Last week Ken kicked off the New Year with a brand-new series for us called “Rise Up and Stand Firm” that will take us all the way to Easter of this year.  In this conversation we are pushing in a bit.  We are challenging you to rise up and stand firm even as life throws so many challenges your way.  I mean we just made it through a brutal year in 2020 so if you didn’t agree with us before you probably do now…life is hard.  So how do you “rise up” when everything in life is pushing against you? How can you “stand firm” in a world that feels like it’s falling apart? How do you live with courage when you feel more defeated than victorious?  You know, we read Scripture and go to church where we listen to our Pastors preach about this strength, courage, and passion that comes out of our relationship with God and we want that…but life just keeps pushing in harder and harder which makes it so tough to be those strong, victorious Christians that we keep hearing we should be.  Listen, we know that life can be challenging. So many of us get knocked down under all that life throws at us but Scripture tells us that if we trust in God we can rise up and stand firm.  The heart for this series comes out of David’s words here in Psalm 20…

Psalm 20:7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. 8 They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm. NIV

What an awesome thought, that we who trust in the Lord and not all these worldly things can rise up and stand firm.  In those times it was horses and chariots but really it’s the things of this world.  David wasn’t going to trust in his own strength, or his armies strength, or the things they had built, no he lets us know that we can actually rise up and stand firm even though life is challenging and throws so much at us by trusting God.

So that becomes our goal, to be the kind of people who can rise up and stand firm in this challenging world.  We want to live victorious and courageous lives and to do that we are starting this series off by looking at five things that steal our courage that keep us from rising up and standing firm in life.  This will give us opportunities to talk about the problems we face with religion and identity.  The challenges we have in seeing our value spiritually, and how hard it is living opposite of the world’s ways, along with the struggles we all face in this difficult life.  These are all things that steal our courage and keep us from rising up and standing firm.  Then we will talk about how we can actually live these courageous and victorious lives by diving into seven different areas of our heart conditions that we need to grasp and engage if we want to be these courageous and victorious people.  So some good and challenging conversations are coming here as we move ahead into 2021 and I’m really looking forward to jumping into this one with you today but before we do I just want to take a moment and think back to last week.

Ken did such a great job kicking off our series last week, if you weren’t able to attend because of pandemics or winter storms, I really hope you watched on Youtube because it was a very important talk and he did a great job exposing something that is very hard to see, and also clearly laying out for us the first of our five ways that our courage can be taken away and that is through religion.  Now religion is tough to see because when you are stuck in it you feel really good about yourself because you are actually doing a lot of really good things…which is why it’s so dangerous.  Religion really is anything that takes away from or minimizes what God did for us through His Son Jesus…it makes it about what we do rather than what God does but we are doing such good things and feel so good doing them that we rarely see the trap we are stuck in!  I loved this question that Ken asked last week.

“What would happen in your life if you thought that God’s love was based on your human effort?  The answer.  You would be stuck in religion.  That means, every good thing that God has done for you is meaningless because somehow, it’s up to you to make things happen.”  That is a great way to expose religion and here was his big point!

“If you avoid running to God with courage because you believe you aren’t doing enough, you are living in religion.  Why?  Because you believe, God’s love is based on your human effort.  And because it is based on your performance, you will always conclude, you aren’t doing enough to earn God’s love and you will stay away from God.  Please hear me, religion is evil.  It will destroy you.  It always leaves you feeling tired and guilty for not doing enough while at the same time you miss out on the Holy Spirit’s power in you.”  This was such an important talk on a very big and challenging subject.

Today we are going to talk about our identity, our true identity and just how important it is to understand the person that God actually created you to be.  This is one of the most important things to understand, yet it’s rare for people to ever really wrap their minds and hearts around.  At the very core of our spiritual journey is a huge challenge.  That challenge is to get rid of this “old false” self so that we can rise up and stand firm in our “true self.”  Check this out!

Ephesians 4:22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. NIV

Paul says that we must put off our old self so that we can stand in our new self.  This is what it means to stand in who you were designed and created to be by God!  Now think about what I just said.  This means that I have been designed by God to live and stand in who He wired me to be deep down inside me.  Paul also says there is another way we live, that is in our old self which means that we may or may not stand in our true God given identity.  You know Jesus brings up this true self idea a good bit.

Luke 9:23 Then he told them what they could expect for themselves: “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat — I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. 24 Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. 25 What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? MSG

Are you seeing these terms?  Old self, new Self. Your true self.  The real you.  The Gospel of John opens with letting us know that Jesus actually came to turn us into our true selves…finding our true identity.

John 1:9 The Life-Light was the real thing: Every person entering Life he brings into Light. 10 He was in the world, the world was there through him, and yet the world didn’t even notice. 11 He came to his own people, but they didn’t want him. 12 But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves. MSG

There it is again, true self, child of God self!  I know we have heard these terms before in church, but let’s think about this for a moment, are you truly standing in your God given identity?  If we stopped right now and you and I just spoke for a moment and I asked the question; “Who are you, really?  Could you answer that question?  If I asked you right now if you are standing in your true self, your God created self, how would you answer that question?  Have you ever thought about it?  Well, this is a big deal and if you struggle to answer that I want you to understand that you are not alone there.  So many of us struggle to stand in our true self, because we live in a world pushing in harder and harder on us to live like someone else…to never let our true selves come out!  So, we live the way we think we should.  We work to fit into this world, giving in to this push from this world and when that happens, we never discover who we were truly created to be, which is tragic…and happening way too often.  Frankly, this is the battle of our lives and we all face it.  Now the hardest part of it is that most of us don’t even realize this battle over our identity is taking place!  It isn’t a conscious effort to not live out our God given identity but this is everyone’s challenge to stand up and be their true self.  As I was putting this talk together I kept thinking of this quote from Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Pete Scazzero.

“The vast majority of us go to our graves without knowing who we are.  We unconsciously live someone else’s life, or at least someone else’s expectations for us.  This does violence to ourselves, our relationship with God, and ultimately others.” Page 66 Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

That is a powerful statement, and I want you to see this…while we aren’t trying to ignore our true self intentionally it is happening.  There is just this pull that people and the world have on us.  We want to be liked.  We want to fit in, and through expectations, peer pressure, and just life in general we are pulled away from our God given identity.  This keeps us from standing in this true self that would lead to the courageous and victorious life we all want to live.  So I want to take some time and look at three areas that we all face that can keep us from standing in our true self and then three ways that we can learn from Jesus on how to actually stand courageously in who God created us to be.

People – The first way we can lose our true self is through people.  We talk about it often but life with people isn’t easy.  There is a lie that we face that says, “I am what others think of me.”  I will tell you I think this is the one that I struggle with the most.  Sitting and wondering why people don’t seem to understand me.  Why people responded the way they did to me or wondering why they would assume this or that about me, I will be honest and say that is really tough on me.  But we have to be careful here, many of us put a higher value on what others think about us than what God thinks about us.  Our self-image soars with a compliment and is devastated by criticism.  It’s brutal to walk through life held prisoner by thoughts and hurts and perceptions of other imperfect people who are hurt and busted up themselves.  I think this is why Paul makes this challenging statement in Galatians…

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

Why would Paul come at us so strong here?  Because people pleasing is a great way to never stand as the person God created you to be…you can’t serve two masters right?  I started with this one because it’s a challenging life. We live in a world full of imperfect people who just never seem to celebrate you for standing in your true self, your God created self…but we must!  When you lead, when you stand up for Christ, when you pursue a holy life there will be people who push against it, and the only way through is to not listen to this lie.  You are not who people think you are.  No matter how nice or loving you are, not everyone will like you or understand where you are coming from.

Possessions – This is another area that so many people find their identity and lose their true self.  They believe somehow that they are what they have.  The more stuff they have the better they feel about themselves and as long as they have the most or the nicest things they are content being that person…rather than finding their true self in Christ they find it in things which is so dangerous since we know things are here today and gone tomorrow, they aren’t eternal, and we must focus on eternal things because eternity is a much longer time than today and we just don’t get to take all this stuff with us to our eternal destinies!

Matthew 6:19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  NIV

Performance – This is the idea that I believe somehow that I am what I do.  For so many people they find their identity in their performance.  This really is what Ken was tearing away last week as he exposed religion to us.  But also for many of us we pour into our jobs, or something we do well whether it’s a sport or art or music and we base our identity off of that…but that thing we do isn’t who we are it’s just something we do.  We need to understand we are not what we do, or how well we do it.  Remember who we truly are is children of God.  It is not about what we do, it’s all about what God did!

1 John 3:1 How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. NIV

It’s really challenging but we are all searching for this true self that we read about in Scripture…we may not even be all that intentional about it, but I think we all have this question in the back or our minds and heart.  Who am I?  So far today we have looked at this idea that our identity is important, and that in Scripture we read over and over again that we have a true identity, a true self, a God created self out there…which would tell us that there is also a false identity that we can struggle with…which means many of us are not looking for our identity in the right place.  It can’t be found in people, possessions, or performance, our true self can only be found in God.  If I turn to people, possessions and performance it will never allow me to rise up and stand firm…I will never live this courageous life that we keep reading about in Scripture.  Well one of the coolest things we get to do is learn from Jesus’ life, He modelled this life of courage for us and showed us how to rise up and stand firm in how He lived his life.  So I would like to land the plane today looking at how Jesus was able to rise up and stand firm while walking through all the pressures of life.  He is showing us how to do it!  What a gift!  I love that we get to not only read Scripture and learn but also we get to see how He wants us to live and follow His model of living!  Remember what He told His disciples…

Matthew 11:29 Walk with me and work with me — watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. 30 Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” MSG

Well we get to do that too!  I find this so awesome and today we are going to walk with Him and work with Him to find our true self as He showed us how!  So, I want to take you to an impactful moment in Jesus’ time on Earth.  It’s one that I come back to quite often. I think the reason it is so inspiring to me is because it hits such a huge challenge for me in my own life.  I’m just going to tell you that I want people to like me.  It feels good when people like you, doesn’t it?  Well here’s what is funny when you stand in who you are, and who God created you to be, not everyone will.  You will disappoint people which is a pretty challenging thing isn’t it?  Let’s check out this story…

Mark 1:32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was. 35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” 38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else-to the nearby villages-so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”  NIV

So to give you some back drop to where we are, Jesus’ ministry is taking off.  He is healing the sick and casting out demons.  There is momentum, and he is helping everyone.  This is an exciting time!  People are clamoring for me Him; they all need Him…and I find this moment very interesting.  In all of the excitement, what does Jesus do?  He goes off early in the morning and spends time alone with God.  He is tending to his heart condition.  This is important, and something we all must do, but it’s what happens next that really is a challenge for me.  Let’s look at those last two verses again…

36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” 38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else-to the nearby villages-so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 

So the disciples are pumped!  There is so much good happening here and there are more and more people who need Jesus to heal them.  The people are looking for him…and what does he do?  He leaves and goes on to the next town!  Wait, shouldn’t he stay?  Shouldn’t he do what everyone wants him to do here?  Shouldn’t he cater to these hurting people…after all he is gaining more and more momentum here.  What does it mean that he says it’s time to move on?  Does this mean that Jesus doesn’t care about people?  Does it mean he doesn’t want to heal them?  I know it’s just a sentence or two here, but this is a big moment and maybe the most challenging question for you and I is this. Would you be willing to leave this village and go to the next one?  Or would you stay…I will tell you this if it was me, even if I knew I was to leave and actually mustered the courage up to do so, I would have felt bad, and felt pressure, and felt insecure about all the people that I just disappointed in this town!  Can you feel the intensity of this moment?  Can you feel the emotions of those in deep need of him?  How about the confusion and disappointment of Peter here?  What do you mean move on to the next town?  This is an amazing moment for us to look at in the life of Jesus and I don’t know if I could have done it.  So how does he leave and move on to the next town without even flinching?  How can he be so courageous and confident in what He is doing?  Well there are 3 clear things that Jesus does that allow him to rise up and stand firm in who He is and to live out God’s plan for His life…we need to see this and learn from it.

Jesus knows who He is in God’s eyes. Jesus knows His purpose and Jesus spends time with God keeping him focused.

Jesus knows who He is to God. This is where His identity is found, in God!  Jesus is standing firmly on the foundation of who He is to God.  He knows unflinchingly that He is loved by God.  Why?  God told him and He believes.  Remember that moment at his baptism where God speaks?

Matthew 3:16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” NIV

By standing in this love Jesus can rise up and stand firm and live out the life God has empowered Him to live and so can you, but you must know how God views you and find your true self in Him.

Jesus knows His Purpose.  You know I can just picture Peter here, he is so confused and worried by Jesus’ response.  What do you mean we are leaving?  People need you right here and right now…but Jesus says something so important.  Look at this exchange again…

Mark 1:36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” 38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else-to the nearby villages-so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 

Did you catch it?  We need to go elsewhere so I can preach there also…Peter “That is why I have come.”  Jesus is very aware of his purpose.  There is one more reason why I think Jesus can live out his true self…He can rise up and stand firm because He knows exactly what His God given purpose is.

Jesus spends time with God.  There is a rhythm to Jesus’ life that he is very intentional and should be something we all take from His time on Earth.  He lives a God focused and intentional life.  So yes, he serves and gives a ton of himself.  But he also spends rhythmic and essential time with God.  He works hard then he withdraws to quiet places to pray and spend time with God…you saw it in this story as well.

Mark 1:35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. NIV

This is where the strength and focus to stay on mission comes from, his time and relationship with God.  He is very clearly showing us how to live.  It’s this time with God that continues to guide Him through a chaotic life filled with the stress of leadership and serving those around Him who had so much for Him to do.  Think about the confrontations, the emotions, the need that Jesus is walking in each day.  His time with God rejuvenates Him and guides him as it will you too!  Through all the chaos of life around Jesus he was able to stand in His true self, His God created self.  This is the challenge of life for you all of us!  To stand in who God created us to be in a world doing its best to keep us from ever finding our true identity in Christ!  I find it so inspiring that Jesus lived this out on this for us so we could see how it’s done!  How awesome is that?  We get to follow the path that Jesus laid for us on how to rise up and stand firm.

That story of the revival that Jesus started in Capernum really impacts me and I think it should touch your heart too.  Try to personalize the story, think about the emotions of this.  Think about the pressure to stay and serve more people right where He was.  Think of the mother bringing her dying child?  Think of the man oppressed by demons who needs freedom.  Think of the disciples who had to be so excited because “Finally, we are hitting the big time!”  Through all of the expectations and human emotion Jesus stays the course.  He doesn’t flinch.  He moves on…because He knows who He is.  He knows why He has come and He is spending the necessary time with God to stay the course.

You know what is amazing to me?  By standing up as his true self Jesus disappointed a lot of people.  All thought scripture we see it…he disappointed his family.  He disappointed the people he grew up with in Nazereth.  He disappointed his closest friends and disciples…many of them quit on him and walk away when they realize he doesn’t meet the expectations of what they thought the Messiah would be!  He disappointed crowds of people who wanted a Messiah who would fix their Earthly problems…and free them from Roman oppression, they wanted miracles, and amazing sermons…and many walked away from Him disappointed.  He really disappointed the religious leaders of his time.  They found him to be a pest, a disruption, and these were they guys who were actually paid to identify Jesus when He arrived but they had such different expectations of who He was supposed to be that they can’t see Him for who He is and eventually kill him!

Do you see the challenge of standing in who you were created to be?  Life is so challenging.  Jesus felt it and I know for a fact that you are feeling it too.  Everything in this world is telling you to be something or someone you were not created to be.  While your loving Father in Heaven continues to whisper for you to stand in who God created you to be.  This may be the biggest challenge in all of our spiritual lives, to stand in our true selves.

You can rise up and stand firm in this brutal world.  We do that by trusting in God and centering on Him and finding our true self in Him.  That is where our true self is found, in God…not in people, not in possessions, and not our performances.  So, as we leave this conversation please ask yourself a few important questions.

  • If I came up to you right now and asked you if you know who you truly are in Christ?  Could you answer that?
  • Look at your life.  Where do you go to find value in who you are?  People?  Maybe your job?  Maybe it’s what you have or what you have accomplished or what you do.  What is it?
  • Do you know how God truly views you?  Have you ever stopped and focused on the truth of His great love for you?  Take some time and reflect on this every day.
  • Do you know your God given purpose?  Could you courageously tell someone why you are here the way Jesus spoke to Peter?
  • Are you spending the time with God needed to base all of the answers to all of these questions on God’s truth for your life?  We must spend time with God every day to stand in our true self our God created self.

We love you and want to see you rise up and stand firm in 2021 and beyond…a huge way to do that is to stand in your true self and know who you are!  Not who you think you might be, or who people tell you that you are, or what the world may say you are, but who you truly are in God’s eyes.  So many of us live in a false self and never stand in who God created us to be.  This is such a challenge.  If you need help with understanding your true identity in Christ, or walking in a relationship with Him, or just finding God’s purpose for your life, reach out we would love to help lead you towards Him and that courageous life that we know is out there for us all.