You know by now that I have grown up around the church. I spent my first few years on this planet as a Youth Group mascot and I loved it. We went on missions trips. We had the youth over all the time for sledding, and mud football in the farmer’s field behind my home in McAllisterville, Pa. They would play baseball and basketball with me, and I grew up watching my father teach these young men and women about who Jesus was…and what our greatest mission is, to go and help others experience this amazing love that we can all have through Jesus! As a young boy this was my normal. My family was all about leading people to Jesus, and I knew in my heart as a boy what the mission of Christ was all about and it got me excited…and very early, I mean very early on in my life God showed me that I would be a Pastor someday too. In between that very clear vision of what I would do with my life and me actually becoming a Pastor though, there were around 3 decades of time, and a lot of life experiences…some really good, and some really, really bad. Those early moments in the church were so good, but for every good moment that I felt in the church there seemed to be two very difficult ones. My father was called to Mechanicsburg, Pa and was going to be the Senior Pastor of a church there and that was a big move for me…life was very different right from the start. We were moving from the country into what felt like big city life to us. We now saw multiple traffic lights in our new town. We didn’t live on 6 acres of farm fields anymore. Going to school was different. I wasn’t going to be riding a bus for over an hour to school with all age groups in one bus from kindergarten to senior’s in high school. I now walked the few blocks to school. Talk about crazy stuff…we could push a button from inside the car or on the wall in the house that we now lived in and a huge door would fold up into the roof of the house and we would drive our car into our home and park there! We parked our car in the house…who would ever have thought to do that? I think I spent most of my first day with the garage door opener really enjoying life. But as different as everything was I knew one thing would be the same. I knew that Sunday was coming…where I could get back to church. As rough as the kids were at school, and crazy as life seemed to be in the big city…church would make sense to me. When the first Sunday rolled around that we were going to our new church I was pumped! I mean church is fun, and free, and we get to watch dad point others to Jesus and the mission of Christ and now we are doing it in the “big city” where there were so many people who needed to hear about Jesus! It was so exciting! At that time McBIC was located in town Mechanicsburg, and I remember walking the few blocks to church and seeing that building for the first time…man, it was perfect. A red brick building, with beautiful stain glass on the parking lot side. A huge white steeple on the church and these big, heavy white doors to walk through…everything looked right. The families were all heading inside as we got there. They drove the right cars. They wore their nicest clothes. They used all the right words and I thought ok, this looks good. But we learned very quickly that not everything was right. Church to me was the place of laughter and fun and passion…and there was none of that here. When we opened those big heavy doors, people were staring…my mother didn’t have a head covering on AND she wore sneakers to walk to church and was going to change into her “Sunday School shoes” when we got there, and people were concerned. My father with all his strength and passion and this amazing Gospel message was met with concerns about this idea of engaging the community. That first Sunday I felt like an alien from outer space…and it really was hard to understand. People were angry and weren’t afraid to let my father know it. The message of loving God and loving other people wasn’t landing. Everything I knew to be true now seemed to be questioned and fought against and without getting into the gory details I will just say that the first decade of life in that church crushed my family and it crushed me as a young man. My father was my hero and people were awful to him and my mother which is hard for a young man to watch. My passionate, strong, hero of a dad was getting torn up on a weekly basis, and all he was asking is for us to live out what the Bible said. I watched him stay on mission…but knew it was taking a toll on him. I was so confused, so hurt, so angry…how could everything look so right on the outside yet be so wrong at the same time. It took me a long time to get to a place where I trusted anything or anyone inside the church…my conclusion as a young man was that church people were awful people. I was confused and hurt, and quite frankly and it crushed my heart. It’s amazing in the end, the church did get it, and grew and grew into the healthy McBIC that you see today, and my father’s vision of a church that is religion free…well I think you are actually sitting in that church today, and I get to serve in it. I feel blessed to have walked through all of it, and I have learned so much through those experiences but it’s amazing to me how much of an impact those years had on my family. I can still see some of those hurts in my brothers and my parents to this day. So why tell you about it? This wasn’t just a therapy session for me!
I wanted you to see somethings here, there was a huge set up on multiple levels…did you catch it? Everything looked right but deep down it wasn’t right and here’s what we know. God loves us enough to care about the deep down parts of us, the spiritual depths of us, He also want to heal those emotional wounds in us too. What often happens inside the church setting is that many people make it more about how things look on the outside, rather than what is really going on deep inside you. This is where Ken was at last week, trying to really help you see that the outside stuff is really just the tip of the ice-burg. There are many unresolved things lurking beneath the surface in all of us, even in a nice looking church, and I will tell you this, that a young man walking into a church with a pure heart in the 1980’s wasn’t ready to understand that…and ironically 25 years later…it leaves emotional wounds on all involved that if left untouched and undealt with can fester and can continue to cause pain in your life and here’s what we know. God loves us enough to want us whole and healed in the deepest parts of us. God cares more about our heart condition than how we look on the outside! This is very clear!
1 Samuel 16:7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” NIV
This fall my son Jaden started running cross country, and I will tell you that I am just amazed at how he does in those races! I just love to watch him run. It literally inspires me to see him enjoying the sport. Last week I was watching him run at Cedar Cliff High School, and as he came around that last corner and headed for the finish, I was cheering for him and really trying to encourage him to finish strong and get to that finish line! Obviously as a Pastor, I did it in a very quiet and contrite voice.J But I saw something that day, that really made me think about the series we are in, and the church as a whole, and how many of us slide into religion and miss out on a true relationship with God. As my son hit the finish line he stops running hard, he begins to slow down to a walk and then stops altogether. He puts his hands on his head and tries to catch his breath. It’s a long race! He gets a drink and begins to cool down, and Jaden and all the other competitors are milling around talking, shaking hands, and greeting the next person to cross the finish line. It’s really interesting to me, because in so many ways, that is what a church lobby can look like…but I don’t think it should. When you are running a long distance race or any race for that matter, this is what the race looks like, you stop at the finish line. We call it the finish line for a reason…it’s the end of the race. We need to know where that finish line is, and that is where we stop running! The problem for a lot of Christians is they don’t actually understand where the finish line is in the race of life. Paul often talks about life like it’s a race…
1 Corinthians 9:24 You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally. I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. MSG
So this is a beautiful illustration of life as a race. We are to run the race of life and we are to run to win. We are to train hard and stay focused and give it everything we have…which is an awesome illustration of the journey of life…but let me show you what happens to a lot of us as we become Christians. Prior to knowing Jesus we walk through pain, hurts, and sin. We are struggling. We are hurting. Life tears us to pieces. We deal with addictions, pain, insecurities, fear, and more…and then we come to know Jesus in our own very personal and real way. All of a sudden we realize what grace is and how God loved us enough to send Jesus into this world to die for our sins…and it can literally take the weight of the world off of your shoulders. What an amazing feeling! It’s such a release! So much joy, and freedom! So this must mean that we have won the race right? Well no this isn’t the end of the race, it’s actually the beginning and this is the big set up for so many Christians. They find Jesus and it translates to them thinking that they have arrived at the finish line and they don’t realize that this is the start of a journey towards holiness that will last until they enter into eternity. The day you ask Jesus into your heart is the day you really start living…it’s not the end of the race, it’s actually the beginning! The reality is that there are still all of those emotional wounds and hurts to deal with, yes your sins have been forgiven but this doesn’t mean that you aren’t still in need of healing in the deepest parts of your soul and this is where the big set up comes for so many of us who know Jesus. We don’t mess with all those things. We push them down never to think of them again but they are still there and God loves you enough to pull them up and say, “Hey Sam, let’s look at this together.” This emotional health is often ignored, and needs to be looked at too. Christianity is a journey to healing, and holiness…and when those two come together boy is it fun.
This is where so many good Christians struggle. They accept Christ. They start attending church. They do all the good religious things that they are told to do. So they think they have arrived in some way. But all the while they have a loving God in heaven who wants true and profound life change for each and every one of us in the deepest parts of our souls. So by assuming they have reached the finish line rather than starting the race everything stays shallow. We wear nice clothes and try our best to change some behaviors, (well, we change behaviors publically not necessarily in the privacy of our own homes) but there is no true life change. This is why a young preacher’s kid can walk into a building that everything looks right in and leaved hurt and confused. It wasn’t that these Christians were awful people, they have asked Jesus into their lives and they are living differently. After all they were at church on Sunday. They held leadership positions in a church and hey, their children were learning about Jesus too! These are all good things but there was still a problem. The problem was everyone looked the part, but at the deepest levels there was no heart change and God is after true life change. So my conclusion as a boy in church becomes one that many people have, and that is that church people are awful people. But here’s what I know now. They weren’t “church” people, they were just people wearing “church” clothes, doing “churchy” things not understanding that the race isn’t over when you ask Jesus into your life, it’s where it begins. In the end they were just people with huge hurts, and issues, and pain that were going unaddressed. People just like me and just like you.
So as I sat and watched my son finish his race and mill around at the finish line at Cedar Cliff High School last week, I saw real picture of what the church should and should not be. Our mentality should not be us standing on the other side of the finish line waiting for the next runner to come in, milling around talking…and cooling down. It should be us leaning forward and listening to that starters pistol to go off! So as I look back to the good old days at McBIC, what I saw was the equivalent of people who thought they finished running and were cooling down at the end of the race. Many just too afraid to admit it they were hurting inside, for fear of looking less holy. They weren’t understanding that this was actually the starting line of their own journey towards holiness and that left for some very painful years in the church and in my own life.
We all have deep hurts and emotional pain to work through. We all have spiritual growth to do in our lives and God wants to meet us there! Listen to me, going to church is not enough. Wearing the right clothing isn’t enough. Even adding a prayer retreat, or a small group study simply will not be enough. We have a huge problem and it will take more than some changed behaviors and church clothes to fix it and that really is what this whole series is about. We are about to go on a spiritual journey over these next 8 weeks, and if we engage into this it will bring true life change but it’s going to take a couple things from you. You will need to be honest with yourself. You will need to be open to engage this. You will need to carve out the time to do it and you will need to be able to accept the truth for what it is in your own life. I’m here to tell you that there is a pathway to unleashing the truly transforming power of Jesus in your life and it’s found when we combine both emotional health with our spiritual lives and that journey can begin today. It starts with us identifying some things in our own lives that are in need of healing. We need to be able to see these things. They are the primary symptoms of emotionally unhealthy spirituality that continue to really cause a lot of hurts and pain inside the church and more specifically in our personal lives. So today we look at the top ten symptoms of emotionally unhealthy spirituality. By seeing them, we can do something about them!
- Using God to run from God. This is a sneaky one! From the outside looking in this is appears to be healthy and good. But it’s not. Some people fall into this one pretty easily. They busy themselves with activities to do for God, and they stay moving which never lets them address anything real in their own lives because they are constantly moving! This is a very tough thing to see because we busy ourselves with good things for God! So you are not stopping to engage your heart, AND you are doing good things in the process! Busyness is a great defense mechanism! It keeps you moving quickly and never having to stop and reflect or deal with anything real or painful and if anyone asks you can say; “What you don’t want every child to have clothes or food? What you don’t want every person to have a home? What you don’t want people to know Jesus?” It’s funny because we can find plenty of one liners in scripture that tell us to work hard for God right? Like here where God speaks through the prophet Isaiah!
Isaiah 64:5 You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. NIV
Which is great! Yes you are doing some good things, and you can actually make a difference regardless of your motives which I don’t have time to show you more than one place in scripture for that, but if you continue, look at what God says about those righteous acts…
Isaiah 64: 6 All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags
Yes you are doing some good things, but God isn’t worried about all your righteous acts! He cares about your heart condition! Being busy for God is a great way to hide from doing anything real with your life and the beauty of it is, no one can say anything to you about it because you are doing good for God!
- Ignoring the “UnGodly” Emotions of Anger, Sadness, and Fear. There are a lot of Christians out there who believe that anger, sadness, and worry are sins. Frankly most of us who grew up in church were told not to feel these types of things because they are a roller coaster that just can’t be trusted. So we stuff everything. So many people out there think that they can’t feel or express their emotions. Now happy is ok, but not fear, anger, shame, hurt they need to be smothered out in our lives…but they are also emotions that were placed in us by God. Remember we were created in God’s own image…and all our emotions are all part of it. Stuffing them in the name of appearing holy is not healthy in any way.
- Dying to the Wrong Things. I’m just going to tell you for someone like me with more passion than brains at times this one can be a big issue. I would read Jesus’ teachings and want to go all the way with all that He tells me to do. So Jesus say’s things like…
Luke 9:23 Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. NIV
This verse is so important, but if we live this out literally we won’t live this out too many days! Yes we are to deny ourselves and follow Jesus. Yes we are to die to ourselves but this doesn’t mean that we destroy our own health and heart condition to be a true disciple of Jesus. We are to die to the sinful parts of who we are not the “good” parts of who we are! Remember this is Jesus talking our same savior who told you why He came to this world…
John 10:10 …I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. NIV
God doesn’t ask us to die to the healthy desires and pleasures of life. We can have friendships! We can have joy! We can laugh, and play, and actually enjoy life and still be a good servant of Jesus! I’m not sure I ever really understood that as a Christian it was ok for me to have fun too, and I think for me it always stemmed from this need to do more and more for Jesus. I felt like I had wasted so much of my life and made so many mistakes that I needed to make it up to Him. It has taken me a long time to realize that God’s love is so pure, so true, and so unconditional, that he has no list of my sins that I need to make up for! I don’t owe Him for Jesus’ sacrifice, it was a free gift with no strings attached. Listen to me here, God isn’t asking you to stop being a person when you become a Christian! He wants you to grow into your true self, with depth, and life, and freedom and joy!
- Denying the Past’s Impact on the Present. Here’s what is so beautiful about your salvation…
2 Corinthians 5:17 What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun! NLT
This is what it means to be born again! But just because God doesn’t look back and see your past sin and junk anymore because of you giving that all to Jesus…you still carry hurts and pain from that past. There are so many people trying to never look back, and frankly it can be painful to go back to those places in our lives but God wants to meet you there to heal you fully from those hurts. I want to read this right from the book…“The work of growing in Christ (what theologians call sanctification) does not mean we don’t go back to the past as we press ahead to what God has for us. It actually demands that we go back in order to break free from unhealthy and destructive patterns that prevent us from loving ourselves and others well as God designed.” (page 29, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality)
Sometimes you really do have to go backward to go forward.
- Living a Divided Life. This is another very common symptom and it’s easy to do. We live a God life in some areas of our lives, and in other areas we do not. We come to church and act one way…but differently at work. We are great publically but maybe not so much behind closed doors in the privacy of our own homes. It is so easy to think about God when it comes to church type stuff but we often don’t realize that by applying God’s word into all aspects of our lives we would live differently. We could be more successful in business and in our communities too! Our faith needs to be applied to all aspects of our lives. Our words, and actions need to line up and our lives need to look the same in all the environments of our lives! God isn’t just concerned with holy moments on Sunday mornings but a holy life! I love the way this Psalm is written in the TLB.
Psalms 32:8 I will instruct you (says the Lord) and guide you along the best pathway for your life; I will advise you and watch your progress. TLB
- Doing for God Instead of Being with God. This is something I talk to you about a lot here at MRC. We do things for God out of the overflow of love in our hearts that comes from our relationship with Him. So many people are doing for God, while missing the most important thing which is being with God…and it never ends well. Jesus said this…
John 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. NIV
We need to be connected to Jesus, just like a branch is linked to the vine. We do this through spending time alone with Him. We pray, read scripture, worship and engage into rest with Him. Without this time being with God…the doing often ends with tiredness, stress, and burned out doers, it’s really putting the cart ahead of the horse so to speak.
- Spiritualizing Away Conflict. Listen, nobody likes conflict and many Christians can try to smooth away conflict in the name of being a good Godly person. Avoiding conflict doesn’t mean you are a good Christian…it often means you are keeping peace. If you remember from previous discussions here…there is a big difference between making peace and keeping it. Jesus wasn’t a peace keeper, he was a peacemaker and a peacemaker will not always avoid conflict but at times have to engage it.
Matthew 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. NIV
- Covering over Brokenness, Weakness and Failure. When MRC first started Ken ran a marriage class. Mashawn and I were very excited to attend that class and we did so with about 10 other couples and we learned a lot. We took notes, asked questions and I think it helped us out a lot! What was really interesting was I had a leader of the church pull me aside and ask why we would put ourselves in that class. They didn’t feel we should do that because we are leaders in the church and it would appear that we don’t have it all together. I will say my response was a little snarky but basically said, “none of us have it all together and it is dangerous to pretend that we do!” But here’s the thing, so many Christians fall into this trap. They think they have to appear like they have it altogether and it really leads to a mess in their lives…because how they look doesn’t matter…but who they are on the inside does! So people are often shocked when they see that amazing church leader fall to sin and I never am because here is what I know. They aren’t perfect either…they just want you to think they are. That big scandal that you just heard about that crushed you about them…it didn’t just happen the day you found out. The house didn’t burn down that day, it was always burning, and they just didn’t want anyone to see it. Do you see the danger in this? I think this is a very scary thing. No one has it all together and yet there seems to be a pressure to present ourselves as if we do! The problem with that is that none of us are perfect but we are made perfect in Jesus who is!
Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. NIV
- Living without Limits. Another good one for those of us with more passion then brains. This is so important. If you are living without boundaries and limits it’s a huge symptom of emotional unhealthy spirituality. Jesus modeled for us how to live as humans. He was fully God, yet fully human and he had boundaries in his life. He worked hard. Then he rested. He showed us how to get into a rhythm of spending time with God alone and engaging Him so that He had the energy to serve as needed. He said no at times. Think about this one, He didn’t heal every person He saw, feed every person He saw, or raise every person from the dead. Jesus didn’t do that so why do we feel that we have to? Why do we do this? Well many Christians just don’t make the connection between love of self and love of others. They miss that all of their success in every aspect of their life will come out of their own health.
Proverbs 4:23 Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. NIV
- Judging Other People’s Spiritual Journey. So through the course of this talk today, did you hear me describe someone you know personally that you really wish was here today to hear this message? I do that too. It’s easy to do, but really the concern we should have is for our own heart condition. It’s sometimes easier to look at someone else’s issues than to deal with our own.
Matthew 7:3 And why worry about a speck in the eye of a brother when you have a board in your own? 4 Should you say, ‘Friend, let me help you get that speck out of your eye,’ when you can’t even see because of the board in your own? TLB
So here’s the deal God wants us whole and healed. It is one thing to look like you have it all together but there is a better way to live! And that is to actually have God piece you back together again and He can! It starts with a mentality change. So many Christians and churches today are misunderstanding something. Asking Jesus into our lives isn’t the final destination. It is not the finish line of the race we call life…it’s actually the start of a beautiful journey towards holiness. This is a journey that will last a lifetime. A journey towards that whole “life to the full thing” that Jesus told you he came to give you! So are you’re ready? It’s time to lean forward, and listen for the starters gun blast and when it goes off its times to run and run to win!
Today we looked at the top 10 symptoms of emotionally unhealthy spirituality and if you’re like me you see some of these things in your life…that should not make you feel like less or upset. It should actually excite you because when you see this stuff in you, you can actually do something about it! And over the course of this series we will put the tools in your hands to allow Jesus to do a work in you. We want you to run the race of life and to run it to win! Next week we will really begin this journey down the pathway of healing in our lives Peter Scazzero calls the Revolutionary Antidote…and I can’t wait!
Life change is there for you…but now you have a choice to make. Will your Christianity be a cool down at the finish line, or will you engage the race of life and run to win? That is up to you.