Easter_CrownofThorns_-_InstagramYou know last week we were talking about trying to have God focus in a world that is constantly pulling us away from God.  The way I see it, that really is the ultimate challenge for us, to stay focused on God in a world full of things that just seem to pull our attention away from God and onto everything, and anything but Him.  What was interesting to me was that when we looked around the Bible last week it was clear that this is not a new problem!  It is actually THE problem that we humans have always had!  We can go all the way back to Biblical times and see that even Jesus’ own disciples struggled to stay focused on Him as they literally walked and talked and learned from Him every day and they didn’t have the pace of life or half the distractions that you and I have today.  Towards the end of that talk I really wanted to take you to a place where you could look at just one day of your life, and see all of what that one day can bring.  We have so many challenges in just one day and as I spoke them out on Sunday morning last week it really hit my heart and I want to try to expand on that some today.  I don’t know where you are in life, but I bet you would agree, that in any one day…a lot goes on doesn’t it?  Think about the busyness, the clutter, the details that you have to keep straight in your mind.  Think about the work issues, the family issues, the responsibilities, the bills, all the children’s activities that you have to navigate through in just one day.  I mean when you look at all the different things that you have to accomplish and deal with it’s pretty easy to see why it’s so easy to lose track of God.  Life is happening so fast and as we talked last week, there are no time outs to life.  There is no pause button in life and it just doesn’t seem to ever really let up does it?

Well, you know what when you take all the pressures and stress and craziness of your day and then you add other people to the mix, things can really get messy.  Think about the people in your life for a moment, and think about all the hurts, and clutter, and emotions that come at you as you walk in and out of relationship with them each and every day.  You have family, friends, co-workers, and people you bump into just because your children are on the same sports teams, or they do different activities together, and guess what…as cluttered and stressed out and busy and hurting as you are…they are too!  This leads to a pretty volatile mixture.  You take millions of busy, frantic, hurting people walking around this planet bumping into each other every day moving as fast as they can to as much as they can and there is no wonder that we struggle so much in the area of relationships and people.  It’s no wonder that I can walk away from the soccer field with my children and feel tired and beaten up.  It’s not wonder that I can leave the church lobby after service with my family and feel a little picked apart and a little tired at times!  Living in this world with people just isn’t real clean is it?  I just kept thinking last week, there are just so many things that keep us from a clear and focused life that is centered on God but I don’t know that there is a bigger barrier than people.

Wouldn’t life just be easier if we didn’t have to deal with so many other people?   When I worked at Lobar we would build these big buildings, and often times there would be so much drama and conflict around how we would build those buildings that we would talk in our review meetings about how easy it would be if our jobs were just to build those buildings!  Building those huge buildings was easy, it was the people that made it so challenging!  I can say that for about every area of my life whether that is dedicating my life to the mission of Christ here at MRC, or simply volunteering my time to coach young children in sports in my community.  It sure would be easier without all the people!  Can you relate to that?

Well here’s what is really interesting, Jesus talks a lot about how we deal with people, and the importance of loving others.  In fact Jesus really simplifies all of Christianity down to two very simple things…Loving God and loving others.  So Jesus was always being picked at by the religious leaders of that time.  They were always giving him a hard time.  I find it so funny that they were always trying to test him and out-smart Him!  Good luck with that right?  Trying to be wiser than God in skin…well check out this interaction as one of them tries to test Jesus…

Matthew 22:35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’   38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’   40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  NIV

So sitting their dealing with these men that had to be really frustrating him during his time on this Earth.  I love this thought.  In this moment, Jesus takes something that we make so complex, and makes it so simple.  He says in the end this whole Christianity thing boils down to two things, love God and love people.  But is it really that simple?

You know I think when it comes to loving God…we can handle that!  I even think that when it comes to loving the people we like…we can handle that too!  But you know what, Jesus always seems to take it a step further.  We have spent a lot of time in Jesus’ famous teaching “The Sermon on the Mount” during this series.  And one thing that really stands out to me, is that all through this amazing sermon Jesus is showing us how to live, and it is very challenging!  I have told you as we have walked through this series that Jesus takes all of their old laws, and all of their old teachings and says, “you have heard this_____ well I say this _____!”  He is always taking it a step further, and today we are going to see that again.

So today we close down this series by looking at this idea of loving others and dealing with people but Jesus just doesn’t seem to let up on this idea that we must go a step further than we probably would like.  Today we find our Jesus question in Matthew 5…right back in the Sermon on the Mount again!

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. This is what God does. He gives his best — the sun to warm and the rain to nourish — to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. 46 If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. 47 If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. 48 “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you. MSG

So as you can see, this isn’t going to be easy and I can tell you, this is a huge challenge for me in my own life but it is something we need to look at today.  I think it is one thing to love those who love you back, but man oh man it is a whole other thing to love those who aren’t exactly kind in return isn’t it?  I mean love my enemies?  I call them my enemies for a reason right?  Well over the last few weeks I have really wanted you to hear me, life isn’t easy and you know what life with people is just flat out messy.  As I read what Jesus is saying here I think Jesus continues to tell us to live out this God life and what I’m seeing here is how you respond to difficult people AND life in general continues to be a really big deal.  Dealing with people is unavoidable, and Jesus would say how we deal with both nice people and not so nice people is an even bigger deal as we live out this God created identity, before we get into that I want you to see something first.

  1. You were wired by God to be with people.  The reality is that you were created by God with a desire to be with people.  We can see this from the very beginning of time and I think that is why the emotions, hurts, actions of people can leave such a mark with us because it is part of who we are as humans.

Genesis 2:18 The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” NIV

So I want you to see that we have a need to be with others that is wired deep into who we are as people.  So just through our God given nature, people are going to play a big part in our lives and that is important to understand.  So life will keep happening, and at times you will be hurt by others and Jesus isn’t saying that as Christians we just muscle through that, and just love everyone and smile as people hurt us.  No, that isn’t it.  Jesus isn’t saying your hurts aren’t real and that you should walk it off, or rub some dirt on it and moving on.  This isn’t about ignoring and stuffing the hurt.  This is about responding the right way and living in such a way where people aren’t only in the proper place in your life, but that we can see the product of your relationship with God coming out of you in how you interact with others.  I really wanted you to hear me say that.  Emotions are ok and whether you want to wish people away or not, they aren’t going anywhere…so living and loving and relating to people is going to be a very big deal.

I wanted to establish something as we started this talk, people are a big part of our lives.  We need them in our lives and what can happen very easily is that we can end up wrapping our identity up in someone else…or the hurts from someone else and when we do that we are in very big trouble.  We have to remember where our identity is actually found…just so I’m not leaving you in suspense your identity is found in Jesus!  Listen to Paul here…

1 Corinthians 7:23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. NIV

The reality is that you have been bought with a price by Jesus.  You are HIS!  Many of us end up hurt, wounded, and focused on the opinions of others to a point where we begin to lose our identity in what it should be in.  This is tough because people do matter to us.  Especially people we look up to, and maybe even give our love and hearts to, the issue can be that if we don’t stay focused on keeping our identity in Jesus we can get into trouble.

You know, people are imperfect, and if you focus on them more than you focus on God you will really end up in a bad spot because no matter how much you want to be liked…not everyone will like you.  No matter how much you want others to come through for you…at times they will let you down because they are just people…they aren’t perfect.  Not everyone will like you, I know right…hard to believe!  I know I said that statement pretty confidently but I will be very honest with you here…that statement is not always easy for me to accept.  I want to be liked and I still struggle with the idea that someone wouldn’t be happy with me.  I could have 50 people say something nice to me, but I have an amazing ability to focus on the one who doesn’t like me.  Well, I’m working on it…Pastors are people too right?  Here’s another warning from 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

Paul gets it…we have been wired with a drive for others, and if we aren’t careful, people can slide into the wrong spots in our lives, and that is a dangerous place to be…because people are not perfect and God is!  We must see this and remember that God must be the foundation of our lives!  Ok Sam, so we get the whole foundation thing, and the fact that God wired us to have a need for people…and we also get that people are not going anywhere so what do we do?  How in the world can I love others, especially those that aren’t all that lovable or even hurt me?  Well I think Jesus helped us see that as he was teaching in Matthew 5…

Jesus says “When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer”

  1. We need to be spending time with God. So when someone gives you a hard time is this your first response?  Do you think to yourself, I need to pray for this person?  I don’t think it is in our nature to respond this way, but I want you to hear me say something, when you pray for others your heart changes towards them.  When you spend time with God and you bring those tough moments and interactions with others to Him something inside you will change.  Remember last week how Jesus told us that as we spend time with God something really cool happens…do you remember what that was?

Matthew 6:6 “Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace. (MSG)

So the more time you spend with God, the more the focus will shift off of you and onto God…and you will begin to center your life on God’s grace.  This is the only way that we can respond to people differently…because our fleshly reaction will always be what?  Justice!  Revenge!  Payback!  They hurt me so I want to hurt them!  We want them to know what they did was wrong and they need to feel it too right?  But as we spend time with God, and the focus shifts off of all our fleshly desires and onto the love of God we start to see the grace we have been given.  We start to understand that we aren’t perfect either…and as we pray for that person, we start to realize something really, really important.  That they are hurting too.

My father used to say something to me a lot growing up…that “hurt people, hurt people.”  I would be upset about this or that or the other thing, and he would often say that to me, “Sambo- hurt people, hurt people.”  My dad said that to me a lot and I didn’t always understand it, but years later I get it.  Hurt people really do hurt people.  There is often a reason why something happened, now it doesn’t justify what they did, but it is a very different way to look at someone…and I can’t do that without God’s help.  You know, I’m not perfect and it’s important for me remember that people aren’t perfect either.  That same grace that I need when I screw up is the same grace they need when they screw up too.  If I am not spending time with God I can’t see this because the focus will stay on me, and I will not remember grace.

  1. Sometimes growing up means doing the hard thing. So let’s look a little closer at the big question of the day that we are supposed to be examining because as always Jesus isn’t pulling any punches…and there is something in here that we really need to look at closely.

46 If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. 47 If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. 48 “In a word, what I’m saying is, grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you. MSG

Jesus is saying, anybody can love the lovable.  What I want you to do is grow up.  I think that is very important for us to hear that today…because you know what, sometimes to grow up means that we need to stand up and do something that isn’t easy to do.  In many ways that is when we know we are wearing our big boy pants right?  When we are willing to step up to a challenge and take it on, rather than take the easiest route to something…that is growth and maturity if you ask me.  Well, when it comes to the area of people, there is no greater challenge than being willing to forgive those who hurt us.  I know, I know…this isn’t going to be fun but I need you to hear me say this.  As we spend time with God, and the focus shifts off of us and onto him, we start to wrap our minds around grace.  We start to understand that hurt people, well…they hurt people.  Well we also start to realize that there is something else we will need to do.  We must forgive those who hurt us…YUCK!  So moments after we are told to grow up, Jesus starts teaching on prayer and listen to what he says, just a few scripture verses later…

Matthew 6:12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ 14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.  NIV

Wait a minute, Jesus is saying that if we don’t forgive others, God won’t forgive us?  Jesus is saying there is a direct connection between your relationship with God and your ability to forgive those that hurt you.  Yikes!  I thought God was a God of grace, love and mercy?  I thought that the cross was bigger than all my sin, I shouldn’t need to do anything right?  Now I know that verse can cause some tension…just breath for me here.  I want you to hear me say something.  Hurt people, hurt people…but forgiven people forgive people.

Look at what Paul writes here…this is so important:

Colossians 3:13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. NIV

So if we tie this all together, the reason Jesus says that God won’t forgive you unless you forgive others is because a true sign of a Christian is a person who has been forgiven of a lot!  Think of how loved you are by God.  Think of how many times you have turn your back on Him, and He never stops forgiving and loving you.  The reality is that we have been forgiven of so much, and that is why we forgive.  The reality is that forgiving people who hurt you doesn’t change God’s perspective of you and it certainly isn’t going to make God love you more than He already does.  It is a sign that you yourself have been forgiven.  So forgiveness is a really big deal.  If you can forgive it is a sign that you understand that you have been forgiven by God of so much, and if you struggle to forgive it is a sign that you don’t understand just how much you have been forgiven of.  Listen to me now…forgiveness isn’t optional for a Christian.

The reality is that all of us have been hurt by people.  For some of us we are holding on to real pain.  We have been hurt badly by people that matter to us, and we can’t stand the idea of letting go of that hurt.  It almost feels like if we let go of it somehow we are letting them get away with what they did right?  The brutal thing about holding onto these hurts is that while we sit stuck in them, that person is moving on with their life.  The reality is that when we don’t forgive we only are hurting ourselves.

Forgiven people forgive people.  Not because it is an easy thing to do and not because the person deserves it.  We forgive because God forgave us.  Now I need to stop and make a few important statements here, because I don’t want things to get taken out of context here:

This doesn’t mean that you forget and walk blindly back into unhealthy relationships.

This doesn’t mean that you allow someone to abuse you.  If you are in a situation where someone is hurting you, you get to safety first, then you work on forgiving them from there. 

You do not allow someone to continue hurting you, but it does mean that we won’t hold onto their sin anymore!  Listen forgiveness isn’t easy.  It doesn’t mean that what happened to you is ok.  It is not ok.  But what it means is that we are going to walk in freedom from their sin.  We aren’t going to be stuck anymore.

Here’s the deal, God wants you whole and healed.  He wants you walking in freedom and joy.  To find this kind of freedom you have something to do.  God won’t do it for you.  You must forgive.  If you hold onto hurts you simply can’t walk in freedom.  God forgave us of so much which is why we forgive. Because it releases us from the bondage of bitterness.  Forgiven people, forgive people.

You know I think this topic today is probably the most difficult of Jesus’ challenges to love others is one thing, to love our enemies well let’s just say that, that is a whole other thing.  I think throughout this whole series we have seen just how challenging Jesus’ teaching really is.  Jesus continues to raise the bar, and while it seems almost impossible to do this on our own, I really think that was the point.  You see as you begin to live out Jesus’ words, you begin to realize it’s only because you AREN’T alone in any of it, but you are walking with God, and talking with God, and you have God living inside you.  We simply can’t live this way without Jesus living and active in our lives…this is why how we respond to people is such a big deal, because it shows our spiritual growth.  It shows life change.  It shows that we are truly walking with God.  This is us growing up in Christ, and just like I finished last week I want you to know that this is hard…life with people is messy but as we begin to respond to all of those challenges differently we literally are showing Jesus to the world.  As we begin to show this kind of love to others we also are showing a greater understanding of the unconditional love God has for us!  I think part of our growing up and living out our God given identity is being able to relate to people differently.  Trust me, this will also bring a different level of peace to your own heart as well.  So tomorrow as you walk in and out of relationships I want you to think about these simple moments.  Yes people are important, you were wired by God to be with others…so they will matter to you.  But this is a broken world full of hurting people and it’s just so important to understand that hurt people hurt people…but even bigger than that is that we grasp that forgiven people forgive people.  Or put into simpler terms by Jesus…

48 “In a word, what I’m saying is, grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.