When our girls were in elementary school, it was a great time for them. Great school, great teachers. The girls were always happy to go to school and always happy to come home. Then they hit third and fourth grade. That’s when everything began to change. Now, they had homework. They would bring home a work sheet to fill out. It seemed overwhelming for them. And some nights, they spent more time being frustrated about the worksheet than actually doing the worksheet. I remember wanting them to just settle down and take the fifteen minutes to walk through the work sheet. I tried to tell them, you are fine, you can do this, just have courage.
As they got older they jumped into sports and music. Volleyball, field hockey, musicals, band, track and field. For volleyball and field hockey, there was a threat that not all the girls would make the team. There would be tryouts and cuts. They went to school and felt the weight of what it would mean to be cut. I tried to tell them, you are fine, you can do this, just have courage.
Can you connect with this? Don’t you see your kids and think, life would be so much easier if you had courage. Jump into life; you will be great. You want your kids to see their value and believe in themselves.
When I graduated school, I went into the mortgage business. I was 100% commission for many years. When I started, I struggled a lot. I would visit Real Estate offices and Construction companies and I struggled to ask them to send me work. When I met with people for the first time to fill out the mortgage forms, I struggled. I struggled to be clear, struggled to ask people how much they made. I remember my boss trying to help me. Ken, your fine, you can do this, just have courage.
Can you connect with this? You see people at work and think, life would be so much easier if you had courage.
Now as a pastor, I have spent many years listening to people. They tell me about their struggles. I find myself encouraging them to remember that in their worst moments, Jesus is still there and very much in love with them. God didn’t create earth, send Jesus to die for us and prepare a place for us in heaven to quit on us when we have a bad week. I find myself saying, you are fine, you can do this, just have courage.
I want to read for you how King David put it.
6 Now this I know: The Lord gives victory to his anointed. He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary with the victorious power of his right hand. 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 Psalms 20:6-8
David tells us, rise up and stand firm. Put your trust in God and have courage. David is saying, don’t look at the things of this earth for your strength and security. Look only to God.
As we walk into a new year, we want you to think through how you will live. We encourage you, put your faith in God, rise up and stand firm. And that is why we created this series. In this series, we want to address the five things that stop us from rising up and standing firm with courage. We then will share with you seven ways to stand up and stand firm.
To get started today, I want to walk you through three questions. Ready for this? We are going to get deep real fast.
First question. When God sees you, how does He feel about you? Allow that to soak in a little bit. Think about it. Possible multiple choice answers based on what people have said before. A.) God is disappointed with me. B.) God is frustrated with me. C.) God is angry with me. D.) God sees me as a failure. Or, E.) God is thrilled with me.
Quick time out before we talk about the answer. Most of the time, how you view your earthly father or family, that is many times how we view God. That means, if you had a father who was angry and you could never please him, chances are you think God is angry with you and you will never be able to please Him. If you had a father who left your family or absent, chances are you will think God doesn’t care about you. If you had a father who was always at work and too busy for you, chances are you will think God is too busy for you.
If you are a guy and your father never had enough of a relationship with you to tell you that you have it in you to become a man, chances are you will try to become a man in all the wrong ways. Drinking. Sex. Harmful sports achievement. Harmful high achievement. Maybe even tapping out.
If you are a girl and your father never had enough of a relationship with you to tell you that you are beautiful, chances are you will try to become a woman in all the wrong ways. Drinking. Sex. Harmful sports achievement. Harmful high achievement. Maybe even tapping out. Okay, time out is over. Now back to the talk.
First question. When God sees you, how does He feel about you? If you answered A, B, C, or D, you don’t see God clearly. You don’t fully understand that God is wildly and recklessly in love with you. And because you don’t see God as a God of love or know who God really is, you probably stay away from Him until a crisis hits. And so, to you, church, faith, God, Bible, prayer stuff all seems like a world you don’t want to go all in with – right? And why would you if God isn’t a God of love? Maybe you are half in and half out. Half in to stay on God’s good side, half out because the things of this world seem so much more attractive and honestly, you want to do what you want, when you want, how you want.
Can you connect with what I am saying? When God sees you, how does He feel about you? How you answer that question explains why you live the way you live. And, it explains why others around you live the way they live.
If you answered A, B, C or D, I want to share something with you. God is thrilled with you. Let’s go to scripture to prove it.
4 Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. 5 Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) 6 He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son. MSG Ephesians 1:4-6
Since before creation, God had you on His mind. He was looking forward to the day you were born so that He could love you. This means, when God sees you, He is thrilled to see you. And it breaks His heart, as it would with any loving father, that you would assume that He is disappointed with you, frustrated with you, angry with you or that somehow you are a failure.
Please hear me. If you answered A, B, C, or D, you don’t see God correctly. You don’t fully understand who God is.
Second question. What would happen in your life if you knew God was thrilled with you? You knew that God was so much in love with you that He would care for you. Can you imagine if you were so secure in God’s love that you could live life, go to work, make decisions and if you made a mistake, God would take care of it? Imagine how relaxed you would be. I didn’t say you don’t plan and you don’t do things well and with character. I said, even if you make a mistake, God can still close the mouth of the lions, make the wall of Jericho fall, drop a warrior like Goliath for you.
Can you imagine if you were so secure in God’s love that the approval of others didn’t cripple you from living in freedom. You no longer felt like you walk through life in fear of what others might think about you. You don’t have to walk on eggshells. You don’t have to keep up that fake image. You could be yourself. Imagine how relaxed you would be. I didn’t say it’s okay to be purposely mean or not care about people or having a good reputation doesn’t matter. I said, the approval of others doesn’t cripple you, leaving your exhausted trying to keep everyone happy.
Can you imagine if you were so secure in God’s love that you could enjoy God’s rest? We call that Sabbath. Can you imagine how much more fun life would be if you could rest, play and enjoy life? What if you were so secure in God’s love that you knew that you don’t have to stay on the treadmill of life to make everything happen? Now, I didn’t say you don’t plan, go to work and get things done. I said, you were so secure in God’s love that you could purposely get off the treadmill of business to enjoy God and invite Him to take care of us.
I want to read scripture with you.
1 Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted. Unless the Lord protects a city, guarding it with sentries will do no good. 2 It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones. NLT Psalms 127:1-3
What do you think about that? I bet a part of you wants that to be true. I bet another part of you reads that and thinks, that doesn’t make sense. For me, I have to make things happen. Can you connect with this? Do you walk with the stress and anxiety that you must do everything perfectly? Life and how it works out is 100% up to you. You must perform. You must keep everyone around you happy. And because life is harsh, there is no time to enjoy life or God. Can you imagine if you believed God was thrilled with you? Again, I didn’t say you don’t plan, you don’t go to work, you don’t plan your retirement. I said, you know that the wind and waves still know the name of Jesus. There is a way of living where you believe scripture and put your trust in Jesus.
Notice. If you aren’t secure in God’s love, you can’t do this. You will struggle to enjoy rest.
Let’s keep reading through Ephesians 1.
11 It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. 12 Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.
13 It’s in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free – signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. 14 This signet from God is the first installment on what’s coming, a reminder that we’ll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life. MSG Ephesians 1:11-14
God has His eye on you and designed you for glorious living. Imagine if you believed that and relaxed in that.
First question. When God sees you, how does He feel about you?
Second question. What would happen in your life if you knew God was thrilled with you? If you knew you could be secure in His love.
Third question. 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, everything good thing that God has done for you is meaningless because somehow, it’s up to you to make things happen. And over time, religion will make you feel tired and guilty for not doing enough while at the same time you would miss out on the Holy Spirit’s power in you. Scripture tells us that God’s love for us is based on God, not us.
2b You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. 3 How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? NLT Galatians 3:2-3
Here is my 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.
In all my years of being a pastor, I continue to be amazed at how many people avoid God. Good people who God is in love with who desperately want to be in a relationship with God. But they struggle because they are stuck in religion. This awful belief that God’s love is based on my human effort. You would assume someone who doesn’t attend church would avoid God. And you would assume someone who attends church would run to God. And if you assumed that, you would be wrong.
Many people in church avoid running to God with courage. They say things like, “I don’t feel like I am close enough to God for Him to hear me.” “My faith isn’t strong enough for God to notice.” “I need to find someone closer to God to pray for me.” All of that is religion. Religion says, God’s love is based on what I do. If you believe that, you don’t see God clearly. You don’t fully understand that God is a God of love.
Remember, religion will always leave 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. Religion always puts the focus on you and your effort, not on God and what He did.
The real struggle with religion is it focuses on us not God. If you read Matthew 6:6 Jesus teaches us about prayer and relationship. Jesus said that in prayer, the focus moves from us to God. That’s relationship. What does religion do? It keeps the focus on us, our human effort, our accomplishments.
That’s why Paul wrote this.
6 Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. 7 Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. MSG Romans 8:6-7
This year, to rise up and stand firm, you must understand God’s unfiltered love for you. Think about this for a second. How could you have courage if you didn’t believe God is a God of love? How could you have courage if you didn’t believe that God is thrilled with you? How could you have courage if you believed that God’s love for you is based on your human effort? All that is, is religion and it will destroy our courage to rise up and stand firm.
Let’s end this way. I got this from Peter Scazzero.
I want you to close your eyes and take a few moments to breath. Pretend you standing in front of God and God is looking back at you. Now imagine God saying your name and you look up and your eyes lock. And God says the following words to you. Just allow these words to cover you.
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you. …Do not be afraid …for I am with you …declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 5:1-8
Your fine, you can do this, have courage. Rise up and stand firm.