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When is the last time you had to work on a relationship in your life? Relationships require constant maintenance, and just because you need to work on your relationships doesn’t necessarily mean there is anything wrong. As we wrap up this two-week series on forgiveness, Adam Tarnow teaches us how forgiveness is a relentless activity and one of the greatest acts of love.
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When’s the last time you had to work on a relationship in your life? Relationships require constant maintenance, and just because you need to work on your relationships doesn’t necessarily mean there is anything wrong. As we wrap up this two-week series on forgiveness, Adam Tarnow teaches us how forgiveness is a relentless activity and one of the greatest acts of love.
Hello, Watermark. My name is Adam Tarnow. I'm excited to be back with you guys again as we wrap up our conversation today that we started last week on forgiveness, and, since we're talking about relationships and relationships that are hard sometimes and forgiveness, I thought I'd start off to set up our time sharing a story with you guys about one of the most complicated relationships I have in my life, and that is the relationship I have with my home.
My wife and I are so grateful. On one hand, we are so grateful for our home. It is not lost on me that we have a roof over our heads when it rains that keeps us dry. We have walls that are up that keep us warm. We have a place to gather and a place to raise our kids. That is not lost on me at all. I know that there are thousands of homeless people just here in DFW who would love to have a home, and that number just gets bigger and bigger and bigger the farther away from Dallas you go.
I understand that there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people around this world who would love to have a home like I do, so it is not lost on me. I am grateful for my home, but on the other hand, my home always has something wrong with it. I feel like the maintenance I have to do on my home is just constantly a game of whack-a-mole. I fix one thing, and then another thing pops up, and then I go fix that, and it's just this endless activity of constant maintenance.
You just walk into my kitchen right now; some of the things that you'll see, some of the constant maintenance, are there are some floor tiles that I had to tear up because my dishwasher broke about a year ago, and to get that new dishwasher in, it wouldn't fit. I needed a dishwasher. I wanted a dishwasher more than I wanted a floor, so I took the tiles up and put the dishwasher in there, and then we just kind of put a mat over those tiles, so that's going on.
I have a drawer right now that doesn't have a face on it, so you don't open that drawer; you just stick your hand right on in there. Just get whatever you need. It's very efficient. It still works. It's fine. I have some cabinet doors that are falling. You know, I have plans to get those things fixed. They're going to get fixed, and I know that, once those are fixed, something else is going to break because it's just always something going on.
It causes some stress for me and some angst for me every time I have these repairs because, as I've mentioned to you guys before, I'm a CPA by trade. I like numbers. I like spreadsheets, which means I'm not handy. I do not need to have any tools. I don't like tools. I don't really like going to Home Depot. That is not fun for me. Those things, those tools, those don't excite me.
I am never more vulnerable than when something has really broken in my house and I have to bring somebody over because they could tell me anything. I mean, I had a guy who had to come over to fix my furnace about a year ago when it was starting to get cool and the heater wasn't working, so he came down from the attic and looked at me. I was like, "What's going on?"
He was like, "Well…" I mean, he could've said anything, guys. He could've been like, "Adam, I've never seen this before, but your flux capacitor is broken, and it needs to be replaced, and it's going to cost," and all this kind of stuff, and I would've gone like, "Flux capacitor. I think that's in Back to the Future, but I guess it's in my attic as well and my heater, so okay, I'll just pay whatever because I want heat."
It's just always ongoing, and in my isolation, sometimes I'd like to do a pity party and think I'm the only homeowner who struggles with maintenance, but the more I talk to people and friends, the more I realize I am not alone. It is just home ownership and maintenance go hand in hand. This does not mean that my home has something inherently flawed that I have to repair it all the time. It just means I own a home.
It's just what happens, so all home owners know this. Homes require constant maintenance, and just because you have to do something around your house to keep it going doesn't mean that there's something wrong. It just means that you own a home or that you live in a home. It's right there in your Bible. It's in Genesis, chapter 3. It's sin. It's fallenness. The world is fallen and so are our homes. It's the way it is. It's just that the two go hand in hand.
I start with that today because we're going to talk about another area of our lives that also requires constant maintenance, and the fact that we have to have other maintenance in our lives in this one area doesn't mean there's something fundamentally wrong with this area of our lives. It just is, and this other area of our lives that requires constant maintenance is relationships. Relationships also require constant maintenance.
When I put the word relationship up there, it's really any relationship you can think of. This is people inside your home, people in your neighborhood, people where you work, even (as we're going to talk about today) strangers. I mean, any relationship in your life requires constant maintenance, and just because you have to work at that relationship, just because you have to work at maintaining that relationship to be healthy doesn't mean there's something fundamentally flawed in that relationship. It just means you're in a relationship.
In fact, the apostle Paul was even talking about this in Ephesians. He would say, "One of the number one clues that Jesus is present in your life is that you are working hard to preserve the unity of the Spirit you have in the bond of peace. It just is. Relationships are a relentless amount of work, and just because we have to work at our relationships doesn't mean something is fundamentally flawed. It just means we're in a relationship, and oftentimes that work involves forgiveness.
Last week, we started this conversation on forgiveness, and one of the things we established was this. Every single one of us has been hurt by somebody at some point in our lives. All of us have been the victim of somebody else's decision. Every single one of us has had somebody who has said something to us, done something to us, abused us, manipulated us, stolen from us, lied to us. Every single one of us has been hurt by somebody at some point in our lives, but not all of us have forgiven.
Not all of us have forgiven the person who has hurt us, and the reason why not all of us have forgiven the person or the people who have hurt us is because sometimes we have the wrong view of forgiveness; our perspective on forgiveness is a little skewed. Sometimes what we think is what I'm tempted to think; if we forgive somebody, that's giving them an unfair reward that they do not deserve, and we don't want to reward the person who hurt us, so we harbor. We resent. We keep that hurt and that bitterness, and it just grows.
It's like holding onto this invoice. We know that that debt is outstanding, and we just hope that something's going to change. We're drinking poison expecting the other person to die, and it never happens, so what we realized last week is that we need to change our perspective on forgiveness. We opened up God's Word. We went through Matthew 18. We looked at the story Jesus told, the parable of the unmerciful servant, and we realized in there that we need to change our perspective on forgiveness in two ways.
The first was this. It's just a definition. We needed to understand that forgiveness is just the release of a debt owed. It's not a reward that you give to somebody who doesn't deserve it. It is just the recognition that somebody hurt you, there is a debt outstanding, and there's nothing that person can do to pay the debt. There's nothing. They can't say anything. They can't do anything. They can't write you a check. They can't buy you anything. That debt will always remain outstanding. You are the one who has the power to cancel that debt that is outstanding between you and the person who has hurt you, so forgiveness is not an unfair reward. It's just the release of a debt owed.
The second perspective shift was this: we needed to understand that forgiveness is just a response to God's mercy. You never find the strength in and of yourself to forgive somebody. That strength is only going to come when you take your focus off the sin of the other person and start to focus on your own sin, when you start to realize that you have been forgiven so much and forgiven people are to forgive people. That was the point of the parable that we looked at last week in Matthew 18.
This week, as we wrap up this conversation, we are going to look at one more perspective shift that we need. We're going to start off back in Matthew, chapter 18, and look at a little bit more of the conversation that Peter had with Jesus. Then we're going to spend most of our time in Colossians, chapter 3, looking at some of the things that the apostle Paul said that really line up with everything that we've already been talking about.
If you have your Bibles, here we go. Let's jump right into Matthew, chapter 18. We'll look at verses 21 and 22. Again, just to set up the context…in chapter 18, verses 15 through 20…Jesus had just gotten done teaching about conflict. What do you do if somebody's hurt you? There's a process you follow. If somebody hurts you, you go to that person one-on-one. You try to resolve. If that doesn't happen, you bring some others in to try to help you. You invite one more person in. If that doesn't help, you widen the circle even more, so that teaching just got done.
He just got done with that, and then Peter and the disciples had some questions, and they came up to Jesus, and here's what they asked. Peter said in verse 21, "Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, 'Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?'" We talked this last week. Peter probably thought he was impressing Jesus with seven, and part of the reason he probably thought he was impressing Jesus by saying seven times is because the prevailing teaching at the time was that you would forgive somebody three times.
That was kind of the cultural norm out there. If somebody's hurt you, you keep a list, and you forgive them three times, so Peter here, hearing the teaching on conflict resolution, thought to himself, "Okay. I'm going to go a little bit more. Jesus seems to be saying something that's a little different than the prevailing teaching, so I'm going to take the common teaching or wisdom that's out there, three times, and I'm going to double it, and then I'm going to add one, and maybe that'll blow Jesus away.
He says, "How many times? Seven times?" and Jesus looks at him and says, "No." "'I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.'" Or some of your translations may say, "…seventy times seven." We unpacked this a little bit last week. What Jesus is basically saying to Peter is you can't count. There's no list.
You cannot keep track of how many times you have to forgive somebody. It is just this ongoing, constant thing that should always be present in your life. Now let's jump over to Colossians, chapter 3, because what I love about scripture is when you see these cross-references, when you see one author say something that another author said or you see the apostle Paul pick up on the teachings of Jesus, and we see that here in Colossians as well.
Colossians is a letter that Paul wrote to this church all about the supremacy of Jesus Christ, about the fact that we were aliens, we used to be enemies in our sin, and we were separated from God, but God loved us so much that he sent Jesus to die for us, and now what were enemies were now reconciled with God. Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection has all these implications in our lives.
He gets into chapter 3, starting to talk about the implications that this has and how it impacts what we think about every day and how it ultimately here in verses 12 through 14 impacts our relationships with one another. Look at this language because it's very similar to some of the stuff that Jesus had just gotten done teaching in Matthew 18.
In Colossians 3, verse 12, Paul says, "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." I love that word picture there. Just like we all got up today and clothed ourselves, Paul is saying, "When you wake up, clothe yourselves in these virtues."
All these virtues have something to do with the way we interact with other people, that you'll be compassionate with other people, that you'll be kind towards other people, that you'll be humble and you won't be prideful and boastful towards others, that you'll be gentle towards others, that you will be patient with other people. This is what we need to clothe ourselves with every day.
Look here in verse 13, "Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone." Then look here. This is exactly what Jesus just got done saying . "Forgive as the Lord forgave you." What Paul is telling us here is we need to be bearing with one another and forgiving one another, and the reason we need to be forgiving is we need to forgive others as the Lord has forgiven us, so forgiven people forgive people. He is picking up on the same idea that was in Matthew 18.
Buried in the grammar here is something I think is so encouraging for us. The word there, bear, to bear with and to forgive… When Paul wrote that, it was written in the present tense, and in the present tense what that means is ongoing, constant, never ending, always going, continuous, relentless. What Paul is saying here is, "Clothe yourselves in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, and constantly be bearing with people, constantly be forgiving people, constantly be forgiving as the Lord has forgiven you."
You take this idea that Jesus in Matthew 18 said, "Peter, you can't count how many times. Forgiveness is ongoing," and you take what Paul says here in Colossians, chapter 3, that we are to be constantly bearing with one another and constantly forgiving one another. You take those two together, and I think in here we have our third perspective shift that we need on forgiveness.
It's the release of a debt. It's a response to God's mercy, and the third shift is it is a relentless activity. Forgiveness is a relentless activity. It is something that we are constantly doing every single day. It's just a normal part of our relationships, and because we need to constantly be forgiving doesn't mean there is something fundamentally flawed with our relationships; it just means we're in a relationship. It's just normal. It's relentless. It's an activity that is ongoing, ever present in our lives, and I think this idea is so helpful for us and is such a great reminder for us for a couple of reasons that we'll just unpack and just spend some time thinking about.
The first reason why I think this reminder that forgiveness is a relentless activity is so helpful for us is because of this. Here's what we know: everyone has issues. Amen? Now this is a kind of a nice church way to say it, that everyone has issues. What I really want to say is, "Everyone's weird." Everyone's quirky. Everyone has some strange habits and some little things that we do. Everybody has some issues. I have some issues. You have some issues. You have some things you do. I have some things I do that are a little bit strange, a little bit weird.
I guarantee one of you drove here this morning, and your blinker was on the entire time, and it annoyed everybody, or some of you today after church are going to go to the grocery store, and you're going to be at the checkout isle, and you're going to wait for the cashier to scan every single item right there. It's going to take five minutes while they scan every item because you're shopping for the next couple of weeks, and it'll be after every item is scanned and you're looking at that total. Then you'll suddenly realize, "Oh, I have to pay for it." Then, at that moment, that's when you'll go for your debit card.
You had five minutes to pull your debit card out and get ready, but no, you wanted to wait for everything to be scanned up, and then you're going to pull your debit card out. Then you're going to realize that you don't remember the pin number. Then you'll go over there, and then that card won't work, and you're going to have to do another one, and it is going to annoy someone.
Somebody tomorrow in your office is going to microwave fish. Everyone has issues. We're all quirky. We're all annoying. We all do things, and our issues don't match up. You know, your issues don't match mine, and that's why we frustrate one another. If there's a group of people I think get this maybe a little bit better than anybody else, it's newly married couples. I think they get this.
When I first came on staff in 2010, I got to work in the newly married ministry, and I loved it. I had so much fun hanging out with those couples and had a lot of fun being in a Foundation Group and leading a Foundation Group, and one of the things I love about hanging out with couples who are newly married is that their arguments are ridiculous in those first couple of years. Whenever I would try to help a couple or talk about some conflict they were going through, I be like, "So tell me what started the conflict," and they would always say the same thing. They'd be embarrassed and kind of look up, and they'd look at each other and just be like, "It's so stupid."
I'd go, "I know it's so stupid. It's your first year being married. It's all stupid right now, or most of it's all stupid." Then they'd go on, and they'd talk about how the argued for three hours over the right way to load a dishwasher, or they'd been bingeing Marie Kondo and all her organizational tips, so they're fighting over whether or not they're going to hang their T-shirts or fold them up, and all this kind of stuff. They're all just ridiculous fights.
Maybe one of the most ridiculous that I'd ever heard, or one of the best stories I'd ever heard, about a married couple suddenly realizing that they were dating each other's PR department and now when their living together they're really seeing each other was from a friend of mine here on staff, and she and her husband have given me permission to share this story, so I'm not throwing them under the bus right now.
They tell this great story how they'd just gotten back from their honeymoon, and they were just going on about their day, about ready to go back to work, and the husband had gotten ready for work before her that day, so he was done with the bathroom and showered and all that stuff…got done and went out and was somewhere else in the apartment…so the wife was now going to go get ready for her day, and she walks into the bathroom, and she sees something in that bathroom that she did not expect to see.
She looked over near the shower and tub area, and what she saw was a bowl and a spoon. She never in her life had ever seen a bowl and a spoon in a bathroom, so she knew it was not hers, so she called her husband in and said, "Hey, what's going on with the bowl and the spoon right here?" and he said, "Oh, that's from my breakfast," and she said, "Well, does that mean you were eating your breakfast in the kitchen, and then you walked into the bathroom and were done and then had the shower and all the kind of stuff?" He said, "Oh, no. I eat my cereal in the shower."
I mean, I had all the same questions you have right now, and I've had conversations with this guy because I'm like, "Dude, this is kind of efficient-sounding. Like, how does that work? Does it get soggy or do you like have to hang out over there in the corner? You know, how does that happen?" He had gotten in the habit of every morning going and getting his cereal, walking back in and taking a shower and eating his cereal in the shower.
There is no question in Merge that will bring about this information. My friend had no hope of ever learning this information before living with this guy, so she sat there and was like, "Okay. Well, that's interesting," and she said, "Well, the bowl is clean. What happens?" Yeah, maybe the best part of the story…shower gel…squeeze it right on in there. Clean it out, dump it on out, set the bowl down for tomorrow. Poor guy. He thought he was going to use that the next day. He didn't use it ever again. Right? That was it. That was it.
Newly married couples… We see how these issues don't always line up. The fact of the matter is we all get this. I mean we learn it at an early age that people are different than us and people live differently than us. The first time you go away to camp you start to realize, "Okay. People have different hygiene habits or different organizational habits." You go to college, and you're a roommate, and you realize, "Okay. We're different," and then you get married, and you realize, "We're different," and as co-workers, you realize, "We're different." You get in a community with people. You realize, "We're different."
We all know this, and our differences and our issues that don't line up… Yeah, sometimes it's silly and makes for funny stories, and we can laugh about it, but oftentimes, it's not that they're not lining up; it's that they are directly opposed to one another, and we're just constantly fighting. There's just conflict. There's real hurt. There's real hurt that happens because we all have issues, and what we need to remember is what Jesus is telling us: it's not seven times that you forgive, but 77 times. It's ongoing.
What Paul is telling us is that you are to constantly bear with each other and constantly forgive one another when these differences arise and you have a grievance against one another. We are always to be forgiving as the Lord has forgiven us, and somebody may be sitting there just going, "Okay, Adam, so what are you saying, that I just need to constantly be in this relationship where I'm being hurt all the time?
So if this forgiveness is this ongoing activity… This person is constantly hurting me. They're constantly saying things. They're constantly doing things. They're lying to me to me over and over and over again, so what you're saying is that I just need to constantly forgive that person and just stay in this relationship or just stay in this situation and just stuff all my emotions and hope that something's going to change one day?"
No. That's not at all what I'm saying. That's not all what Jesus is teaching here or what Paul is teaching us here. The mark of maturity is not to stay in a situation or to just constantly sit there when somebody is hurting you and you just stuff those feelings and hope that something is going to change. Remember the context of all this. When Peter went and asked this question it was right after Jesus got done talking about what to do when somebody hurts you, and what do you do when somebody hurts you?
It's right there in Matthew 18:15-20. What do you do? You go and you have a conversation with that person. You say, "Your actions hurt me. When you do that, it hurts me. I need to let you know. Can we talk about this? Can we try to reconcile this because I don't want to be hurt by you anymore? If that doesn't work, then you go, and you get somebody else to come along with you. You don't go at it alone, and if that doesn't work, you continue to widen the circle.
The mark of maturity is not just to sit there and constantly be hurt. The mark of maturity is to have the courage to engage in the hard conversations, to have the courage to widen the circle, to have the courage to let others know that you need help because this person is hurting you. That's the mark of maturity, so this relentless activity of forgiveness is a helpful reminder for us because everyone has issues. We're always going to have things that are different, and we're going to be butting heads with one another on a continual basis.
Another reason why I think this is a helpful thing to remember is because bad memories do not easily fade. Bad memories just don't seem to fade. My wife and I, as we get older, we're starting to experience this phenomenon of just forgetting things, and it's usually always nouns. It's like we have slow noun recall disorder. It's a new disorder. I just made it up. We have this new disorder, and we're constantly forgetting names of restaurants or movies we've watched or books we've read or our kids names…you know, all that kind of stuff.
We're just constantly forgetting things all the time, but what I find interesting about my own life and about even my wife's life as well is that there is one part of our memory system that is not experiencing any disorder, and that is around pain. My memories of things that people have said to me, done to me; the way I've been manipulated, or trust has been broken…those memories are alive and well. They are alive and well, and I have not forgotten them.
This reminder, this perspective shift that forgiveness is a relentless activity, is really helpful for those of us who still remember the pain that has been caused in our lives because sometimes the relentless activity is not just constantly bearing and forgiving for little annoyances, but it's constantly reminding ourselves that we have forgiven the person who has hurt us. I think if Peter were here in 2019, he would go up to Jesus and ask a very different question because our cultural teaching right now is not just to forgive three times. We're like way beyond that. I think our cultural idea is that somehow forgiveness and forgetfulness go hand in hand.
I think Peter would go up to Jesus and go, "Do I need to forget what somebody's done in order to forgive them because what's out there is that you forgive and forget? What if I don't forget? Does that mean I really haven't forgiven the person?" and I think Jesus would go, "No. That doesn't mean that." You can't forget the pain and the hurt that has happened in your life. You don't just forget that stuff.
If you are engaged to somebody and you are starting to plan a future with them, making commitments to one another and making promises to one another, sending out invitations and planning a wedding, and then two or three months before the wedding day that person leaves you, they break off the relationship, and you're left brokenhearted with a story that you're not proud of, you don't just forget that broken heart. That lingers.
If you have a business partner who lied to you and stole from you and took money and their life is doing well now and you're left trying to pick all the pieces up and trying to reconcile other relationships, you don't just forget that stuff. If your spouse breaks a covenant with you or breaks your trust, you don't just forget that. If your kid leaves and says, "Listen, I don't want anything about this God who you worship and who you try to teach me about. I'm going to go my own way. I don't want to be around you at all anymore," you don't forget that stuff.
When we remember the pain, it doesn't necessarily mean that we haven't forgiven somebody. All it means is we're just remembering the pain because here's the deal. Hurts leave wounds, and wounds will heal, but sometimes, they will leave a scar. I have a massive scar on my left leg here because, when I was 24 years old, I had a malignant melanoma and I had some surgery. There was a wound there, and that wound healed, but it left a scar, and every time I see that scar, I'm reminded of the story. I'm reminded of that season of my life, and that's the way it is for some of our emotional hurts as well.
The things that people have done to us left a mark. Yes, it's healed, but there's still a scar that is there, and because we've remembered these things, it doesn't necessarily mean we haven't forgiven the person. It just means that we're remembering them. Some of you may be going, "Oh, that's my story right now, Adam. Last week, I felt the Lord convicting me that I needed to forgive somebody, so I forgave that person on Sunday, and then I woke up on Monday, and I was right there in the middle of that pain again.
I was driving to work, and I was remembering all the things that that person had done again, and I jumped right back into those pretend conversations, and I want to hold that person responsible, so what happened? Which one wasn't right? Did I really forgive them on Sunday, and then because I remembered the pain, it means I haven't forgiven them? Do these two things go hand in hand? Do I have to forget in order to forgive?" The answer is, "No."
It just means you're remembering the pain and the relentless activity, the constantly bearing and constantly forgiving. Sometimes it's just reminding ourselves, "Lord, I have forgiven this person." What do we do in those situations when those memories come back up and we're feeling all that, and it's real emotion that's there? What I'm supposed to do when that happens to me, because it happens to me, and what we're all supposed to do is to remember what Paul said in 2 Corinthians, chapter 10, verse 5. We're to hold those thoughts captive to Christ.
Oftentimes for me it is, if I'm driving to work or if I'm just remembering that conversation, I'll just stop. I'll confess it, and it's like this 30-second prayer: "Lord, I'm remembering what that person did again. I'm tempted to reopen that case again. I'm tempted to go back and just have all these feelings again, and I just confess to you right now, and I remind you, and I remind myself I have forgiven that person. I have released them of the debt. There's nothing they can do. I've been forgiven of more. I want to respond to the mercy in my life, so I'm forgiving them. Amen." Sometimes that relentless activity is needed because bad memories don't easily fade.
I love the way Paul wraps up this section here in Colossians 3. He kind of puts a perfect bow on this topic in a perfect last thought here for us as we wrap up this two-week conversation on forgiveness. Look at this. Just go back to Colossians, chapter 3. It says, "…God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." Constantly bear, constantly forgive as the Lord forgave you, and then look here in verse 14. "And over all these virtues put on love which binds them all together…" Everything that he just got done teaching, putting on love. It "…binds them all together in perfect unity."
What I love about this last thought and why I think this reminder that forgiveness is this relentless activity… This last reason why I think it is so helpful is that forgiveness is a powerful act of love. That's what Paul is basically saying here. You and I, when we forgive one another it is a powerful act of love, and let's not forget what Jesus told us about the way we love one another. This was to be one of our marks. This is how we were to distinguish ourselves in this world. Look here in John 13.
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." When we forgive somebody for the way they have hurt us, that is one of the most powerful acts of love, and we're to be known by the way we love one another.
One of the things I love about this church and I love about the leadership of this church is they have never let us believe that what we do outside of the church walls to love this city is the highest form of love. What we do outside of the walls to love this city… These are great acts of love. They are important acts of love, but they are not necessarily any better than when we work on our relationships with one another. It is well, and it is good, and it is right for us to open up medical clinics to love those who are underinsured in our city. That is right that we do that.
It is right that we go out there and we share the gospel with this city. It is right that we seek to serve the homeless. It is right that we get on airplanes and we fly to Haiti and we go down to El Salvador and we go to Africa. All of that is right. That is what followers of Jesus are to do. That is one way we distinguish ourselves, but leadership has made it so clear here as Watermark has been around for 19 years, that what we do internally, the way we love one another, is not mundane maintenance. That is also one of the ways we distinguish ourselves in this world, the way we love one another.
Couples, when you're fighting with one another and your issues are bumping up against one another, it is not just mundane maintenance to sit down and to work on that and to confess and to forgive and to reconcile. That's not mundane maintenance. That is missional. That is to be our mark. Friends, when you're frustrating one another…not just to ignore that or sweep that under the rug or try to delay that reconciliation…to get into a room and to talk it out and to forgive one another… That is not mundane maintenance. That is missional. That is how we are to love one another and distinguish ourselves.
Community Groups, when you are frustrated with one another, it is not mundane maintenance to just get in a room and to talk that out. That is missional. The way we love one another when we forgive one another is one of the most powerful acts of love. Forgiveness is a relentless activity, and that's helpful for us because we all have issues. Bad memories don't easily fade, and forgiveness is one of the most powerful acts of love that we can engage in. That's how we are to distinguish ourselves.
I'll wrap up this little two weeks with one final story of maybe one of the most powerful acts of love I've seen here at this church. When I came on staff back in 2010, there was a guy who was hanging around with the church and hanging around the staff a lot who had a pretty remarkable story, and he had been telling his story in different environments often, and his story was so remarkable we decided just to film it one day. We sat him down and had him tell his whole story, and it was shared at the end of a sermon many years ago, a sermon just like this talking about forgiveness.
I remember that weekend service in particular. I remember my parents were with me. I remember we were sitting right up there in the balcony. I remember the sermon ended in this story that just like our jaws dropped when we heard this story. My friend's story was that he grew up in Mexico, and in 1996, his aunt and uncle and niece and nephew (his niece and nephew were both under the age of 7) had all been kidnapped.
Weeks had gone by where they hadn't heard anything from the authorities, no ransom demands or anything like that, and then finally, after a few weeks, there was a call from the local authorities saying they had found the remains of four bodies and they needed my friend to go down there to identify these bodies to see if this was his family. He tells this story just in excruciating detail of how he went and he identified these bodies and how 80% of their bones were broken. It was just horrific.
He then goes on to tell the story about the funeral, four caskets there, and his grandfather's presiding over the funeral and how his grandfather at the end of that funeral prayed that the killer of his family members would be found and that he would stay alive long enough to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ and respond to that gospel and place his faith in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.
My friend tells the story of, when his grandfather prayed that, just all of this resentment was welling up in him. He was so hurt and so frustrated, and he was so mad that he couldn't believe that his grandfather was praying for the killer that way. He didn't want this killer to know Jesus the way he knew Jesus. He gets through that season of his life. In 1997, he moves up here to Dallas and starts hanging out here around Watermark. Years go by and, finally, the killer is caught. He receives notification. The killer was found. He was tried, and he was sentenced, and he was sent to jail.
His grandfather did exactly what his grandfather said he was going to do. He started to go to the jail and share the gospel of Jesus Christ with this criminal, and the guy came to know Jesus as his Lord and Savior. My friend tells the story of just all the bitterness and resentment that he continued to carry around. It was just this weight on him, and he just wanted to be freed from this, so he just realized that what he needed to do is he needed to forgive this person, so he hopped on a plane, and he flew down to Mexico.
There was this meeting set up at this room in the jail, and he met face-to-face with this guy, and he heard this guy's testimony and how he had placed his faith in Jesus Christ, and my friend forgave this man. He said he forgave him, and not only that, he told the guy after he forgave him, "Not only do I need to forgive you, I need to serve you," so he washed his feet right there in this room. After he washed his feet, they embraced. They hugged.
My friend told the story on this film that he walked out of there, and he just felt this huge weight lifted off his shoulders and implored all of us to forgive and made it sound like he had the moral authority to be able to say that, and I'm sitting up there, and my family and I were just like, "I cannot believe that story! That is amazing!" That's not the most amazing display of love in this story. As these things often happen sometimes, about a year later, some details started to arise where we realized and came to find out that every single bit of that story was a lie…all of it.
There was no family. There was no kidnapping. There was no murder. There was no going to identify the bodies. There was no funeral. There was no prayer. There was no resentment being carried around for years. There was no flying back down to Mexico. There was no meeting in a jail. There was no forgiveness granted. There were no feet washed. There was no embrace, and there was no release of this guilt. Every single bit of the story was a lie, and we were all shocked.
As the details started to arise, come to find out, my friend really wasn't who he was portraying to be. He had been lying about a lot of things, stealing money from people, manipulating people, using people, and as soon as his story, his complicated story, started to unravel, he left. He left years ago, fled back to his home, and we haven't seen him in years. The amazing, powerful act of love that I got to see as I watched this church and I watched so many members and I watched staff members respond to our friend was nothing short of remarkable to me.
I know how I would've handled that. I knew this guy, and I definitely was friends with him, but he really didn't do anything too personal to me, so I wasn't feeling all the resentment, but I remember still going, "Man, if I was in their shoes, I think I would be slow to give forgiveness to this guy," but the way the leadership around here responded, the way the members responded, was remarkable. The pursued the guy. The kept calling the guy. They called the church that he was now a part of. They wrote letters.
They kept pursing him to say, "Listen, we're not condoning what you've done. We're not saying what you did was okay. We want you to come back and face everybody, not so that we can rub your nose in it but so that you can be free of this guilt that we know you're going to carry around the rest of your life." I watched person after person after person forgive this guy, and there was no closure to the story. He left.
Even this past week, we tried again to reach out to him, and he just ignores us, and it was such a powerful active of love to watch this church respond to somebody, and what I find so ironic is this guy took his story and he was trying to implore us to forgive, and then what really ended up happening is his life gave us an opportunity to forgive. As I think about his story even more, I realize, "You know what? His story is basically mine. My life often gives people an opportunity to forgive." His story is also your story. Your life often gives people an opportunity to forgive, because we all have our issues. We all tell our lies. We all fall short.
Our issues are constantly butting up against one another, and the forgiveness that we need to extend to others is the same forgiveness that we want extended to us. It is a relentless, ongoing, never-ending activity, and when we do that, it is one of the most powerful acts of love that the world can see. The challenge is this. Who do you need to forgive? Who do you need to call? Who do you need to reconcile? Who is it? Do that. Extend that forgiveness, because it is a powerful act of love, and it is one of our marks. Let me pray that we will be those people.
Lord, we pray for our friend. We want the guilt off his shoulders, Lord. We pray that he'll reconcile. We pray that he'll answer the phone calls, that he'll answer the letters, that he'll come back, and as we tell that story, Lord, we don't think he's any worse than us. We've all done similar things. Our trail of destruction may be different. The facts and circumstances may be different, but we've all done it, God.
We've seen a powerful act of love in our lives through the cross of Jesus Christ. We've seen powerful acts of love in our lives as our friends and family have forgiven us, so may we continue to be people who constantly bear, who constantly forgive because we have been forgiven much. Jesus, we thank you for the grace and mercy you have shown us through the cross, and I pray that you will give us the motivation we need to be able to release the debt that others have that is outstanding against us, and it's in your name we pray, amen.