I’m honored to have this chance to share some of the things the Lord has taught me with you this morning. I’m a layman and not a minister, as you will discover. I don’t have any points, I just have forty-five minutes. And if I’m not finished, I’ll just quit. I want to talk to you this morning about the power of forgiveness. I got this message last year. I was traveling for seven weeks on the continent of Africa. And as a background for what I want to say, I’d like to read a couple of scripture verses out of the sixth chapter of Matthew: Matthew 6:14–15.
This is Jesus speaking. Now you know I have written many books, and I’ve been in graduate school for eight years, and as a result, I’ve read many, many books, and wrote a few myself; but I've come down to the fact that the most important book for me when it comes to giving me advice on how to relate myself to my fellow man, and how to have a sense of self-respect for myself, are the words of the Master, Jesus, who invented us and made us.
It’s interesting to me how easy it is for us to look elsewhere for advice, and I do, too. But this is my primary source, and here are a couple of statements that He made. Very hopeful statements, and at the same time, very sobering: “If you forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Heavenly Father forgive your trespasses.” That’s good news, and bad news isn’t it? Let’s read it again, the good news first. “If you forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you, and if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
I was traveling in the country of Uganda, in Africa, and you know that’s been a tension-filled country for a long time under the rule of Ida Amine. And I was in the city of Compalle, which they used to call “The Pearl of Africa”. And I just couldn’t believe what I saw when I got there. They hadn’t maintained any roads for probably fifteen years. The buildings were all in disrepair, and all kinds of tanks and guns and war equipment were lying around, all over the place, and many civilians were armed.
There wasn’t a day that I was in that country that I didn’t hear gun shots. It’s that kind of a country. A loaf of bread costs ten dollars - I mean American dollars. And when you’re hungry and food costs that much, you’re often inclined to take food away from somebody else, steal it, get it any way you can.
And we were going out to a little town on Monday morning to speak to a group of people in a church. It was an auditorium about this size when we finally got there. But there’s a gasoline shortage in Uganda, and the gasoline truck was to arrive at 7 o’clock Monday morning. So the missionary that was going to take me parked his car by the gas pump on Sunday afternoon. He was the third car from the pump. But the place where I was staying, a fellow at 8 o’clock in the morning came peddling up on a bicycle, and handed me a note and said that the gas truck hadn’t come, and I should just relax and take it easy and he’ll be there at 9 o’clock.
At 9 o’clock, the bicycle showed up with a note saying he would be there at 10 o’clock, and finally a note at 12 o’clock saying the truck didn’t show up, but he had located some black market gasoline, and if we wanted to go we could buy it for only thirty dollars a gallon. So we bought fifteen gallons of gasoline for four hundred fifty dollars. And I began wondering whether this trip was necessary.
When you start paying that kind of money for gasoline, you start thinking about conserving your gasoline. And we were already four hours late. Who in the world would wait for four hours to hear anybody speak? But he insisted that we go. And so we went, and I found a group of people, at least as many who are here, who had been waiting for four hours for us to arrive. These people are used to delays and difficulties, and problems and tensions, and pressures, and so I was trying to tell them that anywhere in the world you have access to the Spirit of God - and love, and joy, and peace, and gentleness, and kindness, and patience - are viable to anybody anywhere in the world.
I wasn’t sure about my message really, but a gentleman came up to me after the meeting and asked me if I would go to his house. He wanted to tell me a story, and he wanted to tell it to me in his house. And so we walked down this dusty road, and he pointed out a nice big house up on a hill and said, “I used to own that house, but I don’t own it anymore. It now belongs to the army.”
Finally, we got to a little mud hut with a dirt floor in it and a grass roof, and inside that hut was a packing box, and just like you would show me to a seat on your couch in your house, he showed me to a corner of the packing box. And he sat on the other corner of the packing box, and he said, “Now I want to tell you my story. I used to be one of the wealthier people in this town, and I owned a lucrative clothing business, and in front of my store I had a Mercedes automobile, and one day some of Ida Amin’s soldiers came and told me they wanted the keys to my car that they were going to commandeer my car.
“I stood on the curb and watched them drive away with my car, and that made me furious. Ooo, I was so angry I was thinking murder at those people who just walked up, and took my car and drove off with it. A few days later, some soldiers came into my establishment and ordered some suits. And they put the suits on, and walked out, and they didn’t pay me. And a short time later, they took over my clothing store.
“So now, I didn’t have a business, and I didn’t have a car. Then pretty soon somebody came up to my house and said that they needed my house for a headquarters, and that I had to get out of it. They just threw me out of my house. My family is up hiding in the hills, and here I am living in this place, and you can look around and see what I’ve got. I own a packing box. So now I didn’t have a house, I didn’t have a business, and I didn’t have a car, but I had a cow. In order to keep my cow healthy, I needed some fly spray.
“Now when I left my house, I did take a chair along, but I didn’t have any money, and so I traded my chair for some fly spray, and I sprayed my cow. But there wasn’t any rain, and there wasn’t anything to feed the cow, so my cow died. Now I don’t have a cow, but I had a goat, and so I traded my goat for some seed to plant a garden so that I could at least live. And I planted my garden. But it didn’t rain and my seeds did not come up, and so now I don’t have a garden, and I don’t have a goat, my chair is gone, and my cow is gone, and my house is gone, and my business is gone, and my Mercedes is gone.
“I would sit in this hut, and I was bitter and hostile, and angry at the world. One ay this fellow who called himself a missionary walked into my hut, and he told me that God loved me. That made me so mad I picked him up by the nape of the neck and the seat of the pants, and threw him out in the street. But the missionary got up and dusted himself off and came back in.
“I was so surprised that he came back in that I listened to what he had to say. And he told me that God sent His son into this world to die for my sins, and who would save me from my sins, and that if I would invite the Lord Jesus to come in to my life, He would take the bitterness and the hatred, and the anger, and the hostility out of my heart. And if I asked Him, He would fill my heart with joy, and peace, and love. And I don’t know, something about him struck a cord, and I asked the Lord to come into my heart.
“The reason I invited you over here to show you where I live, is to tell you that I believe I’m one of the richest men in the world. I’ve got peace in my heart. I’ve got love in my heart for those fellows that are driving around in my Mercedes car, and I have a love in my heart towards those people up there on that hill who took my house away from me, and I can enjoy the day even though my family is hiding out in the hills. Even today. And I just wanted to tell you that if you had any uncertainty about your message, I can reassure you that in Uganda, under these conditions, you can have peace, and you can have joy in your heart, and one of the greatest possessions that I own and ever did own, was a forgiving heart.
“None of those soldiers ever asked me to forgive them, but when I sit here in my little hut, and I’m furious, and miserable, and bitter over somebody that isn’t even here, my heart fills with gratitude that even though they didn’t ask me to forgive them, that I could find forgiveness in my heart.”
Isn’t that great? You see, if you forgive men their trespasses, I don’t say that they even asked you, but you can have a forgiving spirit whether anybody asks you or not.
Now if you have, if you forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. And if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive you your trespasses. Now if you have an unforgiving spirit, I want to remind you that that unforgiving spirit is inside of you, it isn’t bothering the person that you have a gripe against one bit.
Now why would anybody want to sit and seethe, and be angry and hostile toward somebody that isn’t even there? That doesn’t make any sense that we would punish ourselves like that, and yet I see it all the time.
As this man was telling me his story I remembered a couple of incidents that I experienced where I had to struggle with forgiveness. I grew up in a poor home. We had just a little, tiny house, and no electricity and no running water, and no sewage. We had a back house where you don’t linger very long in Michigan in January.
Now I was on the other side of the tracks. And I had a modest office and a pretty decent chair. And a friend of mine came in and asked me if I would lend him some money because he wanted to put an addition onto his house. And I had a little money so I lent it to him. But he never paid it back and I was mad at him. I hated him. But it dawned on me one day that here I sit in my office full of hatred and anger, and resentment and bitterness toward that fellow, and he’s enjoying his addition. Well, I surely wasn’t bothering him any was I? What was I doing?
I was punishing myself. And here is a power available to me from God who will take the unforgiving spirit out of my heart and replace it with a forgiving spirit. I mean that doesn’t solve your problem, but it certainly takes care of your body. Well about fifteen years passed, and now I had a nicer office, and a more comfortable chair, and a little more money in the bank, and that same fellow walked into my office. And I thought, “You dirty dog. It’s about time you’ve come to pay back that money.”
You know he sat down and he said, “You know Doc, I‘m in trouble and I need some money, and I’ve looked everywhere and nobody wants to give me any money, and I couldn’t think of anybody else to ask but you.
Now when he said that, a feeling of glee filled me because I had the money, and I wasn’t going to give it to him. Oh that felt good. Sweet revenge, and that’s what I told him. I told him, “Yeah I’ve got the money, but I’m not going to give it to you.” Oh that felt so good to tell him that.
He said, “Well Doc, all I can say is would you pray about it?”
I said, “No I don’t even need to bother the Lord about that, I’ve already made up my mind.” You know I did pray about it, and I ended up giving him the money that he wanted, and he never paid it back.
If you forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will forgive you your trespasses, but if you will not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Heavenly Father forgive your trespasses. Very important principle there, and many of us bear a very, very heavy burden of misery inside of our own souls because of an unforgiving spirit that we have toward some people that have really mistreated us and took advantage of us and really were not very nice.
Now I’ve talked to folks many times who have come to me with a grudge, and I say to them,”You can release your grudge and let the Lord have it.” I used to think that was good news. You know, “Cast your burdens on the Lord.” “Come unto Me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
You know, I’ve found in my private practice that many people don’t welcome that idea at all. What do you mean, forgive? The way I’ve been treated?
I’ve found that the longer you maintain a pet peeve, the longer you keep a grudge, the more precious it becomes to you. Something like a family heirloom. I mean, you really wouldn’t give it up for anything, and when you have an odd moment, you think yourself into frenzy, and put it away until the next time you have an odd moment.
Now let me ask you, who do you think you're bothering? You would think that people would lunge after the proposition that the Lord will give you a forgiving heart, but I have people say, “Why should I forgive the way they’ve been treated, and they could care less how I feel. What’s wrong with me having an unforgiving spirit?” Well the thing that’s wrong is it’s your spirit that we’re taking about. And your spirit is contained underneath your own skin, and the only body that lives underneath your skin is yourself. And why anybody would want to punish themselves like that is a mystery to me, but it’s true.
That fellow sitting on the other end of that packing box was a breath of fresh air to me, and he was saying with his ragged clothes, and a dusty floor, and hungry, “I’m the richest man in the world because I have a free spirit.” Isn’t that good?
I was in Africa one other time, and a fellow came up to me. He was a missionary, and he wanted to know if I could use my influence in helping him get a transfer from one mission station to another. This is the story that he told me.
This was in Congo, which is now Zaire, and there was a civil war going on there. One of the people that he had led to the Lord had seen to it that he got educated, and he was now directing the educational program of that mission. He came up to the missionary and grabbed him by the coat lapels, and slapped him on one side of the face, and backhanded him on the other side of his face, and he said, “You’re a thief and a liar.” How are you supposed to respond when somebody talks to you like that?
I suppose you’re supposed to be full of peace, and joy, and love, huh? He said, “You’ve come over here to this country and tell us you’ve come to minister to us, and what have you done? You’ve taken the money from the States, and spent it on yourself. Look at the house you live in, and the car you drive, and the clothes you wear, and the servants you’ve got, and the food you eat. You’re a thief and a liar.” He slapped him across the face and backhanded him again, and spit in his face and told him to get out.
Well of course they got out, and the missionary came to this country, and he was sitting in his chair, and he would think about that spittle on his face, and the way he got cussed out, and he would get so mad. Ooo, he would get mad. You understand now he’s mad at somebody that’s almost eight thousand miles away. Well he fretted himself into an ulcer over somebody that was almost eight thousand miles away.
Well things quieted down, and they came back to the station, and this same fellow came up to the missionary and he said, “You know I was confused in those days during the war. I didn’t know what to believe, and I just want you to know that I was all wrong in what I said to you, and the way I treated you, and I would like to ask you to forgive me.”
The missionary said, “That’s okay. Forget it.”
The missionary was lying. He didn’t forgive him in his heart, and when I’m talking about forgiving somebody, I’m not talking about saying some words; I’m talking about a change of heart. The good Lord will give you a change of heart if you let Him. If you don’t want to let Him, nobody can make you have a change of heart. You can carry your grudge all your life if you want, and it’s an incredible mystery to me why we would do that to ourselves. When the Lord Jesus Christ laid down His life and shed His blood to give us the salvation, and clean up our hearts, why would we turn our backs on the forgiving spirit that the Lord wants to give us?
So I told this missionary, “Your problem is a matter of the spirit. If I got you a transfer, where would you want to go to get away from him? Eight thousand miles wasn’t far enough. Where would you like to go? Australia?”
Well he got mad at me, so now he was mad at two people. He was mad at the fellow that spit in his face, and he was mad at me because I told him he didn’t have to be mad. You know, he went away and thought about it, and he came back and he had a different look on his face. You know when you lay down your burden of forgiveness, your countenance even changes. He said, “I got to thinking about what you said, and I did truly repent, and I asked the Lord to forgive me and to cleanse my heart, and to take that unforgiving spirit out of me, and I want to thank you.”
If you forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will forgive you. If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Heavenly Father forgive your trespasses. I talk to lots of people who say, “I pray, and plead, and call out to God, and He doesn’t hear me.” That might well be true that you’ve prayed and plead and called out to God, and it’s not what you’re praying about that’s troubling you, it’s what you don’t pray about that’s troubling you.
You see, you can confess part of your sins and keep the rest if you want to. Well I’m talking to you with as much compassion as I can. I’m just praying as the song says, that the Holy Spirit would sweep over us this morning and give us the opportunity to examine our own hearts., Nobody in the world can look at your heart except you.
You know, my mother used to think that she knew all about me, and I would laugh up my sleeve because she sure didn’t know all about me. She thought she did, and I let her think it, but I knew a lot of things about me that my mother didn’t know. And you know my son at forty years old occasionally delights in letting me know that I didn’t know all about him either. I kept pretty close tabs, but he delights in letting me know that he got away with all kinds of stuff while he was growing up that I didn’t know about, and that’s the same with you and me.
The only person who knows the condition of your own heart is you. And what a pity to have an unforgiving spirit lurking in your heart. You have a smile on your face and a hard heart. A warm body, and a hard heart. Isn’t that strange, that we would take part of what the Lord died to give us, but that we would treasure a pet peeve, or that we would highly value an unforgiving spirit?
I just want to remind you again that if you forgive men their trespasses, if you do, that your Heavenly Father will forgive you your trespasses, and if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will you Heavenly Father forgive your trespasses. You may be bearing a pretty heavy burden with a smile on your face.
Oh, we pay attention to our grooming, don’t we? If you could stand up here and look across the audience, and see all the lovely ladies and how nice they’re dressed. I mean we all paid attention to looking nice before we came, didn’t we? We made sure that our hair was just right, and we smell just right, and we’re dressed just right, but none of that penetrates your spirit. So this need for letting the Lord clean up our hearts and forgiving people, maybe somebody that hasn’t even asked you to forgive them, and it was dirty, lousy trick too, why should I forgive?
Well, He commanded it for one thing, but more important or equally important is that for your own mental health sake, you ought to turn all the dirty tricks of your life over to God and let Him take care of them.
That’s one side of forgiveness, but there’s another side of forgiveness that’s equally important I believe, and I learned this lesson from my wife. My wife and I were married for forty-two years, and she was my best friend along with being my wife. She was just a beloved person to me. She looked after my correspondence, she took care of my travel arrangements, she took care of the banking and paying the bills, and she was just a great person. A wonderful companion and a good mother.
But she died last April, and I learned some lessons from her in the process of this experience. She was struggling with a cancer, and I watched her go from a hundred thirty pounds to seventy pounds. We had a conversation two days before she died that really surprised me. Now I’m not just trying to glamorize somebody that’s gone on to be with the Lord. I believe that there are multiplied thousands of people who would concur that my description of her was accurate. She was just a fine woman, that’s all. But one day, this was the day before she died, of course I didn’t know that, she said, “I’m afraid.”
“What are you afraid of?”
She said, “Well I made a mess out of my life.” You know, when you’re about to meet the Lord, at least my wife wasn’t talking about her dishes or her plants, or her wardrobe or money; she was preoccupied about her soul. You know it sure makes a difference who you’re expecting, doesn’t it? In the way you behave. For instance, have you ever been driving down a freeway and you look in the mirror, and there’s a State Trooper behind you? And you look at the speedometer and you’re within the limit!, Isn’t that the most delightful, delicious feeling all the world?
I mean it’s just a real pleasure to get caught doing right. The only time we feel uncomfortable is if we know we’re wrong and we’re not sure the other guy knows we’re wrong. Do you know it makes a difference who’s around? You are about to have company, for instance. Isn’t it true that you pay more attention to your housekeeping? We had a guest one time, my _____ (?), did they work to clean up that house. That house had never been that clean since I could remember. I asked my wife, “What’s going on around here?”
She said, “Well, we’re having this guest.”
Now isn’t that great? A stranger comes home and looks at all this activity. What happens when I come home? Nothing.
I said to my wife, “I’d sure appreciate it if you would treat me like a stranger around here, or at least if you’d treat me like a dog.”
It makes a difference who you’re expecting doesn’t it?
My wife was on the verge of meeting the Lord, and she said, “I made a mess of my life.” I said, “What did you do to make a mess of your life?” This is what she said, “I could have been more affectionate toward you.” She ought to know. She said, “I could have been more careful with the money.” I knew that was true. She said, “I could have been a better mother, and I could have been a better witness.”
My first impulse was to talk her out of it, and to try and tell her what a good lady she is, but then it dawned on me that she ought to know, and the important thing is not to try and talk her out of her sins. The important thing is to deal with those sins. So I reminded her of one of the fundamentals of the faith. “If you confess your sins,” can you think of any? “He is faithful and just to forgive you your sins and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness.” Now that’s about as basic as you can get, isn’t it?
In her weak little voice, I listened to Eva talk to God about her sins. And as she prayed, it dawned on me that everything she said about herself was true of me, too. I could have been more affectionate toward her. I could have been a better dad, and I sure could have taken better care of the money, and I could have been a better witness. And so, when she got through, I prayed a little prayer, too.
You know ladies and gentlemen, that was one of the sweetest days my wife and I ever spent together. When we truly approached God and asked Him to help us out, and clean us up. Well the next day was the last day that Eva was on this earth. Of course I didn’t know that. I asked her if she was afraid today, and she said, “No I’m not afraid today.”
“How come you’re not afraid today?”
“Because I got the garbage cleaned out of my heart yesterday.”
Then she said, “When did the doctor say that I would go?”
I said, “You want to go?”
“Yeah, I want to go.”
“Well then why don’t you just go?”
Within twenty minutes she went to be with the Lord. Clean, washed, restored, renewed in the presence of the Lord.
Three weeks ago I came from California. I was called out there on an emergency because one of our friends’ seventeen year old son had a head on collision and BOOM! in the presence of the Lord. You know, you might be there before the day is out, and you’re going to get an opportunity to explain, ”How did you treat your partner. Did you look after your children like you should? Were you a witness to Me?”
You know my wife met Him, the process was gradual, but this young seventeen year old boy was BOOM! Well, if you forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will forgive you your trespasses; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Heavenly Father forgive your trespasses.
Well my little message is finished now. Jesus said, “I stand at your door and knock, if you will hear My voice.” Anybody hear His voice this morning? “And open the door, I will come in unto you and dine with you and you with Me.” He said, “Nobody comes unto the Father except by Me.” If you have never done so, you can open the door of you heart and invite the Lord Jesus to come into your life, and to invade your life, and clean you up and fill you up with His Spirit, and take all the meanness and nastiness out of your heart. If you’re here this morning and you’re mean and nasty, and sassy and crabby, and snippy; don’t you think it’s about time that you take care of that?
What a pity to enter into the presence of the Lord with that kind of a spirit. “Whosoever will, can come unto Me,” says Jesus. I don't know if you’ve never invited the Lord into your heart, there’s no better time for doing it than now. But I may be talking to some of you, and you’re a child of God, but you’ve turned your back on His Spirit, and you’ve got a lot of unforgiven things lurking in your soul. As a child of God, you need to be coming to Him and asking Him to cleanse you from the meanness, and the nastiness, and the crabbiness, and the grumpiness, and the selfishness as a child of God.
You can walk out of this room clean, and washed, and restored, and renewed. What will you do? Let me just ask you to bow your heads everybody. Now, I may be talking to somebody this morning. You need to invite the Lord to come into your life, and you would like to do that this morning. If there’s anybody like that here, I would just like to ask you, would you put up your hand so we can work with you? Anybody? Anybody at all? There may be somebody here then and you’re a child of God, but your heart isn’t very clean and you need to take some positive action.
You need to be forgiven, and washed, and cleansed, and renewed, and you want to make that move this morning. Anybody like that? Let me see your hand. Anybody else? Anybody else?
Our Heavenly Father, I just thank You that we can call You our Father, and that You sent Your Son to die for our sins. Today we can be washed, and restored, and renewed, because the blood of Jesus Christ will wash away our sins. And I just want to pray for these people that raised their hands, and I just pray that they might lay their sins at Your feet and let you wash them away. We pray in Jesus Name. Amen.