Letting It Go (11/13/16)

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Jesus says in Matthew 18:15-3515 “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

21 Then 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?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Jesus’ teaching is very clear in this passage. If others sin against you, go talk with them. If they won’t listen to you, take two or three others with you to help work things out. Just remember this doesn’t mean you are to take two or three people who agree with you. You take two or three impartial people who can objectively hear both sides of the story. If this doesn’t work, take it before the whole church and let the church help deal with it. Then forgive whoever sinned against you because God has forgiven you for a lot worse things than what this other person did to you. Jesus ends up saying that refusing to forgive is nothing more than sin.

Before you read any more, please take a few minutes and wrestle with this question: Have I forgiven others the same way I want Jesus to forgive me?

The Disney movie, Frozen, tells the story of two young princesses. The older sister, Elsa, has the magical power to conjure ice, so she creates a winter wonderland for her little sister, Anna. But when Elsa accidentally hurts Anna with her magic, her royal parents decide to seclude Elsa away from the kingdom. The sisters grow up separate from society — and each other. This strategy works until the king and queen die in a shipwreck and Elsa must be crowned the new queen. During the coronation festivities, Elsa loses control of her powers and sends the kingdom into an eternal winter. She then flees into the mountains where she plans to live in isolation so she can be free. However, as she carries out her plan, she’s faced with some major problems that she doesn’t recognize.

She ran away from her problems rather than deal with them. This meant she isolated herself from the very people she was called to serve. She chose to live by the rules she created for herself rather than submit to others. Hiding from reality allowed her to make excuses for the coldness in her life and then convince herself it was OK.

There’s one major area where many Christians do the same thing Elsa did. It happens in the area of forgiveness – or rather unforgiveness. Even though Matthew 18 tells us we are to go and talk with those who have offended us so we can work things out, many Christians don’t do this. Rather than confront the problem so everyone can move on, they choose to run from the situation, isolate themselves from those who hurt them, make excuses about why they should hide from Jesus’ command to forgive and then they live in the coldness that comes from being separated from others.

Are there people you’re keeping at a distance or ignoring all together because they hurt you in the past? Are there people you truly haven’t forgiven even though Jesus forgives you? My experience as both a pastor and a human being is that far too many Christians can say “yes” to these questions.

There’s no question that it’s difficult to work through the process Jesus gives us to restore relationships and forgive others when they’ve hurt us. Our human pride tells us we have the right to be angry. We’ll forgive as soon as they come and apologize to us. The problem is that many times the people on the other side of the issue are waiting for the same thing.

This occurs in marriages a lot. Arguments can get heated and both spouses say things they shouldn’t. Then each person waits for the other to apologize. Neither person actually does this so the anger gets buried because it’s never dealt with. This happens time and time again over the years so the layers of anger keep building. Eventually husband and wife start resenting each other and they build emotional walls to keep each other at a distance.

Sometimes others don’t even realize they’ve hurt you so they never come to apologize. Other times they don’t care if they did. Most of us are familiar with the TV show, All In The Family. In one of my favorite scenes, Archie and his son-in-law, Mike, are arguing. At one point, Mike looks at Archie and says, “You know something Archie? Bit by bit, piece by piece, you tear my heart out?” Archie’s response was simple but clear. He looks Mike in the eye and says, “I don’t care.”

As followers of Jesus who are living in the forgiveness he offers us, we are commanded to forgive others and to work at restoring relationships whether others have apologized to us or not. But it is not easy? So How do we forgive others?

1) Actually do what the Bible says. Jesus’ teaching about this subject is very clear. Talk to each other and work things out. If you’re having trouble doing it on your own, get other people to help you. The main reason Christians can’t come to a place of forgiveness with each other is because they won’t talk things out. Instead of listening to Jesus, they isolate themselves from each other.

If Christians won’t forgive each other and restore relationships, what does this really say about the level of their spiritual maturity?

2) Offer grace to the person who hurt you because God gives grace to you.    It’s so much easier to focus on the one or two sins someone has committed against us than it is to think about the millions of sins we’ve committed against God. Yes, I said millions. The Bible says that every improper thought we’ve ever had and every careless word we’ve ever spoken are sins. This is in addition to all of the other sins we commit. Over the course of a lifetime, our sins against God really add up. Thinking about the grace God gives us helps us extend this same grace to others.

There’s no question it can take time to work through the process Jesus gave us, especially if the hurt is severe. So, while you’re working on things 3) Don’t gossip. Rather than actually doing what Jesus says to do when others sin against them, many Christians choose to isolate themselves from the offender and then gossip to others about what happened and about the other person. They do this even though Proverbs 26:20 says “Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.”

Gossiping and putting other people down can become such a part of our lives that we don’t even realize we’re doing it. As I’ve said before, I have some family members who like to gossip. Growing up, I thought this was how people were supposed to be. Once I became an adult and a Christian, I realized this was wrong and thought I’d moved away from doing it. Notice I said “I thought I’d moved away.”  One day a friend of mine looked at me and said, “David, do you know you have a habit of talking about people and putting them down. Maybe you do this to feel better about yourself.”

I was floored – and embarrassed. When I prayed about it, I realized she was right. Although I never shared any confidential information about anyone, when I was with my closest friends and let my walls down, I was gossiping and I didn’t even realize it. Now I work at constantly analyzing my words to make sure I don’t do this.

Do you gossip about people who have hurt you when you get together with your close friends or family? Do you put others down so you can feel better about yourself? To be honest, some people in our congregation do have reputations of being gossips in the community and in this fellowship of believers. Are you one of them?

There are a few things about gossiping we need to understand. First of all, it’s sin. Second, gossiping and making judgmental comments gives those who do it a bad reputation. For Christians, this can be devastating to any ministry God gives them. People won’t trust them so it limits the opportunities they have to help others.

Gossiping makes both the person who does it and the congregation they attend look bad. Thom Rainer, who is an expert in trends affecting the modern-day church, wrote an article titled Why People Leave and How to Bring Them Back. It focuses on individuals who quit attending church services. His research revealed that “of the formerly churched who expressed dissatisfaction with those in the church, 45 percent said the other members were judgmental and hypocritical.”

If we gossip to our friends and family about others when we’re eating out, or in a store, or at the ballgame, other people do hear us. Our voices do carry and the words we say can destroy our Christian witness and drive people away.

After one of our congregational outreach events where we invited the public to come and participate, a visitor told me he heard one of our members say, “Those other people who are helping, they don’t know what they’re doing.” The visitor then paused for a few seconds and said, “I guess all churches are the same.” Is this the kind of church we want to be? It only takes a few of these comments to ruin a congregation’s reputation.

The last thing we need to do when it comes to forgiving others is 4) Realize that refusing to forgive others and restore relationships is sin. According to the Bible, we will answer for this on Judgment Day.

Elsa was unleashing her personal power. In doing so, she was running from what actually needed to be done. True healing wasn’t happening for her nor for those around her. But, as we know, Frozen had a happy ending because she ended up going back and working through the problems.

If you’re holding onto grudges and refusing to use the process for healing that Jesus gives us, will there be a happy ending for your situation? Will you choose to deal with the issues based on the teachings of the Bible and the power of the Holy Spirit within you? Or, will you continue to live in cold isolation from those who hurt you?