Sunday, January 7, 2018

Deliverance: Fixing Our Eyes on Jesus

I’d like to ask you to close your eyes this morning and picture the person who has shaped your faith more than any other person.

When I close my eyes, the first face I see is Freddie Moll. I never called him Freddie; I called him Poppy. He was my grandfather—my mother’s father. He was the most gentle, humble, godly man I’ve ever met. I never observed him say one unkind thing to anyone or about anyone. Instead, every time you left his presence you felt better about yourself. That was his spiritual gift.

I recall one specific moment from his life. My father had passed away. Several family members were staying in our house in Oklahoma awaiting the funeral. On the morning of the funeral, Poppy got up early in the morning to go to the restroom. On his way there, he fell. My brother and I heard him fall and immediately rushed in to find him. He was in bad shape—a cut on his ear, he couldn’t get up. We thought he might have broken his hip. We called the ambulance. As we waited there in that moment, my grandfather was undoubtedly in a lot of pain. Nevertheless, as we sat there with him on the floor, he looked up at me and said: “You know Wes, you have the most amazing little family.” That was my grandfather—always thinking of someone else. Always encouraging.

Another person I see when I close my eyes is his wife, Mildred Moll, or “Nana.” I had the opportunity—or blessing—to perform both of their funeral services. And when you do someone’s funeral, you get to hear a lot of stories about them—most of them good! As I was preparing to perform my grandmother’s funeral, I was reminded of just how strong she was. She was raised in a Christian home with Christian parents. But my grandfather was not. For years she took their three daughters to church without him. I never knew that! I cannot imagine a time when my grandfather did not go to church! But he didn’t, so my grandmother took their three daughters to church every week by herself. My grandmother was the sole spiritual leader of that family for a long time. It was my grandmother’s persistence and patience and love that finally convinced my grandfather to go to church. She was a strong, faithful, spiritual giant!

When you close your eyes, who do you see?

Some in this room might see Edwin Rasco, others might see Jim Welch: two great elders in the history of this church! I believe some in this room see Annie Pierce (or “Miss Annie”). I think it is important for us to remember the heroes of our faith. Doing so not only honors their memory, it also helps us aspire to greater heights in our own spiritual development.

When I remember my grandparents, I aspire to be better. I have a strong desire to leave the kind of legacy they left behind. I want my children (and someday my grandchildren) to remember me as a great spiritual example.

Whoever wrote Hebrews understood our need to remember heroes of the faith. The entire 11th chapter of Hebrews is filled with spiritual giants:
  • Abraham
  • Jacob
  • Moses
  • Rahab
  • Samson
And after the long list of names, he talks about an unnamed group of people—martyrs. People who had been tortured to death because of their faith. People who had been put in prison or were exiled because of their faith in God. And the first people who heard Hebrews read aloud would have heard those names and remembered! And I think they would have been inspired to follow their examples.

I want to read to you what the writer of Hebrews wrote immediately after that long list of names.
So then, let’s also run the race that is laid out in front of us, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us. Let’s throw off any extra baggage, get rid of the sin that trips us up, and fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfecter. (Hebrews 12:1-2a)
I confess to you that I wrote two separate sermons this week. The first sermon got to this point, and then went in a pretty predictable direction. Let’s remember the great people of the past. Let’s do what the writer of Hebrews says right here: “Let’s fix our eyes on Jesus…” And when we work really hard, read our Bible more, pray more, spend more time alone with God, New Year’s Resolution-type stuff. Then, one day, we can become like them: heroes of the faith. And know that we are not alone. We have a great cloud of witnesses to serve as our examples. They went before us, paving the way to our spiritual transformation.

That sermon was done. Finished. In the bag. It’s not a bad sermon. There is a lot of truth in those words. But something happened early last week that made it impossible for me to preach that sermon this week. I read an article posted on social media by Ray Vannoy. I want to say it was a message from God—but at this point, we’ll just say it was Ray that posted the article. The article caught my eye because of its title: “Pastors and Depression.” This is a catchy title, especially if you are a pastor! Studies show that most pastors (an overwhelming majority) suffer from bouts of depression. Including this one!

I was at a conference for preachers late last year. There were over 100 preachers in that three-day conference. Every single preacher I talked to suffers from depression. Most of that depression comes from the same place. We feel like it is our duty to be spiritual giants, but most of us aren’t spiritual giants. We feel like we need to be happy, energetic, optimistic all of the time. When most of the time we are tired, depleted of energy, and frustrated. We went into ministry because we love God and we want to change the world for good! We wanted to build strong churches that would produce strong Christians that would radically change our communities. But we are leading churches that always seem to be less than perfect, struggling with divisiveness, filled with people just like us: broken.

I read that article because the title caught my eye. But I finished it because of how much I related to what its author was saying throughout the rest of the article. Its author is Brandon Cox, a pastor. The article encourages all of us to quit playing the game and instead acknowledge our brokenness. Listen to what he wrote:
I spent at least a dozen years trying to be the best pastor I could be. I wanted to fit the role, lead well, and if I’m being honest, impress the church and keep everybody happy. So I wore my suit and my smile and tried to do all the pastor things people expect the pastor to do. And when criticism came or when conflict arose, I bottled it away so that I could later use it as an excuse to check out mentally and emotionally from real engagement with people. When Angie and I moved to southern California where I joined the staff as a pastor at Saddleback Church, I was badly broken and I didn’t even know it. Within the first couple of months of life in our new surroundings, various pressures brought my pain to the surface. Our marriage struggled under the weight of it until a couple of breaking points occurred. We joined a small group that embraced us, helped us to finally open up about our issues, and encouraged us in our walk. I also saw our staff counselor, who would provide counseling to any staff member in absolute confidence. Pastor Rick Warren encourages his staff members to seek out counseling without fear or shame, and for the first time, I told a fellow pastor about all of my deepest issues.
I’m convinced God moved us to southern California not simply to help Saddleback minister to leaders in the global church, but also because he wanted us to plant a church but knew I wasn’t ready on a spiritual and emotional level. When we started Grace Hills Church, we weren’t perfect or completely healed from all of our hurts, but we were absolutely committed to not faking it anymore. We would start a church as broken leaders, for broken people. It would be a safe place for people to come with their brokenness and find healing and restoration in the good news of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection! Denying your brokenness can help you succeed—for a season. But if you want to thrive and become all that God has purposed for you to become, you’ll have to be broken.
After I read this full article, I went back to my sermon. I read and reread Hebrews 11-12, and I noticed something. All of the people in that list were broken—severely broken. Moses was a murderer and later in his life tried to take credit for God’s power. Abraham was so afraid he allowed his wife to be put in a harem to save his own neck. Sarah laughed in the face of God when she was told she would have a child in her old age. Rahab was a prostitute! David broke just about every major sin in the book. Samson was a womanizer and a bully! The list goes on and on and on. And then I was forced to remember that my personal heroes of faith—they were not perfect either. My grandfather, my grandmother, Edwin Rasco, Jim Welch, Miss Annie, the person you see when you close your eyes. We are all broken, everyone of us.

This morning we are picking up where we left off before Advent with our series on Jesus. The title of this series is “Deliverance.” I want deliverance! I want to be radically transformed from where I am now to where God wants me to be. I am more convinced than ever that the first step I must take—the first step we all must take—is to acknowledge our brokenness. So, I admit to you this morning: I am broken. I am addicted to success. I am scared of your criticism. Even though I am the preacher and I am supposed to be super-religious, I go through seasons when I do not want to pray, so I don’t. As the preacher, I get tired of “doing church” a lot of the time. I can be honest with you about these very private issues in my life because I know I am not alone. I am not the only broken person in this room.

We are a community of broken people who have good news for a broken world. And here is the good news: You do not have to be perfect. And the more you try to make people around you think you are perfect, the more unhappy you will be, and the more you will fall short in your quest to become the person God made you to become.

This series is all about deliverance. If you fix your eyes on Jesus, you will be delivered. But not in the way you might expect to be delivered. Not in the way many of us talk about deliverance in church sometimes. Your family may never get it all together, even if you come to church! Your marriage may always struggle. Even if you fix your eyes on Jesus, you will still struggle with sin and brokenness. When we fix our eyes on Jesus, when we come to Jesus vulnerable and open, when we come acknowledging our brokenness, that is when Jesus can do some pretty amazing things through us.

When Abraham came broken, God established Israel. When Moses came broken, God delivered His people from slavery. When David came broken, God established a dynasty. When Rahab came broken, God delivered the promised land into Israel’s hands. When Mary came broken—a scared, pregnant, teenage girl—God came into the world through her!

Instead of hiding your brokenness, maybe you should try to consider how God might use your brokenness to bless this world. Have you gone through the pain of a divorce? God might use that broken piece of your life to help someone else. There are folks going through the same thing.

Can you use your brokenness to walk alongside someone else to provide healing? Have you struggled with alcoholism? You are not alone. There are others who share that struggle. If you are transparent about that broken piece of your life, you might be a blessing to someone else.

Are you addicted to pornography? Have you gone through periods of anger? Have you experienced betrayal? Have you experienced depression?

The first words of Hebrews 12 tell us that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. I don’t think the writer was talking only about the folks mentioned in Chapter 11! And as we share our stories with one another, we find deliverance through the power of Jesus.

Let me tell you my dream for this church. I’ve heard some folks say: I want us to fill these empty seats. That may or may not happen; that is not my dream. My dream is that we will become a church that is filled with people who are being transformed more and more into the image of God all the time. That our faith is going deeper. That we are becoming more mature. I think that can only happen if we are courageous enough to be open about our brokenness.

This year, I want us to tell more stories. If you are willing to stand up here and tell your story, come see me. It could be that your story could help someone else on their road toward transformation. You know, church, God has a long history of doing some pretty extraordinary things with people who were brave enough to admit their brokenness.

What do you suppose He can do with you?
What do you suppose He can do with this church?

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