Monday, October 09, 2006

Every Heart Has a History …and some of it ain’t pretty

Week 5 of Life Is Too Short To Be Wasted Being Mad, Angry & Emotionally Wrecked

For the past four weeks Stew has been bringing us through a series looking at issues such as anger, where it comes from, and how to bring God’s healing and presence into those areas of our lives. Last week we looked at the history of the heart. Our hurts and pains, the deep wounds we may have received from life, our parents, or others that we have been in relationship with.

This week we are going to look at the other side of the coin so to speak, or the other side of the heart. This message could be entitled Every Heart has a History Part II. Because for as many hurts and offensive, if not evil, behaviours and actions that have taken place against us, there is another side of our hearts that needs to be addressed if we are to become emotionally and spiritually whole and well, and live a life of love and freedom.

As we unpack together the mysteries of God and mankind, and relate them to our day to day lives I want to suggest a set of pre-suppositions ( that’s a fancy way of saying foundational beliefs) that we need to begin with. We all have a set of presuppositions that we come with when we explore God and His Word.

As you are sitting here today I want to begin with a minimum of three pre-suppositions. We come to a church service with our own pre-suppositions and in many ways these will filter or significantly influence what we may receive in our understanding of God and ourselves. Why I am asking you to do this is that some of what I may say today may be a little uncomfortable. The three pre-suppositions that I present to you come from scripture.

1- God is Love and He loves us 1 John 4:16, John 3:16
In probably the shortest description of God that you can find in your Bible, this verse from 1 John is very clear. God is love.

2- The voice of Jesus does not condemn Romans 8:1, John 3:18
If we believe that Jesus is our saviour and Lord, what we hear and read from the living Word of God, not only does not but cannot condemn.

3- God loves us so much that He is calling us to a new life. 2 Thes 2:13, 1 Thess 5:23
This is part of what we have understood to be Journey Theology. The working out of faith in our nature, lives and decisions.

Please keep these three pre-suppositions in mind throughout the message today as we explore together what it means to examine our heart history and choose wholeness and wellness.

Terry D. Cooper is professor of psychology at St. Louis Community College-Meramec and adjunct professor of religious studies at Webster University. He is the author of Sin, Pride & Self-Acceptance.

The following dialogue forms the introduction to his book and illustrates the possibly very differing perceptions that we have when it comes to our own struggle and difficulties and the difficulties of others.

“I find it very hard to tolerate Jack.” Said Sam. “He’s extremely pompous, full of himself and conceited. Who does he think he is? He really thinks he’s better than everyone else.”

“Yes,” said Betty, “but you know that’s all a big mask to cover his real problem – Low self esteem. It may look like he’s arrogant, but the real issue is deeper than that. Down deep, I’ll bet he really doesn’t accept himself.”

“Are you kidding?” responded Sam. “That guy has too much self-esteem. I don’t think he’s insecure at all. In fact, he has something of a God-complex.”

“But can’t you see underneath all that, Sam?” asked Betty. “Jack is like everyone else – his basic problem is low self-sesteem, which he hides very well.”

Sam quickly retorted, “I can’t believe you think everyone’s problem is low self esteem! Particularly in today’s world! I think the exact opposite is true. People today think too highly of themselves. They place themselves at the center of everything. In fact, they love themselves so much that they have nothing left over to give anybody else.”

“But what makes you assume that?”

“Look around you, Betty. Self – centeredness is everywhere. And even though it seems worse today, it’s an age-old problem. ride is our number one enemy, the first and greatest sin. Both Judaism and Christianity have always taught this.”

“Yes,” said Betty, “but that was before psychotherapists really started understanding that pride is a cover-up for feelings of inadequacy. My friend, who is a psychologist, says that all her patients, down deep, have low self – esteem.”

“But that’s easy to say when you’re working in counseling.” Argued Sam. “Counselors look for low self – esteem and always find it. Then they think that it is everybody’s problem. Of course people who go to counseling are temporarily down on themselves. But as soon as their lives get back on track, pride will probably take over again.”

“But I think pride is never the bottom line issue,” said Betty. “It’s not the primary problem. Instead, it’s a symptom.”

“ see it as the primary problem,” argued Sam, “and I think this is where religion and psychology often differ. Psychology minimizes the problem of sin or excessive self-regard.”

“I disagree. I think sin is more likely to come from a failure to accept myself than exaggerated pride in myself.”

“I’m sorry but I find that view really naïve.”

“and Sam,” said Betty, “ I find your view cynical.”

I’d like you to take a moment to try to identify where your beliefs at this time may sit within the context of this dialogue.

From my own experiences, research and study, and the searching of God’s word, I came to the conclusion that the issue being discussed in this dialogue is not an either or. The condition of humankind, and the condition of our own nature is a sometimes complicated and complex mixture of both viewpoints.

We are in a series of self discovery and the process of self discovery incorporates our relationship with God through the assistance of what is known as our helper, our strengthener, The Holy Spirit.

There is an age old debate within Christian circles about the issue of salvation by works or by faith. This is what led to the Reformation or split from the Catholic Church in the 1500’s. The Bible is very clear about this issue.

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Rom 3:21 – 24.

Quite simply, we are made right with God through faith in Christ. We who have chosen to believe have at one time or another come to grips with our own nature and chosen to claim God’s mercy and forgiveness through Christ. We recognize that there is nothing that we can do from our own efforts or outward behavioural changes that can bring us closer to God or earn our right standing.

Have you ever wondered that if the issue of being justified before God is only about getting into heaven, why God just didn’t take us the moment we first believed? If Jesus has had victory over sin, suffering, and death, then why do we still sin, suffer and die?

Theologians call this tension the “Already But Not Yet” tension.

There is an Already but not yet tension in the world and in God’s Kingdom… but if we think about our own lives, there is an already but not yet tension in our own hearts. If I have been made pure and righteous before God through Jesus, then why are there still an element of self-centredness, pride, impatience and a whole host of other behaviours that I still wrestle with. Yes, through my faith I am already made right with God… but does there not seem to be something missing that would explain that I’m not quite there yet.

Every Heart Has a History… and some of it ain’t pretty. This is the other side of the heart history that we need to come face to face with and reconcile if we are to live lives of freedom and love and laughter and goodness.

Four stages of growth in faith (from Ray Ortlund):
1. Moral Apathy
2. Moral Concern
3. Moral Despair
4. Holy Delight

It’s very difficult if not impossible to jump from moral concern to holy delight because in order to really recognize the amazing gift of grace, we must first come to terms with pour moral depravity (sin nature). The genuine recognition of our sinfulness has to become personal for each one of us, and we sometimes call that ‘brokenness’. The idea of Holy Delight is what we think of as ‘gratitude’ and that is what Thanksgiving is really all about!

So when we think about the idea that every heart has a history we come to the realization that some of that history is not real pretty.

On my own journey I have come to the realization that the “Already but Not Yet” tension applies to the issue of my own heart. We have been made right with God through the blood of Jesus, but if it were to just stop there then presumably we would have churches that didn’t fight, Christians that were in a constant state of Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Gentleness, Kindness, Goodness, and self control.

But we know this is not the case. Conflicts exist, hearts get broken in the churches, marriages end, affairs begin, anger destroys, blaming and fingerpointing takes place, gossip and hurtful rumors are spread.

“Already But Not Yet” We are already made right with God, but it is sometimes very painfully apparent that the Christlikeness that He calls us to has not happened just yet.

I had a friend a few years back who I had worked closely with when I was a private investigator. In mid-life crisis he began to struggle with purpose and meaning in life. He was in a fog of prescription addiction and wanted change. After not seeing him for several months we were having a coffee and I could see something different in his eyes. I asked him how he was doing and he looked at me with this beautiful smile and said that he had accepted his saviour, Jesus Christ. I was excited for him and he spoke of how his life had been radically changed in a short period of time. Then he said something that I had to chuckle about. He said, “I accept that Jesus is my saviour and has brought me into intimate relationship with God, but I don’t buy this becoming like Him stuff."

Most of us don’t, come to think of it.

The underlying message that was prompting him to say this was this: I am not ready to die to my self just yet.

I am ready to confess Christ as my savior, but I am not ready to lay some things down with him.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was the german pastor and theologian who led the confessing church during the height of the Nazi reign of terror. He spoke radically against the Nazi’s and even plotted an assassination attempt on Hitler. Bonhoeffer coined the phrase “cheap grace.”

Shortly before being executed by the Nazis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, "Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace." According to Bonhoeffer cheap grace is "the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner." Such false grace abounds today. It appears attractive, but it ultimately has a high price tag.

Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

These are strong words but believe me they are not condemning words. I hold an understanding of our faith as that being one of a journey, a pilgrimage towards heavenly eternity, a Kingdom Living Journey that brings maturing fruit.

The Bible describes the evidence of those who are filled with the Holy Spirit as being the evidence of the mature fruit. We come to recognize also that: There is a difference between believing in Christ as savior, and following Him as Lord.

A couple of weeks ago I gave the message at the chapel at Taylor Seminary. The theme of my message was the concept of dying to self daily. I used my story and God’s story working through me to illustrate that the issue of dying to self is not a “works” oriented method of gaining favor with God. But rather it is a deepening self awareness of our own capacity for sin and self-centeredness.

We all have some level of self-centeredness lingering because this is the core of the human condition. Like the conversation I related in the opening of the message…. Yes, many of us have low self esteem, many of us have heart histories of hurt and pain and cruelty, and we recognize that if we ask God to heal us in these places that He is a merciful and gracious God who wants us to enjoy emotional and spiritual wholeness.

Here is the core of the debate between the two fictitious characters. Jesus did not voluntarily die on the cross, get beaten, spit on , ridiculed and tortured to help boost up our low self esteem. No, he died on the cross to release us and free us from the sometimes living hell that comes from our own capacity and leaning towards self-centeredness. What the Bible calls sin. That separation from God that has affected all of humankind. Our own rebellion and our own desire to control our own destiny.

I lived that way for many years until it all came crashing down. I can dare to speak boldly about sin and self centeredness only because I have been there, and recognize that the dying to self is a daily, hourly, minute by minute conscious choice. It is coming to the Y in the road that Stew spoke about several weeks back

And recognize that the choice we make as we come to the Y is often the choice between the will of God and our own will.

If we are going to move forward in love and grace. If we are going to get past the anger and emotional wreck that we may be experiencing then we need to transition from our identities as “believers” into an identity of “follower.” This transition, this examination of the other side of our heart history, requires a death.

At this point I want to remind you again about the pre-suppositions that we spoke of. I want to remind you of the understanding of God that must undergird what I am speaking on here.
1- God is Love and He loves us 1 John 4:16, John 3:16
In probably the shortest description of God that you can find in your Bible, this verse from 1 John is very clear. God is love.

2- The voice of Jesus does not condemn Romans 8:1, John 3:18
If we believe that Jesus is our saviour and Lord, what we hear and read from the living Word of God, not only does not but cannot condemn.

3- God loves us so much that He is calling us to a new life. 2 Thes 2:13, 1 Thess 5:23
This is part of what we have understood to be Journey Theology. The working out of faith in our nature, lives and decisions.

Paul writes of this idea of death to self in many of his letters to the churches that he had founded on his Missionary journeys. Don’t forget, he is writing this to believers in Christ. He is writing this to people already on the journey but very likely not yet there when it comes to living in the Spirit. When we first believe, God takes up residence in our hearts and souls and minds. The amount of room that we give him in us becomes an issue of what we are willing to die to.
Paul strongly speaks this theme in a varying of ways throughout his letters.

Romans 8:5-7
Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open , into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what He is doing.

Likewise, Jesus deals with the issue of putting to death our obsession with self with these words. Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said “if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. Mark 8: 34 – 35.

I used to really confuse this text with his words that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. Wait a minute, there seems to be contradiction here. But then I discovered that the idea of taking up our cross to follow him is the idea of death to our own self.

The cross is not an instrument of burden, the cross is an instrument of liberation!

John 12:24
I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The person who loves their life will lose it, while the person who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves my must follow me.

I had a conversation with a very bright young man who would say that he has been a Christian for many years. We have a healthy and honest relationship and just the other night I asked him. On a scale of one to ten., where would you say that you are at with respect to surrendering your life to Christ and dying to your self. He looked at me and asked if I wanted the honest answer and I said I did. He said, maybe less than half. I thanked him for his honesty and I know it caused him to reflect and caused me to reflect.
Where are you at with respect to surrendering your life to Christ and dying to self?

Malcolm Muggeridge is a former soldier, journalist, spy, liar, drunk and womanizer who was transformed by a very real conversion to the Christian faith He writes:
Not as I will , but as thou wilt. To be able to say these words and truly mean them is the highest point we can ever hope to attain. Then, indeed, we have broken out of time’s hard shell to breathe , not its stale air, but the fresh exhilarating atmosphere of eternity.

The terrible thing, the almost impossible thin, is to hand over your whole self – all your wishes and precautions to Christ. C. S. Lewis

Christ says, “Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half measures ane any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch her and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked – the whole outfil. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: My own will shall become yours.”

My surrender to my need for vindication with the RCMP. (by Bob Stenhouse)

Wonderful Cross
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride

See from his head, his hands, his feet
Sorrow and love flow mingled down
Did ever such love and sorrow meet
Or thorns compose so rich a crown

O the wonderful cross, O the wonderful cross
Bids me come and die and find that I may truly live
O the wonderful cross, O the wonderful cross
All who gather here by grace draw near and bless
Your name

Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were an offering far too small
Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all

1 Comments:

Blogger Rundle said...

Thank you for this entry; somehow it speaks loudly to me at the moment. Frankly I'm relieved to (albeit slowly) get rid of my 'self'.
I too understand that the cross represents liberation.
'God is Love...and there is nothing to fear.' I could pin this to every surface in the house,as a reminder. How quickly I forget.

9:54 AM  

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