Scripture Reference: Romans 12:9-21
Getting Over ItDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | March 6, 2005
Selected highlights from this sermon
People who are suffering, hurting, going through a difficult time are susceptible to believing lies. They begin to believe that God doesn’t care, or that they’re justified in making people around them as miserable as they are, or if they forgive someone, they’ll be minimizing the offense.
None of these, of course, are true.
Pastor Lutzer gives us three actions we can use to counteract these lies—replacing them with truths. But most importantly he reminds us that Jesus is there, God does care, and if we turn our lives over to Him, He can—and will—heal our hearts and souls.
In these days of emails I received this one a couple of weeks ago. “Walking down a metal cat walk past prison cells of convicts is an incredible experience. It was in the spirit of adventure that I was followed by a blue uniformed guard as we approached the stairwell. Then we met the serpentine corridors and vacated courtyards. Each lower floor level became darker, dirtier, and more austere until we leveled off on a dingy walkway, with the strongest aroma of stench I have ever smelled. This was the dungeon within the dungeon, for detention, for the most evil offenders. The cells were drab with bricked in windows; no cot, sink, or toilet. A hole in the floor dropped directly into the cesspool that was rumored to back up regularly into these cells. This was the home of those who were ill-suited to live with other residents.”
“The officer was determined to hustle me out of this ‘no visitor’ area. The men were strangely hushed, either seated on the floor or standing up with a drugged, glazed look in their eyes. No radio, no television or even idle chatter. A thick cloud of oppression; Satan was there. One of these pathetic captives caught my attention. He was crouched like a creature on the cement floor. He wore only his grossly stained underwear and his hair was standing out in a frightful, wild fashion. His eyes were bulging and hallow, his fingers were long, and his matted beard barely hid his rotted teeth and infected mouth. I spoke, ‘You need to accept Christ as your Savior and Lord.’ He didn’t rouse. I cried out again, ‘Jesus is your only salvation. It’s time to repent and receive Jesus.’ He turned and looked me full in the face, but gave no inclination of reply. Finally the guard angrily took my arm to keep me moving, so I shouted behind me, ‘Why won’t you do this?’ And he shouted back, ‘I’m not ready to give it all up yet.’ And with that he was out of sight.” I’m not ready to give it all up yet.
We are stubborn creatures, aren’t we? Today I may be speaking to somebody who is not willing to give it all up yet. This happens to be the eighth and last message in a series titled, “Suffering Wrong.” We’ve been trying to learn how to suffer wrong. Someone who heard about this series said, “I can’t believe you’d preach on that because nobody knows how to suffer wrong.” And I said, “Well, that’s why I need to preach on it.”
Some of you are hanging on to offenses, hanging on to a past that has been very, very painful. And today what we want to do is to get over it. We want to be ready to say, “God, whatever it takes I want to walk out free from my own prison.” Some are however very determined, that’s a better word than stubborn. William Henley wrote, “Out of the night that covers me, black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods there be for my unconquerable soul.” These were, you know, the last words of Timothy McVeigh. “It matters not how straight the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll; I’m master of my fate and the captain of my soul.”
A man told me one time, “I want to receive Christ as Savior but I want my parents to die first, because I do not want to give them the satisfaction of knowing that I became a Christian.” How much stubbornness is there in the human heart?
People who are hurting are very susceptible to believing lies. They believe lies like ink takes to a blotter. Let me give you some lies, and then we are going to talk about truth.
First of all lie number one is that, “God doesn’t care. If He cared He wouldn’t have allowed it to happen.” That’s particularly true of those who have been abused. “If there were a God in heaven who cared, this wouldn’t be here. God doesn’t care.” Paul says in the book of Ephesians that when we fight the devil, we have all of these pieces of armor, and he says, “If you forget some of them at home, one thing is sure: above all take the shield of faith,” he said. How can you fight the devil with the shield of faith if you have concluded that God doesn’t care? It’s a lie! He careth for you!
What about a second lie? “I’m justified to make people around me miserable. I can be as miserable as I like. Look at what others have done to me! No matter what I do it will not be as great as the evil that was done against me. So because I am miserable and hurting, I want everybody around me to hurt, too.” Have you ever met a person like that? You say, “You know, you’re hurting so much that your hurt is hurting others.” “Well, think of how I was hurt! Nobody was there for me when I was hurt!”
Third lie: by forgiving I minimize what was done to me. It’s a lie, but there are some who hang on because they say, “If you only knew.” Here’s a young man who began a company and then got some board members and included some family members. And the family members turned against him and wanted to steal it from him. Talk about a breach in the family. “You mean I’m supposed to just lay it down? Don’t you understand how serious this is?”
I want to emphasize today that when you forgive you do not minimize the hurt, the pain, or the evil. What you do is you punt the ball to the Supreme Court, that’s what you do.
Well, the text today is Romans chapter twelve. It’s a passage that we ought to pray for our church. Sometimes I’ve prayed Romans chapter twelve, beginning at verse nine to the end of the chapter for all of Moody Church. People say, “How do we pray for Moody Church?” You pray Scripture. And Paul is talking about human conflict, and there is always going to be human conflict. As long as some people raise chickens and others grow vegetables there is going to be human conflict. It is as inevitable as one can possibly believe.
So what we are going to do today is to look at three action steps that we can take that are in truth to counteract some of the lies that we believe about human nature; three actions steps. And aren’t you fortunate that your pastor, God bless him, actually puts this into an outline? I mean, pray for him because he is just too kind. That’s a joke, but it is there.
First of all we emphasize truth by what we say. I am in verse fourteen. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” Bless those who persecute you. You say, “Well how do we do that?” We speak well of them. First of all we pray for them, and we don’t pray, “Oh God, I pray that you might bring them into judgment, vaporize them Lord, come and show your justice.”
You see, I am asking you to do something today that is totally contrary to human nature, because I’ve prayed that way. I’ve thought to myself, “If God really wants to be God this is the time to come out of heaven and smite somebody.” That’s not the way it is to be done. Bless those who curse you. We pray for them and we ask that God will bless them; we ask that they’ll be drawn near to God. If they’re not believers we pray that they will come to know Christ as Savior; we bless them. And it is, yes indeed, by what we pray and also by what we say. We speak positively about them. Everybody has something positive you can say about them, everybody.
It’s amazing; we like to put them in black and white or certain categories and say that this person is this way and that person is that way. But everybody has something good that you can say about them. Just do a little archeological work and you’ll be able to find it.
I’m thinking of Robert G. Lee. He spoke in highest terms to the President about an officer. And somebody who overheard the conversation said to him later, “Didn’t you realize that this man hates you and criticizes you at every opportunity?” And Robert G. Lee says, “Yes, that’s true. But the President asked my opinion of him, not his opinion of me.” We try to speak well.
Do you remember that story about the woman who wanted to divorce her husband? She’d been very critical, but she wanted to divorce him. And she said to her attorney, “I want to hurt him to the full extent that I can. I want to sock it to him; you know, put in the knife and then give it a half turn.” He said, “Well, I have an idea. What I want you to do is to speak well of him for six weeks, only speak well. Compliment him, tell him what a great man he is, and thank him for what he does, for six whole weeks. And then you see, he’s thinking that you really love him, and then what you can do is you can hand him the divorce papers and it will hurt a lot more, and then you’ll ‘sock it to him.’” For six weeks she withheld all criticism, spoke only positively and wonderfully about him.
Well you know what happened after the six weeks? They left on a second honeymoon. I’m telling you, the power of words. It’s fine for you to laugh, but I want you to get the point. It is amazing what would happen if we shut our mouths with our criticism. And this isn’t the place to talk about how women should change their husbands, because I want to speak about the family later on. But I’ve got some good ideas that I would like to share with you sometime. But, positive reinforcement is powerful. So, number one by what we say.
Number two: by what we feel. Now notice it says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” What is it easier to do, rejoice with those who rejoice or weep with those who weep? If this were a classroom I would ask you for a response. Just shout it out, what is it easier to do? Many of you are saying, “Rejoice.”
I disagree with you. It is easy to weep with those who weep. I mean, somebody is going through a tragedy and your heart goes out to them, and you can weep with them. That’s pretty easy.
The hard part is rejoicing with those who rejoice. Somebody calls you on the phone and says, “Guess what? I just got $4 million in the mail because my Uncle’s estate has been settled. Let’s go out for a hamburger tonight and celebrate.” Oh sure, of course. And then you go out for the hamburger and he says at the end, “Now why don’t we just split the cost?” I’ll tell you, it is hard to rejoice with those who rejoice.
Let’s suppose you are in a department in a bank or some work area and you think that you should get the next promotion. And you are convinced that you are more qualified than your colleague, and your colleague gets the promotion and you don’t. All right now, all those of you who hollered how easy it is to rejoice with those who rejoice, are you going to rejoice with them? Are you going to say that it is wonderful? Do you know what’s going to happen if that happens in heaven? You say, “Well that won’t happen in heaven because if I am more qualified I am going to get the promotion.” Don’t be so sure, because Jesus might have a different opinion as to how qualified you are.
But I believe that Jonathan Edwards is absolutely right when he says, “In heaven when we see people exalted above us, we will rejoice as if their exaltation were our own.” You say, “Preacher, you’re making the bar very, very, high.” Yes I am. We are talking about something that can only be done by the Spirit; it can’t be done in the flesh. It is so contrary. Most of us want to weep when our enemy rejoices, and we want to rejoice when our enemy is weeping. We love to hear something, some tragedy happen to our enemy. “Oh, that feels so good; they had it coming to them.” It’s the way of the flesh; it’s not the way of the spirit.
How do we do it? We do it in harmony with one another. Paul says, “Live in harmony,” verse sixteen, “do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited.” That is really the answer. When we are prideful we are conceited. And it is conceit that makes us rejoice when our enemy is weeping. And so that’s the second way, by the way, in which we feel.
You say, “Well how do we develop those feelings?” It’s through yeildedness, and submission, and spiritual sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will help us because this is totally contrary to who we are.
How do we respond then to those who are making life miserable, the people at work who are not committed to your happiness? How do we respond to them? Number one, by what we say; we bless those who curse, we bless those who wish to destroy us. By what we feel with people; we rejoice with those who rejoice and we weep with those who weep.
Third, by what we do. Verse seventeen, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.” Don’t get even. The bumper sticker, “I don’t get mad, I get even.” No, no, no. That’s the way of the world. Most bumper stickers are the way of the world. You don’t say, “I am going to do to you before you do to me.” That’s not what you say because you believe in God.
And, you know in the Old Testament it said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” And the reason that was said is not that people would get justice, but it was a law to try to restrain vengeance. But if somebody took one eye out so that you wouldn’t blind them by taking both eyes out, that’s vengeance. Vengeance is kind of a destroying kind of justice, “Well, I’m going to go and I’m going to make it right.” Notice what the text says, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, as far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
Is it sometimes impossible? Of course it’s sometimes impossible. There are impossible people. Now maybe you’ve never met an impossible person, but they do exist out there somewhere. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God. “‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” Wow.
You want vengeance and you are personally going to take vengeance? When that happens, and you want it so badly, you are denying the two attributes of God. You are saying that, “God doesn’t love me, He doesn’t care about me, and He is unjust. God is going to let this slip by.” As it says in Isaiah forty, where the Jews were saying, “The justice due me has escaped the attention of my God. There’s no justice in the world and God isn’t doing a thing about it.” No, “‘Vengeance is mine, I will recompense,’ says the Lord. Leave it to me.”
And, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him, if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing it you will heap burning coals on his head.” That’s a Middle East expression, where somebody was repenting and somebody was acknowledging their guilt and their sin, and they were in a state of almost shame and contrition. They would put coals on their head as an indication of their shame and their contrition. Do good to them.
I remember out on the farm many, many years ago, and it is many, many years ago. (I don’t know if I told you or not, the other day I was lying on the couch and Rebecca said to me, “You know, I get nervous when a man of your age isn’t moving.”) We had a neighbor who was one of these impossible neighbors. In the fall when the fields were free and combining had taken place, some of our cattle would be allowed to run wild, to run free, that’s a better way to put it. And if they got on his land, even though they weren’t doing any harm, it was just a big to do. He just had issues, you know.
Well, one day some of his horses got loose and they were on our territory. And I remember how kindly we caught them and we took them back without a word. And you could see that he was feeling a little sheepish. You heap coals of fire on his head, because you leave the vengeance to God.
Now of course God has set up government and so forth. And as a result of that the government takes care of certain crimes and so forth, and we should most assuredly assure that. But in the Bible, right from the beginning God put a mark on Cain. God did not want individual vengeance to be the norm. When government is established government takes care of certain issues, and God takes care of certain issues, but never personal vengeance.
One day I was riding in the car and I was listening to WLS. It was just that one time that I didn’t have it dialed to Moody radio, just that once. And a woman by the name of Roma, she and her husband are on WLS every morning; she read something that she had written in a “Redbook.” Evidently, I’ve not heard this too often, she always has some word of wisdom every morning. It’s called the “Redbook.” I don’t know exactly what that is, but what she said and what she wrote is so good we contacted her and said, “Would you send it?” And so she very graciously sent it with a very kind note.
It’s entitled, “Do you harbor resentment? Then you are poisoning your own meal at life’s banquet table. Imagine your mind as a little shop of horrors, a kind of museum filled with relics of all the injustices and harm you’ve ever endured. Each exhibit depicts your memory of what someone did or didn’t do that hurt you. Brightly illuminated by your resentment, every exhibit has a soundtrack echoing with loud, angry, accusing voices. The walls are covered with horrible instruments of punishment and long lists of penalties to be inflicted on your wrongdoers. And coating everything is a thick, clinging residue of self-pity that keeps you from moving along to the new future’s wing of your museum, where exhibits are filled with pleasure, and joy, and possibilities. Can you imagine what it would be like to be locked permanently inside such a chamber of horrors of hate and resentment?”
“If you are unable to forgive others for real or imagined wrongs, than your own horror chamber exists within you. That chamber of ill will is your mind. And what a price you pay for maintaining such a museum of resentment. The negative reliving of your past stokes anger, and resentment, and seething hostility. It also turns your mind against itself. It’s like a poison to your soul. The simple, profound truth is that the entire horror shop crumbles if you simply forgive. But by forgiving others you forgive yourself, you gain self esteem and you free your own spirit to soar to new heights. There’s no time to waste. Now is the time to stop the pain of the past from poisoning the joys of your present and future. Decide to forgive and then let go, lay it down.”
I happened to email this illustration to someone and this morning on my computer there was a response from this woman that I would like to read to you. Because it’s a reminder that forgiveness is not just an act, it’s a process. This is what she said. “There was such a chamber in my soul and the pain etched itself deep into the grooves of my mind. A godly person helped me to bridge the way to the new future’s wing of my life’s museum. Her soul care advised that my pain needed a voice.” In other words, that she had to speak her pain. “As long as I ignored the pain, it was like looking into a mirror and not seeing a reflection of something that was very real.” Now notice, this is maybe what some have to do who are listening today.
“So one day I had a funeral service for my dreams of childhood that died, and the loving ideas I had about my mom and dad. I had to die to those. The reality was that my mom and dad left bleeding lashes on the face of my soul. That day I took flowers to the chosen grave site, and a candle. I placed the flowers on the ground and blew out the candle of hope; the hope that my parents would rise to meet me at the level of my dreams.” She had to blow that candle out. “I invited God to the ceremony that day and shed my tears in His presence. I knew the pain would echo into the future in days to come, so I asked God to just help me suffer well, and trust Him for how He would redeem my future. It has been a long obedience in the same direction over many years, and God has been faithful indeed. The pain is still there on occasion. But the pain and the anger have lost their power over me. The wound has become a scar because healing has taken place.”
There are those of you who as we come to the end of this series of messages, eight times this has been a summary message really, eight times you have heard me plead with you to give it up! Give it up in the name of Jesus, and for your own healing. You hold the key to your own healing. Give it to Jesus.
And for those of you who have never trusted Christ as Savior, He died so that we could be forgiven; that having been forgiven, we now forgive. And so we bless those who curse us, we weep with those who weep, we rejoice with those who rejoice, and we don’t touch vengeance – we leave it to God. Would you join me as we pray?
“Father, it’s been my prayer that this series of messages might be life transforming for many. You know the relationships that have been reestablished, you know the letters that need to be written, the phone calls that need to be made, and the funerals that need to be held. And we ask oh Father that you who are the God of all comfort and grace might come to those who say, “This can’t be for me because you just don’t understand.” Well, we may not, but I pray that you will help them to understand that you do. “I am the Lord that healeth thee.” Do that Father, we pray. And for those who’ve never trusted Christ, who have never experienced the warmth of the Father’s home and the arms of the Father’s love, grant today that they may look to Jesus and be saved. In His name, amen.