Sunday, April 17, 2016

Forgive Each Other - Part 2 of Series: The "Each Other" Teachings of Jesus

forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:32b(NLT)


It was five days before Christmas when a stranger approached ten-year-old Christopher Carrier, claiming to be a friend of his father.  I want to buy him a gift, and I need your help, said the stranger.  Eager to do something good for his dad, Chris climbed aboard a motor home parked up the street.

The driver took Chris to a remote field, claiming to be lost, and asked Chris to look at a map.  Suddenly Chris felt a sharp pain in his back.  The stranger had stabbed him with an ice pick.  The man drove the wounded boy down a dirt road, shot him in the left temple, and left him for dead in the alligator-infested Florida Everglades.

Chris lay lifeless for six days until a driver found him.  Chris miraculously survived his injuries, though he was blind in his left eye.  Because he was unable to identify his attacker, police could not make an arrest. [2]

In the book of Genesis we read that Joseph’s life was like that…except for the fact that he had seen the faces of the ones who had violated his freedom – often!  His own brothers had sold him into slavery. 

Twenty years later Joseph had the opportunity for revenge, but did not take it.  We understand the beneficence of Joseph in not exacting that revenge.  But what of the brothers…what was their life like?

The scenario goes like this – you have had a problem with a friend or member of your family.  You were wrong; he accepted your apology, and said it’s OK…we’re all good!  Still, in the back of your mind there is this nagging doubt, an insecurity that says it’s going to come back on you some day

He says he forgives you…but, does he really?

Let’s turn to Genesis and see how this played out with Joseph’s brothers:

But now that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers became fearful.  “Now Joseph will show his anger and pay us back for all the wrong we did to him,” they said.  So they sent this message to Joseph:  “Before your father died, he instructed us to say to you:  ‘Please forgive your brothers for the great wrong they did to you—for their sin in treating you so cruelly.’  So we, the servants of the God of your father, beg you to forgive our sin.”  When Joseph received the message, he broke down and wept.  Then his brothers came and threw themselves down before Joseph.  “Look, we are your slaves!” they said.  But Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid of me.  Am I God, that I can punish you?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.  He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.  No, don’t be afraid.  I will continue to take care of you and your children.”  So he reassured them by speaking kindly to them.  Genesis 50:15-21(NLT)

Joseph’s brothers had that kind of uncertainty about the forgiveness they had received from him.  Could it be that the experience of Jacob, their father had come home to roost; the sins of the father visited on the sons?  Is this a generational repeating of Family Feud?

If you recall, there is a lot of similarity between the events of Jacob with his brother, Esau, and the brokenness of Joseph with his brothers.  Note the similarities:

·       Thieves…Jacob the father was a thief, conning his brother Esau right out of his birthright and blessing…Reuben the son of Jacob, along with his brothers, sold their young brother Joseph into slavery, stealing his childhood and relationship with their father.

·       Liars…Jacob the father was a deceiver, manipulating conditions to deceive his uncle Laban…Reuben the son with the other siblings, in order to cover their own tracks of mischief, lied, deceiving their father into thinking a wild animal had killed Joseph. 

·       God crisis…Jacob the father was driven to a crisis at the river Jabbok where he faced and wrestled with what kind of a man he’d be for the rest of his life…Joseph’s brothers also had a crisis brought on by the famine at home, where they had to face their past, and how they would handle the future.

·       Tortured by Fear…Jacob had been forgiven by his brother, but he spent many anxious moments wondering if he would really be accepted back by Esau, the man who swore he would only wait until their father Isaac died – then he would kill his brother, Jacob.  The brothers of Joseph also wondered if Joseph was only waiting for Jacob to pass off the scene before he had them exterminated.

I’m not at all convinced that an uncertain forgiveness is better than just an outright not being forgiven at all; at least when someone tells you to your face that you’re a no-good so and so, you know where you stand. 

A Pastor and his bride had planned an outdoor garden party with meticulous attention to every detail.  The night before the social event of the year in this small town, an horrific discovery was made – Mrs. Snodgrass, charter member of the church and president of every society that was worth anything, had been left off the invitation list. 

With anxiety pulsating through his heart to his temples and clear down to his shoes, the Parson dialed her number. 

Hello, Mrs. Snodrass, this is the preacher

From the other end of the phone came a loud grunt, Hmmph! 

Listen, I am SO VERY SORRY; there was an oversight; we would dearly love to have you come to the garden party tomorrow if you haven't already made plans

Said the rumpled voice, It won't do you any good to beg, Preacher, I've already prayed for rain.

Some people find it difficult to forgive.  No, make that:  JUST ABOUT EVERYONE finds it difficult to forgive.  That is because genuine forgiveness includes restoration of relationship without resentment or feelings of blame.  It is an internal event with external application.  Literally, to forgive means to grant a pardon. 

Now, on the other side of this is the reality that some people cannot receive forgiveness.  I believe this is what was wrong with Joseph’s brothers.  I don’t see in Scripture that Jacob actually instructed the brothers to beg Joseph to forgive them – but that is what they told Joseph.  It may have been a little historical creativity, putting words in Jacob’s mouth to protect their own guilt-ridden hides.  It is similar to a child asking if he can go out and play and having the Mom say, go ask your father.  The child runs to Dad and says, Mom says I can go out if it’s ok with you.  The child took a little liberty with truth; he manipulated what was said to get his own way. 

Joseph had already extended forgiveness to his brothers; but they had not really accepted it, refusing to trust that their awful treatment of Joseph years earlier was going to go unpunished.  Knowing themselves, they refused to think better of their brother.  That is the way with sin – a sinner always knows how badly he, himself behaves; trusting someone else (even a brother) to act better – it just doesn’t come easy!

And so, we come to expect that life is going to be unfair, not make any sense, and that in some ways we’re gonna get creamed.  It’s called fatalism!  I want to tell you this morning that it is a lie, it was formed in the pit of Hell, and you can smell the smoke!

Why do bad things happen to good people?

The question of bad stuff happening in our lives is always on the table.  Why, if God is love, do bad things happen to people like Chris Carrier?  Or me?  Or you?

A fellow-minister suggested to me years ago that the cause may be explained by something called recurring non-Euclidian fractal geometry, seen in the light of chaos theory.[3] 

I said, Huh?  Now, I knew that geometry is that class I took twice or three times in high school, and chaos is mentioned in the book of Genesis when God was creating everything. 

Geometry and chaos; math and Bible! 

But what does that have to do with all the crummy stuff happening in the world?  What does geometry have to do with a Tsunami, or the Taliban, or ISIS?  What does it have to do with a nut kidnapping and almost murdering Chris Carrier?

When I read the life of Joseph I want to scream…but that’s not fair!  I know God is God, and I’m not; but I just can’t understand why Joseph, and us other good people have to suffer like that. 

Why, if God was going to use Joseph, couldn’t he just zap him right from Hebron’s sheep pasture to Egypt’s throne? 

Why all the bad stuff – the suffering? 

And, why in the world did the brothers of Joseph get away with it for so long?  The related question is, why does it take so long for good to triumph over evil? 

The questions are endless at this point. 

·       Jacob made a vow to God as he was making his way to Haran to serve God.  It took over twenty years for God to begin to bless Jacob, and even at that God tested him so severely Jacob had to limp the rest of his life. 

·       Joseph was a good kid, and an even better man, yet he had to suffer being sold into slavery by his brothers, a ruined reputation and false imprisonment before God finally gave him a break. 
·       Jeremiah died as an exile, he had to go to heaven before he got to see some relief. 

Why is it that some of God’s choicest servants always had to suffer the most; meanwhile evil-doers seem to go to the head of the class? 

It makes you want to scream with Jeremiah[4]:
Why does the way of the guilty prosper?
Why do all who are treacherous thrive?

Somehow the answer fractal geometry is kind of dry when your insides are crying out for some sense of justice. 

But, for the sake of giving my pastor-friend the benefit of the doubt, let’s hear him out on how to make sense of life’s chaos.  Besides, we don’t have any other answers that last when put to the test!

Fractal geometry has to do with being able to see/measure some kind of order or pattern in what is seemingly a very chaotic environment. 

The reason bad stuff happens is that God allows bad stuff to happen in accordance with His nature, and because of His love. 

“Fractals” are picture trails of movement.  A snowflake is a fractal.  As a child I once built a fractal without knowing it; it was the year my parents got me an erector-set for Christmas.  It was a chaotic-looking structure, but in my mind the thing was the next Frank Lloyd Wright artistic masterpiece.  It had all the meaning and order a seven year-old possesses!

The point is this…there is nothing really random about anything in the universe.  The reason bad stuff happens is that God allows bad stuff to happen in accordance with His nature, and because of His love. 

When God created the world He set it up to run within certain parameters…cold is the opposite of hot, stopped means you are not going, old is not young, etc.  All of those parameters relate to God, and His overall concern for His creation (to wit:  when He finished creating he said that …it was good).[5]

When God created, everything was good or in order.  Those things (namely, sin) which have happened to “fracture” that goodness (from our viewpoint) are but part of the overall permissive will of God. 

In one sense God allows the fracture of His perfect creation, because it is within the geometry covering the whole equation of His will and design. 

Close-up it seems chaotic and like our lives are headed in zig-zag fashion through time.  From God’s perspective, He may allow us to zig away from Him (which may cause a collision, or bad event with another person)…but ultimately we cannot go outside of His creation.  God has containment on this reactor-like existence we are living. 

In short, fractal geometry may be a good place to start in understanding what Paul wrote about trouble:

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.   Romans 8:28 (NRSVA)

In a practical sense it is like having a perfectly baked loaf of bread.  It was lovingly stirred, kneaded, shaped and baked…it is golden brown, with just the right split down the top revealing where the butter soaked through…AND it is STILL HOT from the Oven!! 

Now, when you have a perfect loaf of bread you don’t let it sit and get stale, hard and green with mold.  The idea of bread is to eat it so it will nourish the body!  You must fracture the bread to consume it.  In the case of bread, fracture does not destroy; it makes consumption possible.  It is that for which the bread was created. 

Fractal geometry only seeks to understand the pattern in the fractures.  Romans 8:28 is a blanket statement that the fractures are there, and God knows what He is doing when He breaks open life for us.

I read a poem once entitled Dark Threads the Master Weaver Needs.  It presents life as a tapestry.  On our human side (the underside) of the tapestry we see chaos…threads woven in every which way….making no sense.  On revealing the other side of the tapestry you look at a beautiful masterpiece God has put together; all the reason and pattern are there.  We just can’t see it from our side.

Looking at life with human eyes is like looking through a microscope at a drop of water; all you see are little bugs swimming around in the puddle, fighting with each other.  But if you pick up your head and look at the bigger picture, you see the doctor is using a shot of antibiotics, germs to beat-up the other germs.  That is how God sees what is happening. 

Back to Joseph and his brothers

I believe Joseph was the prime example Paul had in mind when he wrote the words of Romans 8:28.  Bad stuff…really bad stuff happened to Joseph, but even as a young man Joseph saw the fractal geometry of God…he knew all things were working out for God’s good will and purpose.  Joseph couldn’t understand what God was up to, but he knew enough to be patient…and God was faithful….and that is a match you can’t beat!

Note the response of the forgiver

Please notice Joseph’s response to his brothers; it is a two-fold picture of how God himself feels about His forgiveness extended towards us:

1.          Joseph wept. 

Joseph had already extended his forgiveness, and had no intention of harming his brothers.  In fact it really hurt Joseph that they would think otherwise.  Joseph was a man of character and integrity.  Even during the worst days of his suffering, treated unfairly in Potiphar’s house, forgotten by those he’d helped, falsely accused and jailed…in all of it Joseph never retaliated.

God is also hurt by our mistrust of His offer of forgiveness.  Much like Joseph’s brothers, our sinful ways make it hard for us to believe God would actually forgive and forget.

2.          Joseph kept his promise

This second response of Joseph the forgiver was to reassure and provide for his brothers and their families.  He reassured them that not only would he not harm them, but would take care of them.  As Genesis closes we find Joseph drawing his brothers to his bedside to give comfort and instructions before he dies.  You don’t do that with those you haven’t forgiven, or don’t love.

Do you remember Chris Carrier?  For a long time young Chris remained frightened, despite police protection.  Finally at an invitation given after a church hayride, Chris trusted Jesus Christ as his Savior.  He eventually decided to pursue full-time ministry, helping others find the peace he had discovered in Christ.

In 1996 a detective told Chris over the phone that a man had confessed to the crime that had cost him his left eye.  The man's name was David McAllister. 

Chris made plans to visit the feeble and now blind man, living in a nursing home. The strong young man Chris remembered was now a broken, humbled 77-year-old.

McAllister had been hired by Chris's father to work as a nurse for an ailing uncle.  Chris's dad had caught McAllister drinking on the job and had fired him.  What McAllister did to Chris was born of anger, and meant to get revenge for being fired.

Chris said, "I told him, 'What you meant for evil, God has turned into a wonderful blessing.'"  Chris told his attacker how God had allowed his wounds to become open doors to share the good news of Christ. 

The entire [Carrier] family began almost daily visits to McAllister's nursing home.  During one Sunday afternoon visit, Chris popped the most important question he had yet asked McAllister:  Do you want to know the Lord?  McAllister said yes.  Both men basked in forgiveness as McAllister gave his heart to Christ. 

A few days later McAllister died—peacefully—in his sleep.

Carrier says it is not a story of regret, but of redemption.  I saw the Lord give that man back his life, and so much more, Chris said.  I can't wait to see him again someday—in heaven.[6]

How Do You Do It?

How do you forgive and actually make it stick while keeping sane? 

Five Suggestions:

1.     Pray - Nothing great is ever accomplished without God.

2.     Choose to forgive, and then choose to never again be willing to hold it against the one who wronged you.  Remember, when God forgives He casts our sin into the deepest part of the sea and puts up a No Fishing sign.

3.     Seek for some good quality in the other person on which to dwell.  Consider him your former adversary.

4.     Relax (Don’t judge)  Let your own goodness be the only thing the Holy Spirit has to use to convict that other person of his wrongdoing.  Be willing to talk to your brother.

5.     Do something sacrificial for him.

According to ancient Oriental tradition, whenever a debt was settled, either by payment or forgiveness, the creditor would take the canceled bond and nail it over the door of the one who owed it.  Anyone passing by could then see that it had been fully paid. 

Jesus did that for us.  That is exactly the meaning of the word Jesus cried out from the cross:  tetelestai – it is finished! 

We should do it for each other.  We should do it now!

Friends, you may not be entirely certain of the reason some things are happening in your life, but when you can’t get your mind around the circumstances, you can remember God has His hands under them! 

And there is nothing uncertain about His forgiveness!

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!

[1] Carl Heinrich Bloch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
[2] Adapted from article by Adam Myrick in the Southwestern News (Fall 2000)
[3] Rev. Boyd Holliday
[4] Jeremiah 12:1b
[5] Genesis 1, the Creation account
[6] Adapted from article by Adam Myrick in the Southwestern News (Fall 2000)

No comments:

Post a Comment