Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren has announced that he will soon launch the "most important and life-changing" sermon series he's ever preached, as it will focus on God's mercy and how He drew near to the Warren family after the suicide of their youngest son, Matthew.
Warren made the announcement in a video posted to his personal Facebook page on Sunday, March 13: "Easter has become particularly personal and poignant to me in the past three years, because five days after Easter three years ago, my 27-year-old son ended his own life," he said of Matthew, who struggled from depression and mental illness.
"He had battled mental illness since childhood, and despite all the best doctors and the best medicine, therapy, and prayers, and love, he lost his battle for hope on Easter week. And Our family was devastated. The day Matthew gave into despair was the worst day of my life," the pastor added.
Since Matthew's death, Warren and his wife, Kay have counseled hundreds of other families also facing deep depression. However, the couple still have their own dark days, where they turn to God's mercy for comfort.
"God's mercy has sustained me, and my wife Kay, and our entire family through the darkest days," he said.
He revealed that the upcoming Easter events at Saddleback will mark part one of a new sermon series he is beginning, titled "The Miracle of Mercy."
"It may be the most important, the most life-changing series I have ever taught. And I hope you will join me as I honestly share how to get through the worst days of your life, by depending on the mercy of God."
He shared that there would be at least 57 Easter services across Saddleback's numerous churches in California and across the world. There there will also be live streaming online for those who are not able to attend a church service.
Speaking at the NRB conference in Nashville, Tennessee in February, Warren further opened up about the pain his family experienced after Matthew's suicide and the devastating nature of mental illness.
"He came to me one day with tears in his eyes and said, 'Dad it's pretty clear the Lord isn't going to heal me.' Every day, his brain said, 'Die,'" Warren said of his son. "Your illness is not your identity, and your chemistry is not your character."
The pastor shared how his congregation supported his family during that time, and expressed hope that someday, he will be reunited with his son in Heaven.
Warren said that amid the pain, God gave him the promise given to David when his infant son died. "I can't bring him back to life," he said, quoting II Sam. 12:23. "He cannot come back to me, but one day I will go to him."
After Matthew's death, the letters that meant the most were not from "Kings and ambassadors and presidents," but from people whom the young man had led to Christ.
At the time, Warren wrote in his journal, "In God's garden of grace, even broken trees bear fruit." Everyone is broken, he said. "Pain can obscure God's promises, but it can't nullify them."
For the past several years, Rick and Kay Warren have also hosted Saddleback Church's Gathering on Mental Health and The Church and spoken out on the importance of reaching out to people affected by mental illness.
Based on his experiences, Warren said he can confidently tell others that a Christian leader's "greatest ministry comes not out of your strength but your weakness."
"We minister to people out of our weaknesses, not our strengths," he said. "Base your ministry not on your talent; base your ministry not on your abilities, not on your cleverness, not on your giftedness. Base your ministry on the promises of God."