OPEN: (We showed a picture of a checker board on the overhead)
What is this game?
That’s right, it’s a checkers game.
How many of you have ever played checkers? (almost everyone held up their hands)
You know, I did not realize it until I began my research for this morning’s sermon, but checkers is one of the oldest games known to man. Archaeologists think the earliest form of the game was unearthed in an archaeological dig in the ancient city of Ur in southern Mesopotamia, which is now modern day Iraq around the year 3000 B.C.
Egypt had their own form of the game (called Alquerque) around 1400 B.C. (about the time Moses led the people of Israel out of their slavery and to the Promised Land).
Now neither of those games looked quite like the form of checkers that we play now. That happened around 1100 A.D. when an innovative Frenchmen made the game board bigger with more spaces.
In 1847 the first championship award was given and to this day checker championships are held around the world. The US Tourney (for example) was held this last year in Louisville, KY.
There are Women’s championships.
AND there are WORLD championships like the one held in Italy last July.
Now, when I play checkers I don’t give much thought to the game. I jump the other guy's pieces and try to get as many of mine to be Kinged. But when you get to the championships, these folks take the game very seriously and they have strategies and gambits that I have never thought of. There’s the “Double Corner Master Opening”, the “Fife” Opening, the “Spider Web” and the “Zorro Trap”.
In fact, these folks have the game down so well, that in championship tournaments there are 3 specific plays that are illegal because those moves would give the player an unfair advantage from the very beginning.
And there’s one oddity to the game that purists hold to. In championship games, the game pieces are always red and white. The red always plays first. But what if they’re playing with checkers that aren't “red and white”? Well, when that happens, they call the darker checkers on the board “red” and the colored lighter pieces “white”.
When you used to play checkers, what color pieces did you use? (Black and Red). Which is the darker of those two colors? Black is. So, guess what: the black pieces are “red” and the red pieces are called “white.”
(We showed a picture of checkerboard without any checkers)
Now, just so we’re clear… what kind of game is played on this board?
Are you sure?
Is there another game that can be played on this kind of board?
That’s right… you can play chess on this board.
ILLUS: A couple years back I was asked to do a Revival some time back in Covington, Indiana. Part of my responsibilities was to lead a class on conflict management. It was to be a 2 hour session, and I was having trouble finding a way to illustrate what I wanted to say. So I prayed that God would help me … and this (pointing to the image of the checker board) was the image that came into my mind.
At the session I had drawn an image of a checker board on the white board behind me and I asked them the same question I asked you: What is this?
And they all said: “A checker board”
When I asked if they were sure? Someone shyly said: “Well, it could be a chess board.”
And I said “That’s right! You can play checkers AND chess on this board.
They are 2 different games… but the same game board.
I explained that these two games – checkers and chess – represented to me two different ways of dealing with conflict. Checkers, for example, is the “Mutually Assured Destruction” approach.
In checkers, in order to win you the game, you literally have decimate your opponent. You need to take away almost every one of his pieces.
But in the process you lose most of your pieces as well.
By contrast, Chess is an entirely different kind of game. I’m told that it is literally possible win a game of chess without losing a single chess piece. And it is also possible to win such a game without your opponent losing a piece.
When it comes to dealing with conflict in our lives, the world generally likes to play checkers, but God prefers that we play chess.
Jesus said: "You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” (Matthew 5:43)
That’s the opening statement by Jesus in this teaching. He’s going to follow that up by telling us how WE should look at our enemies, but He’s started out by telling us how most people think about their enemies (HATE).
Now, why would you regard someone as an enemy?
Well, they've hurt you.
They've treated you unfairly. They've done you dirty.
They've robbed you, cheated you, or said nasty things about you.
In short… there’s usually a really good reason why you shouldn't like them.
Have you ever encountered someone like that in your life?
Of course you have... and so have I.
Now, if a person has treated me like that… how am I likely to treat them?
Am I gonna pray for them? (maybe)
Am I going to say nice things about them in mixed company? (eh, not if I can help it)
Am I going to plow out their drive so they can get out of their garage on a wintry day? (Not likely).
In fact, if someone is my “enemy” I’m not likely to be doing any nice things for them. Instead - I’m more likely to be looking for an excuse to execute “justice” with them. If I've been hurt, they should hurt. If I've lost… they should lose. An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. It’s only fair that they should suffer as they've made me to suffer.
And that’s where checkers comes in.
It’s only just, only fair, only right, that we get some satisfaction from the pain of their enemies, even if we don’t cause it to them. They've taken pieces off my board, I should be able to take some of their pieces off their board too. And the more pieces I can take away from them (or watch being taken from them by someone else) the more satisfaction I’ll feel.
ILLUS: I read a story about a man the state of Washington. His wife had filed for divorce and he was furious. So he went down to the courthouse and paid $11.50 for a permit. A demolition permit. Then he went home where he had a bulldozer waiting.. and he bulldozed their 3-bedroom, $85,000 home.
He figured: If she was going to divorce him – she wasn't going to have the house.
Of course… neither would he. But that didn't matter.
He was satisfied because he had denied her something of value.
That’s the game of Checkers.
Checkers is a game of Mutually Assured Destruction.
I’m going to HURT you because YOU hurt me.
And I don’t care how much it costs me… because I’m going to WIN.
Winning is the object of the game, and the more I can hurt you in the process, the better I’m going to feel.
Like I said – Checkers is a game of Mutually Assured Destruction
Notice the first letter in each of those words. What’s it spell? (MAD)
That’s right. I’m MAD, and I’m going to make that person pay!!!
So, Jesus starts out this part of His teaching by addressing that mindset:
"You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’”
In essence He’s saying… that’s how the WORLD plays this game.
But then Jesus tells us that is NOT how we ought to be playing.
“… I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:44-48
Love my enemies?
Pray for them?
(pause) Why on earth would I want to do that?
(Wait For Responses)
ANSWER: So I can be like my Father.
Jesus said: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”
Ok, but why would God want us to do that?
Why does it matter that we become like Him?
Well, He wants us to stand out in the crowd.
He is kind to those who are His enemies, and so He wants us to be known as those who don’t hurt those who hurt us.
Notice that Jesus says: Even the tax collectors only love those who love them. Even the pagans greet only those who are nice to them. But God has called us to be different than the pagans and the tax collectors. He's called us treat the world like He has treated us.
Did you ever think about how hard it must be for God to have loved us?
Colossians says: “Once you were alienated from God and WERE ENEMIES in your minds because of your evil behavior.” Colossians 1:21
Ephesians tells us: “… at one time, (we were) gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were BY NATURE OBJECTS OF WRATH.” Ephesians 2:3
And Titus declares: “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.” Titus 3:3
We weren't very nice to be around (you and I)
But God loved us anyway.
“… because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions— it is by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:4-5
If God was playing checkers we wouldn't stand a chance.
Not only would we have lost all our pieces on the board… there wouldn't be a board. We’d not only lose, but we’d end up in hell.
But God loved us so much “that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever should believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Despite what the world may think, God doesn't want to destroy anyone. He doesn't really want to decimate our game board. God’s desire is always to save… not to destroy.
Peter writes: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9
You see – that’s God’s game plan. He intended to win His game with us without us losing anymore pieces than necessary. And Jesus tells us: that’s how God wants you and I to treat others. God wants us to be like Him!
If He’s our Father… you and I need to grow up to be like Him!
And there’s another reason for God to ask this of us.
A lot of Christians believe they were saved to come and sit in a pew and listen to the preacher. I’m glad you folks do that (that way I at least have someone to talk to on a Sunday morning), but that is NOT why you were saved. You and I have been saved by God to be His missionaries.
When people see us they should be looking at the image of our Father. And the only way they’re going to see our Father in us is if we love our enemies. Loving our enemies… the way God loved us when we were His enemies.
Now what exactly does that mean? It means that when you’re in a conflict or a confrontation your goal should always be to avoid making the other guy pay. Your goal should always be to find a way to forgive the other person.
ILLUS: Garrison Keillor put it this way:
“Do unto others who don’t like you as you would have them do unto you, but you know they won’t…. Shame them with goodness. Kill them with kindness. Cut their throats with courtesy.”
(Garrison Keillor “The Keillor Reader”)
The 11th chapter of Romans puts it this way: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Romans 12:20
You see, by forgiving your enemy, you've actually gotten justice. They thought they could hurt you and destroy you but if you forgave them, they couldn't. And it confuses them. And it throws them off – that’s not how they would have dealt with the conflict. And it makes them step back and rethink the difference God has made in your life.
ILLUS: Back when I was in High School I took part in a dodge ball game in the gym.
How many of you played dodge ball?
Well, this was high school gym and the court was well defined. The rules were, if you got hit by the other team, or they caught your ball… you were out, and then you’d have to sit on the bench seat along the side of the court. That’s where I ended up.
If one of the balls came by where you were seated, what do you think happened? That’s right. We would kick or throw the ball back to OUR team which is exactly what I did. However John, one of the players on the other team, took exception to my doing that. He had one of the dodge balls and he was standing maybe 15 feet away from me, and he took the ball he had in his hands and threw it at me as hard as he could.
I had only seconds to protect myself, and I raised up my right hand – fingers extended - to stop the ball from hitting my face. To this day I can still feel the pain of that ball jamming my small finger, my ring finger and my middle finger on my right hand.
Then John turned and started to walk away.
He’d gotten his pound of flesh.
But I hadn't.
I jumped up off the bench, ran up behind him, and bumped him with my right shoulder. He turned around and I decked him with a left hook that would have made Cassius Clay proud. And it felt good! I'd gotten back at him for what he'd done to me!
However, now I had a problem.
Here’s this guy laying on the floor… and we’re about one step away from brawl on the gym floor.
It was then that John did the most peculiar thing.
He looked up at me for a moment, got up, dusted himself off and walked away.
That was it. He walked away!
I had never encountered anyone who had ever walked away from a fight like that. I wouldn't have done it. But he did and in that moment I knew he was the better man.
It threw me off. I wasn't expecting it. And from that day on, my life literally changed. I’d always gotten in fights before that… but I’d seen a man walk away from a fight and I realized I could do that too.
Now, here’s the deal.
You and I live in a real world.
We’re going to get hurt now and again… and once in awhile it’s going to REALLY hurt.
We’re going to be tempted to fight… to strike out… to hurt the other person.
And when that happens we have a choice to make.
How are we going to respond to that pain and that injustice?
We can respond like many in the world do by getting personal satisfaction from hurting the one who hurt us. OR we can ask ourselves what God would have done in that situation and choose to do that.
CLOSE: I want to close this sermon with a story of a young man who did exactly that. He asked himself what Jesus would have done. His name was Damare, a young slave boy in Africa. He was a Christian and regularly attended church in an area that was strongly Muslim.
One day, as he was making his way back from a Church service, he was met by men who hated what he was doing. They dragged into the brush and beat him terribly. And before they left him to die, they nailed his knees and feet to a board.
Miraculously he survived and was asked how he felt toward those who had done this to him. He responded that forgave them. But why? How could he possibly think of forgiving those who had done this to him?
His answer: Jesus was nailed and forgave him.
(Voice of the Martyrs)
That is what we are called to do. To remember that God forgave us and that He paid a terrible price to purchase us for Himself. When we remember that and we try to respond to the hatred of this world with the love Jesus gave to us… then we have truly honored God.