You would never know it by talking to us, but we’ve got a problem and the problem is us. Everyone has problems. Everyone struggles with problems. The difference between the point I am trying to make and the description of “problems” as most people would describe them is this: Most people see their problems caused by a source lying “outside” of them, while I believe that God’s Word teaches that the root of the vast majority of our problems lies within us. Let me give you an example of what I am talking about.
In the opening pages of God’s Word we find that God created Adam and Eve. He placed them in the most beautiful garden that the Lord had created. They had free rein of the garden except for one tree that the Lord told them they could not eat from—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In Genesis 3, the serpent appears on the scene and begins to talk to Eve. He said, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1 NIV) Eve was paying attention when God gave Adam and Eve instructions on what they could and could not do in the garden. I know that because when the serpent quizzed Eve, she responded with precision concerning what God had said. Eve told the serpent.
2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” (Genesis 3:2-3 NIV)
You know the rest of the story. The serpent kept talking and eventually Eve and Adam both ate from the one tree out of the who-knows-how-many-trees that were in the garden, and everything changed in an instant. Take a look at Genesis 3:6-13 with me.
6 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. 7 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. 8 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. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” 10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” 11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” 12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me–she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” 13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:6-13 NIV)
Did you notice how both Adam and Eve, when they were confronted with their “problem” pointed a finger at someone else? Adam blamed Eve. Eve blamed the serpent. Not only did they blame someone else, but they ran and hid from God. Before they ate from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they didn’t hide from God, but after they sinned, they hid…and we’ve been trying to hide ever since.
When we take the reins of our life, refuse to listen and follow God’s counsel and guidance, then our lives become an absolute mess. The messes that we make come in all shapes and forms, but make no mistake about it—we have a Ph.D. in making messes of our lives. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there is hope, there is help, and God is more than able, He is more than willing to forgive us, cleanse us, heal us, and set us on a new course in life. We are going to be talking about this over the next several weeks.
We are going to take a break from our study of Ephesians for the next several weeks. The reason for our break is that in January we are beginning an exciting, powerful new ministry called, “Celebrate Recovery.” Beginning today I’m asking all of you to join together in a season of prayer for the launch of Celebrate Recovery. Pastor Herman told us last week that things happen following prayer, God moves after prayer, and so I’m asking you to join me in praying daily from now until the end of the year for God to lay the foundation, stir hearts, and draw broken people who are in need of His healing to be part of Celebrate Recovery. Let me give you a little background on the Celebrate Recovery ministry.
Many of you are either involved, have been involved, or have a loved love one who is, has been, or should be involved in Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or some related group. I’ve been to AA and it is a powerful tool to help folks stay clean and sober when folks will work the steps and rely upon their sponsor and peers who are there to help them. Celebrate Recovery is a ministry to folks who have hurts, hang-ups, and habits. There are people who are involved in Celebrate Recovery who struggle with alcoholism and drug addiction, but there are far more people involved who struggle with anger, sexual addiction, food issues, financial issues, codependence issues, and sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. Over 700,000 people have found help through the Christ-centered program of Celebrate Recovery. I’m convinced that many more will be helped during the upcoming year as the ministry of Celebrate Recovery comes to our community.
Celebrate Recovery is rooted in, and based upon, God’s Word. The 8 Principles that guide the participants are used to give us the tools we need to acknowledge that we have a problem and then give us the help we need to experience the lasting hope and healing that only God can provide. Each of the 8 Principles is based on the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5. Let me share the 8 Principles with you.
1. Realize I’m not God. I admit that I am powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing and that my life is unmanageable.
3 “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. (Matthew 5:3 NLT)
2. Earnestly believe that God exists, that I matter to Him, and that He has the power to help me recover.
4 God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4 NLT)
3. Consciously choose to commit all my life and will to Christ’s care and control.
5 God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth. (Matthew 5:5 NLT)
4. Openly examine and confess my faults to myself, to God, and to someone I trust.
8 God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God. (Matthew 5:8 NLT)
5. Voluntarily submit to every change God wants to make in my life and humbly ask Him to remove my character defects.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. (Matthew 5:6 NIV)
6. Evaluate all my relationships. Offer forgiveness to those who have hurt me and make amends for harm I’ve done to others, except when to do so would harm them or others.
7 God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (Matthew 5:7 NLT)
9 God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God. (Matthew 5:9 NLT)
7. Reserve a daily time with God for self-examination, Bible reading, and prayer in order to know God and His will for my life and to gain the power to follow His will.
8. Yield myself to God to be used to bring this Good News to others, both by my example and by my words.
10 God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. (Matthew 5:10 NLT)
These 8 Principles can really be called “8 Choices,” because they are not some magical formula or incantation that are simply recited or memorized with the outcome being the results we are looking for—they are choices that we must make each day of our life.
The very first choice that we must make is to acknowledge that we are not God, that we are powerless to manage our tendency to do the wrong thing in life. Most people balk at the idea that we have this tendency to do wrong. “Wrong” is that which is the opposite of what God desires for us, what God counsels us to do in our daily living of the life that He has given to us.
Most people look at the people we read about in the Bible as some kind of “super saints.” They see them as being different than us, not having to deal with the stuff that we have to deal with in life. Yet, Paul knew full well the truth that you and I both know when we get honest with ourselves. We have an innate tendency to do wrong, to mess up, and to fall short. Paul said,
19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 20 But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. 21 I have discovered this principle of life– that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. (Romans 7:19-25 NLT)
Our problem is us, our sin nature. The remedy to our problem is to face the facts, acknowledge that we have made a mess of our life, relinquish control of our life to Jesus, begin to listen to Him, and follow His counsel concerning how to live.
There is another aspect of our problem that is very important for us to understand. Not only do we have a tendency to do wrong, but we also have a tendency to want to be God, to be in control of our life. This past week we took some kids from our church to hear Chris Herren speak at The Oklahoma Outreach Foundation banquet. Chris was a McDonald’s All-American basketball player coming out of high school. He failed three drug tests at Boston College in his very first semester and was kicked-off the team. Jerry Tarkanian, the Head Coach at Fresno State University, gave him another shot. He knew Chris’ addiction problems so he required Chris to go to AA many times a week during his first year at Fresno. On Tuesday night, Chris said that he spent his first year at Fresno hanging out with 30, 40, and 50 year old men who were trying to stay clean and sober. Chris wasn’t allowed to be a “normal” college student. Chris did what he was told and the result was that he stayed clean for the entire year. During Chris’ second year at Fresno he said that he decided that he didn’t want to hang out with old men, he wanted to be a regular college student. The result was that Chris’ decision landed him in front of television cameras and a national audience as he confessed that he was a cocaine addict. He left the basketball team during the season to go to rehab for 28 days. Chris wouldn’t have described his decision this way, but the truth is that he decided he wanted to be God, he wanted to be the sole authority and have the final say about his life. He didn’t want others telling him what to do. He wanted to call the shots, to chart his own course, to be in control, and what happened? He made a mess of his life.
We want control. What is it that we try to control? Maybe the better question is, “What do we not want to control?” We try to control our own lives. We refuse to listen to others when their advice differs from what we want in life. We try and control our “image.” We don’t really think people will like us if they know the real us, so we decide what we need to do, how we need to act, and what we need to hide so that others will accept us and love us. We work like crazy to maintain the image that we want to project and it gets us in trouble. Chris Herren said the first time he was offered cocaine he didn’t want to do it, but he didn’t want to come off as weak, he had to maintain his “macho man” image. How many of us know exactly what Chris is talking about? We’ve done things that we really didn’t want to do, that we knew we shouldn’t do, but we wanted the acceptance of others more than anything in life.
We not only try and control our own lives–we try and exert our control over others as well. John Baker says,
Parents try and control their kids; kids try and control their parents. Wives try to control husbands; husbands try to control their wives. Coworkers vie for office control. People try to control other people. And along the way we develop a lot of tools to manipulate each other. Everyone has his or her preferred methods: Some use guilt and shame; some use praise and affirmation. Others use anger, fear, or an old favorite—the silent treatment. All in efforts to gain control. (Baker, John. Life’s Healing Choices. pg. 16-17)
We not only try to control our lives by insisting that our choices are the only choices worth considering, by trying to reinvent ourselves as the person we think others will like, but we also try and control others in any number of ways. Where does all of this get us? It makes us a wreck. We become consumed with our life; what we want, what others think, what we will do if we are found out, and the list goes on and on. We become frustrated because no matter how much control we think we have gained over ourselves and others we never find fulfillment and peace in life. Not only do we become frustrated by the lack of peace and fulfillment in our lives, but we become increasingly frustrated with the growing number of hurts, hang ups, and habits that we develop while we are in control of our lives. Simply put, trying to maintain control will wear us out. I know because I’ve been there over and over again throughout my life. I’m not the only one who has felt worn out by trying to be God, by trying to maintain absolute control.
King David refused God’s counsel and did things his own way. One bad decision led to another, which led to another. He had an image to uphold, so, in his mind, he couldn’t come clean, he had to keep covering up what he had done. Then the day came when David confessed his sin, he came clean to God. Listen to what he wrote.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Selah 5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”– and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah (Psalm 32:4-5 NIV)
Could you sense the sigh of relief as David dotted that last sentence. “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD—and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” The relief came when David threw up his hands in surrender, when he confessed his sin to God, when he came clean. As long as David tried to maintain control he continued to make an even bigger mess of his life. He had to deal with what he had done, he had to worry about others finding out, and it wore him out. David said, “My strength was sapped…”
What is the solution to this madness? What is the answer to escaping the downward spiral that we find ourselves on? I’m so glad you have asked. The answer is to come clean. We must admit to God that we’ve made a mess of our life. The Bible puts it this way. “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:23 NIV) “All have sinned.” All have missed the mark. All of us. Not one of us has it all under control. You may say, “Well, I’m not a drug addict like Chris Herren. I may not have it all together, but I’m not that bad either.” My friend, it is interesting how we categorize our messes isn’t it? Being a habitual liar is not good, but it’s not as bad as being a thief is it? Being a thief isn’t good, but it’s not as bad as being an adulterer is it? Being an adulterer isn’t good, but it’s not as bad as being a child abuser is it? Being an alcoholic is bad, but it’s not as bad as being a heroin addict is it? Being financially irresponsible isn’t good, but it’s not as bad as being a swindler is it? Do you see how insane all of this is? We are sick individuals. We are sin-sick individuals and we need help, we need healing. Our comparing the particularities of our sin-sickness and trying to minimize it because of what we see in others as a more serious sin-sickness is like a group of folks sitting in a cancer ward trying to minimize their particular forms of cancer because of the more serious forms of cancer in others. The truth of the matter is that left unchecked, untreated, all of those sitting in that cancer ward are going to die…and so will we.
Secondly, we must admit to God that we are powerless to change without His help. We have tried haven’t we? We have tried again and again, but we’ve failed. We need to confess to God that we just can’t do it. We need help. God will hear you my friend. God already knows that we are powerless to change. We are not the first people to suffer from sin-sickness—it is inherent in the human race. In Jeremiah’s day, God spoke through the prophet and delivered this truth to His people.
23 Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil. (Jeremiah 13:23 NIV)
You see, God already knows the truth about you and me; He’s just waiting on us to acknowledge the truth. What will we do? Will we continue to play like we are in control, refuse to face the truth, and continue to watch our lives become more and more unmanageable? You certainly can. Many do. That isn’t your only option. There is a second choice. You can hear the voice of God speaking to you this morning and agree with the Lord that now is the time, today is the day when you are finally going to face the facts and cry out to God confessing that you’ve made a mess of things and that you need help.
The help has already been provided my friends and His name is Jesus. The truth of the matter is that the reason Jesus came to earth and gave His life was to solve our great problem of sick-sickness. Not only will He forgive you and cleanse you, but He will come to take up residence in your heart and lead you throughout your life. Won’t you invite Him in?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
October 14, 2012