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Well, it is certainly good to see our kids over there, and our high schoolers joining us in this hour. And if you are a first timer, a guest with us here at Cottonwood, I want to say welcome to you. I'm John Mark. I'm the pastor here. And for those who might be joining us online, welcome to online. And if you're a first timer, welcome to online. I want you to know that our intention today was to begin a brand new series entitled Unqualified, God uses people, ordinary people like you and me to do some amazing and extraordinary things. And that was our plan. That was certainly my plan. But I want you to know we're calling an audible today, and I'll share with you a little bit more why. But I want to encourage you to come back next week as we pick up that series, Unqualified, and we think we're all unqualified for what God wants us to do. But the beauty is that when God calls us, he immediately qualifies us if we are just willing to be obedient in our walk in our faith. 

The audible today is related to some of the things that are going on in our world around us. And I just felt like I was so overwhelmed that I had to change for you. And there's a reason our students are in this room. We want them to hear what I had to say today. And as we think back in Ephesians chapter five, Paul says, "Be very careful how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise people because the days are evil." How many of you realize we live in days of evil? And he goes, "We need to walk circumspectly." In other words, we need to look around. We need to know what's going on. The two things I read the most is I read God's word and I read the news. I read studies. I read statistics. Why? Because I want to know as the pastor. How do I take God's word that was written back then to real people with real problems, with real struggles, and how do I apply it to the people who are walking around today with real problems and real struggles and real hurts and real heartaches? 

And so as I think about where we are in this world today, I want to encourage us as a church to always have our eyes wide open. As we journey into the summer with vacation Bible school and everything and student camp, which Scott just mentioned, that is well beyond anything we've ever sent before. And it's just amazing to see that happen. But there's a reality that's going on around us. It's a sad phenomenon, and it's one I want to address today. But if you know my story, for those who know my story, it's not one I want to address. But you can't help but address it, and hopefully this will be a way and a measure of encouragement for you because Jesus in the sermon on the mount talking to his followers, us, you and me, the church, he says, "You are the salt of the Earth. And we are the light of the world." 

And so hopefully what I share today out of my heart and out of God's word will help us in dark days and evil days and difficult days to be salt and light at a greater measure, in a greater amount than we've ever been before. Let me just tell you about my week. And I don't know how your week ran this week, but I'm just literally talking about this week, not even the last couple of weeks. I could go through it. But this week, middle part of the week, I get a phone call from one of our members. And he is broken. He was in the previous service. He was in our earlier service. And his brother had committed suicide, and he was broken. He had questions about that issue and that topic. He was so broken that he reminded me of me a number of years ago. He couldn't talk, and he actually handed the phone to his wife and she asked the question. 

And I said, "Okay. Give the phone back to him," and I answered the question. Then it kind of went back and forth because he couldn't talk. Then as I journey a little further in this week, all of us are familiar with what took place in McKinney. Correct? The 10th grade boy who took his life. And I will tell you as a father of a 10th grader, if you have kids in school, anytime you hear that your immediate thought is about your own kids. You're praying that you're the dad they need, or the mom they need, or the parent they need, whether you're a single family home, or your home fully intact, that you immediately tremble. I tremble for my kids.  

Then last night as Gina and I were getting ready to go to sleep, literally getting ready to go to sleep, many of you know that some of us on staff, and me and Chase and Caleb and Robert are also police chaplains for the local police department. As I'm getting ready to go to bed, getting ready to plug in my phone so it's got charge today, I see the phone call come in, and it says dispatch. When they call us, it's never good. And so I'm sitting there, and Gina sees it, and I see it. And I'm like, "I don't want to answer this," but I did. And I ended up in the middle of the night last night going over to a family's house, who the husband and father took his life, that quick. 

Literally, I'm sitting on the floor in their house last night with the wife, who's grieving, can't talk, and two daughters who don't understand what just happened. One of the daughters the night before had walked the stage to graduate from high school over at Allen. And so today what you're getting is an audible. If you're not familiar with that, that means it's a change of play at the line of scrimmage. And here's the audible. I want to share with you the realities of suicide and what scripture has to say about suicide, so when you encounter conversations that you will be equipped. Part of my job is to equip the saints to do the work of service.  

And as we think about this, if this issue is particularly painful for me, for those of you who've been here for a season. You know that the week before we moved in here when we were leaving the gym and we were moving into the worship center, my own brother took his life. That shattered my world. God had been good to us as church and good to me as a pastor up until that season. But the night before my brother took his life, he called me. He called me to tell me goodbye. Called me to tell me he was going to take his life. And I sat there on the phone, marching up and down my driveway, talking to him on the phone. And I was fully convinced, and I will just tell you part of the brokenness and the pain as I said some very hard things in that conversation. Praying and hoping and not believing it would be my last conversation.  

I hung up thinking I had talked my brother out of it. Woke up the next morning and came to the church, which I always do. Sat down in my office and I receive a phone call. I want you to know I hate answering the phone in that office. I've had way too many of those. And my brother had taken his life. The greater burden of the story is not only had I said some things that I wish I hadn't said, I wish I had some do overs, but all night I really didn't sleep. I laid there thinking, "I'm not going to sleep. I ought to just drive to Houston. And when the sun comes up, I need to be there for my brother." Then I started thinking of all the things I had to do at the church, all the things I had to do around here for you. And I didn't go. My brother didn't make it through the morning. He took his life. 

That circumstance, for those of you who've been around, it about destroyed me because I wanted to say something different. I wanted the conversation to end up different. I wanted to have been there to talk him out of it, but that didn't happen. Those who know even more know that I felt like I let him down more because when I got down there, literally, you can ask Gina who was there, I couldn't talk for three days. When they asked me, "Do you want to share something at your brother's funeral?" I just looked at them and said, "Pastor of a church can't talk at a funeral because of the brokenness of a brother." 

So I want to share with you today the realities of the world we live in, but the response of a Christian when the days are particularly evil. And hopefully you will take notes on this, or perhaps you will watch it online and view it online, so I encourage you if you've got notes, the notes that are in your [inaudible 00:09:59] guide, they're for a different sermon that I'll preach next week. And so let's begin to look at God's word and let's think through. As you think back, just of my week, senior adult took his life because he saw no hope. Middle aged man took his life because he saw no hope. A young child, high schooler, took his life because he saw no hope. But there is hope and it's the only hope. In a lost and dying world, it's the hope of the gospel. 

And so let me just kind of walk you through some thoughts. And I'm just going to sit down and share. This is just me just talking to my church because I want us to be equipped. As you look through God's word, there are some questions that I get over and over again. And I'm just going kind of ask those questions and answer them for you. And you might have these questions. One is: Are there examples of suicides in God's word? And the answer's yes. Matter of fact, you can clearly six, six different times people took their life. They ended their life abruptly. Five of those are in the Old Testament. And four of those who took their lives in the Old Testament, clearly they had lived a life that brought great guilt on them and great struggle and great hurt and great heartache. The only person that doesn't seem to be that Saul's armor bearer, as you look in God's word in First Samuel. The armor bearer took his life. We don't know whether he was a good man or a bad man. But everybody else who took their life had some baggage they were carrying in life. 

And you know a lot of times, I know with my brother, that's where it was. There was a lot of baggage. There was a lot of pain. There was alcohol involved. There was just a lot of despair. If you look in the New Testament, the one who we all know of that jumps out at us is Judas, who betrayed Jesus. And he went out and hung himself because he couldn't forgive himself for what he had done. The sad nature of that story is not simply that he betrayed Jesus, but that Jesus could've forgiven him and would've. Are there examples in scripture? Absolutely.  

There are also, and this is the part I want everybody in this room to hear, there are also other examples throughout scripture of people who are burdened to the point of wanting to die or end their life, but chose not to. And by choosing not to, they got to see God's grace and God's love. You say, "Who might those be?" And you might want to just write these down. Solomon. Solomon, you remember Solomon was a great king, David's son through Bathsheba. Solomon had so much promise, and God blessed him with wisdom and wealth and power. But he also wasted a lot of God's provisions in his life on sin and pleasure, so much so that when he came to the end of his life, he wrote his last book when he was a senior adult, looking back on a life that was wasted and wasted well. And it's the book of Ecclesiastes, and you can read it. If you want to go read a book filled with despair, go read Ecclesiastes.  

It starts like this. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. What is he saying? Meaningless, life is meaningless. I want you to know if you want somebody to read your book, I would say, "Don't lead with that verbiage." But if you go and you look at Ecclesiastes chapter two verse 17, let me tell you what Solomon, God's chosen king said. He said, "So I hated life because the work that is done under the sun," what he's talking about, "is grievous to me." He says, "All of life is nothing but meaningless." What is he saying? I hated life. It's just chasing after the wind. It has no purpose. It has no point. There is no blessing. It's just a beating. I would rather exit. I hate life.  

Wasn't just him. Elijah, the prophet. If you go look at Elijah's call, and he did some amazing things. And we could read so much in First Kings. If you come to First Kings chapter 18, you see the pinnacle of Elijah's success. It's that story of Elijah and all the prophets of Baal up on Mount Carmel, where the children of Israel were beginning to pursue a false God. And so many people in our society are pursuing a false God just like today. And that's why when they come to a place of despair and hopelessness, they don't see hope. They don't see salt. They don't see light. They don't see joy. They don't see a future. Why is that? Because what they place their hope in is hopeless. And that's really what Elijah was demonstrating for the people of God there in Mount Carmel, that the God that you are trying to serve has no answer. 

And you remember what took pace, the prophets of Baal cried out, prayed, they prayed to their God. They cut themselves. They danced. They did everything and nothing happened because a false God has no answers. Then Elijah came forward and prayed. And you'll remember the fire fell. Beautiful thing happened. But you go one chapter over in Elijah's life, a middle aged man. In First Kings chapter 19, he is running from the queen. He is running from those who are pursuing him. And he runs so far that he's isolating himself. And he's all alone. And in his alone time and his isolation, he sees no hope. And here's what he says. You might want to write this down. First Kings, chapter 19, verse four. He says, "While I went on my journey, I came to a place. I sat down under a broom bush." You say, "Pastor, what is a broom bush?" I don't know and I don't care. It's a bush.  

And then you go on and it says, "He sat down under it and prayed that he would die." That's the prophet of God. One chapter after Mount Carmel, he prayed that he would die. And he says, "I've had enough." These are his word right out of pages of scripture. He says, "I have had enough, Lord." He said, "Lord, take my life." So he prayed that he would die and he prayed that God would take his life. Why? Because he was done. He saw no hope. We're not done. Jonah in the Old Testament. Remember Jonah? Jonah said, "God, I want to ... " God said, "Jonah, I want you to go to Nineveh. I want you to lead a great revival. I want you to preach." What did Jonah do? Immediately went the opposite direction, like many of us have done. Found himself in the belly of a fish. God spit him up. Ended up in Nineveh. In Jonah chapter four, he hated where he was. He hated the place. He hated the space. He hated everything about where he was. 

And here's what it says. "Jonah wanted to die. And he said to God, 'It would be better for me to die than to live.'" What about the apostle Paul in the New Testament? That great apostle, first, second, third, missionary journeys, church plants, the gospel, preach the gospel, wrote much of the New Testament. If you go to Second Corinthians chapter one and you read verse eight, Paul says, "We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about what we've been through, about our incredible and great struggles that we've already experienced." He says, "We are under great pressure far beyond our own ability to endure it, so much so that we despaired even of life itself." So there are four examples of even believers, followers of Jesus Christ, followers of the gospel, Old Testament saints, New Testament, a prophet who wanted to die because life's pressures seemed overwhelming.  

But you want to know what the great testimony of their lives are? Is that they said no, is that they decided to press on. That senior adult Solomon pressed on. That Elijah, that prophet of God pressed on. And each one of those circumstances, guess what happened. They pressed on and they saw God's grace. And they saw the sun rise again, and they saw God's glory. As a matter of fact, if you go to the last chapter of that meaningless, worthless book of Ecclesiastes, here's how Solomon ends the book. He says, "Now that all has been said and done, here is the conclusion of the matter. Fear God. Keep his commandments." What was he saying? If you focus on self and you and the lies this world tell you, it's going to be nothing but meaningless. But here's the key. If we focus on fearing God, revering God, following God, and keeping his commandments, that's when we will find joy in our lives. 

What about Elijah the prophet? If you follow him through chapter 18, Mount Carmel through chapter 19, Lord, I want to die. Lord, take my life. If you go to chapter 20 and beyond, you see God beginning to move in his life because what happened, God's spirit showed up, fed him, gave him nourishment, restored him, put him back in ministry. He did many other great things. And then the beauty of Elijah's life was not that he ended it there, but he passed the baton off to the one who would follow him, Elisha. And God blessed Elisha just like he blessed Elijah.  

What about Jonah? Jonah wanted to die. He wasn't in the place he wanted to be. He wasn't with the people he wanted to be with. And he said, "Lord, just take my life." What happened to Jonah? He preached in Nineveh. And a revival like they had never seen before in Nineveh happened, and like they'd never seen since because he was willing to stay faithful. What about the apostle Paul? He despaired even of life. If you continue to read on, what the apostle Paul says, he says, "Indeed we have received the sentence of what seems to be death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves, but on God." And then you see Paul press on. What is the incredible courage of those examples? It's that they didn't quit. So just like those four examples, if you're a senior adult here and you are contemplating quitting, I am telling us as the pastor, press on. God is not done with you yet. 

If you're middle aged and life is a mess, I'm going to encourage you to press on because God is not done with you yet. If you're a young person in this room, and I want to address you, and you are struggling, I pray not, but there might be some. There might be one of your friends. And you want to quit. I'm going to encourage you to press on. I also want you to know, and I want you to hear this clearly, what the world wants us to place our hope in is meaningless. A relationship with God and following him and other brothers and sisters in Christ is the only thing in life that isn't meaningless. And so many times, the world is telling us to focus on this, and how many followers, and how many this, and how many likes and how many that. That's how I determine my self esteem. I just want to remind you. If you want to go back to last fall, I preached a message out of Psalm 139.  

As we talk about, God created me and knit me together in my mother's womb. And he ordered all the days of my life. If we look to the world for answers, I want you to know, young people, that Satan's a liar. In John chapter eight, Jesus said, "Satan is a liar, and he's always been a liar." Jesus didn't stop at that, he also said, "He's a murderer." In other words, Satan will lie to you about who you are and he will lie to you to destroy your life. Conversely, Jesus said, "I have come that you might have life and that you might have it more abundantly." But before that he said, "Satan comes only to steal, kill, and destroy." Then he says, "But I have come that you might have life, and might have it more abundantly."  

Are there examples of suicide in scripture? Yes. Those who ended their life and didn't see God's greater grace in their life. Are there examples in scripture of those who chose even when they wanted to die, not to die and they saw God move greater still? Yes. If there's someone in this room that you are on that edge, regardless whether you're young or you're old, whether you're single or you're married, whether you've had a sinful past or even a sinful present, I want you to know you don't give up. I'm reminded in a season like this, in a situation like this, as I'm seated on that floor last night with that family and those two girls. And they're asking the question that I remember asking. Why? Why?  

And the truth is, that's a hard one to answer because in a season of someone's greatest despair, oftentimes they're not thinking like you and me. They're not making decisions based on the same data that you and I have in our minds. And so the answer to why is the hardest. Why would they do it? It's the one that no one really has the answer to, other than, they put their hope in the wrong things, and not the only thing that ultimately provides hope. Here's another question that I get. Is suicide a sin? Absolutely. It's a horrible sin. It is murder. It is self murder. Suicide is absolutely a sin. Boy, if you look in God's word, you can see that God is the one that only knit us together in our mother's womb, he ordered our days. He assigned our days. It is God who should be the one that determines when life begins and when it ends. 

Remember Solomon, that book of meaningless, he said a phrase in there in Ecclesiastes chapter three. He said, "There's a time to be born and a time to die." What was he saying? God's ordained one, just like God's ordained another. We shouldn't step in and change that. The psalmist in Psalm 31 verse five says, "My times are in your hands, oh God." What was the psalmist saying? As difficult as life circumstances are, I need to step back and realize that God has ordered my days. And I shouldn't step in. Remember Job? Good grief, of all people that suffered more grief and more sorrow and more loss and more pain. No one experienced more than Job. If there was anybody that wanted to die, it was Job. But if you go and you look at Job, here was his ultimate response. He says, "Naked I came into the world. Naked I will leave. But my life is in God's hands."  

And so is suicide a sin? Absolutely. It's a massive sin. It's a major sin. It is murder. It's one of top 10s. It is self murder. So is it a sin? Absolutely. Here's the next question. I got this question at least four times this week. Can a Christian commit suicide, and if they do, will they still go to Heaven? Anybody in here struggle with that question and ask that question and wonder what the answer is? If so, and part of what I want to do is equip you, so when you are asked that question that you'll be able to answer it. But the truth is, Christians do commit suicide, and they still go to Heaven if they are Christians. See, if you look through God's word and you study all of God's word, the manner of one's death is not what determines where they spend eternity. It's the decisions that they made before they died.  

And the one decision that matters is: What did they do with Jesus Christ? For those who accepted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and received forgiveness of sins, they will spend eternity in Heaven with God. If people have rejected Christ as Savior and Lord, they will spend eternity apart from God. So it is our call as a church, as believers, it's to share the gospel every chance we get to reach another child, another student, another this, another that, another adult, another single, another married. So is it a sin? Yes. Where does this idea come? And a lot of people do. In that one conversation that I had this week that I shared with you about from one of our members when he handed the phone to his wife. She asked the question he wants to know. Is his brother in Heaven? 

So then she handed back the phone to him and I answered it. And he says, "Well, where's this idea come from?" And the idea is someone who commits suicide can't go to Heaven stems from bad theology, from a whole group of people that basically teach that salvation is works based, that if I work enough to gain my salvation, if I do something bad enough, I lose my salvation. Here, let me put it to you bluntly. Here's what they essentially teach, that if I were to go and murder someone else, that I would still have the opportunity to go back to the priest and confess my sins and do some work and get forgiveness. However, if I kill myself, I don't have the opportunity to seek forgiveness. Therefore, I've lost salvation. 

Here's my simple response to this. If I didn't earn my salvation by works, I can't lose my salvation by works. What did the apostle Paul say in Ephesians chapter two verse eight and nine? He says, "For by grace you have been saved, brute faith. That not of yourselves. It is the gift of God." What does the next phrase say? Not as a result of works. So if I didn't gain my salvation by works, I can't lose my salvation by works. Here's the reality. I love what the apostle Paul says. He says, "Listen, I am convinced of this, that neither things present nor things to come will ever be able to separate me from the love of God."  

Here's what that means, that if someone is in the love of God right now, they have trusted Christ as Savior and Lord, the spirit of God is sealed with them for all of eternity. What does scripture tell us? I have been sealed until the day of redemption, not until the day of my death, not until the day I do something really bad, until the day of my redemption. Here's what the apostle Paul says, "If I am in the love of Christ now, there is nothing, nothing present, nor in the future, neither things that are high or low, things that are created or un created, neither princes or principalities, nothing can separate me from the love of God."  

Do Christians commit suicide? Yes. Is it a sin? Absolutely. Might be one of the greatest sins because they never get to stick around like Solomon to see real meaning in life, like Elijah to have the opportunity of God continuing to bless him, passing the mantle off to Elisha, Jonah ultimately seeing the greatest revival he ever could've imagined, Paul ultimately someday being able to look back on the experience of, I despaired even for life, but then realizing that God has persevered, allowed him to persevere and press on. Then he could come to Romans eight and share the message with you and me, that even though there was a time when I despaired even of life, that now I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that nothing will separate me from the love of God, neither things present nor things to come. Here's the key. Do Christians commit suicide? Yeah. Is it a sin? Yes. Does suicide separate someone from God's love eternity? Absolutely not.  

The manner in which a person dies does not determine their destiny. It's what they did with Jesus Christ when they had the opportunity to receive him as Savior and Lord. As we think about that passage and whatever struggle, whatever trial, whatever it is, I'm reminded of what the psalmist said. "The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love. He does not treat us as our sins deserve, or repay us according to our inequities, for as high as the heavens are above the Earth, so great is God's love for those who fear him. As far as the East is from the West, so far He has removed our transgressions from us." 

As I think about that passage and I think about just my week, and even the context of the month, and every school district around here has experienced a loss all the way down to 12 years old that I know about, probably others. The truth is God never treats us as our inequities deserve. So as you think about that passage, as far as the East is from the West, there are certain things that I see that contribute to someone going down that path. One, it's some sort of addiction or addictive nature, whether it's alcohol, which was my brother's case and others that I know deeply and closely, even ones I heard about this week. Or some sort of addiction drove them to poor thinking. I want you to know if that's you in here, or someone you know is in here, I want you to know God does not treat us as our inequities deserve. But He can remove our sins as far as the East is from the West, so great is His love for us.  

I think of addiction. I think of sinfulness. Boy, I think of David in the midst of his incredible sinfulness that he had with Bathsheba, and then having her husband killed. He despaired even of life. But David's also one that says, "As far as the East is from the West," so if you have committed some grievous sin that you cannot seem to forgive yourself for, and you struggle with, I want to tell you that Jesus hung on the cross and looked at you and said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." There are others that you've been through trials and tribulations, the experiences that you go through seem unbearable right now. That's where the apostle Paul was. He says, "Man, I hate the thought of even going on and living."  

If that's you, I want to encourage you to press on because it's by pressing on that we see God's grace and we get to see God's glory. We get to see God's hope and we get to experience the fact that God still has a plan for our life. So whatever it is that you might be going through right now, I want you to hear me. Press on. Don't give up. God still has a plan for you. As your pastor, I want to close with this charge. And here it is. If you are a youth, a child, or a young adult, college age, don't give up. Don't ever quit. And as a church, I want you to know we are never going to stop trying to reach the next youth, the next kid, the next college kid, the next young adult. We are never going to stop. And I will tell you, as your pastor, I will never stop challenging us to do a little more to reach another kid, to create some space in the children ... If you know anything, we'll about full up in VBS. After we do the next kids, guess what, we're going to have two larger rooms that we can add more kids next year than we had this year in vacation Bible school. 

If you ever think your pastor's going to apologize for trying to reach another student, another college kid, or another child, you're in the wrong church and you've got the wrong pastor. If you're single here because you've been through a blown up relationship, we've got Divorce Care. We've got Care Groups all over, one of the greatest ministries you can imagine. As you walk through that divorce or walk through a broken relationship and God can still use you. If you're a senior adult here and you think God's done using you, that's bull. God's never done using you. If you still have breath and a day and a moment and a time, God's still got a plan for you.  

As a church, we're not quitting. We're not stopping. I will tell you this. Your pastor's sick of seeing Satan win. I'm sick of seeing someone else think there's not another day that's worth it. I think back. I'm shaped by my brother, but I'm shaped by the people I love. The man who teachers our Grief Share class caught me in the hallway just before I came in, thanked me for the message. You want me to tell you his story, why he teaches Grief Share at this church? Because years ago, and he's well into his 60s now, his son was scheduled to graduate from college. And so he flew in, communicated to his son, "We're in town. Can't wait to see your graduation tomorrow." Goes to graduation at that college to see his son walk across the stage, and his son didn't show up. 

That night, his son took his life. He's been through some tough steps. And now God uses him to help others walk through the pain. So that's the kind of church we're going to be. We're going to look to see someone else led to faith in Jesus Christ. We are going to walk out of here with our eyes wide open that Satan comes only to steal, kill, and destroy, but that Jesus came that we might have life and have more abundantly.  

Here's how I want us to close today. I'm going to invite our worship team to come back up. And here's how I want us to close today because they're going to lead us in a song. Whom Shall I Fear? And I'm going to invite our altar team down. And as we sing that song together, the altar's going to be open. There might be some young people that you want to pray, young adults, college, there might be someone here in deep despair. Altar team's going to be here if you need you pray with someone. You come and pray with someone. If you just want to pray for our land, our community, our country, you come and you can join me at the altar as we pray. If you just feel like staying there at your seat and singing, or you want to sit down and just make your little prayer tent right there in your own little chapel, you just kneel down and pray. And let's sing together.  

Then after we sing this Whom Shall I Fear one time, we're going to leave singing a song that will be our encouragement and our challenge for the days ahead. And so congregation, let's stand together. Altar is open. Altar team is here if you need someone to pray with. If you want to stay and sing, come. If you want to come to the altar and pray for the brokenness in our community, you come on.  

 

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