HOUSTON, TX: The three distinct phases of my life with God
The following is a sermon preached at the 12th Annual Winter conference of the Anglican Missions in the Americas (AMIA) Morning Worship
By The Rev. Dr. Jack Deere
January 13, 2012
I have come this morning to speak to those of you who have left their buildings and their church home, just as Luke 18:29-30 says. ("I tell you the truth", Jesus said to them. "No one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the Kingdom of God, will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come, eternal life." NIV) You left a church that no longer had a theology, just a government.
You probably never planned on that.
As a youngster I planned to be good but not to be Godly. I planned to get married but not to fall in love. Then I saw Lisa for the first time, sitting in the back seat of a convertible. How could they put that beauty in the back seat? We married a year later and I was and still am madly in love with her.
What I learned over the next 20 years is that God had it all planned out. That which I had not planned for was already under His purview. WE don't plan the turning points in our lives. We don't plan pain.
I know a lot about pain. I grew up in a family where my mother and father fought constantly. It was almost always my mother, as she picked fights with my dad about everything and anything. My dad became the most important person in my life. He was a war hero from WWII and come home wounded and scarred. If I had a question, I asked my dad. If I needed encouragement, I went to my dad.
My mom was a bitter, angry woman who cut rose canes, complete with thorns, to spank the four of us. She would spank us with these canes until we bled. I used to think these were just spankings. Now I know they were beatings. I was the oldest of 4. And when I was 12 years old, my father paid my mother back for all of her misery she inflicted on him. He committed suicide.
He left a 34 year old widow who did not graduate from high school with 4 kids. We were poor. There was no thought of anything beyond food and shelter. No dreams of college. I found my identity as a kid who lost his best friend when my dad committed suicide, by being the wildest kid at school. I drank to excess and drove drunk and did drugs and I think if I had not found God at the age of 17, I would not have lived to become 21.
My best friend was named Bruce. He was the old man at school even in 6th grade. Bruce had a Nixon button in the 6th grade, and talked about Nixon beating John Kennedy in the election. I went home and asked my dad, what are we, Republicans or Democrats? "Democrats," my dad said. When I told Bruce the next day he said, "Are you stupid? That man will plunge this country into ruin." That was Bruce in 6th grade
In 8th grade, we found sex. Bruce was font of sexual knowledge. His older sisters were stewardesses and he told us things about girls and how they worked. He could get close to all the pretty girls. They trusted him, even with their secrets. Bruce helped us get close to the pretty girls.
Before our Junior year he got religion at the Southern Baptist summer camp. He took obnoxious to a whole new level. He came to school carrying a pocket sized King James Bible with the little red ribbon sticking out of his pocket. He tried to talk to all of us about God. We didn't even pay attention. Later that year, I spent the night with him - I was 17- on the guise of meeting some really pretty girls. He neglected to say these girls were going to be missionaries. I didn't have a plan to be good anymore, let alone a plan past next week end.
At 2:00 AM, I asked Bruce, "How do you get into heaven?" That's when I heard for the first time that Jesus Christ died for me and if I would receive him in my heart, he would never leave and I will have a new life. Imagine that, a new life.
That can't be true. Everyone important left me. How can I believe this? Bruce said, "Jesus said so. He doesn't come into your heart because you are good, but to give you new life. He'll never leave you."
An abandoned fatherless boy saying and believing that Jesus will never leave you. I laid awake all night staring at the ceiling and as the sun came up I was praying some stumbling prayer and I was born again that day. By nightfall, I had a father again who planned for my life. I was a 17 year old kid who has known God for 10 hours. A kid with reservoir of anger inside, who had never had one positive male role model beyond his father. Tossed about by raising waves of testosterone. Single mother, no money. No college. No plans for the future. That's when Phase One of my life with God began. Later that month, God sent Young Life into my life and gave me a mentor there who taught me how to read the Bible and talk to kids and lead kids to Christ.
Jesus came and chose 12 guys. Why? To share a life with them that counts for something. The first thing he did was to call the 12 is to be with him. The first thing in a happy life is deep friendships. Happy life= deep friendships. The 12 were with him for 3.5 years. 3 got to go everywhere. One was his best friend. John calls himself the 'disciple whom Jesus loved'. At the last supper, Peter turned to John and said to John, "You ask him." John wasn't afraid to ask Jesus what everyone else couldn't. John was sitting next to Christ when he said that one of the disciples would betray him. Jesus replied, " Well John it's the person I give this bread to." And he placed it in Judas' hands. (John13:21-26)
The next day, 4 women and John were standing at foot of cross. At noon, Jesus looks at his mother and says to John," Behold your mother; woman, behold your son."
From that hour he gave his most precious thing to his best friend. That was his mom. John cared for her until she died.
I didn't know how long it took to be friends with Jesus. First I was just a soul winner. I led a bunch of kids to Christ and sometimes their parents. Then I had friends at Dallas Theological Seminary that really knew the Bible. I took a Bible class and found great love for Greek and Hebrew. Now I think of Jesus and God as the great teacher. How do you please a teacher? Study harder. I waded through thousands of Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, following the biblical argument. I had 3 professors who encouraged these skills. Something else was going on beside me that was not good. I got a doctor's degree and became a professor there for 12 years. Had my dream job of studying and started a church in Fort Worth. A Presbyterian church because that is what I knew. Dealing in knowledge so much, I now dealt with God as a story, not a person. Could quote them but did not "know" the Scriptures.
At 37 I encountered a turning point I didn't plan. It was an encounter with the Holy Spirit. This was the beginning of Phase II of my life with God. After this, I pulled closer to God but pulled away from 20-30 year relationships that never got restored. I began to tell God daily what a priviledged life he has given me. It was a turning point that God was taking me a different path. Not a better path, but different path. The healing ministry is awesome. I saw blind eyes opened and limbs lengthened and people on crutches walk. All miracles. God did it all. Is anybody against that? No, but they are against the abuse of the Holy Spirit. Scripture said that God tossed these gifts in John's coffin in 95 AD. I couldn't distinguish between the difference between the abuse of the Spirit and the appropriate use of the Spirit. Now I know that they are tools. The Spirit gives us tools.
Believing in the Holy Spirit didn't just make worship services better, but in my life, God stopped being a principle and started being a person again. I started feeling the affection of God. I know God loves me vs I feel God loves me. During my friendship with John Wimber, I re-met this God who is really personal and that was a great stage in my life and development. It lasted until I was 42. We moved to Whitefish MT in PCUSA. I led one of three churches in the presbytery that believed in Scripture. I was on the ministry commission and we were planning the ordination for a guy that didn't believe that Jesus died on the cross. I asked if we should ordain him. No one in the room had any doubts but me. Then I asked for clarification in what we do believe. I was told we believe in the Book of Order. You can't baptize twice or you'll get kicked out of the ministy. That's what they believed.
My church did well and I was invited in 1996 to be the primary speaker at the General Assembly. They asked the one guy that believes in the Holy Spirit to be the main speaker. This was after worship of Sofia was banned by PCUSA. Walking through exhibition hall, I walked past 20 people chanting to Sophia. No one in the leadership/hierarchy cared. I realized it was a church that no longer had a theology, just a government.
What did my church have for certain? We had a form of government and a property deed. Declining membership fits with the message that man is good because no one believes it. They don't realize that it takes the power of Jesus Christ and his blood to change a human heart. Did 2 yrs in PCUSA in Montana and then was booted out.
Then I lived my dream life in Montana writing books and traveling, watching soaring eagles and antelope outside my study window. Me and God were having a good time. Then I read a story about a janitor who retired with millions because of a few tech stocks. So I started to investigate that. I read about the tech world and invested a little money and it doubled and then I invested more. I made a pile of money. It was exhilarating. I was reading a lot about the stock market, charts, financial reports - lots more than I was reading the Bible. But there was so much to learn in the world of markets. I didn't leave God but ignored him for a while. I had a number, a financial number. I was going to pull it all out of the stock market and invest my money very carefully. God and I could be independent and we could do whatever we wanted. Smart and Rich. Feeling independent. Not exactly good for Jesus' followers. Just like a prime athlete, all I had came from God. The talent, the drive, the desire. In March 2000 driving down from my house on the top of the hill, I heard a voice that said, "Sell everything." Sounded just like God but the voice made no sense to me. So, I argued, "But Lord, by the middle of summer, I would have my number and then I will quit. I will sell it all."
Tech stocks began falling in April. By Sept, I lost most of my net worth. It didn't matter, because there was plenty left. Or so I thought.
Then I went into the third phase of life with God. Lisa and I had 3 kids - a perfect son and perfect daughter. Then there was Scott, our middle child. We fought with him on the day he was born and never stopped. Caught him smoking marijuana at 13 and he was rehab by 17. Girls pursued Scott by kindergarten. Such a charmer, he was always able to find people to take care of him. Went to rehab again. After he came out he was Ok for a while. By the summer of 2000 he was sleeping in a garage with a dog. Part of his trouble was a dad who always rescued him, when there was no one left to charm. I would say, "Scott, this is the best day of your life. You have to change."
He would reply, "I want to change dad."
I always believed him and always rescued him. Then in July on the mountain top, God said, "Bring Scott home and treat him like the prodigal son." That's exactly what I did. Bought him a $30,000 pickup, set him up in an apartment at Montana State in Bozeman and began to see him regularly. I took him out with me every time I went out hunting or fishing. We could actually communicate during that time. We were finally on our way to perfect.
Christmas night, 2001. Scott was going out with a girlfriend. Said he'd be back. Morning came and Scott didn't come down from his room and I went up to wake him up. I opened the door to his room and knew instantly something was wrong. He is sitting at the end of his bed, fully clothed, legs splayed out in front of him. Then I saw the blood. I knelt down beside him. My gun was in his hand. He shot himself. He was dead.
I went to Lisa and told her that Scott had shot himself in our house and was dead. I said to her, "Don't go into his room. It's awful."
She said, "If you don't let me into that room right now, I'll never forgive you."
We went in and held Scott. Elise was praying in the doorway. Praying that God would give Scott back to us. Finally, the police came and asked us to leave the room. We did. We left for weeks. We couldn't face going back there. They took Scott away. Scott took away a lot of things from us: peace, security, and our joy. Job said, "The Lord has come and taken them away. Blessed be the name of the Lord."
Now I had to believe that God could be blessed in everything he did. Lost all the money in the stock market; lost my son. Nothing was valuable after that day. Don't let kids believe that marijuana is not addictive. It is a gateway drug.
One month after we lost Scott, a friend sent me an email saying suicides don't go to heaven. He explained that if you die with unconfessed sin you can't go to heaven. Didn't even reply to that email. Since I was 17, I knew how people get into heaven. Trust Jesus, believe in him and he comes into your heart and he will never leave. Now, I have to believe that to have a relationship with him. I know what it means to be accepted into the loving arms of Christ.
(The sermon continued as Dr. Jack read to us from a chapter of a new book he is finishing. The chapter is called Friendship with God. )
"I have no doubt where my son is. God has planned a great reunion for us. Sometime in the future, a great reunion. My doubt is how to finish this life. Lisa is overwhelmed with grief. We buried Scott on Jan 1, 2001. I said, "We will see Scott again." She looked at me and didn't comment.
Two weeks later, she woke up in a thunder storm, hysterical. " I don't want him to be cold and wet. He's lying in the coffin so cold and wet. I can't help it. That's what I believe."
I tried to comfort her, to explain that we leave our bodies behind and Scott was not in that coffin. He was home with God. He wasn't cold and wet. We are different, Lisa and I. Jesus said, "I will raise him up on the last day." Scott is with Jesus. At his resurrection Jesus received a new body and Scott will too some day.
Then Scott's property arrived. 3 bags and a box, not much for 23 years of living. I looked at that box and those bags and think that is all he left behind. It's so little. All anyone can take with them to eternal life is a heart. Everything else goes to dust. Lisa looked at belongings and held them and smelled them, refusing to let go. She is holding on to her son. I am trying to let go. Lisa despairs because she can't live with the doubt. I take refuge in my mind, the place I have gone to all my life for comfort and solace and peace.
But, doubt encroaches. For years, I began every day praying that God would shelter and protect us. Father, protect us? Now? Maybe all prayer is obsolete. All of our friends were useless. If you haven't lost a child the way we lost a child, you can't understand. We tried counseling. The day we buried Scott, a person said that we had received severe mercy. What is the mercy?
Two weeks after we buried Scott, my mercy arrived. I was trying to save my life from this abyss of insanity. His death was all I could think of. Then the bill for the funeral arrived. It was $10,064.69 and they wanted payment immediately. That same day, a sack full of mail arrived. Sympathy cards. 38 cards and those 38 cards had 22 checks in them. One check for each year of Scott's life. I opened the cards and added up the checks. They totaled $10,064.
The Voice said, " I paid for his death. I paid for his life and I will pay for everything you need the rest of your life."
That's what my father's love feels like. Most of my life, I tried to be significant. Now, I was feeling significant apart from my performance. Maybe all Jesus ever wanted was a friend.
Wish I could say that the sun started shining in my life again. God did not remove my pain. The death of my son was the darkest, hardest 10 years of my life. We retreated from the world. We lived in a cave. My son's death was the door to that cave. We crept in further and further trying to escape the pain, the insanity of it all.
The death of my son was also the door to a deeper walk with God. Two years ago, I found Jesus in the cave with me. He was just sitting there, but I knew that I was not alone in my pain. Joy came back into my life. John lived in a cave on Patmos at the end of his life. Even if we retreat to a cave, Jesus will come and find us, get us and take us out of that cave to a party that will never end." (reading ended here)
I know that many of you here today are in pain. Allow Jesus to redeem your pain. If we will do that, he can produce something that will bear much fruit. Then the Anglican Mission will be known for its friendship with Jesus Christ and the joy of that friendship will bring many into the kingdom. AMEN.
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