The deep down dark is the place you get to when you’re stuck. It’s when you realize human sufficiency isn’t going to cut it. It’s the place you realize, “I need God.” In the book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer is in Nazi-occupied Germany with a little underground crew of guys, and they discover, in danger and risk, an intensity of community they never knew when they were safe.
Someone struggles with addiction, or gets cancer, or suffers a loss, or loses their job, or goes bankrupt, or shatters their reputation, or gets their heart broken; and somehow they find there is a community that they never knew when life was okay. That’s the community of the deep down dark. In this message we will talk about some observations about this type of community and our need for it.
Do you remember the story of 33 Chliean miners who were trapped about ten years ago?
Maybe you read Hector Tobar’s account of the event in his book The Deep Down Dark.
A giant stone twice the weight of the Empire State Building came crashing through the mine.
So for 69 days, these men were trapped underground in the dark, with very little food. They didn’t know if they were going to live or die.
One news source put the probability of their survival at 2 percent. They were staring death in the face.
These men found themselves evaluating their lives, and they had lots of regrets.
Then there was kind of a surprising moment. They asked a guy named Jose who was a follower of Jesus if he would pray.
They’re twenty five hundred feet underground. Jose gets on his knees, and his prayer begins with: “We aren’t the best men, but Lord, have pity on us.”
That’s kind of an abrasive start to the prayer, but the guys weren’t offended.
Then he went on to get even more specific about their failures —
“Victor Segovia knows he drinks too much. Victor Zamora is too quick to anger. Pedro Cortez thinks about the poor father he’s been to his young daughter.”
The most amazing thing happens. They’re thousands of feet underground staring death in the face and a kind of community gets formed.
These 33 men gather every day, they share a little meal — just a little tuna, a cookie or two, and some oily water. They listen to Jose teach them stories from God’s Word. They start to call him their pastor. They pray together. They worship God. And they confess their sins to God.
Just spontaneously, one of them will pray, “God, forgive me for the way I have raised my voice in violence against my wife and my family.”
“God, forgive me for the way I’ve abused my body with drugs and alcohol.”
Then those prayers kind of morph, and they begin to actually confession to each other.
One of them said, “Would you please forgive me for the way I spoke about you or the way I raised my hand against you, or the way I didn’t help with the water like I should have.”
It’s really extraordinary the kind of community that gets formed.
While that’s happening, unknown to them, a rescue operation is forming above them.
Eight men part of a drill unit are going to try to drill down to rescue these miners.
Before they do, the guy who’s the head of that drill team says, “Hey, guys. We ought to pray.” So they all stop to pray.
Another guy says, “Hey, boss, let’s hold hands as we pray.” So these eight burly Chilean construction guys are joining hands as they pray.
They start to drill and they get a hole all the way down to the miners. At first it’s quite small so it’s just enough to get supplies and food and water and iPads and stuff like that to the miners.
The miners realize they’re eventually going to be saved. They also find out they’re getting famous all around the world.
They start thinking, “Man, if we’re famous, maybe we’re going to get rich through all of this.”
Now, the strangest thing happens.
Meeting together every day to confess their sins to each other stops. Meeting every day to pray together stops.
Somehow the knowledge that they’re going to be okay — that they’re not desperate anymore and the allure of fame and possible wealth — kind of undoes this remarkable community they knew when they were suffering.
In some ways, the happiest part of the story is the saddest. In some ways, they were at their best when life was at its hardest, at its worst.
That’s the deep down dark.
Maybe you know about the deep down dark. Or if you don’t, you will.
It’s when you get to the place where you’re stuck. It’s when you get to the place where you realize human sufficiency isn’t going to cut it.
The deep down dark is the place where I realize, “I need God.”
I told you I was reading the book Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, where he’s in Nazi-occupied Germany with this little underground crew of guys. Well, they discover, in danger and risk, an intensity of community they never knew when they were safe.
I’m sure you’ve seen this happen.
Some guy binges for the hundredth time, and he’s lost his family. He’s lost his job, and he knows he’s going to die.
He stumbles into an AA meeting, and he finds in the honesty and the rawness of that meeting a community that has the power to save that he never knew when he was on his own.
Someone gets cancer, or someone suffers a loss. Someone loses their job, or they go bankrupt, or their reputation gets shattered, or another person rips their heart out.
Somehow they find other people, and there’s a community they discover that they never knew when life was okay.
That’s the community you find in the deep down dark.
I want to talk for a few moments about this kind of community that’s found in the deep down dark (because you need it) and I invite you to be a part of it and invite you to extend it to other people.
I’ll give you four observations about the kind of community that’s found in the deep down dark.
Here’s the first one. In the deep down dark…
Connection is critical.
Now we live in a day when a lot of people are networked and connected (whether it’s through social media or LinkedIn) and yet they’re still really lonely.
Mother Teresa said loneliness is the leprosy of our age, and it’s lethal. It’s lethal for every creature at every level.
I was reading recently that researchers have found that they could put a mouse in a group of strangers in a situation where there’s not enough food or water, and that little mouse’s blood pressure will go way up.
If they put that same mouse in the same situation only with his brothers and sisters, his blood pressure doesn’t go up at all.
We’re made for community… and we suffer without it. We can die without it.
Robert Putnam, a researcher, did the classic study on community for our generation. It’s called Bowling Alone. It’s a great book.
He found isolated people (people not in community) are three times more likely to die than people who are in deep relationships.
Not just that. You know how our culture is crazy about physical fitness — “You have to live a healthy lifestyle.”
I’ll tell you how important community is to your life. This is what Putnam found.
People who had bad health habits (smoking, bad eating habits, obesity, alcohol) but strong social ties — they lived significantly longer than people who had great health habits (eating right and exercising) but were isolated.
In other words, it’s better for you to eat brownies and ice cream with good friends than broccoli alone.
Some of you are here today just to hear that!
They did another study. This was actually right here in the Bay Area. I’m not making this up. It’s unbelievable. It’s about being connected in community and what it does for your body, for your physical well-being.
They got people who were actually willing to be infected with a virus that causes the common cold.
People with strong emotional connections — who were relationally connected — did four times better fighting off illness than those who were more isolated.
These people (relationally connected people) were less susceptible to colds, had less virus, and (I don’t know how they measured this) produced significantly less mucous than relationally isolated people.
So it’s literally true — unfriendly people are just snottier than friendly people.
Putnam said if you make no other change (you don’t start working out; you don’t start eating better) but join a small group when you were not in a small group before, you cut the odds of your dying this year in half. I’m not kidding.
So our slogan for small groups is going to be — Join a small group or die. That’s basically the way it is.
This is not just true for your body. It’s way more true for your spiritual well-being, for your heart, for your well-being with God.
There are all kinds of statements about this in the Bible.
This is from the writer of Hebrews:
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, [You see, this is what people do. It gets hard. It gets bumpy. It gets difficult.] as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
If you’re in a small group, you know how valuable it is when you hit the deep down dark to have a community of people who love you, and will just be with you, and will pray for you, and support you, and encourage you.
But here’s the thing — if you want to be encouraged by people, you have to show up.
There’s a family at our church who’ve been intentional about community. They have a strong group that they do life together with. What they didn’t know was they were headed for the deep down dark. This is their story.
Video: Brad Erickson’s story
The number one excuse people use for not being in community is, “I just don’t have time. I have too many things to do. I have too much on my plate. I just don’t have time.”
People will live with that sometimes for years. Then one day a crisis hits, and they lose a marriage, or they lose their health, or they lose a job. All of a sudden, they realize, “Man, I have a lot of time, but I don’t have a community.”
I just want to say the deep down dark is coming, and the time to create a community that will see you through the crisis when the crisis hits is before the crisis hits.
Alright, that’s the first observation — In the deep down dark, connection is critical.
The second observation is — in the deep down dark:
People are messed up.
This is just true about us.
You know, a lot of times we get into Christian community, and we think, “People are going to be great. They’re going to be mature. They’re going to be healthy. They’re going to agree with me. They’re going to make me feel great about myself.”
Then you actually get into Christian community and you find out, “Everyone is messed up.”
Look at the person next to you real quick.
That is a messed up person.
Seriously! We’re messed up. You don’t have to tell them they’re messed up. They just are. We’re all messed up. We’re all flawed.
The great commandment we get to follow here is written by the apostle Paul.
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you… (Romans 15:17)
How did Christ accept me? Just the way I am: messed up, imperfect, flawed.
Not in order to live a longer life. You probably will. Not in order to live a better life. You probably will.
…in order to bring praise to God.
When we experience community and extend community, God is honored. God is glorified. That’s why we do it.
But it’s going to be with messed up people who may be difficult for you to get along with.
Because people are different from each other.
Some people are introverts. Some people are extroverts.
A lot of times church is hard for introverts because you feel like, “Man, there’s all this talk about community and being with people and hanging out with people. I’d rather be alone. I feel like church is just built for extroverts. It feels like it’s just all about people.”
It’s so interesting. A survey was done at a Christian university where they asked students, “Do you think Jesus was an introvert or an extrovert?”
Ninety-seven percent of the students said they thought Jesus was an extrovert.
Of course, that’s not in the Bible.
I’m an introvert. In our family, one person is an extrovert (my middle daughter). And that’s challenging for her.
For example, in our relationship, when I start a sentence, I kind of like to finish the sentence. It’s quirky, I know, but it’s kind of like, if I go to the store, I like to get to the store. If I start a sentence, I like to get to the end of the sentence. It makes me feel good.
My daughter is an extrovert who has never had an unexpressed thought or feeling in her life. For her, interruption is her love language. She just feels like that’s the way she says, “I love you.”
I sometimes wish she loved me a little bit less, but that’s something we just have to accept with each other.
Because I’m an introvert, I’m an internal processor. That means usually I’ll think about something before I say it, because I want to know, “Is it true? Do I mean it? Do I believe it?”
My daughter is such an extrovert that until she says something, she doesn’t know if she actually believes it. She’ll do that and say something. Then it turns out she doesn’t believe it.
I try to help her by saying, “Honey, that’s lying.” She’ll say, “No, that’s not lying. I’m just externally processing.”
Here’s the deal. You get into a community with people, and may get all these romanticized ideas.
Then it’s hard. There’s someone there. They’re abrasive or sarcastic. I don’t like their politics, or I don’t like their theology. I don’t like how they talk about their faith. They talk too much, or they never talk. They hide, or they get their feelings hurt.
You see, Christian community doesn’t mean you get to be with people who are easy to be with. It means you get to be with Jesus with people.
Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
This is cool. There was an old rabbinic saying (Jesus was deliberately tweaking it) that said, “Wherever two or three people in Israel are gathered reading Torah, the Divine Presence is there.”
Jesus said, “No, what the Torah, what the Scriptures, were pointing to has now arrived, and it’s me. Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, when you’re gathered together in my name, recognizing it’s not just me and you…” It’s me and Jesus and you. It’s you and Jesus and me. Then Jesus says, “I’m right there.”
Alright, we’ll look at the last two observations in just a moment.
Alright, the third observation is — In the deep down dark:
Honesty is crucial.
You see, especially in the church, this ought to be so true.
There are a lot of places in the world that involve posturing and pretending, but it can’t be in the church.
This is what Bonhoeffer writes:
In confession the breakthrough to community takes place. The mask you wear before men will do you no good before him.
You do not have to go on lying to yourself and your brothers. [Which we all do.] You can dare to be a sinner. [which we all are]
But we live in a world where we all wear masks.
This is kind of a goofy story, but it just gives you the picture.
This guy is desperate for a job. He sees a want ad at a zoo, so he goes there.
But the guy who works at the zoo says, “The job is a little unusual. Our gorilla died, and we can’t afford to replace him with a real gorilla. So we’ll pay you to dress up in a gorilla suit and pretend to be a gorilla.”
The guy said, “Well, that would be kind of humiliating.” But he was desperate for the money, so he does it. He puts on a gorilla suit, gets in the cage, starts jumping around, beating his chest and grunting.
People start coming to watch him. They like what he’s doing.
And he’s kind of enjoying his job, but he gets a little too enthusiastic when he’s swinging on the vine.
He swings over the wall into the next cage, which is where the lion is.
In a moment, the lion is on him. His paw is on the guy’s chest.
He panics and blows his cover and starts yelling, “Help! Help! Help!”
The lion whispers to him, “Shut up, you idiot, or we’ll both lose our jobs!”
Everyone in the zoo is wearing a mask. You know, “Welcome to the zoo.” That’s where we live. Everyone is wearing a mask —
“I’m okay. I’m doing great. I love it. Failure doesn’t bother me. I have a happy mask. At church, I have a holy mask.”
This week I was working on an assignment with our staff. We’re working through Brene Brown’s book Dare to Lead.
I was thinking of someone I know and I think I love. And my thought was, “You know, I’m more successful than he is because I know more important people than he does.”
I just started to enjoy the truth of this by thinking about more important people I know than this other guy.
Then my next thought was, “If I heard another human being say out loud they were more important than someone because they know more important people, I would think, ‘What a pathetic, twisted, deluded idiot.’”
That’s what I think. I just don’t say it out loud… except to all of you.
This is so interesting. This is what Bonhoeffer writes about. “Confess your faults to one another.”
This is what they found in the deep down dark. They started doing this down there.
This is what they found in AA.
This is what Bonhoeffer found. This is so profoundly true.
He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone. It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, all their fellowship and all their fellowship in service may still be left to their loneliness.
[We can do a lot of other stuff together, but we’re still trapped.]
The final breakthrough to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners.
The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous.
“Oh no! A sinner… a real one!”
But in the fellowship of the deep down dark, we hear honest confession — “Forgive me for abusing my body with drugs and alcohol.”
Someone stumbles into AA, and they’re just sinners, just recovering sinners. It’s okay to say it.
As long as I’m hiding something, I cannot be fully known.
Then I cannot be fully loved.
Only if I’m fully known can I be fully loved.
My secrets trap me in my aloneness.
When I confess to God, not just in a general, abstract, you know, “I’m a sinner. Forgive my anger,” but I get really concrete — “These words, this action.”
I have a couple of people in my life. I’ve known them for many, many years. You don’t do this with a stranger. You have to know and trust someone.
I have a couple of people where everything in my life (all my sin, my temptations, stuff I’m embarrassed about, stuff I would never tell all of you about), I’ll tell them.
To have a fully disclosing friend is so liberating. There’s so much power in it.
That’s what the church is meant to be. That’s the community in the deep down dark.
Alright, the fourth observation is this — In the deep down dark:
Hope is indispensable.
I love this. It’s so interesting. In the mine were these Chilean miners. They loved to get together, and they loved to have their pastor tell them stories from the Bible.
The story they loved to hear the most and became their favorite was the story of Jonah and the whale. Do you want to guess why? It’s their story.
If Jonah was saved, maybe they will be saved.
They wanted to tell it to each other.
This is the strange thing about hope. In order to keep hope, you have to give it away.
I’ve seen this over and over again. I’ve experienced this.
When my focus is on me — “Am I going to be okay?” I get suffocated in my aloneness.
When I’m with other people and I care about them and I tell them, “There’s hope for you,” hope comes to me.
We live in a world that traffics in false hopes, shallow hopes.
We’ll say to people things like, “Everything will turn out okay. I’m sure you will get what you want.”
Maybe. Maybe, but that’s not the foundation of hope and the community that’s formed in the deep down dark.
This is from that verse in Hebrews we looked at a moment ago.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
There’s hope in the community that’s formed in the deep down dark.
We encourage each other but not based on maybes, but “as you see the Day approaching.”
It’s so interesting. That day is really clear to the guy writing it and the people reading this, but he doesn’t even say what it is. What’s the day? What’s the day we see approaching? What’s the day we’re looking forward to? What’s the day that gives us hope? What’s the day you are waiting for?
I was just thinking about days everyone looks forward to.
In our society, people work, and they just kill themselves working. Here’s a day: Friday.
We actually have a saying about this. What do we say about Friday? “Thank God it’s Friday! I don’t have to work for two days. I live for Friday!”
That’s a pathetic way to live, but in our society we have a whole restaurant chain that’s named after this idea. Just, “Thank God it’s Friday!”
That’s kind of a miserable way to live.
Now before you work, you go to school. You all know this.
By the way, if you’re in school, we all want to be praying for you because there can be so much weight and pressure and grades and tests and getting into the next school. The weight around that is just crushing.
For students in school, a lot of times they’re waiting for graduation day.
Then you graduate. You get out. You get to go into the real world. You get to make money, and you get to have a job.
Then you start looking forward to retirement day. That’s a word that’s not even in the Bible (retirement).
Then retirement is difficult for people, and people are putting it off longer and longer. They don’t have enough money for it.
Then we wait for Powerball lottery payoff day.
Does anybody here know how much money is available right now if you win the Powerball lottery? It’s like $500 million. It’s just insane! Your odds of winning are like — you’re 25 times more likely to be elected president of the United States (I was just reading that) than you are to win the Powerball. But still people are just going crazy in this.
That’s not the day we’re looking forward to.
So what is the day?
Here’s the day. Here’s the day.
A long time ago, a little group of guys gathered together. There was a guy who would teach them. He would tell them stories like no one had ever told.
One day they hung him on a cross, and they killed him. He died for our sins. They buried him, put a stone in front of him. He was blocked by the stone.
Way up above where no one could see, there was a little rescue operation going on.
Then the heavenly Father came down and entered into that tomb and met with his crucified Son. There was the very, very, first meeting of the kind of community that gets formed in the deep down dark.
That stone got rolled away, and Jesus got up feeling good. That was the first resurrection day.
And I’m here to tell you there is another resurrection day coming.
When you hope and when you read the Bible and when you’re with other Christians and when you remember and when you get encouraged and when you get direction and when you get forgiven and when you get grace, you are seeing that day coming. That’s where our hope lies.
Our hope is not in any human circumstance.
Your hope is not that the girl might say yes.
Your hope is not that the school might accept you.
Your hope is not that the job might come through.
Your hope is not that the house might appreciate, and you’ll sell it one day for a whole lot of money.
Your hope is not that the 401(k) is going to be huge.
Your hope is not that the whale is going to deliver me up to the surface.
Your hope is not that the drill is going to make it all the way through the rock.
Your hope, and my hope, is that Jesus Christ, who was crucified for your sins and mine, one day was resurrected, and the day is coming when you will be resurrected… and I will too. That’s our hope.
That’s what the day is about.
In the meantime, we gather together, and we listen to the story. We confess as sinners, and we share a little meal.
Today we’re going to share that little meal. We’re going to do it together. You know, it’s not called union. It’s called Communion because we do it together with Jesus. We do it together just as forgiven sinners, as recovering sinners.
Michaela and the team are going to lead us in a song, while you have some time to prepare your hearts. And then Scott is going to lead us in communion.
Let me pray before they lead us.
Blue Oaks Church