relationships pictureEphesians 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. NIV

We have spent the last 4 weeks talking about relationships and whether I have been teaching in the series or listening to Ken speak, this series has really opened up a lot of areas of my heart that I need to work on.  We finish up the Relationship series today and I want to talk about how we can put people in their place.  No I’m not talking about how we can cut them down and give them the business, although at times that would feel really nice to do.  I’m talking about making sure that people aren’t taking too high of a place in your life.

Take a look at the words of Paul that I read a moment ago, there’s really a couple things that I think we need to focus on from that text.

1.  We are at war.

I think Paul makes it very clear here, we are at war.  We need to arm ourselves and fight.  We have an enemy and he is coming to take us down.  The reality is that most people don’t recognize this fact.  They do not arm themselves on a daily basis, and they do not grasp that they are under a daily assault from their enemy.  You do not get a free pass from the enemy because you aren’t wearing your full army every day, or because you are unaware of the fight.  It just makes you an easier target.

2.  Our enemy will try to trick us. 

So this is a different kind of war isn’t it?  We have talked about this before but we are fighting a defeated opponent, which makes it a different fight.  The enemy knows that he has no power over you. He knows that he can’t stand toe to toe with you and defeat you because of Jesus and his victorious work for you and for me on the cross…BUT…He can trick you into giving him ground in your life.  He will work hard at throwing out anything to keep your focus off of God!  He is a schemer, a liar, and a trickster and he needs your focus to shift away from God and onto anything else.

3.  Our battle is not against flesh and blood.

So the real battle is not against flesh and blood.  Ok, so here we start to see just how tricky the enemy is.  Our battle isn’t against what we see, it’s against the spiritual forces of the heavenly realms.  This is a really big deal, and something we have to keep in mind and I will tell you why, because our focus is typically on what we can see!  We have been tricked by our enemy into believing that our battle is against flesh and blood!  We spend most of our time fighting against people.  Your enemy knows that you have been created to be in community.  He knows you have been designed to be in relationships.  So he uses that to his advantage and our focus stays on people, and not on the real fight.

So we end up with an enemy we ignore in a battle that we don’t arm ourselves for, fighting against the wrong enemy!  What a brilliant scheme!

I was recently walking through the book of Joshua and into Judges and I was really impacted by Joshua’s farewell address to the Leaders of Israel.  Joshua was at the end of his life, let’s face it at 110 years old he has had a pretty good run!  There is this ongoing theme, this warning that keeps coming back up throughout his speech and in reality it is God’s warning to the Israelites over and over again.  LOOK AT WHAT GOD DID FOR YOU…DO NOT WORSHIP IDOLS.  ONLY WORSHIP GOD!

Joshua 23:7 Don’t get mixed up with the nations that are still around. Don’t so much as speak the names of their gods or swear by them. And by all means don’t worship or pray to them. 8 Hold tight to GOD, your God, just as you’ve done up to now.9 “GOD has driven out superpower nations before you. And up to now, no one has been able to stand up to you. 10 Think of it — one of you, single-handedly, putting a thousand on the run! Because GOD is GOD, your God. Because he fights for you, just as he promised you.11 “Now, vigilantly guard your souls: Love GOD, your God. 12 Because if you wander off and start taking up with these remaining nations still among you (intermarry, say, and have other dealings with them), 13 know for certain that GOD, your God, will not get rid of these nations for you. They’ll be nothing but trouble to you — horsewhips on your backs and sand in your eyes — until you’re the ones who will be driven out of this good land that GOD, your God, has given you. (MSG)

God is doing great things for these people.  He is going out ahead of them, and doing all the fighting for them.  So basically, these people’s whole job was to not worship the false gods of the nations around them, if they can manage that, and love and focus on God…God will give them everything!  The amazing thing is, they could not do it.  They did not separate themselves from the people around them, and eventually they began worshiping idols…and God well, He did what He said He would do…he used these nations to teach Israel a lesson, the very nations that He would have destroyed for them, now are in control of them.

All through the Old Testament we see it, these people are doing great and then they fall to worshiping idols and anything but God.  Isn’t this ridiculous?  How is it that these people could see God move in a miraculous way, and just a generation or two later be far from God and worshiping idols?  How is that possible?  Remember what Paul said earlier?  We are at war, with an enemy who is scheming, tricking, and deceiving.

So this made me start to think about my life, about MRC, and our community.  God is out ahead of everything we do.  We have seen God do great things here, and I know that God wants to continue to move on our behalf.  He is out ahead of us and He does all the heavy lifting for us, all we need to do is stay focused on Him…does this sound familiar to you?  We need to learn from the Israelites mistakes!  We must not worship idols.  We must not lose our focus on God.

I know what you are thinking, you have not made an altar to Baal, or built a fertility pole to worship Asherah in the backyard!  I get it, but I want to ask you what idols are there in your life?  As I asked myself this question, I just kept feeling like there was something there, and I wasn’t sure what it was.  I started doing the inventory, well I drive a 1997 suburban and still wear a lot of my t-shirts from high school, so I’m good there.  I don’t live in a mansion so I’m good there.  As I went through my mental checklist, I kept thinking wow, I’m doing really well here!  I’m not an idol worshiper!  Yeah me!  Even as I celebrated my own awesomeness, I felt like God wasn’t not done pushing in on me, I couldn’t help thinking something was still there…and then this question came to my mind.

So what exactly is an idol?  Ok Sam, think this through- “Well, it’s anything I worship other than God.  It’s something that matters more to me than it should.  It is something that takes God’s place in my life…wait a minute…it’s a distraction.  Yes, it’s a diversion tactic from our enemy!”  Let’s go back to what we were talking about earlier from Ephesians.

We are at war.  We have an enemy who will try to trick us.  Our fight is not against what we see.

You know what an idol is?  It’s a trap.  It’s a diversion or distraction.  It’s a nice shiny lure to get your attention of of our amazing God.  Our enemy does not want our focus on God.  God warns you time and time again, focus on me.  Love me!  Engage me!  Worship me!  So what does the enemy do?  He throws as much at you as possible.  He keeps the fight on the things you can see, and he uses your human nature, and need of community and relationship against you to do it!  This led me to a realization here in the middle of a relationships series…

My idol can very easily become people, and how they feel about me.  Ouch…and I thought I was clear of this idol stuff. 

So is there something that is taking your attention away from God?  Is your focus on what you can see, or what you can’t see?  Your enemy is a trickster.  He will use your relationships, your desire for community and friendship against you…so let me ask you the question of the day?

Are you putting people in their proper place in your life?

One of the things I am constantly trying to clean up in my own heart is my need for people to like me.  I have noticed that moving into full time ministry has brought more of this heart issue to the surface for me than I may have even thought was there.  The reality is that I want to be liked and that is something that we all have inside us, but it can be a dangerous thing if we aren’t careful.  People must be in their proper place in your life.

Here’s a couple questions that can help us see if people are sliding into the wrong spot in our lives.

1.  What consumes your thoughts?

What are you thinking about right now?  When you walk in and out of this worship setting here on Sunday…what is your conversation on with your spouse on the way home?  Is your focus on God or on people?  When no one is around, what is running through your mind?  Can you clear your mind and engage God, or are you focused on others issues…or yours?

2.  Are you able to move forward after being hurt or are you stuck?

There seems to be something in me, that doesn’t allow me to move forward from being hurt by someone.  I tend to swim in it.  I go over it over, and over again.  I can have imaginary arguments with the person.  You know what those imaginary arguments end much, much better for me than what actually happened in the moment of the confrontation or issue.  I have come across a really good way to combat this.  I pray for the people who hurt me.  I pray for the people who don’t like me…although I can’t figure out what in the world there is not to like!  I pray for them, and through those prayers I actually end up not only forgiving them, and healing the wound, but hurting for them in the process.

Matthew 5:43 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ 44 I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, 45 for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. (MSG)

If you cannot pray for someone who has hurt you, it is a good sign that you have not forgiven and you can’t move on until you do.

3.  Can criticism derail you?

Now I will say, I don’t enjoy criticism.  Whether that is as a person, father, husband, preacher, soccer coach, or whatever.   I’m not good at handling it, in fact I seem to have a natural default skill that is pretty incredible.  As you are telling me something you don’t like about me, I can very clearly see, and tell you some things in your life that I have been noticing too!  You know what, the reality is that is showing something in my heart.  If someone questioning or criticizing you derails you, distracts you, or takes your focus from God it is a sure fire sign of your idol worship.  Oh to live like Paul!

Galatians 1:10 Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. NIV

So if the nasty, critical email left your stomach in knots.  If you can’t move forward or backward…if you can’t handle one man’s opinion, it is saying something about your heart and your focus.  If God is moving out ahead of us, should a person really be able to derail us?  NO!

4.  Do you need people to see and know you are doing good things?

Did you ever sit down with someone and have to get there resume of greatness before you can even start a conversation?  Isn’t it interesting that most of the best people at what they do don’t need to tell you about it?!?

Matthew 6:1″Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. NIV

Why would your reward in heaven be taken from you if you do these “good works” for others to see?  Yes you did help someone but in the end you did it for all the wrong reasons…and God is more concerned with your heart than he is with what you are doing!

5.  Do you go for the cheap laugh?

When you are standing around with the boys, how do you talk?  Do you get laughs at someone else’s expense?  Will you cut someone else down to look cool to your crew?  If so, this is a sign that people’s opinion matter way too much to you, think about it…you would rather hurt someone else just to make people like you…if this is you, people are not in their proper place in your life.

Proverbs 18:20 Words satisfy the mind as much as fruit does the stomach; good talk is as gratifying as a good harvest.21 Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit — you choose. (MSG)

I think I could go on and on with these types of question but I really want to stop there for today, and have you really think this through.  Your enemy understands your deep need of relationship.  He understands that you have a craving for community, and he is trying to use that against you.  Your enemy needs your focus to shift from God to anything else…and let’s face it, relationships and people are an easy way to distract us!  Relationships are messy.  People can hurt us, and those hurts can cling to us if we don’t keep people in their proper place.  We may work and work to have people like us, but the reality is that is a dangerous game.  They may not like you, then what?  Relationships are a big part of our lives, but they cannot take our focus off of what matters more and that is God!  People must be put in their place!  Listen to Jesus’ words here…

Matthew 5:23 “So if you are standing before the altar in the Temple, offering a sacrifice to God, and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you,  24 leave your sacrifice there beside the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.  NLT

Can you hear it?  God wants your full focus.  He wants your worship….let’s face it, when you have something else in your head outside of God…Jesus is saying stop, leave the altar, go make that right so that you are free to give God your full and complete focus!  Relationships can distract you from what really matters!

God wants our attention!  But He won’t force us to focus on Him.  God wants us to want to give it to him! Your enemy is trying to get your eyes to shift away from God!  He will throw out every kind of idol he can to get your mind on anything but God!  I think it’s so important that we end this relationships series this way today…with me asking you this question.

Have you put people in their proper place in your life?

There is so much hurt in this world.  There are so many distractions in this world.  There is so many things in the world that keep us from remembering what really matters.  Do you think that is a coincidence?  No it is not.  We have to remember what Paul told us.

Ephesians 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. NIV

There are far too many people ignoring the battle, not putting on the full armor of God, and fighting the wrong fight.  If we can’t see past people, to the real fight we can be left defenseless against an enemy that isn’t going to give you a time out for being unprepared.

Here’s what I know, God is moving.  He is moving out ahead of us here at MRC.  God continues to win mighty victories how and when He wants.  We have and will continue to see him do things that we people just can’t do on our own if we can keep our focus on what matters.  People have to be in their proper place.

What idols are there in your life?  What is it, or who is it that is distracting you from the real war that is waging all around you?  What is it, or who is it that is pulling your focus away from God?  So as you leave here today, and head towards a week with work for you adults and school for you kids I want to ask you a very important question.  Do you have people in their proper place.  If not you are being deceived.  If not you are heading towards pain.  If not it’s time to recognize, to focus, and to arm yourself.  We are at war, and no it’s not with people, it’s in a realm that will echo to through all of eternity.

We have an enemy who will trick you into focusing on anything but God.  This is why we are warned so often in scripture to not worship idols!  They are a distraction!  Put on the full armor of God and engage the fight that really matters today!

It’s time to put people in their place.