You know I’m just going to start by telling you how much I’m enjoying this first series of 2021 called “Rise Up & Stand Firm.”  What we are doing is challenging you to rise up and stand firm even as life throws so many challenges your way.  Life isn’t easy and we are never going to pretend that it is.  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 sermons about this courageous, and victorious life 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 that we legitimately 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 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 started this series off by looking at five things that can steal our courage from us.  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, then Ken talked about our ability to see our spiritual value so that we can engage and make a difference.  Then I was back to address this push we all face from the world on how we should or shouldn’t be living our lives.  And last week Ken closed out that portion of the series talking to us about the last way our courage can be stolen and that is through how hard life is.  Those five things push against us and if we aren’t careful and aren’t trusting and centering on God, they can keep us from rising up and standing firm as the people God created us to be in this difficult world.

Now today the series will shift and we will spend the next seven weeks or so talking to you about how we can actually rise up and stand firm and live out this courageous and victorious life in Christ…and this first one is an interesting one, and in many ways has to be first because we are literally talking about the foundation of our lives with God.  So it’s interesting and challenging because once again living this way is just so opposite of how we humans live our lives…which at this point in the conversation shouldn’t surprise us at all.  Today we discuss this first way to rise up and stand firm and that is to not cut corners, and to not cut deals, but to rely on God in all facets of our lives and to deliberately build the foundation of our lives on God.  My first thought when it comes to cutting deals as a Christian is what Jesus says here in Matthew 7 in the Message Version where we see something really important about our faith…

Matthew 7:13 “Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. 14 The way to life — to God! — is vigorous and requires total attention.” MSG

So, when you hear that, how inspired are you?  Does it fire you up to think that there is no shortcut, or easy way to God?  I mean how pumped up are you to hear that the way to life, to God is vigorous and requires your total attention?  I don’t know about you, but we might as well cue up the “Eye of the Tiger” from the Rocky Soundtrack and watch Rocky get up early and eat raw eggs and jump park benches and run up steps, as we read things like this right?  Does this inspire you?  We can be honest here, this probably isn’t all that inspiring…in fact for most people living on this planet today, it’s really the complete opposite of how we would instinctively want to live our lives.  It’s always so amazing to me just how opposite our ways are to God’s ways…and we really see it in Jesus’ words here for sure.  Think about how we live our lives.  We aren’t looking for the most challenging ways to do things, no way!  We want the shortcuts to everything!  I mean it’s still early in the year, and think of how many people’s New Year’s Resolution was to lose weight and how many different plans, pills, dietary supplements, and different ways that we try to find to lose the weight with as little effort as possible!  Now, I’m learning in my mid-40’s the only thing I can do with little effort weight wise is to gain it but I digress.  We want the easiest and least painful way possible to find that healthy body.  We do this with everything don’t we?  Give us the short cut, give us the easiest way to do what we want, and we will do that…I mean let’s face it this world is just moving too fast for us to put in the work needed to do things any other way…am I right?  The world says find the best deal you can find and make the move, take the shortcut…and for the most part that works for us.  It can get us ahead at times in the workplace, it may get us the next nice car we want to be driving, it may get us on that next great vacation that all our friends will be jealous of, it may even help us lose enough weight to not be completely embarrassed in a bathing suit this summer but if we cut corners is any of it going to last?  Building something that lasts is a big deal, and if you think about it, we people are so focused on today, that we may not even be all that interested in something that lasts, but remember, when we speak spiritually, we are speaking of eternal ramifications, which actually do last.  The reality is that life takes work…and building things that last will take time, this is true in life, and it is absolutely true when it comes to our Spiritual Life…which is exactly what I want to talk to you about today and to get us started we are going to go to a very popular moment in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount…where he talks about living with the right foundation.

Matthew 7:24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” NIV

You know these three verses have been repeated through Sunday School classes and church services…a lot.  There is a reason for that, and it’s because this simple illustration is so key to our Spiritual journey and I would like to take some time and break this down with you, because as many times as we have read it, and studied and quoted different parts of this famous sermon, I’m wondering if we actually have heard it…and put it into practice, which really is what Jesus was after.  How do I know that?  Well He says this…

Matthew 7:24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. NIV

So what do we see here in regards to our faith?  It’s real and gives us a solid foundation for those who hear Jesus’ words and apply them to their lives…regardless of what life throws at us!  This is how we rise up and stand firm to all that life throws at us.  When God is the foundation of our lives we can rise up and stand firm.  We must hear His words and live them out to make this faith of ours real.  So interesting isn’t it?  How often we are challenged in Scripture to live out this Faith thing…if we don’t hear and live out our faith…well we aren’t living like that wise builder who built on the right foundation at all…

Matthew 7:26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” NIV

So this is pretty clear right?  When we hear Jesus’ words and live them out we are like the wise builder who built on the rock…but if we hear Jesus’ teaching, and continue to live life the way we want, not willing to actually live out His teaching we are like the fool who built their home in the sand, with no foundation to anchor to when life pushes in and the house falls down.  Doesn’t mean it wasn’t a pretty house, or that people weren’t impressed by it, but when life hit, it came crashing down because the foundation wasn’t there.  This is pretty clear isn’t it?  If you want to rise up and stand firm, you will not only hear God’s word, but you will obey His teaching…you will live out your faith.  Now here is what I find fascinating.  We Christian’s know this.  We agree with it!  We may even be inspired when we hear it in church, but when we leave church, we continue living the lives we want to live, all the while wondering where this courageous and victorious life in Christ actually is…and when we can’t find it, we come to the assumption that this Christian thing doesn’t work, or that God just isn’t delivering for us in some way, while ignoring this line from Jesus, that is so clear, and that we find so inspiring.  That it isn’t just hearing His words but actually living them out that is so important to our lives as followers of Jesus.  What’s really interesting to me is how the crowd responded to this teaching…

Matthew 7:28 When Jesus concluded his address, the crowd burst into applause. They had never heard teaching like this. 29 It was apparent that he was living everything he was saying — quite a contrast to their religion teachers! This was the best teaching they had ever heard. MSG

So interesting to me how fired up the crowd was over this teaching.  They burst into applause, they had never heard anything like it and they were very clear that this Jesus guy was for real.  So inspired, but what is interesting to me is what happened after the applause?  When they went home and jumped back into life after this service on that day.  I know it was exciting and they applauded but did they actually hear Him, and then live out this New Life in Him or not?  Did they become a Christ Follower?  Because I’m thinking that a Christ Follower should actually follow Christ. 

So how are you doing with all of this?  If you have spent any length of time around church in your life, the odds are pretty good that you have heard about where you should be building your foundation in life before.  So, this isn’t new, and maybe in some ways that is the problem.  Maybe you have heard it so often, from your childhood up to the present day, that in some ways it is just more white noise to you, because you know all of this information.  Maybe part of the problem isn’t hearing it, but actually making it part of your life.  You see that is a whole other story, am I right?  For many Christians, we have somehow come to the conclusion that memorizing the verses, or knowing where it’s found in our Bibles, or nodding along to the Pastor reading it is enough, and we are missing the reality that this is actually teaching us how to live our lives.  This is Jesus showing us how to rise up and stand firm but somehow we keep it as information, we keep going to church and smiling and looking very Christian…we keep telling people we are Christ Followers but we aren’t actually following Christ.  So, I want you thinking this through right now.  If we called a timeout on this sermon and I asked you about the foundation of your life, how would you answer that?  I’m not talking about the good Christian answer that you want people to hear, be honest…would you say the foundation of your life is right?

You know what?  I think that is leading to a bigger question that we need to explore today. Are you ready for it?  I think the better question may be, How do I know when the foundation of my life is right?  Well that is where I want to spend my time with you today.  Exploring what life would actually look like with the right foundation…to do that we are going to look at different scenarios from life that we all deal with, and I want you personalizing this for yourself today.

When the foundation of your life is right, you love spending time with God.  It isn’t a burden.  It isn’t something you have to do, it’s something you want to do.  You know many people say they are Christians but just aren’t spending time with God.  Last week Ken was talking about how important it is to stay connected to Jesus, do you remember that?  He took us to John 15, where Jesus explains how important it is to stay connected with Him right?

John 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” NIV

I think many Christians know this and would call it truth, but still refuse to stay connected to the vine.  It’s so tough to watch this be such a labor or burden to people to stay connected to God, when life is found in Him…and we would tell people how important it is to stay connected to God.  But often we simply won’t do it.  Now we can package a million reasons why, but in the end, we aren’t hearing Jesus’ words and applying them to our lives…which is so tough to watch.  Somehow, we have decided that being a Christ Follower and actually following Christ is just too much work…even though Jesus says that it should not be.

Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” NIV

That yoke is His teaching, and Jesus says it is easy and His burden for you is light, because He is the one doing the heavy lifting for you.  So, if you want to know if your foundation is right, ask yourself if spending time with God is something that you look forward to or if it is a burden.

When the foundation of your life is right, you respond well to adversity and pain in life.  If you have spent any amount of time on this planet you are very aware of how hard life can be.  It’s really important then to respond well to the challenges that life throws at us and if you think about it, it’s the storms of life that really expose whether or not our foundation is sound.  That is what we saw in our story from Jesus right?  What was it that exposed the foundation?  It was the wind, and the rain, and the flooding that exposed the strong or weak foundation of the home the builders built, well it’s the same with us people!  Listen to Solomon’s words here…

Proverbs 24:10 If you fall to pieces in a crisis, there wasn’t much to you in the first place. MSG

It’s the challenging moments in life that reveal so much about us.  This is not to say that you can’t walk in pain or hurts as you push through challenges in life, this is to say if the house falls down, if you cannot rise up and stand firm through the challenges in life, it’s time to check your foundation.

When the foundation of your life is right, there is an unbelievable peace in your life.  You know we just said that it’s the storms in life that really reveal the truth about the foundation of your life, well let me ask you something.  Have you ever been around someone that just seems so peaceful even as they walk through tough stuff?  There is just something special about that isn’t there?  Scripture talks about this peace that doesn’t make sense that we have in Christ.

Philippians 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. NIV

The peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your heart and mind.  How awesome is that?  So real quick let’s think again about that person who just has so much peace as they walk through something difficult.  What do they talk about?  Do they talk about God or themselves?  Do they bring up all the drama and gigantic issues or do they talk about how God is in control of their lives?  Do you see it?  When the foundation is right, you have a peace that transcends understanding.  You know, what kills that peace is self-focus, while what fuels this peace beyond understanding is God focus.

When the foundation of your life is right, it’s reflected out in how you relate to people.  We talk about this all the time but the reality of your heart condition is that it comes out in all that you do.  We know by now the old saying, “Hurt people, hurt people.”  But we walk through life and have these moments in relationships with people that go so badly, and we often walk away wondering what in the world just happened don’t we?  Well, remember Jesus told us that everything down to the words we speak are a reflection of our hearts…

Matthew 15:18 But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ NIV

You want to know how your relationship with God is going?  Probably a good gauge is how your relationship with those around you is going.  This isn’t to say that you have to please everyone, or get along with everyone all the time, but when your foundation is right, you will love others with a love that proves you are a disciple of Christ.  Remember that is what Jesus told us in John.

John 13:35 “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” NLT

If you are struggling to love others well, to forgive, and just deal with people it’s a sign that the foundation isn’t right.

When the foundation of your life is right you are not exhausted from dragging yourself through life.  This is a great way to know if the foundation of your life is right.  How are you feeling right now…you tired?  Now, I’m talking exhausted and completely empty.  I’m not talking about that need for rest after a tough week, I think that is just how we all feel in life.  We work, we rest.  No, I’m talking the tank is just completely on “E” and you feel like you have the entire world on your shoulders.  Is this you?  Dragging everything through another brutal day on this planet.  Well can I tell you something, that is no way to live, especially as a Christ Follower who is able to take all our burdens and troubles to God…right?  We don’t have to carry the world on our shoulders, that God’s job…isn’t it?

Psalms 55:22 Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall. NIV

We cast our burdens on the Lord, no matter how big or how small, we give it all over to the Lord if we truly are walking with God!  What did read from Jesus said earlier in this talk?

Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” NIV

If you are exhausted, feeling like the world is completely on your shoulders it’s a great sign that you are not connected with God, you aren’t walking with God, and you are certainly not allowing Him to carry those burdens for you.  Are you exhausted?  It’s saying something about your foundation.

When the foundation of your life is right, Jesus’ teaching is part of the way you live your life.  I think the most heartbreaking part of the spirit of religion is how many people get stuck showing up and doing church their whole lives without actually engaging a true life in Christ.   This is what Jesus pushed in so hard against with the religious people of His time…constantly pushing in on how they lived their lives as the very essence of being a true God follower!

Matthew 23:3 You won’t go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer. MSG

Everything about being a Christ follower is about actually following Christ.  It’s how we live our lives, and it’s brutal to watch so many talk about their faith, knowing all the right things to say, knowing what to wear, and even how to appear really holy to human eyes without ever allowing God’s love to penetrate their hearts and come out in how they live their lives.  Everything comes back to how we actually live our lives…remember what Jesus said in our story today!  We are to hear the message and apply it to our lives!  That is what makes things real, and I will tell you that is what leads to a true life in Christ…all this other stuff, is just empty, it is all just busyness…and never leads to that courageous and victorious life that we all want it just leads us to have to work harder and harder to keep up the appearance of Christ follower without actually following Christ.

When the foundation of your life is right, you are open and willing to engage and talk about your heart condition.  If you are wondering about the foundation of your life, a great way to know if it’s right is to check on your heart.  Are you able to discuss it?  Are you willing to search your heart condition and work on the challenging areas or do you keep that heart condition stuff under wraps and in that untouchable category that we talked about a couple of weeks ago.  Everything starts and ends with the condition of your heart.  Ken will be talking about this in a lot more detail next week but I want you to see this is another great way to know if the foundation of your heart is right.

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

The heart is everything.  When you’re open and willing to address your heart condition it is a sure-fire sign that your foundation is right.

So let’s stop there for today, because I think we need a moment to reflect and talk some.  How are you doing with all of this?  I’m wondering if you may be sitting there completely inspired by what I’m saying or if you are sitting there thinking; Ok, Sam…I’m going to need you to back off a little bit because it’s painfully clear to me that my foundation isn’t right. I’m hearing what you are saying about what could be but I’m not spending time with God and when I do it’s not easy for me…it’s work.   I’m not responding very well to all the challenges I am facing in life, in fact I’m probably more like that person Solomon spoke of that falls to pieces in a crisis!  I’m a restless mess, with anxiety and stress piling up on me, more and more…I’m not finding a peace that transcends understanding all I see is the next big hurdle I have to try to overcome!  When I look at my relationships with people, I’m not proving my life as a disciple through love and forgiveness, I’m in one mouth battle after another…I’m so busy proving how right I am that I’m losing friends and not loving them.  Maybe for you the hardest thing to hear was that if you are completely exhausted and feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders it’s a sign that you aren’t walking with God, and you would admit the last place you are taking your burdens right now is God…which is why they are piling up and getting heavier and heavier on your shoulders.  Because you weren’t designed to carry the world on your shoulders…but God is.  Maybe your reality has been for years, maybe even decades of your life that you have walked in and out of church and heard the message but never applied it to your life.  You look the part, and do a lot of good things around the church but you are sitting there faced with the true reality that you are not living out Jesus’ teachings…you call yourself a Christ follower but you aren’t following Jesus.

Is that you today?  Sitting in here realizing that maybe like those people listening to Jesus speak, you may hear the message, you may agree with the message, you may even clap when He is done preaching just like those people up on the hill during the sermon on the mount but if you were totally honest it isn’t necessarily translating to a life lived for God.

If that is you I want you to understand something…that doesn’t make you a bad person.  That makes you a person, in desperate need of transformation in your life, just like everyone else! Regardless of how long you have attended church, or any of that, we all need Jesus in our lives in this way!  You should not walk away from this discussion feeling guilty and just plowing back into another miserable week of trying to hide all these ugly realities from those around you.  No!  This is an opportunity to start new with God leading your life!

It starts with you understanding that a Christ Follower should follow Christ.  This means we not only hear God’s word, but His word becomes part of who we are and how we live our lives.

Today can be the start of something brand new for you…something beautiful…something real and it starts by taking a moment and inviting Jesus into your life as both your Lord and Savior.  It continues as you talk to God and confess that you have been living your life for you but today you want to surrender your life to God.  And it will continue as it comes out each and every day as you stay connected to Your Heavenly Father in a real way moving forward.

This is a new way to live, it’s what it truly means to not only hear God’s word but to apply it to our lives…if up to this point in your life you have felt that a Christian life is just a harder or more miserable way to live you have been deceived.  Living a life following Christ is the only way to find that courageous and victorious life that we all want.

Do you want to rise up and stand firm?  Then it is time to check the foundation.  If it isn’t right, that is ok, surrender your life to God and stand as the person you were always created to be!