You know there are things about ministry that are so fun to be part of.  There is just nothing like someone finding and wrapping their hearts and minds around God’s love for them.  It is so inspiring to help point people to true life change and the redemption they can find in Jesus.  There is nothing more powerful than listening to someone tell their story of finding God after being so far from Him and it’s humbling to think that we here at MRC may play a small role in that for people.  There’s nothing more energizing than finding ways to help people far from God find Him while empowering Christians to serve and help others experience God’s love the way that they are!  This is the fun stuff, and it is our passion here at MRC…but there are also challenges that come with ministry.  Some I saw coming, and some that I did not.  I think for me personally, I knew from growing up around church that there were some challenges to this, and I was prepared for many of the things that we face in spiritual leadership.  I was also ready for the tough things that we wade into with people.  I knew we would be involved in the painful moments in people’s lives…health issues, death, broken relationships, job-loss and all of the messy things that come with life.  So I think for the most part I was ready for that.  But there are other things that I can tell you really caught me off guard.  These are the things that take the most energy from me in ministry, and it is typically found in the different areas that I think are really important for people, that most people don’t want to deal with and certainly do not want you to talk about.  These are the untouchable things in our lives that we just don’t want to deal with or address!  Yet, these areas need to be addressed if we are going to move into this true life in Christ that we talk about all the time!  A life in Christ is all about this life change that would allow us to rise up and stand firm in this difficult world.  I will tell you, that there are specific areas of life that matter most, that need dealt with, that most people just don’t want to touch, talk about, or dive into…and while we at MRC get really excited to dive into those areas, many people really don’t share our enthusiasm!  If we engaged this stuff it could lead us to so much more!  For the sake of the conversation, we will call these areas the untouchables.  Now when I say they don’t want to touch them I’m talking about a complete inability to hear, receive, or deal with specific and important areas of who we are as people and when you do try to address these areas of life, well, let us just say you will feel the push back.  It is defeating and can feel like you have been given a ping pong ball and your job is to throw it against a cinder block wall until it falls down.  These areas are so tough in ministry, but they are so essential for people to truly experience life change and we love you too much not to continue to address them!  What’s tough is how people respond to these moments, and I will say, in my best moments I am fine bouncing that ping pong ball off the block wall hoping to knock it down…but in my more tired moments I wonder if it’s even possible…and yes I know all things are possible with God on my side!  I will give two examples of these untouchables and I will keep it pretty general since this is just my intro to this talk!

The First Untouchable Is The Heart. – The world sends a message to never deal with or touch our hearts and oftentimes churches just get to a place where they are unwilling to go there because this message from the world is loud and clear! “Do not touch my heart!  I do not want to deal with anything real!”  But we love you too much not to continue to push in on the condition of your heart because it truly is the most important and real area of who you are…the heart comes up all through Scripture.

Proverbs 4:23 Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. NIV

We could go all through Scripture and read time and time again about the heart.  Jesus was so focused on it as He led people to God’s love which I think was so frustrating to the religious people of that day, who were just checking boxes and doing religious things (and feeling really important and good as they did them) while Jesus kept revealing and exposing their hearts to them…why?  Was he doing it to be mean? No!  He did it because He loves us and knows how important this is for us!

Matthew 12:33 “A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad. 34 You brood of snakes! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right? For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. 35 A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. NLT

We are so passionate about your heart condition but many people just don’t want us to ever go there…but we love you too much not too and we will continue to lead people into this, regardless of how loud the push back is to never touch our hearts!  It is so tough to sit and listen to people who want to talk to us as they struggle with life, they are dealing with real hurts, relational issues, they struggle to focus on God, or love, or serve, or forgive, or give, or even to worship…and the tough part is they want us to fix that for them while never being willing to engage their true heart condition.  Everything comes back to the heart…which is the one thing they don’t want to address!  When your heart is changed and filled with God’s love you will experience true life change…but so many just don’t want us to ever go there and many people would rather go to a church that doesn’t dive into the realities of the heart.

Second Untouchable Is How I live my life! Ken and I share our talks with each other every week and talk often about the upcoming Sunday messages and we can predict and joke about what we call “no hug Sundays” around MRC!  These are the days when we talk about things like religious activity, or when we challenge people to live a holy life and turn from sin or selfish ways, or maybe we muster up the courage to explain that their actually is ramifications for our actions in eternity, or we actually dare to challenge people in the area of their finances and giving.  It’s interesting because the world sends the message to never address things like the way I’m living my life right now!  Don’t touch my fun moments of right now.  I don’t want to hear about hell, or any ramifications of my actions.  And don’t touch what I’m doing with my time, and especially stay away from what I do with my money!  What is funny is all of these areas really tie right back into the first thing the world doesn’t want us to address which is the heart!  I think it’s often why people are more comfortable hearing information, or breaking down theological terms in church, or why they are drawn to a church loaded with fun activities and programming because it isn’t pushing in on anything deeper.  It stays in our brains and never has to penetrate our hearts and challenge us on how we live our lives!  Jesus was always bringing these areas of our lives back to our hearts, and you can read about people walking away from Him, and many just not wanting to hear this stuff…but the truth is so clear, and He loves us enough to keep pressing in on the heart.

Matthew 6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  NIV

It’s really interesting because Jesus talked about these things a lot…but again when we think about it Jesus frustrated and disappointed many in His time.  So, if Jesus did, I am not sure why I didn’t see it coming for ministry today, but I just wasn’t prepared for the push back.  I didn’t understand that it wasn’t inspiring to dive into these areas of our lives that lead to real life change!  But it is clear, when it comes to the heart you better not touch this.  My money, don’t you dare touch this.  My time, or my fun moments of today, or the way I have assumed church should be done…you cannot touch this!  It’s a direct and deliberate message, and it’s being sent from this world and as a church we must rise up and stand firm and have the courage to continue to “go there” because it is what God has called us to do.

The world actually sends a lot of messages to us on how to live our lives, and they are typically completely opposite of the messages God sends us on how we should be living our lives, which is what we are talking about today.

If you remember, we are in a new series called “Rise Up & Stand Firm.”  In this series we are challenging you to rise up and stand firm even as life throws so many challenges your way.  I mean we can say it, 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 about and want to be.  So many of us are hurting over all that life throws at us but Scripture tells us that if we trust in God we can rise up and stand firm.

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

Those who trust in the Lord and not all these worldly things can rise up and stand firm

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 can steal our courage from us.  So far, we have hit some big ones, Ken talked to us about the spirit of religion.  Then I had a chance to talk about our true identity and where we find it, and last week I just loved Ken’s talk on our ability to see our spiritual value so that we can engage and make a difference.  Now today we are going to talk about another way our courage can be stolen from us…and it’s through the push from the world on how we should or shouldn’t be living our lives.  Let’s face it, it’s hard to live opposite of the world…and whether you realize it or not the world is pushing against you and your faith in every way possible.  This is what I was talking about when it comes to the church and ministry earlier.  The world sends a message and it can discourage us from courageously sharing God’s word in its entirety.  The world is trying to silence the truth.  Well these messages from the world hit you every day too, this is not just something people in ministry deal with.  The world is absolutely pushing against you in every way!  How do I know this?  Well, the Bible is clear about who is running the show in this world you and I live in and we need to see this!

1 John 5:19 We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.  NIV

Jesus lets us know that if we pursue this God life we aren’t going to be celebrated by the world…

John 15:18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.” NIV

What a powerful statement Jesus is making here, and it has some major implications for our lives.  If we live like Jesus the world isn’t going to like it…in fact Jesus says the world will hate you the way it hated Him!  That’s some really strong language and shows us that the world is pushing against us, wanting us to live a certain way, while God is leading us to live another…this gives us plenty to talk about here today because this is not easy stuff to live out!

When I think about living a Christian life out in our culture today, I picture it like we are walking upstream in a creek or river.  Have you ever waded upstream?  It isn’t easy, and if you do it for a while that current pushing against you will tempt you to just turn and go with the flow!  It’s hard to be walking towards Jesus, pursuing a holy and disciplined life while everyone around us in this world seems to be doing the complete opposite.  Not only does it seem like they are having more fun, and getting out ahead of us in life, but they also resent us, and can hate us for following a different path in life than everyone else!  The message we are sent is to turn around and do what everyone else is doing.  The world pushes against us in every way, and it’s hard to rise up and stand firm as a Christian in a world that opposes that in every way!   I want you to see that this world has a way of tempting us to live like everyone else and when we do go with the flow and live that way it steals our courage and never allows us to rise up and stand firm as God designed.  Solomon seemed to see this stuff so clearly…

Proverbs 14:12 There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. NIV

We are seeing some harsh words today in Scripture, aren’t we?  Jesus talking about the world hating us and hating him…now Solomon talking about this way that we feel like we should be living that in the end leads to…death.  YIKES, right?  Hate, Death, seems a little extreme for just having some fun in the moment and fitting in with everyone else doesn’t it?  Well Jesus talks about this as well, using the imagery of a gate…

Matthew 7:13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” NIV

In the NLT version it takes it to another level here…

Matthew 7:13 “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. 14 But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it. NLT

Wow!  More intense language here!  Highway to hell, death, hate…that is so intense!  It’s also helping us see something.  I want you thinking about how these scriptures build and tie together.  We are seeing clearly that the world pushes against us living a Godly life.  It can be hard to rise up and stand firm and live out the life of a disciple of Christ in a world where everything pushes against us living that way.  What have we seen in Scripture today?  Our enemy controls this world, but we are not of this world, we are children of God.  The world hated Christ and will hate you too if you live out this life in Him.  There is a way to live that is very popular to us people and looks right but in the end, it is not leading to life…it actually is leading to death!  It’s an easier way to live and appears to be a more fun way to walk through life but in the end, it’s the highway to hell.

Listen, every message this world sends you is opposite of the ways of God.  It’s pushing you to stop, to not stand up for Christ, to never speak of Christ, to not live a life in Christ, and just wants you to turn around and go with the flow like everyone else through the wide gate…which may be easier in the moment, and makes you feel good in the now, but in the end it leads to death.

So, if it’s life and death it should lead to a big question!  Why do so few choose life, why would anyone choose death?

Isn’t that a good question to ask?  Well I believe it’s because the world has hidden that clarity from us, smudging and blurring out our view of heaven and hell, blinding us from the truth…that this truly is about life and death!  The world is making the moments of today more important to us humans, than all of eternity to come!  It is so sad but it’s rare to see someone choosing and making their way to life!

I know, I am not painting the rosiest picture for you today, but I want you to understand something.  This is important.  It is urgent.  It actually is a life or death decision…we need to keep walking upstream…and not allow this world to shut us up or discourage us from rising up and standing firm…there is too much at stake!  Now what is interesting is when we look around it doesn’t feel like life or death…it doesn’t feel very urgent, in fact it feels like the world is having more fun in the moment…and often can feel like people walking in the worlds ways has advantages over those of us trying to walk up stream, well what is interesting is looks are deceiving, and yes it may look appealing but not everything is what it seems!  Remember that verse we read where Solomon talks about this way that seems right?  Well let’s add the very next verse and tie them together because it’s profound…

Proverbs 14:12 There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. (NIV) 13 Sure, those people appear to be having a good time, but all that laughter will end in heartbreak. MSG

What is interesting is no matter how clear the Bible is about this world pushing against us it doesn’t make it any easier to rise up and stand firm because so many people are doing the opposite of what God is asking of us.  With everyone moving one way it’s hard to go against it!  No matter how urgent the Bible tries to explain it to us, even when we read that it’s a life or death situation, it is still really difficult to rise up and stand firm and live opposite of this world.  Let’s face it the world is relentless.  It will never stop.  It will always want you to stop pursuing health, and this new life in Christ.  The world will never want you to stand in your true self and find and pursue holiness and eternal life in Heaven and is always tempting us to just stop leading, stop talking, and stop pushing against the current so that we turn and go with the flow.  The world keeps our eyes on the people, places, and things of today and makes it difficult for us to see the eternal implications of what is coming by just turning up the noise and distractions of right now!

So what do we do?  How do we rise up and stand firm in a world that pushes against us in every way?  Well I want to show you three ways that we can continue walking upstream to that narrow gate that few find.  As we see each of these ways to rise up and stand firm, I also want you to see that the world is sending an opposite message for each one of these keys to living a victorious and courageous life.

Seek God – I know this sounds like a pretty simple thing to do, or something you know you should be doing but I want you to understand that it’s the most important thing we can do!  It is also so opposite of the world’s message!  All through Scripture from the Old to the New Testament we see the need to seek the Lord and the benefits of what happens when we do.  Jesus says this in Matthew 6…

Matthew 6:33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. NIV

So Jesus tells us to seek God first.  We are to seek His kingdom and His righteousness first.  What is the world’s message?  Well it certainly isn’t to seek God first.  No we are to seek fame and popularity.  We are to seek success and earthly treasures and possessions, and the approval of others on this Earth…it’s tough, it’s tempting and it can be a real challenge to not get sucked into all these races to fame, fortune…it is especially difficult if you are not centering on Jesus…which is the only way to not feel this pull to jump into seeking all these other things first!  I love Paul’s words in Colossians which really helps us understand what we are talking about today.  I am drawn often to the phrasing in verse 4 which says something that is so opposite of our human instincts.  To be content with obscurity like Jesus was.

Colossians 3:1 So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. 2 Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ — that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective. 3 Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life — even though invisible to spectators — is with Christ in God. He is your life. 4 When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up, too — the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ. MSG

Do you see it?  Jesus was not influenced by the pulls and competitions that we humans can be tempted by.  He was able to be content with obscurity never needing to prove himself or push His way through life because He was so focused on His Heavenly Father!  He shows us the way, and it’s to seek God first!

Personal Question – Do you seek God first?  Could you answer that question?  What would it look like for you to seek God first?  Could you be so focused on God that you could be content with obscurity like Jesus was?  What would that even look like for you personally?

Set Your Mind On Eternal Things – You know, through the talk we have been reading Scriptures that talk about our choices, framing the way we live our lives as life and death.  There is a real urgency in those words, but for most of us I just don’t think we see the urgency in it.  I mean if it were truly life or death we would probably make different choices, but let’s be serious, choosing to live as the world lives doesn’t feel like a life or death situation, especially because it’s just some fun and pleasure filled moments right?  It’s like the guy who has been warned over and over again to change his diet, and he really has no interest in doing so, but do you know when he would be motivated to make those healthy changes to his eating?  When his heart fails him, and he knows he must change to live!  All of a sudden less sausage and bacon and more celery and fruit doesn’t sound so bad!  What made that decision so much clearer was that all of a sudden it clearly became life or death!  It wasn’t just a doctor’s theory of something that might happen!  Well I think for us, as we seek God, and set our mind on eternal things we understand just how serious things are, and all of a sudden those temptations aren’t as enticing as they used to be, and we clearly know we should not do them because we grasp the urgency of the situation!  The world sends the opposite message!  You won’t die!  It’s all good!  There is no eternal punishment for your choices.  Enjoy today because you don’t know what is coming tomorrow!  Well we who set our minds on eternal things begin to understand what tomorrow does bring, and it truly is a life or death situation!

Colossians 3:1 So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. 2 Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ — that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective. MSG

This is so big, and Paul comes back to this often!  Check this out in Romans…

Romans 12:2 Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. MSG

When we seek God first and set our minds on eternal things we begin to clearly see the life God wants us to live and can walk in it in ways that we just can’t if we stay focused on all the distractions of this world.  We lose the urgency and clarity of the decisions we are making because we don’t set our minds on eternity…the world blurs that out and doesn’t want you to see the ramifications of your actions.

Personal Question – Are you able to set your mind on eternal things or are you distracted by the world?  What areas of this world distract you?  What do you need to stop doing to get your focus on the things of God rather than the things of this world? 

Important question – If you knew tomorrow was the last day and Jesus was coming in the morning, what would you do, stop doing, or need to repent of?  The follow up becomes if he doesn’t come tomorrow is it still ok to do those things today?  Think about that.

Search Your Heart – We established the heart isn’t an area that the world wants us to address and that is because it is the most important area of our lives, it is the key to us walking with God…or not.  So, while the world never wants to see you engage your heart, God does!  We need to do the heart work necessary to engage life as God intended.  Everything starts with the condition of your heart.

Jeremiah 17:10 “But I, the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives.  I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve.” NLT

The heart is everything, and the world never wants you to grasp that or deal with yours.  When you’re open and willing to address your heart condition the world loses its hold on you!  It’s where everything centers and comes from, we read this earlier right?

Proverbs 4:23 Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. NIV

Ok so I am hoping at this point in the conversation you are seeing how opposite the world’s ways are from God’s ways…and also just how important it is for us to continue to push against the world and live out God’s ways for our lives.  When we seek God first, we can do this.  When we set our minds on eternal things, we can really understand the importance of living God’s ways over the world’s ways because we can see just how urgent the situation is, it truly is life and death.  We also must go to that one area that the world never wants you to deal with and that is our hearts.

Personal Question – What are you doing to take care of your heart?  Is guarding your heart the highest priority in your life or would you rather keep the condition of your heart in that untouchable category?  Are you taking the time to rest, breath, and be intentional about tending to the condition of your heart? 

Listen we want you to rise up and stand firm walking as the person that God has created you to be!  This is so hard to do living in a world controlled by the evil one, a world that has taken our focus off of eternity and the true urgency of the life and death decisions we are making every day.  A world that doesn’t ever want you seeking God first.  A world that never wants you seeing and focusing on eternal things but rather wants you focused on the fun of right now.  A world that screams at you to never address your heart condition.

Do you want to rise up and stand firm and live with courage?  Keep walking upstream, it is hard at times.  It can feel frustrating and defeating at times…but when we rise up and stand firm against this world we find that courageous and victorious life that we all want to be living!