EPIC Part 1 - The Story of Your Life

January 7, 2018


In this message you will learn: There's a difference in living forgiven and living free.

Deep inside there's something missing in all of this. We were all made for something more, and we know it, so if that's true, what are we going to do with that? Well, we are going to spend the next six weeks together talking about that.

You know, I love this time of year because it's a time for all of us to have a brand new fresh start, isn't it? I mean, this is the year where I'm going to change some things up, I'm going to do some things differently in my life. I mean, this is the year I'm going to, fill in the blank. I'm going to change careers, I'm going to finish my degree, I'm going to get a job, I'm going to dump that loser, I'm going to get married. I'm going to get out of debt. I'm going to do this, I'm going to do that. This year I'm going to do things different. I'm going to find a new church maybe. 

Maybe that's why you're here today, because you decided, you know what, for 2018 I just want to take a shot, I want to try to start things differently; we all do, me too. We're all are here and 2018 is starting now and we all want to do things a little bit differently this year.

That's why I love this series that we're getting ready to start today. We've designed this series to help every single one of us who's here today do exactly that, to start this new year differently. It's a series that we're calling EPIC. 

This series is about a message that has changed a lot of the lives of people in this room. You see, the good news is this, if you really want to know more about this place that you're sitting in today that we call Next Level Church, if you want to know more about us, how we think, how we roll, what really is behind everything that we do in this place, this series will provide that and will do that for you.

But there's more to it than just that, right? This series is about the foundational pieces of how we help people grow in this place. It's the foundational piece really of all that we do here. But there's so much more to it than that. This message in this series is a message that saved my wife and I from a dead life of religion and disappointment.

This message is a message that helped me renew my relationship with my three children. This is a message that helped save my life when honestly my life didn't seem worth living anymore — it came to me in one of my most desperate times. This was a message that introduced me to a relationship with Jesus that despite the fact that I'd grown up in church, been in church my entire life, I never dreamed or imagined that this relationship could be possible. 

And it's done the exact same things lots of other people sitting around you in this room today. And here's the good news, it has the potential to do the exact same thing for you. That's why I'm so excited about this series.

So as we start this new journey together today, I want to introduce you to something that we don't talk about much. In fact, I kind of feel like sometimes it's out of bounds or it feels out of place in the church. I want us to start this journey together today by talking about your invisible life, my invisible life, our invisible life.

Now, before you freak out and run out of the room and have a panic attack, I'm not talking about your deepest, darkest secrets, the things that you've done in your past or you're currently doing in your life you really don't want anybody to know, that nobody knows, nobody sees, nobody's really paying attention to, except for you; I don't want to talk about that. 

I want to talk about the things in our lives that nobody sees, nobody knows, nobody's really paying attention to including you. The things in our lives that are invisible to even us. Because, see, I think that is the beginning, that's the beginning of the path to the life that every single one of us is looking for, that's where the journey begins. So you and I were made for so much more and we do know it.

So what do you say? Let's jump into this, take this journey together over the next several weeks, and let's see if we can find what that something more is, all right? 

We're going to Luke chapter 4 to get this thing rolling today.


14 Then Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Reports about him spread quickly through the whole region. 15 He taught regularly in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16 When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures.


Let's stop right there and let's unpack this for just a second. Let's get a little context here. So, just before this, not too long before this, Jesus was baptized, God's voice boomed out of heaven, “This is my son, I love him so much, I couldn't be more proud of him.” Validation came in that moment. He was led into the desert where he was tempted by the enemy or Satan for 40 days, and then he started his ministry.

Shortly after he starts his ministry, he heads back home to his hometown, to his home church, and he stands up in the church to read. So that's what's going on in this moment? Ultimately, it is what Jesus reads, what he says here that is going to be most significant to us. But before we get to that, I don't want us to miss the significance of something else here. It's not what Jesus says, it's who he says it to. I think that's something very important for us to consider too.

Here's what I'm getting to. Jesus has something important to say to the church people who know him best. I think that's true then and I think it's true now too. Jesus has something important to say to the church people who know him best. 

Think about this moment for just a second. Jesus is sitting in the church with who? Church people. People who have chosen to go to church on the Sabbath. In this moment,  his message is not for people who aren't really interested in God. This is for people who are, for all practical purposes, chasing after God. They're the people that attend church on a regular basis, they probably study and know the Scripture, they know what God expects of them in their life, and that's who's sitting here, that’s who Jesus is getting ready to read this Scripture to.

Now there's even more to it than that if you really think about it. These are not just church people. These are church people from Jesus' hometown. These are the people who've spent 30 years watching Jesus grow up. These are the people, the church people who knows Jesus the absolute best. Let's just let that sink in for just a second. Because what does that mean? Think about the expectations and limitations that come with that.

I think that's why Jesus decides to read this passage in this synagogue in his hometown. I think Jesus knows that he needs to blow up some of the expectations and limitations they have placed on him as a carpenter's son who lived in the town of Nazareth.

Now, here's the point, one of the kindest and most loving things that Jesus could ever do for us today is exactly what he does for these people sitting in this church, and that is, help blow up some of the expectations and limitations that we've placed on Jesus in our own lives. 

One of the kindest and most loving and caring things that Jesus have ever done for me in my life was exactly that, blow up the limitations and the expectations I had of Jesus in my life, and it came in one of the darkest, most tragic, and most terrible, and most helpless moments in my entire life. 

And into that pain and hopelessness, Jesus stepped in to my life. And for the very first time in my life, I began a journey into something that I'd never journeyed toward before. I began a journey into my own invisible life.

See, here's the thing. I’d grown up in the church, I'd lived my life as a very religious person… full of knowledge, duty, obligation, obedience. That's what the Christian life was supposed to be about. And I tried my best to manage my sin and be a good Christian. I think that's what most of us do. And yet, what? That voice still spoke to me, “There's something missing in this. You were made for more than just this. And you know it.”

Well, what was that something that was missing in this? I began to find it… And maybe, we all need to be introduced to it as well. And I think Jesus is getting ready to do that, as he reads from this scripture here.


17 The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, 19 and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”


Now, I had read this passage before. I grew up in church, went to Seminary. I'd read this story so many times in my life. And I had concluded that this is Jesus just providing some more categories of people that he came to forgive and save. That this is Jesus just saying, “Okay. Let me add to my list of whom I came for. I came for the poor.” 

Now, I grew up middle-class and wasn't really poor, so that's not me. The broken hearted. Is my heart broken? Ah, feels pretty good. That's not me. Prisoners? I've done a lot of things in my life I could have been arrested for, but I never got caught. So that's not me. Right? 

That's how I read this passage. This is not a list of categories of people, of additional people that Jesus came to save and that he needs to forgive. You know what this is? This is a list of needs that exists in every single one of us sitting here today.

This is what your heart and my heart needs. See, what I think is happening, Jesus is addressing something here. He's addressing what I believe to be one of the biggest misses and one of the biggest gaps in the church still today. And it goes like this.

We understand the significance of sin. Oh yes, we do. But not of our story. 

Now let me say this, because I don't want you to hear me wrong. The stuff you do matters. Our sin is a big deal. And it needs to be important to us. We have to to be more obedient and follow Christ. 

See, but here's the thing. Our sin is not invisible to us in the church. It's kind of front and center. Our sin is not invisible to us in the church. Our stories often are. This is the invisible life that I'm talking about. 

What about the things, not the things you've done, rather, what about the things that have been done to you? Been said to you? Been said about you? What about that time when he wrote you off? She broke up with you? He walked away? What about that time when you were abused? Neglected? Raped? Sodomized? Beaten? Beaten again? Told you you would never have any value to anyone? That you were worthless? You would always be this, you would never be that? What about those things? What about those things that have happened in your life that you had nothing to do with and that absolutely and completely and totally were not your fault? What about our story?

See, we don't pay much attention to this. And we don't talk about this much in the church at all. We just don't really give it much thought. And I spent 38 years of my life totally missing the significance of my story. A story that honestly, is really nothing compared to many of the stories of many of you sitting in the room here today. But that doesn't make it any less significant.

See, when I burned out in ministry over a decade ago now, thank goodness. When that happened in my life, I bailed out on church and a lot of church people just concluded that I was just a bad pastor and that I did not handle stress well. 

And I can't blame them for that, because when we don't understand the significance of our stories, of not only the things that we've done, but the things that have been done to us, we don't really have any other place to land. 

This is why church people often respond in the inappropriate ways they do to the people in the world around them. Because they understand sin, but they don't understand story.

And when I began to understand my story, you know what I started to understand, maybe I'm not a bad person after all. Maybe I’m not a quitter. Maybe I'm just a broken person. There's a difference, isn't there?

And as I started this journey into my own story, what I came to find was that most of my behavior throughout my adult life was tied directly to my wrong identity. This striving thing I've had driving. I'll prove you wrong. I'll prove this. I'll prove that. I'm going to show you that I'm worthy. That thing inside of me was driving my identity… and it was invisible.

A lot of the behavior in our lives is tied to our invisible lives. So, I started reading about this stuff in this book called Wild at Heart. I began to devour the book. I got so excited, I couldn't read it fast enough. I would be in room and Jody would be in another room, and I would just out shout to her, “Hey, you've got to hear this.”

The more I read, the more I started to understand. All of a sudden it was like, wait a minute. I've grown up in the church. I spent my entire life since I can walk in church. My grandfather was a pastor. How in the world could I have missed all of this?

My life began to change and I started to find hope in this. Jesus came to do so much more than forgive me. There was so much more that he wanted and needed to do in my heart, in my life and in my story. That he came to heal and redeem and restore and help me live from the heart and set my captive heart free. That's what he came to do for me.

Look, I'm not minimizing sin. Your sin's a big deal. My sin's a big deal. Right, ultimately it's what nailed Jesus to the cross. I'm just saying this, my sin was in clear focus, but I did not understand the significance of my story. I think that's a lot of our stories as we sit here today, we don't either.

And so I began to understand, all that Jesus came to do for me, that all that stuff really mattered. Jesus wanted to address that in my life. I began to change. My life would never be the same. 

And after 6 years away from ministry and helping start a highly successful IT consulting firm, God was calling back into ministry. But this time, I swore that I was going to do things differently. And we have.

We have been chasing after Jesus and inviting him into our stories, inviting Jesus to provide healing and redemption and restoration, to continue to heal up these very broken places in us. Better than any program, any study, any class, any system that we could put in place, the best thing I could do was continue to walk into my own story with Jesus and allow him to do what he came to do for me. Because there's always more that Jesus wants and needs to do in our stories.

We must understand the significance of our story. And so, the church you're sitting in today, this place with call Next Level, God has been building this place on that.

Don't hear me wrong when I say this, okay? I'm not saying that makes us the best. I'm not saying that. I'm not saying it makes us better than any other church. I am saying this, it makes us different. It makes us different, because it makes us messy. Because when you invite people into their stories, not only things they've done, but the things that have been done to them, look out. It gets messy fast.

We want you to discover your story, to understand the significance of your story. We want to encourage you to find it. We want to help you do it. We want to challenge you to do it. Yes, it's going to be messy, but we cannot compromise on this. 

Here's why, if you and I ever want to experience the life to the fullest, this amazing abundant life to the fullest, not some day when we get to heaven and sprout our wings and play our harps and all that, but today. If we want to experience that life today, we must walk into and understand the significance of our stories. Really, it's non negotiable. 

We're never going to let go of that value in this place. We understand the significance of our sin, we're good at that. But as a community, we must understand the significance of our stories, these things that for a lot of us remain invisible, that we're not paying much attention to in our lives.

Let me say this, and I believe it with my whole heart. If we continue to overlook and ignore our stories, we will never live free. Not on this earth. We'll never live free. 

There's a difference in living forgiven and living free. 

Most church people I know stop at the first part of that. Settle for the first half of that. There's a difference in living forgiven, which you want. Yes you want that, and living free. I grew up in a church that was pretty legalistic, pretty conservative, pretty judgmental. Full of great people who were very, very religious people and they were committed to being very religious and so their focus was on knowledge and duty and obligation to obedience and living good Christian lives and making sure they did all the things they were supposed to do and not do the things they're not supposed to.

That's all great and it's all good, but as a kid growing up in that, I watched that and I started down that same path because that's all I knew to do. That's what good Christians are supposed to do, but after 38 years of that, I started looking around the church and I was like, “Wait a minute. These people are miserable. These people are absolutely and completely miserable. There's no deep seeded joy in their life. Something is wrong here.” 

That voice said something's missing in all of this. You were made for more and you know it. That voice of God drove me into living a life of freedom in Jesus.

I think if Jesus walked into this church today, any church in America today, any church in the world today, that he would pick up this book and he would read the exact same passage to us. 

You know why I think that? Because that is what he did for me. He said to me, “Clay, you're missing something. Yes, it starts with forgiveness, but there is so much more than that. I came to heal. I came to redeem. I came to restore. I came to repair the broken places in you, in your story. There's nothing that's too ugly for me. I want to go there. I want to bring freedom to your life and set your captive heart free.”

Now here's my question. Is that the Jesus you've experienced in your life? Is that the Jesus that you've experienced in your life? Is that the Jesus that your grandma taught you about when you were growing up? Is that the Jesus that the pastor preached about in the church that you grew up in, if you did? Is that the Jesus that you have personally experienced in your life?

For the first 38 years of my life my answer, honest answer to that question was no. But thankfully for the last 10 years I have experienced another side of Jesus. And what I want to do over the next six weeks is invite you into that same journey.

As you sit here today, I may not know you but here's what I do know to be true of you. You were born into a great story that started before the beginning of time. A story of adventure, risk, and betrayal. It's a dangerous story of good waring against evil and you have a destiny. You haven't lost that. No matter what you've done, you have a destiny. You have a unique and incredible role to play in that story. You have deep passions and desires inside of your heart. Things that make you come alive, that stir something deep inside you. Things that make you boom and make you want to hit your fist on the table. And the movies that you love, and the stories that bring you to tears, and the characters that you want to play in those stories are all clues that point to that.

I also know that everyone here has wounds. The things that have been said to us, the things that have been said about us. The things that have been done to us are so, so significant. You know what they are? They are evidence of an enemy who is dead set to keep us from finding and stepping in to our unique and incredible role in the larger story and to keep our hearts captive. 

In fact, Your story is the story of a long and sustained assault on your heart by the one who sees and fears who you could be.

That's your invisible life. Don't you want to know more about that? Of course you do. Now, we've just scratched the surface today. There's so much more to talk about over the next six weeks. 

Listen to me. There's something in all of this. You were meant for so much more. You were created for so much more and you know it. What if all this stuff is true? Here's all I'm asking you to do. Will you just continue and take the rest of this journey with us before you decide whether or not it's true. What do you really have to lose? So, it's your call. I hope that you come back as we dive a little bit deeper in to this stuff together next week.