This Week’s Sermon- Keeping Jesus at the Center

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Keeping Jesus at the Center
by Eric Elder

Part 5 of “How to Keep Trusting in God, Even in the Face of Significant Loss”
(Here are the links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4)

I spoke Thursday night at to a special group of people at our church, called “Care Groups,” who gather together each week to encourage one another through some of life’s toughest struggles.

I shared with them how God had helped me to keep my life from spinning out of control during some of the toughest times as I was losing my sweet wife, Lana, to cancer last year.

How did God help me?  By reminding me to keep Jesus at the center of my life.  I’d like to share with you today what I shared with them on Thursday night.

You can listen to the audio at the link below, or you can read the transcript of my talk below.  Either way, I hope you’ll be encouraged to keep Jesus at the center of your life, too, no matter what you may be going through today.

As an extra blessing, I’ve asked my son Lucas to sing a song for you today called “Jesus at the Center,” written by Israel Houghton.  You can listen to my message, and then Lucas’ song, by clicking the links below.

Listen to: “Keeping Jesus At The Center, by Eric Elder

Listen to: “Jesus At The Center, sung by Lucas Elder

Here’s a transcript of the message.

Thanks, Jason, and if you don’t know me, my name’s Eric Elder, and I’ve been a part of Care Groups before.  I haven’t been here for this current season of Care Groups, but I used to lead, two years ago, a group for people overcoming homosexuality, and helping them with struggles with same-sex attraction and just how to walk through that.

Last spring, I unfortunately was in a group called GriefShare because my wife passed away last November from breast cancer.

And so I’m back again tonight just to share with you a little bit about my walk and keeping Jesus at the center of my life, even through some of these difficult times.

Let me just encourage you to open your Bible, if you have a Bible with you, and  just read along with me.  We’re going to look at First John, starting in chapter 2.  John says, in verse fifteen:

“Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world – wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important – has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out – but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity” (1 John 2:15-17, MSG).

Keeping Jesus at the center, for me, this past year and a half since we found out my wife had cancer and then she died about nine months later, you know there were a lot of times when I felt like my world was spinning out of control.

She’s been more than just essential to my life.  And this is wrong to say this, but in many ways she was my savior.  Of course, Jesus is my Savior.  He’s the One that redeemed me, saved me and is the One that’s going to carry me into heaven when I die.

But because I came out of homosexuality, back 28 years ago, really through an encounter with Christ, but it was also through the help of my wife, who was my girlfriend at the time.  We had started dating and I had actually been involved with someone else at the time and I had to confess to her that not only was I involved with someone else at the time that I started dating her, but I was involved with another man.

That was an excruciating two-hour conversation, of me not saying anything, and her wondering if I was an ax-murderer, or what I had to confess that was so terrible.  But as I shared that with her, she loved me so unconditionally, and she was so gracious to me, and she just treated me with such kindness and gentleness.  Just the way she walked me through that, and through temptations and through life, I can really say she saved me from a lot.

So I know that Jesus is the center of my life.  He has been since I put my faith in Him.  As one of my friends said about her husband, she said, “Jesus is like my cake, and my husband is the icing on my Jesus cake.”

I said, “Oh, that’s really nice.  That was Lana for me.  Jesus was my cake, and Lana was the icing on my Jesus cake.”

But as she started going through cancer and the doctors were saying that it was incurable, and they didn’t know how long she had to live, but it wasn’t long, I started seeing that maybe Jesus and Lana had sort of merged roles in such a way that the thought of losing her felt like I was losing my cake, too.

I don’t know if it’s right or wrong, because I know we’re supposed to be so intertwined–you know, it would be sad if she died and I felt nothing–so I know God gives us those kinds of relationships for a reason.  But there was a time there, just a few months before she died, where we were having some of these hard conversations about what the future would look like, and what I was going to do if she did pass on.

She was talking to me about remarriage and things like that, and I didn’t want to hear it.  That was the farthest thing from my mind.  I was not interested in even entertaining the thought.  I just wanted her, and I wanted her alive.

And yet a few weeks into that cycle of conversations, somewhere from the back of my mind, as my life was spinning out of control, and what I thought was my center was being taken away from me, I started gravitating in my mind back to some other things that gave me some peace and some happiness and some comfort, and that included former homosexual relationships from over 25 years earlier.

And I just thought, you know, I have no interest at all in getting married again.  But there was a part of me that said, “But if there was a man that came along, what would I do then?”  Because it didn’t involve the same kind of commitment, the same kind of relationship, the same kind of work, it just was sort of fun.  At least that was my memory of it from long ago.

For about two weeks, this just really puzzled me and it just weighed on me, because I was like, “This has been over 25 years since I’ve had any serious consideration to that at all.”  God had just broken that off of me in a wonderful way and given me a wife and six children of our own.  So to have these thoughts again and go, “Wow, why would I even be going there?  Why would I go back there?”

I had a conversation with Jason and he said that it makes some sense, that when your life is being threatened in these ways and something’s being threatened to be taken away from you, you sort of gravitate towards what brought you peace and comfort in the past.  And I knew he was right, but it bothered me that it was even on my mind and was even — do you know what I mean?  I mean it was like, “Oh, my gosh, I don’t even want to have that thought again.”

It was about two weeks of struggling with this and just trying to work it out in my brain.

Then I woke up one Sunday morning, and I just started reading Romans chapter 1, and I read the passage that really changed my life, where Paul talks about homosexuality and talks about how the end of that is not going to be good for us.  That is a passage that changed my life, and it was a hinge and a turning point in everything regarding my faith, as well as my sexuality.

So to read that passage again, I was just like, “OK, that’s right.  That’s right.  This was in my past.  This is not going to be part of my future.”

Then I came to church, and Pastor Baker was talking about the topic again that morning, and he just was talking about it and he said, “You can justify it, you can rationalize it, you can go through all kinds of arguments about it” — and I’m paraphrasing him here, I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but if you’ve heard him speak on this, you know where he stands — but he said, “You know, the bottom line is that if God says it’s not good for you, then it’s not going to go well for you.”

He says, “If there’s anything in the Bible, whether it’s adultery or fornication or sex outside of marriage or before marriage, or any topic in the Bible, if God says this is not good for you, the bottom line is: it’s just not going to go well for you.”

That was like number 2 that day where I was like, “Whew.  That’s right, I don’t even have to think about this.  The Bible is very clear, and it’s been very clear in the past.”

And then later that night, I had a conversation with a friend and his wife had had a similar diagnosis a few years ago, and he was worried that she might die.  He said something that shocked me, he said, “I was wondering if maybe, if God took her, that He was then releasing me and I could go and pursue homosexuality.”

And I was like, “You can’t do that!”  Somehow hearing it from someone else, the very thoughts that I was considering, but hearing them speak it as if that was what God was really going to say and I was like, “Now I know it’s wrong.  I just didn’t care.”  You just get to the point where, “God, I know this is wrong, I understand it’s wrong, but I don’t care.  I just want to do what I want to do,” which is what John says:

“The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting…”

You just want to do what you want to do.  But if you do what God wants you to do, that’s when you’ll have eternal life.  That’s when things will go well for you.

So those three things for me:  just reading the Word that morning and finding Romans chapter 1 again, just hearing the pastor and coming to church and getting reminded again, “You know, it’s just not going to go well for you.”

And then hearing my friend just speak the words that I was thinking.  Just to verbalize those and say, “Wow.”

After two weeks of just being perplexed about this, it just cleared up.  It totally cleared up and it’s not come back again.  I just needed that though, I needed to hear from God in some very clear ways.

Then when Lana did pass away, I didn’t have that struggle.  I didn’t have that wrestling anymore, because I had invited God in, and I said, “God, I want to do what You want, and I really want Your will more than anything else.  And as bad as this hurts, I am not going to go back into something that would hurt me even more, because You don’t want me to do that.  You want me to have life, and life abundant.”

And sometimes, as we’ve learned in GriefShare, when someone close to you dies like that, it puts a wall up between you and people around you, because they don’t really know what that relationship was like.

They don’t know, for instance, this is the first time I’ve ever shared this publicly, how Lana has been so vital, not just my best friend, my lover, my everything to me, mother of my kids, my homeschool teacher of all my kids.  Not just all those important things, but how she helped me in this area of sexuality.  And then to lose that, it’s hard for me to explain to other people.

And so there’s this wall that sort of goes up between you and other people to where you’re not really able to let them in, and they’re not able to enter in, because they don’t know what that has meant to you and what you have lost.

But in GriefShare they said that God knows what it’s like to lose someone close to Him.  And God lost a son.  God knows what it’s like to weep.  And Jesus lost his best friend in Lazarus.  And they can enter in with you.  And even if other people can’t, you can still invite God in, and let Him come into your life.  Let Him be with you and fill those lonely places.

God really has done that.  I still miss Lana terribly.  I wish she was here.  I would take her back in a heartbeat.  But God has really come in.  He really has walked me through this.  He really has helped me in so many ways.

I want you to look at another passage with me.  Then we’ll go to a song, where you can just meditate on what it means to you to keep Jesus at the center.  This is in Hebrews, just back a few pages, Hebrews chapter 12, starting in verse 2.  The writer of Hebrews says this:

“Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed – that exhilarating finish in and with God – he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! 

“… My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline, but don’t be crushed by it either. It’s the child he loves that he disciplines; the child he embraces, he also corrects. God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children. Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God? We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live? While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them. But God is doing what is best for us…” (Hebrews 12:2-3, 5b-10a, MSG).

I felt like, as my life was spinning out of control, that God had to sort of correct me, discipline me, bring me back in.  And it was a discipline that I welcomed.  I didn’t want Him to leave me alone.  I needed Him.  And the truth is, we all need Him.

Maybe you’re at a place where you feel like you’re either being crushed by God because He’s either giving you more than you think you can handle, or you feel like you’re being disciplined by Him, or maybe you feel like you’re being punished.  I want you just to not think about it that way.

If there’s some path that you’re not on a good path, God can come in and correct you, if you’re willing to let Him, and just let Him help you get back onto the good path.

God has so much for us.  He wants us to live.  He wants us to live an abundant life.  He has great plans and purposes for you and for me.  I just want to encourage you to keep Jesus at the center of your life.

Let’s pray:

Father, thank You for these words, God, and allowing me to share some of the crazy things that have happened to me over the last year and a half.  God, I just thank You for walking me through it.  I thank You for keeping me on Your path.  I thank You, Lord, when I was tempted to veer, that You brought me back.  God, I pray for each person listening to this tonight (and reading and listening later!), that You would keep them on Your good path, Lord.  Help them to keep walking with You, Lord.  Help them to keep their eyes fixed on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of their faith.  Lord, help them to know Your great love for them.  And I pray most of all You’d help them to overcome the world, Lord, and not let the world overcome them.  We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Click here to listen to “Jesus At The Center, sung by Lucas Elder

P.S. Come join us for a “Night of Worship at The Ranch,”  this Saturday, October 12th.  It’s free, it’ll be fun, and we’d love to connect with you in person (plus it’s a 3-day weekend here in the U.S, so you’ll have extra time to travel here and home again!)  Greg Potzer, who selects our daily quotes, Bible verses and occasional smiles, will be driving in from Colorado to join us here in Illinois, along with my friend and worship leader Kent Sanders.  We’ll gather around 5pm Central Time for snacks and light refreshments, then start worship at 7.  Come join us if you can!  Our address is:  25615 E 3000 North Rd, Chenoa, IL  61726.

Eric Elder

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To Lana, With Love

As a thank-you for your donation of any size to our ministry, we’d be glad to send you our DVD, “To Lana, With Love,” featuring the Celebration of the Life of Lana Elder, who passed away on November 15th, 2012.  Lana was the wife of Eric Elder and co-founder of The Ranch. “To Lana, With Love” also includes the short inspirational video, “Eric’s Hope,” to give hope and encouragement to others facing loss.
Click here to learn more or to make a donation.

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