Welcome to week #2 in our series called Three Ways to Have a Jacked Up Year. We always hear about all the things that we can do to make the new year really great. We’re taking a different approach. If you want to really mess things up this year, do these three things. If you want to have a screwed up, jacked up year, these three things will make sure it happens.
Last week, we talked about the first way to have a jacked up year. Make it all about you. That will work every time. If you want to mess up everything in your life, make it all about you and it will happen.
Today, we’re going to talk about another way to have a jacked up year. Hang on to your bitterness. There is no more guaranteed way to mess up everything in your life than this. If you want to completely derail your life, this will do it. I’ve seen it happen, more times than I can count. I’m telling you, it works. If you want to have a jacked up year, hang on to your bitterness.
But if you want to take your life in the other direction, you need to know that there is hope for you. Let me pray for us and then we’ll talk about that.
I told you last week that our family spent a few days in Tennessee after Christmas. On our way home, we stopped at one of our favorite restaurants: Cheddars. If you’ve never been to Cheddars, go. Just go.
The portions at Cheddars are pretty big. Big enough that we all had food leftover, so we got a box to bring it home. So there was different stuff in the box, including several pieces of shrimp.
But when we got home that night, we were so busy unpacking the camper that we forgot all about the food that was in the truck. Brock found it the next day. And you know what we did? We threw it away. We didn’t leave it in the truck. We didn’t hang to it. You know why? Because if we left the shrimp in the truck, it would spoil. And have you ever smelled spoiled seafood? If you haven’t, I’ll go ahead and tell you…it’s a rather unpleasant experience.
So we got rid of it. We didn’t make excuses to keep it around. We didn’t throw some of it away, while we hung on to a couple of pieces. We got rid of it. All of it.
With that in mind, listen to what the Apostle Paul said in Ephesians 4. “Get rid of all bitterness…” (Ephesians 4:31a, NIV)
Get rid of all bitterness. Don’t hang on to it. Don’t keep a little bit of it tucked away. Get rid of it. Get RID of ALL bitterness.
If we had only thrown some of that shrimp out, while we kept a piece or two in the truck, it would now be rotting in the backseat. My truck would now smell like something had died inside. The only thing we could do we get rid of it. All of it.
If you want to know why your life stinks, this could be it. You’re hanging on to something that you’ve got to get rid of. When you hang on to your bitterness, it goes bad. It turns rancid. And the stench permeates your life. The only solution is to do exactly what Paul said. Get rid of all bitterness.
But that’s easier said than done, isn’t it? This isn’t easy. In fact, this can be one of the hardest things we ever have to do. But if we aren’t willing to work through this process, we will never live in freedom. We’ll never have peace. We’ll never live with joy. Ever.
Jesus took this head-on in Matthew 18. One of His followers came to Him with a question, and Jesus grabbed the teachable moment.
Starting in verse 21, Matthew wrote, “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?” (Matthew 18:21, NIV)
Jewish rabbis taught that forgiveness should be limited to three times. If a person needed to be forgiven more than three times, their repentance wasn’t genuine. They didn’t deserve to be forgiven.
So when Peter suggested forgiving someone up to seven times, he was more than doubling what most faithful Jews believed. Surely Jesus would be impressed with that, right? Wrong.
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
Or other translations say, “seventy times seven.”
Jesus blew Peter’s seven times out of the water. Not seven times, but seventy-seven times. Or seventy times seven, which is 490 for people who are math-impaired like me.
But the number is not what Jesus was driving at. What He was trying to tell Peter is that the number is irrelevant. Forgiveness isn’t something that we count or keep track of. It’s something that we offer without keeping score.
And then to drive this truth home, Jesus told a story or a parable.
He said, “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.
As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him.” (Matthew 18:23-24, NIV) [Or other translations say ten thousand talents.]
This debt was huge. It was astronomical. It’s estimated that this debt would be the equivalent of somewhere between $12 million and $1 billion today. The exact amount isn’t important. What is important is to understand that this figure clearly represents an unpayable debt. Jesus chose a number so high that all his followers would clearly understand that there is no way this servant could ever repay the king.
“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.” (Matthew 18:25, NIV)
If you think collection agencies are bad today, remember this…in the ancient world, if you couldn’t pay your debts, you and your family could be sold into slavery.
“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’” (Matthew 18:26, NIV)
Now, keep in mind that there is no way this could ever happen. The servant could never repay the king. He couldn’t repay this debt in 10 lifetimes.
He asked for patience. But no matter how patient the king was, this man could never repay his debt. The servant asked for patience. What he really needed was forgiveness. And that’s exactly what he got.
“The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.” (Matthew 18:27, NIV)
The king just forgave the debt. But notice that it was not based on the servant’s promise to pay him back. The king knew that could never happen. It wasn’t based on how the servant bargained with the king. It wasn’t based on any promises that the servant made. In fact, it wasn’t based on the servant at all. It was based on the compassion and mercy of the king.
But now, the story takes a very ugly turn. “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.” (Matthew 18:28, NIV)
This was still a significant debt. It wasn’t pocket change. It was a debt of about 100 days wages. This debt wasn’t insignificant, until it was compared with the first servant’s debt. It’s estimated that the debt that the first servant owed the king was somewhere between 600,000 – 1,000,000 times greater than what the second servant owed him. And yet he grabbed his servant around the throat and demanded that he pay back his debt in full.
“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’” (Matthew 18:29, NIV)
Does that sound familiar? It’s exactly what the first servant said to the king. “Be patient with me and I will pay it back.”
“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.
When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.
Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
[And then Jesus gives us the very uncomfortable application of this story.] “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (Matthew 18:30-35, NIV)
You’ve been hurt. You’ve been betrayed. You’ve been wronged. Jesus isn’t denying that at all. But what He’s telling us is that no matter how badly we’ve been wronged, it will never compare with how much we’ve wronged God. The sin debt that people owe us can never begin to compare with the sin debt that we owe God.
But in His grace, God has canceled our debt. That’s what happened when Jesus died on the cross.
Listen to how Paul describes it in Colossians 2. “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ.
He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14, NIV)
He forgave us ALL our sins. All. No exceptions. No exclusions. His forgiveness is total.
He canceled our debt. Our debt stood against us. Our debt condemned us. We could never, ever repay it. Not in this lifetime. Not in a million lifetimes. We could beg for more time to pay it all back, but we could never do it. So He simply canceled our debt.
He took it away from us, by nailing it to the cross. Jesus paid our debt for us. Our debt is wiped out. Gone. Forever. We are completely forgiven of any and every sin we have ever committed, or will ever commit against God.
That’s the joy and the hope that is only found in Jesus. There’s a reason the very first core value of our church is it’s all about Jesus. Because only in Jesus can our debt be canceled. Only in Jesus can we be forgiven totally and completely.
And that forgiveness is so lavish, it is so extravagant, that it absolutely spills out of us. We can’t possibly withhold forgiveness from someone else when we ourselves have been forgiven so much.
That’s the truth. But sometimes life tries to take us in a different direction. Sometimes life and truth collide. Truth says that I’ve been forgiven so much that I have to forgive. But life tells me to hang on to my bitterness. Life tells me that I’ve been really hurt. I’ve been wounded so deeply that I can’t forgive. They don’t deserve my forgiveness.
Truth tells me to forgive. Life tells me to hang on to my bitterness. Life and truth are colliding.
This past week marked my 10-year anniversary as the pastor of this church. In fact, today would be the Sunday that I preached my first sermon in our church 10 years ago.
For those of you who have been around for all those 10 years, a little bit has changed, hasn’t it? That’s an understatement. Virtually everything has changed in the past 10 years. When I came 10 years ago, the church was in a very unhealthy state. There was division in the church. The church was stagnant, with no mission or purpose other than just continuing to exist.
And it took a long time, but now 10 years later, we are unified. We are vibrant. We are alive. We are experiencing God’s favor. And we are just now starting to get the tiniest glimpse of what God is ultimately going to do in our church and through our church. When I say the best is yet to come, I mean it with everything in me. Down to my core, I know that we haven’t seen anything yet. We are in the greatest season our church has ever seen, but we haven’t scratched the surface of what God is going to do in us and through us. The best really is yet to come.
But here’s the truth about where we are right now…we almost didn’t make it. It was almost all derailed by bitterness.
When a new pastor makes a lot of changes in an established church, it’s pretty much a guarantee that not everyone is going to like it. When a group of leaders try to make a course correction to get a church on a healthier path, not everyone is going to be cheering them on. In fact, it can get ugly. The long knives can come out. And in our case, they did. Big time.
Our leaders took a lot of shots. I personally took some of the most vehement criticism I had ever received in my life. There were things said about me, about my family, about our leaders, and about our church that would blow your mind.
And I had a decision to make. I could choose bitterness or I could choose forgiveness. Truth told me that I needed to forgive. But life told me to hang on to my bitterness. That certainly felt better at the time. I felt completely justified to be bitter.
But here’s the honest, unvarnished truth…if I had held on to my bitterness, nothing that is happening in our church today would have become a reality. None of it. And the reason it wouldn’t have happened is because I would have become a prisoner instead of a pastor.
That’s what bitterness is. It’s a prison. It keeps me imprisoned in the past.
Bitterness traps me in my history. Forgiveness starts a new chapter in my story.
When I hang on to my bitterness, it keeps me imprisoned in the past. But when I let go of my bitterness and embrace forgiveness, it sets me free. It closes that chapter and it opens a new one, a better one.
I can’t focus on what God has in store for me if I remain trapped by what has been done to me.
When I look at what God is doing in our church now, this truth just comes alive for me. If I had remained trapped in the prison of bitterness, I would have never gotten over the past. I would just keep reliving my history. Instead, I chose forgiveness and now I’m seeing how God has turned the page and is writing a new and better chapter in my story and in the story of Connect.
Now, that doesn’t mean it was easy. Forgiveness is anything but easy.
Remember how Jesus said to forgive seventy-seven times, or seventy times seven? A lot of people see that as forgiving someone for a bunch of different offenses. And that definitely applies. But it could also be that you have to forgive a person over and over again for a single offense. Sometimes the hurt is so deep that you have to forgive them over and over again for the same thing.
I remember a person that hurt me. And the hurt was deep. Very deep. But I worked through the process of forgiveness. I honestly forgave them. But then, I was surprised and confused when feelings of anger and resentment popped up again. And again. And again. It didn’t make any sense, until I realized that seventy-times seven could apply to a single offense.
When the hurt is deep, forgiveness can become a daily process. When the hurt and the anger resurface, you work through the process of forgiveness again.
“But they don’t deserve it!”
I know. You’re right. They don’t. But let me ask this: do you deserve God’s forgiveness? Did you deserve for God to completely erase your debt?
“But they never even apologized!”
Ok, but are you telling me that you have repented specifically for every single sin you’ve ever committed against God? You have repented for every sin, specifically, by name? No you haven’t. You can’t say that.
I can’t even remember all of my sins. And I know that there are a million sins that I never specifically asked forgiveness for. But while I haven’t repented for every sin, I have repented of my sinfulness. And in Christ, God has forgiven me. And His forgiveness is so vast, it is so extravagant, it is so ridiculous, that I can’t possibly withhold forgiveness from somebody else.
And think about it this way…withholding forgiveness actually empowers the person who hurt you. You are giving them more power over you. You are extending the hurt that they inflicted on you so that it lasts longer and longer. You are guaranteeing that the pain they inflicted never has an expiration date.
If a person is not repentant, if they really do want the worst for you, you are doing them an incredible favor when you don’t forgive them. In essence, you’re doing their job for them. You are living in the hurt that they gave you. You are surrendering the power in your life over to them. In reality, they don’t ever have to hurt you again. When you hold on to your bitterness, you’re keeping the hurt they gave you on life-support indefinitely.
In a very real way, forgiveness has nothing to do with the person that hurt you. It has everything to do with you choosing to live in freedom instead of in prison.
This week marked my 10th year as the pastor of this church, but this summer will mark my 20th year in ministry. That’s hard to believe, but I began serving my first church 20 years ago. And in my 20 year ministry, I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen whose lives were completely derailed by bitterness. I’ve seen it in every church that ive served. I’ve seen bitterness absolutely ruin peoples’ lives. And that’s no exaggeration. Bitterness absolutely ruined their lives.
I’ve seen it firsthand. I’m telling you, if you want to jack up everything in your life, hang on to your bitterness and it will happen. Forgiveness is the only thing that can unlock that prison and set you free.
But we need to understand what that means. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean restoration.
When you forgive someone, it doesn’t mean that the relationship is automatically restored. If someone has hurt you deeply, especially if they’ve hurt you repeatedly, you can forgive them without restoring them. You can forgive them for the past without allowing them to do it again in the future. The Bible talks a lot about forgiveness, but it also talks a lot about wisdom. It’s simply not wise to keep giving someone access to your life when the end result is always disappointment and pain.
Here’s the way Paul put it in Romans 12. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18, NIV)
“If it is possible.” Some people make it impossible.
“As far as it depends on you.” You can’t control what someone else does. If they are determined to be immature, hurtful, vindictive, apathetic, unreliable, or mean-spirited, there’s nothing you can do about that. You can’t control what they do.
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Some people make peace impossible. You can only bang your head against the same wall so many times. That doesn’t mean that you don’t forgive them. But you can forgive them without restoring them. Restoration is awesome. It’s beautiful when it happens. But sometimes it’s just not possible. But forgiveness is always possible, because forgiveness has nothing to do with them.
Forgiveness is not about what they did to you. Forgiveness is about what Jesus did for you.
He paid your unpayable debt. He forgave you when you least deserved it. And He did it by dying on a cross for you.
Paul said it this way in Ephesians 1. “In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.” (Ephesians 1:7-8a, NIV)
We have redemption through His blood, meaning we were redeemed. We were bought back. Our debt has been paid. And we have the forgiveness of all our sins. And it’s all because of the riches of God’s grace. And He didn’t hold any of that grace back. He lavished it on us.
That’s why we can be forgiven. And that’s why we can forgive. It’s not about what they did to you. It’s about what Jesus did for you.
Jesus died so you could live in freedom. Bitterness will keep you in prison. But today can be the day when you stop hanging on to it. Today can be the day when you finally let it go. And it has nothing to do with what they did to you. It has everything to do with what Jesus did for you.
Our band introduced a brand new song earlier, and we’re going to close out today by signing it again. Think through some of the words in that song.
“Released from my chains, I’m a prisoner no more [Jesus came to set you free. To break your chains, including the chains of bitterness. You don’t have to be a prisoner anymore!]
My shame was a ransom You faithfully bore [He took all the shame of your sin on Himself. He paid your ransom.]
He canceled my debt and He called me His friend [Your debt was bigger than you will ever know. But in His grace, God canceled that debt. And instead of a debtor, instead of a sinner, God now calls you His friend.]
When death was arrested and my life began”
Shame and bitterness and death have no hold on you anymore. They have been arrested, meaning they have been stopped. Locked up. Crushed. And you are free to live.
And it’s all because of Jesus. That’s why we want you to know Him.