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James Merritt - Debt Free

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    James Merritt - Debt Free
TOPICS: Ephessians Bible Study, Forgiveness

So I want you to stand to your feet. I think church ought to be fun and I wanna have a little fun today. So just stand to your feet, stand up, yeah, stand up and I'm gonna do something I haven't done since I was a kid. I'm gonna sing. It will be brief. It will be sweet. And listen to every word. "Good ole rocky flop, Rocky flop, Tennessee". Whew. All right, you can be seated. Thank you. I love college football. Boy's Great. Well, I wanna welcome those who are here, those who are watching online, those are at our campus at Mill Creek, those who are watching by TV I wanna thank you for being here today. Let me begin by being very open and transparent. When God called me into the ministry, unlike some people, I really struggled. I didn't wanna do it. I had no desire to do it. I actually ran from it for a while.

And one of the reasons is, to be honest, I was very selfish, I realized there would be some things I'd have to give up. For example, before I say this, don't misunderstand. There are a lot of perks that come with being in the ministry and the blessings far outweigh the burdens. I'm not griping or complaining, but I knew they'd be some things that if I went to the ministry, I'd have to give up. For example, I get up on Sunday morning and I just decide, man, I stayed up late last night and I didn't get to bed as early as I normally wanted to and I watched the game and couldn't go to sleep 'cause I was so excited. It took a lot to get to sleep. I think I'll just sleep in today. I don't get to do that. Or I tell Teresa, the leaves are so beautiful. This is Friday afternoon, the leaves are so beautiful.

Why don't we just take the weekend and let's just go up to the mountains and just spend the weekend up there. I don't get to do that. Labor day, weekend, hey, why don't we take the kids and let's just, and the grandkids, let's just go down to Florida and we'll just skip church. I don't have that luxury because one of my biggest days of the week is this week and this day. So I realized that there's some things you get to do, I don't get to do. I also knew that I would have to give up a measure of anonymity that most people have. Now, I'm not trying to make out that I'm a celebrity or anything, but frankly, it's very difficult for me to go anywhere around town where somebody somewhere somehow does not recognize me. Whether it's at the gym where I work out or whether it's at a restaurant or whether I'm walking into a grocery store, usually somebody will recognize me.

And the church is somewhat like a fishbowl. Something happens in your family, big thing, bad thing, I probably never know it. Something happens bad in my family, it's gonna get out. That's just the way life is sooner or later. Well, there are two other things I realized kind of quickly when I went into the ministry that I have to give up every day and they turned out to be two of the greatest blessings in my life because there are two problems that we all deal with that I believe that I've watched have probably caused the greatest psychological, emotional and spiritual damage to anyone. If you do not deal with them properly, they will ruin your life. One is guilt and the other is bitterness. One is guilt. The other is bitterness.

Now I've got to deal with these everyday of my life. I fight the same battles you do. But I don't have a choice, I have to win my battles. You say, well, why? Because a big part of what I do and a big part of my calling is to help you deal with your guilt and to help you to deal with your bitterness. Well, I can't help you with your guilt if you've done something wrong if I'm swimming in guilt because of something I've done wrong. I can't help you deal with bitterness toward people who've done you wrong if I'm swimming in bitterness and stewing in bitterness toward people who've done me wrong. Now in a way, guilt and bitterness are kind of two sides of the same coin. Guilt comes when we do something wrong to someone else, but we refuse to get forgiveness. Bitterness comes when someone has done something wrong to us and we refuse to give forgiveness.

Now the problem is both guilt and bitterness are prisons. There's some of you walked in here today, you look like you've got your act together. You look like everything's cool. You look like you got everything under control. But the truth of the matter is you get up every morning looking through the bars of bitterness. You get up every morning looking through the gate of guilt. And the only key that will unlock either door is the key of forgiveness. If you're a guest of ours today, we're in a series that we've been calling unbelievable. We've been going through the book of Ephesians because the book of Ephesians really deals firsthand with an unbelievable God that has done unbelievable things for us. Then in the second half of the book, Paul who wrote this book tells us about the unbelievable things this unbelievable God wants to do in us.

Well, today we're in the fourth chapter of the book of Ephesians. If you have one of these little notebooks we've been giving out, it's on page 32 of your notebook. We're in the book of Ephesians chapter four and Paul in two short little verses tells us how to get out of the bondage of bitterness, how to get free from the grip of guilt. And I know we need to hear this message. I'll tell you why. There was a study in the Journal of Adult Development. They surveyed, I forget now things like 2000 adults. Now listen to this. They found out that 75% of the people that were surveyed said they believe God had forgiven them of everything they had done wrong. 75%. However, only 52% said they had forgiven others for what they had done wrong to them. It gets worse. Only 43% say they've actively sought forgiveness from someone that they have done wrong to.

So the question is, why is forgiveness so hard? Why is forgiveness such a difficult thing? Let's be honest. Forgiveness doesn't come naturally and it rarely comes easily. Now it may be because of what the word forgiveness means. The word forgiveness literally means to let go or to send away. As a matter of fact, in the Greek language, it's a financial term and it refers to the cancellation of a debt. And when you think about it, that makes sense. Because when somebody hurts you, they do you wrong, they owe you. They've done something wrong, they're in your debt, they owe you. You do something wrong, you hurt someone else, you owe them. You're in their debt. Well, forgiveness is simply your willingness to write off the debt. It's your willingness to cancel the debt. It's you're willing to say to a person who has done you wrong and they do owe you, you know what? You don't owe me anymore. I just canceled the debt. And that's hard because it's costly. There are no bargain pardons. There is no prime day. There's no black Friday deal for forgiveness.

As a matter of fact, you remember what Jesus told us in the Lord's prayer? He said, and forgive us our debts. He wasn't told about financial debts. He was talking about moral debts, ethical debts. When we do wrong to other people, forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. He was exactly right because sin is a debt that you owe. If you sin against God, you owe God. If you sin against someone else, you owe them. So when you sin against someone, you owe them, they sin against you, they owe you. And the only thing that pays the debt off is forgiveness. But the reason that's so hard is when forgiveness is given, somebody still pays. Somebody has to pay. I'll give you a, I've never told this story, I'm a little bit ashamed of it but I'm just like you.

A few years ago, Teresa and I got a call from a man. He was a member of a church where I once served as a student pastor, North of Atlanta. And he was a dear friend of ours. Matter of fact, he helped me and Teresa get together. He really was kind of a matchmaker, kind of helped us get together. I hadn't heard from this guy in 25 years. I ain't got to word. I don't even know where he was or anything like that at all. Out of the blue, I don't even know how he got my number. Out of the blue, he calls me. I haven't heard from him for 25 years. He said, "Hey, how you doing"? I said, "Oh man, great to hear from you". He said, "Look, I need to borrow some money". I mean, it was, for me it was a lot of money. It's a big, I mean, big sum of money. He said, "I need to borrow some money". He said, "But look, I got a big check coming in. I got a job that I'm on". He's like I got a big check coming in. I'll pay you back in three weeks. I said, "Okay, fine, no problem".

So we sent him a check, loaned him the money. So three weeks go by, no payment. Four weeks go by, no payment. Five weeks go by, no payment. Six weeks go by, no payment. Two months go by, no payment. So I'm really getting a little bit upset, a little bit angry. So I called the guy. Well, guess what? He's canceled the number and I have no way get in touch with him. Well, I'm sitting there thinking, I'm a man of the cloth. Forget you getting nailed with somebody. I'm a man of the cloth. I'm a pastor. What are you doing? You got to pay me back. And I'm gonna be very honest. I got bitter. I got resentful. I started thinking about how can I find this guy's number and maybe I can get on the Whitepages or all of that. Well that went on for three or four days. But see, I've got a problem you don't have.

You know what problem is, Sunday's coming. I got to preach. So Saturday night, the Lord sticks his nose in my business. I'm going over my sermon and the Lord in my heart says, "You can't preach 'til you get this right". I said, "But Lord, he owes me money". And the Lord replied, "You can't preach 'til you get this right". But Lord, he owes me money. If you want my power on you tomorrow, you're gonna get this right. Now you get up and speak tomorrow, you won't be preaching 'cause I'm not going to be around. You're on your own. And I knew what I had to do. I told Teresa. Said "You know what? He doesn't owe us anymore. Cancel the debt. Written it off. Get rid of all of this". Why? Because I can't get up here and preach to you about bitterness if I've got bitterness. I can't get up here and talk to you about guilt if I've got guilt.

Now, my forgiveness cost him nothing. It costs me a big sum of money. But do you know what else it did for me? You ready? It made me debt-free. He no longer owes me. I no longer have to collect from him. I don't carry that burden anymore. And I promise you this morning, let me just go ahead and warn some of you right now. You're gonna be uncomfortable. You're not gonna like some of the things I say. You're gonna be screaming in your seats so that people may not notice it because some of you live everyday you look through the bars of bitterness. You're looking through the gate of guilt. And you need to get debt-free. Paul tells us three simple, though they're difficult, simple ways to do that. So here we go. Number one, you've got to release bitterness. You've got to release bitterness.

Now, Paul comes right out of the gate. Doesn't mince words. Doesn't cut corners. Doesn't pull punches. He says, look, if you are tired of being a slave to the master of bitterness, if you're tired of being an inmate in the prison of bitterness, the first thing you've got to do, you've got to release your bitterness. So here's what he says. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander along with every form of malice. Now let me tell you how brilliant Paul is and why I know he must've been inspired by God. Because this is master psychology. Let me tell you why? Paul just lists for us all the range of emotions and feelings that bitter people have. So for example, get rid of all bitterness. All right, what keeps the fire of bitterness burning in your heart? Rage and anger.

You see, you stew over the hurt that someone's done to you. It's on your mind all the time. What does that do? That spills over into brawling and slender. You know what you do when you're bitter? You start telling other people about the person that hurt you. Hey, let me tell you what that guy did to me. Let me tell you what my ex spouse did to me. Let me tell you what my business did to me. Let me tell you how badly I've been treated. And all of that leads to malice. You know what malice is? It's all the hurtful things you dream about doing to that other person. It's all the hurtful things you hope happen to that other person. So what is Paul's brilliant advice? Get rid of it. I know what you, ticks you off, doesn't it? Paul, that's all you got? Get rid of it.

So let me get this straight. You just want me to drop it. By the way, the Greek word for get rid off, it literally means to remove yourself from or to separate yourself from. Let me give it a good illustration. How many of you have ever walked into a spider's web? Okay? What's the first thing you do when you walk into a spider's web? Right? You got one goal in life. Anything that feels like a spiderweb, you want it off. That's the word that Paul is painting here. Paul is saying, you got a bitter feeling. You're dealing with bitterness right now. You need to get everything that even feels like bitterness, get it off, get it off quick and get all of it off.

Now I know that may not seem very helpful. As a matter of fact, it may even make you angry because you're saying something about a man, he doesn't know, you don't know what I'm bitter about. And I mean, how unsympathetic can you be? But if you think about it, Paul is actually doing you a favor. 'Cause let me, think about this. What other option do you have? What other choice do you have? I mean, do you think it was easy for Paul to write those words? Don't be bitter. Don't be angry. Remember he's in prison. He has been unjustly incarcerated. He has been unfairly treated. He's eventually gonna have his head cut off just for telling the truth. Yet you look with a microscope or you look with a telescope, you won't find any bitterness, any rage, any unresolved anger, any ill will in his heart.

You know what's kind of interesting? Here is Paul in jail trying to tell us how to get out of jail. He said, get rid of your bitterness. And his advice is real straightforward. So here's what he said. Hey, got any bitter feelings toward anybody today? Yup. Okay, get rid of them. You still mad or ticked off at somebody 'cause they really messed you over? Yeah, I really am. Walk away from it. You still find yourself and your mind hanging people by their toenails in vents of hot acid? Yeah. Drop it, not them. Drop it and move on. And let me tell you why this is such a big deal. Bitterness can ruin your life. As a matter of fact, it will follow you to the grave after you die.

I read a story the other night. This is a true story. There was a 94 year old lady. Her name was Hazel Von Jacke. Back in the day, you couldn't do it today. It's not politically correct. But back in the day we would have called her an old maid, okay? She never got married, okay? So she dies. And at her funeral, her pastor felt he ought to put a note in the order of service because she made a very unusual request. This woman had left very specific handwritten instructions about how she wanted the service to go. She wrote down the songs that she wanted to sing. She wrote down the scripture she wanted to have read. She wrote down the sermon she wanted the pastor to preach. But then these were her final instructions. There will be no male pallbearers. They wouldn't take me out when I was alive. I don't want them to take me out when I'm dead. It will follow you right to the grave. And the only way to deal with bitterness is to release it and to get rid of it.

And I want you to understand something. I'm not saying you just arbitrarily do it. I'm not saying you just randomly do it. I'm not saying it's like some balloon, you just got the string and it floats off. Here's what I'm saying to you. You got one or two choices you can do with your bitterness. You can carry it the rest of your life or you can release it to God. You just give it to God. You let God carry the weight of that hurt. You trust God to deal with that other person. You relax your grip on that grudge you've been carrying. You drop that burden of bitterness that's been weighing you down. 'Cause listen, let me tell you something. If God can handle the wrongs we have done to Him, He can handle the wrongs that people have done to us. So release your bitterness. Get out of the jail. Get out of the prison.

Now that's step one. Step two, you render forgiveness. Now let me just go ahead and warn you. It's easier to do the first one than it is to do the second one. but you'll never do the second one until you do the first one. But when you truly do the first one, you then will really do the second one. So the only way you'll ever be free to forgive, you gotta be freed from being bitter. In fact, let me give you a picture right now. If you're bitter toward anybody right now, and some of you are, if you're bitter toward anyone right now, everybody hold your hands out right. Do it just like this. Just like that. All right. You're in handcuffs. When you realize that you say, what kind of handcuffs? Hate. That's what bitterness does. It puts you in the handcuffs of hate. And until you're free 'til you get those shackles off, you won't forgive. But when you finally say, I don't want those handcuffs anymore. I'm not carrying that burden anymore. I'm not bearing that weight anymore. Then you're free. You're freed up to render forgiveness.

So Paul goes on to say this. Be kind and compassionate to one another. Forgiving each other. Now I told you, Paul would have been a good psychologist because before he asked us to forgive, he says, be kind and compassionate. Now, why does he say that? You know the word compassionate literally means in the Greek language? It's actually a physiological medical term that refers to the inside of what's inside your chest. And what it literally means is to be tenderhearted. Let me tell all of us something in this room right now. I am not a cardiologist but there's only two kinds of hearts. Listen to me right now. And there's no in between. You either have a tough heart or you've got a tender heart. You either have a cold heart or you've got a warm heart. You've either got a hard heart or you've got a soft heart. And the reason why Paul says this is this, you can't be kind and bitter at the same time. You can't be tenderhearted and bitter at the same time.

I got to think about this when I was working on this message. I've met a lot of people in my life. I've met thousands. I've met 10s of thousands of people. I have never met a kind tenderhearted bitter person. I've met a lot of bitter people. I've met a lot of bitter people. But I've never met a kind tenderhearted bitter person. Now Paul is setting us up for the next step for forgiveness. 'Cause I realize, look, I get it. I know I'm talking to people right now. You're in bondage to the master of bitterness. And you probably say, "I've got a right to be". Maybe you're bitter toward God because of a tragedy that happened in your life and He let it happen. Maybe you're bitter toward that spouse who left you for another person.

Left you a single parent raising children by yourself. Maybe you're a bitter toward that company that fired you. Didn't even give you a severance package even though you served them faithfully for many years. Maybe you're bitter towards someone who physically or sexually abused you. They'd never admitted it and they're never gonna go to jail for it. Maybe you're bitter toward a father who never gave you the approval that you crave so much. Maybe you're bitter toward a mother who never affirmed her love for you. You may even be bitter toward a church because they didn't act like a church. They gave you the back of their hand when they should have given you the hand of love. And you saw the hypocrisy, yes. The hypocrisy that's in every church.

Well, let me just be real transparent. Let me just be honest. Something nobody knows, but I'm gonna tell you. There's someone in my life right now and I'm convinced their hobby is to hurt me. They have one goal in their life. To see how they can hurt me. And every chance they get, they wanna see stick it to me. Did it recently. You know who I'm talking about. You know what I'm talking about. Now, I got a choice. I can stew in my bitterness. I can have that imaginary vent of acid hanging them by their, I can do that. You can do that. But I can't do that and be kind. I can't do that and be tenderhearted. I can't do that and get up here and preach. I can't do that and say I love Jesus the way I wanna love Jesus. I can't do that and say that when I mess up, you forgive me. I can't do that and be the godly husband and the godly father and the godly man that God wants me to be.

And so, yes, even in my own life, ladies and gentlemen, your pastor has to still steer clear of the prison of bitterness. I get it, I understand it. But what bitterness starts, only forgiveness can end. And if you refuse to forgive someone who's done you wrong. Here's what's so bad. You're not keeping the person who sinned against you locked in a prison of bitterness. By the way, listen. Do you know who's paying for your bitterness right now? You are. I think about that person every day. I hate to tell you this, they're not thinking about you. I dream about that person every night. They're not dreaming about you. Oh, I wish I could do something bad to that person every day. They're not wishing that about you. You're the one losing sleep. You're the one who's developed ulcers. You're the one who can enjoy life every time you think about them. You're the one living under the searing heat of bitterness. You're the one that's miserable.

By the way, let me how, Satan is so clever. He's so clever. Because do you know what bitterness really is at the end of the day? You want to get even. That's what you want. I just wanna get even. Now, let me just tell you how dumb that is, with all respect. If someone has done you wrong, they're not above you. They're beneath you. So guess what? If you get even, you're not going higher, you're going lower. If you get even, you aren't getting ahead, you're getting further behind. If you get even, you're not bringing them up to your level, you're sinking down to their level. And you're sitting there saying, well, so you just want me to let them off the hook. Well, it's worse than that. You're the one on the hook. You understand that? They're not on the hook. You're on the hook. Their guilt has become the fuel for your bitterness.

And in a strange way, what you're doing to yourself is worse than what they have done to you because listen, here's what happens when you forgive. When you finally forgive, you actually set two people free. You set them free from having to owe you and you set yourself free from having to collect from them. I told you, I used to think about how can I find out that guy's name? How can I get that guy's cell number? How can I get that guy's address? How can I get my money back? I thought, man, I'm just, for four days, I thought about that. Whitepages, Google, Amazon, FBI, GBI, somebody help me. And then I said, you know what? You just don't owe me anymore. Free. Free. Nothing like being free. And by the way, listen, that's what God's forgiveness does for us. God's forgiveness sets us free from the prison of guilt and our forgiveness of others sets us free from the prison of bitterness.

And let me tell you something, ladies and gentlemen, there is nothing like being debt-free. I remember I had student loans. Now this is kind of laughable because what student loans was back in my day is not like student loans today. When I went to college in Florida, do you know what the tuition was a year when I went to college? $2,000 a year. Do you know how much the tuition is at my college today, $50,000 a year. So I had a very small, relatively speaking, bundle of student loans. Teresa and I can still remember the day I finally paid off my student loans. Finally paid off, was so free. And then God's been so good and because of God's grace and because of His faithfulness to us and because of the way she can manage money, we recently paid our house off. There was just a feeling now man, debt-free.

Now, can I tell you something? There's nothing like being emotionally free, morally free, spiritually free, debt-free. That's what happens when you render forgiveness. But it still gets better. Because as a result and this is what God really wants from us anyway. You know what happens when you do these things? When you release your bitterness, when you render forgiveness, here's what happens. You reproduce godliness. You reproduce godliness. Listen, you'll never release bitterness and you'll never render forgiveness 'til you really want to. I get that. Listen, forgiveness is all about motivation. And again, Paul's a master psychologist. Paul says, hey, I'm not just gonna tell you what you need to do. I'm not even just going to tell you how to do it. I'm going to do something that I know needs to happen. I'm gonna tell you why you need to do it. Because every leader knows this. Every great leader will tell you, the way you get people to do what you want them to do the way you want them to do it is to tell them why they need to do it.

So Paul plays the Trump card. He plays the Trump card. People have done you wrong. Yes they have. They hurt you. Yes they have. They deserve to be punished. Yes they do. But I want you to forgive them. Why? Watch this. Forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you. The motivation is found in six words. Just as God has forgiven you. God's forgiveness is both the model and the motivation of forgiveness. So you're sitting there right now and you haven't liked this message and you're upset because this bitterness is something you wanna hold on to you. You somehow, it's almost like a drug and you're addicted to and you say, I don't wanna give up my bitterness. Why should I forgive that person? Because God has forgiven you. Simple. And by the way, the way you should forgive others is the way God has forgiven you.

So here's how you're gonna do. Are you ready? So you're sitting there right now and you're saying, I can't do it. I've heard this. I've heard it before. I've heard people say, I know I need to forgive and I've tried. I just can't do it. I'm gonna give you the secret on how to do it. You ready? I promise you if you'll do this one thing, it's gonna change your life. You ready? Here we go. Stop focusing on what others have done to you and start focusing on what God has done for you. Stop focusing on what others have done to you and start focusing on what God has done for you. Let me tell you why. If I were to say to you this morning, have you really experienced the forgiveness of God? You'll say, oh yes, I have. Have you really experienced the grace of God? Oh yes, I have. Have you really experienced the mercy of God? Oh yes, I have.

Well, the litmus test of whether or not you've really experienced that is this. Are you willing to give to others what God has given to you? Are you willing to extend forgiveness to others that God has given to you? We are never more like God than when we forgive. And when you release bitterness and you render forgiveness, you reproduce godliness. See the separate reason why you ought to be a forgiving person, is because you are a forgiven person. Because by the way, let me tell you something. Only forgiven people forgive people. Only forgiven people forgive people. Forgiveness personally received can never be forgiveness personally refused. Forgiveness experienced must become forgiveness expressed. God's not just the motivation for our forgiveness. God is the model for our forgiveness.

So that raises a question. How has God forgiven? You ever thought about this? If I said, has God forgiven you? You say, oh yeah, God's forgiven me. Have you ever thought about, how has he done that? What does his forgiveness look like? Well, let me give you three little quick words, you'll remember this, all right? Number one, God has forgiven us freely. Freely. So what do you mean? All right, quick question. What did God charge you to forgive you? Nothing. Do you get a bill in the mail? You send a check? You making installments? Didn't charge anything. God forgave us freely. Oh, you know why He didn't charge you? Because He charged His son. Remember, somebody's got to pay. Forgiveness is not free. In a real sense it's not. Somebody has to pay. So God forgave us freely because He charged His son.

See, sometimes here's where we are. We're willing to forgive the principle of the crime after we've collected the interest of revenge. True forgiveness is free. No strings attached. No fine print it at the bottom of the contract. No conditions. God forgives us freely. Number two, God forgives us fully. Forgiveness is not fractional. See, some of you've said this, well, this person's done eight bad things to me. I tell you what? I'll forgive four of them. No, it doesn't work that way. Forgiveness is not fractional. Listen. What if God, this morning, what if God decided, what if He said, James, there's one part of one fraction of one iota of one scintilla of one sin I just can't get over. I'm done. I'm not getting into heaven. I don't have eternal life. God said, no, I forgive you freely. I forgive you fully. I forgive all of your sins, plural. I forgive all of your sin singular.

When you forgive someone, you gotta do it freely. You gotta do it fully. And then God forgives us finally. Finally. You cancel the debt. You know what that means? That means the debt is erased. That means you open up the ledger, there's nothing there. It is totally gone. When you forgive a wrong, the wrong is gone. You don't hold a grudge. You don't bring the sin back up. You wipe the slate clean. Now, listen, people said, now, are you saying to forget it? No, I'm not. People say, well, forgive and forget. You can't forget it. It's impossible. We're human. What it means though, is this. You can't forgive to the point where you say, you know what? I will never forget what you've done to me, but I'm gonna bury it. I'm gonna walk away from it. I'm gonna put it in the rear view mirror of my life and I'm never going to bring it up again.

And so here's where we are. Let's just now, let's get it real personal. There's some of you listening right now and you need to make a decision. Some of you to get forgiveness for something you did wrong to someone else and you've never come clean with it. And you're in a prison of guilt. Others of you, you need to come clean and you need to give forgiveness for what someone else has done to you. Now hear me clearly. There's only one place that'll happen. It won't happen in this church. It won't happen in the seat where you're sitting. It won't happen in my office. It won't happen in your home. The only place that will happen is when you go to the foot of the cross and you kneel before the one who died for your guilt and the one who died for your bitterness. And then you go to Him and you say, Lord, I'm bringing my guilt to you. And He says, I forgive you. And then you leave there and you say, Lord, I'm taking your forgiveness that you've given me to others. And then you forgive others. And then you're clear of guilt and you're clear of bitterness.

And you can leave the wrong that people have done to you and the people who did that wrong, you can leave all of that at the foot of the cross and trust Him to take care of it. So I wanna close with a recommendation, a story. Whether you like to read or not, there's a book I'm gonna strongly recommend that you read if you've never read it. It's maybe one of the three or four best books I have ever read. And I'll tell a good this book is. It's the only book I bought that was like this. I literally could not put this book down. Teresa remember this. I bought this book, came in to my house, it was mailed to my house, I ordered it. I got it in the afternoon. I started reading it. I read 'til three o'clock in the morning. Got up, came into the church, got home that afternoon. Read 'til two o'clock in the morning. Read the whole book in two days. Big thick book. The title of the book is "Unbroken". If you've never read it, you need to.

Now let me warn you. You better get ready to stay up because you can't put it down. It is unbelievable. It is a story of a man I'd never heard of. His name was Louis Zamperini. Louis Zamperini was captured as a prisoner of war in Japan. He was a world famous Olympic runner. When the head of the prison camp, a man by the name of Watanabe found out who he was, by the way, his nickname was the Birdman, when he found out who Zamperini was this worldwide famous Olympic champion, he decided he was going to pour all of his wrath and all of his hatred and all of this torture on Louis Zamperini. And for three years, he made his life a living hell 24/7. You'll have to read the book to see the unbelievable physical, mental, emotional, psychological torture he put Louis Zamperini through every single day. And Zamperini grew to hate this man with everything that he had. As a matter of fact, he got to the point where he wanted to kill this man more than he wanted to be free from that prison.

Well, the war was over. And he did survive his captivity physically but he didn't survive it emotionally. When he got home, he began to drink. He got married. When he got back, he met a woman, he got married. He began to drink. He was consumed with a hatred for this Birdman so much that every night he dreamed the same dream but it was a different way. Every night he dreamed of how he would torture and brutalize and masticate and kill the Birdman. So one night he dreamed of decapitating him. One night he dreamed of filling him full of bullet holes. One night he would dream of literally dropping him in a vent of hot acid. And I can't even tell you some of the things that's in the book that he dreamed that he wanted to do to this man. It consumed him, just consumed him. He just wanted, he wanted to get his hands on him. He just, sometimes he just cried, if I could just find this man, I just wanna put my hands around his throat and just crush the life out of him.

Then 1947 a man named Billy Graham came to Los Angeles preaching revival. A couple who knew Louis and his wife invited them to come to the crusade. Louis didn't really wanna go but he decided out of curiosity he would go. Sat in the back of the tent. Dr. Graham got up, preached the gospel. Louis got so mad at Dr. Graham. So angry that when Dr. Graham gave the invitation, Louis literally ran out of the back of the tent, got in his car, left them behind and went back to his apartment, started drinking. When his wife walked in, he was sitting there with a bottle of whiskey in his hand. And she said, "Where did you go"? He said, "I don't want to hear that man anymore. I can't stand what that man said. That is not what I need in my life". She said "Louis, you need to understand something. I was thinking about leaving you 'cause I just lost all my love for you". And she said, "But tonight I gave my life to Christ and I will start praying for you, Louis. And I'm telling you, I love you and I'm not going anywhere".

Well, that's so touched Louis. He thought, okay, maybe I'll go back one more night. So the next night he went back to hear Dr. Graham but this time when the invitation was given, he didn't run to the back, he ran to the front. He was the first guy down that sawdust aisle. He literally fell at the feet of the podium where Dr. Graham was weeping and he gave his heart to Christ. He was gloriously saved. He was absolutely transformed. He had a piece he'd never had in his life. Never, ever had those dreams. The dreams immediately went away.

Well, here's where the story gets fascinating. A few decades later, Louis was asked to return to Japan to carry the Olympic torch to the United States. So he got to wondering if this brutal camp prison warden Watanabe was alive and he found out he was alive. He said, "Oh God, what do I do? Is there any way I could maybe meet this man"? And as he thought and prayed through visit, he sat down at his computer and he wrote this letter. To Mutsuhiro Watanabe, as a result of my prisoner of war experience and your unwarranted and unreasonable punishment, my postwar life became a nightmare. It was not so much due to the pain and suffering as it was the tension of stress and humiliation that caused me to hate you with a vengeance. Under your discipline, my rights, not only as a prisoner of war, but also as a human being were stripped from me. It was a struggle to maintain enough dignity and hope to live until the wars end.

The postwar nightmares caused my life to crumble. But thanks to a confrontation with God through the evangelist Billy Graham, I committed my life to Christ. Love has replaced the hate I had for you. Christ said, forgive your enemies and pray for them. As you probably know, I returned to Japan in 1952, this is another great story, and was graciously allowed to address all the Japanese war criminals at Sugamo prison. These were some of the guards that guarded him there. I asked them about you and was told you probably had committed Harry Carry which I was sad to hear. At that moment like the others, I also forgave you and now would hope that you would also become a Christian. He folded the letter, carried it to Japan and he asked to meet with Watanabe.

When CBS contacted Watanabe and asked him if Zamperini could come and see him. With gritted teeth and anger, he practically spit out the word, "No! I hate that, man! I gave that man everything he deserved! I do not want to meet with him! There will be no apology"! Someone took that letter anyway to him and he got it, but he never replied to it. So two men died. Only one of them died debt-free. And here's the great news. Through Jesus, you can get out of that prison of guilt. You don't have to live in that jail of bitterness. Through Jesus, you can experience the grace and forgiveness that comes when He cancels your debt and you can cancel the debt of others. And I am telling you this, debt-free is the only way to live and it's the only way to die.

And I want to close with this. Bet you've never thought about it. If you die without Christ, if you die refusing the grace of God that comes through the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, here's what you gonna spend all eternity with. You ready? You're gonna live with the guilt of rejecting Jesus forever. And you're gonna live with the bitterness that you didn't accept Jesus forever. So I advise some of you here today, and I don't know who I'm talking to, but I am touching some big time nerves. Satan wants you to ruin your life and live your life Looking through the gates of guilt and looking through the bars of bitterness but Jesus came to set you free. And today you can be free.
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