Pastor Kirk

Reflections from a spiritual pilgrim in Toledo, Ohio

Grief and Loss, 1 May 2016

Enlarge Your Soul Through Grief and Loss
Series: Go Deeper
Matthew 26:31-44

  • Series Theme
  • “Emotional health and contemplative spirituality, when interwoven together, offer nothing short of a spiritual revolution, transforming the hidden places deep beneath the surface of our lives,” says author and pastor Pete Scazzero in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. This series is based upon the biblical themes of Scazzero’s book in an effort to help us better understand ourselves in order to better love God and others.

  • The Big Idea
Jesus was a man who expressed His emotions of grief and loss, setting an example for us to follow.

Introduction

We’re in the middle of a series entitled Go Deeper. Our lives are like an iceberg. We expose only a small portion of our real selves to others. Some of us live in denial about that which we know is true beneath the surface. Perhaps another way to say, “Go Deeper” is to say, “get real.” Get honest. Until we face reality, we will never be able to heal from the pain, overcome the addiction, or strengthen the weakness.

Last week we talked about how we can’t avoid trials. In this life, we will and do have trouble. We want to go over, under, or around but we must journey through the wall. Despite the courage involved, there are benefits to testing.

- God uses trials so we will look out…to others.

The book of Romans plainly says

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15)

We are to

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

In addition,

- God uses trials so we will look up…to Him. He is with us…always. That’s a promise.

At the Wall, God asks some tough questions.

“What would you do without Me?”
“What will you do without My blessings?”
“Will you continue to seek Me?”
“Will you seek the ‘Other’ instead?”

At the Wall we learn a single truth that gets burned into us: life isn’t about us; it’s about God and His glory.

You were created by God.
You were created for God.
You were created for God’s glory.

On the Other Side of the Wall

The Wall always changes us. We can be bitter…or better. The Wall offers us an opportunity to move

- From pride to brokenness and humility
- From pleasure to appreciation and contentment
- From impatience to patience, able to wait for God
- From more to enough
- From immaturity to maturity

Grief & Loss

When we get to the other side of The Wall, it’s tempting to ignore the grief and loss that often accompany such a journey. Adrian Rogers said that everything in life relates to sin, sorrow and death. How cheery! How true.

Loss

All of life is about loss. We lose the safety of our mother’s womb, youth, dreams, control, illusions, and ultimately our health.

Grief and loss are done differently in various cultures and families.

Two-thirds of the Psalms deal with grief. They are called laments. The books of Job and Lamentations are also filled with grief and loss.

Scripture has been called the music of God. Here’s one famous passage:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…(Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4)

Perhaps you were told, “Big boys don’t cry.” Maybe you heard the message emotions should not be expressed. Those are clearly not biblical ideas. Perhaps nobody demonstrated His feelings—especially grief—like Jesus.

Matthew 26:36-46

I think many people find themselves in the midst of suffering and wonder where they can find God, how God could possibly understand their circumstances, how He could just watch those He says He loves go through such pain and agony. He understands…and He is with us…always.

Jesus’ followers were shocked to see the Messiah suffer, but His agony was prophesied centuries earlier. The prophet Isaiah said:

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:3)

That’s our God! He is familiar with grief and suffering, loss and pain. One of the most vivid examples is found in the Garden of Gethsemane, a place you can visit today in Jerusalem.

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” (Matthew 26:36-38)

Jesus knows sorrow.

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)

He pleads for Plan B. He wants to go over, under, or around this Wall. Luke records this moment by saying

And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. (Luke 22:44)

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” (Matthew 26:40-41)

Last week we noted the value of community, of support, of family. What do you do when those you need most aren’t there for you in your moment of greatest need?

He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” (Matthew 26:42)

He asks again for Plan B!

When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. (Matthew 26:43-44)

Three times He begs the Father for a shortcut, for another path. He’s all alone. Can you imagine?

Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Matthew 26:45-46)

Jesus is depressed, distressed, and sorrowful. Can you relate? The book of Hebrews says:

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. (Hebrews 5:7)

In the Garden Jesus falls to His face to the ground. He is prostrate on the ground. His sweat was like drops of blood (Luke 22:44). He is experiencing loss, preparing for the loss of His life and, even worse, the loss of His connection to the Father. He will become sin, taking our sins upon Himself. He will bear the wrath and judgment of a holy God. He will lose his friend Judas. He will lose the support of His followers who will abandon Him. His creation will crucify Him…all in the name of God!

This is not an attractive image of the King of kings and LORD of lords!

One element of the Scriptures that lends to their credibility is the raw, honest portrayals of the “heroes” of the Bible. The writers are never afraid to tell it like it is, warts and all!

This is not happy, successful, popular, wealthy Jesus!

This is our perfect model of what it means to be fully human.

Reactions To Pain

Divorce, death, breakups, failures, disappointments, shattered dreams, painful memories, and other forms of grief and loss invade our lives. Common reactions/defenses to grief and loss include

- denial
- minimizing (admitting something is wrong, but not acknowledging its impact)
- blaming others (or God)
- blaming yourself
- rationalizing (offering excuses and justifications)
- intellectualizing (analysis and theories to avoid personal awareness/feelings)
- distracting
- becoming hostile
- medicating

Many bury their pain of grief with addictions that are followed by guilt and shame as we lose control. It’s just like satan to tempt us into something, only to turn around and accuse us of the very action!

PTSD

These four letters together were not recognized until 1980 when the American Psychiatric Association added Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to the third of edition of its manual of mental disorders. Grief and loss—especially if not processed appropriately—can wreak havoc in our lives. Traumatic events can impact us beyond our ability to cope…and affect us long after the experience.

Biblical Grieving

I want to offer a few suggestions to those of you who are grieving.

Pay attention

Don’t live in denial. Jesus was very real in the Garden. He held nothing back. His emotional burden was so great it had physical manifestations as He sweat drops of blood.

Wait in the confusing in-between (Ps. 37:7)

No matter what grief and loss you may be experiencing today, tomorrow is a new day. The story is not over. It’s SO hard to wait—for anything—but we can take hope knowing God is in control.

Embrace the gift of limits

In addition to loss, we are faced with limits in our life. Limits in our life include

  • - physical body
  • - family of origin
  • - marital status
  • - intellectual capacity
  • - talents and gifts
  • - material wealth
  • - educational opportunities
  • - raw material (personality, temperament)
  • - time
  • - work
  • - relationship realities
  • - spiritual understanding
  • - ministry

Many of us find limits frustrating, but they are part of God’s plan. They cause us to rely upon Him. Paul had a “thorn in the flesh” God refused to remove. Undoubtedly it was to keep him on his knees, dependent upon God. Remember, life is not about us, it’s about God’s glory. When we are weak, He is strong and gets the glory.

Climb the ladder of humility

The word humility comes from the Latin humus which means “of the earth.”

In the sixth century, St. Benedict introduced the idea of a twelve-step ladder for growing in the grace of humility. Here’s a modified version of it:

Step 8: Transformation into the Love of God (no sarcasm, arrogance; content)
Step 7: Speaking Less (“The wise are known for their few words”)
Step 6: Deeply Aware of Being “Chief of All Sinners” (recognize our sinfulness)
Step 5: Radical Honesty to Others About Your Weaknesses/Faults (quit pretending)
Step 4: Patience To Accept The Difficulty of Others
Step 3: Willing To Subject Ourselves To The Direction of Others (surrender power)
Step 2: Doing God’s Will (not your own or that of others)
Step 1: Fear of God and Mindfulness of Him (He is present)

Where are you at today? I’m working on Step 1! Humility is a rare virtue. Most of us struggle with pride, manifested through arrogance or insecurity. Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It’s thinking of yourself less. When our focus is on Jesus, we don’t have to impress others, mask our emotions, or fear failure. We don’t even have to be “successful” in the eyes of the world. We simply have to be obedient and faithful to God, His Word, and His will.

Listening To The Interruption

Jesus doesn’t deny his grief. Why do so many Christians?

Jesus is real and authentic. He feels. He expresses His emotions.

He listens to the interruptions of His life.

Have you ever felt so bad that you could just die? That’s how Jesus felt.

This passage is difficult for some people who want Jesus the superhero. For the rest of us, it is reassuring that He understands our struggles and trials and agony.

It is human to feel and hurt. Jesus understands…and He is with us through the Holy Spirit.

Resurrection

The beauty of dying to ourselves is the opportunity to be resurrected in Christ. This is beautifully illustrated in the water grave of baptism.

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10-11)

We continue to celebrate the Resurrection, not merely one day of the year but every day. Jesus’ story did not end in the garden or on the cross. Death always precedes resurrection and new life.

Learning To Fall

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. (John 12:24)

The trash of the grief may smell, but there are diamonds in the mess that God can use.

When we listen to the interruption and learn to fall, our souls will enlarge.

a. our self-will breaks

Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered (Hebrews 5:8)

Jesus had a human will. He was fully God but also fully human. His humanity did not want to obey the Father. He did not naturally obey the Father. He wanted out. He submitted His will to the Father’s will.

Jesus prayed three times for the Father’s will.

You learn obedience through the struggle of grief.

You lose control at the wall (last week’s message).

Life is more than a series of problems we need to solve. Life is a mystery.

b. we learn about prayer

Prayer is the center of our life with Christ. David, Job, Jeremiah, Jesus grieved with God through prayer.

c. we create space for God

In emptying ourselves, we make room for more of God. When we give up control, we can lean into God.

Questions for Discussion

What does this text tell us about God?

What does this text tell us about ourselves?

What significant losses/disappointments did you experience

  • - when you were age 3-12?
  • - as a teenager?
  • - as a young adult?
  • - as an adult?

How did you respond to each?

How did your family deal with grief and loss when you were growing up?

Share one recent loss in your life. How has it affected you?

After leaving everything to follow Jesus, how did Peter react to Jesus’ shocking prediction in Matthew 26:31-36?

What are some of the reasons that Jesus is “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” in Matthew 26:38-44?

How does He deal with grief and loss?

Which of the common defenses do you use to protect yourself from grief and loss?

The central message of Christianity is that death and suffering bring resurrection and new life. How have you experienced this? Be specific.

    Credits and Stuff

    Unless otherwise noted, Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. All rights reserved.

    Series outline and ideas from
    Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero (Thomas Nelson, 2006).

    Some study questions from Lyman Coleman (
    The Serendipity Bible and The Serendipity Student Bible). Used with permission from the author.

    Other study questions from
    Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Workbook by Peter Scazzero (Center for Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, 2007).

    • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

    Journey Through The Wall, 24 April 2016

    Journey Through The Wall
    Series: Go Deeper
    Genesis 22:1-14

    Series Theme
    “Emotional health and contemplative spirituality, when interwoven together, offer nothing short of a spiritual revolution, transforming the hidden places deep beneath the surface of our lives,” says author and pastor Pete Scazzero in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. This series is based upon the biblical themes of Scazzero’s book in an effort to help us better understand ourselves in order to better love God and others.

    The Big Idea
    The third pathway to emotionally healthy spirituality is journey through the wall and know it’s all about Jesus.

    Introduction

    This morning I’d like to take you on a journey. It’s a familiar journey for some of you. It goes like this:

    We're goin' on a bear hunt,
    We're going to catch a big one,
    I'm not scared
    What a beautiful day!
    Oh look! It's some long, wavy grass!
    Can't go over it,
    Can't go under it,
    Can't go around it,
    Got to go through it!

    We’re not actually hunting bears today, but we are talking about encountering a wall we cannot go over, under, or around. We must journey through the wall.

    There are many types of walls but they all usually lead to one question:
    Why?

    Today we continue our series Go Deeper: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. We have said our lives are like an iceberg. There is more beneath the surface than we allow others to see…or sometimes even acknowledge ourselves. We’re all messed up because we live in a fallen, sin-filled world. You are messed up. I’m messed up. In fact, if you don’t think you’re messed up, you’re the most messed up!

    Tragically, many people live their lives in denial…of their weaknesses, their family of origin, pain from their past, or their own emotions. God created us with both thoughts and feelings. We have both a mind and a heart. To live in denial is to prevent growth and change. To get real about our stuff is the first step toward healing and wholeness.

    Let me say again we all have stuff. For some reason there are acceptable and unacceptable things in the church. For instance, addiction to alcohol is bad, but addiction to applause and compliments is generally acceptable, perhaps because it’s often hidden. Cursing is bad, but gossiping through prayer requests is not only acceptable, it is encouraged in some circles. A family with a history of divorce is bad, but generations of religious, self-righteous people is sometimes admired, even though Jesus directed most of His criticism at the religious leaders of His day who stood in judgment of the “sinners.”

    I mentioned the propensity of some to wear masks. We may wear holiness masks so others will think we’re more spiritual than we really are. Another thing some mask is their emotions. I remember a certain Christian DJ who seemed to talk about tragedy in her life and then dismiss it with something like “all things work together for good so I’m just happy! Praise the Lord.” She was not real.

    Let me just say it: life is hard. It was hard for Jesus. It’s hard for us.

    Where did we get the idea we should be happy, happy, happy? Jesus said

    “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (
    John 16:33b)

    The Wall

    The Wall appears through a crisis. When we hit the Wall, we cry out “God – Where are You?”

    It’s ok to ask God questions. It’s ok to have doubts. It’s ok to ask, “Why?” God can handle it!

    David cried out to God for years when Saul and his men pursued him, and he was forced to hide in caves (see Psalms 69, 70, 71 and others).

    Consider Job. Satan challenged God to take away Job’s wealth, animals, children, and good health, all as a way to see if Job would continue to be upright. At first, Job cries out to God, but God does not answer right away (Job 13: 20-26). Eventually, God speaks up and Job repents and relents (Job 42:1-6).

    Abraham: Genesis 22:1-15

    After looking at Saul and David, today’s character is Abraham.

    Abraham had his share of Walls in his life. He was asked to leave his family and travel to an unknown land. He arrived and encountered a famine, had a conflict with his nephew Lot, his wife was unable to have children, he bounced off that wall and had a son with his wife’s servant.

    At age 110 he hit another wall. His promised son was finally born and then God asks him to do the unthinkable.

    Genesis 22...

    Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

    “Here I am,” he replied.

    Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

    God does not tempt, but tests Abraham to confirm his faith and prove his commitment.

    This seems so bizarre to us, yet in that day child sacrifices were commonly offered to pagan gods.

    Tragically, 1/3 of my generation has been killed, but that’s another issue for another time.

    Mount Moriah is now the covered with the Dome of the Rock in Israel, a Muslim structure.

    Abraham faces a Wall, a test that he causes a crisis of faith.


    Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

    Imagine that journey!

    Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

    “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

    “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

    Good question!

    Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

    When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

    “Here I am,” he replied.

    “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

    Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.” (Genesis 22:1-14)

    God tested Abraham.
    God allowed Job to be tested.
    God often allows trials and testing in our lives…for two purposes

    1. His glory
    2. Our growth

    This past week I was at the C&MA Great Lakes District Conference and Rev. Thomas George, our District Superintendent, reminded us of three things:

    1. We were made by God
    2. We were made for God
    3. We were made for God’s glory


    Our consumeristic culture says it’s all about us.

    The Bible says it’s all about God. This is a very difficult message for us to grasp. Just to prove this, one of our worship songs was critiqued. It says, “The God of angel armies is always on my side.” While there may be a way to understand this correctly, our natural response is to be comforted knowing God is always on our side…but He’s not! He never makes that promise. He promises to love us, but it’s not about Him being on our side. He asks us to be on His side. It’s about His will, not ours. It’s about His plan, not ours. It’s about His glory, not ours.

    Sometimes this means we find ourselves in very difficult places, asked to sacrifice a child, fleeing those who are supposed to be supporting us, suffering for doing good, or experiencing horrific pain despite seeking to follow Jesus.

    Rachel Video

    You can find Rachel's blog at
    https://myelephantsintheroom.wordpress.com

    Get Real!

    I urge you, family, to be real. There’s no shame in suffering. There’s no shame in feeling. There’s no shame in discouragement, depression, disappointment…or even doubting God. It’s His clear will for us to do life together. We need one another, especially when we face the wall. We need prayer, encouragement, and often tangible assistance from others. We’re often too proud to admit it but all need help sometimes, if not always!

    One of the most sobering verses in the Bible is found in Hebrews 11. After commending many great characters such as Abel, Noah, Abraham, it says

    All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. (Hebrews 11:13)

    Conclusion

    Like you, when I face the wall my flesh wants to go over it, under it, or around it. The only way God gets glory and we grow is when we go through it, not alone but with His strength and the help of others.

    One of the best tools we have at First Alliance is prayer. We have prayer in small groups, Bible studies, and Sunday School. We also have men’s prayer here on Tuesdays at 8:30 AM and Wednesdays at 7 PM. We have women’s prayer Wednesdays at 6 PM. We have open prayer Thursdays at 7 PM.

    There’s power in prayer. There’s freedom in sharing your Wall with others. There’s joy in bearing the burdens of others. We weren’t made to do this alone. We were created to journey with one another and with God…for His glory. He is here, whether it feels like it or not. He can be trusted, even when life doesn’t make sense. He loves you—really—and He is a mighty fortress.

    Questions for Discussion

    Are you “stuck” at the Wall? Have you been at the Wall some time before? Has someone you know and love been at the Wall?

    What is it like?

    What have you learned? What have you rejected?

    Has it been difficult connecting with God and seeing His purposes for you?

    How can we help people who are struggling at the Wall?

    What does this text tell us about God?

    What does this text tell us about ourselves?

    Credits and Stuff

    Unless otherwise noted, Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. All rights reserved.

    Series outline and ideas from
    Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero (Thomas Nelson, 2006).

    Some study questions from Lyman Coleman (
    The Serendipity Bible and The Serendipity Student Bible). Used with permission from the author.

    Other study questions from
    Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Workbook by Peter Scazzero (Center for Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, 2007).

    • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

    Going Back in Order to Go Forward, 17 April 2016

    Going Back in Order to Go Forward
    Series: Go Deeper
    Genesis 50:15-21

    • Series Theme
    • “Emotional health and contemplative spirituality, when interwoven together, offer nothing short of a spiritual revolution, transforming the hidden places deep beneath the surface of our lives,” says author and pastor Pete Scazzero in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. This series is based upon the biblical themes of Scazzero’s book in an effort to help us better understand ourselves in order to better love God and others.

    • The Big Idea
    The second pathway to emotionally healthy spirituality is to embrace our past, breaking free from the destructive sinful patterns of our past to live the life of love that God intends.

    Pete Scazzero notes two essential biblical truths:

    1. The blessings and sins of our families going back two to three generations profoundly impact who we are today.

    2. Discipleship requires putting off the sinful patterns of our family of origin and re-learning how to do life God’s way in God’s family.

    Introduction

    What comes to mind when I say the word…family? My guess is for some it conjures up positive emotions while for others negative ones.

    The Background

    We all come from broken families. Some are certainly more functional than others, but since the first child, Cain, killed his brother Abel, we have passed down dysfunction and sin from generation to generation.

    Joseph’s story fills the last quarter of the book of Genesis. His family is about as dysfunctional as they come.

    a. He comes from a blended family. His dad had children from two wives and two concubines. Twelve sons all lived together.

    b. Joseph was clearly the special son, making his brothers jealous.

    c Joseph’s brothers sell him off and tell their dad that he was killed by an animal.

    He is sold into slavery, then rots in a prison for years on false rape charges.

    How would you feel sitting in a prison cell for years for something you did not do? What would you think/feel about your family? About God?

    Family Genogram

    Joseph is the eleventh child, one of twelve brothers and one sister. Here is his family genogram, showing not only his family tree but also key features of his family:

    Take some time to sketch your family genogram.

    Joseph has three major traumas

    1. At age 17, he is thrown into a deep well by his brothers (Genesis 37).

    2. He gets sold as a slave for $80,000 (two years wages) and his father is told he is dead. He loses his language, culture, family, freedom, everything!

    3. He was in prison unjustly for many years (Genesis 39-40).

    Twenty-two years later, he encounters his brothers (Genesis 42).


    He had every reason to be bitter and enslaved by his past. Instead, he clearly understands his heritage but allows God, not his family of origin, to determine his future.

    When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.

    His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.

    But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50:15-21)

    Joseph breaks from the “normal” family tradition by forgiving his brothers. What would you have done?

    What has Joseph learned about himself, God, and his family (see 19-21)?

    Genesis 50:20 is a summary of the Old Testament.

    5 Basic Needs be Met for Healthy Development (Pesso)

    -- need for “place” the world was waiting for your arrival; you were wanted
    -- need for nurture words and touch
    -- need for support loving, caring environments
    -- need for protection physically, emotionally from harm
    -- need for limits boundaries (see Townsend and )

    Sin and rebellion destroy families from God’s original intention

    Cain and Abel were just the beginning! All of our families are messed up! Jesus allows us to be born again, but we cannot ignore our past. We must put off the sinful elements of our past to become transformed and a blessing to the world.

    Iceberg

    We must know what went on deep beneath the surface of our family.

    Ten Commandments of Your Family

    Which of the following messages were sent to you by your family, spoken or unspoken?

    1. Money
    Money is the best source of security.
    The more money you have, the more important your are.

    2. Conflict
    Avoid conflict at all costs.
    Don’t get people mad at you.
    Loud, angry, constant fighting is normal.

    3. Sex
    Sex is not to be spoken about openly.
    Men can be promiscuous but women must be chaste.
    Sexuality in marriage will come easily.

    4. Grief and Loss
    Sadness is a sign of weakness.
    You are not allowed to be depressed.
    Get over losses quickly and move on.

    5. Expressing Anger
    Anger is dangerous and bad.
    Explode in anger to make a point.
    Sarcasm is an acceptable way to release anger.

    6. Family
    Duty to family & culture comes before everything.
    You owe your parents for all they’ve done for you.
    Don’t speak of your family’s “dirty laundry” in public.

    7. Relationships
    Don’t trust people. They will let you down.
    Nobody will ever hurt me again.
    Don’t show vulnerability.

    8. Attitudes toward other cultures
    Only be close friends with people who are like you.
    Do not marry a person of another race or culture.
    Certain cultures/races are not as good as mine.

    9. Success
    Is getting to into the ”best schools.”
    Is making lots of money.
    Is getting married and having children.

    10. Feelings and Emotions
    You are not allowed to have certain feelings.
    Your feelings are not important.
    Reacting with your feelings without thinking is okay.

    3 Practical Applications

    • 1. Recognize the iceberg in you from your family

    We can easily ignore or underestimate it. The effect of our families is deeper than any of us realize. Your family is filled with patterns. We all have negative patterns. When we recognize them, we can choose to maintain or change them. When you are unaware of them, you are doomed to pass them on.

    • 2. Discern the good God intends “in, through, and in spite of,” your family and past

    God knew what He was doing. He has a great plan for you and your life. God is working in a hidden, mysterious way. He was doing it in Joseph’s life and He’s doing it in you. We are often unaware of what God is doing, but He can be trusted. Joseph trusts God. He knows that God is good and God is sovereign (in control). He knows God. He certainly spent many years in prayer and solitude.

    • 3. Make the decision to do the hard work of discipleship

    This includes silence, solitude, Scripture, and small groups. Discipleship is breaking the sinful patterns of our past and being recreated into the image of Jesus Christ.

    Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 2Corinthians 5:17

    Pete Scazzero writes

    “Going back in order to go forward is something we must do in the context of community—with mature friends, a mentor, spiritual director, counselor, or therapist. We need trusted people in our lives of whom we can ask, ‘How do you experience me? Tell me the feelings and thoughts you have when you are with me. Please be honest with me.’ Prayerfully listening to their answers will go a long way toward healing and getting a perspective on areas of our lives that need to be addressed. Needless to say, this takes a lot of courage.”

    Four Lessons From Joseph’s Life

    • 1. He understood God’s goodness and love, even during the storms
    • 2. He expressed his emotions and loss, allowing him to truly forgive
    • 3. He moved forward despite his past
    • 4. He partnered with God to bless others

    The Good News

    God is in the business of transformation! His grace (unmerited favor) and love are endless. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you are a new creation. God is your father. Your sins are forgiven. You have been given a new name. You have been given a new inheritance. You have been given new brothers and sisters (Ephesians 1).

    In the movie
    “Good Will Hunting,” Sean (Robin Williams) repeatedly tells his patient Will Hunting, “It’s not your fault.” We are all products of the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve. We have all been dealt an imperfect deck. But it can be restored. There is hope in Jesus Christ. His plans for you are fantastic!

    Are you willing to go back in order to go forward? Ignoring it won’t make it go away. Fear of bringing secrets and sin into the light paralyzes so many followers of Jesus from truly experiencing the abundant life and transformation that Jesus wants us to experience.

    The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

    Questions for Discussion

    What words would describe the way your family related to one another when you were growing up?

    What does this text tell us about God?

    What does this text tell us about ourselves?

    On a scale of 1 (very troubled) to 100 (very nurturing), how would you describe your family?

    What messages did you receive from your parents or guardians as a child?

    What “earthquake” events sent “aftershocks” into your family?

    How do these messages compare to messages you have received about God’s family?

    What one area needs the most change?

    How does your family of origin impact you today? What areas do you need to address in order to move forward?

    Take some time to sketch your family genogram.

      Credits and Stuff

      Unless otherwise noted, Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. All rights reserved.

      Series outline and ideas from
      Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero (Thomas Nelson, 2006).

      Some study questions from Lyman Coleman (
      The Serendipity Bible and The Serendipity Student Bible). Used with permission from the author.

      Other study questions from
      Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Workbook by Peter Scazzero (Center for Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, 2007).

      • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

      Know Yourself that You May Know God, 10 April 2016

      Know Yourself that You May Know God
      Series: Go Deeper
      1 Samuel 17:26-40

      • Series Theme
      • “Emotional health and contemplative spirituality, when interwoven together, offer nothing short of a spiritual revolution, transforming the hidden places deep beneath the surface of our lives,” says author and pastor Pete Scazzero in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. This series is based upon the biblical themes of Scazzero’s book in an effort to help us better understand ourselves in order to better love God and others.

      • The Big Idea
      • The first pathway to emotionally healthy spirituality is to know yourself.

      Who Are You?

      What a great question! Who are you? Perhaps the two most important questions in the world are

      - Who is God?
      - Who are you?

      Socrates said, “Know thyself.”

      Augustine asked, “How can you draw close to God when you are far from your own self?”

      John Calvin said,

      Our wisdom…consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other.

      - Institutes of the Christian Religion
      , AD 1530

      The Jesuits—a Roman Catholic order nearly 500 years old—live by four values, the first of which is self-awareness. They understand their strengths, weaknesses, values, and worldview. They are aware of their unhealthy blind spots that can derail them and are in the habit of continuous self-reflection and learning.

      Who Are You?

      This morning we continue our series Go Deeper: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. Pastor and author Pete Scazzero said, “Emotional health and contemplative spirituality, when interwoven together, offer nothing short of a spiritual revolution, transforming the hidden places deep beneath the surface of our lives.”

      Like an iceberg, the world sees only a portion of our real self. Much of who we are is hidden from others…and sometimes from ourselves. In order to truly know God, we must know ourselves.

      From the beginning of sin in the Garden of Eden, we have been hiding ourselves from God and others.

      When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. (Genesis 3:6-7)

      Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. (Genesis 3:8)

      We live our lives filled with guilt and shame so we put on masks.

      Here are some symptoms that you are hiding your true self:

      1. I say “yes” when I really mean “no.”
      2. I get depressed when people are upset with me.
      3. I have a need to be approved by others to feel good about myself.
      4. I act nice on the outside, but inside “I can’t stand you!”
      5. I often remain silent in order to “keep the peace”.
      6. I believe that if I make mistakes, I myself am a failure.
      7. I avoid looking weak or foolish for not having the answer.
      8. I criticize others in order to feel better about myself.
      9. I have to be doing something exceptional to feel alive.
      10. I have to be needed to feel alive.
      11. I am fearful and can’t take risks.
      12. I do what others want so they don’t get mad at me
      13. I use knowledge and competence to cover my feelings of inadequacy.
      14. I want my children to behave well so others will think I am a good parent.
      15. I compare myself a lot to other people.

      Last week we looked at some of the many flaws of King Saul. Today we look at another king, Saul’s successor David. In one of the most famous stories in human history we see a young man who knows himself…and His God.

      The scene is a battlefield in Israel. Ten years ago I stood on the site. Yes, this is not a fairy tale but a real event that occurred at a real place!

      The Philistines gathered for war against the people of Israel. They were on opposite sides of the valley.

      A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. He was over nine feet tall. He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels; on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels. His shield bearer went ahead of him. (1 Samuel 17:4-7)

      Most of us have heard the story without seriously considering what is in the text. This man is a champion. He is over nine feet tall. That’s two feet taller than Shaq! His coat weighs 125 pounds! The head of his spear weights 15 pounds! Then he has an armor bearer walking ahead of him carrying a shield, like he needed any help!

      Goliath issues a challenge, himself against any Israelite, winner take all.

      On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified. (1 Samuel 17:11)

      That’s an understatement! It’s not enough that this giant is intimidating. Eighty times Goliath taunts them.

      For forty days the Philistine came forward every morning and evening and took his stand. (1 Samuel 17:16)

      Nobody can even imagine facing this giant.

      When the Israelites saw the man, they all ran from him in great fear. (1 Samuel 17:24)

      When you run from your enemy in battle you lose! The situation is hopeless…until David enters the picture. David knows himself, but He also knows God.

      David asked the men standing near him, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26)

      They repeated to him what they had been saying and told him, “This is what will be done for the man who kills him.” (1 Samuel 17:27)

      When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the desert? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.” (1 Samuel 17:28)

      How’s that for a confidence boost? Even the best of families are messed up.

      “Now what have I done?” said David. “Can’t I even speak?” He then turned away to someone else and brought up the same matter, and the men answered him as before. What David said was overheard and reported to Saul, and Saul sent for him. (1 Samuel 17:29-31)

      David stands up to his family (28-31).

      David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.” (1 Samuel 17:32)

      Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a boy, and he has been a fighting man from his youth.” (1 Samuel 17:33)

      David stands up to significant others with authority and experience (32-33).

      King Saul and the people of Israel said they believed in God, but their acted like atheists. How often do we lack faith and act as if God does not exist?


      But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. (1 Samuel 17:34-36)

      The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”

      Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you.” (1 Samuel 17:37)

      Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. (1 Samuel 17:38)

      Saul gives up his own tunic to this boy. David’s his only hope. He’s the only hope of Israel. Fortunately David knows it’s not all on his shoulders. His shoulders can’t even support Saul’s tunic!

      David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.

      “I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off. Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine. (1 Samuel 17:39-40)

      David knows himself. He is an expert on himself and is able to discern wise counsel from unwise counsel.

      Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed. (Proverbs 15:22)

      We must seek counsel, but it is not always good for us.

      Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. He looked David over and saw that he was only a boy, ruddy and handsome, and he despised him. He said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!” (1 Samuel 17:41-44)

      David stands up to Goliath (vv.41-44)

      Again, David knows himself and the living God who has made the heavens and the earth.

      David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.” (1 Samuel 17:45-47)

      When we are weak, God is strong. David knows his strength comes from the LORD.

      As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground. (1 Samuel 17:48-49)

      So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him. (1 Samuel 17:50)

      David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the scabbard. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword.

      When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran. (1 Samuel 17:51)

      David didn’t face Goliath to look good, please people, or make a name for himself. He did not have the strength to defeat Goliath, but he had God and a slingshot. He did not lack common sense, but was aware of his God-given abilities with a slingshot and his God. He is afraid of nothing.

      You and I have God-given abilities and tools if we will use them to glorify Him. Do you know what they are? Do you know your strengths? Weaknesses? Spiritual gifts? Pathways to God? Personality? There are tools (see below) that can assist you in discovering how God uniquely wired you up.

      We hurt ourselves and others when we are not true to ourselves.

      The ultimate question once we know who we are goes back to last week: do you seek to bring glory to God or yourself?

      Four practical principles to begin making the radical transition to living faithful to our true self in Christ.

      1. Pay attention to your interior in silence and solitude
      2. Find trusted companions
      3. Move out of your comfort zone
      4. Pray for courage

      The people of Israel knew God intellectually, but not experientially.

      David points to Jesus. They are both saviors and conquerors opposed to Satan.

      He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. (Psalms 23:3)

      Do you know yourself? Do you know God?

      Writer Thomas Merton prayed,

      “Lord, help me to be still before you. Lead me to a greater vision of who you are, and in so doing, may I see myself— the good, the bad, and the ugly. Grant me the courage to follow you, to be faithful to become the unique person you have created me to be. I ask you for the Holy Spirit’s power to not copy another person’s life or journey. “God, submerge me in the darkness of your love, that the consciousness of my false, everyday self falls away from [me] like a soiled garment. . . . May my ‘deep self’ fall into your presence. . . . knowing you alone . . . carried away into eternity like a dead leaf in the November wind.” In Jesus’ name, amen.

      Questions for Discussion

      What does this text tell us about God?

      What does this text tell us about ourselves?

      What giants are drawn up against you in battle? How are they taunting you? Is your attitude toward them more like Saul’s or David’s? How does that attitude need to change?

      What larger missionary purpose might be accomplished for God if you would turn that battle over to the LORD?

      What’s holding you back from tackling the bull by the horns (or the Goliath by a slingshot)? What do you fear might happen if you turned and faced the enemy who taunts you and defies God? What’s the “worst case scenario”? Having imagined that, now re-write the end result with God on your side.

      What Goliaths are there in society, defying God and Christians? How can you, small and unarmed, work to bring them down? What can your Journey Group do?

      How important is the approval of people versus the depth of your soul?

      Questions for Reflection

      What are you angry about?
      What are you sad about?
      What are you afraid of?
      What are you enjoying?
      What brings you shame?
      What do you dream about?
      What do you sing about?
      What do you cry about?
      What are you beginning to realize/learn about yourself?

      Recommended Resources

      Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero (Zondervan, 2014)

      Strengths Finder:
      www.strengthsfinder.com

      Free Spiritual Gifts Discovery:
      www.churchgrowth.org/cgi-cg/gifts.cgi?intro=1

      Free Personality Test:
      https://www.16personalities.com/free-personality-test

      Heroic Leadership by Chris Lowney (on the Jesuits)

      Credits and Stuff

      Unless otherwise noted, Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. All rights reserved.

      Series outline and ideas from
      Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero (Zondervan, 2014).

      Some study questions from Lyman Coleman (
      The Serendipity Bible and The Serendipity Student Bible). Used with permission from the author.

      Other study questions from
      Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Workbook by Peter Scazzero (Center for Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, 2007).

      • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

      Emotionally Unhealthy Spirituality, 3 April 2016

      The Problem of Emotionally Unhealthy Spirituality
      Series: Go Deeper
      1 Samuel 15:20-24

      • Series Theme
      • “Emotional health and contemplative spirituality, when interwoven together, offer nothing short of a spiritual revolution, transforming the hidden places deep beneath the surface of our lives,” says author and pastor Pete Scazzero in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. This series is based upon the biblical themes of Scazzero’s book in an effort to help us better understand ourselves in order to better love God and others.

      • The Big Idea
      • The life of King Saul provides us with a portrait of an emotionally unhealthy man. His example can be a warning for us all, driving us to our knees and dependence upon God as we strip away the illusions in our lives and get real with ourselves, God, and others.

      Introduction

      I don’t mean to alarm anyone but the church in the USA is in trouble today. Have you noticed? Of course you have. The statistics of church attendance, identification as followers of Jesus, Bible literacy, and a host of other metrics is in decline. Worse, those who remain in the church are not experiencing the abundant life we talked about last week (John 10:10). Many have made the tragic mistake of thinking if we just go to church and learn enough about the Bible we’ll be different. We’ll be transformed. We’ll look like Jesus.

      Perhaps you’re tired…tired of church activities, empty promises of change…perhaps tired of Christians who talk about Jesus but look nothing like Him. Perhaps you’ve been longing not only for personal transformation but change in others who are judgmental, narrow-minded, or outright mean. Perhaps you’re burned out, disillusioned, and frustrated at your spiritual journey and/or that of others.

      Maybe you completely disagree. You are encouraged about the new momentum here at First Alliance. You’re excited about what God is doing in and through our congregation. You can’t stop talking about God and His work here…but you hope it lasts. You don’t want this to be temporary, but a sustainable growth for our church and its members.

      No matter your perspective, I believe one thing is true for all of us: we want to go deeper. We want to go deeper in our spiritual journey, our walk with Jesus, our relationships with friends, our trust in God, our love for the poor and least of these, our generosity, our peace, and our joy. We want to experience genuine growth. Next Easter we want to celebrate not only Jesus’ resurrection but our own, new life, new purpose. If that’s true for you, fasten your seatbelts as we begin an adventure together that just might change your life.

      Several years ago I heard about a book called Emotionally Healthy Church. I was a bit nervous at first, thinking it might be a touch-feely psychological book. Finally I picked it up and was blown away by the vision it cast for a healthy, whole community of faith. Pete Scazzero—a pastor in Queens, NYC with not only C&MA roots but is now a professor at Nyack College—beautifully described this dream community, but left me wondering how to guide people into it.

      His next book was
      Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and it offered the “how” behind the “what” of a healthy church. It was fresh. It offered insights I had never before heard, yet truths imbedded in the pages of scripture. The more I read, the more I was challenged.

      I generally like to preach through books of the Bible. Sometimes I will teach a topic such as Palm Sunday or Advent, looking at various texts. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality had such potent, Bible-based content I went about using it as a guide for a sermon series years ago and the response was overwhelmingly positive. In fact, quickly realized the longer someone has been a Christian, the greater the impact. I pray this series transforms your life as it continues to transform mine.

      There are two primary ideas we’ll be unpacking:

      - Emotional Health. This is our ability to be self-aware and love well.

      - Contemplative Spirituality. This involves slowing down to cultivate our relationship with Jesus.

      Alone, each is important. Together, however, these simple ideas can be revolutionary.

      Perhaps this series is best understood with a picture of an iceberg. As those on the Titanic discovered, what is seen above is small compared to what lies beneath, hence the term “tip of the iceberg.” This is true for all of us. We don’t reveal everything about ourselves to others. There are things about me I am comfortable posting for the world to see on Facebook, other things reserved for my friends, still other things I only share with close friends and family, and things I guard carefully, exposing only to my wife. Tragically, many of us have things beneath the surface
      we fail or refuse to see and acknowledge…even when others know it.

      The ultimate goal in this series isn’t to change other people, but rather to open up space to be with God, to study the scriptures together and open ourselves up to God, allowing Him to bring about the sanctification—the changes—only He to do. We want to become better lovers—of God and others. We also want to extend grace and encouragement to one another as we explore some arenas rarely discussed in church.

      Today we will begin with the problem of emotionally unhealthy spirituality. The principle is this: “the degree to which we are willing to give Jesus access to what is deeply beneath the surface in our lives is the degree to which we will experience freedom in Him.” In a word, honesty. I believe it was Scott Peck who said the average person attending an AA meeting is more honest than many Christians because they cannot begin until the admit they have a problem.

      I have a problem called sin. I am messed up. I am imperfect. I need help.

      You do, too, whether you admit it or not, but until you do admit it, you can never grow. Let me declare again: No Perfect People Allowed (except Jesus!).

      No matter your past—or even your present—you belong here! But please leave the masks at home. This series is about getting real, getting honest, and getting healthy.

      • 1 Samuel 15:20-24

      King Saul is an example of an emotionally unhealthy person. He was the first king of Israel, and although he had vast power, he was emotionally bankrupt. He started out great, but went awry. He was commanded by God to wipe out the Amalekites. He partially obeys but does not complete the mission. On the surface of Saul’s life, he looked great, but his life was out of order underneath the surface.

      Here’s the scene: God wanted to punish the wicked Amalekites. He told Saul to totally destroy them and their livestock. I know, it’s a brutal command but they were a brutal people. Saul partly obeyed, but he spared the king and the livestock. God tells Samuel to confront the king. Samuel said

      Why did you not obey the LORD? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the LORD?” (1 Samuel 15:19)

      • “But I did obey the LORD,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the LORD assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the LORD your God at Gilgal.” (1 Samuel 15:20-21)

      • But Samuel replied: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.” (1 Samuel 15:22-23)

      • Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the LORD’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them. (1 Samuel 15:24)

      I often think it’s better to be fully devoted to God or fully against Him. There’s no partial credit for partially obeying God’s instructions. Saul dabbled in obedience and it got him into great trouble.

      This is my fear for me and for you. I fear we do obey God when it’s comfortable and convenient but balk when it requires total surrender. I fear we get busy and want to be in control. It’s a dangerous bi-product of our consumer culture.

      If you know anything about the next king, David, you know he was a man after God’s own heart. He was not perfect, but he was passionate. He was self-aware. He was devoted. In contrast, here are some symptoms of emotionally unhealthy spirituality in Saul:

      1. He refuses reflection and self-awareness

      He is doing some of God’s will, but he is more concerned about the opinion of people. He is out of touch with his own fear. A few verses later he confesses again.

      Saul replied, “I have sinned. But please honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel; come back with me, so that I may worship the LORD your God.” (1 Samuel 15:30)

      There is jealousy in his life. He doesn’t want others to look better than he does, especially David. He tries six times to murder David, so threatened by him. He believes he is doing God’s will but he is unaware of how shallow his spirituality is and his own sins. He was unaware of why he did the things that he was doing.

      Why do you do what you do?

      So much of our lives are lived out of the layers beneath the surface. Reflection can be painful because we see our sin and feel guilty. It’s easier to deny our stuff and pretend.

      Silence and solitude are required in order to examine our motives and feelings and thoughts on the inside. You can’t be in touch with God if you are not in touch with yourself.

      Saul lived an illusion, presenting a false self to God, as if God could be tricked!

      Many of us keep ourselves so busy and noisy that we cannot reflect.

      Unlike David, Saul never spends time in silence and solitude. He never writes poems and songs, pouring out himself to God. David was aware of his own heart and expresses it to God.

      2. He refuses to cultivate his own personal relationship with God

      He began humble and blessed by God but never develops his relationship with God. He does not have a hidden life in God. He has a public one, but no personal relationship with God.

      But Samuel replied: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.” (1 Samuel 15:22-23)

      The words “obey” and “listen” are the same in Hebrew.

      Saul thought he was a pretty good guy but instead Samuel exposed the wickedness in his heart, calling him out on witchcraft and idolatry. He never asks, “What is God saying to me?”

      Do you ever ask God what He is saying to you? Christianity is not meant to be merely intellectual, but experiential. What is God saying to you? He
      is speaking. Are you listening?

      The late Dallas Willard told Pastor John Ortberg, “Ruthlessly eliminate hurry.” Ortberg said, “okay, what’s next?”!

      Contemplation is about getting God from your head to your heart. Sermons are a good start, but they are not the end. You must digest this food through small groups and time alone with God.

      The Pharisees knew all about God, but they never cultivated their relationship with God.

      You must take responsibility for your relationship with God. Nobody else can do that for you. We can challenge you, provide you with tools and resources and opportunities for growth, but only you can cultivate your relationship with God.

      It’s like marriage. People can give me books on marriage, I can attend marriage seminars, talk to people about marriage, and even decide in my head that I want a great marriage but if I don’t invest time and energy into my relationship with my bride, I will never have a good marriage.

      • 3. He refuses to be broken by setbacks and difficulties

      • We all experience trials and testings. Scripture says they can be useful tools of God to grow us.

      • Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

      • Trials draw us to God.
      Trials destroy our illusions about ourselves, others, life.
      Trials build our character.
      Trials bring about an authentic, mask-free life.

      Even Jesus grew through suffering.

      • Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered. (Hebrews 5:8)

      • Jesus learned obedience through suffering. There are no shortcuts.

      • God tried to humble Saul to make him great but Saul just wants to be great. Sound familiar?

      • So What?

      Here are the
      Top Ten Symptoms of Emotionally Unhealthy Spirituality

      • - 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 life 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 the spiritual journeys of others

      • Which one item is God bringing to your attention? Listen to Him. He delights when you listen to Him.

      There is a Saul in each of us. God wants to take the Saul out of us. Our self-will and stubbornness must be removed.

      Through reflection and honesty we can become aware of our sins and weaknesses. We can cultivate a relationship with God. We can allow God to use trials and discipline to shape us to become more like Jesus, surrendering everything to Him.

      You are messed up, but Jesus offers forgiveness, grace, and mercy. Don’t run away from God but run to Him.

      Questions for Discussion

      - What factors probably contributed to Saul’s unwillingness to carry out God’s clear command (1 Samuel 15:7-12)?

      - What might have been going on beneath the surface of Saul’s life (iceberg) that he was unaware of?

      - How does Samuel describe Saul’s disobedience (22-23)?

      - In what ways can you relate, or not relate, to Saul?

      - What positive step(s) could Saul have taken to become aware of his own iceberg and hear God in his situation?

      - If you were only concerned with seeking God’s glory and not your own, how would your life be different (at home, work, school)?

      - When were you caught hiding sinful motivations behind a spiritual front?

      - Who plays “Samuel” in your life today—instructing you in the ways of God, rebuking you when you fall short, crying out with God’s compassion for you?

      - For whom can you be a gentle “Samuel” (without naming names or gossip)?

      - Why is it so difficult to slow down our lives?

      - Why is it so difficult to anchor in God’s love?

      - Why is it so difficult to break free from illusions?

      - What is your next step in your spiritual journey?

      • Credits and Stuff

      • Unless otherwise noted, Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. All rights reserved.

      • Series outline and ideas from Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero (Thomas Nelson, 2006).

      • Some study questions from Lyman Coleman (The Serendipity Bible and The Serendipity Student Bible). Used with permission from the author.

      • Other study questions from Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Workbook by Peter Scazzero (Center for Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, 2007).

      • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

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