You know if you have been anywhere near MRC in anyway, you probably have seen one of our favorite images.  It’s the image of an upside down turtle with this one very specific question on it; “stuck?”  We love that imagery and we use it on everything from our Facebook page, to our billboards, and our invitations to our church because it really says a lot about how a lot of us feel.  We can feel stuck in life.  We can feel stuck spiritually.  We can get to places in life where we just don’t see a way through as we talked about last week.  Because let’s face it, life isn’t all that easy.  And throughout this series I have not been sugar coating it, I have been telling you straight up, that life is hard.  We keep saying it, but the reality of our lives isn’t the nice pretty pictures we are putting out there on Instagram and Facebook.  Life is a lot messier than the life we project to people out in public isn’t it?  Whether that is at church, or out there in the world of social media…life isn’t always as pretty as what we share.  It isn’t easy, and I think that is why the idea of being “stuck?” makes so much sense.  I think that is why that upside down turtle can be so meaningful, because life just doesn’t always seem to go the way we want it to.

You know for a lot of us, I think we would say that our spiritual journeys are just not going the way we want it to.  We really do want to be healthy, we want to be growing in a relationship with Christ but we feel like for every step we take forward we seem to take two steps back…we just aren’t getting anywhere, we feel stuck spiritually and it’s tough, because we want more than that.  We read our Bibles and it says that there should be more than that.  We look around at everyone else, and they seem to be figuring this God thing out, and we just can’t figure out why we can’t move forward.  Well, you aren’t alone in that feeling…I think we can all resonate with what Paul says here in Romans.

Romans 7:15 What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. 16 So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary. 17 But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! 18 I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. 19 I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. 20 My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. 21 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. 22 I truly delight in God’s commands, 23 but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. 24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? MSG

What an incredible chunk of scripture…and I want to point out, that the guy sharing this is Paul…the Apostle, like one of the greatest men of Scripture, who planted churches before it was cool, who took the Good News message of Jesus out to all nations.  Paul, who wrote a large portion of the New Testament in our Bibles…and he deals with this too!  Did you hear it?  I think this is so important, and I also don’t want to leave you in suspense, because in the next verse he answers the question he left us with in verse 24….

Romans 7:25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different. MSG

So let’s take a moment here, do you or have you ever felt this way?  It’s tough right?  We want to live our lives for God but we keep going back, we keep slipping up, we keep ending up doing the things we despise.  This is the struggle for most of us.  We truly want to do right but we continue to struggle and slide back, and our spiritual journeys seem to resemble that upside down turtle more than we want them to.  We just feel stuck, and every time we try to take a step towards God, we seem to end up taking two back…I get it.  Paul gets it.  We seem to stay in this grooves.  I love the way Peter brings this up here…

1 Peter 1:13 So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives. 14 Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn’t know any better then; you do now. MSG

I love that phrasing here, “the old grooves of evil” because that really paints a picture of our lives.  We all seem to have them, and we all seem to struggle to get out of them.  And Peter really challenges us to roll up our sleeves, and stay really focused so we don’t slip back into those old grooves that we all seem to feel challenges with.  It’s so interesting that these amazing men of God, I mean the great Apostle Paul, and Peter…you know Peter the one who walked with Jesus, who Jesus literally calls “The Rock” who he will build His church on, seem to really understand that we struggle to move forward. That we seem to get stuck, and for most of us, I think while we know the answer is Jesus, we just seem to stay stuck in this pattern, and I would like to talk to you about one of the most popular reasons why that happens.

Today we are going to watch the I am Second video of Lisa Ryan and as I watched this video I just thought so much of what it is like to deal with a lot as we walk through life, to mess up a lot, to have pain and tremendous challenges and hurts in our past and then to carry secrets, guilt, regret, and shame for so long…and one of the things that impacted me so much about this story is watching her finally be able to walk in freedom from it all.

For so many of us I think we feel stuck.  I think we feel like for every step forward we take in life to grow spiritually, we seem to get knocked back down, or we take two steps back.  And I want to start with telling you why I think so many of us struggle to walk in that whole “life to the full thing” that Jesus told us he came to provide for us.  There is a reason we feel like that upside down turtle, wondering why we can’t get it right…and it starts with forgiveness, but maybe not fully how you think. Now here’s what is so interesting.  I think we can buy into this idea of the Gospel…and that God loves us so much that He would handle the sin problem for us, love this here in Romans 5…

Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. NIV

This is the amazing good news, that God loved us this much!  We didn’t earn it, and we were still sinners when God handled it because God loves us this much…which is amazing.  It’s this amazing love that leads to this amazing forgiveness of all our sins, mistakes, and issues, past, present and future…this is why we celebrate and worship.

Ephesians 1:6 So we praise God for the wonderful kindness he has poured out on us because we belong to his dearly loved Son. 7 He is so rich in kindness that he purchased our freedom through the blood of his Son, and our sins are forgiven. NLT

For so many of us we can look back over our pasts and we see one mistake after another.  We see one dumb move after another.  We have wreckage behind us, pain behind us…and we carry a lot from that, and the beauty of our Heavenly Father’s love is that we don’t have to carry that anymore.  So at one point or another I think for many of us, we are crushed by God’s grace, and we ask Jesus into our lives.  We are amazed at the love of God for us…we try to start doing the Spiritual thing, we want to take steps towards a relationship with God, and that is when it starts.  One step forward, one step back…I want to do right, but I keep slipping into the old grooves of evil…and I can’t figure out why.  Well I think the answer is there for us and it is something we really need to talk about, it’s something that I can tell you was the hardest thing for me to do in my own life as I moved towards Christ after years of mistakes, and sins, and regrets.  I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior.  I couldn’t believe that Jesus would die on the cross for my sins.  I was able to forgive others for all the hurts, and stuff that happened in my past.  I was able to ask forgiveness where I needed it for the mistakes that I had made with people…but I was still stuck and it took me years to realize something very important and it’s this.

Sometimes the hardest person to forgive is yourself.  I think this is the most common reason that we aren’t standing in that “life and life to the full thing” that Jesus came to provide.  We love God with all our hearts.  Like Paul we know what is right, and we want to do what is right but for some reason we continue to take steps back…and it’s because we are still carrying guilt, shame, regret…it’s weight we don’t need to carry but we do, and it’s because the hardest person to forgive for all that has happened is you.

So as we watch this video, I want you thinking about this.  Are you stuck spiritually?  Can you resonate with the words writing by Peter and Paul?  Well it is a beautiful thing that God has forgiven you for all of it, and that as a disciple of Jesus you have a clean slate.  But maybe it’s time for you to let yourself off the hook, just like Your Heavenly Father already has for you.

Sometimes the hardest person to forgive is yourself. 

I am Second Video – Lisa Ryan.

When I watched Lisa’s video, I could almost feel the weight of all she was carrying on her.  The pain of her past, the painful wounds from her childhood.  The secrets she was keeping…all of it.  She carried all of that on her back for years, and years, and years.  I just kept thinking, you can start to do all the right things, you can accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior and get up every Sunday and do the church thing.  You can want to do right for God, but until you are willing to let yourself off the hook, you can and probably will always feel stuck.  Wondering why you can’t seem to move forward in freedom and joy.  It’s because you are carrying something, and you may not even realize it, but you are still carrying something that God wants to take from you, and He can take it today.

You know originally I was going to do a whole lesson on the Prodigal son right here, but instead I want to talk to you about something that happened in my life.  Now I have told you a lot of my story, for those of you that don’t know, I grew up around the church.  My father is a Pastor and I spent my life learning about the Gospel and understanding who Jesus was, and I knew very early on in life that I would someday be a Pastor.  But life started hitting, and there was a lot of messy things going on around the church and to spare you a lot of the details we will just say I bailed on the church and God big time. I bailed on my family and my friends.  I was hurt and I was angry, and I didn’t handle any of it well…and let’s just say that my life just spun out of control for years.  My life really looked like the blizzard we talked about last week, and it’s very fair to say that I was a mess…frankly that might be an understatement.  I screwed up a lot.  I’m thankful to say that God not only kept me alive in those darkest moments of my life, but pulled me out of that mess that I was in, and I am now fulfilling that calling that God had for my life.  As I began to heal, and seek God I was able to ask God into my life.  I confessed my sins.  I even was re-baptized which to me felt very important.  I poured into God’s word, and I was serving our youth group at MRC.  My family was growing, and I was passionately in love with Christ and things were going ok.  Then one day I was sitting in a service, and we were singing the song Amazing Grace and I will tell you that song hits me harder than any other.  But on this day something happened, that I can only say was God’s just reaching down with a healing touch on my life.  I was there singing, bawling my eyes out with my eyes closed, and I could picture Jesus on the Cross.  His body torn to pieces, bloody, in total agony because of me.  This was my doing.  Jesus was on that Cross to save a wretch like me.  I knew that fully, but something happened in that moment that changed my thinking, and made me understand something I don’t know that I ever really fully understood before.  In that moment I felt like Jesus stepped through that bloody cross, and reached out to take my hand, brilliant white as snow, not a bloody, painful mess, but healed, whole, and with a peaceful loving smile on His face and He said.  “Sam, I’m fine…I’m not that bloody, torn up mess.  I’m ok, I’ve won, and now you need to let it go.”  I had to sit down, that hit me so hard.  I had never realized how much I still carried, and I felt like God just crushed me in the moment, saying…it’s time.

You see this was a very interesting moment for me.  I had made a total mess of my life.  I had turned my back on God.  I abused my body in so many ways, and while I was able to ask God to forgive me, and while I was able to go to other people, family and friends and ask for forgiveness for all the dumb things I did.  I had never been willing to let myself off the hook.  But I don’t think I would have told you that I was holding myself up like that on purpose, but deep down, I still wasn’t ok with me.  All those year, all that pain, all that selfishness…it was like I was still not ok with me.  Up until that point my view of Jesus was the beaten, bloody, Jesus hanging on the Cross that I pinned him too.  My sin did that.  I could let you off the hook for anything you had ever done to me.  I could forgive others, but I just wasn’t willing to forgive myself and that day, years into my walk with God, while attending and serving in my local church, that was the first time that weight ever came off of me…and I can’t say prior to that I ever realized I was still carrying it.

For so many of us we feel stuck.  Just like Paul it’s confusing right?  Remember that verse from earlier.

Romans 7:15 What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. MSG

Can I tell you something, I think we can all feel this way, and I think the number one reason that we all feel stuck is that we are still carrying things we shouldn’t.  You saw it in the video today didn’t you?  She wanted healing, but kept carrying secrets, unable to drop that burden.  I spent years carrying pain that I didn’t need to, because while I was willing to forgive you if you hurt me.  I wasn’t willing to let myself off the hook for all I had done…and it was weight that I didn’t need to be walking in, because Jesus took care of that all for me.

So as we close this service down today, I want to ask you a couple of questions.

First is this have you ever asked Jesus into your life as your personal Lord and Savior?  If you haven’t I would love to invite you to do that today.

Second question – Do you feel stuck?  Do you feel like for every step you take forward you take one back?  Do you see that imagery of the upside down turtle and feel like that is a very accurate picture of your life too?  If so this next question is very important…because if you have asked Jesus into your life, and if you are still feeling stuck, then I think question is really the key for you.

Third question – Have you been able to forgive yourself for all the mistakes, sins, hurts, and issues of your past?  I think its one thing to know that God loves you and forgives you.  I think it’s easier at times to seek forgiveness from others and to forgive people that hurt you…but in the end, I think when you look back at the wreckage of your life, the broken relationships, the big mistakes, the fractured dreams, I think the hardest person to forgive is yourself.  And I think until you can let go of that pain, and forgive yourself, you will probably continue to be frustrated and wonder where that life to the full thing actually is.

You know, that same Paul who writes of this challenge spiritually, of the battle to do right verse doing what we hate, is the same Paul who had a rough past.  He was once Saul a man who persecuted Christians…men, women, and children.  Paul who calls himself the chief of all sinners.  Paul who writes of the struggle we all face spiritually writes of God’s grace given to him here, he knows it’s a gift and it is one he won’t waste, and I would like to encourage you to stand in that grace too.  Listen to Paul here.

1 Corinthians 15:10 But because God was so gracious, so very generous, here I am. And I’m not about to let his grace go to waste. MSG

That same grace that you have been given, that you are too extend to others, that allows us to just simply be who we are…is something you must give yourself too.  I don’t know about you but I don’t want that gift to go to waste in my life, and I certainly don’t want this gift to go to waste in yours.  I would like to encourage you to extend that same gift of grace to yourself.  If this is something that you haven’t considered, that maybe you still are carrying things you should not be carrying, and maybe you haven’t been willing to let yourself off the hook…then I think we should talk.  Because I think in the end we all struggle, and we all carry things, and God wants to take all that from us, and will carry it for us if we let Him.  In the end it comes down to forgiveness and I think the hardest person to forgive is yourself.