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About this series
Overcoming the Pain of Your Past
Pain. It is part of the human experience, and one of the things that helps us grow to maturity. But for some of us the pain we have experienced feels crippling. Broken promises, dysfunctional families, damaged relationships and rejection keep us from experiencing the abundant life Jesus promised. Sometimes it's a challenge just to get through the day, let alone to extend love and strength to those around us. The Bible, however, offers great hope for pressing on. From the book of Ephesians, learn who you really are and why the pain of your past doesn't have to obscure God's plan for your future.More from this series
I’m going to share some stories about where we’ve been and the transformation in our lives. I can tell you I had never opened the Bible until I was eighteen years old.
And when I began to deal with, and my wife and I began to deal with, the lies that we believed about my performance is who I am, or you have to look a certain way… One, is in this life I don’t think you ever fully get over it - but when you renew your mind with God’s Word, and you begin to see yourself the way God sees you, and you first think it, and then you believe it, and then you feel it, amazing things happen. Transformation occurs.
A lot of the pull, a lot of the temptation, a lot of the addiction, a lot of the stuff that you deal with all of a sudden it loses its hold because you break it. “You’ll know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
So, here’s the truth we want to talk about. Where do you get an accurate view of yourself? The first six verses of Ephesians give us an amazingly accurate view of ourselves.
This was a circular letter. He’s writing to the church and if you’re familiar with the book he takes chapters 1, 2, and 3 to say, “This is who you are. This is the work of Christ. When Christ died in your place for your sin, and rose from the dead, and the moment that you trusted in Christ you’re united with Him,” the apostle Paul would say, “You died with Him, you were resurrected with Him,” and Ephesians will say, you are actually seated with Him in the heavenly places.
There is this bond, whatever is true of Him is now true of you. And so he’s going to say in the first three chapters, “This is true of you.” These are not verses about ought, or should, or try. He’s saying, “This is true of you.” Chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3, chapter 4: “Therefore, I urge you, my brothers, in view of this, walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.”
The word, we get our word “axis.” That word “worthy” is “axis.” He’s saying, “Here’s three chapters of truth. All of this is true of you. Now, the Christian life is not trying hard to be a good person. The Christian life is, by faith, in community, through God’s Word believing and trusting that what He said is true, so let your behavior and your beliefs start telling the same story.”
And then when he opens up chapter 4 He says, “Well it starts with attitudes. It starts with humility, it happens in community, it’s rooted in the cross, the role of the church, renewing your mind.” And then he goes through and says, “Let me show you what this looks like,” right?
In a world with, you’re bombarded, early of chapter 5 he talks about how to be sexually pure, then how to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and then what it looks like when you’re living out this new truth in a marriage relationship, and then as parents, and then in work, and then in a context of spiritual warfare. And that’s the whole book.
But he’s going to start by telling you who you really are. This is the mirror he wants you to hear. “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, by the will of God to the saints,” just that word means those that are set apart, believers, “who are at Ephesus who are faithful in Christ Jesus,” and we skip over this but listen, “grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
It’s the, yes, it’s an introduction, yes, it’s a preamble. But the very first words out of his mouth are, “Grace to you.” Grace. What you don’t deserve, acceptance, love, concern. Grace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. And peace!
And this word is, it’s the shalom of God. It isn’t just peace like the absence of conflict, it’s not just an emotional peace. This is the well-being, the wholeness of God. He says, “God’s unmerited, the One who spoke and billions of galaxies came into existence, and out of His mouth spoke life and truth, out of His mouth comes to you grace, blessing, and love and acceptance, and the shalom and the wholeness and the peace of God.”
And then the thesis of this entire first chapter is in verse 3. He said, “Blessed be,” it’s a prayer, “blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And it’s, think, “Blessed, thank you, wow!” And then he says why, “Who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”
And then what he’s going to do actually the next thirteen, fourteen verses the apostle Paul goes nuts. It’s one long sentence. And he just starts talking about, “Oh Father, I want to bless You for all the spiritual blessings that we already possess,” and then it’s like a machine gun going off. Bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, you know, “You did this, You did this, You did this, You did this, You did this.” And we’re going to walk all the way through it.
And you’re going to see who you are. You are not who your mother said you were, you are not who the media says you were, you’re not even who your conscience says you are. You are not what the workplace says you are, you aren’t what people, or Forbes, or Seventeen, or reality shows say you are. You’re not what your pastor says you are, you’re not what your kids think you are, you’re not what your best friends think you are.
You are, if you’re in Christ, you are who God says you are. And you get that it’ll change every one of those relationships.
Because if you don’t you will spend your life trying to please, approve, dodge, denial, and compensate because all those people I just named, they all have a different mirror of you, don’t they?
They all have different expectations of you, don’t they? And you want them all to like you, don’t you? Have you come to the realization, it’s impossible! Isn’t it? You can’t, well, so how about this? What if you understood who God says you are and you lived out of God and His identity and then your only job would be just to be you.
Here’s what’s weird. If, in fact, your DNA, and we all learned this from CSI, if it really is unique and God gave it only to you, I think we could go on record by mere logical deduction that the most attractive thing that you could ever be would be just you. That looks like you. Not like her. And not like him.
That how you process information, that what your gifts are, and in His sovereignty, since we know He works all things together for the good, even in a fallen world, that who you are and where you’re at right now the real you showing up would be the absolute most freeing and attractive person to your friends, your kids, your mate, your pastor, your boss, and your neighbors.
And a lot of us, we don’t have a clue of who we are. We really don’t. And that’s why later in this same chapter he will say, “Let love be,” NIV says, “sincere.” New American Standard says, “Let love be without hypocrisy.” And the Greek word there is, literally it’s, “Let love be without a mask. Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good.”
See, you never have real community, you never have intimacy, you never get tight with people, until the real you shows up. And at some level we all do this. We project, right? We have these little holograms that we, you know, “I’m a little kinder, I’m a little nicer, I’m a little more holy.” I mean I want you all to think that, okay? Even as I’m talking about that I still want you all to think that. In my flesh.
But the more you can reduce the distance of who you are trying to project yourself to be, and that being who you really are, well that, when someone gets to know the real you and they really accept the real you is it awesome? You know what that is? That’s called love.
Because, see, they’re not loving you for what you do. They’re not loving you for who you know. They’re not loving you for what you have. And they’re not loving you for what you look like. They’re loving you.
So he says, “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love, giving preference to one another in honor, not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.”
There is this amazing thing that God wants for us in community. But if I go into that with this warped self-image, I will just manipulate and work all those things in my Christian small group to get people to accept me. And even when they do, here’s the sad part, what you know down deep is, “Oh, they like you but, you know, it ain’t you.”
Is that sick, or what? I’ve now figured out how to get these Christians in my small group, my church to like this person I’m pretending to be. And you know what? In those really quiet moments when you finally move away from the refrigerator and put down the remote and you’re just with you it’s a lonely, scary place.
Because what you realize is all those people in your small group, they don’t really know you and they don’t really love you. Of course, you haven’t let them. So this is the journey where we’re going to talk about how God thinks about you, and then we’re going to start a journey of the hard work of getting that from an intellectual stage into your heart, into your life.
And you’ll have breakthroughs but the difference will be in the next six to nine months, or a year, or two, or three will be you literally saying, “Whatever it takes for me to not believe the lies, and to renew my mind with the truth, I’m going to do that,” and when you do that I will tell you what. You’ll discover who you are and a different person will show up at that small group. And you’ll sit with friends or even with your mate and you’ll experience acceptance because the real you is showing up.
And he says, “So what are these spiritual blessings?” He gives three. “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundations of the world that we should be holy and blameless before Him,” number one. Circle the words, “He chose us.” So, that’s a spiritual blessing.
Second, “In love, He predestined us to adoption as sons, through Jesus Christ Himself according to the kind intention of His will,” or, “for His good pleasure.”
And third, it’s a purpose clause, “…to the praise,” or, “for the purpose of praising the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the beloved,” speaking of Christ.
And so there are three very clear things he’s saying and here’s something that’s maybe a little new moment for you is these verses actually were not put in Scripture for people to argue about. This comes as a shock.
So, I want you to circle, “He chose us,” and then I want you to circle, “He predestines us.” And the word “chose” here, it means, “to pick out,” it means, “to elect.” It’s like in the Old Testament God says, “I chose Israel.”
Well, He chose Israel not because He didn’t care about the other nations. He chose Israel to make them an example so all could hear and all would respond. But notice He chose us, before the foundations of the earth. That we would be holy, that we would be set apart. He chose us for Himself.
So often, you know, we’ll get to the issues that are controversial and I’m going to touch on but for those of you and maybe this is more boys than girls, I don’t know. But if you have ever been in a gym class, or a neighborhood and they’re choosing sides, and if you were real athletic, good for you.
Or if you were bigger than most of us, I always ended up playing with guys three, four, five years older and so, they’re choosing up teams, it’s out in the front yard, you know, three driveways, first down here, you know? And I just so wanted to get to play and the two captains get out there and they start what? Choosing.
And the big, fast, strong guys, “I want you, I want you, I want you.” Have you ever been where it gets down to two people? And you’re just thinking, “I sure hope I get chosen.” And then they don’t. “Ah, you’re too small, you’re too young, go sit down on the curb.”
You know a lot of you, a lot of us have spent our life feeling like that’s what we’ve received. You know the real meaning of this text? The real meaning of this text is not, “Well, is God completely sovereign or do we have a free will?” Answer is yes, both.
Here, you know why this is written? This is written so you would know that when all people are lined up for the game of life God wants you to know, “I chose you. I want you. I want you. I care about you. I died for you. I want to have a relationship with you. I want to hold you, I want to hug you, I want to heal you, I want to love you. I chose you, and I chose you for a purpose that you would reveal my glory so that you would be holy, you’d be set apart, you’d be pure, you’d be blameless.”
The word is used of sacrifices in the Old Testament that had to be without defect. He chose you for Himself because He has a purpose for your life but God chose you. You are wanted.
You may have had parents that haven’t wanted you, you may have had a mate who walked out on you, you may have kids who have rejected you, you may have had people in church that have talked about you, you may have had all kind of experience of rejection.
But here’s what God says, “You can live with those warped, little mirror-y messages forever and let them define you or you can start saying, ‘I’m wanted! I’m wanted by the person who created everything, who knows everything, and He wants me because He chose me.’”
The second thing he says is the word “predestined” just means He preordered, He foreknew. It literally has the idea of understanding clearly. He predestined or prearranged, knowing… that He wanted to adopt you.
There are two words in the New Testament for, one is for a child that is young and one is for a son. And he says, “He predestined to adopt you as His son or His daughter.” How? “Through Christ.” Why? His pleasure.
The Roman law… this meant a lot - if you read this as a new Christian in Ephesus you’re going, literally, “Are you kidding me?” Because, see, in Roman law if you were adopted, not as a child but as a son, then you actually became a part of that person’s family and there was a real rigorous process they went through.
It was like your old life disappeared. Even any debts that you had were gone and forgiven because that person didn’t exist anymore. And you would come as a son into this family, or a daughter into this family, and now everything they had, you had.
And that’s what he’s saying about you. You’re not only wanted, you’re accepted. You’re a daughter, you’re a son. Everything that’s available to Jesus is available to you.
The way Jesus talked to people, the way He loved people, the way He accepted people and whether you’re the religious person who didn’t get it like Nicodemus, or whether you’re the person that’s been through all the pains and the five husbands like the woman at the well, Jesus says, “I adopted you into My family the moment you put your faith in Christ and I’m going to do for you what I did for her.
“You’re accepted. I don’t look at your past, I don’t look at what you’ve been through, I look at you through the shed blood of the forgiveness and the redemption. You matter to Me. I don’t care who has rejected you ever. I accept you. I don’t accept you if, I don’t accept you because, I don’t accept you because how you look, I don’t accept you because of what you’ve done. I don’t care how many businesses you’ve started, I don’t care if you won a beauty contest, I accept the real you. Before the foundations of the earth, before you did anything, I wanted you, and I adopted you to be in My family, and I purposed that you would have significance because your joy would be to, by your life and your words, to declare who I really am, what’s it like to be loved, the praises of the glory of God.” That’s who you are.
Now, if you’ve never put your faith in Christ this is not true of you. But just, I just want you to notice what it says, “Blessed be the God of the Father who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, in Christ.” So you have to be in Christ.
The moment a person understands that you’ve sinned and have violated the truth of God’s holy character and you turn from your sin, the Bible calls that repentance, and in the empty hands of faith trust and believe that when Jesus died upon the cross He died for you, in your place.
And when He rose from the dead He proved that it was true and there are new life and resurrection and opportunity and you can receive that as a gift.
And literally, the Scripture says you’re taken out of the kingdom of darkness and your placed in the kingdom of light. And then, actually, the Spirit of God enters your body, you’re sealed with the Holy Spirit, He deposits spiritual gifts, you’re adopted into His family, you have an inheritance, you have assurance of heaven, He lives inside of you, and He’s going to live out His life through you.
And so if you’re in Christ He says, “I want you because I chose you. If you’re in Christ, I accept you. And if you’re in Christ you are significant because I have a plan for you.”
I want to give you some real practical ways about moving this truth from ideas to reality. As I do if you are in Christ, this is what God’s mirror says about you: You are, write the word, “wanted.” Chosen. Every minute, of every day, by One who knows every aspect of your life – past, present, and future.
Now, what I know is getting that from here to here is the real test. You are wanted. Could I ask you before we go on, where do you feel unwanted? Who makes you feel unwanted? What situations or environments make you feel unwanted? What people in your past have wounded you and made you feel like you weren’t worthy of being wanted?
See, those are deeply planted in your psyche and in your soul, and you unconsciously respond to those trying to get people to want you. And it’s frustrating. And it doesn’t work. Or if it does work it’s almost worse because then they like this person you’re pretending to be.
But every single minute, of every day, when the thought comes to you that, “I’m unworthy,” or, “I’m not wanted,” you could begin to say, “Jesus wants me. God wants me.
His thoughts are more important than anyone’s thoughts. And He knows everything about me. He knows what I did in high school, He knows what I did on that business trip, He knows attitudes I’ve had, He knows bitterness I’ve had, He knows the secret aspects and in, He wants me. He wants me. He chose me.”
Because He didn’t choose me because about something in me, He chose me because of something in Him. He loves me and He chooses whosoever would believe.
Second, you’re accepted because you’re adopted eternally into God’s family with all the rights and privileges and blessings given to His children.
And so I would just ask you, who makes you feel unaccepted? What situations make you feel rejected? What family relationships, or in-laws, or traumatic experiences have seared your soul with, “You’re not accepted, you’re not worthy, you’re not lovable.” The truth is everyone in this room, you’ve had them. Some a lot more than others.
I have a friend, he’s one of my mentors. His name is Bill, He was a professor at the seminary where I went to school and later does leadership around the world for organizations and he is one of the most godly men I’ve ever known. He has said things to me that were very painful and very loving. He’s coached my wife and I through a number of ups and downs over the years. And his name is Bill.
And when Bill was a little boy, he was born and I don’t know all the story about his birth mother but he got bounced around to different foster homes, you know, as a cute, little baby until he was about four or five years old.
And then foster homes didn’t want him so they put him in an orphanage. And he was in an orphanage until he was about eight.
And then one day, a couple walked in that orphanage and he had been through this drill before. Looking, looking, hoping, hoping, looking, looking, hoping, hoping. And someone else always gets chosen.
But on this day, this couple chose Bill. And he tells the story of going home and, you know, in an orphanage you shared everything and you can only have food at certain times, and you lived in a dorm room and, let’s face it, it’s an orphanage.
And he said, “I went to this couple’s home and I got their last name and it was official, they showed me and I was old enough to understand it. And there was this bedroom, like, one whole room just for me. And they opened the closet, there were toys in it.”
And he said, “You know my new mom, she didn’t feel like a mom and my new dad, he didn’t feel like a dad but he said they were, and it was legal, and I now had their last name and they showed me and, you know, they opened up the refrigerator, my eyes got to be this big and…”
He said, “The first night I laid on the floor because I didn’t think I… that was too nice of a bed for someone like me. And I didn’t feel like, they said they were my toys but I just couldn’t bring myself to play with those toys because usually there were two or three toys for everyone, and I would go to the refrigerator and I would take stuff and I would hide it in my pockets and take it to my room because that’s what you did at the orphanage.”
And what he said was - it’s a powerful, powerful story - and he talks about a breakthrough. He later became a pastor and he will talk about his broken world experience as a pastor, of trying to keep everything in control. He got his Th.D., he was the top of his class, he was a performance oriented, off the chart workaholic from those early warped self-images trying to prove he’s a someone, until he learned that it’s in brokenness there is healing.
And he said it took years as a little boy to accept what was true. “They are my mom and dad. I can go to the refrigerator anytime I want, and I can open it and I can get just enough for right now, and I don’t have to hoard anything. And that bed, I can sleep on because it’s for me because they love me.”
He said, “All of that was true but I had been trained for the first eight years of my life to believe that I was unwanted, not acceptable, unlovely, and unworthy.” And it transferred into most of his adulthood until he hit a wall, until his performance just got him to the point where he about broke.
Or for some of you - there are two extreme groups in this room and I don’t say this like I have some prophetic gift. It’s just life - I would say, there are some of you that have been super successful, and you got to the end of the big rainbow and you have the house, and you got the money, you’ve been successful, you’ve done this, you’ve done that, you got the extra house, this, your kids got in good schools. And there is just something desperately empty when you’re very quiet and very alone. It didn’t deliver, even as a Christian.
And there are other people here that you’ve been sexually abused, you’ve been through horrendous things, you’ve been through a marriage or two, you’ve had an abortion or two, and your life has just hit the skids in most painful ways and you’re trying to hold it together.
And out of those two groups what I will tell you is, these people find it’s empty and they realize that in brokenness there is healing, and these people get broken not because they choose it but because it just happens. And because they don’t have any other choice they come, because there is nowhere else to go. And what they learn, that in brokenness there is healing.
And God just takes regular people like us and says, “Come unto Me all you that labor and are heavy laden, I’ll give you rest.”
And so Bill’s life was learning to believe and renew his mind but God loved him. But he was worthy. Not by his performance, not by his A’s, not by the churches he could grow. That he was wanted, that he was accepted.
The final thing we learn here is significance, and since you’re called to reflect His eternal holy and blamelessness in a fallen world and declare and speak well of the grace freely available to all in Jesus, you are significant. You matter.
My wife and I understood these, we were two years, three years out of seminary, we were, had a first church run and I, my workaholism kicked in and she didn’t want to tell anybody about where she’d been and the struggle, and so she kept her past and her hurts over here, and I just figured out how you could work eighty or ninety hours and some people had mega churches, this was a mini church.
We had thirty-five people in this little church in rural Texas. Thirty-four were related I learned about a year later.
And I worked incredible hours, hit the wall, had to go to the hospital once in my workaholism, had to face some really painful things about what I needed to address in my life, and that little church finally grew to about five hundred people, and then God called us to the opposite end of the country in California.
And my friend Bill walked my wife and I through a journey - the seminary where I went to has a leadership evaluation and development. And this man told my wife, “You need to share your story, you need to embrace the fact that you’ve been divorced and abandoned, you need to embrace the fact that you have two, little boys. Chip, you need to be proud and embrace the fact that you got to adopt them. You are trophies of God’s grace and your hurts, and your wounds, and your family backgrounds, and their alcoholism, God has redeemed and He wants to put you on the mantle of grace to tell people there are hope when they have hurts.”
And so, when we went to that next church, my wife said, “I’d like to share my testimony the first night.” And she did. And fifty, literally, fifty women lined up to talk with my wife. And three or four people lined up to talk to me, the new pastor.
But it was a beautiful thing. Because what happened was, they understood there are hope for someone like them.
Now, what I will tell you is for two or three years, I don’t want to exaggerate so I’ll say two years, my wife realized all these things we’re talking about were lies and there was a little book by William Backus called Telling Yourself the Truth.
And then in our counseling, we learned multiple lies that we believed, and so she would write down all the lies that she believed on a card, and at the bottom write the word, “stop.” And then flip it over, and we had a verse, and so before I went to work for two years we would sit on the couch together and she would read it out loud, say, “Stop,” flip it over and read the truth.
And she renewed her mind. “I am worthy. I am worthy outside of my physical appearance. I am accepted and loved, I’m beloved in Christ.” And, you know, every aspect, and she read over those cards.
And I was being the good husband because I thought, you know, “My wife has these deep issues and I need to help her.” But I was reading over the cards with her to help her. And what I realized was, I just had more acceptable dysfunctional sins that produced this driven, workaholic pastor who got rewarded for trying to gain people’s love and approval for what I did.
And it was in that journey of renewing my mind, I mean, every morning. But by the grace of God I got free. And I got where I could say, “You know, it’s okay to be insecure. It’s okay if everyone doesn’t like me. God does. It’s okay if I don’t please everyone. You know what? I’m going to be honest. I want to. But it’s okay if they don’t.”
I don’t have to measure my performance by how big the church is or how small it is or whether I do this or whether I do that. I don’t have to cow down to powerful people. You know what? Beneath all that stuff that they’re showing, they got struggles just like me. I need to love them.
And I want to tell you that you can go on a journey and say, “God, I want to declare war on my warped self-image and I want to begin to renew my mind and believe that I am wanted, accepted, and significant in Jesus Christ.”