Begin with Brokenness: An Ash Wednesday Sermon

Last week at Eastbrook’s “Journey to the Cross” service, I shared this message for Ash Wednesday rooted in Joel 2:12-17.


Sometimes what’s broken can become more beautiful and stronger than before.

In the Japanese artform kintsugi broken pieces of pottery are taken by an artist and repaired by mending the imperfections with a lacquer infused with powdered gold. Instead of flaws to be hidden, the imperfections become part of the beauty and strength of the vessel worth highlighting.

Kintsugi speaks about two realities we experience in our lives and in the world all the time. One the one hand, things are not the way they should be, and on the other hand, beauty can break forth unexpectedly from brokenness.

The journey of Lent is like this. On the one hand we travel a shocking, broken road with Jesus in Jerusalem. He is hailed as King at His triumphal entry. Many people flock to hear His powerful words and teaching. They watch Him cause a scandal in the religious center. He shows the fruitlessness of dead religion and turns expectations upside down. But what started with great acclaim turns to dark destruction as Jesus eventually is crucified in Jerusalem. His body beaten. His blood poured out.  His suffering for us. 

“He took up our pain and bore our suffering” (Isaiah 53:4).  On the one hand, Jesus’ journey is difficult.

On the other hand, we discover that Jesus’ difficult pathway to the Cross is God’s pathway for bringing what is good. God brings life, healing, forgiveness, change, and transformation through the sacrifice of Jesus upon the Cross. He turns an upside-down world right-side up. It’s the sort of thing we describe with the Bible word “salvation.” The Apostle Paul describes the wonderful paradox of Lent in 1 Corinthians:

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God….For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”  (1 Corinthians 1:18, 25)

Sometimes what’s broken can become more beautiful and powerful than before. We see this in the life and ministry of Jesus.

We see that with God’s work in our own lives as well. On the one hand, we all know that despite appearances we’re not all we’re cracked up to be. We have sinned and we are broken. We experience that in our relationships, in our pursuits, and inside of ourselves. Lent gives us an opportunity to pull off the mask before God and before others and just be our real selves. 

To name before God and others that things are not right and we still need God’s healing, redemption, and salvation in our lives. As Paul says: “I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin” (Romans 7:25).

On the other hand, God can bring beautiful transformation in our lives by His grace and truth. We are never castoff by God. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). We are all trophies of God’s grace, prizes of Jesus’ rescue mission.

Sometimes what’s broken can become more beautiful and stronger than before…and that’s even true of us.

But sometimes we can forget all this. Like someone with a case of amnesia we forget why we’re here and what we’re all about. Like someone lost in the forest, we become disoriented and forget which way we are supposed to go. And so, we move through our daily routines without thinking or feeling. Like someone who wakes up in the morning without having a jolt from their daily cup of coffee, we’re groggy in a dreamworld and lacking touch with reality. This touches our life with God as well, both individually and as a community. Amnesiac, disoriented, and groggy, when Lent arrives, we tend to just go through the motions. We give up something. We read the devotional. We participate in the Journey to the Cross service. 

But the prophet Joel snaps us awake with his stark words:

“Rend your heart
    and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
    and he relents from sending calamity.” (Joel 2:13)

Sometimes what’s broken can become more beautiful and stronger than before. The prophet Joel calls out to a people sinking in the waves of sin and idolatry. He calls them to turn around from their wrong ways and seek after God. Drawing on the action common with repentance, an outward tearing of garments, the prophet tells the people to tear their hearts, to break them up, before God. 

Right alongside his invitation to break our heart with repentance—to turn to God—Joel reminds everyone that God is ready to meet us with His patience, forgiveness, and unyielding love. He takes the broken places of our lives and restores them, infusing these imperfections with His inestimably valuable grace, truth, holiness, and love. 

Lent begins with brokenness. It begins with realizing the ways we have strayed from God. We turn back, tearing our hearts open with confession, bringing to Him the places where we are broken, and presenting to Him our lives. Twentieth-century novelist Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” Now, that may be true generally, but with Lent, we do not place ourselves at the mercy of an anonymous world, but in the hands of a loving God who graciously remakes us through Christ.

Sometimes what’s broken can become more beautiful and stronger than before. 

A Leader’s Greatest Fear

This past Tuesday at our staff meeting at Eastbrook Church we watched an outstanding message on leadership drawn from the book of Esther by John Ortberg, Senior Pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church.

Ortberg’s message explores what he calls the leader’s shadow mission, or what others have called the dark side of leadership. I believe this is one of the most important, yet often neglected, aspects of leadership. It is important because our shadow mission can subtly ruin us and our ministry. It is neglected because of the humility and painful effort required of us to face our darkest, hidden brokenness.

Watch it here.

A Leader’s Greatest Fear from ehdesign on Vimeo.

Broken to Heal: a Good Friday message

Here is the complete text from my Good Friday message given yesterday at Eastbrook Church. You can view the message here.Chosen Words Series Gfx_Web Ad

The Apostle John, one of Jesus’ closest companions, begins his telling of Jesus’ life with profound words. John describes Jesus as the ‘Word of God’ – that perfect wisdom and revelation of God – who “was with God in the beginning” (John 1:1, 2). He says Jesus was “the true light” shining “in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome” that light (1:5, 9). John even goes so far as to say that Jesus surpasses Moses in His authority as a teacher because Jesus is “the One and Only Son, who is Himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father” (1:17, 18). These rich words show us how highly John thought about Jesus and exactly who we are dealing with when we come to the Gospels: Jesus’ timelessness, Jesus’ authority, Jesus’ wisdom, and Jesus’ divinity.

If we had never encountered the story of Jesus, it may strike us as odd when we read the following words from John nestled amidst those earlier descriptions:

The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory.” (1:14)

The lofty One comes into our midst in human flesh, John says, and that is a revelation of His glory. Certainly, it could be a slight surprise to hear this. The glorious Word – unstained and pure – steps into rough and tumble human experience – right where we live.

Yet that slight surprise is nothing compared to what we encounter later in John’s story: that Jesus would suffer the brutality of violent execution by human hands. This is exactly what we have heard from another early Jesus follower, Matthew, in his record of Jesus’ life read throughout the service today. It is a litany of broken human experience: Jesus’ isolated and suffering alone in prayer while His disciples fall asleep; Jesus’ betrayed by one of His own followers named Judas; Jesus arrested by Temple guards without clear accusation; Jesus facing authorities who bend justice to match their own aims, even as they stand as representatives of God; Jesus’ utter rejection by a close friend, Simon Peter; Jesus’ life exchanged for the freedom of a known murderer, Barabbas, at the request of the crowds; Jesus humiliatingly mocked as a broken king by the Roman soldiers, complete with a robe, a staff, and a crown of thorns; the voices of cynics shouting insults as Jesus is heaved up on a cross to slowly die of asphyxiation or heart failure.Read More »

Family Secrets

Family-Portrait-ThumbnailThis weekend at Eastbrook Church I continued our series, “Family Portrait,” with a message entitled “Family Secrets.”

My message was a reflection on the life of Jacob, culminating in his wrestling match with the angel of the Lord in Genesis 32:22-32. My main point in the message is that we need to face into our family secrets, brokenness, and sin so that we can move into redemptive freedom by God’s power.

You can listen to my message at the Eastbrook web-site here. You can also follow the RSS feed for Eastbrook sermons or follow Eastbrook Church on Twitter or Facebook. The message outline is included below:Read More »

Family Portrait

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This coming weekend at Eastbrook Church, we are beginning a series entitled “Family Portrait.”

The family is a significant part of God’s plan in the world.  At one level we are all part of the family of God, as Paul writes: “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household” (Ephesians 2:19). What does it mean for the church to truly be a family together? At the same time, what does it look like for us to have families in the church who are healthy and reaching out to our broken world? Let’s put the picture together in this series on a God-inspired family portrait.

Our weekly message topics are:

April 20/21 – “You Belong in the Family”

April 27/28 – “Ideal Family?”

May 4/5 – “Family Secrets”

May 11/12 – “Homecoming”

Alongside of our series, we will be offering seminars during the first two weeks of May, both on Sunday mornings and during the week, on a range of specific topics applicable to everyone. You can find out more info here.