James Meehan - What Do You Need to Forgive?
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All right, I need to know by a show of hands, comment in the chat, below this video, wherever you're watching this, have you ever watch a show or a movie, and man, you've been loving it, but there's that little part of you that knows I shouldn't love those parts of this thing that I'm watching, right? Like overall, you're getting into the story, there's good characters, the conflict is engaging, but there's that part of it, you're like, man, I don't think I should be watching that. Like, especially for those of us who are Christians, we know that there are some things that we should probably avoid maybe. Yeah, I have absolutely experienced that. For me, it is with the show Cobra Kai. If you are unfamiliar with Cobra Kai, it is probably the greatest work of TV, I don't even know what you'd call it, TV-ness, probably in the last 20 years, right?
Cobra Kai is the story of Johnny Lawrence and Daniel-san, Daniel LaRusso, that's his name, yep, and it like, follows way after the original movies, "Karate Kid". They're older, they're kind of like, tryin' to figure out life. They each started these different karate schools that are competing against each other and Cobra Kai, the karate school that the show is named after has a motto. It is, "Strike first, strike hard, no mercy". Come on somebody. Every time I see that I get fired up, like, I just start getting excited, and I wanna punch someone. "Strike first, strike hard, no mercy". What's funny is when I was in middle school and high school, I used to get into a ton of fights, and I did martial arts for years, and so like this movie is just so close to my heart. And my dad, like his rule for me was, "Hey, if it's gonna be a fight and you're at school, here's the rule. You cannot throw the first punch. But if it's not at school, you have to throw the first punch".
Come on somebody. "Strike first, strike hard, no mercy". That was like my life growing up. So I'm watching this movie and so much of me gets so fired up and excited to watch it, but then I remember. Dang it, Jesus didn't say, "Strike first, strike hard, no mercy". Jesus said, "Love your enemies. Pray for those who hurt you, and show mercy to others". And so I started feeling really convicted, because my wife and I were watching this show while she was pregnant for our now son. His name is James Meehan the fourth, AKA Quadro, and I used to joke around about how, "Hey, that's Cobra Kai baby right there. He's gonna roundhouse kick his way out of the womb. Y'all ain't even ready for it". Quadro, I am so sorry. You're better than that. You will not be a strike first, strike hard, no mercy baby. You will be a loving others baby and all of those other things. Listen to me, I've been convicted by the show, but I still love it. Season three came out a few months ago and it was all so incredible. If you haven't watched it, you probably should, as long as your parents are okay with it. So make sure you check with them first.
But I say all that to say we are in the fourth part of our series, "The Habits of Holiness," where we're exploring the question how do we, as followers of Jesus, live with sexual integrity, both in real life and online? And the guiding thought that has been going with us throughout this entire series is that as followers of Jesus, we are called to live holy lives to represent our holy God. In the first part of this series, we were challenged to remember who we are, because when we know who we are, then we will know what to do. In part two of this series, we talked about the importance of choosing obedience to God rather than obedience to our own desires, because obedience to God is so much better than obedience to anyone or anything else.
Last week, we talked about the habit of practicing repentance. Because what we know is that repentance leads to redemption, that repentance is choosing to accept God's invitation to experience redemption. And in this final part of our series "Habits of Holiness," we are closing the entire thing out with this thought, that in order to truly be holy people, we have to show mercy to others, because one of the most holy things that you can do is show mercy to others. Now, this was like a really big deal to Jesus because he talked about it multiple times. But in one of those instances, it's found in Luke's gospel, chapter six verse 36, Jesus actually is quoting from the Old Testament, the Jewish scriptures, but that he is changing a key word in this verse he's quoting from to help drive the point home at how important mercy is. So it's in Luke's gospel chapter six verse 36. He says this. Jesus is speaking to his audience, he tells them, "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful".
Now, for those of you who have been with us in this series, that phrasing is probably a little bit familiar, because multiple times we've referenced the verse that says, "Be holy as your Father in heaven is holy". So what Jesus is doing here, I think is really interesting and important for us to pay attention to, because he's taking what is so familiar to his audience and he's changing one word to help them understand that if you're trying to be holy without showing mercy, you are missing the point. He's helping them understand that you cannot disconnect the holiness of God from the mercy of God.
And what breaks my heart is knowing that there are so many Christians today who in their pursuit of holiness are like, going to church, they're reading their Bibles, maybe they're even abstaining from sex outside of marriage, but they aren't showing mercy to others, and so they're missing one of the most important things that we've been called to do, because being holy as God is holy isn't about following the rules. It's about representing a holy God, a God who is all together different than the rest of the world, who's called us to live lives that are all together different than the lives of others. Because it's only through us modeling holiness to others, that we can properly represent our holy God. And one of the most important things to know about God is that his mercy is relentless, that his mercy is available to everyone.
And so to close out this four part series, "The Habits of Holiness," I just wanna make sure that we pay such close attention to our understanding of holiness, to make sure that we don't ever find ourselves in a place where we're okay with separating holiness from mercy. Because clearly that isn't something that Jesus was okay with. And so maybe for you, as you've been walking through these four weeks, trying to practice these different habits that we've been talking about, you may have found yourself in a place where you're starting to feel really good, right? Because I'm doin' the right things, I'm showin' up every week, I'm readin' my Bible, but man, those other guys, they haven't done anything, right? That one kid in my small group, they're not even paying attention. But not me, right? This message is for you, because as followers of Jesus, we are called to live holy lives to represent a holy God, and one of the most Holy things that you can do is show mercy to others.
Now, like I said, Jesus talked about this multiple times, and one of the times that he talked about this, he also was quoting from another book from the Old Testament. This is the book of Hosea, and Jesus was again having a conversation with some of his Jewish audience, challenging them to recognize that, yes, you've gotten a lot of this right so far. You're doing the right things, you read your Bibles, but you're missing it in this one important area. So Jesus, quoting from the book of Hosea says this in Matthew chapter nine verse 13. He says, "But go and learn what this means". And here's the quote. "I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I desire mercy, not sacrifice".
Now, like I said, this is Jesus quoting from the book of Hosea. Hosea was an Old Testament prophet. Prophets were people that God called and chose to bring a specific message to the nation of Israel, to remind them of who they are, to challenge them to choose obedience to God, and oftentimes, to call them out in the places that they've been missing it, to invite them to begin practicing repentance. And it was during Hosea's time that the big area where the nation of Israel, an entire nation that was meant to be a representation of God here on earth to all the other nations, the place that they were missing it was showing mercy to others. It had gotten to this point where they were pretty powerful, they were pretty successful. They had strong armies, they were wealthy, but they were not taking care of the people in their own communities who were in need. Instead of taking care of the poor, taking care of the orphans, the immigrants and the widows, they were kind of just taking care of themselves. And it had gotten so bad that they were starting to offer sacrifices not to God, but also to other gods, right? They were still offering sacrifices to God, but they were also worshiping these other gods.
And so their entire understanding of God started getting twisted and distorted and Hosea, called by God, shows up on the scene and says, "God, you send me wherever and I'm gonna do it". So what God tells Hosea is, "Hey, I need you to go marry a promiscuous woman". "Um, what? God, I'm like, I'm following you, I'm faithful to you, I've been practicing my habits of holiness. You know, like, I'm ready. I hear from you. I, like, I thought I wasn't supposed to do that. That seems like the wrong person for me to go and marry". But God says, "No, I've called you to go and marry this person, and here's why. Because I want your relationship to this woman to be a representation of my relationship with the people of Israel. Because in the same way that this woman has been unfaithful in her life, Israel has been unfaithful to me. And I want your life to be a picture of my love for them, that even though they've been unfaithful, as their God, I will always be faithful".
So what does Hosea do? He chooses obedience to God. He goes and marries this woman Gomer, and together they have several kids, they're married for a while, but then all of a sudden everything starts to go wrong. All of a sudden Gomer leaves Hosea. She goes back to her old ways, once again entering into her previous job as a prostitute. And so Hosea, this prophet of God who was choosing obedience to God, who married this woman because God asked him to, who was doing all that he could to represent God to the people of Israel so that they could be reminded of who they were called to be by God, had his wife leave him, the mother of his kids go back into a life where, I mean, can you imagine as a father, having to tell your kids, "Hey, this is why your mom's not here anymore"? I think about that moment for Hosea, and it's like, how often do we think that following the will of God, choosing obedience to him is just gonna make everything nice and easy and pretty? And then it doesn't.
And I think about how so many people throughout their journey of following Jesus have found themselves in those places where things aren't going the way that they wanted or the way that they expected, and they just kind of throw up their hands in the air and they give up. They said, "Hey God, I tried choosing obedience to you and it didn't quite work the way that I wanted it to, so I'm out". But not Hosea. Hosea stayed faithful to God. And I'm sure he had lots of doubts. I'm sure he had lots of questions. I'm sure that there were so many moments of frustration trying to figure out, "Okay, God, like, I know you called me. I kind of wished that you wouldn't. I'm trying to be faithful, but where do I go from here"? And as Hosea is living this life, choosing to pursue this marriage with this woman who has stabbed him in the back, as God is pursuing a relationship with the nation of Israel who have basically rejected him and say, "Hey God, we, you know, like, we just don't wanna have anything to do with you anymore. We don't really need you. Things are goin' pretty well this way".
That God speaks to Hosea in the third chapter of the book of Hosea, and here's what he says, and I want you to think about if God told you to do this, how would you respond, right? Because I think it's so easy when we're reading the Bible to like, think about, just like, these aren't really real people, they're just things that happened so far ago. Like, this couldn't be real. But no, like, these were real people who walked through real struggles, who did the best that they could to follow God, and sometimes fell short in horrible ways. But imagine if this is what God's response to you was, if your spouse left you, going back into a life of prostitution, abandoning your kids and leaving you, tryin' to figure out how the heck you're gonna do your life. Here's what God says to Hosea in chapter three verse one. He says, "Go, show your love to your wife again. Though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress, love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, even though they turn to other gods. Go, show love to your wife again. because you need to love her as I your God loves the Israelites".
You see what God was calling Hosea to do was to represent him to the world, to model his mercy for Gomer. Because, like, here's the deal. Hosea had every right to cut off that relationship with Gomer because of the things that she had done to him. But God was saying, "I know that she's wronged you. I know that she's hurt you, but I need you to show mercy to her, because that's the kind of God I am, and as my profit, I need you to show the people of Israel that no matter how unfaithful they've been to me, I will always be faithful to them". And so then what we're told is that Hosea actually goes to find his wife. And at this point, somehow she had found herself in such a bad situation that in order to get her back, Hosea literally had to pay another man 15 pieces of silver and about 400 pounds of barley.
Can you imagine having to go buy your wife's freedom for 15 pieces of silver and 400 pounds of barley or wheat? And all of that was because he was choosing obedience to God. And what's interesting about that moment when Hosea is purchasing the freedom of his wife with silver and barley is how it's such a beautiful picture of how eventually Jesus would go to the cross to purchase our freedom from sin with his blood and with his life. Because our God has always been in the business of showing mercy to us, even when we don't deserve it. As a holy person, called to represent a holy God to the world, one of the most Holy things that you can do is show mercy to others in the same way that your Heavenly Father has shown mercy to you, and what your God desires is not just you following the rules, but actually choosing to put in the work and forgiving and being merciful to the people who have wronged you. This was what Hosea's life was about, being a demonstration of God's love for us.
So then the question becomes, okay, like, that's a great story, but what do I do with it now, right? Because there are people in my life who have just honestly, they've hurt me. They've wronged me, they've lied to me, they've gossiped about me. How do I respond to that? Well, you show mercy, but what is mercy? I like this definition of mercy that came from one of our Life Church youth pastors, Ryan Hunter at our Midtown Tulsa location. He said this about mercy. He said that, "Mercy is choosing peace over punishment. Mercy is choosing peace over punishment". I love that, because in our lives we're gonna have those moments where people wrong us, and everything in us wants to punish them because of what they've done to us. But over and over again throughout the Bible, what we're shown are these moments where God, who has every right to punish us, chooses peace, chooses mercy, chooses to take that initial step to bring us back to him, right?
We talked about this in last week's message, "Practice Repentance". If you haven't watched it, go check it out. You can find it on YouTube. But we talked about this idea that from the beginning, God has relentlessly been pursuing us, and as his people, we are called by him to follow that example, to choose peace over punishment. That's exactly what Hosea did. He chose peace instead of punishment. And through that, what we're shown is this beautiful way that God takes broken things and he puts them back together. And so I honestly don't know what that might look like for you as you're listening to this message, whether at one of our Life Church locations or at Switch Online. For you, there might be something that somebody's done where you're thinking to yourself, yeah, that's what I need to forgive.
In that relationship where my friend just said that thing about me, I need to choose peace, because me continuing to hold this grudge against them isn't actually helping anything, and it's actually making everything worse. But maybe for you, you're in a place right now where the idea of mercy, the idea of peace or forgiveness, the idea of a reconciled relationship just seems so crazy to you because of the things that have happened to you. And here's what I wanna make very, very clear, is that there will absolutely be times where in your process of choosing peace, you're gonna have to put some boundaries in place, right? Like, putting boundaries in place with people who have hurt you isn't not having mercy. Sometimes it's just being wise.
I love what the Apostle Paul in Romans chapter 12 verse 18, he says this, he says, "If it is possible, if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone". So first of all, is it possible, right? Then, "As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone". Because there are gonna be times where, in your journey of choosing peace, where you are trying to show mercy to others, they're not gonna receive it. They're not gonna want it. And they're gonna continue to take advantage of you, to hurt you, and to mistreat you. You can't own their response. All you can do is choose to show mercy, choose to pursue peace over punishment. Now I'm telling you this, but I wanna show you.
So I'm inviting Mr. T.J. Hamani, one of our youth pastors, up on stage, and you're gonna find this illustration very familiar if you were here last week as we were talking about practicing repentance because this is the other side of it. So T.J., will you pass me this ball, wonderful T.J. I need you to stand right there. I need you to turn your back. So we talked about this last week, right, the idea that for those of us who have done something wrong, God's mercy and forgiveness is always available to us. But far too often, we have our back turned to God so that when he throws his mercy and forgiveness to us, we don't receive it, right, because our backs are turned. I think the same is true for us as we're trying to show mercy to others, right? Like, I cannot control, here we go, if they're gonna actually be paying attention and be willing to receive it.
So in that illustration, that's what happens when somebody doesn't wanna receive the mercy, when they're not willing to put in the work to actually make a change to work toward a restored relationship. But this time, T.J. is going to be facing me, and this is an example of a time where they're ready to receive mercy, they're ready to own their part of the equation to practice repentance. This is what it looks like when me, doing everything I can, as far as it depends on me, if it's even possible to choose peace over punishment, and the other person is also willing to play their part. You ready? Three, two, one. Wow, welcome everybody. That's what it looks like. T.J. thank you so much. You're a gift to all of us. Super simple, super weird. All you gotta know is that when it comes to choosing peace over punishment, all we can focus on is our part, and if we allow ourselves to get so bitter and angry and frustrated at others because they're not doing their part, the only person we're actually hurting is us.
So if it's possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone, because you have been called by a holy God to represent him to the rest of the world. That means choosing to do things that are different than the rest of the world. Because the reality is that we live in a world today where when people hurt you, the world will say cancel them. When people unfaithful to you, they'll call them toxic and they'll say, "Cut them out of your life". When people do wrong to you, the natural reaction is to do wrong back, to get even. But our God has called us to not be like the rest of the world, but to represent him to the world by showing mercy to others. Because of one of the most holy things that you can do is show mercy to others, to be merciful as your Heavenly Father is merciful.
You know, one of the most difficult times to do this for me was actually with my dad. So I talked to you about my dad, you know, his rules for fighting. Hey, if it's in school, don't hit first. If it's out of school, make sure you hit first, right? So my dad is, he's pretty crazy, he's pretty out there. And for most of my life, my relationship with him was just not healthy. It was very much filled with anger and frustration and bitterness, and there was a time in my family where I was in middle school, my parents separated, my older sister was super into drugs and partying and drinking. I was getting into fights all the time 'cause I was so angry I didn't know what to do with it. And my parents separated and I honestly just had so much anger and resentment that I had built up towards my dad because of all the things he did wrong that I wished he would have done better.
And I just carried that frustration for so many years. I specifically remember a time where, I think it was my sophomore year of high school, I had somebody that was an old friend of my dad's who knew him in high school who said to me, "Man, you're just like your dad". And in that moment that honestly felt like a knife to the chest, because the last person I wanted to be like was my dad. And then when I was 19 years old, so the year after I graduated high school, I had a moment where I realized I was done doing life my way, and I chose to surrender my life to Jesus, to say, "Jesus, I'm giving you all that I am. I wanna follow you with all that I am".
And in that new journey of following Jesus, I realized that there were so many wrongs I had committed in the past that I needed to get right, that there were some people that I had hurt that I needed to ask for forgiveness, and that there were people who had hurt me that I needed to offer forgiveness. And one of those persons was my dad. And I remember the moment where, at this church event, I invited my dad to go to it with me because I figured, you know, at least then I don't have to do all the talking, and maybe the pastor or whoever will say something that will connect with my dad and he'll be open to a conversation.
And I remember after one of these events having a conversation with my dad, and for whatever reason, it was in that moment where I feel like I saw him as a human being for the first time. Instead of seeing him through the lens of my frustration and anger and honestly, hatred, I saw him as a human being made in the image of God, who had tried so hard to do his best, but had messed up time and time again. And what I realized is that I was holding all of this anger against him and in all it was doing was making things worse for him and for me. And so I made the choice to show mercy to him, to choose peace over punishment, and that was probably what, four or five years ago, and what I can tell you is that today my relationship with my dad is better than it's ever been. And it's been a process, let me tell you, because my goodness, we have had to come a long way, but it started with me making the decision to show mercy, to choose peace instead of punishment.
And I would've never gotten here if it wasn't for the recognition of the mercy that God had had on me. Because the truth is I had done so many things that were so wrong and hurt so many people, and it was through coming into a relationship with Jesus where my eyes were opened for honestly the first time that redemption and forgiveness was actually possible. And I don't know what that looks like for you, but there's probably a relationship that is in need of healing. There's probably a situation where it's time for you to show mercy, to choose peace over punishment. Because the reality is is that for those of us who have been called by God to represent him to the rest of the world, one of the most holy things that we can do is show mercy to others because of the mercy that he has shown to us. And when we do that, here's what's gonna happen. We're going to become the kind of people that are actually modeling holiness, holiness that honors God and brings a life to others. Because you, you have been called by God to live a holy life, to represent him to the rest of the world. And one of the most holy things that you can do is show mercy to others.
Heavenly Father, I thank you so much that you are present right now and in this moment. God, what I know is that there are people here in our, in Real Life locations, watching this message online or on YouTube who are wrestling with this frustration that they've had against somebody else because of the way that they've been hurt, and God, what I ask is that right now, that you would help them feel your love and extend that to others, that God, they would choose today to pursue peace instead of punishment, to show mercy to others in the same way that you have shown mercy to them.
Wherever you are, whether in a Real Life location or watching online, if that's you and you want God's help to show mercy to others, then type it in the chat or raise your hand, and let me pray for you real quick.
God, give them strength, give them wisdom, fill them with your Spirit, and help them to represent you to the rest of the world by modeling your mercy and your holiness in every single relationship.
Still in an attitude of prayer with heads bowed and eyes closed, the reality is that there are some of you who, as you're hearing these words, you realize that the thing that you've been missing is actually receiving the mercy that God offers, because for whatever reason, you've been going through this life feeling like everything is against you. You've been hurt, you've been betrayed, you've been frustrated, and you haven't understood what's going on, but there's something that is stirring inside of you. I believe that that is God's Spirit drawing you to him, because what you have to know is that no matter what you've done, no matter what others have done to you, that our God is pursuing you. From the beginning of history he has been pursuing a relationship with all of humanity, and today I believe that you are here to receive the mercy of God.
The good news of the gospel is that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God in human form, came into history, became a person, lived a life, died a death, but on the third day, rose from the grave, so that anybody who puts their trust in him would be saved, they would be made new, and that they would experience a transformation, that they would experience a new life, a relationship with God, and that's exactly why you're here, to receive the mercy that God is offering, to say yes to a relationship with Jesus. Wherever you are, watching in Real Life or online, if that's you, and you're saying, "Yes, Jesus, I want to receive your mercy. Today I'm choosing to give you my life". If that's you, then lift your hand right now all over the place. If you're online, click on the link in the chat, let us know about the choice that you are making, because there is no better decision than to say yes to the gift of mercy that God is offering today. Will you pray with me as people are making that choice, pray with me out loud all together:
Heavenly Father, forgive me. I'm turning from my sin. I'm turning towards you. I need your grace, I need your love, and I need your mercy. Today, I give you my life. In Jesus' name amen, amen, and amen.