Pastor Rick Warren and his wife Kay Warren return to Saddleback Church pulpit after 16 weeks of absence since their youngest son Matthew, who had battled with serious form of mental illness, committed suicide.
The pastor couple poured out their hearts to the congregation in their first sermon titled "How To Get Through What You're Going Through," explaining three biblical principles that they know, which kept them focused on the right path and enabled them to endure through the pain of extreme loss.
Among those in attendance were Mark Burnett and Roma Downy, producers of History Channel’s “The Bible” Mini-series, pastors from the Southern California churches, friends and families, and the greater-Saddleback church family. Over 11,000 attended the services at the campus, and 2,600 people participated in the online campus. The crowd welcomed the return of their pastors with standing ovations during the first weekend service in Tustin on Saturday, July 27, 2013.
The Warrens thanked the more than 400 church staffs for carrying on the church while they’ve been away. He also thanked the pastors from southern Los Angeles who came. Meanwhile, he called his son Josh and daughter Amy as “heroes” for “loving their younger brother Matthew unconditionally, led him out of the deep, and forgiven him time after time.”
Rick Warren said the first thing to know is that “life doesn’t make sense but we can have peace because we know that God is with us and loves us.” The author of Purpose-Drive Life, one of the world’s best-selling books, described six stages that he observed himself going through as he grieved for his son: the first is shock; second sorrow; third struggle; fourth surrender; fifth sanctification; sixth service. Each stage will be explained in one week in the following six weeks.
Healing of Matthew’s mental illness was his number one prayer topic in his life, and they had the best medical service, best family support, best family of faith, but what had happened didn’t make sense to him.
“However, I would rather walk with God and not have my question answered than have my question answered, but not walk with God,” said the mega-church pastor. “When we are in pain, we always ask questions. None of the explanations would relieve the pain. Pain is relieved by the presence of God in your life and realizing that he is with you and suffering with you.”
“All of his life, Matthew struggled with his mental illness. Life did not make sense to my son. When life doesn’t make sense, you need to hold on to the promise of God. There are over 6,000 of them in the Bible,” he said.
The second thing to know is that “we can have joy because we know God is good and He has a greater plan,” he said. “Nothing on earth is perfect…everything is broken, including your brain. We are all mentally ill. The fact is you have fears, worries, doubts, compulsions, attractions, temptations, discouragements, and depression,” said the pastor, who attributed the brokenness and sin in the world to “free choice.”
“People confuse earth with heaven, but it is not…we should not be surprised that there is suffering in this world. That’s why we’re told to pray ‘thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ God’s will is done in heaven, so heaven is perfect, but on earth, God’s will is rarely done. Lots of time, we don’t choose God’s will. You have a will and God has a will. You get to choose.”
“We all make poor choices. It affects climates down to the DNA,” he said. “How can we have joy? Because God is good and he has a greater plan.”
Matthew’s father said, “My son was robbed of his life by mental illness. Satan cannot hurt God so he wants to hurt you. He wants to destroy you, because you are God’s creation and Satan hates everything that God created. When Matthew died, Satan thought that he won, but in fact Matthew is freed from torture and is cheering from the grand stand now.”
Rick Warren then described the moments after they couldn’t get a hold of Matthew, which was when the couple had their “greatest fear.” They got to his apartment and see his truck parked outside. They were unable to get in because they didn’t have keys. While waiting for the police to arrive, the Warrens stood in front of the door just sobbing thinking that which they had feared the most had happened.
Pastor Rick recalled how Kay held up her necklace, which has the title of the book that she has written, “Choose Joy,” engraved on it, and showed it to him. He said, “Are you kidding me? Can we still have joy when everything is broken?”
The third thing to know is that life is a battle, but we can have hope because we know the ending to the story, the couple explained.
Kay Warren then took the stage. She recalled five years ago when her son’s condition grew worse she searched frantically for answers and help. She formed a prayer support group consisting of her most trusted friends, and they would send her emails of encouragements and hope. She would then place these sentences and words into a box, which she would review them during the difficult times. She said that she believed in God that she had no doubt that God was going to heal Matthew’s mind.
(Photo: Saddleback Church via Online Campus)
However, with his death, her hopes for Matthew’s healed mind on earth crumbled. She acknowledged that her hope in God has been seriously damaged, and that her playlist of Christian songs that kept her believing seemed “stupid and pointless.”
“What do you do when hope doesn’t turn out the way that you were so sure that it was going to? Do you curse God and say that he is phony or a fake? Do you give God a way out and blame yourself that somehow it was my faith at fault?” She said.
Towards these questions, Kay Warren has decided that “neither” of these explanations is right. “My faith was bold and audacious,” she said, adding that her love was “simply not strong enough to break through the walls of mental illness.”
For all the “mysteries” that she can’t solve, she believes that when she sees Jesus face to face, then all that she can’t solve will be solved.
The pastor’s wife is now rebuilding her box of hope by removing the old verses and adding new ones that strengthened her for the future, because she knows that “what happened on April 5th will not be the end.”
“Hope may not look the way we’d like. Hope is alive in me. When has hope died in you?” she said. “I urge you to have the same hope again. Rebuild it. It is not the end of the story. That’s where we hope.”
Then, Pastor Rick continued, “We are in a battle against hopelessness, an epidemic across the planet. Hopelessness is universal.”
“You are going to have the end of many moments in your life. At the end of the world, Jesus is going to show up. That’s how you know that it is the end of the world… this is our hope. Our stress, pain, and suffering and sadness will be over,” he said.
Towards the end, Pastor Rick said that he wants the Saddleback Church family to go with him to the "sores of life, where people are dying, bleeding, tormented, depressed, and take up the cross."
“Jesus came for the outcast, rejected, and left out. He came for Matthew, you and me,” he said. “I want you to go with me.”