Forgiving Like You've Been Forgiven

Sept. 20, 2012 Joni Eareckson Tada

Session Transcript

Joni Eareckson Tada: Seeking Him together for revival. Oh my goodness! As I sat out there in the audience listening to Miss Priscilla thunderously pour out the Word of God on all of us while a Niagara Falls was crashing on the roof of the Indianapolis Convention Center, I thought, honestly with goosebumps, I thought, These are the days of which Ezekiel foretold. There shall be showers of blessings. Showers of blessings we need. Raindrops of mercy are falling. Oh, but for the showers we plead.

Would you friends join me in prayer before I share this message? Lord Jesus, I am weak, but You are strong. I need Your strength, Lord God. Please anoint what I have to say tonight to inspire, refresh, and encourage my friends for the sake of Christ, for the sake of their families, their homes, their husbands, and their communities, in Your name, amen.

March 1976 was a fateful time for my friend Vicky Olivas. She had recently lost her job. Her husband had left her several months earlier for another woman. And she was left alone to care for her eighteen-month-old son. She was facing an uncertain future. So she headed out for a job interview. She had to start somewhere.

Vicky had problems finding the address that the employment agency gave her. But then a passerby pointed to a door down an alley. She stepped into a dimly-lit front office. There was no receptionist, and so cautiously she made her way down a long hallway that opened into a warehouse where she found two men sitting around a desk. One of them, who appeared to be the boss, leaned back and looked her over. Every woman has instincts about these things, and for Vicky? That's when the horror began . . .

AUDIO FROM VIDEO

Vicky Olivas: We’re going to Chadsworth, where I was shot, the building where I was shot. Now, I haven’t been back there in thirty years. This is going to be an experience.

I was living in Hollywood, California, with my son, who was eighteen months old. I needed to work. I had just been laid off from my job, and I went to an employment agency where they sent me to a secretarial position that had been advertised as a wonderful position with great benefits.

When I was walking up to the door of the place where I got shot, I had what I today know was the Holy Spirit speak to me and say, “Get out of here, Vicky. Get out of here!” I did not listen to that inner voice, and I stayed.

The guy behind the desk just looked me up and down and said, “Are you here for the interview?” And I tell you, that was a chilling, ugly moment in my life. I felt completely naked in front of them. I knew that he was checking me out. I felt it. As a woman, you know these things.

I remember the look, and I remember the way he smelled. He had a very strong body odor. So he said, “Let’s go to my office.” I walked in front of him. As we got halfway down the warehouse, he grabbed me from behind. He threw me against the wall. I was so shocked. It was the last thing I ever expected. I was like, “What in the world is going on?”

Right in here, this is where I came in.

I got my composure, and I looked at him. All I could see was the gun pointed at me and he shakingly telling me, “I planned all this. I planned all this.”

And I said, “You planned what?”

And he said, “I planned this.” And the gun went off, and I just felt myself spiraling down to the ground.

The first time that I sensed I couldn’t move was just after I was shot, because my attacker tried to lift me up off the floor, and he couldn’t get me up, and I couldn’t hold myself up. I heard a woman’s voice coming from outside of the bathroom and I thought, Lord, it’s now or never. I started screaming. She burst through the bathroom door and came in and said, “Stuart, what have you done?” I tell you, from there, I don’t remember too much.

Interviewer: What made you determined to live?

Vicky: I truly believe it was my son, knowing that my son was at my mom’s. That’s what I kept focusing on—that he was. I just kept asking God, “Please, don’t let me die.”    

End video

Joni: Sounds like a bizarre TV movie of the week, but it is not fiction. It had been an attempted rape. When the bullet pierced Vicky’s spinal cord, her assailant dragged her into a bathroom. She could feel her face rub against the cold, wet tiles, and she felt something warm and wet trickle down her neck.

She was convinced he was going to kill her. But in a crazy turnabout of events, the man ended up dragging her into his car and dumped her off at a nearby hospital, and then he fled. Vicky told the whole story to a policewoman who happened to be there in the emergency room, but nobody believed her. That is until they went back to the warehouse and they found her purse and her blood and a gun in the trashcan. The man was arrested.

When I first met my friend Vicky in a rehabilitation center, oh, two or three years later, she was angry. She was embittered. She was resentful. I mean, after all, this man had stolen her life. And although he had three other convictions of attempted rape, he was released after only spending three years in jail. My friend Vicky, on the other hand, has a life sentence of total quadriplegia.

Now, you don’t have to be disabled to understand how this woman felt. You don’t have to have a disability to empathize with her feelings of resentment and bitterness. I mean, you could be a single woman who had a long-time boyfriend who you thought for sure was going to pop an engagement ring, but he jilted you for someone else younger and prettier. Or you could be a single mother watching your two-year-old slowly die of cancer while your girlfriends fret about playground problems.

Or you could be a saleswoman at Chico’s holding fast to good business ethics while some conniving coworker cheats her way to the top, receiving praise, receiving promotion. You could be carrying the scars of a heartbreaking marriage or a terribly abusive childhood. Or you could be in that abusive marriage right now.

Or maybe your issues aren’t that drastic. Perhaps they’re simpler. You’re just mad at your next-door neighbor because he refuses to trim the hedges that keep growing over into your property. Or you’re mad at your girlfriend because sometime back she borrowed your credit card and never paid you back. Or you could be mad at a relative who said something really stupid at your mother's memorial service.

Life is not fair, and that can be so demoralizing. Husbands cheat on wives. Drunk drivers slam into schoolchildren at crosswalks. Rapists walk out of jail and move to another state to start all over again.

It’s natural to think that God is being unjust when He lets awful people run roughshod over us. It's dangerous, but it’s entirely natural. I’ve heard some people say—in fact, people told Vicky shortly after she was injured, “Vicky, if you want to move forward, start by forgiving God. After all, God allowed this tragedy to happen!”

Forgive God? The Bible never directs us to do such a thing. It implies that God has done something wrong. But the Bible says that nothing—not cancer, not eviction from our home, not an attempted rape—nothing can separate us from the love of God. So what are we to forgive Him for? Loving us too hard?

“Okay,” Vicky reasoned, “if God is not to be charged with wrongdoing, then maybe, maybe He wanted to prevent my terrible mistreatment but He couldn’t; He was helpless; He had His hands tied; He just wasn’t able to intervene.”

And frankly, you know that’s our response. We think, God unfortunately was powerless to prevent my terrible mistreatment, and so I’m going to have to make up for God's inactions. If the other person is not exposed or rebuked or brought to justice, then I must take matters into my own hands. I’m going to use criticism. I’m going to use gossip. I’m going to use slander. I’m going to hold grudges to make certain that in some way, that person is made to pay.

Sound familiar? Oh, most of us would not dare say that out loud, but we think it. It’s just a natural response. It kind of reminds me of the story of Uriah the Hittite. You know his story, 2 Samuel chapter 11. The army of Israel was fighting the Ammonites, but King David stayed at home. One night while he was walking on the rooftop of his palace that just happened to overlook the bedroom of a woman, he saw a woman taking a bath and he summoned her to his palace. He slept with her, and he ended up getting her pregnant.

David tries to cover it up by calling Uriah, her husband, in from the battlefield, hoping that he’ll sleep with his wife. But Uriah would not dare think of the pleasures of his wife while his king and his fellow soldiers were out on the battlefield. So David gets him drunk. But still, in Uriah’s stupor, he refuses to sleep with his wife. Finally, the king sends Uriah back to the battlefield with instructions that he be placed on the frontlines. The king makes and arrangement with the captain of the army, and Uriah is conveniently killed.

In the next chapter of 2 Samuel, God sends Nathan the prophet to King David, and Nathan reads David the riot act, charging him, accusing him of a capital offense, and David accepts it. He understands with perfect clarity what he has done. In fact, it says in the thirteenth verse in that chapter, David says, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And then Nathan tells him in the next verse, “The LORD has taken away your sin. You shall not die.” David is forgiven. He marries the woman he had been sleeping with. They end up having a son they called Solomon, and he rules Israel in peace and prosperity.

Now, wait a minute! Wait, wait, wait a minute! What if you were the father of Uriah the Hittite? I mean, you’d be thinking, Hold on here. Time out. Let me get this straight. This guy murders my son, he sleeps with my daughter-in-law. You see, when it comes to making certain justice is done, especially when evil people mistreat us, God takes it very, very personally. Absolutely no sin, no rape, no murder, nothing evil will ever, ever go unpunished.

So God in as much says to the father of Uriah the Hittite, “I agree. I agree. Someone has got to pay. Someone has got to die. And I offer you My own Son. He will take the rap.”

Are there sins that have been committed against you—sins about which you feel resentful, indignant, maybe even bitter? Well, think about this: No one has ever offended you more than you have offended Jesus Christ. No one has ever harmed or abused or wounded you worse than your abuse of Christ. The apple of God’s eye turned brown with the rot of your sin, especially the sin of pride, or self-righteousness, or me-first, or I’m better than her. 

Friend, you have been forgiven so much, so much. Matthew 18:23–34 explains it this way. It says, "A king decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. One of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He could not pay, so the king ordered him and his wife and his children, and everything he had to be sold to pay for the debt. But the man begged him, 'Oh, sir,’ he said, ‘be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ The king was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave the debt.”

Now you know the story from there. The man went out and found a fellow servant who owed him just a couple hundred dollars. So he grabbed him by the throat and insisted that he pay everything back immediately. Oh my goodness, what a short memory! I mean, he had forgotten about his own enormous debt that had been forgiven. Oh, he could see the speck in his eye of his fellow servant, but he could not see the plank in his own! 

And girls, that’s the problem with us. We don’t see our debt as enormous. In fact, we are very much like the person the psalmist is talking about in Psalm 36:2. It says, “For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his own sin.” In our blind conceit, we cannot see how wicked we really are.

Everyone else’s transgressions seem so far greater than ours. “Well, my marriage would be a bit better if only my husband would . . . ” “Oh, our church would be better if only our pastor could learn that . . .” “Oh, my family would be better if only my kids would do . . . ” “Oh, our neighborhood would be better if only that lady across the street would stop . . .” “Oh, my office would be a much better work environment if only the guy down the hall would . . .”

Now you might be thinking that Vicky Olivas is some paragon of virtue who never sins being a quadriplegic. But uh-uh! No, like me, Vicky struggles with sin. 

  • She struggles with anxiety and worry and fear of the future.
  • The woman lives in a humble home, has a humble job. She thinks about the future and what’s going to happen as a quadriplegic.
  • Like me, she gets peevish.
  • She gets small-minded.
  • She becomes self-centered.
  • Like me, she can fudge the truth.
  • Like me, she’ll think the worst of other people.
  • Like me, she’ll manipulate others with precisely-timed phrases.
  • Like me, she gets angry and doubtful and anxious.
  • In short, like me, she sins!
And so my friend Vicky and I often cry out together from Psalm 139, “Search me, O God, and see if there be any hurtful offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
 
I’m so glad that, as a child, I was raised in the Reformed Episcopal Church, because every Sunday we used the Book of Common Prayer. And, oh, how well I remember those words, even as a ten-year-old: “Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from Thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against Thy holy laws. We have done those things which we ought not to have done, and we have not done those things which we ought to have done, and there is no help in us. Have mercy on us miserable offenders!”
 
So let God, let God, the only wise judge, be the one to hand out the consequences for the harm done against you. Quit holding onto the bitterness that is hindering revival in your relationship with Christ—that is hindering revival in your own heart. True revival just isn’t going to come apart from your willingness to receive God’s mercy and, here’s the important part, to extend it to others. 
 
Can we say, “Yes, God hates injustice and, yes, the awful person who has mistreated me deserves to be brought to justice, deserves to be rebuked and punished. But whether or not that happens, I will not be bitter. I will not retaliate. I will return good for evil. I will bless rather than curse. I will not bad-mouth. I will not gossip. I will forgive.”
 
That’s exactly the way Vicky Olivas has responded to the man who “destroyed her life.” Because when you taste the mercies of God, as my friend Vicky has over these many years, when you know that you are the one who deserves to be nailed to the tree, it changes everything, and you are able to do the impossible. “Father, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
 
In other words, “Father, feel free to deal with me the same way you see me dealing with others! Feel free to treat me as you see me treating others. Be merciful to me. Be full of grace. Have compassion because I am merciful. I am full of grace. I have compassion. And I pity those who have offended me.” Friend, that’s our calling! Right there is our calling.
 
First Peter 2:19–25, listen to what it says: “For God is pleased with you when you patiently endure unfair treatment. But if you suffer for doing right and are patient, God is pleased with you. This suffering is all part of what God has called you to. In Christ who suffered for you, for He is your example. Follow in His steps. He never sinned, and He never deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when He was insulted. When He suffered, He did not threaten to get even. He left His case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly. He personally carried away our sins in His own body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. You have been healed by His wounds! Once you were wandering like lost sheep. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls.”
 
Do you see what that passage is saying, girls?
  • It says that even when you do good, you will suffer.
  • When you do good, you will be criticized.
  • When you do good, things will not necessarily get better.
  • When you do good, people will say hurtful things against you.
  • When you do good, people will not even notice and there will be no appreciation.
And then 1 Peter sums it up by saying, "To this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in His steps.”
 
Believers in the early church knew this. They were cheated out of fair trials. They were thrown to lions. Their property was confiscated and stolen, and they did not receive due process of law. Their children were brutally taken from them.  
 
They weren’t looking for justice in this world, because they knew that there is no fairness in this diseased and broken world. We all may be “created equal” in the sense that we are sinners and in need of redemption, but that’s where the equality ends. All things in this life are definitely not equal. Good people die young, the wicked prosper, innocent children are abused, and the unborn are killed mercilessly. 
 
“But,” you say, “I don’t—we don’t—the innocent don’t deserve such suffering!” Ah, but does God ever give us what we deserve? No, He does not. And that’s a good thing or else, girls, we would be burnt toast in a nanosecond. 
 
For, as it was said earlier, justice is when we get what we do deserve, and that is hell. Mercy is when we do not get what we deserve, and that is salvation. And grace? Oh my goodness. Grace is when we get what we don’t deserve, and that is forgiveness and peace and joy and strength in our weakness and an audience with God in prayer and a home in heaven, an inheritance with Christ, and service in God's kingdom, and so much more!
 
But still you say, “I’m special. I’ve been told that even if I were the only person on earth, Jesus would have died for me.” Oh, girls, that speaks less of your specialness and more of the specialness of God’s grace. Because if indeed that is true—that Jesus would do that—if you were the only person on earth, then what you are really saying is that “my sins alone, without anybody else’s being thrown in, my sins were wicked enough to warrant the death of the Lord of the universe.” Girls, we have been forgiven so much, and God expects us to extend that same mercy to others.
 
The man who attacked Vicky does not know this. He is stone-cold dead in his sins and justice awaits him on the Judgment Day. But because my quadriplegic friend has experienced the grace of God, because she has cultivated a godly response to her suffering, because she has learned to trust her Savior, Vicky has become so very, very much like her Jesus. She is so like her Jesus! She cares for the soul of her assailant—in the same way that Jesus cared for the souls of the very men who impaled Him on that cross saying, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing. They do not know what they are doing.”
 
Can you have pity? Will you have pity? I thought as I was driving from Chicago to Indianapolis for the True Woman Conference, I thought to myself, I should call Vicky because maybe she has something that she would like to say to you ladies, after having shared her story and of course after seeing her video. And so I called her, and she said she’d be happy to write something down in an email. And so yesterday she sent me this, and I’d like to read it to you. This is from my friend Vicky Olivas to you:
 
As I ponder on the thirty-six years that I have spent in this wheelchair, I ask myself, What is the one thing that has gotten me closer to the Lord Jesus? And without a doubt, it is forgiveness. I have found that forgiving in obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ, even when it is the last thing I want to do, gives me a spiritual bath. I scrub off any anger, any resentment, any hurt, or any offenses that have been committed against me, and forgiving makes me feel fresh and clean. But most of all, forgiving makes me feel free. Forgiveness is an act of obedience for me. It does not flow out of me because I am so good. No, I choose it because I want to be cleansed by Christ, and I want to be set free.
 
Ephesians 4:31–32 is what I would want to share with you ladies. It is one of my favorite verses. To me, it says it all. “Get rid of bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander and gossip along with every form of malice; and be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other just as Christ forgave you.”
 
Ladies, this verse is for you. If I were there with you right now, I would close by saying: 
  • Number one: Release the offense.
  • Number two: Forgive the person.
  • Number three: Forget it. Forget it. Forget it.
  • Number four: Then love the person. Love them into the kingdom. Pray them into the kingdom.
  • Number five: Go on with living.

Forgiveness clears a path for our lives to be content, but most of all it frees us to come purely before the throne of our wonderful Savior.

Will you show pity like that? Can you show compassion on those who have offended you? Can you forgive as Christ has forgiven you? Will you receive His mercy and not extend it to someone else?

And what if those who have wounded you refuse the gospel? Then the closest to heaven they will ever get are their earthly comforts. And so we pray for those who have transgressed against us, asking that they might be spared eternal damnation. For as it says in 2 Peter 3, “The Lord is not wanting anyone to perish, [not even that rapist who now lives in Las Vegas, Nevada]. The Lord is not wanting anyone to perish but everyone, everyone to come to repentance.” And it just might require your forgiving spirit to make it happen—to make the miracle happen.

It took the most unfair act in history, the execution of Christ, to satisfy divine justice in a world so full of wretchedness, so full of evil and injustice. That event made it possible for the least deserving of all people—you and me—you and a convicted thief dangling on a cross—to gain an eternity of undeserved happiness. And on that basis, please pray with me now.

And as your head is bowed, take a moment to think of the sins that have been committed against you—people against whom you hold a grudge or feel unmerciful toward; people in your past who seem to be getting off scot-free, who have smeared your reputation; people that you have gossiped about; people that you have rehearsed the offense so many times for others, all with the intention of wanting others to pray for that individual when you know full well you are putting the knife in their side and turning it. Would you let it go? Would you release the offense? Would you forgive that person and then forget it? Forget it. Do not speak of it again. And love that person into the kingdom and go on with living.

So please pray with me now, would you? Lord Jesus, yes, the awful person who has mistreated me deserves to be exposed. They deserve to be brought to justice. They deserve to be rebuked. But Jesus, whether or not that happens, I will not be bitter, nor will I retaliate. Rather than allow vengeful thoughts to poison my heart, I will marvel at the absolute justice of the cross of Christ and I will wonder at the grace shown me at so great a price.

I commit tonight to return good for evil. I commit tonight to bless rather than curse. And I will invite revival into my heart by doing the hard thing, extending the same mercy as has been extended to me. For the sake of Jesus Christ, I will forgive. And it’s in that precious name we pray, amen.

(Joni singing)
Jesus paid it all, 
All to Him I owe. 
Sin had left a crimson stain. 
He washed it white as snow.

Sing it again:
Jesus paid it all, 
All to Him I owe. 
Sin had left a crimson stain. 
He washed it white as snow.