How to Escape a


By Remy Diederich Cedarbrook Church


How to Escape a Toxic Faith
40 Days of Grace in Galatians
by Remy Diederich copyright 2004 – Cedarbrook Church

This document contains the following titles: 1. An Overview of Toxic Faith 2. Why We Embrace Toxic Faith (Chapter 1) 3. The Anatomy of a Toxic Church (Chapter 2) 4. Dismantling Toxic Thinking (Chapter 3) 5. Breaking Free (Chapter 5) 6. What do we do with Eva Eber? (The Nature of True Faith) – (Chapter 6) This morning, I’m starting a six week series called, “How to Escape a Toxic Faith”. To start off, I want to tell you how I was able to escape a toxic faith. In 1982 I was part of a church of about 2000 people in downtown Minneapolis. Then one of the leaders of this church started another church in south Minneapolis. So I joined that new work. We started with 20 people and slowly grew to about 75 people over seven years. This little church is where I got my start pastoring. I worked my way into a part-time position there, teaching, preaching, leading small groups and leading worship. I don’t know how it happened, but that church slowly and subtly, became toxic. What I mean by “toxic” is that – instead of emphasizing how God accepted me because of what Jesus had done the emphasis was more on what I should do to become acceptable to God. After a series of very negative events, I decided to resign. After investing my life there for seven years, I was out the door and churchless. I tell you this because it had an interesting and disturbing effect on me. And this is how I knew that my faith had become toxic. For the next four or five years, I went into a spiritual funk where I couldn’t pray or read my Bible or go to church. I tried. I tried really hard. I just couldn’t do it. It was all very confusing to me. The Bible had always been so alive to me, but suddenly it was like reading a phone book. Dry as toast. I’d try to pray and …nothing. My mind was blank. I’d go to church, and everything that was said or sung was at best shallow and at worst, offensive. I decided I couldn’t go to church until that feeling changed. The problem was, it didn’t change. I‘d go to church about every six months just to see if it got any better, but it didn’t. It really grieved me because I loved God, I loved the church, I loved the Bible. And it scared me because I thought my condition might be permanent. I thought I might be the equivalent of church road kill, left to die from my bad church experience. I asked God a thousand times what was wrong. And I apologized a thousand times for not being able to do these things. Then, out of my frustration, I asked God what I was missing. I said, “God, is there something you want me to see through all of this?” And there was. I felt like God was telling me to relax and not worry. He wasn’t concerned about me my condition. In fact, I felt like God was teaching me a powerful lesson: 2

Remy, it’s not church or prayer or Bible reading that makes you acceptable to Me. I love you unconditionally and accept you in spite of what you do. This might seem simple to you, but it was a big deal to me. I’m very task oriented by nature and my early years of faith were defined by my performing for God. You see, God was showing me that my faith was toxic. And I slowly learned how to escape a toxic faith. Well, over the next six weeks, I want to help YOU escape a toxic faith too. You may not think you have a problem with toxic faith, but I believe it’s common to every human being. As humans, we naturally drift to a performance based religion and have to keep being pulled away from it. So listen carefully to see if your faith is toxic. To do this, we are going to study the book of Galatians. And for those of you that want to go deeper than what I have to say on Sunday, I’m going to start sending out a daily email devotional on Galatians every morning, and then we are going to start a class on Sept. 27 – that’s a Monday night, for people that want to study the book in depth. If you want the daily email, you can sign up for it on the feedback form. So let’s get into it. The Setting of Toxic Faith: The Church First, let’s look at the setting of Toxic Faith. Where are we going to find toxic faith? I’d like to say that you only find toxic faith outside of church – like in other religions or cults. But, unfortunately, the purveyors of toxic faith are not only in other religions and cults but also in our biggest and most successful Bible believing churches. I don’t think it’s intentional or malicious, at least most of the time. I just think we don’t understand grace very well so we naturally encourage people to perform better if they want to please God. That’s what happened in the church of Galatia. Let me tell you what happened. The apostle Paul went on a tour of towns throughout the region of Galatia – Turkey. Wherever he went he would preach the message of how Jesus Christ had died for their sins and was resurrected from the grave. The book of Romans gives us an idea of the simple message that Paul preached… If you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved… 12For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile--the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." Paul’s message was very popular among the Galatians. Part of the popularity of Paul’s message is mentioned here. He said that there was no difference between Jews and Gentiles – that is, non-Jews. That was good news to the Gentiles because they had always been told that the Jews told them that they were second class citizens to God. But Paul told the Gentiles that God had made a way for them through faith in Jesus. So Gentiles started responding to Paul’s message and became followers of Jesus. Now, it’s important to understand the dynamics of what was going on between the Jews and the Gentiles in those days. The first Christians were Jews. And they kept all their Jewish customs. 3

In fact, these first believers thought that Jesus came only to save the Jews. They reluctantly allowed Gentiles into the church but they insisted that The Gentiles still had to follow Jewish customs like they did. The Signs of Toxic Faith: Human Effort Now, that was a problem for the Gentiles. Do you know why? Circumcision. We’re not talking about babies here but adult men and sharp knives! Talk about NOT being seeker sensitive! This was one membership requirement that kept the Gentile riffraff out of the church. So, now do you see why the Gentiles liked Paul’s preaching so much? All he required to know God was their belief that Jesus had died for their sins. But that simple message wasn’t good enough for the Jewish Church. When they heard about Paul’s preaching they sent out some leaders to tell the Galatian church the “rest of the story” – that they needed to be circumcised and follow the Jewish calendar of feasts/ festivals/holy days. Now, when Paul heard what they were doing, he went ballistic and wrote them a letter! Listen to how Paul described it. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 1:7 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? 3Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? 3:1 How is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? 10You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! 11I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you. Galatians 4:9-11 In case you can’t detect it, Paul was ticked off. It’s like he wanted to come through the pages of his letter and choke somebody. Listen to these choice words: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned Galatians 1:6.9 That’s like saying, these guys can go to hell -literally. Strong words. He’s not happy. But he shows even more anger in chapter 5. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? 8That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you… The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be… I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! 5:7,8 He’s saying, if these guys think circumcision is so great then why don’t they go all the way and just castrate themselves? Wow… This is the same guy who wrote the love chapter in 1 Corinthians…love is patient, love is kind…love hopes all things, believes all things, endures all things. But Paul wasn’t about to endure this. Why is he so mad? He’s mad because he understands the message of Jesus Christ better than anyone and he knows that by adding Jewish customs to the cross of Jesus, they have actually destroyed the good news 4

message making it bad news. And that undermined his whole ministry to them. It made him feel like all of his hard work was for nothing because they created a “different” gospel by perverting and distorting his message. And this “different gospel” is what I am calling Toxic Faith. It’s toxic because it does the opposite of what it promises. It promises to bring you close to God through religious activity. But it’s like the carrot in front of the donkey, he never gets the carrot. There’s always more to do to gain God’s pleasure. In Paul’s mind, the minute you add anything to the salvation equation you are negating the work of Jesus on the cross. In other words… Jesus + Nothing = salvation Jesus + Anything = Toxic Faith Paul said; Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace…. Galatians 5:2-6 As Paul said in verse 6, a different gospel is no gospel at all. The Tool of Toxic Faith: The Bible Let’s look at The Tool of Toxic Faith. The interesting thing to me is WHAT people use to promote toxic faith: the Bible. There were two reasons why these Jewish leaders were so effective in bewitching the Galatians: 1. The Galatians were young believers who didn’t know any better and 2. The Jews had Bible verses to back up everything they said. They could point to verses on circumcision and the Sabbath and the festivals. It was all there. These young believers didn’t feel like they could disagree with the Bible. So they did what these guys said. Yesterday there were two cults that sent people to our door. I realized that their toxic faith was based on these same two things: the Bible, and people that didn’t know enough to question their statements. But Paul made it clear that you have to be careful how you use the Bible. The Bible isn’t some big rule book that God gave to see how well we could follow instructions or to use to judge other people’s spiritual performance. God gave us the Bible, like a love letter, to help us fall in love with him. Paul said… God has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant--not of the letter [of the Law] but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 2 Corinthians 3:6 Do you see that? Paul said the letter kills - that is, the words of the Bible can actually hurt us if used wrongly. If you take just the words of the Bible, a part from the Spirit of God, and apart from God’s intention for those words, they will kill you spiritually, crushing you and separating you from the love of God. 5

A.W. Tozer once said… There is today an evangelical rationalism which says … "If you learn the text [of the Bible] you've got the truth." … The result is we are dying spiritually. To know the Truth, we must "know" the Son. Power for Living In yesterday’s St. Paul Pioneer press, it gave a good example of the “letter” of the law “killing”. An eight year old girl went to take her first communion at church. She had a wheat gluten allergy, so she brought her own rice based communion wafer. But when the church officials heard that she used a rice wafer, they invalidated her communion. You see, they think that the bread that Jesus used for the first communion was wheat based -so only wheat can be used for communion bread. The mother of the girl was disgusted, saying, “This is a church rule, not God’s will, and it can easily be adjusted to meet the needs of the people, while staying true to the traditions of our faith…I didn’t know that the divinity of Christ depended on wheat.” And the director of the Celiac Disease Foundation said, “It’s a major frustration that someone who wants to follow their religion is restricted from doing so because some churches will not allow it.” What a waste! This didn’t need to happen. But this is a perfect example of people using the letter of the Bible to bring bondage to people rather than freedom. The Thoughts of Toxic Faith: Condemnation So, what does toxic faith do to us? How does it change our thinking? Toxic Faith causes us to focus on obeying RULES instead of building our RELATIONSHIP with God. And that leads to condemnation. Focusing on rules will always lead to our feeling judged and condemned by God. Instead of drawing closer to God, you actually drift farther and farther away from God. Here are just some of the rules that I see people have added to their faith. 1. In order to please God I must…always be in church. Now, most people aren’t always in church, but this belief makes them feel guilty whenever they aren’t in church. Sometimes I’ll ask people where they are at spiritually. Do you know what they typically say? I haven’t been going to church like I should. I always smile and say, What does that have to do with my question? They look confused, like, it’s obvious. I mean, isn’t church attendance the international barometer on spirituality?So I explain that going to church may have nothing to do with how you are doing spiritually. I also notice this when I see someone around town who hasn’t been to church for a while. I usually smile and say, “Hey, it’s good to see you.” What I mean by that is “Hey, it’s good to see you.” (No hidden message). But what do most people think I’m implying, “why haven’t you been in church?” That’s because they have a toxic faith. And they equate church attendance with being a good or bad Christian. You see, I expect people to miss church now and then. And even if they miss church for long periods, I’m not sitting home, wringing my hands or throwing darts at their picture! I trust they have good reasons for not being there, and if they don’t, that’s really between them and God. It’s not between me and them. 6

2. In order to please God I must always take communion. I met a man once that celebrated communion three times a day. He said, “It makes me feel so close to God when I take communion.” I asked him how he felt when he forgot to take communion or missed it. He said that he really felt bad for letting God down. It ruined his day. That man had a toxic faith. He thought he had to perform to stay close to God. 3. In order to please God I must be baptized. I can’t tell you how many people worry about their relatives who die not having been baptized. Even if they had a solid faith in Jesus they think that God is going to bar them from heaven for not getting dipped in some water. Man, I hope God isn’t that petty! I promote baptism as much as anyone, but not as an act to keep God happy. We do it to express our devotion to Jesus but not to earn points with him. 4. In order to please God I must always read my Bible and pray. I talked earlier about how I had my own issues with this. Or, how about these unspoken rules. Christians need to … • always be happy. • always be nice. • always help others. Now, wanting to do any one of these things is fine, but what makes them toxic are the assumptions we make about God if we fail to meet these expectations. The toxic person says: If I fail at the above, God is disappointed with me, if not angry. He will withhold his blessing until I change. He may even punish me”. Paul would challenge us and say, “Who has bewitched you? If you think these things make you right with God, you have fallen from grace. You are believing a different gospel.” Let me ask you, what have you added to the salvation equation? Is there something you feel you must do to earn God’s love and acceptance? If there is, your faith is toxic. The Cure for Toxic Faith: Do versus Done Well, what’s The Cure for Toxic Faith? The simplest way for me to describe this is that man-made religion tells people to work their way to God by DOING something to please God. But Paul’s message was that God has already DONE something for us. That is, Jesus died to please God for us. It’s really that simple. DO versus DONE. It was never meant to be complicated. Paul said in the book of Ephesians… 8 For it is by grace {a gift} you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- 9not by works, so that no one can boast. Circle the three negatives in that verse.


What makes us perfect in God’s sight isn’t what we do, it’s not our human effort, it’s believing in what God did for US. PERIOD. I have a couple tests to help you determine if your faith is toxic or not. First, imagine yourself before God, having failed your entire list of “shoulds”. You SHOULD be in church more, you SHOULD read the Bible more, you SHOULD control your eating disorder or your drinking or your anger more. But you haven’t done any of these. You’ve failed miserably. Got that in your mind? Now, in that condition, how close do you feel to God? Do you feel just as free to approach him in your failure as in your success? How you answer that will tell me if your faith is toxic or not. A toxic faith will tell you that you are far from God until you get your life back in order. But a healthy faith tells you that you are as close to God in failure as you are in success. God’s forgiveness covers every square inch of your failure. You don’t have to jump through any hoops to regain God’s love or approval. He accepts you unconditionally, regardless of the depth or degree of failure in your life. Let me give you another test. This one is a little harder. This may not be true of everyone here, but let’s assume that everyone here is a believer in Jesus. Imagine that you are sitting in a room with Jesus. God the Father walks in I ask God who is more perfect in His eyes, you or Jesus. What’s God’s answer? If you said Jesus (is more perfect), your faith is toxic. The truth is, you are as perfect in God’s sight as Jesus. That’s a little hard to swallow, isn’t it? The first time I thought about this it felt blasphemous to say that I’m as perfect as Jesus. But then I realized that it is MORE blasphemous to say that I’m NOT as perfect as Jesus Why? - because that would mean that Jesus’ death failed to cleanse me from my sin. It lacked something. He was unable to pay for all my sin. But if his death WAS successful and he DID pay for all my sin (as the Bible says), then I truly AM as perfect as Jesus in God’s eyes. To deny my perfection is to actually deny the work of Jesus on the cross. But to believe in my perfection is one of the most worshipful things that I can do. The book of Hebrews says… By one sacrifice, he has made perfect forever, those who are being made holy. Hebrews 10:14 Now that’s something to get excited about! And do you know what? That truth – that I am perfect in God’s site –makes me WANT to go to church and read my Bible and pray, not out of religious obligation or out of a need to earn points with God, but out of a longing to know this incredible God that loves me so much. You see, that’s what healthy faith is all about – building a personal relationship with God. But a toxic faith is about obeying rules to stay out of trouble with God. Is your faith toxic? If so, today is the day to lose it. Get rid of it. And receive God’s total acceptance based, not on what you’ve done, but on what Jesus did for you. Prayer: Father, please for give us for anything that we’ve added to the work of Jesus. There are some things we see today, but there are probably still other things that we don’t see. Please show us what we have added to our faith that we might get rid of them and cling to only Jesus. Amen. 8

Why We Embrace Toxic Faith
By Remy Diederich Copyright 2004 – Cedarbrook Church

It’s amazing what people will do to try to earn God’s approval. Here’s an article from last year by the Associated Press called… Buddhist marathon monk completes seven-year run
September 20, 2003

A Buddhist priest dubbed the marathon monk has completed a seven-year ancient running ritual in the remote Japanese mountains. The run in the Hiei mountains, a range of five peaks that rise above the ancient capital of Kyot, covered a distance equivalent to a trip round the globe, said an official at Enryakuji Hoshuin, guardian temple of the grueling tradition.. The 44-year-old monk, Genshin Fujinami, returned on Thursday from his 1,000-day, 40,000kilometre spiritual journey. Dressed in his handmade sandals and flowing white robe with a straw raincoat draped over his head, Fujinami was greeted at the end of his journey by a crowd of worshippers, who knelt to receive his blessings, said the official, who declined to give his name. "I entrusted everything to god. I am satisfied," Fujinami was quoted as saying in a newspaper report. Since 1885, only 46 other so-called "marathon monks" of the Tendai sect have lived through the ritual, which dates to the 8th century and is believed to be a path to enlightenment, according to temple officials. The last monk to complete it returned in 1994. A few have done it twice; many more have not lived to finish. Traditionally, the monks, known as gyoja, who can't continue to the end must take their own lives either by hanging or disembowelment. A rigorous regimen dictates that in each of the journey's first three years, the pilgrim must rise at midnight for 100 consecutive days to pray, run along a 30-kilometre trail around Mount Hiei stopping 250 times to pray along the way. He can carry only candles, a prayer book and a sack of vegetarian food. In the next two years, he has to extend his runs to 200 days. In the winter, the pilgrim runner takes a break and spends the days doing temple chores. His most difficult trial, however, comes during the fifth year when he must sit and chant mantras for nine days without food, water or sleep, in a trial called "doiri," or "entering the temple."


In the sixth year, he walks 60 kilometres - slightly longer than a marathon race - every day for 100 days. And in the seventh, he goes 84 kilometres for 100 days and then 30 kilometres for another 100 days, before returning to the temple, located in Otsu city, about 374 kilometres south-west of Tokyo. AP, found at: This story is incredible. It’s hard to believe it’s even physically possible. But if he thought that his efforts earned him greater acceptance with God or “enlightenment” - then his faith was toxic. Toxic Faith is when you believe that you can earn God’s acceptance - you think you can do something to be more acceptable to God. And that’s what we are going to look at today. Last week we started a new series called, How to Escape a Toxic Faith. It’s a study of the letter that the apostle Paul sent to the Galatian church. You see, Paul was mad at the Galatians because they switched from his message of grace to a toxic faith. Grace means that God accepts you NOT based on what you do for God but based on what Jesus has done for you on the cross. Because Jesus died for you, God accepts us just the way you are. He doesn’t approve of all that you do, but he does accept you no matter what you’ve done. Grace makes it possible for everyone who wants to have a relationship with God to have one. No one is disqualified because they aren’t good enough or smart enough or religious enough. Now that’s good news, but the Galatian church managed to mess it up by incorporating Jewish customs into their faith. They thought they would prove to God how dedicated they were by adding a few things to their faith like circumcision and observing the Sabbath and all the Jewish festivals and holy days. When Paul heard about this, he couldn’t believe it. He was livid. And he let them know. Paul says in chapter one... 6 I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God... You are already following a different way 7that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who twist and change the truth concerning Christ. Galatians 1:6,7 Now, my guess is that the Galatians were offended that Paul thought they had turned from God. After all, they were making great sacrifices to prove their dedication to God, and they had the scars- from circumcision - to prove it. But you see, that is what is so deceptive about toxic faith. It starts out with good intentions but it quickly drifts to something destructive. Let me show you five things that toxic faith will do to you. 1. First, toxic faith will cause you to: focus on performing for God instead of relating to God. 2. Second, because you can’t keep your performance up, you start to exaggerate, lie and keep secrets about your performance. In other words, you have to fake it until you make it. 3. Third, when you continually fall short and then lie about it you experience guilt and condemnation. 10

4. Next, you not only judge and condemn yourself, you judge and condemn others. No one does it good it enough for you. 5. And finally, you become exclusive. Your circle of friends get smaller and smaller or your church gets smaller and smaller. My guess is that we’ve all seen the effects of toxic faith, either in our lives or in the lives of people we know. Or we’ve seen it in the lives of whole churches. Maybe you’ve been a part of a church like that. Why do we embrace a toxic faith? So, if toxic faith is so bad, why do we do it? What makes us stray from grace and choose a toxic faith? Well, there are many reasons. But let me give you three this morning. The first reason we embrace toxic faith is because we believe that Grace is too good to be true. When we first heard about grace, we got all excited. But then we doubt. We think, “That’s just too good to be true. I must have to do something to be acceptable to God.” My dad used to tell me, “Remy, just remember there’s no free lunch. If someone is offering you something for free, there’s always a catch.” We hear that and we think it must be true about God too. There must be a catch. Let me give you an example. At my house we have a deal in regard to supper. One person cooks, one person sets and clears the table and one person cleans the dishes. The other night Lisa and I cooked and set the table and my son joined us for dinner with two of his friends. They had plans to leave for a movie right after supper so I told my son that he didn’t have to do dishes. I’d do them for him. His eyes got big and he said, “Wow, it’s like a gift!” -which it was. And so he and his buddies got up and took off. Now, imagine that my son got half way to the theatre and he goes, “Ya know, I can’t believe dad was serious. Maybe he was kidding. I don’t want to let him down.” So he turns around and comes back home to do the dishes. He walks in and sees that they are all clean but he’s still uncomfortable. He feels guilty for not doing them. After all, they were his responsibility. So he takes all the dishes out of the rack and starts to wash them again. Then I come in and say, “What are you doing? I washed them already”. And I send him on his way again. But he gets half way there and he gets these nagging doubts, he’s afraid I’m going to hold this against him so he comes back home and starts doing the dishes again. This goes on all night long, and he never does get to see the movie, which is too bad, because I washed the dishes just so he would have fun. But he blew it! This might sound crazy but that’s how a lot of Christians are with God. They just can’t believe God’s word to be true so they make their lives miserable- never enjoying life, trying to do what God has already done for them. But here’s the good news… 11

You were dead because of your sins … Then God made you alive with Christ. He forgave all our sins. 14He canceled the record that contained the charges against us. He took it and destroyed it by nailing it to Christ's cross. Colossians 2:13,14 Therefore, let us cling to Jesus and never stop trusting him… let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it. Hebrews 4:14-16 Underline that last phrase, “to help us when we need it.” We typically think that we can go boldly into God’s presence when we are living a moral/spiritual life. That’s when we can pray and sing and talk to God. But this verse is telling us just the opposite. It’s telling us that it’s during our failure and sin that we can go boldly into God’s presence. That’s where God’s grace is! So, the first reason we stray from grace is we believe that it’s too good to be true. The second reason we embrace toxic faith is that Grace is foreign to us. Have you ever known someone who was in an abusive relationship, either physically or emotionally? When they finally broke off the relationship you were so thankful. You go “Finally they got some sense”. But then within weeks they either go back to the same relationship or find someone else who is just as abusive! Why do they do that? They do that because they are convinced that they are worthless and don’t deserve to be treated any better. It’s like Peter said, A washed pig returns to the mud. 2 Peter 2:22. In other words, some people will always return to what they are comfortable with no matter how bad their circumstances are. Some believers in Jesus do the same thing. If they grew up being told that they were good for nothing or that they never measured up - when they come to Christ, they are grateful for the message of grace- and they are relieved to know that God accepts them unconditionally. But then, almost immediately, they start looking for churches or people that put rules on them – rules that they can never live up to – because that’s what they are used to. They feel comfortable not measuring up and being viewed as a failure. Instead of grace setting them free - grace makes them uncomfortable because they’ve never experienced it before and it feels wrong to be accepted and loved. As backwards and distorted as that sounds, it makes sense to these people. Brennan Manning is someone who has an excellent grasp of grace. In one of his books he helps us to probe this issue of feeling worthless. He says, “Suppose for a moment that in a flash of insight you discovered that all your motives for ministry were essentially egocentric [self-centered], or suppose that last night you got drunk and committed adultery, or suppose that you failed to respond to a cry for help and the person committed suicide. What would you do? Would guilt, self-condemnation, and self-hatred consume you or would you jump into the water and swim a hundred yards at breakneck speed toward Jesus? Haunted by feelings of unworthiness, would you allow the darkness to overcome you or would you let Jesus be who He 12


is – a Savior of boundless compassion and infinite patience, a Lover who keeps no score of our wrongs? Abba’s Child, p. 128-9 Manning is saying that a person of toxic faith stays away from God when they have sinned. But the person who understands grace runs to God in the moment of failure. They are confident that God will embrace them, mud and all. So the second reason we stray from grace is because grace is foreign to us. Finally, we embrace toxic faith because… Grace requires relating and relating is hard work. Years ago, Lisa and I had a problem in our marriage. A big problem. I was working full time as a sales person and half-time as a pastor. I spent my nights going through my business in-basket so I could use more time at work making sales. On the weekends I studied for my teachings at church and worked on my “honey-do” list around the house. I thought I was giving 110% to my marriage by all that I did. If you would have asked me, on a scale from 1-10, how good our marriage was, I’d have said a 7 or 8. But, surprisingly, Lisa felt like I had abandoned her. On the same scale, she would have said our marriage was a 2 – on a good day! When she told me this, I was stunned and ticked off! How dare she say this, after all that I was doing? Wasn’t my love for her obvious? It took me another ten years to understand what she was saying. You see, my activity was investing in everything BUT our relationship. As a man, I thought that my activity proved my DEDICATION to our relationship. As a woman, Lisa was looking for me to work at BUILDING our relationship. I think this is exactly what was going on with the Galatian church. The Galatians were working hard to prove to God how dedicated they were – just like a husband does. But Paul said that their activity had caused them to actually turn away from God. (A wife’s common complaint). You see, God is more like a woman when it comes to relationship. He’s less interested in our activity and more interested in our knowing him, talking to him, reflecting on his goodness and love, and thanking him for all that he’s done for us. But that takes work, doesn’t it? Relationships are hard. They require a lot of thought and a lot of sensitivity. They require listening and speaking and humility and forgiveness and a willingness to change. You can’t just go on auto-pilot when you are in a relationship. And that’s just with humans. If it’s hard to have a relationship with humans, just think how difficult it is with an invisible God. That’s why we stray from grace and move toward performing for God. It’s much easier to obey a list of rules than to try to talk and listen to God. But get this, God isn’t looking for a bunch of slaves to work for him. God is looking for children to love him and relate to him. That’s why our acceptance can’t be earned. It’s got to be free. If it was earned, only a chosen few would get included but God couldn’t tolerate that. He doesn’t want any of his children to be left out, even the “black sheep” of His family. Someone asked me last week, if God accepts us unconditionally, then why live a moral life? 13

Why not just go out and party? That’s a natural question, but you need to look at this from God’s perspective. He didn’t have Jesus die for us so we could live like the devil and still go to heaven. That wasn’t ever on God’s radar – it was never his intention. He had Jesus die for us so we could run home to him and enjoy him without the fear of being punished. In fact, the Bible says that God’s perfect love casts out our fear and welcomes us into his presence. Philip Yancey tells the story of a girl from Traverse City, Michigan. She’s a teen-ager who feels her parents just don’t understand her. So she makes the big decision to run away to Detroit. Of course, when she gets there, she has no place to go. So she hangs out at the shopping mall where she meets a friendly man. A rich man. A man who treats her nice and spends money on her. He takes her home and shows her a life she had never known in Traverse City; mansions, parties, expensive restaurants. But there’s a price for all of this. After two months of being wined and dined her friend tells her that nothings free in life and she needs to start contributing by selling her body. She hates the thought of it but if she takes enough pills she gets through it. When the girl gets sick her friend, now boss, tells her he can’t take risks and kicks her out where she lives on the streets. Yancey says… “She no longer feels like a woman of the world. She feels like a little girl, lost in a cold and frightening city.” Cold, addicted, and hungry she begins to think of Traverse City. “God, why did I leave? My dog ate better than I do.” In an act of desperation, she makes three phone calls home, hanging up each time before it’s picked up. She calls again, only to get the answering machine. “Mom, Dad, I’m catching a bus home today. I’ll be in Traverse City at midnight. If you’re not there, that’s okay, I’ll just keep heading to Canada.” On the long trip home she realizes that her plan may fail. Maybe her parents didn’t get the message. Or if they did, what if they don’t care? They probably wrote her off months ago. Her heart sinks at the thought. Then, they finally pull into the bus depot. Yancey describes what happened… “She walks into the terminal not knowing what to expect. Not one of the thousand scenes that have played out in her mind prepared her for what she sees. There, in the concrete-walls-andplastic-chairs bus terminal in Traverse City, Michigan, stands a group of forty brothers and sisters and great-aunts and uncles and cousins and a grandmother and great-grandmother to boot. They’re all wearing goofy party hats and blowing noise-makers, and taped across the entire wall of the terminal is a computer-generated banner that reads, “Welcome Home!” The girl breaks down crying and starts to apologize to her parents. But her dad stops her and tells her that there is no time for apologies. There’s a banquet waiting for her at home. You see, her parents forgave her so they could enjoy a relationship with her. That’s what grace is for. The church has trivialized what God has done. We’ve cheapened grace. We “use” grace to relieve us of guilt or to assure ourselves a place in heaven. We’ve forgotten why God extended his grace to us in the first place, to welcome us back into his family. Grace is given to restore relationships not enable a permissive lifestyle. God’s passion is that we know Him. He wants us to enjoy him as our loving father. 14

The apostle Paul, after living a life of toxic faith for many years finally came to understand this. In his letter to the Philippian church, Paul reviews a long list of impressive religious activity. He said that he was… • Circumcised • A pure blooded Jew • A member of the Pharisee religious sect • So zealous that he persecuted the church • Without blame In his mind, if anyone was close to God it was him. It reminds me of when my dad told me that after 12 years of Catholic school, if he didn’t make it into heaven, then no one should. You see, both Paul and my dad trusted in their religious activity to get them to heaven. Neither of them were thinking about having a relationship with God. But Paul encountered Jesus in a lifechanging way, and that changed everything. The he makes this comment about his past: The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash – And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant – dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the real thing that comes from trusting Christ – God’s righteousness. I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally… Philippians 3 (Message) Paul came to realize that all of his religious activity was never going to bring him any closer to God. His only hope in getting close to God was if God brought him close. And that’s what happened when Jesus died on the cross. What about you? Has your faith consisted of religious activity – church attendance, Bible reading, prayer, giving, serving, etc. - just doing things for God but there’s been no relationship? Maybe when you first came to God your relationship was fresh but then, for one of the reasons I mentioned today, you’ve slipped into a toxic faith. Can you say with Paul that you are ready to give up all that activity – to throw it in the trash in order to know Christ personally? You can do that right now. I’m going to pray and if my words are what you feel in your heart, you can just agree with me, okay? Dear God, I think I’ve been missing the point. I’ve been approaching you more like your slave than your child. I’m more concerned about doing the right thing or not getting in trouble than knowing you personally. Please forgive me for that. Thanks that Jesus died to give me the right to know you. Thanks that I don’t have to jump through any hoops to make you happy. Thanks for accepting me just the way I am. I want to know you Lord, personally. Help me to abandon my need to perform and simply enjoy a relationship with you. Amen


The Anatomy of a Toxic Church
By Remy Diederich Copyright 2004 – Cedarbrook Church

When I started this series, I told the story of how I was once a part of a toxic church. I mentioned that I left the church but I didn’t tell you why. But I will now. The church started as a church plant. I was there for seven years. And that’s where I began my ministry as an assistant pastor. I’m not sure if the senior pastor changed or if I changed. But over the years that I was there, I felt like his teaching became more and more performance oriented. Now, it wasn’t extreme. It was very subtle. But the messages made you feel like you never quite measured up. Like you were always disappointing God or letting him down. It made me increasingly uncomfortable. Then, out of the blue, the pastor had three visions. One vision was that he saw a storm hit our church and everyone that stayed inside the church was safe but anyone that left the church was hurt or even died. When he told me about his visions, I was concerned. They seemed almost cultic, like he could use them to threaten people to not leave the church. But I hoped that over time he would see things more clearly. Then, the very next Sunday, I was shocked to hear him use the three visions as the focus of his sermon. I sat there with this incredible sinking feeling, knowing that his sermon was going to be a defining moment in my life and in the life of the church. It was that sermon that made me realize that our church was toxic and I had to leave. Today I want to look at the anatomy of a toxic church. A Toxic Church is a church that tells people they can earn God’s acceptance through human effort. If they just pray more or give more money or attend church more, then God will like them more and their life will be blessed. But if you don’t do these things, then God doesn’t like you and he’s out to make life hard for you. Unfortunately, a number of us here have experienced a toxic church – I know - I’ve heard your stories. Toxic churches aren’t hard to come by. In fact, I’m not excluding Cedarbrook from the possibility of being a toxic church. I’m sure there are moments that we have allowed, or will allow, toxic faith to creep into our midst. That’s all the more reason why we need to understand what toxic faith is so we can watch for it and confront it. Now, I’ve called my series “How to Escape a Toxic Faith” but in reality, it’s a simple study in the book of Galatians in the Bible. The apostle Paul wrote a letter to the Galatian church to scold them for believing a heresy. False teachers told them that faith in Jesus Christ wasn’t enough. They needed to obey Jewish customs – like circumcision – in order to be fully accepted by God. So Paul wrote them and told them that they were fools to believe such nonsense. When you add anything to simple faith in Jesus, you have destroyed the message of God. The message becomes toxic because it distorts who God is and actually keeps people away from God. We’ve looked at chapter one. Let’s move on to chapter two. Here, Paul is relating an experience that he had in the city of Antioch with the apostle Peter. 16

11 … when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him publicly, speaking strongly against what he was doing, for it was very wrong. 12 When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile Christians, who don't bother with circumcision. But afterward, when some Jewish friends of James came, Peter wouldn't eat with the Gentiles anymore because he was afraid of what these legalists would say. 13 Then the other Jewish Christians followed Peter's hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was influenced to join them in their hypocrisy. 14 When I saw that they were not following the truth of the Good News, I said to Peter in front of all the others, "Since you, a Jew by birth, have discarded the Jewish laws and are living like a Gentile, why are you trying to make these Gentiles obey the Jewish laws you abandoned? It’s interesting to watch the dynamic unfold here. Paul had started this church in Antioch where the people were Gentiles, meaning they weren’t Jews. Paul told them that they didn’t have to become Jews first or be circumcised to know God. All they needed was to believe in what Jesus had done for them in dying on the cross. God accepted them just the way they were. Then the apostle Peter came to visit from Jerusalem. Peter was one of the main leaders in the church at the time. Remember, he had been one of Jesus’ closest disciples. Paul says that when Peter first arrived, he ate with the Gentile Christians on a regular basis. In that culture, to eat together was a sign of acceptance and relationship. Peter clearly accepted these uncircumcised Gentiles as true Christians. Peter, just like Paul, didn’t require them to become Jews first. So, if Peter said it was okay to accept uncircumcised Gentiles as Christians, then it must be okay. This wasn’t just some crazy idea of Paul’s. Then Paul said… “But afterward… some Jewish friends of James came…” Circle the words “but afterwards”. You see, everything changed after these guys came. Suddenly things got toxic very fast. Now, did you notice that these guys were described as “friends”? They weren’t some evil heretics who hated Jesus. These guys were friends of James. James was the brother of Jesus. So these guys were very connected in the church back in Jerusalem. In fact, they were so well connected that even Peter felt compelled to change his behavior to please them. My point is that when I’m talking about toxic people, don’t think of sinister control freaks. I’m talking about your Christian friends. People you know well and respect. I might even be talking about you! The pastor at the church I told you about was my friend. We lived in the same neighborhood. I had coffee with him every week for years. He loved Jesus. He loved his congregation. He was a nice guy. But he was misguided. And he was toxic. Now let’s look at how the dynamic changed once these leaders came to Antioch. I want to point out five ways they influenced the Antioch church to become toxic. First, they brought fear. It says… Peter wouldn't eat with the Gentiles anymore because he was afraid of what these legalists would say. 17

Fear is at the heart of toxic faith. Fear drives the whole toxic faith system. You see, people become afraid when they think they aren’t acceptable – that they somehow don’t measure up in the minds of the leadership. They fear being rejected by God. They fear being rejected by the leaders and they fear being rejected by their friends. Peter was afraid that the Jewish leaders would criticize him for accepting uncircumcised Gentiles into the church. He didn’t want to lose their respect or their support, so he gave the Gentiles the cold shoulder. Next, these guys brought a focus on performance. Suddenly, no one was concerned about the quality of relationships that existed. No one was rejoicing in the unity that existed between the Jews and Gentiles – no, it was all about the rules. The most important thing was making sure that everyone in the church was circumcised. You see whenever you make a rule the primary focus, relationships will always deteriorate. Why? Because it’s obvious to everyone that obeying the rule is more important than the relationship. And that offends people. It invalidates them as human beings to think that a rule demands more respect than they do. So they might obey the rule, but they start shutting you out emotionally. Let me give you an example. Imagine if I made a rule that everyone had to bring a Bible to church. Every Sunday I’d stand up here and ask you, “Who brought your Bible?” Then I’d say, “Now, who forgot their Bible? Ushers, would you bring a Bible to all these people who forgot? Maybe next week they won’t forget.” How would that make you feel? I bet you’d get pretty sick of it. In fact, some of you would leave the church over it. But there are actually three kinds of responses to an imposed rule like this. 1. People obey it. They are people pleasers by nature and/or they see it as a challenge to achieve. 2. People hate it and leave. They are insulted by the pettiness of the rule. 3. People stay, but they avoid the rule and the rule-giver. They just enjoy the aspects of the church that they like and skip the rest. But you can see how unhealthy this is. Toxic rules bring in all kinds of dysfunction. Third, these guys brought division. It says that Peter would no longer eat with the Gentiles and when he quit everyone else joined him. I can just see this happening. Everyone is hanging out together, laughing, sharing stories, having a good time. Then the leaders come and the mood totally changes. People drift into their different cliques and the laughter turns to an icy tension. You see, as soon as performance is the focus, there’s a separation between who is in and who is out. Who has made the grade and who has failed. Who is acceptable and who is unacceptable. In my own church experience, my pastor told me that I had to agree with him or leave the church. That’s a classic result of toxic faith. It separates people. Fourth, these guys fostered hypocrisy. It says Then the other Jewish Christians followed Peter's hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was influenced to join them in their hypocrisy. When people live in fear of criticism, they learn to hide their true thoughts. The sad thing is that toxic leaders think that compliance among their followers shows a unified support of their 18

leadership. But the truth is, mass compliance is often the result of people living in fear. Instead of speaking their mind, they choose to simply go with the flow and not make waves. They would rather be a hypocrite than risk the conflict and rejection that comes from speaking their mind. And that’s exactly what happened in Antioch. Finally, these guys brought control and intimidation. Paul tells us that “even Barnabas was influenced to join them”. Barnabas was Paul’s ministry partner. But the pressure to conform was so great that even Barnabas joined the crowd. The crowd intimidated him and that controlled his behavior. You see, control is a key component of toxic faith. In the book, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, the authors tell of one church where everyone, in a certain ministry of the church, had to go before the leadership and document how they spent every minute of every day. It said – They were evaluated upon whether they used their time wisely, “the way God wants you to use it.” Most were confronted for not reading their Bible enough – and the leadership also decided what “enough” was. They were also confronted for spending 15 minutes instead of 10 when taking a bath. After all, they should have been reading the Bible during that extra five minutes – meaning that in this system the leadership also decided what was the right “spiritual” amount of time to bathe. Toxic faith can get pretty scary. Do you ever wonder what motivates toxic leaders? Paul answers this question in two places in his letter… Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh. Galatians 6:12,13 Those heretical teachers go to great lengths to flatter you, but their motives are rotten. They want to shut you out of the free world of God's grace so that you will always depend on them for approval and direction, making them feel important. Galatians 4:17 The Message Paul uses phrases like they want to “make a good impression”, they want to “boast”, they want to “feel important”. These phrases tell me that toxic leaders are insecure. They are afraid that they don’t measure up. So, they work hard at performing religiously and getting others to perform religiously to boost their own self-esteem. Their entire lives revolve around performing to prove themselves to others. So, next to the question “What motivates toxic leaders?” put, fear & insecurity. Now, what should you do with toxic leaders? Well, I can tell you what Paul did. He tells us… 11 But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him publicly, speaking strongly against what he was doing, for it was very wrong. Paul shows us that toxic leaders have to be confronted – that there is no excuse to accommodate performance-based, toxic faith. For the sake of the good news message, for the sake of what 19
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Jesus did on the cross, for the sake of every believer and future believer, we must confront toxic faith. So you can put in the blank, Resist and Confront. That’s what I did in my church. After I heard the sermon from my pastor about his vision, I had to confront him. We met and I told him that both his interpretation of the vision and choosing to make it the focus of his sermon were totally inappropriate. That’s when he told me I could agree with him or leave. I didn’t like those options but I had to confront him. It cost me his friendship. And it cost him his church, because when I left, the elders left, and when the elders left, half the church left and within a year the church closed. Now, knowing how to confront someone is a whole talk in itself. But here’s a rule of thumb; only confront people that you already know fairly well. Confront your friends or your family members. You can confront me or other church leaders here. Just be sure that you confront people with humility and respect. Otherwise you just add fuel to the fire. But don’t stop at churches on the way home and confront their pastor. Or don’t confront strangers in the lobby when you overhear them say something that you think is toxic! You’ll just make more problems. But, do you know what? The truth is that most people don’t confront toxic leaders. And many people stay in toxic churches. Why is that? Ten reasons people don’t confront toxic leaders: 1. The leaders breed self-doubt. – They make you feel like you are the problem. They say things like, “The reason you disagree with us is because you aren’t as spiritually mature as we are. You need to trust our leadership and submit to our authority like the Bible tells you too.” 2. They accuse you of rebellion. To disagree with leadership is equivalent with questioning God. 3. They heap condemnation on you. They turn things around and make you feel bad for suggesting they are in error. Before you know it, you are asking for THEIR forgiveness when it should be the other way around. 4. You fear losing your circle of friends. Sometimes we tolerate toxic faith simply because that’s where our friends are. When I left a church, after being there for seven years, I lost my entire network of friends. 5. You don’t want to lose your equity investment. If you have a home mortgage, you have an equity investment. Each month that you make a payment, your equity, or ownership of the house, grows. But if the bank foreclosed on you, you would lose your equity. All that investment would be lost. That happens in relationships too. You feel that you’ve invested so much already into the relationship/church that you don’t want to lose your investment. So you try a little harder, a little longer, hoping it will work. You even tell yourself that God will reward you for persevering. So you invest another year but the system doesn’t get any better. Now you’ve lost another year and your equity has increased which makes you feel even MORE obligated to stay. 20

6. You like to be liked/needed. If you are a good performer, the toxic system can be very rewarding. You feed off of the praise. Or, you simply can’t handle the thought of these people not liking you if you leave. Your low self-worth keeps you trapped. 7. You fear losing your salvation. They had you convinced that their way was the only way to God. Even though you know they are wrong, you fear falling away from God without their strong input into your life. You’re not sure you can make it on your own. 8. You fear exposure/humiliation for leaving. You know if you leave that your name and reputation will be trashed by those in the church. You’ve seen it happen to others in the church and you don’t want it to happen to you. 9. You fear being wrong. What if they ARE right? 10. You simply lack boundaries. You were raised to believe that people had the right to impose their thoughts/beliefs/will upon you. And you don’t feel like it’s your right to question others. So, why don’t we leave? We don’t leave for the same reason that toxic leaders like to control us: Fear & Insecurity. You can put that in the blanks. Both the leaders and followers are so insecure that they set up this dysfunctional relationship where they feed off of each other. But we need to understand that leaders who add anything to the gospel are not worthy of following. No matter what they say we have to stand for the truth and walk away. It’s better to abandon a toxic church than abandon the truth of the gospel. Now, Paul’s ability to resist toxic faith was incredible. He was the only one that wasn’t intimidated by the Jewish leaders. What was it about Paul that enabled him to stand strong when both Peter and Barnabas melted like butter on a hot stove? Paul tells us his secret… I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Paul is saying… These toxic people don’t have a hold on me. They can’t intimidate me or control me any more. The reason I can confront them, even Peter, is because I died to the Law. I no longer worry about my performance disqualifying me from a relationship with God. Jesus qualified me by dying on the cross. And I’m trusting in him, not me, to keep me close to God. Can you say that? Can you say that you are dead to the Law – that is, you are dead to trying to earn God’s acceptance through human effort- that you are dead to the intimidation and control of toxic people? I hope so - because that’s where true freedom lies. Wouldn’t it be something if we could all die to the Law –to a performance-based faith? Would it be great if we served God out of inspiration rather than obligation? That’s the way it should be. So many of us miss out on the joy of knowing Jesus because we are still trying to earn God’s acceptance. But the good news is that God gladly accepts us and we don’t have to do anything to earn it. 21

Prayer: Father give us eyes to detect toxic faith. Help us to see when something has been added to the message of Jesus Christ. Then give us the passion to both confront it and reject it. And help us to experience the height and the depth and the length and the breadth of your love for us. Amen.

Dismantling Toxic Thinking
By Remy Diederich Copyright 2004 – Cedarbrook Church

I’ve been talking about toxic faith this past month as we’ve studied Galatians. Toxic faith is when you believe that God accepts or rejects you based on what you do for God. For example: attending church, taking communion, reading the Bible, Keeping the Ten Commandments, etc. In contrast, True faith is when you understand that God accepts you unconditionally – his acceptance isn’t tied to your performance. Everyone likes to hear about unconditional love. But there’s a problem with unconditional love. The problem is that we hear about unconditional love through toxic ears. When people hear that God love’s them regardless of their performance, they stop performing all together. Their attitude is “This is great! Since God accepts me no matter what I do, now I can do what ever I want.” And they quickly drift from God. This attitude is still toxic because they are still performance oriented in their thinking. Before, they thought performance would save them. Now, they think God’s love absolves them from performing. These are flip sides to the same toxic coin. But we’ll see today that God accepts us to draw us INTO relationship, not free us to run wild. I think these are important questions to answer because too often people hear the message of forgiveness and run with it, never stopping to see the big picture and hear all that God has to say. So that’s what I want to do today with you. I’ve called today’s message “Dismantling Toxic Thinking”. And that will lead us right into communion Paul made a shocking statement in Galatians 2:19… “We…know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.” Now, this isn’t shocking to most of us. But it was shocking to Jewish believers. They had been told all their lives that God chose them from all people as special. That’s why he gave them the Law through Moses (the Ten Commandments and other laws). They really believed that they could fulfill these laws and earn acceptance with God. But Paul just blew that theory out of the water. So the natural question to ask is, “If we aren’t accepted by God by observing the Law, then what WAS the purpose of the Law?” Paul raises that very question in Galatians 3:19 when he asks, “What was the purpose of the Law?”


I see three reasons for the Law. 1) It provides a guideline for living for God. 2) It gives us an opportunity to encourage others to improve. 3) It shows us our dark side. Rather than go line by line through Galatians, I want to explain what is being said on a conceptual level. The first reason the Law was given was as a guideline for living in relationship with God. Every relationship, no matter how accepting, needs expectations or needs terms of engagement. Some people think that if you love someone unconditionally that you can’t put any expectations on them. That’s a not true. The truth is, we expect things from those we love NOT from those we don’t love. For example, I love my children unconditionally but Lisa and I have expectations for their behavior. One expectation is that, to the best of their ability, they will be home for supper. Another expectation is that they will always let us know where they are by calling or leaving notes. But I don’t put those expectations on children that I don’t know – only on my own children. You see, our expectations for our children are terms of engagement. We are engaged in a relationship and that relationship is managed by communicating our expectations to each other. The same is true in marriage. Couples need to communicate expectations for each other. And the same is true in church membership. We just established membership here at Cedarbrook. We ask people to sign a covenant. These are expectations that we have for each other. Do they determine whether or not we accept each other? Of course not. That’s a given. But since we love God and love each other, we commit to pursuing certain expectations together. Our membership covenant is primarily a commitment to purse the values of Cedarbrook (knowing God, experiencing life-change, developing relationships, serving others with our gifts/talents, including others). What happens when expectations aren’t communicated well in a relationship? The relationship disintegrates. It falls apart. It happens all the time. God knows this and so he has given us terms of engagement, which is called the Law. The second reason for the Law is that it provides us with an opportunity to encourage each other. Let me diagram this for you. Expectations

Reality There are two ways to look at this diagram; a toxic way and a healthy way. To toxic people, falling short of an expectation is a source of shame. If my reality has fallen short, I beat myself up, telling myself that I’m worthless. If I am the person who set the expectation, I will criticize you for your failure and reject you for being a failure. The only way for you to get back on my good side is to improve your performance. This kind of relationship if full of control, condemnation, shame, fear and obligation. Expectations make the toxic person despair. 23

But the healthy person sees the same shortfall as an opportunity to encourage you to improve. They don’t condemn you. They come along side of you with a word of understanding and compassion. They find ways to resource you to meet the expectation. We’ll see this in chapter six in a couple of weeks. If I am the one that fell short, I don’t despair because I know that there are people in my life who are ready to help me. This kind of relationship is known for its acceptance, encouragement, love, joy and peace. Expectations give the healthy person hope. In a toxic relationship, expectations cause people to relate to each other in a mechanical, distrusting way. In a healthy relationship, expectations cause people to relate to each other in ways that build intimacy and emotional bonds between the two people. My point is that expectations aren’t bad. Expectations aren’t toxic. It’s how people view them that makes them toxic. The third reason for the Law is that it was given to show us our dark side. It was given to show us that we aren’t perfect and we need God. It was given to show people how guilty they are. 3:19 What happens when you start to obey God’s law? Well, what happens when you engage in any relationship? You fall short. You make mistakes. You hurt people. You let them down. Whenever we attempt to engage in relationship we inevitably see how weak we are. Engaging in relationships will always show your dark side. That’s why so many people never engage in relationships because they can’t handle seeing their dark side. They rather live in isolation and loneliness than have their dark side revealed. But anyone committed to a relationship knows their dark side and they know the dark side of the one they are in relationship with. That’s what the Law of God does. When we try to fulfill God’s terms of engagement we see our dark side. And this happens to everyone – Jews and Gentiles. If you read the first two chapters of the book of Romans Paul proves there that we are all guilty of being Law breakers. He says “No one is perfect. Not anyone.” Now, if you are a Jewish believer, and you just heard this, what would you be thinking? If it’s true that we are all Law breakers, then you just lost your edge spiritually. Suddenly you lost your bragging rights. God leveled the playing field and opened the door to everyone. Now, the only requirement to a relationship with God is faith in Jesus. Paul told the Ephesian church… God saved you by his special favor when you believed. And you can't take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. Galatians 2:8,9 But the impact is much deeper and broader than between Jews and Gentiles. No one can have bragging rights. Paul gives this example. He says that when a Jew and a Gentile walk into Wakanda Pool to get baptized they both come out of the water children of God – their ethnic background no longer gives one more or less access to God. But he takes the analogy further. When a slave and a master walk into the pool they both come out of the water children of God – their social status no longer gives one more or less access to God. 24

But he didn’t stop there. He said that when a man and a woman walk into the Pool, they both come out of the water children of God – their sex no longer gives one more or less access to God 26 All of you are God's children because of your faith in Christ Jesus. 27And when you were baptized, it was as though you had put on Christ in the same way you put on new clothes. 28Faith in Christ Jesus is what makes each of you equal with each other, whether you are a Jew or a Greek, a slave or a free person, a man or a woman.” Galatians 3:26-28, Contemporary English Version We may all come to Christ on a different level socially or physically or mentally, etc. but once we join ourselves to Christ then we are all children of God. We are brothers and sisters in the same family. No one is closer to God than another. That means that a little Gentile girl can be as connected to God as an old Jewish man. God loves us all, he accepts us all, he speaks to us all, and he gifts us all to minister to other people. You don’t have to be an ordained minister who went to seminary to minister. The Bible tells us that we are all ministers. One thing I like about communion here is that we empower people to serve communion. I never serve communion because it’s a great chance to let other people have the joy of ministering. The same is true in regard to prayer. I rarely pray for someone on Sunday. But we have a team of people who will pray for you. And when we held our baptism recently, I only baptized one person. I let others baptize. I love seeing other people released to minister. In fact, I’d like to see our teens and children minister too. There’s no reason they can’t be praying for others or serving communion or baptizing as long as they have true faith in Jesus. Jesus leveled the playing field for us. I met a man from India this past week at a Bible conference. He told me that he was just finishing his doctoral thesis on the book of Galatians. He wanted to get his thesis printed as a book and take it back to India to teach the churches about how, in Christ, there is no longer a caste system. A caste system is the complex social order that exists in India. One status level doesn’t associate with another. And the people have brought that system right into the church. But in Christ we are all one. Well, that leads us to communion. But that’s not the end of my message. Remember that our study in toxic faith is all about putting our faith in obeying rules versus putting our faith in a relationship w/ Jesus. And that’s what communion is all about. Communion is about engaging in relationship with both Jesus and Jesus’ family. I want to talk about this a little bit. I hope you aren’t offended by this analogy but some times Christians look like zombies in the Night of the Living Dead when they come forward for communion. Their eyes glaze over and they go through the motions that they’ve gone through hundreds of times before. But you can tell that it’s totally meaningless. Their mind is some place else. They aren’t thinking about celebrating their relationship with Jesus at all. Their faith has become toxic. You see, communion is not a ritual that Jesus instituted so we could simply feel forgiven and go on our merry way. And it’s not just another job on your spiritual “to-do” list. Let’s not cheapen it like that. Communion is a shared meal that symbolizes our intimate relationship with God. Shared meals in the Middle East have great meaning. When two people in the Middle East eat together, they aren’t just consuming food simultaneously . The food itself is secondary to the relationship that the meal celebrates. To eat together in the Middle East culture means that you 25

are family. You are committing yourself to accept that person unconditionally. The person welcoming you to a meal is virtually saying, “You are now part of my family. I accept you unconditionally. What’s mine is yours.” To disregard the relational aspect of eating together is highly offensive to the eastern mind. Let me give you an example from our culture. Suppose that you wanted to get to know me better so you decide to invite me over for lunch today. You imagine that we’ll spend a leisurely time talking and eating and then maybe drinking tea or coffee throughout the afternoon. We’ll talk about our families our hobbies and maybe a bit about the church. You don’t entertain a lot so this is a major event for you. You are hoping that after this afternoon that we might be on our way to becoming friends at some level. Now, think about this. Given your expectations, how would you feel if I arrived late and didn’t apologize? And then my first words are, “Is the food ready?” You show me into the dining room where I fill up my plate, look at my watch and say, “Oh, I’m sorry. I lost track of the time. I need to be some place else. Do you mind if I take the food with me?” Then I leave. How would you feel? You’d be hurt and you’d be mad. You looked forward to the afternoon as a time of relationship and I simply saw it as a chance to get some free food and another obligation on my to-do list for the afternoon. My point is that before you come and receive communion this morning, Make sure that you aren’t thinking toxic. I want you to ask yourself, “Am I going out of obligation? Am I going just to seek forgiveness for my own benefit? Or am I going to celebrate being God’s child and the relationship that I have with Christ? Am I going to remind myself that my life is in Christ and to renew my commitment to living a life that honors him? A few weeks ago I told the story of a runaway teenager who turned to prostitution in Detroit. After losing everything she had she returned home. Thankfully her family forgave her and allowed her to return. But my point that day was that her family didn’t forgive her to merely absolve her of her guilt but to restore her to relationship with them. And that’s exactly what God is looking for offering you communion. He’s not interested in just salving your guilty conscience. He wants you to be in relationship to him. So here is the question, and it’s the question that will determine if your faith is toxic or not: Do you want to be in relationship with God? If you can honestly say yes, then I want to invite you to join us in communion today.

Prayer: Father, I do want to be in relationship to you. Forgive me for my toxic thinking and my toxic ways. I’ve even used communion as a way to “earn” acceptance with you. But you are simply inviting me into relationship. I accept.


Breaking Free
By Remy Diederich Copyright 2004 – Cedarbrook Church

This is the fifth message in a series I’ve called “How to Escape a Toxic Faith”. It’s been interesting to hear your feedback on this series. I’ve had a number of people tell me that this series has helped them better understand what makes a good marriage. In fact, one guy told me that it saved his marriage. He applied what I said about relating to God to his wife and it helped. He saw that he wasn’t engaging with her in relationship, just going through the motions. You see, toxic thinking affects all of our relationships – whether they are with God or other people. I want to read an article to you about the governor of New Jersey – Jim McGreevey. This article has nothing to do with toxic faith or God or the church. It has to do with toxic thinking. Maybe you heard about McGreevey. He recently resigned as governor after revealing that he cheated on his wife and had an affair with one of his male staffers. Not only that but he arranged a high paying job for this man even though he was not qualified for the position. I want you to listen for toxic thinking here… The Layered Lives We Lead by Jonathan Alter – 8/23/04 Newsweek. “…[McGreevey’s] story raises a couple of useful questions that go beyond the enduring confines of the closet; Why are the most ambitious so often the most self-destructive, willing to jeopardize everything (like Bill Clinton) for some sex? And can we learn anything from their folly to bring better balance to our own lives? To all appearances, McGreevey was the quintessential outer directed person. From the time he was in high school, he was obsessed with getting ahead in politics, first in Middlesex County, then as governor of New Jersey, and some day , he hoped, as president… [At his press conference McGreevey asked…] “Were there realities from which I was running? Which master was I trying to serve?” The master he chose for most of his life- was a set of expectations generated from without. This role-playing, which went far beyond his double life, is hardly unique to the governor of New Jersey. Too many of us increasingly live our lives according to some external narrative that we think represents “success” or “acceptance” but has little to do with who we really are. In other words, ordinary Americans are becoming more and more like politicians…[That is ] the outerdirectedness of politicians – their relentless need to be in touch and feed off other people - is now leeching into the larger culture. Technology is shaping the change…It used to be that only people in professions like politics, show business and sales dealt with scores of people each day. Now anyone with e-mail does. And because Americans frequently change jobs, they are constantly selling themselves, just like politicians… These are different lives than led by earlier generations - stretched thin between outer and inner selves, self-absorbed without being self-knowing. The search for spirituality and meaning now underway in so many places must be some reaction against the soullessness of the backslap and the speed dial, the impossibility of “multitasking” what really matters… 27

Whatever his personal psychodrama, the governor’s predicament was , by his rare admission, worsened by the tension between a life led for the approval of others and one led for himself. When the balance between the two is lost, so is any sense of mastery. The best politicians – and best adjusted people – know how to strike that balance before it strikes them down. There are some important issues here. Did you hear the toxic thinking? His personal insecurity drove him to seek the approval of others by performing to please them. It also led him away from true relationship and into an immoral lifestyle. We do the same thing with God, and that’s what I call toxic faith. Our insecurity drives us to perform to please him and we neglect to engage him in the relationship that he wants with us. This morning, I want to show us how toxic faith can lead us to a lifestyle of sin and dysfunction just like toxic thinking led Gov. McGreevey to that same place. Then I want to show us how we can escape that lifestyle. Listen to Paul as he warns the Galatians about turning to a lifestyle of sin… You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature … 19When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, your lives will produce these evil results: sexual immorality, impure thoughts, eagerness for lustful pleasure, 20idolatry, participation in demonic activities, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, divisions, the feeling that everyone is wrong except those in your own little group, 21envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other kinds of sin. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God…26Let us not become conceited, or irritate one another, or be jealous of one another. Galatians 5:13,19-21,26 [ Note: for a brief explanation on what it means to not inherit the Kingdom of God, see * at end of message.] I want to explain these verses for a bit, then, I want to show you what they have to do with toxic faith. This list of sin can be put into four categories. Four Categories of Sin 1. Sexual: • sexual immorality = any sex outside of marriage • impure thoughts • eagerness for lustful pleasure Impure thoughts and lust can happen in marriage too. Just because you are married doesn’t mean you are free from sexual sin. Whenever you treat sex as a means to gratify yourself and not as a means to building your marital relationship, it’s sin in God’s eyes. 2. False worship: • Idolatry = worshipping false idols • Demonic activities = witchcraft 3. Anger Issues: • hostility, quarreling, jealousy (wanting what others have), 28

• • •

outbursts of anger, selfish ambition (promoting yourself and ideas above others), divisions, the feeling that everyone is wrong except those in your own little group, envy (not wanting people to have what they have), conceit, and irritating one another.

4. Reckless Living: • drunkenness • wild parties Now, this isn’t a random laundry list of sin. These are happening in the Galatian church and they are directly related to their toxic faith. Let’s take each category one at a time. Toxic Faith Leads to Sexual Sin & Reckless Living. Toxic people are insecure people. That’s not to say that insecure people are toxic but they are susceptible to becoming toxic. They have a low sense of self-worth and a high need to prove their value. So they are attracted to a performance based faith in hopes of proving themselves to God. Insecure people often exhibit “all or nothing” behavior. They do their best to obey God’s will for a certain time period but if they fail then they give up completely and give in to temptation. They say to themselves, “I’ll never measure up, so why try at all?” They either work hard at not sinning or give up completely – all or nothing. You see, because their faith in God is based on rules and not relationship, they are less able to resist temptation. For example, as long I am emotionally engaged with Lisa, It’s not very likely that I’d give in to the temptation of having an affair. Why? First, because our relationship satisfies me. And second, I wouldn’t want to see her hurt. But if I’m not emotionally engaged with Lisa, it’s easier to have an affair because I’m looking to be fulfilled and I’m not sensitive to how it would hurt her. I’m only aware of how an affair would please me. The same is true with sinning against God. If I’m not engaged in a relationship with him, then it’s harder for me to stand against temptation. I’m more concerned about my own needs than I am with my relationship with him. Toxic Faith Leads to False Worship. Toxic faith is manipulative by nature, not relational. The thinking goes “If I perform for God, then he has to perform for me. If I go to church and pray and give money, God has to bless me.” In Paul’s day, that’s how other religions worked. If you sacrificed to the fertility gods, then you would get a good harvest from your crop (at least you hoped you would). So the toxic believer was very easily tempted to serve other gods in hopes of getting their prayers answered. You see, they weren’t interested in knowing God personally; they just wanted something from him. Today, people may not turn to worship idols, but they may turn to a type of Christianity that is results oriented. In other words, they gravitate toward churches or movements that promise certain spiritual results by following formulas. It’s a cookbook approach to God where you follow steps 1, 2 and 3 to get financial success or find a husband/wife or get pregnant or


whatever you want. This kind of approach to God is really witchcraft, not a relationship with a loving God. It’s manipulation and that’s what characterizes witchcraft. Or, some people might turn to a whole different religion. Let’s say they are stressed. All they want is a religion that will give them peace. It doesn’t matter what religion. They aren’t looking to know God. They are just looking for a stress-free life. Toxic Faith Leads to Anger. Toxic people are angry people. And toxic churches are angry churches. That’s because their lives are all about rules – making rules, monitoring the rules and judging and confronting people who break the rules. The people monitoring the rules get mad when others fall short. And the people who are judged for falling short get mad for being judged. Toxic churches often end up splitting for this reason. The leadership doesn’t think the congregation is committed and points the finger at them. In return, people get mad at the leadership and point their fingers back. Then there is always a group of people who don’t like what someone in the church is doing. And everyone goes around, gossiping, trying to get more people on their side to prove someone else wrong and get them to change or even leave! Paul compares this behavior to cannibalism; “If you bite and devour one another, take care for you might be consumed by one another!” Galatians 5:15 Well, I’m sure we’ve all seen ourselves in one of these categories of sin. But what do we do to change? How do you find freedom from the sinful nature? Is there any hope for change? I see four things necessary to find freedom. How to Find Freedom from Your Sinful Nature 1. In order to find freedom you need to Live According to the Spirit. Paul tells the Galatians that their power source was all wrong. Toxic people rely on their own strength to live a life pleasing to God. But that’s impossible. You can’t please God on your own power. So what do you do? Paul says… 16 I advise you to live according to your new life in the Holy Spirit. Then you won't be doing what your sinful nature craves How do you live according to the Spirit? First, you need to receive God’s spirit. Paul told us in chapter three that we receive God’s Spirit when we believe in Jesus. Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Galatians 5:2 The obvious answer is that they received God’s Spirit when they believed the message. I like to compare receiving the Spirit to getting an engine for your car. Imagine that you go to buy a car and they ask, “Do you want that with or without an engine?” If you are cheap, you might try to save money by not buying the optional engine. But the car would be pretty useless except for coasting down hills! 30

It’s the same way with God. You aren’t born with God’s Spirit. It’s optional. You have to decide if you want to live your life alone or with God’s Spirit inside of you. You might be able to do some things well, but you are totally unprepared for handling the trials and temptations in life. Maybe you didn’t even know that God’s Spirit came into you when you believed, so you haven’t allowed him to fill and direct your life. Let’s stop right now and ask Him to fill our lives. Holy Spirit, thanks for coming inside of me when I chose to follow Jesus. I welcome you into my life right now. Fill every area of my life. Guide every thought, every choice and every decision that I make. Empower me to become the person I can only be with you living inside of me. Second, in order to live according to the Spirit, you must choose to release God’s spirit in your life. 22 But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. Here there is no conflict with the law. Galatians 5:16-18, 22,23 I want you to see a few things here. First, I want you to notice that the fruit of the Spirit is relational. The works of the sinful nature destroy relationships. The fruit of the Spirit builds relationship. God’s Spirit gives us the ability to treat each other with love and respect-not judge and condemn each other. There’s no excuse for us treating each other harshly when God’s Spirit lives inside of each other. Second, Paul talks about fruit in contrast to human effort. You don’t have to work hard for fruit. It comes naturally on its own. All you have to do with fruit is pick it. When did you ever have to work to create an apple? Never! You just pick the fruit and enjoy it. That’s the way it is with the fruit of God’s Spirit. It doesn’t come by you trying hard to produce it. It comes naturally - all on it’s own. Next, I want you to understand that fruit doesn’t come from the outside in. It comes from the inside out. What I mean is that some people beg and plead with God to make them more loving or more patient or more kind. But they can beg all they want. It’s not going to help because God doesn’t send us individual character qualities. He sends us His Spirit. Once you have His Spirit, you have all you need. So you have all the love or patience of kindness that you need. You just have to let the Spirit express it in your life. Some people say, “I prayed for patience and God didn’t give it to me.” That’s not how it works. You need to understand that God’s Spirit is inside of you and eager to release his patience into your life. So, instead of prayer for patience…start choosing to be patient, and then expect the Spirit to release his patience into your life. 2. In order to find freedom you need to Die to the Law (toxic thinking). If you focus on living by the Spirit, you will automatically fulfill God’s law. You won’t have to worry about it. That’s what Paul means when he says in verse 18, “Here there is no conflict with the law.” The Spirit of God inside of you will naturally cause you to live a God-honoring life. But if you focus on fulfilling God’s law, you’ll only get frustrated. That’s why Paul said…

For when I tried to keep the law, I realized I could never earn God's approval. So I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ. 20I myself no longer live, but 31

Christ lives in me. So I live my life in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:19-20 Trying to keep the Law in order to be accepted by God is toxic faith. Paul decided to quit trusting in his ability to please God and start trusting the ability of Jesus living inside of him to make him into the person that God wanted him to be. 3. In order to find freedom you need to Die to Your Sinful Nature. Do you know that there is a part of you that works against God? Whenever the Spirit of God tries to move in your life, that part of you stands in the way and blocks the Spirit. Paul said, “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” So, if you could just get rid of the sinful nature then the Spirit could have control! Wouldn’t that be nice? Well, Paul said that Jesus did exactly that! He dealt with your sinful nature on his cross. He said… 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature/flesh with its passions and desires. Paul never talks about working hard to control your sinful nature. He never talked about “sin management”. But he does talk about our sinful nature dying on the cross with Christ. It’s already happened. It’s finished. It’s a done deal. One commentary put it this way… Paul …uses verbs in the past tense for this death; that is, one does not die to sin gradually …by working at it, but one accepts one’s completed…righteousness by faith and learns to live accordingly.” The Bible Background Commentary, p. 535. This is a surprising and confusing concept for most believers. Let me explain it this way. Imagine that you are flat broke and I come and tell you that I deposited a million dollars in your bank account last year. You say, “That’s impossible. I’ve been poor this past year!” Then I ask, “Well, did you ever try to withdraw money from your account?” And you say that you didn’t. The truth is, you were rich, you just didn’t know it. No one told you. Now you have to decide if you will believe that you are a millionaire and draw on that account or continue to live in poverty. That’s exactly your situation with your sinful nature. Your sinful nature died with Jesus on his cross. You can walk away from sin just like Jesus walked away from his tomb. Just like God’s Spirit raised Jesus from death, God’s Spirit can fill you and empower you to overcome your sinful habits. Or, you can say, “That’s impossible. I’ve always sinned, I always will.” It’s your choice. 4. In order to find freedom you need to Serve others with Love. For you have been called to live in freedom--not freedom to satisfy your sinful nature, but freedom to serve one another in love. 14For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." 32

If you want to find freedom from your sinful nature I encourage you to start serving others. Now, serving others won’t release God’s Spirit, but it does get you thinking like the Spirit thinks. That’s one of the main reasons that God’s Spirit is in you, to empower you to serve others. A life without serving others is self-centered. And a self-centered life, by definition, is never Godcentered. Did you know that it’s been shown that teenagers with the highest level of sexual abstinence are those who are actively engaged in serving others in some way? There is a direct correlation between serving and freedom from sinful habits. Why? Because the person who doesn’t serve is self-centered. They are always focused on what pleases them. The truth is, sin can be pleasing, at least for the moment. So the non-servant has less resistance to temptation. But the servant is others focused. Pleasing themselves isn’t the first thing on their mind. So they are able to stand against temptation better than the self-serving person. Paul starts chapter five by saying… “It was for freedom that Christ set us free: therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject to a yoke of slavery.” If you call yourself a Christian - If you call yourself a follower of Jesus; how free are you? Are you free of religious rules and regulations that condemn you for not measuring up? Are you free from sinful habits that drag you down and cause you to live in perpetual guilt? Jesus came to set you free. But freedom doesn’t come from you trying a little harder on your own power. Freedom comes by allowing the Spirit of God to come into your life, take control of your life, and produce his fruit naturally in your life. Prayer: Father, forgive us for our toxic ways. We strive to be accepted by you and others and all we do is end up deeper in sin than when we started. We don’t have the power to save ourselves. In fact, left to ourselves, we would destroy every relationship we have. Holy Spirit, fill us. Thank you that you live inside of us and are ready and willing to empower us to live a God-honoring life. Amen. * The warning: anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God is directed to people who are willfully and unashamedly choosing a lifestyle of sin. Another version of the Bible translates that phrase as “anyone who practices these things”. The key word is “practice”. That means these aren’t one time slip ups but habitual, willful behavior. These people are telling God that they want religion but they don’t really want a relationship with him, at least not a close one. They want the benefits of a relationship with God without the responsibility. Now, I believe that some people are trapped in their behavior. Yes, they do choose it, but with great regret and guilt. They are committed to their lifestyle because they don’t believe they have the power to change. Addictions and sexual immorality are often much more than simple choices. They are rooted in the pain of shame and the lies that accompany it. These people need our help, not our condemnation. (The same can be said about the issues of anger mentioned by Paul.) One of my jobs as your pastor is to help you identify lifestyle choices that are inconsistent with your relationship with God and help you to move to a healthier place. To willfully choose to hold on to your anger or jealousy or your sexual immorality is to reject God at some level and I want to help you move beyond that place and enjoy all that God has to offer you. 33

What Do We Do With Eva Eber ?
by Remy Diederich Copyright 2004

I’m going to tell you a true story about Eva Eber but before I do I want to briefly recap what I’ve been talking about. Today is the last in a six part series I’ve called, “How to Escape a Toxic Faith”. We’ve been studying the book of Galatians. Put simply, Toxic Faith is when you think you need to earn your acceptance with God by being a good and religious person. Toxic Faith causes you to either be self-righteous and condemn others or it causes you to feel like a failure and give up on God altogether. For the first four chapters of Galatians, Paul showed us the difference between true faith and toxic faith theologically. Now, in the last two chapters he shows us the difference between true faith and toxic faith, practically. Today we are going to look at chapter six and learn six characteristics of True Faith, but first, I want to tell you about Eva Eber*. Everything I tell you is true except for the last few sentences. Eva Eber is a 22 year old woman with a history. She was born into a nominal Catholic family in Los Angeles, but she got serious about God in junior high when friend invited her to her church camp. Soon Eva was singing in the church's music group and other activities. Unfortunately, her parents resented her "turning Protestant," So during her senior year, Eva moved out of the house. By the time she was 19 Eva was a teacher's aide two hundred miles from home. She joined a church where she met a young Air Force sergeant who gave her the acceptance she craved. After sleeping with him, she got pregnant, only to find out that he was married. Over the next two years, Eva drifted from job to job, and from bed to bed. She said: "I just went crazy — all I wanted were arms to hold me through the night. As long as a man was taking me out and supplying the cocaine, keeping me from loneliness, I was OK." She eventually moved in with a 35 year old divorced father of three. But then, suddenly, she decided to start fresh in Chicago, where a friend helped her get settled and find a job. Within a month, she found herself in bed with her friend's former boyfriend. She prayed: "God — why don’t you just give up on me?" "I'm hopeless." Within the year she had nowhere to live. A Christian she had met at her last job told of her a friend in Menomonie who might take her in. And, sure enough she did. So Eva moved to town. When she got here, she decided it was time to revisit her faith – if God would have her. So she came to Cedarbrook and now she’s sitting next to you! What Does True Faith Look Like? Now, I want you to keep Eva in mind this morning as I answer the question: What does True Faith look like? Let’s read the beginning to Galatians chapter 6. 1 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. 2Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you 34

will fulfill the law of Christ. 3If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, 5for each one should carry his own load. Galatians 6:1-5 1. True Faith is Spiritual. Paul says… 1 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. You who are “spiritual”- What does that mean? In chapter five, Paul explained the difference between being spiritual and being unspiritual. The unspiritual person may be sexually immoral, they might lead a reckless life, they might try to manipulate God rather than worship him and they may have all kinds of anger issues. On the other hand, the spiritual person is controlled by the Spirit. Paul said… 22 But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5: 22,23 But what does that really look like? Here, Paul gives us an example. We can tell how spiritual someone is by how they treat someone exposed in sin. That’s why I told you about Eva. I want you to consider how you should treat her. So, it’s a little vague just now, but True Faith is spiritual. 2. True Faith is Restorative. … you who are spiritual should restore him gently. Spiritual people restore the fallen. Unspiritual people condemn them. Or, they might take advantage of them like the Air Force sergeant did Eva. To “restore” means to “put back in place”. The word was used in the New Testament in reference to mending a fishnet. To restore isn’t talking about restoring the individual emotionally (although that might be part of it.) To restore is in reference to welcoming them back to the faith community. It’s letting them know that they are important and there is still a place for them. That’s what I like about the analogy of mending a fishnet. Each web is dependent on all the other webs being intact. If a fishnet has one hole, the integrity of the entire net is compromised and you’ll lose all kinds of fish through that hole. So every fisherman is careful to check his nets to find the holes and repair them. Paul tells us that that’s how we need to see fallen people like Eva. When one believer falls, we can’t afford to laugh at their weakness or criticize their morality because their loss is our loss. They are a vital part of God’s family. We need to rally to get them back on their feet and functioning. Unfortunately this isn’t always the case in the church. Phil Yancey says.. “In his book Guilt and Grace, the Swiss doctor Paul Tournier, a man of deep personal faith, admits, “I cannot study this very serious problem of guilt … without raising the very obvious and tragic fact that religion – my own as well as that of all believers – can crush instead of liberate.” What’s So Amazing About Grace? p. 31 35

Isn’t that something? Religion can crush instead of liberate. That’s what I mean by toxic faith. Instead of building you up, it tears you down. I know a woman who was a part of a church while she was going through a divorce. When the divorce was final, and she was at an all time low in her life – she came to church only to find that she had been banned from helping in the nursery – as if she would somehow contaminate the children by her presence. That was devastating to her. It made her feel like a leper. But that’s what Toxic faith does to people – it crushes them. Brennan Manning said: “The number of people who have fled the church because it is too patient or compassionate is negligible; the number who have fled because they find it too unforgiving is tragic.” Abba’s Child, p. 129 But God is not that way. God is in the restoration business. And let me tell you – it’s a family business. If you are part of God’s family, then restoring fallen people is your business too. We’re not in the business of hating people and condemning them. Our job is to give people hope and let them know that God has a future for them. 3. True Faith is Gentle.

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.

The word “gently” means “strength under control”. Gentleness is a fruit of God’s Spirit within us that enables us to place God’s desires above our own. It enables a person to be “always angry at the right time, and never angry at the wrong time” (William Barclay). But that’s our weakness in restoring the fallen, isn’t it? We tend to fix people out of anger. We want to set them straight as quickly as possible to please us. With someone like Eva, we may be so hurt and mad by her decisions that we don’t want to hear anything from her except, I’m sorry. I repent! - so we get in her face until we get what we want from her. But that’s not gentleness. That’s strength out of control. Dean Merrill wrote a book called “Sins of the Body”. He said this… “It’s only natural to assume that in …ministry to the fallen, repentance comes first. The sin of the past must be confronted and confessed in order to restore oneself to a holy God and release his blessings in the future. Theologically, that is impeccable. Psychologically, it doesn’t work very well…The opening task in ministering to those who have made a major mistake in their lives is to restore confidence. It is to let them know that God just might accept them again in spite of what has transpired. It is to light the match of hope, to crack the gloom.” After the Fiasco: Restoring Fallen Christians, Dean Merrill, Christianity Today Merrill downplays the theology of accepting the fallen before demanding repentance. But I think he’s right on theologically as well. In Romans, Paul tells us that it’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance (2:4). He also told us that we love God, because he first loved us (1 John 4:19) and that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).


Therefore, when seeking to restore the fallen, we have to resist our urge to quote Bible verses and tell them what they’ve done wrong. Odds are, they know those verses and have been told by others. Why not be a breath of fresh air to them and just listen? There’s plenty of time to read the Bible to them later. 4. True Faith is Humble. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted… 3If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. A spiritual person doesn’t talk down to the fallen as if they would never do such a horrible thing. A spiritual person knows how easily they could do the same thing given the right (or wrong) conditions. Many of us were shocked and horrified when we read about the prisoner abuse that took place in the Iraqi prison camps. How could people do such dehumanizing things to other humans? But the truth is, we are all capable of such atrocities. A TIME magazine article said this“Psychologists who have studied torture and prisoner abuse say it is remarkably easy for people to lapse into sadistic behavior when they have complete power over other human beings, especially if they feel the behavior has been sanctioned by an authority figure. In a classic series of studies conducted at Yale in the 1960’s, psychologist Stanley Milgram showed that psychologically healthy volunteers did not hesitate to administer what they thought were electric shocks to another human being when instructed to do so by a researcher. Two thirds followed instructions and kept raising the voltage – right up to levels marked DANGER: SEVERE SHOCK AND XXX. Time, May 17, 2004 Paul understood this when he wrote to the Roman church. In chapter one, he talked about the degrading sin of the Gentiles. They “burned in lust” for one another and God gave them over to their sin. Paul was setting up his Jewish readers. As he talked about the sins of the Gentiles, I’m sure they were shaking their heads in disgust. But then he starts chapter two by saying… 1 You may be saying, "What terrible people you have been talking about!" But you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you do these very same things. Romans 2:1 So, when you talk to Eva, you want to let her know that you are just as capable of doing the same things that she is so ashamed of having done. 5. True Faith is Loving.. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. What is the Law of Christ? It was never mentioned before or after this passage in Galatians. Paul just made it up! He is speaking in their terminology because they liked obeying God’s law. He’s saying, “Okay, if you are so eager to obey God’s law, I’ll give you a law to obey. It’s the Law of Christ.” Their ears probably perked up as they heard about a new law to obey. But the law of Christ isn’t really a law at all. Paul was simply talking about loving your neighbor. That’s what Paul was referring to back in chapter five when he said… 37


For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love…13You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. 14The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Did you hear that? The only thing that counts is “faith expressing itself through love.” If your faith isn’t expressing itself through love, then your faith is worthless. It doesn’t count with God. How do you express your love? He said “serve one another.” The word “serve” is a word used for the work of a slave. We are to enslave ourselves to one another. That’s how serious Paul expects us to treat one another, especially people who have fallen like Eva. How do we serve one another? Paul says we are to “Carry each others burdens”. This is the opposite of saying, “You’ve made your bed, now lie in it.” It says, “If you are willing to be restored, I’m willing to help shoulder the weight”. And that’s what restoration can be - a weight. Unless you’ve fallen, you don’t know how hard it can be to get back on your feet, Sometimes life seems so hopeless that you stay stuck in your sin, convinced that you are either unable to recover or unworthy of it. That’s when you desperately need a kind word, a warm face, or a listening ear to let you know that you aren’t alone. You need to know that others are standing with you and willing to bear your weight. You need to know that you are important to the rest of the church. That’s what Eva is looking for this morning.

6. True Faith is Interdependent. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, 5for each one should carry his own load. It says here that we need to “test our own actions” and “carry our own load”. I thought Paul just told us to carry each others burdens? But this is what he’s saying: In the life of the church, we are ALL responsible for each others success. We are ALL responsible to carry a portion of the load when others fall. We’re all in this together. In the restoration process, we all have different roles. Some have big roles, some have minor roles. We need to ask God what our role is in restoring someone and then be faithful to carry that load. That’s what he means when he says that each one should test his own actions. We need to be asking ourselves, “Am I fulfilling the Law of Christ with this fallen person?” We shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for not doing more if that’s not what God is calling us to do. We can’t be the Savior of the world. Nor should we let ourselves “off the hook” if God is asking more from us. Sometimes we are the key person in the chain of people that will bring healing to our brother or sister in Christ. In regard to Eva, maybe you are the main person God is calling to help restore her. Or, maybe you are simply the person to welcome her and introduce her to someone else in the church. My point here is that we are interdependent. Don’t think of the church community as a bunch of casually associated individuals. That’s not at all what it means to be the church. That’s how the world thinks: every man for himself. “When you fall, I feel no obligation to help you. I don’t owe you anything. Helping you is totally optional and at my convenience.” 38

But true faith doesn’t see it that way. True faith knows that our common faith in Christ joins us at the hip and so when one of us falls, we all stumble. That means that if you help Eva, not only will she be better, I’ll be better. We’ll all be better. Our net just got stronger I don’t care how little you know the person next to you, if they are hurting, you are hurting in some way. Maybe that will motivate you to want to get to know other people here. It’s only by getting to know each other that we can learn who needs to be restored. What are you doing to get to know people here? Well, I hope this has helped you to understand what True Faith looks like in contrast to Toxic Faith. True Faith is spiritual, restorative, gentle, humble, loving, and interdependent. True Faith will restore Eva and everyone like her. But before I close today, I want to address the Eva’s here and there are a lot of you. I meet you all the time. You come for a week or two and then leave for a few months and then return. You aren’t quite sure if you belong. You aren’t quite sure if there is a place for you here and if God will take you back. Well, I want to assure you that there’s a place for you here and that God will take you back. Jesus told us a story that confirmed that. He told of a son that rejected his father and ran away from home only to regret his decision. Finally, the son swallowed his pride and came back home, not sure of his Father’s reaction. But he didn’t have to wait to get home to learn that. When he looked up the road, he saw his father running to great him. And when they met, they embraced. Then the father pulled out a ring and put it on his son’s finger. Before the son had a chance to ask forgiveness, the father told him that the biggest party of his life was waiting back home and they needed to get going! Let me tell you, Jesus told that story for you and every fallen person like you. God is running to meet you this morning. He doesn’t have a list of all the rules you’ve broken. He’s got a party that he wants to throw for you. And he wants the church to act as his representative. That’s what we’re here for, to welcome you back and to throw a party for you. If you want to come back to God, I’d love to be the first one to welcome you back. I hope you’ll come tell after the service. Or you might want one of the folks in our prayer team to pray for you. We’ve also got something I’d like to send you. It’s called a “Fresh Start with God” packet. Prayer: Father, please make us spiritual people. We want to restore the fallen, not condemn them. And for those of us here who are like Eva, let them know that there is a place for them at your table. Might they experience the sense of your Spirit welcoming them back and filling them with joy. Amen. * from Dean Merrill’s book, Sins of the Body


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