A couple of weeks ago I asked, ‘How is your Christianity working?’ I wanted you to think through your relationship with God. In your relationship with God, are you being transformed, or do you feel like you are pretending that things are better than they actually are? Maybe for you, Christianity isn’t working. If that’s the conclusion you have come to, that’s the reason we are walking through this series.
Last week, Sam gave us a ferocious verse.
You can’t keep your true self hidden forever; before long you’ll be exposed. You can’t hide behind a religious mask forever; sooner or later the mask will slip and your true face will be known. You can’t whisper one thing in private and preach the opposite in public; the day’s coming when those whispers will be repeated all over town. MSG – Jesus in Luke 12:2
Sam said, Jesus leads us to a choice, and He shows us what the ramification of our choice will be. One path leads to death, another leads to life. Sam said, we are leading you to a similar crossroads in your life. You can do the easy thing that leads to a tired and defeated life. You can choose discipline, focus, and intentionality that leads to a life-giving relationship with Christ. That is a more challenging path, but in the end, it leads to life.
Before we give you the radical path that leads to spiritual transformation, we need to talk about ten things that distract us from transformation. These things create chaos in our personal lives, our family lives, and our church lives. They are patterns, ways of living, that keep us away from spiritual transformation.
We see this in scripture.
16 Someone came to Jesus with this question: “Teacher, what good things must I do to have eternal life?” 17 “Why ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “Only God is good. But to answer your question, you can receive eternal life if you keep the commandments.” 18 “Which ones?” the man asked. And Jesus replied: ” ‘Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not testify falsely. 19 Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” 20 “I’ve obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. “What else must I do?”
Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 But when the young man heard this, he went sadly away because he had many possessions. NLT Matthew 19:16-22
This young man is a good guy. You want your daughter to date him. He follows all the rules and has money. Why did he walk away from Jesus sadly? Why wasn’t he transformed? Because to him, money and possessions were foundational. Those things gave him security, not Jesus. When Jesus asked him to give them up, he couldn’t. The young man wanted transformation, but he walked away sadly. I think we could say, Christianity, following after Christ didn’t work for him.
Do you see it? There are ways of living that distract us from transformation. Those things create chaos in our personal lives, in our family lives and church lives. Today, right out of the book, I want to share with you 10 distractions to being transformed. We would call them the 10 symptoms of Unhealthy Spirituality. Today’s talk will closely mirror this chapter in the book we are walking through.
Distraction from transformation #1. Using God to run from God.
This one is probably the most difficult to see in ourselves. We create God activity, and in all that business, we don’t have time to slow down to allow God to impact us. If someone suggests that we should slow down, we think that would be unacceptable. The book gives 11 examples, let me share 3 with you.
I do God’s work to satisfy me, not God. I exaggerate my accomplishments for God to subtly compete with others. I hide behind God talk, deflecting any spotlight on my inner cracks and becoming defensive about my failures and shortcomings.
Do you see it? I appear holy and busy for God. What could be wrong with that? The problem is that we are using God to run from God.
I would also add spiritual warfare here. Many times, Christians use spiritual warfare as their excuse to not do what God asked. Example: I would pursue my wife and love her but, you know, spiritual warfare. I would love my husband but I can’t because, you know, spiritual warfare. I would stop drinking but I can’t because of spiritual warfare. These are ways we use God, or spiritual things, to run from God.
Distraction from transformation #2. Ignoring the emotions of anger, sadness, and fear.
To be human means you have emotions. To avoid or ignore your emotions is to not understand what is going on inside of you. An example is the person who doesn’t deal with sadness and it grows into depression.
To avoid or ignore your emotions means you won’t be able to connect to others. An example is a dad who ignores his emotions while he works and doesn’t have time for his family. What happens? He stays busy and can’t understand the heart of his son or his daughter.
To avoid or ignore your emotions is to not understand what God is doing in your life. Your emotions are the primary way God lets you know what is happening in your heart.
Let me ask you, are you ignoring your emotions? Are you too busy for that?
Distraction from transformation #3. Dying to the wrong things.
Anyone who wants to follow me must put aside his own desires and conveniences and carry his cross with him every day and keep close to me! TLB Luke 9:23
It’s true that you are supposed to put aside your desires and conveniences to be a disciple of Christ. That means you are supposed put away murder, stubbornness, hypocrisy, critical judgmentalism, stealing, adultery, etc. It does not mean you put away good things like friendships, fun nights out, recreation, laughing.
If you misunderstand what Jesus was saying, you can die to the wrong things. You can believe wrong things like; the poorer you are, the holier you are. Or, the less you do as you wait on God, the holier you are.
Are you dying to wrong things? When you do, it leads you to discouragement and depression.
Distraction from transformation #4. Denying the past’s impact on the present.
When someone becomes a Christian, he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same anymore. A new life has begun! TLB 2 Corinthians 5:17
That’s true but your past hurts will impact you today. Your past sinful habits will impact you today. Your family past impacts who you are today.
Example. When you look at your extended family, what do you see? Out of the 15 marriages, for example, how many are divorced? Out of the 50 people in your family, for example, how many are wrestling with alcoholism? When you see your parents, how does your mom treat your dad and do you treat your husband the same way? How does your dad treat your mom and do you treat your wife the same way? What was your relationship like with your dad?
Do you see it? Your past impacts your today. Do you walk through today and pretend that your past doesn’t impact you?
Distraction from transformation #5. Dividing our lives into ‘secular’ and ‘sacred’ compartments.
That means we act like a good person around church and in all other areas, we don’t care how we act. Gallup polls reveal: Divorce rates in Church and out of Church are similar. Spousal abuse rates in the Church and out of the Church are similar. Giving patterns in the Church reveal they think like a non-Christian. 26% Christians who consider themselves ‘high commitment’ say pre-marital sex is acceptable.
The conclusion of this study: Evangelical Christians are as likely to embrace lifestyles every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self-centered and sexually immoral as the world in general. The issues of marriage, sexuality, money or care for the poor, evangelicals are living scandalously unbiblical lives. Source: Ron Sider, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just like the Rest of the World?
Have you divided your life into ‘secular’ and ‘sacred’? Or have you invited God into all the areas of your life?
Distraction from transformation #6. Doing for God instead of being with God.
We are busy and produce for God. We are so busy we avoid praying and simply enjoying the presence of God. We think that our doing for God is a mark of spiritual maturity. We think, I have to do it; it’s all up to me. Or, everything will fall apart without me. It’s not wrong to serve God and be busy but not at the expense of being with God. When we do for God without being with God we move from ‘human beings’ to ‘human doings.’ The danger of being a ‘human doing’ is, we do things for ego, power and needing the approval of others.
Distraction from transformation #7. Spiritualizing away conflict.
Let me ask you, were you raised in a family that dealt with conflict in a mature, healthy way? Chances are the answer is no. What happens? We become adults and bring those unhealthy ways into all our relationships at home, business, church and community.
In our relationships, to avoid conflict, a couple of things pop up. Instead of dealing with conflict, we make hollow promises. Blame. Attack. Give the silent treatment. Become sarcastic. Leak our anger. Say yes when we mean no. Avoid and withdraw. Are passive aggressive. Etc. These methods of dealing with conflict will never allow transformation to take place.
Imagine the damage that does to the person, to the family, to the church, to the job site.
Distraction from transformation #8. Covering over brokenness, weakness, and failure.
Here is a little secret. Everyone is deeply flawed. The only difference between us all is that some are better at hiding it.
One of the ways people avoid transformation is they pretend to have it all together. They think spiritual maturity is appearing to be strong. Actually, that’s pride and arrogance. Spiritual maturity happens when you are honest and transparent about who you are.
Distraction from transformation #9. Living without limits.
Some people think it is our duty to love and serve others. That’s true. However, you aren’t God. You can’t save everyone. Jesus didn’t even do that. He didn’t heal every person. He didn’t feed every crowd. He did free every person.
Christians can become very unhealthy because they neglect their spiritual health. They can become frantic, exhausted, overloaded and distracted as they love and serve others. The problem is they burn out. That’s why limits and boundaries are so important.
That’s why here at MRC, we endlessly invite people into a relationship with God. We, as a church, aren’t trying to be busy with endless programs. We don’t try to create our own New Hope Ministries. We want people to be real people in the community. Connect with Christ and be transformed and then go hang out in the community.
Distraction from transformation #10. Judging other people’s spiritual journey.
Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. It takes one to know one. Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors. But God isn’t so easily diverted. He sees right through all such smoke screens and holds you to what you’ve done. MSG Romans 2:1-2
One of my favorite quotes is, “If you are occupied with your faults, you have no time to see those of your neighbor.”
Allow people to be themselves. If they ask your opinion, share it with grace and confidence.
Allow people to move at their pace to fall in love with God.
Know that you can be kind, but you can’t save. That’s God’s job.
Whatever you do, be a friend.
Do you remember where we started today? The rich young man sadly walked away from Jesus. Why? He was distracted with money and possessions. We don’t want that for you. We want you to walk into a radical new way of following after Jesus.
Let me ask you, what is distracting you?
Are you using God to run from God?
Ignoring the emotions of anger, sadness, and fear?
Dying to the wrong things?
Denying the past’s impact on the present?
Dividing our lives into ‘secular’ and ‘sacred’ compartments?
Doing for God instead of being with God?
Spiritualizing away conflict?
Covering over brokenness, weakness, and failure?
Living without limits?
Judging other people’s spiritual journey?
Pray with me to close.
Lord, forgive me for running through life without You. It leaves me so tired and worn out.
Lord, forgive me for all my striving, manipulating, scheming, denying, and spinning half-truths to those around me to get my way.
Lord, forgive me for serving You in hopes of getting something from you. I offer my anxieties and fears to You now – as best I can.
Lord, help me to be still, to surrender to Your will, and to rest in Your loving arms. Help me, find rest and joy in You. Help me relax in knowing that I am a child of God.
Lord, fill me with the Holy Spirit.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.