Unbroken, the Power of Forgiveness
Welcome to Teays Valley Church of God “At the Movies!” Today’s inspiration comes from the movie, “Unbroken” and our focus is on the power of forgiveness.
Ephesians 4:31-32 “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malic. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
From this Ephesians passage I want us to consider that
Getting rid of bitterness
Getting rid of rage and anger
Getting rid of brawling and slander
Getting rid of malice
Notice what it isn’t. Forgiveness isn’t “getting over it.” It isn’t getting rid of pain, but it is getting rid of that which isn’t helpful or holy. How many of you today woke up thinking, “You know, on my bucket list is to be as bitter as possible? I can’t wait to rage all over someone, and get into a fight with someone and cuss someone and assassinate them on Facebook in hopes that I can take them down?” None of us wants to become that person. None of us wants the consequences that come from becoming that person. So, forgiveness helps us get rid of stuff we don’t even want in our lives!
Also forgiveness points people to God’s forgiveness and God’s desire to impact their lives whoever they are, whatever they have done. So, while there are many facets of forgiveness I want to lift up these two:
Forgiveness turns us away from feelings, thoughts and actions which have power to destroy us, and forgiveness turns people who have wronged us toward the love, grace, and mercy of God which all of us have needed and need!
Our country has seen many turbulent and violent responses to situations where persons were targeted to be victims of crime because of hate. Looting and rioting and destroying property and people is really the expression of the things Paul says we need to get rid of. When we are bitter and we feed that bitterness, we will cultivate rage and anger. When rage and anger are cultivated we will fight and speak in ways that express that hostility, and as fuel is added to those fires, we can become someone we never intended, a person of malice who wishes harm and seeks to do harm to others. Do you see why it is important to forgive? Because un-forgiveness changes who we are and not in a good way!
However, the recent and horrific of acts in a Charleston, South Carolina church found those most directly impacted by the hate crime making the choice rather than to riot, rather than to retaliate, rather than to react with hatred that would seem justified, they chose to release their offender from their personal desires and temptation to hate him back by forgiving him. Listen to what an online article said about just one of their courageous acts of forgiveness.
One by one, those who chose to speak at a bond hearing did not turn to anger. Instead, while he remained impassive, they offered him forgiveness and said they were praying for his soul, even as they described the pain of their losses.
“I forgive you,” Nadine Collier, the daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance, said at the hearing, her voice breaking with emotion. “You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. If God forgives you, I forgive you.” (http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2015/06/19/i-forgive-you-relatives-of-charleston-church-victims-address-dylann-roof/)
Ms. Lance’s words represented the essence of forgiveness. She didn’t deny what happened to her. The gunman took her mom’s life, a life that could never be replaced, but only remembered. Ms. Lance didn’t deny what he did to her by taking her mom’s life. But through words of forgiveness and in spite of her desperate need to grieve and vent she chose to point the shooter to his greatest need which was for God to have mercy on his soul. She also pointed the shooter to the character and heart of God which is forgiveness.
Instead of hating, even though she was hurting, she released any progressive negative building of emotions from her heart and life and at the same time offered the shooter the gift of seeing God’s love even in the face of his despicable choices. Only a believer can do that. Only someone who has let the Bible principles of forgiveness soak and saturate her heart could do that. Forgiveness, in this case, turned the shooter over to God and over to the justice system and released those who had been hurt from having to bear that extra weight. The shooter will still have a price to pay, but the victims who have chosen to forgive don’t have to carry more than the shock, pain, and grief they already are holding in their hearts. What a great release forgiveness brings to our lives when we can release people from some kind of debt to us and turn them over to natural consequences and over to the justice of God.
The movie “Unbroken” is a story with many themes; perseverance, endurance, courage to name just a few. But the ultimate triumph in Louie Zamperini’s life wasn’t that he escaped a troubled childhood and went on to become an Olympic runner in 1936. It wasn’t that he was a World War II hero. It wasn’t that he survived a plane crash in the Pacific and survived an incredible 47 days adrift on a raft facing peril after peril, and it wasn’t that he survived torturous beating after torturous beating (the kind I couldn’t watch when I viewed the film) at the hands of an angry Japanese commander. It was that he chose Christ, and when he did, he chose to forgive all of his torturers including a man named “The Bird”. Forgiveness literally brought sanity back to his life after he suffered great post-traumatic stress, and it guided his then the rest of his life’s mission.
Did you hear what was just said? When people come to the end of their rope and have nowhere else to turn they turn towards God! Listen, whenever you are hurt, whenever you are overcome, whenever you have been wronged, make the early decision to turn towards God because when you do He will lead you away from Paul’s list of destructive and retaliatory attitudes and actions. Take your outrage and your pain and your disappointment and your hurt to God. It is the starting point for forgiveness. You won’t have the power to truly forgive until you first stop by the Throne of Grace. You need grace in order to forgive so take your pain and heartbreak first to Jesus.
When Louie did that, he then had a desire to release all of the bitterness, rage, anger, and out of control behavior he had allowed into his life and forgive his captors and torturers.
Notice, Louie made the effort to forgive. He took the trip to Japan in order to forgive. He went out of his way to forgive. He went all the way back to the place where the beatings took place. He didn’t wait for those who wronged him to come to him and ask for it, or it never would have happened. And if it never would have happened, Louie wouldn’t have been propelled forward by the power of forgiveness to start a camp for troubled boys where he befriended them, shared his story with them, taught them survival skills and told them about the Lord. He would never have become the kind of evangelist he did as he shared his story about how God brought new life to him at one of the darkest times of his life, and there wouldn’t have been a movie made about his life that has touched countless people and helped them make a choice to forgive.
Louie was broken throughout his life. He didn’t choose forgiveness first. His life spiraled out of control more than once, but once he turned his pain over to God to manage, once he gave his life to Christ and let Christ do His work, Louie found healing and wholeness and that is why after well into his 90’s, Louie died UNBROKEN.
Maybe your life is broken by un-forgiveness today. Maybe you are stuck in anger and bitterness and you need the power of forgiveness to propel your life forward. Today is a day to become UNBROKEN! You have a mission to fulfill and it includes a ministry and mission to the person or people who have hurt you. Wow! That is a lot to take in. It sounds like the ministry and mission of Jesus, doesn’t it? Persecuted, ridiculed, mocked, betrayed, tortured, humiliated and crucified, to the very ones hanging around the foot of the cross who abused Jesus until He was beyond recognition, though He was suffocating He eeked out, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
That’s often the case. People don’t really know what they are doing. They don’t realize how deep their words and actions hurt others. They don’t get the impact of their hatred. They don’t recognize how they may have become possessed by evil or have become a pawn of the evil one to participate in the devil’s agenda to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). Our lives get broken by wounds from others, for sure. But they stay broken and become more broken when we allow bitterness to take root in our lives. Un-forgiveness just magnifies the pain.
Forgiveness is counter-culture for sure. It is radical! For Louie to travel the globe and not say, “You owe me, but I forgive you” was crazy! Forgiveness gives us a new way of looking at people. Rather than look at them as offenders it helps us see them as people in need. You only have the capacity to see people differently if you have seen Jesus for yourself and experienced His forgiveness in your own life.
Our humanity screams that people have to qualify or work for or deserve what comes their way. Forgiveness is simply a gift that we choose to extend even though it isn’t deserved. I think the boldest thing Jesus ever did was to forgive people from the cross. He did a lot of bold things. He overturned the tables of money changers in the Temple. He took on the established religious system. He went toe to toe with Satan in the desert without flinching. He confronted demons and upset the “apple cart” everywhere He went, but the boldest thing I think He did was to forgive those who crucified Him with some of the very last little breath He could muster. And remember, Christian, our goal is to act like Him.
Easier said than done, I know. My guess is that in a crowd this size many are dealing with un-forgiveness. Knowing we need to forgive and being able to do so are two different things. Our first step is to ask God to help us forgive and to ask God for healing from bitterness, rage, and anger that might keep us from being able to do so.
Sometimes we hold out hope that the person who wronged us will “get it.” We want them to know the level of pain their actions have caused. We want them to acknowledge how we feel, or at least we think we do. Sometimes, sharing what you have suffered with a trusted Christian friend or counselor can help you release bitterness and anger toward a third party. You don’t even have to mention the name of the person who hurt you with that third party. Just having someone else acknowledge that what was done to you was wrong and that they are sorry you had to go through what you did can be very cathartic.
It’s said that life is short, and the older I get the more I understand what that means. For Louie Zamperini who lived to be 97 life was still long when he chose to forgive his captors. He was just in his mid-thirties. Imagine the bitterness and rage that would have dominated the better part of his life if he hadn’t made the decision to forgive?
One of the worst decisions we can make is to delay forgiveness. If God is speaking to you about someone you need to forgive, that is your green light to start walking towards it. I am not saying it is a quick thing or a one-time thing or an instant thing. For most of us it is a process. But wouldn’t you rather move towards what you know God wants you to do, what you know will be good for you, rather than live with regret? This true story says it well:
I threw a stethoscope around my neck and headed for room 712, last room on the hall. Room 712 had a new patient. Mr. Williams. A man all alone. A man strangely silent about his family.
As I entered the room, Mr. Williams looked up eagerly, but dropped his eyes when he saw it was only me. I pressed the stethoscope over his chest and listened. Strong, slow, even beating. Just what I wanted to hear. There seemed little indication he had suffered a slight heart attack a few hours earlier. “Nurse, would you call my daughter? Tell her I’ve had a heart attack. I live alone and she is the only family I have.” His respiration suddenly speeded up. I turned his nasal oxygen up to eight liters a minute. “Of course I’ll call her.” I said, studying his face.
He gripped the sheets and pulled himself forward, his face tense with urgency. “Will you call her right away–as soon as you can?” He was breathing fast–too fast. “I’ll call her the very first thing,” I said. “Nurse,” he called, “could you get me a pencil and paper?” I dug a scrap of yellow paper and a pen from my pocket and set it on the bedside table.
I walked back to the nurses’ station and called Mr. Williams’ daughter. “Janie, this is Sue Kidd, a registered nurse at the hospital. I’m calling about your father. He was admitted tonight with a slight heart attack and–” “No!” she screamed into the phone, startling me. “He’s not dying is he?” “His condition is stable at the moment,” I said, trying hard to sound convincing. “You must not let him die!” she said. “My daddy and I haven’t spoken in almost a year. We had a terrible argument on my 21st birthday, over my boyfriend. I ran out of the house. I–I haven’t been back. All these months I’ve wanted to go to him for forgiveness. The last thing I said to him was, ‘I hate you.'”
I heard her heave great agonizing sobs. I sat, listening, tears burning my eyes. A father and a daughter, so lost to each other. As Janie struggled to control her tears, I breathed a prayer. “Please, God, let this daughter find forgiveness.” “I’m coming. Now! I’ll be there in 30 minutes,” she said. I knew I had to get back to 712. I hurried down the hall nearly in a run. I opened the door.
Mr. Williams lay unmoving. I reached for his pulse. There was none. “Code 99. Room 712. Code 99. Stat.” Mr. Williams had had a cardiac arrest. With lightning speed I leveled the bed and bent over his mouth, breathing air into his lungs. I positioned my hands over his chest and compressed. One, two, three. I tried to count. At 15 I moved back to his mouth and breathed as deeply as I could. Where was help? Again I compressed and breathed. Compressed and breathed. He could not die! “O God,” I prayed. “His daughter is coming. Don’t let it end this way.”
The door burst open. Doctors and nurses poured into the room pushing emergency equipment. A doctor took over the manual compression of the heart. A tube was inserted through his mouth as an airway. Nurses plunged syringes of medicine into the intravenous tubing. I connected the heart monitor. Nothing. Not a beat. My own heart pounded. “God, don’t let it end like this. Not in bitterness and hatred. His daughter is coming. Let her find peace.” “Stand back,” cried a doctor. I handed him the paddles for the electrical shock to the heart. He placed them on Mr.William’s chest. Over and over we tried. But nothing. No response. Mr. Williams was dead.
A nurse unplugged the oxygen. One by one they left, grim and silent. How could this happen? How? I stood by his bed, stunned. How could I face his daughter? When she arrived I quickly tried to console her. “Janie, I’m so sorry,” I said. It was pitifully inadequate. “I never hated him, you know. I loved him,” she said. God, please help her, I thought. Suddenly she whirled toward me. “I want to see him.” My first thought was, Why put yourself through more pain? Seeing him will only make it worse. But I got up and wrapped my arm around her. We walked slowly down the corridor to 712. She pushed open the door. We moved to the bed, huddled together. Janie leaned over the bed and buried her face in the sheets. I tried not to look at her, at this sad, sad good-bye. I backed against the bedside table. My hand fell upon a scrap of yellow paper. I picked it up. It read:
My dearest Janie, I forgive you. I pray you will also forgive me. I know that you love me. I love you too. Daddy
The note was shaking in my hands as I thrust it toward Janie. She read it once. Then twice. Her tormented face grew radiant. Peace began to glisten in her eyes. She hugged the scrap of paper to her breast. “Thank You, God,” I whispered, looking up at the window. Life seemed as fragile as a snowflake on the window. But thank You, God, that relationships, sometimes fragile as snowflakes, can be mended together again–but there is not a moment to spare. (Paraphrased from Guideposts Magazine, 1979.)
There is no better time to forgive than today. There is no better time to choose to be unbroken than today. Take your pain and need to forgive to God. Be propelled forward by the power of forgiveness. Find a greater mission in life through the power of forgiveness. Choose to see people’s need for forgiveness rather than focusing on the wrong they have done to you. Turn away from feelings, thoughts and actions which have power to destroy you, and toward people toward the love, grace, and mercy of God through the power of forgiveness.