This morning we are taking a look at the Sixth Choice in our effort to overcome our hurts, hang-ups, and habits. In January, when we launch Celebrate Recovery here at Britton Christian Church, those who will be part of this powerful ministry will work together in moving through the 8 Choices of recovery. This morning we are going to take a look at the sixth choice, which is, “Evaluate all my relationships: Offer forgiveness to those who have hurt me, and make amends for harm I’ve done to others, except when to do so would harm them or others.” This sixth choice is based on Jesus’ words found in Matthew 5:7 and Matthew 5:9. Jesus said,
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (Matthew 5:7 NIV)
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. (Matthew 5:9 NIV)
Relationships are tough aren’t they? It’s not difficult to damage relationships. The ingredients that make up the recipe for broken, damaged relationships are quite simple: Words and actions. Add them in generous amounts, stir in some anger, pride, and animosity. In no time you will watch before your eyes the disintegration of the intimacy you once shared with your family member, co-worker, classmate, or friend. That’s it. It’s not complex. It doesn’t take a college degree. No training is necessary. From the time we are born we instinctively hold within our grasp the power to damage the relationships we share in life.
There are times in each of our lives when we know exactly what we are doing. We know that the words we are about to speak will be hurtful and not helpful. We know that what we are about to do will not benefit those that we love, but we want to do it anyway. There are other times in life when we don’t mean to hurt anyone, but what we say and the things we do alienate us from those around us. As I said, it’s not difficult to damage relationships.
Relationships are damaged each and every day and with little effort, but the healing, reconciliation, and restoration of damaged relationships is costly, time consuming, and oftentimes painful. Any of us who have experienced the disintegration of relationships that were meaningful to us, and then worked to see those broken relationships truly healed and really restored, know this to be true. I emphasize “truly healed” and “really restored” because this is not what is experienced most the time. What is most often experienced is one of two other roads that we can travel.
First, there is the road of dismissal. When relationships are damaged some choose to simply cut and run. There is no shortage of folks on the planet, there are plenty of other people for us relate to, so we simply cut our losses and find another friend, another father or mother-figure, or another spouse. How many of us have walked this road? I’m sure if we were being honest that we would all confess to the cut and run response to broken relationships. There is a second option and it goes something like this: When we find a relationship on the rocks because of hurtful words or destructive behavior we know that things have changed. Sometimes, the person who inflicted the pain will say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t really mean to hurt you.” and the person who has been hurt will reciprocate with, “It’s no big deal. Don’t worry about it.” but the pain isn’t addressed and therefore healing can’t take place. The hurt is just dismissed, and even though the two people can be cordial to one another, the intimacy once shared is lost.
When relationships are broken, if there is any chance of healing and restoration, then a willingness to go through the process of repentance, forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation must take place. No one knows the painful road of reconciliation better than Arna Washington.
Dee Dee Washington came from a great family. Her mother and father were school teachers. Dee Dee followed in her parents footsteps and became a teacher. Then the day came that changed her family forever. As Dee Dee sat in her boyfriend’s car, she was shot and killed in a drug deal gone bad. The shooter was a young man named Ron Flowers. Dee Dee was buried on what would have been her twenty-seventh birthday.
The grief experienced by Dee Dee’s family, Arna, her mother, Marcellus, her father, and Derek, her brother, was too much to bear. Within ten years of Dee Dee’s murder, Derek died of kidney failure and then Marcellus died of a heart attack. Dee Dee’s mother, Arna, said “I knew what really killed Marcellus was having both his children go before their time.” Arna was all alone and she blamed the loss of her daughter, son, and husband on Ron Flowers, the man convicted of killing her daughter.
Arna’s grief turned into a consuming passion to make sure that Ron Flowers never experienced freedom again. Every time Ron came up for parole, Arna took a stand, writing letters and voicing her protest at any consideration of releasing Ron Flowers. Arna said, “a bitter flame rekindled inside me. He deserved to rot in prison,” she said. “As long as I had breath left in my body, I’d make sure that was where he stayed. You’re darn right I protested!”
For 14 years Ron denied that he had anything to do with Dee Dee’s death, but then he was admitted to the InnerChange Freedom Initiative, a prison program of Prison Fellowship. Ron gave his life to Christ and excelled in the program. While Ron was still in prison, working to change his life, the Lord was working to change Arna Washington’s heart.
Arna’s pastor, Rev. Homer Williams, told his congregation that he was serving as a mentor in the local prison. He invited some of the members of his congregation to join him in mentoring prisoners. Arna knew that Ron Flowers was in the same prison in which her pastor was volunteering his time. She asked him if he could find out about Ron Flowers the next time he went to the prison. Pastor Williams learned that Ron had accepted Christ and was excelling in Prison Fellowship’s program. He also told Arna that the Director of the program wanted to speak to her.
Arna met with Mr. Cowley and found out that Ron’s program focused on reconciliation and taking ownership for the crime he had committed. Mr. Cowley told Arna that Ron would like to speak to her. Arna was incensed! She said, “I don’t want anything to do with him! I don’t care how much he’s changed!” But she couldn’t let her thoughts about Ron go. Finally, she agreed to accept a letter from him. The first letter didn’t go so well, but another letter followed in which Ron took full responsibility for what he had done. He wrote,
‘I’m truly sorry for what took place on the night of February 9, 1984; I want to let you know everything. I realize all the pain that I cause you and your family because of my bad choice in life, just because of my stupid act.’ He said he would like to answer her questions “face-to-face.”
Eventually Arna agreed to meet Ron. When the two met Arna was able to ask the questions that had plagued her for years, “Why did you do it?” “How did it happen?” Ron reassured Arna that her daughter was not involved in the drug deal. As Ron told her about the day that he killed her daughter, he expressed his deep regret for what he had done. Mrs. Washington took his hands in hers and said, “I forgive you.” What happened next is nothing short of the work of the hand of God. I’ll let Arna Washington tell you in her own words.
‘I pushed back my chair and got up. Come here, son’ I said. Warily Ron stood, then came around to my side of the table. I reached out my arms. He took a step forward. Then we were holding each other, weeping together, the tears putting out the last bitter embers inside me, washing away the anger I’d been carrying for too long, and letting the love of the Lord fill its place. When we moved apart, I took a good look at Ron. And I saw the person he’d been 14 years before—a mixed-up young man who didn’t know what he was doing when he shot my daughter, who’d probably caused his mother no end of worry.
What took place in that room inside of a prison in Texas is nothing short of the miraculous work of our reconciling Savior. Arna and Ron’s meeting wouldn’t be the last. Ron graduated from the Prison Fellowship program. As he walked across the stage to receive his diploma, Arna Washington got up and walked over to Ron on stage. She told all of those in attendance, “This young man is my adopted son.” Once Ron was released from prison, Arna Washington helped him adjust to life on the outside, she sat right next to him in church, had him over for dinner, and even stood next to him at his wedding. Arna remained Ron’s “other mother” until her death in 2003 and Ron has never had another run-in with the law. (This story is adapted from many sources including: Colson, Chuck, The Christian Post. August 7, 2008. http://alturl.com/qsdcy and What Shall We Then Do? An Interdenominational Guide and Kit for Creating Healing Communities. http://alturl.com/6ry57. )
Arna Washington has gone home to be with the Lord, but her story, and the way the Lord worked His reconciling power to transform her relationship to her daughter’s killer, Ron Flowers, will be told for generations to come. I’m sure I don’t need to point out to you this morning that to get to the point of reconciliation was a painful, costly process. What is it that can enable us to be willing to go through such pain, at such a great cost? Why would someone be willing to go through such a painful process? Those are great questions.
Why should we be willing to forgive others or to seek forgiveness from those we’ve hurt? Well, if you aren’t a follower of Jesus, if you have no desire to live as God calls His people to live, then there is absolutely no reason to forgive someone unless forgiving them is going to benefit you in some way. On the other hand, if you are a follower of Jesus then there are at least three reasons why you should seek to forgive and be reconciled to those who have hurt you. Let’s talk about them.
Because God Has Forgiven You
The precedent has been set: God has forgiven you and me. On Wednesday night in our Bible study we were talking about God’s forgiveness. We took a look at some Scripture in Isaiah 53. Let me share with you what God has done for you and me to forgive and reconcile us. Read along with me from Isaiah 53:4-5.
4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5 NIV)
God has forgiven you and me, but He didn’t stop with our forgiveness–God calls us to forgive others. The more we stay in touch, the more we are aware of the forgiveness God has offered us, and the great cost of our forgiveness, the more willing we should be to forgive others. The Bible is thick with the call of God to forgive. Paul wrote to the folks in Colosse and said,
13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13 NIV)
Which part of that verse is most important for you and me to consider? I would say that it is the last sentence. Without that last sentence, without being fully aware of the grandeur of God’s forgiveness we will run into situations in our life where we will just not be able to forgive. If we keep before us the forgiveness of God then we will not be able to escape the call to forgive. God’s forgiveness offered to each of us must always be our motivation for forgiving others. Paul was consistent in his message. When he wrote to the folks in Ephesus, he said,
31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32 NIV)
“Just as in Christ God forgave you.” Forgiveness is a universal need. Marghanita Laski was a prolific author who wrote plays, short stories, and novels. She was also a radio panelist for the BBC panel show, “What’s My Line?” Alongside of her accomplished writing and speaking career, Marghanita was a staunch atheist. Not too long before she died in 1988 she was being interviewed on television when she said, “What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness; I have nobody to forgive me.” What a powerful statement! Forgiveness is a universal need.
Because Resentment Doesn’t Work
Did you notice, when I told you the story of Arna Washington, how bitterness, resentment, grief, and anger held her captive for so many years? Resentment doesn’t work. We read in Job 5:2, “Resentment kills a fool, and envy slays the simple.” (Job 5:2 NIV) John Baker says,
Think about it. When you are angry and resentful toward someone, you’re not hurting them; you’re hurting yourself. You’re the one who’s stewing, spewing, stressing, and fretting. You’re the one who’s losing sleep and being distracted from the joys of life. It’s not bothering them at all! They’re sleeping great. They probably aren’t even aware of all of the huffing and puffing that’s going on inside you. They’re oblivious to it all. (Baker, John. Life’s Healing Choices. pg. 169-170)
It is really insane when you stop to think about it. Someone hurts us and we hold onto it, refuse to let it go, and all the while the resentment, bitterness, and anger eats away at us in so many destructive ways. There are so many people today who have allowed bitterness and resentment to absolutely stop them in their tracks and keep them from really living. Have you ever met anyone during your life that has told you, “I feel so much better being resentful?” Holding on to the hurt only makes us more sick. Holding on to hurt prevents us from truly being able to experience life. Job said,
23 One man dies in full vigor, completely secure and at ease, 24 his body well nourished, his bones rich with marrow. 25 Another man dies in bitterness of soul, never having enjoyed anything good. (Job 21:23-25 NIV)
It just doesn’t work. It doesn’t matter if you are a follower of Jesus or an avowed atheist, resentment and bitterness just don’t work. The good news is that if you are a follower of Jesus you don’t have to stay in the arid wasteland of resentment—you can move out of that land and experience the wonders of forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation.
Because You’ll Need Forgiveness in the Future
It is far too easy for us to focus on the hurt that we’ve suffered in life and not consider the hurt that we’ve caused others. The truth is that we all need forgiveness, forgiveness from God and from others. Our seeking the forgiveness of those we have hurt so that we might be reconciled to them should be at the top of our “to do” list. The reconciliation of relationships was so important to Jesus that He said,
23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24 NIV)
That’s a pretty mind-boggling statement when you stop to consider it. The lesson Jesus wants to get across to us is this: Broken relationships hinder our worship and walk with God.
Some of us here this morning have been harboring bitterness for a long time. You may have learned some things as we’ve taken a look at God’s Word this morning. Maybe you’ve learned that God has forgiven you, that your resentment and bitterness is unhealthy and harmful to your body, mind, and soul, and maybe you’ve come recognize that you are in need of forgiveness. Now that you’ve come to learn these things don’t you think it is time to seek forgiveness and work towards reconciliation with those you have hurt? Don’t you sense God prompting you to seek restoration? If so then I want to encourage you to begin to take the steps necessary to see reconciliation take place.
First, sit down and make a list of the people you have hurt and how you have hurt them. You need to realize that we tend to forget those we hurt, but hold on forever to the memories of those who have hurt us. With that in mind think about these questions to see if they spark your memory.
1. Is there anyone to whom you owe a debt that you haven’t repaid? A friend, family member, or business?
2. Is there anyone you’ve broken a promise to? A spouse, child, or friend?
3. Is there anyone you are guilty of controlling or manipulating?
4. Is there anyone you are hypercritical of?
5. Have you been verbally, emotionally, or physically abused anyone?
6. Have you ever lied to anyone?
7. Is there anyone you have ever been unfaithful to?
After you have finished your list then call upon your friend or mentor, someone you trust and respect to keep your discussion in confidence and share your list. Go over the list and ask your friend to help you come up with appropriate ways to go about making amends, asking for forgiveness, and seeking reconciliation. This step is important because most amends need to be made face-to-face, but not all. Here is a good rule to follow: Make amends face-to-face “except when to do so would harm them or others?” Let me give you an example. If you were involved in an affair then it would be inappropriate and harmful for you to have any further contact with that person. So, what can you do if you can’t talk to them face-to-face? You can sit down and write a letter stating your regret over what you’ve done, naming what you have done, and asking for their forgiveness. Offer that letter to God before you throw it away.
Secondly, those that you need to talk to face-to-face will need to be contacted. Let them know that you would like to meet with them. Let them know that you are dealing with some stuff you’ve done and that some of it involves them. Let them know that you would like to talk with them about some regrets you have. Be humble. When the meeting happens be specific, own what you have done, don’t dance around the issue, don’t blame anyone else, be sincere in your apology, and ask for their forgiveness. Don’t expect them to offer their forgiveness. You are not making amends to get forgiveness. You are making amends because God calls us try to make things right with those we have hurt.
Stop and think about this for a minute. God did what He did not because you would respond, but because He loved. We should hide that thought in our hearts and minds when we sense God calling us to make amends with those we have hurt. We are called to love others as God has loved us through Jesus. He alone can turn our resentment, bitterness, and anger for another person into love, genuine Christ-like love. Won’t you allow Him to do that beginning right now? Won’t you ask Jesus to come into your heart, forgive you of all that you’ve done, and set you free to love God and others?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
November 4, 2012