Big Idea: When I admit I am broken, I am ready for community.
Read at beginning of service:
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (NIV)
7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Read text ? Romans 7:14-25
Since the start of the year we?ve been learning about how to become a church where no one stands alone, a church that is a place to call home ? a “City on a Hill”. Today I?d like to talk about another area of growth for a church that desires to be an authentic biblical community.
Bill Hybels in his book Rediscovering Church recalls a time when Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian was speaking for a leadership conference at Willow Creek Community Church. He writes about it like this?
“Dr. Bilezikian said there?s life-changing fellowship in biblically functioning community. That was a far cry from the childhood experience of a lot of his audience! The only kind of fellowship that many of his listeners had witnessed revolved around the fifteen or twenty minutes after the service when the men would stand around the church patio and ask each other superficial questions.
?So how?s it going at work Jake,? one of them would ask.
?Fine, Phil. Say, you driving a new pickup??
?Used,? Phil would reply. ?What do you have going this week??
?Well, great fellowshipping with you, Jake.?
That was about it. They?d (find their wives who) were having similar conversations, and go home until next week.
But the Bible says true fellowship has the power to revolutionize lives. Masks come off, conversations get deep, hearts get vulnerable, lives are shared, accountability is invited, and tenderness flows. People really do become like brothers and sisters. They shoulder each other?s burdens – and unfortunately, that?s something that few of the people in that audience had experienced while growing up in church.
In many churches it just didn?t seem legal to tell anyone you were having a problem. Families that sat in the same pew for years would suddenly disappear, because the husband and wife were in turmoil over marriage problems. Instead of coming to the church for help and prayer and support, they fled the other way, because they didn?t feel the freedom to say, ?We love Jesus, but we?re not doing very well. Our lives feel like they?re unraveling. We need some help!?
The implicit understanding was that you shouldn?t have a problem, and if you did you?d better not talk about it around the church.
I learned that lesson well. When I got old enough to stand on the church patio after services, someone would say, ?So, Bill, how are things in high school??
And I?d give the response that I thought was expected. ?Fine, Ben,? I?d say. ?They?re just great.?
I didn?t feel I could tell him that my heart was being ripped to shreds because my girlfriend and I had broken up. Or that I was flat-lined spiritually. Or that I had and older brother who was drinking too much and driving too fast, and I was scared about where his life was heading.
I didn?t say anything, because I felt that a good Christian just didn?t admit to having those kinds of real-life difficulties. And in many churches, that?s called fellowship.
It shouldn?t be.” (Rediscovering Church, p. 159-160)
I think all of us would agree. That shouldn?t be called fellowship. Yet many of us here today might be silently say, “I am standing more alone than I would like to when it comes to this burden in my life. I would share, but I don?t feel safe.”
Why is authentic biblical community so rare? Perhaps it is because most of us would rather appear impressively intact than broken. But it is only when I admit that I am broken that I am ready for community.
TRANSITION: The Bible points out the truth about this issue of brokenness. In the Bible we learn:
BROKENNESS IS A NORMAL HUMAN CONDITION
Paul exposes 4 community destroying lies in Romans 7:14-25:
What are the 4 community destroying lies Paul exposes? Lie #1 would be?
1. The soul?s struggle is essentially against specific sins or habits (v. 14, 17, 20).
A lot of us think like that. “If I could just conquer this sin, or overcome that bad habit, then I?d be more on top of my game.” But Paul says what plagues us is not individual sins, but SIN. That is, the presence of evil in our lives.
v. 14 ? I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to SIN.
v. 17 ? As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is SIN living in me.
v. 20 – It is no longer I who do it, but it is SIN living in me that does it.
The presence of SIN itself in our lives suggests a severe level of brokenness or imperfection.
Look at the second lie Paul exposes:
2. Human nature is essentially good (v. 18).
Paul says that simply isn?t true. Verse 18 ? I know that nothing good lives in me, that is in my sinful nature.
That?s a pretty broken condition to say that nothing good lives inside him. But he understood that since the Garden of Eden, all people have inherited a sinful nature. Can it be overcome?
3. If we just determine to do right, we will (v. 15, 18b-19).
Listen to what Paul says in v. 15:
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. Ever feel like that?
Second half of v. 18 ? For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no the evil I do not want to do ? this I keep on doing.
By using himself as an example, Paul says we are so broken that we do not have the power within ourselves to consistently do right just make the determination to do so.
Ever say to yourself or to God, “Never again!” and then discover a short while later that you were in fact doing it again? That?s what Paul is talking about.
Which leads us to lie #4:
4. Becoming a Christian stamps out all sin and temptation from a person?s life. (v. 21)
Verse 21 ? So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.
The brokenness runs so deep, that even when a Christian desires to please God, the temptation to do wrong is still dangled in front of us.
Some scholars think Paul is describing his life before becoming a Christian. Others believe he is describing his life as a mature Christians. In either case the main point is still plain from this scenario he paints for us: Brokenness is indeed a normal human condition. Left to our own devises, at our core we match the description in Romans 7. We are desperately imperfect ? leading many of us to cry out, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” Paul says, “Thanks be to God ? through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
We?re all broken at the core. Yet Jesus, the one whose body was broken our own behalf – reaches out to us, and says, “I love you. To me, though broken, you are lovely.” Sin is never beautiful, yet to Jesus sinful people still are.
I came across this quote when preparing this message?
“God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume… it is Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power than ever.” (Quoted in Embracing Brokenness Wholeheartedly by Matthew Rogers)
TRANSITION: It is true, brokenness is the normal human condition. But a second thing we learn from the Bible about this issue is that?
ONLY BROKEN PEOPLE WILL SHARE AUTHENTIC BIBLICAL COMMUNITY
An interesting thing about Romans chapter 7 is when and where we find the Holy Spirit. He shows up in verse 6.
Romans 7:6 (NIV)
6 But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
Then we hear nothing about him in the rest of chapter 7. Verse 7, Paul talks about that old way of the written code. And then what it is like to struggle in trying to keep those rules. The struggle is intensified because of the absence of the Holy Spirit.
But then, in Romans 8, the Holy Spirit returns. Read v. 1-2
Romans 8:1-2 (NIV)
1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.
Romans 7 seems to say ? This is what life is like ? we are all broken and will live out the worst aspects of brokenness ? unless we let the Holy Spirit have total control. And interestingly, the Holy Spirit is what all believers in Jesus have in common.
Read Romans 8:1-4
Romans 8:1-4 (NIV)
1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4 in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.
v. 4 ? “in us?who live according to the Spirit.”
Out of brokenness comes community ? a group of people who have cried out to Jesus and now share the same helper, the same indwelling, the same Spirit ? the Spirit of Jesus Christ known as the Holy Spirit.
Only broken people will experience authentic biblical community ? because only broken people truly cry out to Jesus and receive His Spirit.
Now, even though we know it is true, for some reason in church we don?t like to admit brokenness. It seems weak.
Worse yet it implies a poor relationship with God. It is almost like we want others to believe we know God by demonstrating how unbroken we are.
But we?re all wounded. We?ve all failed. We?ve all been hurt.
Romans 3:23 reminds us we?ve all sinned and fallen short of God?s glorious perfection.
Romans 3:23 (NIV)
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
Yet,the passion to protect ourselves ? to keep our wounds out of sight is the strongest passion in our hearts.
We believe there is a lot to lose if we did share our brokenness with others. We fear we might lose acceptance in someone?s eyes, we fear we might lose a ministry position if someone really knew what was going on inside us, we fear we might lose favor, love, image, popularity, status, influence or even trust. We are scared to be too broken at church.
But here is what brokenness is. Brokenness is the realization that life is too much for us. It is realizing Jesus is all we have. It?s the realization that Jesus Christ is life. And it seems that if Christians could admit anything it would be something as simple as that.
Larry Crabb writes, “A central task of community is to create a place that is safe enough for the walls to be torn down, safe enough for each of us to reveal our brokenness” (Larry Crabb, The Safest Place on Earth, p. 11).
Rarely do we see this demonstrated.
Many of us have difficulty sharing brokenness with others in their church family.
We should call this what it is: the influence of Satan in our lives. He gains victory when he can keep us afraid of each other.
Satan gets us in this trap ? Somehow he communicates to us, “What you?ve done, what you?re going through is too embarrassing, too burdensome ? if you come clean you?ll lose friendships, maybe you?ll even lose respect.” So he convinces us to stand alone and then tempts us with the same things again and again, making us feel like absolute trash when we give in. And then because we didn?t share the struggle in a safe place ? the problem may intensify to where it becomes destructive to us or to someone else.
This morning a person sitting near you may carry the guilt of an abortion. But they stand alone. While you?you are dealing with the ugliness of temper and rage. Maybe sitting in your row is someone who?s bingeing and purging on pornography ? too ashamed to mention it. Maybe somebody sitting behind you struggles with an addiction to alcohol or tobacco. Or there could be a couple here today who are experiencing a fractured marriage. Maybe we?ll all go home with our deepest hurts and struggles unresolved and unmentioned. And because of that we will be totally vulnerable to falling into the same pattern again.
And we call this church. We might as well call it a private prayer chapel where other people happen to show up too.
Brokenness has to be modeled or church will never become the safest place on earth. Paul modeled his brokenness in Romans 7. We have to also.
It?s OK to be broken here. In fact, it is a requirement if you want to be a Christian. We begin our journey with Christ through an admission that we are not wholly intact.
In the past few years I?ve come to realize that sharing my struggles is the path to victory. Keeping up a fa?ade is a certain recipe for spiritual failure with chronic and habitual sin.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Our community with one another consists solely in what Christ has done for both of us.”
Listen to this essay written by 17 year-old Brian Moore as a school assignment ? they had to write on what Heaven was like. I received this in an email from Dan and Sue Bailey and I want to thank them for forwarding it to me. It expresses best the statement, Christ has died for both you and me because we are broken.
“I wowed ’em,” Brian told his father, Bruce. “It’s a killer. It’s the bomb. It’s the best thing I ever wrote.”
It also was the last.
Brian’s parents had forgotten about the essay when a cousin found it while cleaning out the teenager’s locker at Teary Valley High School. Brian had been dead only hours, but his parents desperately wanted every piece of his life near them-notes from classmates and teachers, his homework.
Only two months before, he had handwritten the essay about encountering Jesus in a file room full of cards detailing every moment of the teen’s life.
But it was only after Brian’s death that Beth and Bruce Moore realized that their son had described his view of heaven.
It makes such an impact that people want to share it. “You feel like you are there.” Mr. Moore said.
Brian Moore died May 27, 1997. He was driving home from a friend’s house when his car went
off Bulen-Pierce Road in Pickaway County and struck a utility pole. He emerged from the wreck unharmed but stepped on a downed power line and was electrocuted.
The Moores framed a copy of Brian’s essay and hung it among the family portraits in the living room.
Brian’s Essay: The Room…
In that place between wakefulness and dreams, I found myself in the room. There were no distinguishing features except for the one wall covered with small index card files. They were like the ones in libraries that list titles by author or subject in alphabetical order. But these files, which stretched from floor to ceiling and seemingly endless in either direction, had very different headings.
As I drew near the wall of files, the first to catch my attention was one that read “Girls I have liked.” I opened it and began flipping through the cards. I quickly shut it, shocked to realize that I recognized the names written on each one. And then without being told, I knew exactly where I was. This lifeless room with its small files was a crude catalog system for my life. Here were written the actions of my every moment, big and small, in detail my memory couldn’t match. A sense of wonder and curiosity, coupled with horror, stirred within me as I began randomly opening files and exploring their content. Some brought joy and sweet memories; others a sense of shame and regret so intense that I would look over my shoulder to see if anyone was watching.
A file named “Friends” was next to one-marked “Friends I have betrayed.”
The titles ranged from the mundane to the outright weird. “Books I have Read,” “Lies I Have Told,” “Comfort I have Given,” “Jokes I Have Laughed at.” Some were almost hilarious in their exactness: “Things I’ve yelled at my brothers.” Others I couldn’t laugh at: “Things I Have Done in My Anger,” ” Things I Have Muttered Under My Breath at My Parents.” I never ceased to be surprised by the contents.
Often there were many more cards than I expected. Sometimes fewer than I hoped. I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the life I had lived.
Could it be possible that I had the time in my years to fill each of these thousands or even millions of cards? But each card confirmed this truth. Each was written in my own handwriting. Each signed with my signature.
When I pulled out the file marked “TV Shows I have watched,” I realized the files grew to contain their contents. The cards were packed tightly, and yet after two or three yards, I hadn’t found the end of the file. I shut it, shamed, not so much by the quality of shows but more by the vast time I knew that file represented.
When I came to a file marked “Lustful Thoughts,” I felt a chill run through my body. I pulled the file out only an inch, not willing to test its size, and drew out a card. I shuddered at its detailed content. I felt sick to think that such a moment had been recorded. An almost animal rage broke on me. One thought dominated my mind: “No one must ever see these cards! No one must ever see this room! I have to destroy them!” In insane frenzy I yanked the file out. Its size didn’t matter now. I had to empty it and burn the cards.
But as I took it at one end and began pounding it on the floor, I could not dislodge a single card. I became desperate and pulled out a card, only to find it as strong as steel when I tried to tear it. Defeated and utterly helpless, I returned the file to its slot.
Leaning my forehead against the wall, I let out a long, self-pitying sigh. And then I saw it. The title bore “People I Have Shared the Gospel With.” The handle was brighter than those around it, newer, almost unused.
I pulled on its handle and a small box not more than three inches long fell into my hands. I could count the cards it contained on one hand.
And then the tears came.
I began to weep. Sobs so deep that they hurt. They started in my stomach and shook through me. I fell on my knees and cried. I cried out of shame, from the overwhelming shame of it all.
The rows of file shelves swirled in my tear-filled eyes. No one must ever, ever know of this room. I must lock it up and hide the key. But then as I pushed away the tears, I saw Him.
No, please not Him. Not here. Oh, anyone but Jesus. I watched helplessly as He began to open the files and read the cards. I couldn’t bear to watch His response. And in the moments I could bring myself to look at His face, I saw a sorrow deeper than my own. He seemed to intuitively go to the worst boxes.
Why did He have to read every one? Finally He turned and looked at me from across the room. He looked at me with pity in His eyes. But this was a pity that didn’t anger me. I dropped my head, covered my face with my hands and began to cry again. He walked over and put His arm around me. He could have said so many things. But He didn’t say a word. He just cried with me.
Then He got up and walked back to the wall of files. Starting at one end of the room, He took out a file and, one by one, began to sign His name over mine on each card.
“No!” I shouted rushing to Him. All I could find to say was, “No, no,” as I pulled the card from Him. His name shouldn’t be on these cards. But there it was, written in red so rich, so dark, and so alive.
The name of Jesus covered mine. It was written with His blood. He gently took the card back. He smiled a sad smile and continued to sign the cards.
I don’t think I’ll ever understand how He did it so quickly, but the next instant it seemed I heard Him close the last file and walk back to my side. He placed His hand on my shoulder and said, “It is finished.”
I stood up, and He led me out of the room. There was no lock on its door. There were still cards to be written….
TRANSITION: Brokenness is normal. Its admission is necessary.
How can I help to make Hanover Pentecostal Church a place to call home by embracing brokenness?
? Resist the temptation to make a cutting or judgmental remark about someone else?s failures. (If someone else hears you say it, they are pushed away from ever sharing anything with you. Satan just used you to keep an obstacle to community in tact)
? Memorize Matthew 5:3 and 2 Corinthians 12:9.
Matthew 5:3 (NIV)
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The poor in spirit are those who realize they have nothing on which to stand in and of themselves that makes them righteous.
2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)
9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
? Meet regularly with a circle of other believers.
Remember in a place where no one stands alone, no one struggles alone. If we are not making the effort to stand with a group of believers by meeting in a smaller circle regularly (whether that?s once a week or once a month ? in the place you work, your home, or the church), we are still standing alone. And by not creating a smaller circle for others, we keep them in a place where they are forced to stand alone ? and church remains an alien place.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Don?t just love the idea of community ? love your brothers and sisters.” (Bonhoeffer).
When that happens, church will be a place to call home.