James Merritt - Shockproof
I want to tell you a story about a lady. Some of you may recognize her name. Her name is Dawn Smith Jordan. Dawn Smith Jordan was Miss South Carolina and was actually the first runner up to Miss America in 1986. But an event took place in Dawn's life the year before that was somewhat of an emotional or spiritual earthquake that shook her to the very core of her being. On May the 31, 1985, her 17-year-old sister, Shari, was kidnapped as she was walking from her car to their mailbox. They lived out in the country. They didn't hear anything from her for several days, didn't know where she was. She was just two days from graduating from high school.
About five days after she was kidnapped, they received a letter in the mail, and it was from Shari, and it was titled "My Last Will and Testament". And evidently, her kidnapper had informed her that he was going to kill her, but he allowed her to write this last letter to her parents and to her sister. And this is what it said. Five days later, her body was discovered. She had been tortured, repeatedly raped. She had been brutalized. She was finally strangled to death, but at least they had found her body. But the nightmare was far from over. Because not soon after her funeral, this killer, in a very sick way, began to call this family intermittently, sometime in the morning, sometime at night. And he would go into great pains to describe in detail how he had brutalized their daughter. He would go into detail about how he had raped her and sexually assaulted her and brutalized her.
And then finally called and told them in detail how she had suffered while he was strangling her to death. He became the subject of the largest manhunt in South Carolina history. He was apprehended shortly thereafter, and he was sentenced to die in the electric chair. As a matter of fact, the story became a television feature film called Nightmare in Columbia County, which was aired in primetime on CBS. Well, her sister, Dawn, at least thought after the trial was over and the man had been sentenced that her nightmare would be over. And she thought she could move on, and she tried to move on. She tried to forget about it. A few years later, she got a letter in the mail, and it was from this killer. This letter forever changed her life, because he had written to Dawn in his prison cell, and this was the question that he asked her in the letter. "Dear Dawn, Will you and your family ever forgive me for what I did to your sister"?
Now, I want to ask all of us the tough question. Would you? This is the one thing I'm going to ask you to remember. It's what I want you to take out the door with you when you leave. I choose to forgive others just as God has forgiven me. Now, in these two little short verses, Paul gives us two very simple, but I'm telling you now, they are extremely difficult steps to take if you are ever going to get out of the prison you've been in that you built yourself and really begin now to move on with your life. Two steps. Number one: Paul said we need to eliminate bitterness. We've got to eliminate bitterness.
Now, listen to Ephesians 4:31. Paul says, "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander", it's like he's saying, "Let me think of everything that might be in your dirty, sinful heart right now, okay"? "Let all of this stuff be put away from you", And then he says "Let's kind of wrap it up". "Along with all malice". Now, there's a reason why Paul says this. You cannot bear the fruit of forgiveness until you cut out the root of bitterness. I'm gonna say that again. You cannot bear the fruit of forgiveness until you cut out the root of bitterness. Now, another version translates the verse this way. Now, let me just kind of state something I know is obvious. I know that sounds kind of weird. And let me tell you what I mean by that. I want you to imagine that you came into my office to see me. And you're looking for some profound advice.
So you come in and you sit down, and you say, "Pastor, I've got a problem". And I say, "Well, what is your problem"? And you say, "Well, I've got all this bitterness and all of this anger and all of this rage and all of this clamor and all of this slander in my heart. What should I do about it"? And what if I just looked at you and said, "Get rid of it. Next". You know what? You'd be bitter toward me. You'd be angry at me. "Are you kidding me? I've got all this stuff in, I've carried this stuff, and you're just saying just get rid of it? How do you do that? How do you just get rid of it? How do you just put it away"? By the way, the word "get rid of" literally means to remove or to separate yourself from something. Here's a picture of what Paul was saying.
How many of you have ever walked into a spiderweb, ever done that? How many have ever done that? If you've done that, the first time you do that, you automatically know what the word anachrophobia means, right? Nobody has to tell you what that is. You know what that word means for the rest of your life, okay? Now, somebody tell me. When you walk into a spiderweb, what do you immediately start doing? Oh, man, you're just clawing and you're pulling and you're, I mean... Anything that's not a spiderweb's coming off. I mean, right? It's coming off. You want to get rid of every, and I mean, there's a sense of urgency. You're not doing this casually. I mean, you're really getting everything, you're pulling at everything. If it looks like a spiderweb, it's coming off.
That's the picture that Paul is using. That's kind of the picture I want you to get in your mind. He says if you've got any of these things attached to you, bitterness and rage and anger, you need to get it off you. By the way, you notice all these vices that Paul lists? It's kind of like he's trying to think of every single fault that we might have that can cause a relational earthquake that would make forgiveness almost impossible. And he says "Okay, if you're harboring anything like this in your heart, lose it. Drop it. Get rid of it". And oh, by the way, you notice he starts with bitterness? There's a reason he does that. By the way, Paul would have made a great psychologist. I want you to watch this. There's a reason why Paul starts with bitterness. The word bitterness originally meant something that was sharp or something that was pointed.
Now, if you've got any bitterness in your heart, you can relate to this. Bitterness is kind of like a knife that you carry with you. And if you ever meet that person that did you wrong, you want to stick 'em with it. Bitterness is kind of like a spear that you carry with you. If you ever meet that person that really messed you over, you want to run them through with it. Bitterness is kind of like a sword that you carry in a sheath. And every time, if you ever meet up with that person, you want to take that sword, and you want to run them through with it, because... and see, Paul's advice is real simple. He says if you have any bitter feelings toward anybody, get rid of them. Are you still mad, you still upset, you're still angry over something someone did to you? Paul would say stop it. Do you still find yourself sometimes, let's be honest. Is there anyone right now that just for maybe 30 seconds, you would like to hang over a vat of hot acid by their toenails? Anybody like that at all?
You say, "Yeah, I know that person". Paul would say, "Well, quit it". And you're sitting there and you're going, "Ha! Well, that's easy for Paul to say". Not really. When Paul wrote these words, he was sitting in a Roman jail cell unjustly incarcerated, unfairly treated. Matter of fact, he would never get out of the jail cell alive. He would eventually be beheaded. And yet, here's a man who's in jail for doing nothing except preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, and he is pleading for all bitterness and all rage and all resolved anger to be flushed from your heart. Now, you're sitting there and you're saying, "Well, I tell you, I just can't do that, because I'll just be honest with you. Paul's a lot more spiritual than I am".
Well, let's just say that Paul is a lot more spiritual than you are. That doesn't matter, because getting rid of bitterness is not just a matter of being spiritual. It's a matter of being smart. Take this the right way. In a way, bitterness is stupidity. And let me tell you why. Bitterness is an acid that eats its own container. Bitterness is a cancer that destroys its own body. I love this definition. "Bitterness is like drinking poison and then waiting for the other person to die". I mean, think about it. You're here right now, and you're thinking about this person right now that's, whoever it is, ex-spouse, ex-this, ex-that, mom, dad, stepmother, stepfather, whatever. And you are so bitter toward that person. You wake up, and you think about that person.
You'll see something and think about that person or you'll hear something, and those bad memories come back. And you think about all the anger and rage you've got toward that person. I want you to think about this. Has it ever occurred to you that when you're bitter toward someone, you're thinking about that person? Has it ever occurred to you that when you're thinking about them, they're not thinking about you? Some of you went to bed last night, you couldn't even go to sleep because you were so bitter toward that person that hurt you. They slept like a baby. There's some of you so bitter, you've got indigestion. You can't even eat. They're pigging out. They don't care about you.
See, the problem with bitterness is, it will control you. Why should I even try to get rid of my bitterness? How in the world can I even get there? Well, here's the secret. This is important. The secret is found in the next verse in two words. Listen to this. Now, I want to leave that up there for a moment, 'cause I want to show you something. The two most important words in that scripture are those two words. Paul says, "Be kind and compassionate to one another forgiving each other", and then he says, "Just as God, in Christ, has forgiven you". Just as. Huge words. Paul says, "You want to know the motivation for forgiveness? Would you like to know the method of forgiveness? Would you like to know the model of forgiveness? Would you like to know why you ought to be a forgiving person and how to be a forgiving person"? It's all found in those two words "just as".
I choose to forgive others just as God has forgiven me. So step one, you eliminate bitterness, right? Step two, you demonstrate forgiveness. Now, notice the first thing Paul says... Again, Paul was a great psychi... He would have been an absolutely fantastic counselor. He knew what he was doing. Because notice the first thing he says in verse 32. He says... Now, why would he start off by saying, "Be kind to one another"? Think about it. For every negative, there is a... Right? For every action, there is a... Everybody got that. Negative, positive. Action, reaction. Here's the amazing thing. You'll find this to be true. I find it to be true in my life. I can't explain it. It's just kind of a spiritual law. When you eliminate bitterness, you will activate kindness. I don't know how that works, but it just works. When you eliminate bitterness, you will activate kindness.
Here's a good illustration. Have you ever met a kind bitter person? No, they don't exist. They're not out there. There is something about bitterness that says, "I have nothing to do with kindness". and there's something about kindness that says, "I have nothing to do with bitterness". Now, you know why? Look at the next thing Paul says. "Be... tenderhearted". Why would Paul say that? What do you think bitterness does to your heart? Somebody tell me. Hardens it. Bitterness hardens your heart. Kindness softens the heart. Forgiveness softens the heart. And then Paul hits us with the punch line. He says... "Forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Now, we're gonna plant there for the next few minutes. We're gonna wrap this up", watch this, that statement is both profoundly simple, and it is simply profound.
Paul says, "Look. The basic reason why you ought to be a forgiving person is because you are a forgiven person". Only forgiven people are motivated to forgive. You forgive because you are forgiven, and you are forgiven because Jesus Christ died on the cross for you and came back from the dead so that you could be forgiven, okay? Now, hang with me. I want you to listen to this next statement. In fact, I'm gonna read it twice, it's so important. Listen to this. You will never be able to forgive someone else for what they have done to you until you remember how God has forgiven you for what you have done to Him. You will never be able to forgive someone else for what they have done to you until you remember how God has forgiven you for what you have done to Him.
I got news for some of you in this room right now. If you keep focusing on that person that's hurt you, you'll never get over it. If you keep focusing on what they did to you, you'll never forgive it. If you keep focusing on what they are, who they are, what they did, when they did it, how they did it, you're going to live in a prison of bitterness that you built yourself, and you'll never get out of it till the day you die. You have got to take your focus off the person that's hurt you, and you've got to start focusing on the one who has forgiven you even though you hurt him. And until you do that, you will never get to the place where you can replace bitterness with forgiveness. Now, that's the motivation of forgiveness, but what is the method of forgiveness?
See, again, Paul was such a great counselor. So you're sitting in Paul's office, and you're going, "Okay, all right, I'll do it. I'll go forgive that person". You start to get up, and Paul says, "No, we're not done. We're not finished". "Well, what do you mean"? "So how you gonna forgive them"? "Well, what do you mean, how am I gonna forgive them"? "Well, how you gonna forgive them"? "Well, I'm just gonna go and say, 'You're forgiven.'" Paul says, "That's not forgiveness". "It's not"? "No". No, there's a certain way you have to forgive someone, or that's not forgiveness. And you say, "Well, how am I supposed to forgive"? He says, "Exactly the same way God's forgiven you".
Well, then that raises the big question, right? So how has God forgiven me? Well, let me share with you three quick ways. First, God forgives us freely. God forgives us freely. Jesus Christ, when he died on the cross, didn't charge me one dime to do that. He didn't charge us anything. He came to the cross free of charge. He didn't extract a pound of flesh. He didn't take his revenge first. He didn't come to the cross, and he didn't say, "Now, before I die for you, you're gonna pay me what you owe me. Then I'll die for you". He didn't come to me and say, "Now, James, you clean your life up, you get your act together, then I'll die for you". Nope. He said, "James, I'm dying for you free of charge because I want to forgive you free of charge". And what Paul says is this. The way God forgives us is the way we have to forgive other people. No strings attached. No fine print in the contract. No conditions. We forgive freely.
Second way God forgives us is this. God forgives us fully. Fully. Forgiveness is not fractional. Do you understand? I want you to really get this now. Do you understand that if God all of a sudden refused to forgive one part of one fraction of one decimal point of one sin, none of us in this room could be forgiven. None of us in this room could have eternal life. God not only forgives all of our sins, plural, God forgives all of our sin, singular. Now, let me give you an illustration; you'll know what I'm talking about. According to every statistic I've read, one out of every two people in this room are gonna get cancer. One out of two of us are going to get some type of cancer. Now, I want you to imagine you're one of those two. You go to your doctor, and your doctor says, "Look. I got bad news for you". "What's the bad news"? "Well, we did all your blood work. We've done the X-rays, done the MRIs, and you've got a tumor in your body".
Now, the moment your doctor tells you that, you don't say to your doctor, "Well, how did that tumor get there"? You don't say to that doctor, "Now, who's to blame for my tumor"? You don't say to that doctor, "Can I live with it"? What are you gonna ask your doctor? Can you get this out of me? Can you take this out of me? I want this thing out. Now, suppose your doctor looks at you, and he says, "Here's the good news. We can get the tumor out. We can get it all, but you do need to understand this. For that entire tumor to be taken out, it's gonna cost you everything you have. Your insurance won't cover it all. So if I take this tumor out, you're gonna lose your house. You're gonna lose your 401(k). You're gonna lose your savings. You're gonna lose the furnishings in your house. You're gonna lose every single thing you have. So maybe you ought to go home and think about it and come back, let me know what you want to do".
Now, do you honestly think you'd go back to that doctor and you'd say, "What would you charge for half the tumor"? Oh, you wouldn't do that. Matter of fact, you wouldn't even have to leave. You would say, "Oh, there's no need to leave, doctor. I don't care what it costs me. I want the tumor out. All out". And what Paul is saying is, God expects the same thing of us. When we forgive, he says, "Okay, I want all that they did to you forgiven. I want all of their sin forgiven. I want all of your bitterness to be removed". When we forgive, we forgive fully. And then the last thing that we learn is this. God forgives us finally. He forgives us freely, forgives us fully. He forgives us finally. When God forgives, God forgives. In other words, when God forgives, he keeps no record of past wrongs. He doesn't carry a briefcase full of grudges. When God cancels the debt, he burns the note, and that's exactly what God expects of us. He says, "Okay, you really want to forgive this person who hurt you"? "Yes, Lord, I really do".
You got to do it freely. You got to do it fully. You got to do it finally. You got to come to a point where you say to yourself and you say to that other person, "I am never gonna bring this up to you again. This is over. It's done. It's cancelled". You can't be like two brothers, their name was Timmy and Johnny. They were playing upstairs. And just before bedtime, Tommy hits Johnny with a stick. Well, a terrific fight breaks out. They're up there going at it. Mom hears what's going on. She rushes up there, separates the two of them. She says, "Okay, tell me what happened". She finds out what happened. She pulls Johnny outside the room. She said, "Now, Johnny, Timmy hit you with a stick, right"? "Yes, ma'am, he hit me with a stick". "So he started it"? "Yeah, he started it". She says, "Okay, now, Johnny, I want you to hear this. Before you go to bed, you're gonna have to forgive Timmy for what he did, because you might die tonight". Johnny thought about it for a moment, and he said, "Okay, mom". He said, "I'll forgive Jimmy tonight. But if I don't die tonight, he better watch out in the morning".
Now, that ain't forgiveness. That is not forgiveness. When you forgive, it is final. So I didn't end with the story of Dawn Smith Jordan that I told you at the beginning. So what did she do? How did she respond to the man who raped and brutalized and sodomized and strangled her sister? Well, Dawn Smith Jordan said she reacted like most of us would react when she got that letter. First, she was angry. She was even ticked off that this guy had the audacity to write her and ask her to begin with. Then she really got mad when she thought about, "You asked me to do something that's really gonna cost me. It's not gonna cost you anything". And then she began to get frustrated because she knew she was a believer in Jesus. And then she got irritated because she knew what God wanted her to do, but she didn't want to do it. And she did not think she could do it. She was driving down the road, and this exact verse popped into her heart.
"Be kind and tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you". And before that man was electrocuted, she did correspond with him. She said, "I do forgive you. I forgive you freely. I forgive you fully. And I forgive you finally". So I want to wrap up with this. Just before I walked in here, a lady stopped me outside, one of our faithful members here. She said, "You got a minute? I just got to tell you something". I said, "Sure". She said, "You've been talking to me for six weeks". She said, "I was physically and sexually abused by a relative who was a deacon in our church". She said, "I've been verbally abused. I've been financially abused. I've been emotionally abused. You name every way you could be abused. I've been abused". She said, "I carried that with me for 61 years. 'Cause ever since I was abused as a three-year-old girl, I've lived with this".
And she said, "I just want you to know", and she kind of threw her hands out like this. She said, "There's nothing like being set free from the prison of bitterness". And I'm saying to all of you this morning, and I want to say this as sympathetically as I can. No, I don't know what I'm asking of you. I don't know how gut-wrenching it's gonna be, and I don't know how difficult it's gonna be. I get that. I'm just simply telling you this. We all have faults that are going to cause tremors, that are gonna cause relational earthquakes. Sometimes it's gonna be their fault, not yours. Sometimes it's gonna be your fault, not theirs. Either way, I'm simply telling you, you can shockproof your life and you can move on and live the life that God wanted you to do. You can choose to forgive others just as God in Christ has forgiven you.