretted you were in prison where I couldn’t get to you. But I spent time in
jail myself- 56 times over the years. I felt like a failure. But then I became
a Christian. The more I learned about being a Christian, the more I knew I had
to forgive you. I didn’t want to, but it got to where I couldn’t even pray the
Lord’s Prayer- forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. It
made me so mad- I HAD to forgive you. I prayed about it, and God’s done a
miracle in my heart. I forgive you. We are brothers in Christ. I love you.”
There’s only one place those 2 men could have possibly met and reconciled…at
foot of the cross. At the Cross we’re reminded that we’re already forgiven. At
the Cross we’re reminded of our need of forgiveness. You destroy your enemies
when you make them your friends.

     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!


          Tomorrow- dodging the skeet!

July 30- How Can It BE July 30?!

     I SWEAR I just looked at the calendar yesterday and it was January. I mean, we JUST started 2011…didn’t we? In fact, I’m still writing 2010 on my checks half the time, for goodness sake! I remember when I was a kid- time just CREPT by! Especially the school year- once late  August/early September showed up, it felt like YEARS before May came around. (The summer months, on quite the other hand, made me feel like I had gotten the DeLorean up to 88 MPH and simply “zapped” straight from June 1 to  August 31! That darn flux capacitor!) 

     You know what I mean- waiting for Christmas when you are a kid was like waiting for Judgment Day…you KNEW it was coming but you couldn’t imagine when. You have ALL the time in the world when you’re young. There is NO hurry, no worry. 
     Then…you grow up. Things start to happen- you get out of college, you get a job, you get married…you have kids. And once those things happen, life becomes a snowball rolling down a hill, gathering speed, size and momentum. Life becomes that train from the movie that was out recently- racing toward the station with absolutely no way to slow down. A white knuckle flight, going so fast you don’t even have time to think…you can BARELY even catch your breath.
     Now that I have your attention- do YOU ever feel that way? If you said, “No”, you’re either…fibbing…or you have the secret that BILLIONS of people would like to know. Of course you feel that way sometimes- we all do. That’s the way life is. And I am convinced that there is NO way around that. Despite what some of the more optimistic theologians might say, we cannot completely avoid the craziness of life simply by being a follower of Jesus. While we are encourage to not be OF the world, we HAVE to be IN the world. BUT…and this is a pretty big but (if you will pardon the image!)…you CAN learn to deal with it better!
     I have learned (the hard way) that the world is going to keep on flying by, regardless of what I do. So, I have a choice to make- I can stay on the train, clinging desperately to the handholds, praying I won’t fall off, watching much of what is important to me fly by…OR…I can choose to better monitor my time, electing to step off the train occasionally, let it go on if necessary, knowing I can either get on another car farther back or simply wait for the next train! After years of beating my head against the wall, clinging to the train, missing so many important things in my personal life, I finally came to the understanding that there IS a balance to be had between a successful career AND a healthy family…if you’re willing to make some concessions along the way. 
     What is YOUR life like? Do you feel you have a good balance, or do you feel trapped on that runaway train, unable to get off…trapped? If you feel trapped- take heart. A. You are NOT alone. And B. Jesus cares about that…about you. Turn to Him. Pray to Him. Seek His presence in your life. Ask Him to help you find that much-needed balance. If you do those things…He will intervene. He will make a difference. You will find a better balance for your life. And the journey will be such a joy! Now, if you’ll excuse me…I’m late for an appointment!!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

     Tomorrow- God is Forgiveness

July 29- A Pork Chop Ministry

     I wrote about this last year…but it bears another look. My church is… famous! In this neck of the woods anyway. And not for what you might immediately think. My church is famous for…ready?…pork chop sandwiches! (I know, right?) 30+ years ago, my church started a food stand at the local County Fair. The stand sold, and still sells, almost exclusively pork chop  sandwiches. (We also offer chips and drinks.) The local grocery store butterflies the chops, then they are seasoned, cooked, sold, and eaten! Since the meat and the bun are consistent from one time to the next, the secret to the sandwich is in the seasoning and the cooking. 

     The seasoning we use comes from a specific source and it is ESSENTIAL that it’s THAT seasoning. (Before I tasted one of these I would have not believed you if you said the seasoning brand made much of a difference…but it does!) They are seasoned on both sides and then allowed to marinate a bit in the fridge. Then they are thrown on the charcoal grill. The key is to sear them, but them cook them slowly and until they are JUST done. They then come off the grill and into an electric roaster, where they are held until they are sold. 
     To say these sandwiches are good would be like saying Einstein was “kinda smart” or  Beethoven “sorta knew” about music. They are amazing! In fact, they are so good that we recently had what we call a “pork chop drive-through” at the church as part of a larger fundraiser. A guy came up, bought one, then turned to me and said, “Don’t you have any ketchup or anything?” I smiled and said, “You’ve never had one of these…have you?” He seemed a bit surprised (and, I fear, a bit offended!) and replied, “No!” I said, “Try it first…then decide if you need ketchup.” He took a bite, his eyes lit up, and he said, “OK…I see what you mean.” 
     This church has made a LOT of money over the years selling pork chops…a good thing. But they’ve also made a LOT of contacts with people they wouldn’t have made otherwise. There are people in this church whose first contact with the church was buying a pork chop sandwich. Inviting them to a concert…or Vacation Bible School…or Youth Groups…or worship…or…or…or…didn’t generate the contact we were looking for. But selling them the best pork chop sandwich they have ever eaten DID! 
     Outreach comes in many shapes and sizes. Knocking on doors and inviting folks is outreach. Handing out Finals Survival Kits to high school students is outreach. Vacation Bible School is outreach. And pork chop sandwiches are outreach, too! The important thing, for me anyway, is not so much HOW you reach them, but THAT you reach them. Because that’s what we are called to do as Christians- go forth and make disciples. And if pork chop sandwiches do the trick…so be it!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!


     Tomorrow- How can it BE July 30?!