Have you ever heard someone who doesn’t go to church talk about Christians as hypocrites?  Have you ever heard someone say they would never go to church or be a Christian because Christians are so judgmental and act like they are perfect while the rest of us just aren’t living up to their lofty standards?  You probably have heard something like that, and I don’t know about you, but it’s easy to hear the hurt in someone saying those things.  They are hurt because they have experienced people like this in a church setting.  Frankly, most of us probably have.  You know, I have spent most of my life around church and have heard many comments like that…frankly too many.  Those comments come from someone who looks into the church community and sees messy people, who quite often are not behaving as a Christian would advertise themselves to act, and you can just hear the hurt, or the sting in the statements they are making.  Sadly, for many people outside of the church when they brush up against a Christian who isn’t living out this new life in Christ, you know, putting on this new life of love that we learned about all summer in our study of Colossians…they walk away hurting.  They can often feel judged, beat up, and the tragedy really is, that this then becomes the excuse they need to continue to live for themselves and turn away from church, and to distance themselves from God.  By making grand statements like, “why would I ever want to be or act like one of those church people!”  It’s unfortunate but happens all the time.  So many hurts, so much pain all caused by people who love God, who proclaim they are Christians, yet still are human beings living messy lives!  Christians who tell everyone of this amazing life in Christ they now have who still walk in hurts and insecurities, who still live busy, overwhelming lives, who are out in the world bumping into other imperfect people living overwhelmed and hurting lives and well, it can be a real mess.  And I want you to hear me say something, going to church, and proclaiming yourself to be a Christian will never fix all that we deal with as people.  That takes real work, real effort, and intentionality to find deeper healing in Christ that allows us to live differently. 

So, it’s funny, being a Pastor and growing up a Pastor’s kid I have been around a lot of church people, many who loudly proclaim they are Christians, who hang out in Christian settings, do Christian activities, and stay inside this sort of bubble of a Faith-Based environment, and it feels good, it looks good, it’s safe for sure, but deep down there is a problem.  They do so many positive things and look so good while never dealing with anything real in their hearts, and never addressing their hurts and emotions…and no matter how big they smile, and no matter how loudly they proclaim their faith, and no matter how many Christian bumper stickers are on the car or Christian T-shirts are worn, the truth, the mess, their real heart condition still comes out.  So, here’s what is so funny to me now, I think there are times when a non-Christian or non-church goer will walk up to me knowing I’m a Pastor and say things about Christians like; “I can’t go to church because the people are all hypocrites.” Or maybe something like; “Christians are so close minded and judgmental of others, or the church communities are such a mess” I think this is often to cement their excuse to turn to living life they way they want to live it, and probably to see my reaction…and I think it messes with them when I laugh and agree with them!  We are a mess.  We can be hypocrites.  We often can come across as close minded and judgmental.  We see a lot of volatility, a lot of hurts, and way too much fighting inside our churches…but we see that everywhere else too!   Now it’s magnified around church because of religion, or just that perception that in this setting we assume there should be no problems, but I like to remind people when we get imperfect, busted up people coming together it will be messy at times.  So many outside the church put something unfair on church people…just because we are Christians doesn’t mean we don’t still hurt, feel, make mistakes, and walk in pain!  And hopefully as Christians we aren’t saying we are perfect when we tell people we love God, we are saying we know we are not perfect, yet we lean and depend on the one who is…which is Jesus who takes care of our sins and leads our lives today!  Well at least He should be leading our lives today!

So, I want you to see something important that leads us into our fall discussion, which I think was really set up well in our Colossians study this summer.  This new series that kicks off today is entitled “Success.”  The hope is that we will be able to define success in a Biblical way while also looking at some important, often overlooked areas of our faith, and we will discuss a lot of why Christianity appears to not work for so many people.  There are reasons it comes across this way, and we are going to dive into it with you this fall.  Today we are going to look at some big challenges that keep us from experiencing our real lives in Christ…things that keep us wondering why this Christian thing just doesn’t seem to work!  But let’s keep talking and thinking together about what we were talking about in the intro here today and keep pressing in on this because I think it’s important and gets us thinking the way we need to as we dive into this new conversation, we are having this fall, and to do that I want to ask you some questions.

  • Is it possible for someone to ask Jesus into their heart and still struggle in different ways and areas of their lives?
  • What if those same people we see as hypocrites and hurtful actually do love God and sincerely want to be disciples of Christ?
  • What if the church people are actually good people who love God but are still dealing with insecurities, wounds, and challenges in their lives too?
  • Does asking Jesus into your life and choosing to go to church on Sunday, even changing some behaviors or cleaning up some language fix everything or could there still be work, healing, and discipline needed to find that life and life to the full that Jesus told you He came to give you?

There is a huge misconception that has caused a lot of pain over the years, many people come to Christ in extremely desperate moments, in so much pain, with a deep understanding that they need God in their lives…but when they ask Jesus into their lives, they think they have made it, or crossed the finish line of a race.  The reality is they are just getting started.  Yes, we now get to walk through life with Jesus, and yes, we have a different eternal destination which is all done through that first part of our faith that makes us right with God…which is to simply believe in Him.  But it’s the second part of our faith, the choices we now make as disciples of Christ that is so important, the reality is we must choose to do the hard work, the heart work to reach Spiritual Maturity in our lives, otherwise, we stay a mess…and often wonder why Christianity doesn’t seem to work for us.  Our hurts, our unhealth, our pain…it’s all still there and needs to be dealt with, asking Jesus into your heart means that Jesus takes care of your sin problem, but doesn’t mean you have arrived in Spiritual Maturity and health, you have been born again and now it’s time to grow…it’s not the end, it’s the beginning!

At this point in my life, I find it funny when someone outside the church looks in and says it’s messy, and the people are messy…yes, that is life with people.   The true condition of our hearts does come out, especially as we relate to other people…and last time I checked a Christian is still a person!  I think the sad reality is that many of us get stuck and never grow Spiritually.  We kind of settle with being saved, and never then get to experience all that this life could be when we choose to grow, do the heart work, and engage a true life in Christ.  Frankly, that is what is so exciting about being part of a place like MRC, we are going to push in and lead continually and consistently towards Spiritual Maturity and I will just nicely say, the response to that can be interesting.  We want you to grow, and too many Christians are ok staying where they are in their faith.  They aren’t engaging or experiencing this new life.  They believe in God and have asked Jesus into their lives, but if they were honest, they are not experiencing the abundant life Christ came to give us…deep down, they don’t understand why Christianity doesn’t seem to work…and today I want to address some of the blockers or challenges we face trying to find this Spiritual Growth or maturity in our lives.

So, what are your expectations of being “Spiritual” or living out this real life in Christ that we all want? Have you ever thought that through?  This is important because you can look very spiritual while still really struggling in life.  You can quote the Bible and not see that you aren’t living out the same Scriptures that you can recite.  You can do a lot of good spiritual activities, you can pray, do your devotions, engage discipleship classes, and still not live out this life of love that we are called to live as Christians.  You can know that you are forgiven by God yet still struggle to forgive others.  You can serve and do ministry, and really look the part to everyone in your church community while carrying hurts and resentment that weigh you down and never allow you to find true spiritual freedom, health, and maturity, even as you tell others about this amazing life you now have in Christ.  This is the first big challenge or blocker that we need to talk about.

Reason #1 – We are content to look the part of the mature Christian.  Basically, we tolerate or ignore immaturity and feel ok as long as we look good to others.  So, we appear Spiritually Mature, while we ignore our emotions, inner health, and heart conditions…because those areas are private…we hope.  So many of us compartmentalize our lives and ignore big wounds and hurts and think it’s ok to do so because we are Christians and can quote Scripture or are doing some good things.  We need to see that we cannot be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.  Our faith does not mask those issues, our hearts still come out no matter how hard we try to hide it, it comes out.  We just came through an awesome Bible study on the book of Colossians and just a few weeks ago we learned something about Spiritual Maturity.  We learned that it was seen in our love for one another.

Colossians 3:12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. NIV

Do you remember that?  That led us into a discussion on the gauge to see where our relationship with God was at because we learned that our hearts come out in how we treat the people we are in relationships and how we treat others is revealing how we treat God.  It’s that pesky inner world that we don’t want people to see, I want you to know…you can’t hide it, it comes out and is seen in all areas of our lives.  This really is the second reason that for so many think our Christianity isn’t working.

We lose sight of the fact that how we treat others is revealing how we are treating God.  I have been bringing this up a lot lately, and since that first week we talked about it, I just find it hard to not see this theme everywhere especially in Jesus’ teaching.  He continues to tie loving God to loving others.  These two things are inseparable.

Matthew 22:34 When the Pharisees heard how he had bested the Sadducees, they gathered their forces for an assault. 35 One of their religion scholars spoke for them, posing a question they hoped would show him up: 36 “Teacher, which command in God’s Law is the most important?” 37 Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ 38 This is the most important, the first on any list. 39 But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ 40 These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.” MSG

We just talked about how Paul talks often of the importance of love and loving one another, choosing to put on these clothes of love, literally raising the bar on love to a place where he says you can do a lot of really good things and it’s all meaningless without love.

1 Corinthians 13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. NIV

Basically, you can look amazing Spiritually, but if you can’t love people, it’s telling you something, you are stuck spiritually.  We can’t lose sight of the fact that loving God and loving people are tied together and showing us a lot about who we are in Christ…or maybe who we are not.  Jesus is relentless in teaching us to live out love…and really challenges us to do something that would truly reveal a transformed heart and life of love…he doesn’t just tell us to love those that are easy to love, but also our enemies.

Matthew 5:43 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ 44 I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, 45 for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best — the sun to warm and the rain to nourish — to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. 46 If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. 47 If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. MSG

Wow!  Then Jesus finishes this thought on loving our enemies and how that reveals a transformed life and heart with a challenge to grow up…to live a spiritual mature life…

Matthew 5:48 “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you. MSG

Do you see how loving God and loving others is revealing who we are in Christ?  He continues to press in on and flip the very things the people He was preaching to would have been taught in those times.  In those times they were taught that if they were having issues with someone and they realize that during worship they were to finish worshiping then handle it after, but Jesus tells them no, loving others is so important that you must stop and take care of it immediately…this would have been very intense for them to hear…and probably should be for us too.

Matthew 5:23 “This is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters. If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, 24 abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God. MSG

This is unmistakably clear; we are to love God and we are to love others.  Jesus shows us that our love for God was measured and seen in our love for others.  This is what really bothered the religious leaders of that time…they would point to all their status, knowledge of Scripture, and all they were doing, and Jesus kept pointing to their hearts and their inability to love others…and it drove them crazy.  The Scriptures are so clear, we are to love God AND love others and they are tied together and it’s this love that proves we are His disciples…not our words, not our Christian T shirts or Bumper stickers but our lives of love that show God to people in this world.

John 13:35 “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” NLT

It’s so clear, our love for God is measured and seen in our love for others…there is all through Scripture, yet so many of us continue to miss this, and we continue to see so much hurt and so much pain around our churches and Christians today.  Remember, who we are with others is revealing who we are with Christ!  Let’s look at another one of these big challenges that seem to keep our Christianity from working and I will tell you growing up around the church, I think this one was a huge challenge for many…

Reason #3 – We focus on the Spiritual while ignoring or trying to suppress our emotions.  You know for so many of us Christians, we seem to decide that we need to be happy now, and all the time.  I mean we have Jesus now, The Good News so how could we ever admit that we are struggling or hurting or worse yet angry or feeling fear?  I’m supposed to be walking in life and life to the full, so any emotion other than joy just needs to be pushed down, and I will smile big, maybe gritting my teeth while I do it because somewhere along the line, we forgot that we humans were actually created with emotions.  What a set up!  We decide we can’t struggle, be miserable, or angry because the joy of the Lord is in us…this leads to a lot of pretending, and a lot of huge issues in our lives being swept under the rug…and what have we learned today, just because we pretend these things aren’t there, doesn’t mean these things aren’t there…and they need dealt with!  Check out this quote from the book “Cry of the Soul.”

“Ignoring our emotions is turning our back on reality; listening to our emotions ushers us into reality.  And reality is where we meet God…Emotions are the language of the soul.  They are the cry that gives the heart a voice…However, we often turn a deaf ear-through emotional denial, distortion, or disengagement…In neglecting our intense emotions, we are false to ourselves and lose a wonderful opportunity to know God.” – The Cry of the Soul by Dan Allender and Tremper Longman

I can tell you of moments in my own life where I was devastated over a tragedy, and was angry at God and couldn’t even bring myself to sing the hymn “It is well with my soul” because it wasn’t but I felt really guilty because I didn’t understand that a Christian still has emotions and feelings…just because I asked Jesus into my life didn’t mean I would no longer feel or deal with emotions…I was missing something really important.  Jesus is fully God and fully human…He had emotions, you can read about them all through Scripture, yet I was ignoring that or just not understanding that, and I think many of us get stuck there, trying to be super spiritual without grasping our emotions.  We miss something important…Jesus is fully God and fully human, we shouldn’t ignore this, it’s very important!  We have a God we love and worship who also feels emotion…as we do!  Here’s just a few examples of the human emotion that Jesus felt, that you and I feel, and maybe are tempted to suppress now that we are His disciples.

  • Jesus shed tears (Luke 19:41)
  • Jesus grieved and hurt and felt distress.  (Mark 14:33-34)
  • Jesus got angry and sad. (Mark 3:5)
  • He hurt for people (Luke 7:13)
  • He felt excited and felt amazement and wonder (Luke 7:9)

If Jesus felt these things, as it’s clearly laid out in Scripture then why wouldn’t we?  And if we do feel these emotions, we can now see that it’s ok, shouldn’t be hidden and needs to be looked at and paid attention too!  We don’t have to pretend, Jesus didn’t, so neither should we!  Let’s look at another reason so many of us can’t seem to make this Christianity thing work.

Reason #4 – We emphasize doing for God instead of being with God.  This is so important for us to see.  We know God’s deepest desire for us is to know us and walk in relationship with us.  He wants to be with us, in a loving, intimate, relationship with us!

Hosea 6:6 I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices.  I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings. NLT

Which is interesting because we seem to ignore this fact and think God’s desire is for us to do a lot of good, yet exhausting things for Him…which completely contradicts His own words for us!  In all our efforts to impress or earn things from God, or maybe just in our complete effort to serve Him we can lose sight of the most important thing!  Which is being with Him!  You know one of the things that has always impacted me is listening to men and women who have gone before me, and truly learning from what they are saying.  Often, when you listen you will hear these awesome leaders of our faith say things as they look back about doing less, and engaging God more.  I have always been impacted by this quote from Billy Graham at the end of his life looking back over his life…this is from an interview in 2011.

“I would study more.  I would pray more, travel less, take less speaking engagements…I took too many of them in too many places around the world.  If I had to do it over again, I’d spend more time in meditation and prayer and just telling the Lord how much I love Him.” – Billy Graham

There is so much depth, wisdom, and experience there.  What is he saying?  If I did it all over again I would do less, and spend more time with God.  We spend so much of our lives doing for God, that we lose sight of the most important thing which is being with God.  We want busy churches, with lots of life and activity, while ignoring the most important thing…it’s walking in a close, loving relationship with God.  Being with God is what it’s all about and is possible because of Jesus and His work on The Cross.  I’m very tempted to just end right here because it’s so important, and just work through tons of Scripture on the importance of connecting to God and drawing near to Him, but I do want to hit one more big challenge that we face if we want our faith to actually work and come to life for us and it’s a big one, and really leads us deeper and deeper into this fall series.

Reason #5 – We do not define success the way Scripture would define success, so we pursue the wrong things!  So right now, if I asked you to close your eyes and picture success, or a successful person what would that picture be?  I would imagine it would look something like the American dream.  Some version of wealth, of winning, of bigger homes, bigger pay, comforts that come from earning things in life.  So success typically means bigger is absolutely better.  We want bigger homes, bank accounts, social media followers, churches…bigger is seen as better.  Culturally in many ways bigger does define success, and in many ways as churches we have adapted that same mindset.  So we do things to attract people, not a bad thing, but bigger if we aren’t careful can become the goal rather than leading people to transformational life in Christ.  Jesus didn’t model that for us, he often challenged people with love and watched the response…often watching people walk away.  Was Jesus a success?  Did he fail when He looked at someone with love, exposed the true heart condition and watched them leave?  This is important for us to see, because if success truly is our goal, then we better have an accurate definition of what success is or we will be chasing something that is actually leading us away from God rather than to Him!  In the book Emotionally Healthy Discipleship Pete Scazzero gives us a clear definition of Success according to scripture…this is so big!

“Success according to Scripture, is becoming the person God calls you to become, and doing what God calls you to do-in His way, and according to His timetable.” – Pete Scazzero

Listen, we all want to be successful.  We all get frustrated when we can’t meet goals.  It’s tough when our view of a goal or success is off, and or unachievable…but when I think about how Scripture would define success…I can do this.  You can do this…as we surrender our lives to Christ and live for Him!  There is a real peace and contentment there if you engage in this form of a successful life.   I think this is exactly what Jesus is trying to draw out here as He tells us the importance of staying connected to Him.

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. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. NIV

So let’s just close and end with some questions that I think can help us personalize this talk today.

  • Would you say Christianity is working or do you quietly wonder why it is not?
  • How did it make you feel to hear that asking Jesus into your lives and cleaning up some behaviors wouldn’t fix every issue and hurt in your life?  Is that a new thought for you today?
  • When you look at your faith, are you comfortable looking the part of the good Christian regardless of how you feel on the inside?
  • Do you recognize that your love for God and love for others is tied together and that how you treat others is revealing not only your level of spiritual maturity but also how you treat God?
  • Have you spent your Christian life feeling guilty for feeling emotions or trying to hide or suppress your emotions, especially emotions like anger and fear or sadness?  Do you now see the importance of engaging those emotions?  Did you ever stop and think through Jesus having those same emotions and how important that is for us to see as humans who feel things?
  • Have you spent too much time doing for God while never slowing down and being with God?  What would you need to do, stop doing, or rearrange in your life to make sure your being with God is the most important thing?
  • How do you define success?  What if success is truly found in trusting God as we do life, surrendering our lives to Him while becoming who God calls us to be while doing what God calls us to do while doing life His way on His timetable?  What would that mean to you today and what would need to change in your life to achieve that version of success?