Derwin Gray teaches on Ephesians 1:5
Series: Summer Preaching Series 2014
Labels influence all of us; they give us an identity. For some of us those labels are on clothes. For others it’s what university or job you choose. Some of us even buy certain types of smart phones based on the label.
But today I want to talk about the labels we can’t see, but that impact how we view and experience God, ourselves, the people we’re in relationship with, the jobs we pursue, and how it impacts everything.
All of us, whether we’re followers of Jesus or not, have a life-destroying label called orphan. When you hear the term orphan you probably think of someone adopting a child from a foreign country. But what I’m talking about is the level of being a spiritual orphan.
Someone responded to one of my blogs a while back. They wrote, “Enough! I’ve been quiet about this topic long enough. I cannot, nor will I, hold it in anymore. When people like you call God Poppa or Daddy it can be extremely hurtful for people who’ve experienced abuse at the hands of their father. So in the future, when you use those words, know it can cause hurt.” They signed it, “Anonymous,” which is fitting, because when you don’t have a true poppa to love you unconditionally, to give you an identity, and to empower you for a mission and a purpose you feel anonymous.
So I responded this way, “Dear Anonymous, I have some father wounds too. I feel what you’re saying. In the gospels, as well as in Paul’s letters, Jesus and Paul both use the Aramaic word Abba to describe God the Father. The word Abba is equivalent to the English word poppa or daddy. The word picture is of a father reaching down for their child to lift them up and embrace them close to their chest.”
I’m forty-three. My daughter just graduated high school. I’m freaking out right now. I remember when she was born. I changed her diapers. I taught her how to ride a bike. I remember when she was little and learning how to first walk. She walked up to me, put her arms up and said, “Pappi.” If you haven’t noticed, I’m not Hispanic. But she would say it and I would just go, “Ah mija!” Then I would pick her up and hold her. I would relish that she was my daughter. The love I have for her is immense.
If a broken, busted up dude like me can love like that, imagine what a gloriously perfect Father can love like.
I finished my response to the anonymous letter and said, “Anonymous, I cannot and will not allow the pain of my past to destroy the happiness I experience today as knowing God as my Poppa.”
With my own life it took over twelve years of counseling to process through and identify some of the wounds and characteristics of being a spiritual orphan. I wrote about this in my book Limitless Life in chapter 4. Maybe you can relate.
Orphans feel anonymous.
Orphans don’t know who they are. My dad took off when I was about six. I grew up as a compulsive stutterer. I grew up in the worst house on Arbor Street on the Westside in San Antonio. I had to find an identity by what I did. But I was always anonymous. Who am I? Where am I from?
Orphans feel abandoned.
At about age thirteen, I recognized people close to me would let me down and hurt me. So I decided to keep everybody at a distance so no one could hurt me ever again. That’s a sad way to live.
Actually, some of you right now are sabotaging your relationships. It’s not anybody else’s fault. It’s your fault for living in the pain of your past. If you don’t let Jesus deal with your past pain, your past pain will jack up your present relationships.
Orphans feel afraid.
I played in the NFL for several years, but there was always this fear of who am I going to be when I can’t play football anymore. It’s what gave me my identity. Everybody was just going to abandon me. Now, I have the honor of being the founding lead pastor of Transformation Church. In our first year we were the second fastest growing church in the United States. We’re building a brand new six million dollar building. We have a campus in a prison. We planted a church in Spain. But every weekend I get into the pulpit, there’s a voice that says, “They’re just going to leave you too.”
A pastor named Jack Frost once said, “Being a spiritual orphan causes us to live life as if we don’t have a safe and secure place in a father’s heart. We feel we have no place of affirmation, protection, comfort, belonging, or affection. Self oriented, lonely, and inwardly isolated, we have no one from whom to draw godly inheritance. Therefore, we have to strive, achieve, compete, and earn everything we get in life. This easily leads to a life of anxiety, fear, and frustration.” Maybe you can relate.
I grew up on the Westside of San Antonio, Texas. My mom was only seventeen when she had me and my dad was gone before I was even six. My mom had some issues so my grandmother primarily raised me. We weren’t a religious family. We never prayed together or attended church services. So at the age of thirteen I found my own religion. That religion was football.
In eighth grade my coach said, “Derwin, if you keep playing good, you can get a scholarship.” I said, “What kind of ship is a scholarship? Where does that take you?” He said, “No, no, no. There are colleges that will pay for your education and you’ll get to play football!” At that moment, I got a god.
A god is anything that gives you an identity, significance, and a mission. Football gave me an identity. I was a football player. Football gave me significance. I could be good. Football gave me a mission. I was going to college. I worshipped football.
I went to Converse Judson High School. We’ve been known to kick but for eons. I played for a great coach named D. W. Rutledge. We played Dallas Carter in the State Championship in 1988. At the end of my high school career, I basically had two primary offers, TCU and Brigham Young University. I went to BYU.
I went from San Antonio, growing up in a multi ethnic context to Provo, Utah. Not only was it white, but it was a Mormon whiteness, which is a different kind of whiteness. But going to BYU was a great thing for me. It’s hard to get in trouble in Provo. Ain’t no Sixth Street in Provo. They don’t sell alcohol. You have to plan and strategize to get in trouble in there. It is hard. But I was successful.
January 15, 1990, I was in a weight room and I see this young lady doing triceps extensions. I needed to meet her. Her name was Vicky and she was a javelin thrower on the track team. We’ve been together ever since.
I got married in college. My football career was going good. I was nominated as one of the greatest players ever played at BYU. I was worshipping my gods and it was going great.
April 25, 1993, the Colts drafted me. I had made it to my football mecca to worship my god. First year was a little tough. By the third year I was the team captain. I was making money, almost made it to the Super Bowl, and people wanted my autograph. But yet, when I looked in the mirror, I was hoping people didn’t really know what was happening on the inside of me. I had a mid-life crisis at twenty-five.
One crisis point was that I couldn’t love my wife the way she deserved to be loved. I took a man’s daughter and said I would take on the responsibilities to care for her, but after three years of marriage, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t love her the way she deserved to be loved. I needed a love that was beyond myself. How could I love my wife when I didn’t even love myself or even know what love was?
I also dealt with bitterness. Can you imagine having a son that’s a team captain in the NFL and never going to any games? Or that you could let your addiction get so bad you didn’t participate in your son’s career? That was my dad. I go to all of my children’s’ events as much as I can. I go to my son’s practices just to let him know I’m there. I can’t imagine not being intimately involved in their lives. But then, I was bitter. Bitterness is drinking poison and hoping the person you’re mad at dies. But I was the one who died. Never forget that hurt people hurt people.
I lived with fear. I was afraid of the guy who worked in the front office who could come to me with a pink slip and say, “You can’t play anymore, and you’re fired.” That gave me fear because my identity was built on what I did.
In 1993, when the Colts drafted me, there was a linebacker there. 6’2”, 240 pound, black dude from Miami, Florida. Every day after practice he would take a shower, which was normal. Then he would wrap a towel around his waist, which was normal. Then he would get his Bible and walk through the locker room, which was not normal. Then he would go to my teammates and say, “Do you know Jesus?” In my mind I was asking, “Do you know you’re half naked?” It was the weirdest thing ever. I had no Christian background. I didn’t want to know Jesus and I didn’t want to know him because he was naked.
One day I was chilling at my locker and I heard him coming. My heart skipped, I wanted to avoid this religious nut. I felt him knock on my back. Then he asked me a question that forever changed my life. He said, “Rooky D. Gray, do you know Jesus?” I knew that was a religious question, so I said, “Well, I’m a good person.” But he just said, “Do you know Jesus?”
One of the most arrogant things another human being can say is “I’m a good person.” How did I come to that conclusion unless I looked at other people around me and think I was better than them? Didn’t Jesus say something in Matthew 7 about not judging hypocritically? I was looking at other people to lift myself up and put them down by saying I was a good person.
If you’re a follower of Jesus, you should be one of the most humble and compassionate people on the earth, because we understand grace. At the foot of the cross all of us are sinners and in need of God’s grace. The only time we should ever look down upon somebody is when we are extending a hand to lift them up.
This linebacker and I began a five-year conversation. August 2, 1997, after lunchtime I was walking back to the dorm room. It was my fifth year in the NFL, I was at training camp in Anderson, Indiana. There was something happening on the inside of me I really can’t explain. I got back to my room, picked up the phone and called my wife. I said, “Sweetheart, I want to be more committed to you.” I was ready to grow up and be a man. Then I said these next words, “I want to be committed to Jesus.” She got quiet and I got quiet.
It hit me that for the first time in my life I was loved with no strings attached. It wasn’t because I was fast, or strong, or because somebody looked at my film resume and thought I could help their team. No it was contrary to that. God looked at my film resume and it said, “sinner in need of grace” and He gave me grace. He gave me Himself. I knew God loved me. On the cross, all of my sin, shame, and brokenness were nailed to Christ. All of His forgiveness, mercy, love, and holiness were nailed to me as the Spirit of God sealed me and filled me. It was independent of what I did. But dependent upon everything Jesus did.
God gives us His adopting love.
God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. Ephesians 1:5 (NLT)
This is what He wanted to do and it gave Him great pleasure!
Many of you, like me, find your self worth and purpose based on what you do. We’ve failed so much we feel like we are worthless. Willie Nelson sung a song called, You Were Always On Your Mind. It was a love song. But it’s a lie. There is only One in the universe that can truly say that and that’s the Father, Son, and Spirit. When we go back to when there is no days, no time, no space, no matter, and step into the eternal now, we find a Father, Son, and Spirit adoring and loving one another and you are on their mind.
God is most glorified when people respond to His grace and partake in the ultimate love fest. God has always thought about you with good intentions to offer His life and love to you. That means God decided in advance, before your parents even knew each other, that He loved you.
Some of you don’t even think He likes you. Here’s our problem. We think God’s love and like for us is based on what we do. If we could do anything to make God love us or like us anymore than He already does, it would diminish beautiful and glorious Jesus and we don’t want to do that.
He loves us based on everything Christ has done. By our association to Him the Father’s feelings that overflow to Jesus overflow on us, because we are in Him. He takes pleasure in this.
When my kids were little I would sing to them. I would sing, “Jesus loves me this I know,” with tears falling all over them. I took pleasure in loving them. When I looked at them, I didn’t say, “I love you because one day you’re going to get a job and take care of me,” or, “I love you because you’re going to get a football scholarship.” No! I love them just because of who they are. I love them based on their intrinsic value of being mine. That’s the way the Father loves you in Christ.
In Zephaniah 3, it talks about God singing and dancing over us. This is applied to the nation of Israel, which then gets transferred to Jesus. And because we’re in Christ, it gets transferred to us. Have you thought about that? God the Father sings and dances over you because you’re in Christ.
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” Romans 8:15 (ESV)
What are you afraid of? Aren’t you tired of being afraid? Can I give you some good news? Do you know who your Daddy is?
Let me tell you about your Daddy. Your Daddy flung the Milky Way Galaxy into existence with a word. Your Daddy in Christ conquered sin and death. Your Daddy is the One who tells the sun to wake up and smile. Your Daddy is the sovereign King of the Universe. There is not an atom floating randomly that is not first in His hand.
Whatever you are fearful of, when it knocks on your door, tell your Daddy to go answer it, because He’s got this.
I’m fearful that I don’t know if I’m the one that can lead Transformation Church to where it wants to go. I wake up and say, “God, I don’t know what I’m doing. Daddy, you got to do it through me. You’ve got to show up. If you parted the Red Sea, you can get us into a six million dollar building. You can do it, because I can’t.” This fear presses me into a Poppa that’s big.
A lot of you are young and moving forward in your careers and all this stuff. But please hear me, idols can become anything. Everything we have can be stripped away. As much as I love my wife, she can leave. As much as I love my children they could go decide they don’t love me. As much as I love Transformation Church, they could decide to fire me. My body can break down. Everything can be stripped away from me, but this, “Derwin, you are an infinitely beloved son of God.”
You’re a beloved daughter or son of the King.
God’s adopting love as His child gives us friendship with God.
But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. 9 And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ…Romans 5:8-9a (NLT)
You were made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ!
Ladies, it’s hard being a woman in this culture. You have to compete with airbrushed magazine covers. If you’re in Christ I want you to wake up, go to the mirror with no make-up on and say, “Heeyyy! I am right in God’s sight because of the blood of Christ!”
Fellas, your past no longer has to torture you. When you remind God of it, He simply says, “What you talking about? You’re made right in My sight by the blood of My Son.”
…he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. Romans 5:9b-11 (NLT)
Through Christ we’re actually friends of God!
In 2001, I was writing some letters, telling my families about my new found faith and how forgiving God is. Suddenly I heard a voice. I don’t know if it was God’s or mine, but it said this, “Find your father.” I stood up in my office and started cursing like a drunken sailor. Why should I find my father? I’m a grown man, I have a career and I have a family. When I was growing up and I didn’t know how to treat women, where was he? When I was at my games and the other dads were there, where was he? I remember in the eighth grade one time he showed up to a basketball game and was high out of his mind. He put his hand up against the wall in the locker room with heroin tracks all up and down his arm. Why should I go find him?
It was almost as if God the Father said, “Ok son, I know you’re having a little temper tantrum. I get it. I understand.” It was as if He picked me up and put me on His lap, pressing my head against His heart so I could hear His heartbeat. He said, “Hey Derwin, you do know that you didn’t deserve my forgiveness or love and your sin looked like heroin tracks to me, but I gave you grace, forgiveness, love, and friendship, so that you could be a conduit of my grace to your father.”
So I wrote the hardest letter I’ve ever had to write after I found out he was in prison. I said, “Hey dad, I love you, I forgive you. You have some great grandkids that you need to know and meet.” I sent it off. One day I was checking my mail and there was a letter. I immediately started crying like crazy. I ran up to my office. I didn’t want my wife and kids to see me freaking out. I didn’t know what the letter was going to say. Maybe, “How dare you. You can’t forgive me.” But I resolved two things. First, God the Father’s love in Christ was enough. Second, regardless of what he did, I would still forgive him.
So I opened up the letter. It said, “Son,” which made me feel good, despite all the years of pain, “thank you for forgiving me. I do want to know my grandkids. I want to be involved in their lives. I love you.” I just wept and wept and wept. Our relationship now is restored.
Our parents didn’t wake up one day and say, “You know what, I’m going to become an alcoholic and just screw my kids’ lives up,” or, “I’m just going to go have an affair with my secretary.” They have labels too.
At two years old, I remember spending the night with my dad. Late at night I hear this raucous noise. This violent man was cursing and throwing stuff. It was my dad’s dad who had come home drunk, violent, and threatening to shoot and kill everybody. I remember my dad going up to his father, gently grabbing him, taking him back to the room, and putting him in the bed.
When I was writing my book, I interviewed my dad and asked him about that night. I asked him why he didn’t just hit him and knock him out. I’ll never forget his words. He said, “Because he was my father and I loved him.”
So who do you need to forgive? That’s what the Kingdom of God is about. It’s about forgiveness. We live in a world that’s longing for more than us singing songs and attending services. We need to say, “This is how you love and forgive. This is the way of the cross. This is the power of the resurrection.”
That will change the world. You are that agent of change.
Spend some time today writing God a letter and thanking Him for adopting you into His family. Do this for your own growth in Christ. And if you need to reach out to somebody for forgiveness, please do it. When you forgive somebody, somebody gets set free and that somebody is you.