May 24 2010
From Kerri Goss, our Conference Manager:
I ran across this article today on my Yahoo home page. It is an interesting story about a man’s son who ran up his cell phone bill to $18,000! The article is silent about any sort of discipline the son received, but I know if I had a child who ran up that high of a cell phone bill, then discipline would definitely be part of the process!
The dad complained, and the cell phone bill was cut in half. Then the dad complained some more, and finally, they announced that the money was “uncollectible” and that the situation was “done.” The cell phone company decided to close the case and write off the expense. Seems like a very generous offer on the part of the cell phone company, doesn’t it? But the dad still wants to know who will take care of his credit report.
It reminds me of the parable of the unforgiving servant. Remember this story? It is in the context of forgiveness that Jesus talks about a servant who owed his master a very large sum of money. When his master gives him over to the collection agency or asks for the money the servant begs and pleads for a pardon. The master grants him forgiveness. However, that same servant turns around and demands that another servant who owed him a very small amount of money pay up. When that servant begs and pleads for a pardon, it is not granted. Jesus reprimands the unforgiving servant for his wicked ways and at the end of the story this servant suffers at the hands of torturers. You can find the whole story in Matthew 18: 21-35.
I find a couple of interesting points from this modern day story of a forgiven debt. Let me make a few observations:
- This is a story about forgiveness. However, I find it interesting how they define forgiveness by the very nature of this story. According to them forgiveness is just about closing the matter, writing it off, getting it out of the way. I don’t know the end of this story but my guess is that reconciliation will not be pursued. This is more about getting this out of the way so they can move on. The relationship with their customer is not the primary reason for granting forgiveness. They are doing this for the good of their company. Yes, it looks very generous (and I agree that it actually is) but is this how we live out forgiveness? Is it just about what is good for me or am I really looking out for the interest of others (Phil. 2:4)? Am I forgiving as Christ did? Sacrificially? Graciously? Lovingly? Completely?
- Despite the fact that forgiveness isn’t defined completely, what the company did was still very gracious. This man owed a debt presumably greater than he could pay and definitely not without some sacrifice. Although his son racked up the money he was still responsible. It was his name on the bill and not his son’s. The debt was his and his alone. Think about your sin. Your sin isn’t your parents’ and it’s not your spouse’s and it’s not your neighbors–it is YOURS. You alone are responsible for your sin and it’s a much greater debt that you can ever pay. $18,000 seems like a few pennies compared to the sin debt that we have accrued. Yet Jesus made the sacrifice to grant us forgiveness–complete and beautiful forgiveness that we should be in awe of everyday. Praise God that Jesus “has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26b) so that we could be forgiven. There is no credit report to deal with our debt; it has been forgiven– not by money that wastes away but by the powerful and expensive blood of Christ!
- The last thing I want to point out is the dad’s response. This has been a headache for him and something that he has fought for. He states, “Nice to see Verizon dismiss all the charges. But it’s still on my credit report. Someone has to take the next step.” Is that my response when I’ve been forgiven? “Oh, nice to see you forgave me, but there is still something lacking. What are you going to do about it?” In my opinion the focus is on wanting more. The dad isn’t satisfied with the $18,000 dismissed bill but he demands more. Can’t we be that way with forgiveness? We can forgive someone but then still be bitter, still demanding that they pay for their sin. This can be accomplished through manipulation, bitterness, giving the cold shoulder, withholding love, gossiping, etc. This is not forgiveness. This is unforgiveness. When you choose to forgive someone (and yes it is a choice) you are choosing to release them from any repayment. Remember the Four Promises of Forgiveness:
- I will not dwell on this incident
- I will not bring this incident up and use it against you
- I will not talk to others about this incident
- I will not allow this incident to stand between us or hinder our personal relationship
These promises are put in place so that we will resist the urge to demand more repayment after we have already chosen to forgive someone. Forgiving someone is not just about a couple of words but it is about an oath that you hold yourself accountable to. It’s about releasing someone from their debt and releasing them every day. The company could grant the dad forgiveness, but what if they brought it up on every bill “Remember…we forgave you of this debt. Don’t mess up again.” Or they could be rude to him if he ever has to call customer service or they could cut off his phone or reduce his plan or ignore him if he comes into the store. That would seem ridiculous for them to behave that way, but isn’t that the way we act sometimes. Are we really forgiving people or are we just going through the motions?
So take a lesson from a corporate company and a Massachusetts man and don’t let forgiveness be just a meaningless word for you.
Don’t forget to register for our 2010 Peacemaker Conference, which is all about forgiveness (prices increase on June 1).