Sunday’s sermon was delivered by a guest speaker (a prof from Wheaton). Below I recap the message. The theme verse:
…perfect love casts out fear… I John 4:18.
He started off by saying that some people believe pride is at the top of the pyramid apex of sin. The prof wasn’t so sure that it was at the top. But, let’s suppose pride is the apex of the pyramid. If so, then there are other things preceding the pride on that pyramid, such as fear or insecurity.
Imperfect love brings anxiety along with it. Let’s not define ourselves by the love of others. We can’t be loved, or love others, perfectly. The younger we were when imperfection (dysfunction, abuse, pain etc.) entered our lives, the more likely we are to define ourselves by that experience(s).
So what’s at the base of the pyramid? An unwillingness to accept God’s love. That is the root. As we grow, we develop anesthetizing behaviors to control our circumstances.
And, why do we keep going over and over the same things? Why haven’t we gotten over whatever it is we need to overcome? Because, he says, “our wounds are deeper than our convictions.” I have to repeat, just as he did: “Because, our wounds are deeper than our convictions!”
So, how can we get over these wounds? To illustrate how, the prof then told a true story about a boy. This boy grew up in a dysfunctional home. It was an abusive household, physically, verbally… and this boy often found himself taking the brunt of the abuse. Finally, when he was around 17 or so, he was kicked out of his house. He got a job, and tried to do the best he could on his own. He worked hard, on his own, and finally, in the position he was in, rose up to about a high as level as he could in his circumstances. But just when he got to that point, he was then named as the defendant in a sexual harassment suit. Now, the professor believed the boy (now a young man) was innocent. And truly, he was innocent– it was a trumped up charge. Yet, the judge in the case wasn’t convinced, and the boy was sentenced to prison, for 7 years, I believe it was. How unfortunate! He had every reason to be consumed by his circumstances, every reason to be bitter. Could this man ever reach the point of forgiveness? Could he love his parents, his family, forgive his accuser, and move on? Would he be defined by his circumstances?
Well, you know this story. And the person. This is the story of Joseph.
How did Joseph move on? How did he get over and forgive? Well, Joseph named his first child Manasseh, which means “I forgot”, because
…God has made me forget all my toil and all my father’s house. Genesis 41: 51
Joseph named his second child Ephraim, which means “fruitful”, because
…God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.
Genesis 41: 52
Joseph reached a point where he forgot and forgave. It’s a process, like grief. How? Because Joseph didn’t define himself by others’ love and treatment of him– he defined himself by God’s love for him.
How can we get to that point? Well, the prof said again that it’s a process. He said there are 3 rooms, in general, we pass through to move from the stage of being defined by other things to the point of us letting God’s love define who we are.
Room 1: The Goodwill Hunting Room. This is from a movie… there is a point in the movie when the main character realizes “it wasn’t his fault”. He reaches a pivotal point where his eyes are opened to the fact that the abuse in his past doesn’t have to define who he is and he can use his gifts. (I haven’t seen this movie, but I’d like to, in order to see that scene and understand the story).
Room 2: The Dark Room: It’s the dark room because you’re passing on your hurts. Luke 6:40 says
A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher.
“Pain not transformed is transferred”, he said. If we don’t deal with the stuff we need to deal with, we’re passing it on for someone else to deal with. If you have kids, guess what… your disciples, kids, whoever you teach… will be just like you. Ouch.
Room 3: Wounded-Healer Room. He mentioned the name of a book called The Wounded Healer (I didn’t catch the name of the author). Every endeavor takes us to some level of awkwardness. But we’re moving forward.
This sermon is like a 12 week therapy session, as our pastor alluded to also when it was over. The foundation of it all is accepting and believing that God loves us, and in defining ourselves by that love— not by any other standard, or experience, or circumstance, or recognition, or career, or abuse, or fame, or worldly status, or by those who love us or hate us… essentially by nothing else– save the love of God.
Well, that was the sermon. A truly refreshing message.
I’m wishing now I could sit in on a few classes at Wheaton.
To be defined by God… that truly is the only secure place to be. Any other place, or self-definition, is fertile ground for insecurity and another brick in the apex of sins. We may become fearful of losing our position, status, etc., and — another brick is set in place. We may then try to control our circumstances, utilizing destructive or anesthetizing behaviors– and our pyramid gets a little bigger. Maybe we even think we don’t need God, that we’ve got it under control.
So then, is pride the apex? That is debatable. But perhaps instead of discussing what’s at the top, we should take a look at what’s at the bottom instead. What defines us? If the base of the pyramid is the foundation of the structure, what are the layers made of?
For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8: 38-39
Aren’t our circumstances “created”, in other words, temporal situations that won’t exist in the eternal? Yes, they’re real, they hurt, but after all, what is really real? Isn’t heaven the real place, and earth something like a shadow? Earth is the temporary created place, not heaven.
…For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. James 4:14
Aren’t the heights we experience absolutely incomparable to the joy we’ll have in the presence of God? Aren’t the lowest depths of our lives the times we draw more closely to Him? Even the spiritual beings have no power to change God’s love for us. Nothing happening to us now, or anything that could happen in the future will stand in the way of God loving us. Intellectually when we read those verses and really think about them, we ought not to feel any more insecurity. However, there is sometimes a–delay/mental clog/sin– from when we hear and read the message to understanding and believing it in our hearts. We’ve got to move through the rooms and get to the right place.
I can identify with misplaced self-definitions…boy, can I. I struggled with that over varying times. The definitions placed on me– or how I defined myself– I’ve had to work through all that. I’m still not… quite…at the point where nothing matters save the love of God defining me.
One thing I’m trying hard to reconcile right now… is how I use my gifts when my circumstances or time don’t allow me to use them completely or fully to the things I believe I’ve been called to. It’s a tough place to be. Those callings and dreams have defined me. I was going to be “such and such”, and I was going “to do such and such”. It is so much a part of me… it has been like going through a death, a grieving process, to not have it realized. Yet. I say “yet” because if I simply give up and give in as if it was nothing, I feel like I’m losing too much. Those dreams and callings keep me going. Those hopes keep me pressing forward. There is a part of me that simply will not and cannot ignore or deny what God spoke to me and what He said I’d do or be. So– I’m called upon to have faith, that if that’s what God called me to do– that’s what He’ll do. The challenge is not to let it define who I am… but still have faith that He is going to take care of it all, and I’ll be completely taken care of, in His plan. I don’t know how– it looks utterly impossible and hopeless when I look at it, from human and earthly terms. I have to have faith to see what my human eyes cannot see.
For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world– our faith.” I John 5:4
If we are born of God, we aren’t on the losing side.
Dear God, thank you for that message today! I know it was a healing message for so many who heard it today. Lord, search me and know me, and what defines me…. Bring me to the point where my convictions are– and will be– deeper than any wounds from the past, present or future, and to the point where You define me. Amen.