Saddleback Church, founded by Pastor Rick and Kay Warren, celebrated 35 years of ministry influence and impact during a special community-wide service on Saturday (March 21, 2015) at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California.
Some twenty thousand people from around the world, including Rwanda and many countries in Latin America, attended the service during which the Warrens announced plans for the next chapter of Saddleback Church’s history.
Pastor Warren preached the same sermon he preached during the first service hosted by Saddleback Church in 1980, titled “A Daring Faith” – but in past tense, proving how the founding members’ vision has become a reality.
“God has blessed Saddleback Church in an unusual way, but it has nothing to do with our being deserving,” said Pastor Warren, speaking on the mound at the famed baseball home of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
“It has everything to do with God’s grace. We dared to dream big, and God has done big things in the life of this church.”
But one person who was not there was Matthew Warren, the beloved son of the couple, who died at the age of 27, from a self-inflicted gunshot almost two years ago, after a lifelong struggle with depression and mental illness.
During a press conference prior to the service, Rick Warren began by saying, “It’s good to see you guys. Thank you for coming today. First let me just say, on behalf of Kay and our family, thank you for your kindness when our son died. The loss of our son two years ago, was the worst day of our lives. It was a very difficult year and you don’t get over it — you get through it — and the press was incredibly gracious, incredibly kind and gracious, and we’ll always be grateful for that.”
Kay Warren then said, “We’re not the same people. The Rick and Kay who were alive on April 4th2013, are not the same people that exist since April 5th 2013. And some of that is changes I wish hadn’t happened. I wish our hearts hadn’t been broken and crushed and those are changes that I wish hadn’t happened.
“I wouldn’t wish it on anybody else. But at the same time, I know my own hope is stronger and I minister from a stronger place of hope than I ever have before because I have a very clear recognition that the truth of the Gospel is either true or it’s not and if it’s not true then we just need to forget it all, go home, call it a farce, call it a fairy-tale and go home.
“But if it’s true, if Jesus did raise from the dead, then that means that Jesus is alive today, and Matthew is alive today, and we’ll be alive someday when we leave this life, when these bodies die. And that truth has given me I think a deeper confidence in sharing with people as I enter into their pain, their suffering, their sorrow, whatever it is that they’re struggling with, I’m more sure of heaven, and of God’s mercy, than I have ever been before.”
Holding back the tears, Kay stated, “I’ll live with a broken heart until the day that Jesus comes for me, and that’s ok. It’s ok to walk through life with tears in your eyes and a smile on your face at the same time.”
Pastor Warren then said, “That’s a good point; that it’s not a contradiction to be able to laugh and cry at the same time. The Bible says that there’s a ‘time to laugh’ and ‘a time to cry.’ And I do both every day. I’ve cried every single day since Matthew died.
“I don’t see that as a sign of weakness, but as a sign of love. I love my son; and I miss him very much. Now I’m not grieving for him for I know where he is. He’s in heaven. I’m grieving that I miss him. When Matthew died, this was the day that we prayed would never happen, and the day we feared might since he struggled with mental illness since a little boy. He struggled with depression and so many things for so long and we would go to doctor after doctor, and our hearts go out to people who have family members who struggle with mental illness.”
Rick stated, “Some years ago, Kay and I launched the HIV/AIDS Initiative at Saddleback Church, which is one of our signature issues. We used to think that AIDS was the last taboo that people didn’t want to talk about, but now, I really think mental illness is the last taboo. It’s the one thing that nobody wants to talk about. If my stomach doesn’t work, I take a pill for it and there’s no shame. If my liver doesn’t work, it’s no shame. But if my brain doesn’t work and I take a pill for that, why am I supposed to hide that and be ashamed of it? It’s just another organ.”
After a brief pause, he added, “Your illness is not your identity. Your character is not your chemistry. And Matthew had a tender heart and a broken mind. When he died, we probably received about 35,000 letters of condolences from people all around the world. There was an enormous outpouring from people. And the ones that meant the most to us were not from the famous people, the rock stars, or the prime ministers, but actually the letters that meant the most to us, were ones from people that Matthew had led to faith in Christ. And I remember writing in my journal that day, ‘In God’s garden of grace even broken trees bear fruit.’
“And the truth is that we’re all broken trees because everything’s broken. I don’t know if you realize your body doesn’t work. It doesn’t work perfectly. We’re all mentally ill in different ways, with fears and compulsions and things like that. When Matthew died, I didn’t preach for four months. I intentionally took off 16 weeks. I had friends come in and teach and pretty much spent that time alone with Kay and the Lord, and you can’t spend that much time alone and thinking, and in serious conversation, without it changing you.
“I really am a different person. I feel people’s pain much more deeply. I always knew it was hurtful and I cared about people in pain. But I tear up with people in pain pretty easily now because I don’t just sympathize, I empathize with them.”
I then asked Rick Warren if, after all these years, he ever felt like giving up and retiring, and he replied, “Yes, on just every Monday morning when I get PMS (Post Message Syndrome.) After a weekend of doing some six services, I think, ‘God, surely somebody could do a better job than this.’ I think that I’m not smart enough to lead a church of literally tens of thousands of people.
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SOURCE: Assist News – Dan Wooding