Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Going Back to Go Forward
5/2/2018 2:15:22 AM
April 29, 2018
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: Luke 14:25-27
Close your eyes for a moment. I want you to imagine your heart. Not your physical heart, but your “inner heart.” I want you to imagine deep inside yourself you heart that defines who you are, your character. I want you to imagine your heart that contains your thoughts, feelings, will, desires, preferences and imagination.
Now, on your heart I want you to imagine writing. On your heart are written words, written messages about who you are, what you believe, what you value, etc. As you turn your heart over, as you examine it, there are many messages on your heart. Some of these messages are true. Some of these messages are false. Some of these messages are downright lies. Open your eyes.
God designed our hearts to have messages written on them. One of the primary means by which God has messages written on our hearts is our family. This is the way God designed us, for our character to be formed, our values, wills etc. But because of the Fall, because of sin entering the world, negative messages can be written on our hearts as well.
From the time we are born, the world starts inscribing messages and words on our hearts. From the time we are born, Satan starts trying to write lies on our hearts about who we are, what we should value, and our own value. He doesn’t try to write those messages directly. He tries to use others, to use circumstances, to write those lies on our hearts. Sometimes he uses the sin of others. Sometimes he just shifts our understanding of messages, of events or words from other people.
Jesus’ goal in our redemption includes rewriting the messages on our hearts. Scripture refers to giving us a heart of flesh vs a heart of stone, or, in another passages, about giving us a white stone with a new name on it. Remember, “name” in Scripture means character, so the white stone with a new name means a new character. To shift to our metaphor, Jesus, in bringing us new life, wants to rewrite the messages on our heart. He wants to sandblast off the lies of the devil and write new truths on our heart.
Now, let me ask you, who has had the strongest influence on you in your life? Who has written the most messages there? It is your family. For most of us, our family did its best to write positive messages on our hearts. But even our families, even if they are believers, are still tainted by sin. Even Christian families write bad messages, or incomplete messages on our hearts. Why? Because all families have been affected by sin.
Let me give you an example of how messages get written on our heart. My sister, Elizabeth, remembers when she was 5 or 6 years old being outside our house. For some reason, she doesn’t remember, my Dad had a ladder outside going up to the roof. Perhaps he was painting, or maybe cleaning out the gutters. Who knows? But somebody stopped by and my Dad started talking to them. Suddenly, my Dad started looking around for Beth. She was nowhere to be seen. Then he looked up! She had climbed up the ladder onto the roof without him noticing! She was fine. She wasn’t afraid. She was having a grand old time. But my Dad knew it wasn’t safe up there so he said, “Elizabeth, come back down.” However he said it, Beth heard the fear in his voice. Suddenly, she was afraid! They got her down without incident, but to this day Beth is terribly afraid of heights.
Now, was my Dad wrong to tell her to come down? Was my Dad wrong to be worried about his 5 year old being on the roof by herself? No, of course not! But a message got imprinted on my sister’s heart, “Heights are not safe.” She’s never overcome that message.
This is an example of how easily a message can be imprinted on our hearts by family, even well-meaning family. But consider another example, more complex and more devastating. I remember talking to a friend of mine at a camp where we were volunteering as counsellors. My friend was in university and her father was coming up on his first year of sobriety. He was an alcoholic who had been drinking for longer than my friend had been alive. She said that she remembers thinking as a little girl, “Maybe, if I’m good enough, Daddy will stop drinking.” As you can imagine, this caused havoc in her heart because no matter how good she was, Daddy kept drinking! You see, as a child, she believed that everything that happened to her was about her. Her father’s
drinking had absolutely nothing to do with her. It was his issue. But it had a profound effect on her. It wrote some very deep, false messages on her heart. As she entered into adulthood, she was prone to perfectionism. Why? Because she was always trying to be “good enough” or “a little bit better” hoping to get her Dad to stop drinking. And it never worked. But it became an ingrained message in her life that shaped her values, her goals, her attitudes and sense of self-worth. She never thought she was good enough, because if she had been good enough, Daddy would have stopped drinking.
Now, maybe you’re not afraid of heights. Maybe your parents aren’t alcoholics. Or maybe they are. But regardless of who your parents are, regardless of how good (or bad) your family of origin was, you have had lies and false messages inscribed on your heart by your family. Hopefully you’ve also had many, many positive messages written there too! And sometimes we have positive and negative messages written there that contradict one another. Sometimes we live in this tension that depending on the day, or our mood, or our circumstances, we listen to the good or the false messages there. But no matter who you are, no matter how awesome your parents were when you grew up, there are false messages written on your heart that Jesus would like to sandblast off so he can write his truth there.
Examples of some of these messages include but are not limited to things like “your value is based on what you produce,” or “success means having enough wealth to do what you want.” Or, another message might be, “You’re loveable when you’re good, but not when you’re bad.” Another message a family may write on your heart is, “Education is everything.” Or, “You must marry somebody like our family.” Remember, our heart includes our thoughts, feelings, preferences, desires (or goals), values and imagination. All of these are things that can be shaped by negative or positive messages written on our hearts. Maybe your family taught you prejudice, not explicitly, but implicitly. Maybe you learned to value things that are ungodly. Maybe you think things about others that are ungodly. Who knows? But my point is that our families can write all kinds of messages on our hearts that Jesus would have us bring to him in order for him to either rewrite, or reshape or completely eliminate in our new life in Jesus.
As you may recall from last week, we talked about the fact that some of us have internalized messages about strong emotions. Many Christians think that strong feelings like anger, grief or fear are sinful. These are messages usually learned from our family. Or, many of us live for things other than Jesus. We think our value comes from what we do, or what we possess or what others think of us. These are complex messages, to be sure, but they are written on our hearts from our youth. Our family of origin has a strong influence on these things that Jesus would have us change in our discipleship journey, in our obedience to him and our walk with him to become like him.
Bearing this in mind, let’s turn to our text today from Luke 14:25-27. Take note that Jesus is speaking to the large crowd following him, not just the disciples.
What It Says
This is a challenging text! We must remember that in that culture, family was incredibly important. In most cultures outside the West, family is a high priority. To honour your parents is of utmost importance. To bring shame on the family is terrible. Well, in Ancient Israel it was no different!
So when Jesus says that to be his disciple we must “hate” our father, mother, brothers, sisters, etc. What does he mean? What is he saying?!? Doesn’t the OT say we are to honour our father and mother? Yes, of course it does! So what does Jesus mean?
Jesus is using a hyperbole, an extreme statement overstating the case in order to make a point. What Jesus is calling for is radical obedience and loyalty to him. In comparison to our loyalty to Jesus, our loyalty to family should look like hate. Jesus is calling for a radical allegiance to him that surpasses all other loyalties, to family, friends, work, government, race, everything! And remember, for most Christians throughout history, following Jesus has meant facing persecution. We have it easy. But most Christians have not. So when Jesus says that we are to give him our allegiance, it is precisely because he knows we will face trials, tribulation and potentially even persecution. When trials come, families divide. Disciples must choose Jesus.
In Jesus’ day, loyalty to family was the highest loyalty, so Jesus chose to use it as his example for radical loyalty to him. To follow Jesus, our loyalty to him needs to make our loyalty to all other important things look like
hate. Jesus is saying that to be his disciple, our loyalty to him needs to be greater than our loyalty to everything else. It needs to be greater than our loyalty to our parents, to our families, to our spouses and our children. It needs to be greater than our loyalty to our families’ preferences and desires for us. It needs to be greater than our loyalty to success, to “making it,” to comfort and pleasure. It means being more loyal to Jesus than to our own goals and preferences. More loyal to Jesus than to power, position and privilege. Because at any time, Jesus may ask us to surrender these things to him, to risk these things for him, to choose him over these things.
Now, if we step back and look at this radical call to allegiance to Jesus, we can quickly see that there is a whole range of areas of life that this applies. It should shape how we think, how we vote, how we spend our money, who we marry, how we treat whom we marry, how we raise our children, how we treat our neighbours and everything in between.
Today, though, we are going to take this big principle and bring it down to one specific application: loyalty to family systems, beliefs and messages. If our family believes success means being a doctor or a lawyer, but we want to be loyal to Jesus, that potentially means rejecting our family’s meaning of success. It means breaking our family’s “commandment” to succeed in these ways.
For some people, choosing to be a disciple of Jesus causes a real, explicit rift with family. Nabeel Qureshi was a devout Muslim raised in the West. In university, he began debating with a Christian. After a number of years of investigation into both Islam and Christianity, Nabeel became a Christian. This caused a huge rift between him and his devout Muslim family! Nabeel went on to become an evangelist, writing the book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Sadly, he died of stomach cancer last year, but before his death he was reunited with his parents. I don’t know yet if his family has come to Christ. But Nabeel answered Jesus’ call to radical allegiance and it was costly for him.
Most of us are not coming from Muslim families. But Jesus’ radical call to loyalty may still cause tension, rifts or division with our family. Loyalty to Jesus means bringing all of the messages our family has written on our heart to Jesus and subjecting those messages to his scrutiny. Some of those messages are good and Jesus will approve. Some of those messages are not good and Jesus will say he needs to take priority over them to redirect them. Some of those messages, the particularly painful messages, are downright lies of the devil. Jesus wants us to surrender these messages to him and work with him, through the Spirit, to sandblast these messages off our heart so he can write his truth on them. No matter what, though, it means examining our families in light of Jesus. And that can be a scary thing to do! It can feel like we are dredging up the past, opening old wounds, being disloyal to our parents and many more things. But Jesus would bring us new life and that means surrendering to him, even when it’s scary and painful.
In Scripture, we see that the sins of the father are visited on the children to the third and fourth generation. God explicitly says that the consequences of the father’s sin are carried over to generations (Ex 20:5). [Victor P. Hamilton, Exodus, p. 333] By contrast, God blesses the children of the faithful to the thousandth generation! (Ex 20:6) But we must recognize that the impact of sin and brokenness is felt for generations, even in the families of the faithful.
Abraham, the great patriarch, and his children are an example of this playing out. Abraham had 2 sons through 2 different women. His wife Sarah gave birth to Isaac, but before that, Abraham had Ishmael through Sarah’s handmaid, Hagar. Abraham doted on Ishmael, and when Isaac was born Ishmael picked on Isaac. Sarah became jealous and told Abraham to send Ishmael and Hagar away, severing the family relationship. Isaac, when he was a grown man, had 2 sons with Rebeka, Esau and Jacob. Isaac showed favouritism to Esau and Rebekah showed favouritism to Jacob. This lead to jealousy and dishonestly, ultimately resulting in Jacob fleeing the family, causing a rift in the family for years.
Jacob married both Leah and Rachel. He had children through both of them as well as through their handmaids (where did they get that idea?). Why? Because he showed favouritism to Rachel and Leah became jealous. When Lead had children first, Rachel became jealous. They both used their handmaids to foster more children which furthered the jealousy.
Jacob also showed favouritism with his children. Joseph was Jacob’s favourite because Joseph was the son of Rachel, Jacob’s favourite wife. This lead to jealousy amongst his children. The other sons sold Joseph as a
slave and he spent decades in Egypt, cut off from his family!
Jealousy, favouritism, family cut offs, not to mention deceit and lies, ran through this family for generations. It began with Abraham, a man of faith, the faithful one God promised to make into a great nation. Joseph, the great grandson of Abraham, was also a man of faith, remaining true to God even through slavery and imprisonment in Egypt. Yet, in spite of this faith that ran through generations, there was still sin and brokenness that ran through the generations too. If it can happen to the great families of faith in the Bible, it can happen to our “good Christian” families too.
What To Do
So how do we break the cycle? How to we bring our family systems into the light of Jesus? The first thing to do is to stop and consider what your family has taught you, both good and bad. Examine yourself, examine your heart and the messages written there. What are the explicit messages you family taught you? Where there “family commandments” like “you must succeed,” or “you can’t make mistakes,” or “it’s ok to explode in anger, if you’re angry your words don’t count,” or conversely, “you must never get mad because you may say something you can’t unsay.” What did your family teach you explicitly?
Second, examine the implicit messages your family wrote on your heart. Maybe it was a message like, “if you screw up, you will be cut off from the family.” Few families would deliberately teach that, but they teach it through actions. Or maybe another message is “we love you when you succeed, but not when you fail.” Or “Daddy drinks because you’re not good enough.” I don’t know what implicit messages have been written on your heart. But God does. And he would like to change those messages if you let him.
Ask God to reveal the messages on your heart that he would like to change. You need to ask God because it’s very difficult to change what you don’t acknowledge. Denying a problem doesn’t make it go away. In fact, denying a problem often means you give it free reign to cause havoc in your life! Denying a tumour doesn’t make it go away. Even if you’re not excited about finding out what the tumour is, it’s better to know it’s there and get it treated than to ignore it. The same is true with spiritual tumours, or emotional tumours. Diagnosis may be scary. Treatment may be painful. But it’s better to get it treated than ignore it.
That’s how Jesus sandblasts the lies off the tablet of our heart. That’s how he writes his truth in their place. That is part of being given a new name, a new heart, a new character.
Subjecting ourselves to the spiritual scalpel of the Holy Spirit is part of radical loyalty to Jesus. It’s part of being a disciple, even when it’s scary. Jesus not only calls us to follow him, he calls us to be changed for him. Now only does Jesus call us to follow him, he equips us to follow him too. That is part of discipleship. It is part of being transformed, reborn from above. It is the pathway to new life in Christ Jesus. Remember, the blessings of loving the Father are visited to the thousandth generation. Amen.
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