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When You Hit Rock Bottom

From the series Jesus Offers Hope

Hitting rock bottom. Ever been there? Maybe you’re there now. Chip shares what to do when you’ve hit rock bottom. There's help and hope for you today.

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Message Transcript

Hope is the oxygen of the soul.  And so, I want to begin with a visual image that I hope you’ll keep in your mind. And it’s a little scientific experiment. You’ve probably seen this done before, but I have a candle here that I want to light and I want you to think of this candle as the hope in your life; the hope in your heart. Everybody puts their hope in something or someone.  For some, that light is a job; it’s money; it’s your looks; it’s finding that person someday and for others that hope is your family.

I mean, we all have different things that we put hope in.  You always know, you always know where your hope really is placed when it gets removed and how you respond.

People can endure pain, adversity, trauma, difficulty, relational chaos, depressions, but as long as there’s hope, as long as there’s a -- in their mind and heart— a probability that it will get better tomorrow… something’s going to happen. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. That’s hope.

But when hope is gone what you find is the light begins to go low and it’s actually burning the oxygen out of that little spot - and little by little by little.  What you find is that candle goes out because it’s sucking the oxygen out of the little tube.

And that’s how it happens, little by little by little, and then it gets to the very bottom. As it gets to the bottom, people say, you know something? I give up. I’m out of this marriage.  I’m tired of helping this kid; my boyfriend left me, my girlfriend left me.  I’ve tried.  I’ve been to rehab, twice. I can’t lick this. Just forget it.  And when they give up, devastating things happen.

I put a teaching handout, if you’ll pull that out, it says: Jesus Offers Hope. Tonight, we’re going to look at when you hit rock bottom.

Hope, as defined by Webster’s, is that feeling that what is really wanted is likely to happen. It’s that sense inside that what you really want to happen, is going to happen.

We hit rock bottom when what or who we hoped in cannot or will not come through for us. You hope to have a family and you can’t have kids. You hope to get married and you find yourself single or single again. You hope for a job and you lost yours. And, you’ve tried and tried and tried and you still don’t have one.  You don’t get into the school. You don’t make the team. That person or that thing that you were trusting to come through for you doesn’t, and then you lose hope.  And you get discouraged.  And you get despairing.  And then you get despondent.

We hit rock bottom, usually it happens it’s interesting, in two predictable places. We hit rock bottom in the pit and also in the peak.

In the pit, you know, you’re in an addiction; you’re in the middle of a divorce; you’re in the ICU; you get cut from the team; you lose your job. I mean, you just start going down, down, down.

But the other time is when people peak.  And their hope is in “if I ever” was this successful.  If I ever married this person; if I ever became a star; if I could ever….and then, there’s an emptiness that goes with that.  And honestly, some of the most successful, pretty, well-paid people in the world are among the most hopeless.

Who have the highest percentage of divorce; the highest percentage of drug addictions and rehabs, as we check out Entertainment Tonight or whatever one of the shows that come on all at the same time tells us who is breaking up with whom or what rehab center they’re coming out of.

This is Sports Illustrated. And they did a little article on people we lost. You know, great sports heroes that died. Some were ninety-nine years old, some were seventy-two, and some were twenty-three and as I read through it, I noticed there were a number of younger people who died.

The first one was Antonio Pettigrew. He was a gold medalist on the 400 meter in 2000. He won the World’s in May of ‘08. He later confessed that he used performance enhancing drugs and in August, he committed suicide. Forty-two years old.

Erica Blasberg, twenty-five years old, two time All-American at Arizona, freshman of the year went directly to the LPGA. Now, she’s only twenty-five. She got completely discouraged because she only made the top ten in one tournament.  She struggled with her golf; struggled with her personal life, she committed suicide.

Andy Irons, from this part of the country, you know, surfer.  Two great surfers, the big rivalry between he and Kelly Slater? And Slater retires and Andy, sort of the young buck and he does wild, crazy stuff.  Slater comes out of retirement and we have we have this amazing thing for about the last eight or ten years.

Andy Irons says, my whole driving force right now is to take this little pretty picture - it’s of Slater, his competitor - and crush it. And then he won the world championships in 2003 and again in 2004.  It went back and forth.

He left the tour in 2009, was burned out, his wife got pregnant. They found him in a Dallas hotel room dead.   They found Xanax, Methadone, and Ambien. Xanax is for panic attacks. Methadone is what you use when you’re trying to get off of heroine, and Ambien is for trying to get some sleep.

So, he rides the biggest waves and he’s on top of the world. His wife’s ready to have a baby, but his hope’s gone.

Some of you older guys remember Mel Turpin.  He’s a forty-nine year old, big Kentucky star with about six years in the NBA.  He averages about fourteen points a game--huge guy.  Well, he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in July shortly after his wife suffered a stroke.  He’s got money. He’s got fame, but the person he put his hope in is gone. And he thought, You know what …. ? And his light goes out.

The last one was from Venezuela.  Edwin Volero, 28-years-old.  His first seventeen fights, he won in the first round with knockouts. How’d you like to fight that guy? Six seconds and - Boom! - you’re gone.

In his first 27 fights, they were all knockouts.  He was undefeated, a fiery competitor. He won one world championship; has his belt; and was ready to fight the number one fighter in the world, but he had this problem with anger. And he took out his anger on his wife and stabbed her to death, and then hung himself in jail.

A lot of people would probably say, you know something, if I would ever… could be famous or pretty or be the greatest surfer in the world or be 25 years old and on the LPGA, I mean, I’d have it made.

When you hit rock bottom, the only direction you can look is up.

Some people get there because their life falls apart and some people get there because they hit it on top and they realize there’s not enough money or looks or fame or people or stuff to fill the gaping hole that God made and designed for Him.

So the question I want to ask and answer is: “Where is God when you hit rock bottom?” Where is God when in your personal life the flame, the hope, for whatever reason, whatever relationship, whatever job, whatever difficulty, and whatever peak – when that flame is going down, when you feel like: I can’t take one more day of another day like this, when I don’t think things are never going to change. I don’t think they’ll never change in this marriage; I’m never going to get a good job again, I didn’t get into the right school. I worked all this time and never quite made to -  and… you fill it in.

Where’s God?

Jesus answers that question in Luke, chapter 15.

And as we get there, here’s the occasion. Luke, chapter 15, let me just read the first verse. It says, “Now the tax collectors and the sinners were all gathering around to hear Him” - Jesus. “But the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and even eats with them.’”

Those who had hit rock bottom; those who had failed morally; those who were the outcasts; those that no one cared about. All of a sudden this itinerant preacher without any formal training begins to teach and heal people and raise people from the dead.  And they’re attracted to him.

He offers them forgiveness and he looks them in the eye and He doesn’t say they’re second-class citizens. He doesn’t approve of their behavior.  He knows they’re very, very far from God, but it’s like, if you’ve ever watched moths at night where they try and find the light, these broken people who have hit rock bottom.

Some of them were wealthy, like tax collectors that had lots of money and lots of success that were empty inside. They found that He was easy to be around.  The words that He spoke and the care that He had and the reality of who He was.

So, they start hanging out with Him and He would even go to their house and hang out in some places that “good religious people” should never hang out.

And so, the religious establishment, that’s the Pharisees, they’re thinking: This guy could not be from God. He’s not credible. There is no way this could be a man sent from God because no one that really loves God and who is holy would hang around with prostitutes and sinners and drug-addicts and people who have been through a marriage or two or had an abortion or abandoned someone. That couldn’t be from God.

We pick up the story in verse 3. Follow along. In verse 3, it says: “Then Jesus told them this parable.” Notice its singular.

He’s telling them this parable, why? The occasion is because He’s hanging out with people that are lost and irreligious and immoral.  And He’s being discredited as a messenger from God.

This parable is to address the Pharisee’s notion of what God is like and how He feels about people that are struggling; who have failed; who’ve hit rock bottom.

Here’s the parable:  “Suppose one of you has a 100 sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the 99 sheep in the open country and go after the one lost sheep until he finds it?  When he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and he goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, rejoice with me, I’ve found my lost sheep.”

Application: “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

Story number two:  “Suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?  And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and saying, rejoice with me, I’ve found my lost coin. In this same way, I tell you, there is more rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Singular parable, story number three:  “There was a man,” Jesus continued, “who had two sons. The younger one said to his father give me my share of the estate.  So the father divided the property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all that he had and he set out for distant country, and there he squandered his wealth in wild living.  After he spent everything, there was a severe famine in the whole country and he began to be in need.  So, he went and he hired himself out to a citizen of that country who sent him into his field to feed his pigs.” not a great job for a Jewish boy.

“He longed to feed his own stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything to eat.” Translation: rock bottom.  “When he came to his senses he said, how many of my father’s hired men have food to spare and here I am starving to death.  I will set out and go back to my father and I will say to my father, ‘I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired men.’  So he got up and he went to his father, but while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him. And, he ran to his son and he threw his arms around him and he kissed him.”

Literally, it’s in a tense of the verb, that he kissed him repeatedly. “The son said to him ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.’  But the father said to the servants, ‘Quick, bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fatted calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.’”

Reason: “’For this son of mine was dead and is alive again. He was lost and he’s found.’ So they began to celebrate.”

The scene changes. That’s the younger brother, now the camera moves to the older, faithful brother.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field working. When he came near the house, he heard the music and the dancing so he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on?  ‘Your brother has come home,’ he replied. ‘And your father has killed the fatted calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

The older brother became angry and refused to go in so the father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look, all these years I’ve been slaving for you, I’ve never disobeyed your orders, yet, you haven’t even given me a goat to celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fatted calf for him?’  ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you’re always with me. And everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive. He was lost and now he’s found.’”

The point of this parable is to understand how God feels and how God responds to people who have hit rock bottom.  Immoral, irreligious people who, by their own work or by the work of others, find themselves absolutely without hope.

In your notes, if you’ll pull out a pen, I’ve made some observations that I think will help you understand it.  First of all, this one parable has three mini stories. Did you notice that?

The first story is about the lost sheep.  He tells this story because sheep were very important. They use their wool; it was a part of the landscape. They understood. It would be a valuable thing.  Everyone knew you would leave--in this open country it was safe--the ninety-nine. Everyone knew, you would go get him.

The second story is about the lost coin. This one takes it from something that’s important to even more important. The woman sweeps because in that day women who were married, as a sign of being married, they would take ten silver coins to form a headband, would put it around their head.  Then, in public people knew they were married.  It was worth about one day’s wage but the sentimental value was even more. It’d be like losing your wedding band. I mean, she says, “I gotta find this!”

The third story goes from a sheep that’s important to something very important like a reminder of who you are and what you have--not to mention a full day’s wage work. And then there’s the lost son, and we hear this story of a lost son who disrespects his father, runs away, and then is found.

Each story has five things in common. If we were doing Bible study together, sitting around a living room, we might do some observations. And, at the end of our time, we’d come up with five observations about these three mini-stories.

One: something valuable is lost. Two: there’s an intensive search that occurs. Three: that which is lost is found. Four: a great celebration follows. I mean, there’s a party. There is music. There is dancing. There’s excitement each time.

Five: the spiritual application is explained - more rejoicing in heaven. God rejoices. The angels in heaven.  Each time, it says, these are many pictures that explain how God the Father feels. How heaven rejoices when one sinner repents.
We hear this story of a lost son who disrespects his father, runs away, and then is found.

If we were doing Bible study together, sitting around a living room, we might do some observations. And, at the end of our time, we’d come up with five observations about these three mini-stories.

One: something valuable is lost. Two: there’s an intensive search that occurs. Three: that which is lost is found. Four: a great celebration follows. I mean, there’s a party. There is music. Five: the spiritual application is explained. What exactly does this parable mean? What can we learn from it?

First, God deeply values irreligious, immoral, lost people and that was His point to the Pharisees. You look down your nose at these people. They hang out with Me because they understand.  I love them.

Second, God is actively drawing them to Himself. There’s an intensive search. The shepherd goes out for the sheep. The woman cleans the house. He’s making this point - the father was waiting and looking and longing. God is waiting, searching, looking, and longing for irreligious people that don’t want to have anything to do with Him. He’s pursuing them.

Next, heaven rejoices when one lost person repents. It’s a very interesting root word in the New Testament for “repent.” It has the idea of a change of mind. A related root word means a change of mind related to an emotional feeling; of feeling deeply sorry or sad about your behavior of hurting or rejecting someone else.

It’s an idea of people having a complete turning. It is meant to turn or to return each time something very specific, returned back to.  And Jesus would teach that in the kingdom of God, unless you repent, you’ll perish.

Before Jesus left, he gave this message of repentance will go to all nations. The book of Acts, three different times, will talk about this message of “you must repent.” You must turn. It was this radical: from self to God as the hope of your life.

We learned from the story that the value of that which is lost exponentially increases with each story.  Like a good storyteller, he starts out with something that’s common and they would all nod. Oh, I’d go after a sheep and then he takes it to the next level.  They would hear the story and all the women would say, oh my! I would sweep all day.

Jesus, then says, this is what the Father does.  By the way, the first two are things that every good Jewish person in that day would clearly understand and they would do, but the last one is shocking. No father would be running after this son. No father would run in public. The father was the patriarch. No father would ever, we’ll learn in a minute, sell his estate and divide it.

He’s really making the point that you would do it for a sheep; you would do it for a coin.  But their view of God was he’s down on lost people. He doesn’t really care about lost people. Sinners need to be judged.

The father in story number three represents God. The two sons depict immoral sinners, in terms of the younger son, the people Jesus is hanging out with.  And the Pharisees are the older son. They do their duty but their view of their duty before God is that they’re slaves. It’s external.

Notice, finally, that both sons are equally lost but not equally aware of their lostness. See, the reason that Jesus spoke to those that were so far from Him they understood they had a need.   And, the reason that He was so harsh with the religious people is they thought they were okay. They were self-righteous.

Both the Pharisees and the younger son are sons that are lost.  And the point of this entire parable is to speak, not just that lost people matter to God, but to speak to a group of religious people that are lost and don’t even know they’re lost.  And He’s giving them a shocking perspective of what God the Father is really like.

Notice in verse 11, the son requests, I want mine now. Now, you need to understand is that in Jewish culture of the day, the eldest son would get twice, two x, when it’s divided. So, however many brothers and sisters, he gets double.

You have two brothers.  The older brother’s going to get two-thirds of the estate and this younger brother’s going to get one-third.

If you wanted half the estate, they had lands with family names and your reputation was your land and the houses that you have and the cattle that you had.  All of your estate was vested in stuff.

So, this son, actually what he’s saying is: I want mine now.  And so, what he’s really communicating is: I wish you were deadI wish you – because the only way you get your estate is if your dad dies, and when he asks for it like this he saying I wish you were dead.  This gets really shocking as he’s telling this story because the average Pharisee, or good Jew, would be thinking if my son says “I want mine now,” he would be out of the family, out on the streets, disinherited, and out of here; that would be the perspective.

The implications for the father are social and economic. He liquidates property. He liquidates his livestock. It’s a public embarrassment, both socially and economically, he appears like a fool.  He’s actually going to take a third of the estate; liquidate it; look like a fool in front of everyone and turn it into cash, give it to the kid, and say, “I’ll see you later.”  People were shaking their heads.

Then we have the father’s unprecedented response. And this is thunderously shocking to the listeners. When he didn’t kick him out of the family and he says, “If you need a season to reject me, to wish that I was dead, and not have me in your life, and you want to go do something else, I’m going to let you do that but I still love you.”

Do you see the picture he’s painting of what God is like? Any of us ever basically said, Hey God, you know what? I’ll think about you someday, someway, when I’m done with doing my stuff.  We have rejected him.  You know what God does? His love doesn’t change. If you want to go do some stuff that’ll bring destruction to your life and cause you to hit rock bottom and go through pain that He never wants, you know what? He’ll allow you to do that, but it breaks His heart.

Now, you’ll notice that the son hits rock bottom. Literally, he comes to his senses.  When you hit rock bottom it means you’re hopeless. Hopeless means that there’s no expectation; there’s no sign of a favorable outcome--that’s when you’re hopeless.

Nothing’s going to work. When you’re hopeless you get despondent; you get low spirits. There’s a sense of futility: No matter what I do, I’m stuck.  I’m done. Some of you feel that way tonight.

And after that it produces despair. And despair is the utter loss of hope and dejection. And ultimately, you get desperate. And it implies you’ll do something extreme.

I read a number of extreme stories, in this last year, of very famous people who were very successful who took their own life because they got to the point where they were hopeless. Before they took their life, they had a window of time. Each one of us has a window of time to come to our senses.  And what happens when you come to your senses is that you back up and say my hope was in that job; my hope was in that marriage; my hope was in that kid; my hope was in my looks, my hope was in my 401k.

But when you come to your senses, you realize: That doesn’t have the power to fill me up. That it can’t be my hope.

And then he goes through and he thinks, Okay, my brother is dad’s son; he’s got two-thirds of the stuff. Mine’s gone.  And then next to him are slaves and the slaves live in the home and actually they’ve got quarters and food and they’re actually treated like family.  And then there’s hired guys. The hired men. They live on the outskirts and dad just hires them for day wages, but they have a place to stay and they have enough food to eat for one day, each day at a time.

And he says, I’ve blown it. He owns his stuff. I’m going to go back and I know I can’t be his son and I know I’m not even worthy of being a slave, but I could be one of the hired guys. At least I would have a meal and I could sleep somewhere. 

And so the process goes something like: I’m going to go back home.  He repents. The word means “to turn around.”

I’m doing this with my life; my hope is in this because I think this will fill me up. He stops and comes to his senses.  He goes, I’m going to turn around and I’m going to go back to my father.

God is going to ask some of you tonight to turn around and get your hope off of someone or something and to turn around and come back to your father. It’s called repentance.

And then notice it’s followed by a confession. I will say, “I’ve sinned against heaven and my father.” He owns his stuff with his words out loud. “I blew it.  I was wrong.  I missed the mark.”

The third, in this case, he thinks he’s going to make restitution. Because see, in his mindset in that Jewish culture:  I’ll be a hired hand and I’ll earn some money and little by little, maybe, over time I can pay dad back - and I can pay him back and pay him back and pay him back…

And maybe someday I could be a slave and then maybe someday I could--it’s pressing it - but maybe I could earn my way back into dad’s favor.  That was the Pharisee’s mentality of drawing close to God - works, works, works... perform, perform, perform.

I meet a lot of people that go through very difficult times. They lose a mate or they lose a job or they find themselves messing around a little and then it becomes an addiction.

And they’ll want to talk to someone like me and we’ll talk and then it’s pretty much, “Well, I’m gonna start going to church, and I’m gonna read the Bible more often, and I’m… “ you know what it is? I’m gonna, I’m gonna get right; I’m gonna earn my way.

Like God has these big scales in heaven He’s balancing and what he’s gonna learn is you can never earn your way back to the Father. Jesus is going to teach them it’s about grace. It’s about a Father that you can’t comprehend that loves you the way He loves you.

And then notice, finally, he says, “I will do it now.” So he got up and he went.

Now, notice in verse 20 the father’s response. The father was not at home wondering someday, somehow if he’ll come. The father was out looking. “When he was still a long way off, the father saw him,” and then notice the words, “He ran and he was filled with compassion.”

And the boy does what he should do.  He started with the speech: “I know I was wrong. I’m going to repent, father…” and his father interrupts him: Quick! Stop! Hold up! You’re not going to make restitution. You’re not going to earn your way back.

You have no idea what the father is like. Out of a heart that is beyond what we can grasp, he says, here’s what I want you to do: “Quick, get the best robe.” Literally, it’s the robe of the first. Guess whose robe that is - that’s the dad’s. The best robe in that house belongs to the dad.

Second:  “Get the ring; put the ring on his finger.”  It is a sign of authority. “Get the sandals.” Slaves go barefooted. Sons, they’ve got sandals.

By the way, there was a fatted calf. It’s like Kobe beef in the day. Literally, it would be put in the stall and never go out and be grain fed.  They would just make it overeat, overeat, overeat.  They would save it for a community-wide, big bash.  And so, the father kills the fatted calf and invites everyone in the community that thinks he’s a fool, and then there’s music and there’s dancing.  And this person who came thinking, If I could just be hired hand and I’ve blown it and I’m feeding pigs and I wish I could eat what the pigs are eating and I’ve hit rock bottom

When he turned; when he confessed; when he came, his father said, “You’re my son.  It’s not about what you can do; it’s about who I am and how I feel about you and how much I love you.  I want to receive you to myself.”

The message, very simply, is there is hope for you. Jesus didn’t just tell this story someday, some way for some other group. There’s real hope. Whatever you’re going through, whatever loss, whatever hurt.  There’s hope.

Second, it’s never too late. You can be 76, 96… you can be through two, three, four marriages. You can have been through four rehabs already. It’s never too late.

And the message is failure is never final. There is a Father who is waiting and watching and longing to forgive you, and to cleanse you, and to restore you, and to empower you, and to give you a second chance, to give you a clean slate, to put you on a new path.

And then, as a son or a daughter, place you in a new family where, when cancer knocks at the door or maybe you lose your job or you got an addiction that you can’t get out of by yourself, this new family will come around you and love you and help you.

Now, by the way, there’s initiative here and there’s honesty here. There’s no messing around. The son repents. He turns his back on his former life and he receives the gift of the father’s love. Jesus offers hope to people that hit rock bottom. I have no idea where you are or what’s going on in your life, but I can tell you on the authority of Scripture.

If you have never repented and asked Him to forgive you and be your Father, that’s His will for you. And if you have someday, some way – actually maybe in a camp or maybe years ago - prayed a prayer and the truth would be you didn’t really know what it meant to “ask Jesus into your life” or forgive you, and you prayed a prayer somewhere, somehow but the fact is nothing changed, there’s a great probability that you never repented. You never understood. It’s not about just intellectually agreeing about what Christ did in his death and resurrection. There must be a turning from and embracing a radical step: I’m going to follow - and laying hold of the gift that God gives you.