The Compassionate Decision

August 2, 2009

He just kept right on smiling. It didn’t matter what they did or what they said he just kept right on smiling. They were American army officers and he was their Korean house boy, and for what ever reason they gave him a hard time about everything, he wasn’t fast enough, he wasn’t polite enough, he wasn’t good enough, but he just kept right on smiling. They had rented a house in Seoul and he was the servant, he cleaned, he cooked and he served and no matter how hard he tried he seemed to fail in their eyes. They ridiculed him and they humiliated him in front of their guests and he just kept on smiling. The more he smiled the more they seemed to be determined to break him and their humiliation of him got even worse if that was possible, but he just kept right on smiling.
One day a visitor came to the house, it was another American officer but he was cut from a different piece of cloth and he was horrified by the way his fellow officers were treating their house boy but he was also fascinated by the boys response, no anger, no tension, apparently no ill feelings and so after awhile he got the boy aside to find our what his secret was. “Why is it that no matter what the men say you just smile back?” he asked. “What is you secret?” The boy didn’t hesitate at all before responding “My secret is that every day, just before I serve them their dinner, I spit in their soup.”
Not bad, but not forgiveness. There are people here today who just keep right on smiling. They have been hurt by someone, and yet they don’t appear to let it bother them. A true Christian, it would appear that they have the Lord’s Prayer down pat where it says Matthew 6:12 Forgive us our sins, just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us.
At least that’s how they appear on the outside. But on the inside they are spitting in that person’s soup, everyday. And my friends that is not forgiveness. It may make us feel better but it doesn’t bring healing.
We’re are getting close to the end. For those who have been here over the past number of weeks you know that I have been using the book “The Traveler’s Gift” as a springboard for my preaching this summer.
To bring you up to speed if you’ve been at the cottage through July or if you are a guest today. The Traveler’s Gift is a novel written by Andy Andrews, the subtitle is 7 Decisions that determine personal success. As a young man traveling a self destructive path Andrews’ life was turned around after he began reading biographies of people he considered successful. His goal in his words was to answer the question “Is life just a lottery ticket, or are there choices one can make to direct his future?” After reading over 200 biographies Andrews determined there were seven characteristics that these “successful” people had in common. “What will happen,” he mused, “if I study these seven common denominators and harness them in my own life?”
Those seven characteristics became the central focus for The Traveler’s Gift. The lead character of the book, David Ponder through a series of unexplained circumstances has the opportunity to meet with seven historic figures who each give him one piece of advice. These pieces of advice or “Decisions” are meant to enhance Ponder’s life and make him a better person.
And so upon meeting President Harry Truman he is told to embrace the “Responsible Decision” that is to understand that he is where he is in life because of choices he has made. That applies to each one of us; at verious points in our life we chose how we would respond to our educational opportunities, what we would do for a living, who we would marry and how we would spend our money. Each of us is where we are in life today because of decisions we have made throughout our lives, we can not longer blame our family, our friends or our circumstances. And it is only when we accept responsibility for our past that we can take control of our future.
Secondly we are introduced to King Solomon in the “Guided Decision” and Solomon challenges Ponder to choice wisdom. So we looked at how when offered the desires of his heart Solmon chose wisdom and how we can gain wisdom in our lives. Through reading books, through the advice of others who are wiser than we are and by seeking God’s direction through prayer and reading his word.
From there Ponder travels ahead in time to meet Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, a 34 year old school teacher from Bangor Maine and a hero of the American Civil War. His heroic actions at the Battle of Gettysburg turned the tide for the Union troops and may very well have been the pivotal point in the War between the States, changing not only the history of the US but of the world. And in the “Active Decision” Chamberlain tells us to choose action. And we looked into Matthew’s Gospel to the story of Peter walking on the water, and how because he was willing to take a chance, to take a risk and to take action he alone among all the disciples experienced the impossible.
From the Battlefield of Pennsylvania Ponder finds himself in the Atlantic Ocean on the deck of the Santa Maria where he receives direction from Christopher Columbus. Columbus who had faced 19 years of disappointment in trying to find a sponsor to finance an expedition to prove his theory that the world was round and not flat encourages our hero to adopt the “Certain Decision” to remain committed to his dreams and visions even in the face of overwhelming disappointment.
That week I spoke on Joshua and Caleb standing at the very edge of the Promised Land and facing the disappointment of the People of Israel not wanting to claim the land that God had promised them. And we looked at what we can learn from our disappointments and how to face them.
Last week I looked at the “Joyful Decision” and it came from Anne Frank a 14 year old Jewish refugee, hiding from the Gestapo in Nazi Occupied Holland. Anne challenges David Ponder to face life with a smile. And so we looked at what it would take to choose to be happy. That we needed to choose to not complain, that we needed to choose to be grateful and we needed to choose to smile.
From Amsterdam in October of 1943 Ponder is transported backwards almost exactly 80 years to stand once again on the battlefield of Gettysburg. But this time the guns were stilled and our hero finds himself in a tent speaking to President Abraham Lincoln just moments before the President was to dedicate the Gettysburg National Cemetery. Remember this was the site of the Battle of Gettysburg were just 4 ½ months before close to 35,000 troops were either killed or wounded when the Union troops held off the advance of the Southern Army. It’s interesting that years afterwards George Pickett who was a Confederate General involved in the Battle was asked, why his charge at Gettysburg failed, he replied: “I’ve always thought the Yankees had something to do with it.”
But back to the story, in the course of their conversation Ponder asks Lincoln what he would do when the war was over, what his first priority would be? To which the president responds “The first morning after all hostilities cease, I will greet the day with a forgiving spirit.”
When David questions him on that Lincoln tells him “It’s a very simple concept actually, and it is the single most important action I take on a regular basis. Forgiveness allows me to be an effective husband, father, friend, and leader of this country.”
And so today we look at the “Compassionate Decision”
So where are we? Right with the scripture that was read earlier.
You know the story. Jesus has been teaching and out of nowhere Peter pipes up and asks: Matthew 18:21 Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”
What makes me think that as Jesus had been teaching Peter had been stewing. Thinking about something someone had said about him or did to him, perhaps more than once. Maybe five time or six times and he was getting tired of turning the other cheek. And to be truthful if this was more than a hypothetical situation and Peter had already forgiven the person multiple times he was a better person than most of us. But he wasn’t ready for Jesus’ answer Matthew 18:22 “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven! Seventy times seven! That’s crazy, why that: is naught, naught, carry the four, three is seven, seven is four and wow, that’s almost 500 times. How can you forgive someone 490 times for doing you wrong?
Jesus must have seen the look of unbelief on Peter’s face because he says: Matthew 18:23 “Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him.
And then he tells this story to illustrate the forgiveness that is so essential to belonging to God’s Kingdom. He tells us that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a King who was doing up his accounts and discovered that one fellow owed him millions of dollars. Actually the original text says ten thousand talents. Not a figure drawn out of the air, instead it represented the largest amount of money in Greek thinking. The talent was the largest denomination of currency, much like our one hundred dollar bill, and ten thousand was the largest number in Greek figuring, anything above that figure was merely abstract.
And so this one man owed the largest amount possible that Christ’s audience could conceive. When the man couldn’t pay his debt, the King decreed that the debtor and his family should be sold into slavery to at least get back a partial return on his debt. The debtor began to beg his master to relent and the master did. He granted the man a pardon, cancelled his debt and set him free.
As you can well imagine the man was over the moon. That is where our scripture ended this morning and where the story should have ended but it didn’t. As the man was walking home he ran across a man who owed him a few thousand dollars, again the original says one hundred denarii, which means nothing to us but was trifling sum in comparison to what he had been forgiven.
He seemed to have forgotten the forgiveness shown him and immediately demands payment and when the man can’t pay he has him thrown into prison. When the king heard about this he was not visible impressed, called the man back and said Matthew 18:32-33 Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’
And then the rich man had the servant thrown into prison where he was tortured until he could pay, which was obviously never. Jesus sums up the story by saying, Matthew 18:35 “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”
It is impossible to translate the amount of money that was owed by the two men and Jesus never meant for it to be a precise amount it was the difference that was important, one was too large to be imagined the other was too small to be bothered with. The smaller debt was approximately 1/600,000th the size of the larger debt.
The lesson being that no matter what it is that you have to forgive it doesn’t compare with what God forgave you for. There is a line in the Lord’s Prayer which tells us the urgency with which we need to forgive. Matthew 6:12 Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. You understand what you are praying when you say that, right?
So instead of looking at what forgiveness is this morning I want to take a few minutes looking at what forgiveness isn’t, because when I talk to people about forgiveness, and you’d be surprised how often that subject comes up in my office, these are usually the objections I hear. They are not adverse to forgiveness but they often have reasons why they can’t or actually won’t forgive.
Forgiveness is not a Matter of Being Asked. Often people will say “But they haven’t asked for my forgiveness.” Somehow we have come to the mistaken conclusion that forgiveness is something we bestow upon someone like the Queen bestows a Knighthood. That we wait until they come grovelling asking for forgiveness. But nowhere in the bible does it say that people have to ask us to forgive them before we do. Not there.
Forgiveness is not a reward to be earned it is a gift to be given.
Understand by forgiving someone you aren’t doing it for their benefit you are doing it for your own benefit. What happens when we don’t forgive someone? We are consumed with anger and bitterness. We spend time plotting to get back at that person, replaying the incident over and over again in our minds and they are going blissfully along with life.
Author Isabelle Holland reminds us “As long as you don’t forgive, who and whatever it is will occupy a rent-free space in your mind.”
You understand don’t you that 90 % of those who you need to forgive either don’t know they need to be forgiven or don’t care? And that goes back to the fact that 73% of statistics are made up. You cannot allow your emotions to be held hostage by others. Just let it go.
Forgiveness is not a Matter of Feeling Sometimes when I talk to people they imply that they have not yet come to a place emotionally where they are ready to forgive. “I’m just not ready yet.” You need to understand that forgiveness is an action not an emotion. It is something we do not something we feel and like every other action or activity we will choose to do it or not.
Her name was 66730, or at least that was the name she went by. Her father had died in a German Concentration camp as did her sister. Her freedom, her dignity, her humanity had been stripped away by those who imprisoned her and yet she survived. And not only did she survive she went on to minister to some of the very people who had been responsible for what had happened to her. You probably know her as Corrie Ten Boom and she said “Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.” And I would suspect that Corrie Ten Boom had a lot more to forgive than any one of us.
This really goes back to every element in “The Traveler’s Gift” and that is that this is a choice and you will either choose to do it or you won’t.
Forgiveness is not a Matter of Trust Often I will hear people say “How can I forgive them when I can’t trust them?” Two different issues. Forgiveness is about the past, trust is about the future. Sometimes we hear people say “you haven’t forgiven if you haven’t forgotten.” That isn’t true.
What happens when you cut yourself? You often scar. Even after the cut is healed over and no longer hurts there is still a reminder. I was rooming with a couple of other pastors years ago and they started comparing scars. One had been in a horrific car accident while the other had numerous surgeries for cancer when he was a pre-teen. Let me tell you the scars were impressive. Then they looked at me. So I held up my hand and said “Once when I was changing the oil on my VW convertible the wrench slipped and I got a really nasty cut on my hand.”
When we have been hurt by someone, emotionally, physically, spiritually it hurts and will often leave a scar. With forgiveness the hurt will go away but often times the scar will remain. If someone takes advantage of me in a business deal, I can forgive them but I would be silly if I allowed them to do it again. Goes back to “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.”
And if they broke the law they need to be accountable to the law even if you forgive them, you can forgive them for what they did to you but it is not in your power to absolve them of criminal behaviour.
And often it is the person who did the hurting who equates forgiveness with forgetfulness. The person who breaks their wedding vows is hurt because their spouse doesn’t trust them. Duh. The abusive parent can’t understand why their relationship with their kid can’t be the same as other parents and kids have, even after they’ve been forgiven. Because the scars are still there.
Now understand that the scars fade and we are reminded of the hurt less and less. Time may not heal all wounds but it heals a lot of them. But understand this, you can’t earn forgiveness, it is a gift, but you have to earn trust. Forgiveness is about you, trust is about them.
It was Friedrich Nietzsche who said “What upsets me is not that you lied to me, but that from now on I can longer believe you.”
Forgiveness is not an Option. If you are a Christ Follower you cannot simply choose to not forgive someone. Not an option, not at all. Two scriptures to close this message and they do not need explaining or commentary.
The first one comes at the end of the Lord’s Prayer, Matthew 6:14-15 “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.
And the second was part of the story we read earlier Matthew 18:34-35 Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt. “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”