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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
You are, today, in significant measure a result of the rejection of your past. We all experience rejection. The definition of rejection, if you’re just wondering, Webster says, “It’s to throw out as worthless, useless, substandard, to pass over, to skip, to rebuff, especially to deny the acceptance or care or love of someone.”
But, you know what? Even just Webster’s, you read that, isn’t that depressing? I mean, useless, substandard. Now, I’m going to tell you that most of us are sophisticated enough, and our denial levels are so strong that a lot of us have pushed those feelings down so deep, you don’t even realize that some of your behaviors and patterns are rooted in that.
Charles R. Solomon, I like his very quick definition of rejection. “It’s the absence of meaningful love.” When you don’t feel deeply loved.
Now I want to do a little research and I won’t spend too much time on this but I want to evaluate rejection. There are two types: There is overt rejection, in other words, it’s very clear, it really comes at you. And then there is covert rejection. It’s under the water system.
And then I want to talk a little bit about what it produces without getting into a lot of the technical details… this is part of my background in school and graduate school. Because if you get your arms around that, then when we get to the truth, you’ll be a little bit more honest about, “Oh yeah, I do this too.” In the healthiest of “Christian families,” this baggage, it lingers. It doesn’t mean we’re bad, doesn’t mean there is something wrong with us, it’s a fallen world.
But what we tend to do is try and skirt over this, and then power our way through it, and actually deny that we have any of these kind of issues, and then we’re not honest with ourselves and, you know, the Lord is near to the brokenhearted. He saves those who are crushed in spirit. The Lord listens to those who call upon Him, to those who call upon Him in truth.
What God desires, it’s Psalm 51, “Truth in our innermost being.” You’ll know the truth and the truth will set you free. The Father is one who pursues, right? John 4. He’s a pursuer of those who would seek Him in truth and in spirit.
And so getting honest is really painful and really difficult, and usually the only time you get there is unwillfully, when the world crashes in, when the things that you were trusting in – your looks, your success, your family, your kids, your degrees, your money – when those things either don’t satisfy or fall apart, that’s when we start saying, “Oh, God.”
But you don’t have to wait. Overt rejection is just willful, known abuse – verbal, emotional, or physical. Some of you have been there. The covert is unintentional rejection that’s emotionally perceived but not intellectually comprehended.
We reject a lot of people and we have been rejected by people. They didn’t mean it at all. I mean, they weren’t trying to reject us. Let me give you some examples how we do that.
Physical isolation, I’m reading a book, in fact, I just finished, called Unbroken. And it’s the story of a World War II man that was in concentration camp after concentration camp. It’s a powerful, powerful book.
But in it, it talks about the personal isolation that they put prisoners in to, literally, break their spirit, to make them feel unworthy, and the way they treated them in ways to get them where they loathed themselves.
Another kind is an absent parent through war, divorce, death, the overprotection. Some of us, we swing, we experience this, so as a parent we swing either the total opposite direction, “We don’t want to give our kids what we got,” or unconsciously, we do exactly what our parents did to us.
So some people out of these loving, loving feelings they overprotect, overprotect, “Be careful, honey,” and so you do too much for them. You know what you communicate when you do everything for your kid or for someone else? What you’re saying is, “You’re dumb, you’re incapable, you can’t do it so I have to do it for you.” Now, the words they hear are, “I love you, I love you, I love you, I take care of you.” The emotions they feel are, “I don’t measure up.” Now, spoiling is just a synonym for rejection. When you make all the decisions for people, when you give them everything basically you’re unconsciously saying, “You’re helpless, you’re inept, you have no self-worth. I have to bribe you to do everything. You always have to get your way all the time.” It creates people with no self-respect, and no discipline, and no self-worth.
Smothering suffocates people. Have you ever had a friend where you got to know him a little bit, or maybe in the earlier days you had a boyfriend or a girlfriend, or you started dating someone, and pretty soon it was, seemed like really good, and then they call every hour?
Or someone you meet at church and, “Oh, they seem great!” And you have coffee and this is kind of neat. And then they show up. “I thought you’d be here.” And then they call you, and then they email you, and then they text you, and you go “Ahhhh!” Right?
And what do you do? Then you push them away. When we smother people we reject them.
And then probably the most common you can put a little star by this one is performance based love. This is probably the most common of all. This is, “I love you if and I love you because.” I love you if you get good grades, I love you if you do the right thing at the right time, I love you if you’re a good athlete, I love you if you have good SAT scores, I love you if you’re affectionate with me, I love you because you gave me that, I love you because you came from a good family, I love you because you provided a great house, I love you if, I love you because…”
Performance, performance, performance. Many of us, especially in our tradition of loving God, tend to think that even that’s how we earn God’s favor. God loves me when I have a quiet time, God loves me when I give ten percent, He loves me more when I give eleven, twelve, fifteen. Right? God loves me when I serve He loves me more. God loves me when I go on a short term missions trip. God loves me when I’m…
I got news for you. He loves you whether you do any of that or not. His love isn’t based on your performance. Those things are simply - part of them are disciplines and conduits of grace to get to know and experience how much He loves you - and the others are out of a heart of gratitude and love, to love other people, not have a score card with God. Performance based love.
The behavioral impact of either overt or covert rejection is that when we’ve been rejected we will find ourselves rejecting others in the same way.
Now at the extreme level what do we know? Abusers are people who have been abused. You do all the research. Whether it’s emotional, sexual, physical abuse. There is loathing, “I wish I had never done it.” But kids that were abused often, unless they break the cycle, will abuse their kids.
Most of us it’s in lower key ways we experience rejection in some ways and if you don’t see it, own it, recognize it, you’ll pass it on. The emotional impact is feelings of worthlessness, wishing you hadn’t been born, feelings of inferiority, fear of expressing your feelings. Many people are depressed because of rejection.
Most of depression is anger turned inward and pushed down. Emotional insulation. You put up walls, you don’t let people in, overly introspective. There are some of you, I used to tease my wife. She had horrendous rejection in her childhood, then horrendous rejection when she was abandoned, and I would tease her, probably not very appropriately, but a siren would go by and I would just tease her because no matter what happened it was her fault. No matter what happened it was her fault.
If this happened, “Oh I’m sorry, it’s my fault, it’s my fault.” So a siren would go by and so, you know, “I don’t know who is going to the hospital but I don’t know what you did wrong, honey.” And I just, I was just messing with her to try and say, “Theresa, would you lighten up and not believe that everything is your fault?”
People who apologize all the time, “Oh I’m sorry. It’s just…” There is this sense, that’s the emotional payback of rejection.
Perfectionism. This, “Boy, I’ve got to do everything just right,” because, see, your performance is so important and your performance and you have gotten so intermeshed that if you don’t do everything right, if you don’t excel all the time, if the house isn’t always clean, if the report isn’t great, if you aren’t just, just, just, just…
Well, then they’re rejecting you instead of just, that’s just what you do. And people are human, and people make mistakes, and everyone doesn’t get everything on time, perfect all the time.
But for some people there is a drive, an invisible demand that actually ruins your life and makes the people around you crazy. It means your kids have to excel all the time and there is push, push, push, push, push. I mean, two year olds playing soccer I want to go, “Are you kidding me?”
Where I live in the Silicone Valley we have such a premium on education. Fifty-one percent of the people when they go home in the Silicone Valley in San Jose speak another language other than English. The drive. They start tutoring their kids at sixth grade for their SAT scores. Two and three hours on Saturdays.
I have a friend who is a doctor at Stanford. And he’s in one of our groups, we have a specialized discipleship group for executives … people who have been extraordinarily successful - that produces affluence, and influence, and they really have major issues in their life, often. And so we get those people together in the same room where they can love each other and shoot it straight. And we help them work through those things and become disciples of Jesus because God has entrusted a lot to them.
And we were in a conversation where people, I mean, this guy, his wife is in complete angst about the six or seven schools they have evaluated for their two year old. And this one doesn’t measure up, and what about this because if we do this then he’s six, and this will happen and…
I mean, if you don’t get in Stanford, Harvard, or some other school it’s like you’re a failure because your child has…
Let me tell you something. You know what that is called? Sick. And you know what that does to the internals of a child? You don’t have, you can say all day, “Oh I love you, honey. You’re great, it doesn’t matter.” Push, push, push. “Oh we just love you no matter what.” You know, all the right words. Push, push, push.
We do it in sports, we do it in music, we do it in academics. There is self-hatred, self-condemnation, and guilt, and often the inability to express love.
At this point you may be wondering, “Is there any hope? Can the cycle of rejection be broken?” And what I want to say, emphatically, is yes, yes, yes, and we’re going to do more than just look at it. At this point, we could be in a seminar about rejection, and then I could teach you five or six techniques to deal with your rejection.
Here’s how you need to think, here’s “I feel” messages that you can say to people when you feel rejected, and we could go into lots of pop psychology. And some of those techniques actually are very helpful if all you want to do is treat the symptoms.
At the core of emotional, psychological, and soul rejection is a spiritual issue. And the spiritual issue is until you are right with God, until you understand that you are loved apart from however anyone has ever treated you, or whatever is going on inside, then all the rest of that will never fall in place.
And so, what we’re going to learn now, from verses 7 through about 14, is that you are the object of the King of kings’ - and the Lord of lords and the Maker and Creator of all that there is - affection.
And He has expressed that affection in Christ. In fact, the theme of Ephesians chapter 1, Ephesians chapter 2, and Ephesians chapter 3 is just two words. It’s “In Him,” or “In Christ.”
And often what I do is, I did this recently, I take a big fish tank, a pail of water like this, and I get a big bolt that’s about this big so they can really see it on the screen. And then I have a board that’s about this big and on the board I have a cross.
And then I have a thick rubber band about like this. And then here is the illustration I use because I want you to get this. If you get this then what we’re going to teach is going to make a lot of sense.
And I hold up the bolt and I say, “This is a big bolt that’s very heavy.” And, you know, you can see it. It’s a huge thing. And I say, “If I drop this in this water, what will happen?” And we have very smart people in California so they say things like, “It will sink.” In which I say, “Fantastic. You’re right.” And then I take this, I take this piece of wood. it’s about like this and I say, “If I drop this piece of wood in this clear tank, what will it do?” And again being the intellects that we are there they say, “It will float.”
And I say, “Well why will it float? What’s the nature of wood?” Well why, why does the bolt drop? Because it’s the nature of the bolt. It’s the weight that it has.
And then what I say is I said, “Here’s what Ephesians chapters 1, 2, and 3 is trying to help us understand. It is that this is Christ and He has overcome and He floats because it’s in His nature. He died, He rose again, He has conquered sin, He has conquered death, He has conquered the devil.
This is you and then I take the bolt and I take the big rubber band around it. And I say, “When you trusted in Christ as your Savior,” Romans 6, “you died with him.” Romans 6, you were co-resurrected with Him that you might walk in newness of life.
Romans chapter 7 is there will always be a challenge and a battle between the flesh and the spirit so it will be a struggle this side of heaven. And Romans 8 is no one can live the Christian life. Only the Spirit of God, as you abide in Him, thanks be to God, there is no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus. But the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead dwells in you and cries, “Abba Father.”
And so here’s what I want you to know is that now you’re seated with Him in the heavenly places. So when I drop this in the fish tank, and I say, “Now tell me what’s happening to the bolt? It’s floating.” Why? Is it because it’s trying hard? Is it because it goes to a lot of meetings? Is it because it reads two chapters a day to keep the devil away?
It’s floating because it is in union with the nature of the wood. And now everything that’s true of the wood is true of the bolt. And what the apostle Paul says, for three chapters, is you are in Christ and then He explains what that means.
In fact, after his little verse, that you have every spiritual blessing, literally verses 2 through 14 is one long sentence that literally, he just goes off with all these theological words.
And so what I want you to see is the key to your journey is to believe and to trust both intellectually and then down in your heart what it means to be in Christ and then of seeking to earn God’s favor, or earn God’s love, or please people – I already have God’s love, I have God’s acceptance, I have an inheritance, I have His Spirit, I’m adopted as His child.
Now, how do I live - remember the last message? How do I live in the new bedroom He’s given me, that I’m worthy of because of Him not me? How do I go to the refrigerator whenever I want, for whatever resources I need to feed me, because I’m already loved?
And then, how to I begin to express that to other people, without wanting things back, because I’ve already got the acceptance from Him? Does that make sense?
That’s a very different picture from the mental, emotional, and psychological picture that most people live as the Christian life.
Unconsciously, most of us are still trying to please God, earn God’s favor. And we feel good when we have our quiet time, read our Bible, and aren’t messing and struggling with those besetting sins and we feel really bad.
And it’s, “Try hard, try hard, fail. Try hard, try hard, fail. Try hard, try hard, fake it.” And that’s why we have the Barna research and that’s why we have the Gallup research that says about eight out of every ten Christians who claim they’re born again, or in some studies nine out of ten, they say they believe this, they say, “I have received Jesus,” and their life and their lifestyle says the opposite story.
We don’t stay married any longer than other people, our finances, our parenting, our priorities, and our time are not a nickel’s worth of difference in America, and in many parts around the world, than those who don’t know Christ.
Jesus has become, in America, the self-help guru that, that in the name of Jesus, will give you this wonderful life, this amazing marriage, and you just, here’s the formula: Read the Bible, pray, feel good, get jacked up once a week with someone going, “Everything is going to be okay.” That’s not New Testament Christianity. And, by the way, it doesn’t work.