There is a natural reluctance to face the problem. Christians seem to despise reality. We tend to be squeamish when looking at the destructive effects of sin. It is unpleasant to face the consequences of sin — our own and others’. To do so seems to discount the finished and sufficient work of our Savior. And so we pretend we’re fine, when, in fact, we know that something is troubling our soul. A dull ache occasionally floats to the surface, or stalking memories return in dreams or in odd thoughts during the day. But why bother about such strange feelings when our salvation is guaranteed and life’s task is clear: trust and obey?
The poignantly penned words from Dan Allender, a noted Christian professor, psychologist, author, and counselor shape the foundation of his work in his book The Wounded Heart. I read those words this week and was struck at the heaviness of them. They’re true. We really don’t like the messiness of sin in our churches. We say we do, but we really don’t.
Because we come in, sit with a smile on our face, pretend everything is okay, and leave.
We’ve somehow created a church culture that has said though Jesus may be for sinners, church is most assuredly not
We assume that our struggle is personal, private, or somehow undesirable in church.
We talk about the niceness of people, the hope of life after death, and tell everyone that we are ‘fine.’
But inside, we’re not fine. In fact, we are far from fine. We’re so far from fine it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for us to truly experience being fine.
We’ve somehow created a church culture that has said though Jesus may be for sinners, church is most assuredly not. So we create an unspoken rule for those we wish to reach: go solve and fix your problems first, or learn to hide them better when you’re with us.
Because people are messy.
Sin is messy.
And we have a propensity to not like messy.
There is a television series called Hoarders that explores peoples tendency to hoard material things in their lives. Often the result of a previous traumatic event, these people don’t hoard useful things, but often trash. Newspapers from sixty years ago. They hold onto them, not because they contain a story they try to remember, but because you will never know when you might want to read the comic strip from sixty years ago. They hoard empty styrofoam cups, even if it isn’t all there, because a half a cup may someday be better than no cup. Empty chip bags, broken pieces of glass, ripped and discolored pieces of paper, cords to devices that haven’t worked in decades, and used gum. It all becomes stuff to clutter the house.
In an apt image I think for our own sin lives. On the outside, we look like normal, well adjusted members of society. Inside, many of us are collecting things: past bad experiences, wrongs, grievances, prior relationships, harsh words, tear-downs, and tales of promises not kept. We become spiritual hoarders and soon don’t know how to stop. We sense that something is out there, something that can help us, but inside the pain is either too real or too entangling to find a way out.
Stuck, we become lost inside ourselves, living life as nothing more than a well presenting shell of a person, but inside of us, our soul cries out for something, anything that can help us.
And that’s where so many go wrong. They look for help in all the wrong places. Alcohol, drugs, sex, power, finances, fancy clothes, the spouse, beautiful children, exotic vacations. We look for something outside of us that can help us, but we quickly see that nothing can stop what is eating away at us inside.
And all of us, at one point in time or another, struggle with what can take away the pain, what can free us from our spiritual hoarding.
As we work our way through the Celebrate Recovery material, and more specifically through the beatitudes of Jesus in Matthew 5, we discover this week the second principle for all of us struggling with spiritual hoarding: Earnestly believe that God exists, that I matter to Him, and that He has the power to help me recover.
We talked last week about denial. About the false belief that none of us struggle. About the false notion that if you do struggle, you’re the only one. We stood last week to acknowledge that isn’t the case. We are all in the same boat: we all have failed and fallen and sinned and struggled in many ways during our lifetime. If you’re sitting here today struggling with sin, be encouraged to know that you are in good company, we all do.
Once we are willing to step out of denial, and admit that we have all been hurt and struggle with something, we can move onto our second step: finding hope, healing, and restoration in God. You see, if we are honest with ourselves, this really is no such thing as a ‘private problem’ or, in the earlier example, you can’t hoard without people noticing. You can’t, because whatever baggage you carry around, whatever past hurt you struggle with, whatever sin problem you’re facing, whatever past relationship still makes you bitter and angry, affects the way you interact with those around you. Every moment our lives are being shaped by those around us, in good and bad ways, and those experiences are all shaped by their experiences. In essence, if you are around people, your problems become their problems. Your problems, if you’re sitting here today, are now our problems.
Because we never go through life alone.
And we can never completely hide what’s been done to us.
So the church had better learn to be comfortable with messy, because Jesus is.
Jesus was in fact known for hanging around with sinners. He had a reputation, and he worked hard to keep it that way. Did you know that the average Christian, three years after giving their life to Christ, no longer has any non-Christian friends? For all the talk that the church does about the need and importance for evangelism, very few actually do it. When churches grow it’s largely because there are Christians from other churches moving in, not new converts coming to faith in Jesus.
But that’s not Jesus. Jesus was a friend a sinners. He ate with them, drank with them, and went shopping with them. He filled his time with those who were far from God so that they might move closer. He knew that there one shot and finding a life redeemed and restored in the life that God intended was by being with them and befriending them.
That idea is one of the big reasons that I’m a fan of the Celebrate Recovery ministry. Where as a program like A.A. Says that you need to acknowledge ‘a higher power’, Celebrate Recovery cuts to the chase and says, “If it’s not Jesus, you’re screwed.”
The only hope we have is Jesus.
Our one shot at a life free from the burden of sin and guilt is found in Jesus.
The one place we can turn to for love, grace, and acceptance is in the resurrected power of Jesus.
The place where our souls find rest is in the finished work of Jesus.
The second principle of Celebrate Recovery is Earnestly believe that God exists, that I matter to Him, and that He has the power to help me recover. Last week we stepped out of denial, we all admitted that we are broken, bruised, and battered by this world. And as I highlighted last week, a step out of denial is a step towards Jesus. This week we see that our step towards Jesus in one taken in hope, that he is real, that he cares for us, and that by his faithfulness we can be healed and saved.
Because we never do this alone.
We never carry all the burden alone. We never live in complete isolation. We never remain unaffected by others.
To be a church that cares for others and builds a reputation of one like Jesus, people comfortable eating with sinners, we must realize that their hope is found in the same place that ours has been: in the work of Jesus when he cried It is finished!
Where have you tried to find hope before Jesus? How did that not satisfy in the ways Jesus has?
How can your relationship with Jesus help you to step out of denial and into the hope that he provides?
In what areas of your life are you ready to let God help you?
What are you willing to change this week as you seek Jesus?