“….accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so also you must forgive” (Colossians 3:13).
For reasons I never fully understood the old gentleman carried around a load of bitterness, much of it directed toward me his pastor. In a business conference when we were discussing calling a young man as our youth director, the old man stood and poured out venom on the proceedings. He was clearly angry about something, all out of proportion to what we were discussing.
“I have no idea what it is between you and him,” said a man in his Sunday School class. “Actually,” he continued, “he’s a good teacher. I like him.”
I knew a little of what had happened. A year earlier, the gentleman was convinced that I had not greeted him and his wife at a church function. “You talked to everyone there except us.” I was completely unaware of this and apologized, then drove across the city to his home and apologized to his wife. A sweet lady, she said it was nothing, that her husband was just being himself.
The man never turned it loose. He now had a license to be angry at his preacher.
It all came to a head when he took exception to a sermon I’d preached, one in which I had taken off the kid gloves and engaged in a little bare-knuckled sparring regarding a longstanding problem in the church. He wrote a long critical letter and delivered it by the office on Monday morning. The letter ended, “I do not love you.”
I answered his letter. I pointed out he would be surprised how many members had thanked me for the sermon and said it was long overdue. I ended, “I’m sorry you do not love me, but I love you and I’m praying for you.”
Many people we have to love by faith and our feelings have nothing to do with it.
That night, after I told her about the letter, my wife Margaret made the old gentleman a cake and put a note of kindness with it. The next day, the church custodian drove across town and delivered the cake.
The next morning, from my office I could hear the old guy telling the receptionist, “Give this to Dr. McKeever and tell him to get my name right the next time.”
She brought the cake into my office, set it on the table, and walked out.
The man had rejected Margaret’s gift of kindness.
I noticed that in her note, she had misspelled his name. That was not unexpected since Margaret didn’t even know the man. Besides, spelling was never her best subject!
She would not have known the man if he’d walked into our home.
He was determined to keep it that way.
I sat there wondering how to get through to this curmudgeon and what to do with the cake. I sent up a brief prayer. “Father, I’m trying hard to love this man. He’s making it really difficult.”
At that moment, the third graders began making noise in the classroom above my office. We were in Vacation Bible School that week, and the building was alive with children.
We cut that cake and served it to the third grade for their break.
Two days later, the old gentleman received 30 hand-written notes in the mail from the third-grade class, thanking him “for that wonderful cake you brought by.”
Pouring coals of fire on his head is how Scripture describes that. I’m sure he was miserable.
Nothing more happened for several months. Then, one night at church, we were having a function of some kind in the fellowship hall. The old man sought me out in the kitchen.
“Pastor,” he said, “I am so ashamed of the way I have behaved. Will you forgive me?”
I said, “I will forgive you and you forgive me.” We hugged.
To be honest, I couldn’t think of any reason he needed to forgive me, but I was willing to meet him halfway.
Thereafter, every time we met at church, he and I hugged. When God called him to Heaven some years later, our present pastor held his funeral and his widow enlisted me as a pallbearer. I was honored.
Forgiveness is such a wonderful concept.
Forgiveness destroys bitterness and grudges, drives a stake through the heart of anger and ill will, and turns enemies into friends.
Christians are sent forth as experts on the subject. They have been forgiven of a great deal and then commanded to go out and extend forgiveness to others. “Freely you have received; freely give,” Jesus said (Matthew 10:8).
Tony Campolo tells of the time Chuck Colson took a group into the Indiana State Pentitentiary to conduct worship services with inmates on death row. Afterwards, as they were signing out and counting off, one of the team members was missing. Colson hurried back inside and found a member of his group sitting inside a cell with a prisoner, their arms draped around each other.
Colson exploded, “Don’t you realize you’re violating our privileges here? When we’re asked to leave, we should leave! You can cause trouble for us by lingering behind like this!”
The man looked up at Chuck Colson and said, “This brother is James Brewer. He’s condemned to die. I’m Judge Clement. I’m the man who pronounced the sentence on him. Forgive me for lingering behind, but we both needed some time to forgive each other.”
Is there someone you need to forgive today? What’s keeping you from doing it?
“For if you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive you your wrongdoing” (Matthew 6:14-15).
Bitterness is an acid, eating away at everything good and right. Turn it loose. Ask someone to forgive you. Tell someone you forgive them. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose except a heartache.