Pastor Kirk

Reflections from a spiritual pilgrim in Toledo, Ohio


Atrocious Abe, 5 February 2017

Atrocious Abe
Series: Ideal Family
Genesis 12:10-13

Series Big Idea:
All families are messed up, including biblical families.

Big Idea: Jesus, not Abraham, is the ultimate example of a godly husband.

Today we’re resuming our series entitled, “Ideal Family.” Whether you like it or not, you’re part of a family; at least one. Ever since God said it was not good for man to be alone, humans have lived with others…for better or worse. I have yet to meet someone who didn’t have a biological father and a biological mother. Most people have siblings. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents are a vital part of life for many of us. Family is God’s design. It was His idea.

There are two unfortunate things I’ve discovered about families. First, they are all messed up! That’s ultimately the result of sin, our disobedience toward God. Ever since Adam and Eve ate of the fruit in the Garden of Eden, we have struggled to get along. Pride divides. Greed corrupts. Selfishness hoards. Anger disturbs. Hatred destroys. Misunderstanding confuses.

The second unfortunate thing about families is the mistaken belief everyone else’s family is okay. Listen to me carefully…all families are messed up! This includes biblical families. And the mess begins with the marriage. We all need help!

Abraham is one of the most important figures in human history. Some have called him, “Father Abraham.” When I was a child, we used to sing a song about him.

“Father Abraham had many sons/many sons had Father Abraham/I am one of them/And so are you/So let’s just praise the LORD.”

I think the reason it was so popular is it had motions that accompanied the music. Nevertheless, it taught me a bit about Abe. I like to say Abe not merely to make him sound a bit more hip and cool, but because it applies to both of his names. You see, Abraham used to be Abram, much like Paul used to be Saul.

A few weeks ago, we talked about righteous Noah and how at the end of his biblical story he is drunk and naked, not the most noble place to be! One of the lessons from Noah is even the godliest people are imperfect, and your good deeds in the middle of your life are no guarantee that your ending will be as positive. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes years to earn trust and seconds to lose it. Perhaps that is one reason Jesus said,

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)

He did not say, “Pick up your cross and you’ll be set for life.” He said to truly be his disciple requires daily surrender. We can never rest on our past accomplishments.

Abe’s story ends well.

Abraham lived a hundred and seventy-five years. Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people. (Genesis 25:7-8)

But let’s back up.

The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. (Genesis 12:1)

Imagine God says, “Go to the airport, board this airplane, and begin a new life wherever the plane lands.” Would you do it? Would you go? Would you leave your home, friends, family, and even your country to follow the LORD?

For centuries, people have been doing this very thing. Some of you have been led by God overseas. You’ve sacrificed, studied new languages, and said goodbye to everything you’ve known in this life to obey God. That’s faith!

If God calls you to relocate, you had better be sure you’re hearing from God and that it’s not bad lunch! I can think of two occasions when our family followed God’s prompting to move. The first was moving to Ann Arbor in 1998 to plant a church, launching a brand-new ministry from scratch. God was so good and faithful to us despite our humble beginning as a church of three in our living room!

The second big relocation felt like an international move for us. As a Michiganian, I always considered Ohio a foreign country and when God called us to Toledo we were so surprised! Now, of course, we love Toledo!

But I don’t say that to pat ourselves on the back for our great faith. Instead, it was God’s vision and clear direction which made both moves no-brainers for us. I’m sure Abe could relate. Listen to what God promises him:

“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth 
will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2-3)

That sounds good, right? Would you go to Michigan or Ohio if He promised that to you? What about Canada? Mexico? Africa?

So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there. (Genesis 12:4-5)

Obviously, he didn’t board a plane. This was a land journey of about 400 miles…without motorized transportation…with his family…

Have you ever traveled 400 miles with your family…WITH motorized transportation?! That’s about from here to Knoxville, Tennessee.

Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him. (Genesis 12:6-7)

That’s a special moment! Look at this land, Abe. It’s not yours, but your offspring will get it someday. But don’t stop now! We’re not there yet!

From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD. (Genesis 12:8)

Abram is obviously devoted to God. He must be quite the altar builder!

Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev. (Genesis 12:9)

So far, so good. Then we get to this unusual story.

Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. (Genesis 12:10)

Remember, God promised to make Abram into a great nation. That means he will become a dad…eventually. In a sense, he was invincible. He
couldn’t die! God always keeps His promises. Always.

We’ve never experienced a famine, but I can imagine it would be scary. We all need to eat. But we don’t see Abe consulting God about what to do. Maybe God was going to miraculously feed Abe manna and quail. Perhaps God wanted this couple to travel to a place other than Egypt. We don’t know, but there’s no indication that Abe followed God into Egypt.

Have you ever faced a challenge and ignored God? Have you ever taken matters into your own hands rather than consulting the Creator? I confess I have. We often talk about making Jesus the LORD of our lives. That means He’s the boss. He’s in charge. He is always consulted before making important life decisions. Always.

But let’s suppose God told Abram to go to Egypt (which
is possible).

As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” (Genesis 12:11-13)

Do you see anything wrong with this picture?

First, Abram is worried about himself. He’s sure his wife Sarai will be fine. The plan isn’t even for Abe to lie, but for his wife to do his dirty work! She’s supposed to lie for him! Now I’m sure if she loved her husband, she would obviously be concerned for his welfare, too. But Abe’s plan is hardly going to benefit her.

When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman. And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels. (Genesis 12:14-16)

Let’s give credit to Abram. He was right. The Egyptians found his sister—err—wife to be beautiful. She was taken into Pharaoh’s palace. What would Pharaoh want with a strange woman in his palace?!

But the LORD inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!” Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had. (Genesis 12:17-20)

Abe’s plan worked. His life was spared. But what an ordeal. Can you imagine how Sarai must’ve felt during this whole experience? Abram receives grace—unmerited favor—despite his selfish, deceitful behavior. He became a biblical hero and the father of many nations, but this episode did not cause him to win Husband of the Year!

So What?

Abraham lied about his wife being his sister. Twice! It happened again in Genesis chapter 20. Look it up!

Parents—and grandparents—it’s important to remember the next generation(s) is watching you. Whether it’s interpersonal conflicts as we saw in the drama or habitual sins like dishonesty, children often become like their parents.

Abraham’s son, Isaac, lied about his wife being his sister! It’s in Genesis chapter 26. You can’t make this stuff up! I know the Bible’s true, if only because nobody would fabricate these embarrassing stories and call them sacred scripture!

One thing we continue to see in this series is the imperfections of the heroes of the Bible. I find this encouraging, knowing I’m not alone in my weak faith, selfishness, pride, and sinfulness. Obviously, the message is not, “Husbands, lie about your wives because it’s the biblical thing to do,” but rather a message of what NOT to do…and hope when we fail.


Jesus, ironically, sets the perfect example for husbands to follow…love and sacrifice, not selfishness and lies. Where Abram failed in the desert, for Jesus, the desert was the site of one of his finest hours, resisting temptation despite forty days of fasting. Paul famously wrote to the church in Ephesus

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. (Ephesians 5:22-24)

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. (Ephesians 5:25-30)

That’s what real marriage looks like—true love that’s not based on feelings, but rather on commitment, even when it’s costly.

Jesus loved us, the Church, to the point of laying down his very life.

Jesus has entered into your suffering and into your disgraces and into your depressions and into your shames and into your pains. The cross is not just a redemptive place for the follower of Jesus. The cross is also the solidarity place where God joined us in our deepest death. Perhaps you’ve lost a friend who got drunk and then had a fatal car accident, or perhaps you’ve lost the joy of family togetherness because of divorce, or perhaps you’ve seen a friend waste away from some disease, or perhaps you’ve got a tattoo on your body that evokes bad memories. The cross is about that, too.

At the cross Jesus enters into our pain, into our tragedies, into our injustices, and into the systemic evil we have created and into the sins we have ourselves committed. But his solidarity with us is also an act of redemption.

Scot McKnight, One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow

  • 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.


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.


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. 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.

  1. 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.

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

    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.


    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.

    Be Real, Family Rules, 18 January 2015

    Series Overview: The purpose of this series is to cast a vision for a healthy church family, noting particular strengths and weaknesses of Scio in the process.

    Big Idea: A healthy church family shares joys and sorrows honestly.

    Real Versus Fake

    We live in a world where things are not always as they appear. In a word, there are many fake things we encounter. We have

    fake food (did you ever grab a fake apple hoping to enjoy a juicy bite?)
    fake money
    fake shoes
    fake electronics
    fake tans
    fake hair and nails and eyelashes

    Photoshop and other tools have made it difficult to know if things are real or fake.

    When we meet a person, we usually have no way of knowing whether they are for real or merely trying to make a good first impression. This is especially true with people asking for help, be it at an exit ramp or on a downtown sidewalk. How do we know if their story is legit?

    It’s one thing to believe in a fake object, but quite another to believe a fake person. Unfortunately, people can be fake long after we meet them. It’s so common for people to hide their true self. We commonly call this facade a mask. Some go as far as maintaining the mask until they get married and then, suddenly, they show their true colors to their new spouse, providing a terrible surprise. They put their best foot forward during the courting, hiding their true self.

    This is week two of our series
    Family Rules, a double entendre. Followers of Jesus are part of the universal family of God, worldwide. Specifically, this series is about the family known as Scio Community Church. Who are we? How are we to live, not as individuals, but together as family? These are questions we are addressing throughout this series.

    Last Sunday began with rule number one: know thyself. We are God’s children, adopted into His family through the death and resurrection of our big Brother, Jesus. We are commanded to not only love God, but one another…and together love and serve our world. Now we turn to rule number two: Be Real.

    God’s love is truly amazing! What I love about God’s love is it is unconditional. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done, what we’re doing, or what we’re going to do—we’re still loved and accepted. Sure, poor choices will result in consequences that will break His heart, but they’ll also affect us in profound ways that will hopefully produce growth and wisdom. I say it often, but nothing you can do can make God love you more, and nothing you can do can make God love you less. That’s amazing grace!

    So we are loved and accepted unconditionally by our Creator God, yet sometimes we find it hard to be totally honest with God. It’s crazy how we—how I—will often hesitate during silent confession, rationalizing my sins, justifying my actions, and avoiding my true transgressions…as if God doesn’t know! Or God will reject me! When I finally reach the point of calling a spade a spade, I never feel wrath or judgment. It is, after all, God’s kindness that is intended to lead us to repentance, not His anger (Romans 2:4). One of the most beautiful verses in the entire Bible was penned by John:

    If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

    But here’s the thing: I can confess my sins to God and know in my head that I’m forgiven because of Jesus and the cross, but I don’t always
    feel forgiven. Having God as your Master and LORD has many advantages, but one challenge is experiencing Him through the senses. This is where you come in!

    Jesus’ half-brother, James, wrote about prayer.

    Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. (James 5:13-15)

    Wow! What’s not to like about those words?! At this moment are you in trouble? Are you happy? Are you sick? If so, respond! There’s one more verse that follows these, and it begins with “therefore.” Now that we know what “therefore” is there for, verse sixteen says

    Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:16)

    Do you see it? Confess our sins to God. No! Confess our sins to the professional priest. No! Confess your sins to each other.

    Be Real

    In the book of Genesis, we read that God created Adam and Eve, they were naked and unashamed. We often think of those words in the physical sense, but I believe there’s another level of “knowing” involved. Without sin there was no shame, and without shame there was no embarrassment, no hiding, and no masks. Adam and Eve had a level of intimacy none have had since, a relationship free from barriers or walls.

    The Fall did irreparable harm to not only our relationships with God, but also our relationships with one another.

    But here’s the thing:

    We’re all broken. We all need God. But by the grace of God…

    While I admit our culture—and our courts—don’t view all sins equally, we all sin. We all fall short of God’s perfect standard demonstrated by Jesus. We’re all messed up.
    Tragically, the church has often been the LAST place to find broken people…because some perceive it to be a place for shiny, happy people. It’s a place for God’s wonderful children to smile…and judge the “sinners” in the world. I believe many in our community never even think about attending Scio Community Church because they believe they are unworthy, imperfect, and unable to fit it amongst the holy saints here.

    May it never be! No perfect people are allowed at Scio (except Jesus!).

    While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

    On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:15-17)

    We’re not to be a museum of perfect people, but rather a hospital of broken people who are getting healed, becoming whole, and ultimately becoming wounded healers who help others.

    It all begins with me—and you. We must get real. We must get honest. We must take off the
    mask that covers our sins and weaknesses and face the simple truth that we’re messed up…and so is everyone else here!

    It has been suggested that attendees at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are far more honest than church attendees…because you begin by admitting you have a problem. Scio family, we need to just say it—we have a problem: sin. You have it, I have it. It’s not something to be proud of, but nor is it something we should hide. Hiding hurts us and those around us because there is power in community, power in family, power in doing life together. That’s why support groups are so successful. That’s what Scio ought to be: a support group for sinners who are striving to be like the perfect Saint, Jesus Christ.

    It can be hard to be honest with ourselves, often more difficult to be honest with God, but often even more difficult to be honest with others. Why?

    Fear…of rejection.

    Why don’t we share? Fear of rejection and condemnation.

    When did we ever get the idea family members would reject and condemn us? Experience! The church universal has a reputation for being filled with arrogant, self-righteous hypocrites who look perfect on the outside yet sin outlandishly in private. Is it true? It’s easy to do. Condemning others makes us feel better about ourselves. The comparison game is always deadly because we feel too good about ourselves or too bad about ourselves. The reality is we all desperately need grace because we’re all sinners who fall short of perfection—which is why we need help. We need God’s help and we need the help of one another.

    Dave has been a tremendous example of this. As a recovering alcoholic, I’ve watched him struggle for years with addictions, yet both seek help and help others a step or two behind him in the journey. His honesty and transparency have helped shape the culture at Scio as an open, honest, engaging community. We haven’t mastered it yet, but I believe we are becoming more real as a family. If you are in your fifties or above, this idea of being real may seem a bit foreign or uncomfortable. For young people, it’s essential. Young adults can smell fake a mile away. They’ve been bombarded with messages and images of fake promises, products, and people throughout their entire lives. The big question many people are asking today about the church—and about Scio Community Church—is not, “Is it true?” but “Is it real?”

    I have a dream…of a day in which our family is known as the most honest, authentic collection of people in our community, a place where the broken find healing and the captives are set free, a people who don’t encourage sin, but accept sinners.

    It begins with me and you being honest with our stuff and showing love to others who are dealing with their stuff.

    Like every “rule” in this series you may find this message irrelevant. You’re real. You’re accepting. You’re authentic. Great! Pray for others to have the courage to get real, to be vulnerable, and to have a heart of compassion for those at Scio who are dealing with greed, lust, bitterness, addiction, sexual identity, gossip, pride, or a host of other sins that are secret and hidden…and that will never be resolved without acknowledgment, confession, and repentance.

    It’s difficult to share our failures with others…and I’m not suggesting any of us grab a mic and list all of our sins each time we gather. It does mean, however, that we share appropriately our struggles, adjusting the level of intimacy as appropriate to the relationship we have with others. Deep friendships take time…and trust…and often someone willing to go first and open up. We reveal our true self to others so we can experience deeper bonds with others and growth in areas of weakness. Those results can never occur, however, when we wear the mask and keep others distant.

    My favorite definition of intimacy is to be fully known by another. Is there anyone on the planet that knows you fully? Again, I’m not suggesting we should be an open book with everyone, sharing every secret and sin…but we all need friends, true friends that are like a brother or sister. Without them we can never experience the deepest freedom of forgiveness, the challenge of holiness, or the joy of growing in Christ.

    Years ago I had a friend who frequently told me about his girlfriend. I know he cared for her, but many times he shared his frustrations with her. Whenever I asked if he told her his frustrations he would say no. He didn’t want to hurt her feelings. Instead, he was wearing the mask and, ultimately, being dishonest with her. She never truly knew him because he only said things he thought she wanted to hear.

    As long as we conceal our true thoughts, feelings, and struggles we will never experience intimacy. People will never know the real us. God knows the real you…and he still loves you! We'd like to know you, too!

    You can listen to this message and others at the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.