It feels good to be back from a week at Forest Home family camp. I had such a great time but apart from the lighthearted fun together it was like soul surgery – two speakers a day, small groups, and lots of one-on-one time with Julie to discuss the deeper issues of our lives. I’m still recovering. Yet it takes surgery to bring health where there was disease, so I’m okay with some time in the hospital from time to time. Or maybe it was just more like spiritual therapy for a week, building up the muscles and skills so we are better equipped to do life. Either way, I was deeply blessed by our speakers, John Erwin on family things in the mornings and Mike Erre on Jesus in the evenings. These are the two focuses of my life where I want to give everything I am, so I just felt overwhelmed in a good way with exhortation and teaching that inspired and focused me even more. Mike’s teaching was extraordinarily simple, clear and profound, instilling in me a greater confidence in the gospel of Jesus Christ and deepening my desire to know Him and declare Him to the world. Could anything be better for this worship leader’s heart? This was exactly what I needed. Something that always stands out to me about my Forest Home experiences is the transparency of their leaders and the guest speakers that they bring up. I would say that good teaching is robbed of much of its power and at worst inaccessible when the individual delivering it keeps himself or herself safely at a distance behind the cover of the Bible. Look at Paul’s approach to ministry – the source of the power of his teaching and preaching. “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2Cor. 12:9, NIV) I appreciated John and Mike as well as Forest Home leadership for bearing their souls by boasting in their weaknesses as well as boasting in Christ and really being totally accessible to us. The power was definitely there and I witnessed it in my own life as well as many others.
This brings me to the topic I will meditate on this morning – brokenness. My good friend and colleague, Steve Springsted, asked me yesterday at lunch, “What is brokenness?” Both of us share an intense desire to see God at work in our church (in increasing measure) and both of us have sensed the Almighty God pointing his finger back at us and saying, “It begins with you.” This is both terrifying and wonderful at the same time, but I think it is where brokenness begins. My first thought on brokenness comes from a recent experience a few weeks ago. A pastor at a campground preached a simple sermon from Luke 7:36-50. “ Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.” (Luke 7:36-38, NIV) As he read the story from the Bible I was deeply moved to tears just hearing it. I thought of my own brokenness and it just seemed so right at that moment to come that way to Jesus. In fact I was overwhelmed with the thought, “Is there any other way?” It was like I was getting it for the first time. How often do I come like the Pharisee, trying to impress, trying to be spiritual rather than coming honestly in brokenness, neediness, embodying all of that in a humble and transparent response of worship? Pride, selfishness, security in my ability alone, comfort in business as usual, laziness in spiritual life, satisfaction in the ordinary, valuing knowledge over practice, conformity to our culture and its ways, all of these things are the enemy of brokenness and I believe translate to the sin warned in the Bible as ‘quenching the Holy Spirit.’ Is there a day that goes by where I don’t sin in this capacity?
As I sat in the campground amphitheater deeply moved by this story, I realized that God was answering a prayer that I have been praying recently. I realized a few years ago that I had a hard heart. I had a sincere heart that loved the Lord and wanted to know him and serve him, but there was a lot that I didn’t have. I did not have much compassion for the lost – at least a small enough dose that I wasn’t willing to risk looking foolish to say anything. Heck, I didn’t even pray regularly for those who were lost. They were rarely a thought in my happy, safe, comfortable and mostly risk-free Christian life. In addition, I wasn’t able to grieve with my people through hard times. Instead of jumping into ‘bearing one another’s grief’ as a pastor, I clammed up and procrastinated making phone calls or visits because I was afraid that I would not know what to say. This all maxed out when Julie had a miscarriage and I was unable to acknowledge and share her grief, let alone display my own. I was a pretty lousy husband to her at this point. I realized I had a problem and I prayed to God that he would soften my heart. ‘Lord, break my heart for the things that break your heart. Help me learn how to cry. I’m not doing good at ‘weeping with those who weep.’ I am too consumed with myself and my own desire to be comfortable.” The result of that prayer has been a slow process of spiritual awakening for me that I have deemed, ‘The era of overflow.’ How can the Holy Spirit overflow in and through a life that is consumed and full of self? He can’t. I would say that the process over the last few years has been one of being broken. This is broken in a good way. It’s not brokenness that I produce. It is brokenness that God has produced, giving me a desperate desire for him and then the abundant means to fulfill that desire. The beauty of spiritual brokenness is two fold.
First, it is a process that God begins and then eclipses with the beauty of wholeness of redemption. It is a paradox. The more we see Jesus, the more broken we become. The more broken we become, the more whole and healed we become. We can see it in the lives of the New Testament apostles. Most of the disciples and Jesus’ followers during his life chose to follow and at some point had a defining moment where they were broken – Peter and his denial, James and John and their desire to be first, Thomas and his doubting, and Martha and her choosing work instead relationship are a few examples. Those who were desperate came absolutely broken, the woman mentioned above, the Samaritan woman at the well, lepers, demon possessed, Zacchaeus, a few Roman’s, and a very few of the religious people of the time. Paul certainly came broken, later declaring himself the ‘chief of sinners.’ I am more like the first than the latter. Brokenness has been a long time coming. I would argue that my friends who came to Christ in that state have been most influential in graciously leading me there. They have such an important role in the church. Before I make my second observation, I want to answer a question stated above. “Is there any other way to come to Christ?” By God’s grace the answer is, ‘yes.’ Faith is the determining factor in salvation, and that faith can indeed even be as small as a mustard seed. Those of us who believe, come to faith because God graciously leads us there through whatever means he chooses. However, it is only through brokenness that we become highly influential for God’s Kingdom. At least that seems to be the pattern observed in the Bible.
My second observation is simply that brokenness before the Lord levels the playing field, giving equal access to Christ and membership in his family. The kingdom of God is for ‘whoever believes in him.’ Nobody is locked outside and there are none who are privileged insiders. It’s always hard to conclude these things because there is so much more to discover and uncover in the Scriptures. I’ve just begun to ask the right questions, having barely penetrated the surface. However, I must get to the office, so I will conclude.
Brokenness is not just humility. It is humility with transparency. Transparency is simply total and ruthless honesty before the Lord and before others. Brokenness is what ultimately brings us to Christ and keeps us near as totally dependent children. It unleashes the power of the Lord. Brokenness is seen in the life of a believer as the beauty of wholeness – always there on the inside, but totally eclipsed by the beauty of redemption and the ongoing sanctification by the Holy Spirit. Finally, brokenness brings us together at the foot of the cross where we all receive the grace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. His body was broken for us. His blood was poured out. Jesus considered himself nothing although he was everything. Through his poverty I become rich. Lord, take me to that beautiful place of brokenness again and again. I want to live there all the time. Take our church there until there are no differences between us, until a unity that comes from being in Christ is all that we see and all that others see.