It’s hard to believe that today is the epic conclusion of our first big conversation of the year called Rise Up and Stand Firm.  This series has really meant a lot to us here at MRC because we are talking about things that we all deal with and feel in our everyday lives. We are talking about rising up as the people that God created us to be in a world that is designed to keep us from rising up as the people that God created us to be.  We are talking about standing firm as the people that God created us to be in a world pushing so hard against us standing firm as the people God created us to be.  Our reality is that life is hard and living a God-centered life is just not easy to do in a world pushing against that in every way possible.  Really it’s been a conversation on Spiritual Warfare, which some don’t like to talk about, and maybe don’t really think that they are part of it, but the reality is that you are walking in this spiritual war each and every day…you may not clearly grasp the fact that you are opposed, you may have just chalked it up to life being difficult, but you face and feel this Spiritual Battle each and every day of your life.

This series has been building very deliberately and started by looking at five things we all deal with in life that can steal our ability to rise up and stand firm as the people God created us to be.  Then we spent two weeks really in the foundational parts of our faith where we focused in on the big key, the central focus of this Spiritual War which is our hearts.  We wanted you to understand that everything comes down to the heart.  The things you say, the things you do, the decisions you make, the priorities you have, the way you view life, the love that you have and the ability to give that love or not…all of it comes down to the condition of your heart.  We wanted you to understand that everything about your faith is about how you live your life and your heart is controlling how you live your life!  That is why it is the central focus of the spiritual war.  Everything about living a new life in Christ is about life change, but our lives will never change without a change of heart.  From that point the series turned to different heart issues that we people deal with…guilt, greed, anger, and last week Ken hit another big one in jealousy.  While these subjects may make you a little uncomfortable, they are so important because we all face these things.  They are so real in our lives, they assault our hearts, and we know that our hearts are the central focus of this spiritual war.  Because our hearts run the show in our lives, so it makes sense, right?  If our hearts are guiding us through life, controlling our actions, decisions, even perceptions, and relationships then our enemy will target our hearts.  Take out the heart and the person is no longer a threat, which made it so important that we take the time to talk about these major assaults on our hearts from the enemy through guilt, greed, anger, and jealousy.

Today I’m wrapping up this series.  A series about standing with courage and victory in this world that seems to push against that in every way.  A series discussing focusing on the heart and these different assaults on our hearts and how to not only protect ourselves from that stuff but how to actually rise up and stand firm as the people God created us to be in this world of highs and lows, of good moments and painful moments.  A world full of challenges, adversity, and well…a lot of difficulty a long the way.  I think this is where I want to start today, because I’m wondering how you are doing with this whole concept of rising up and standing firm in a life that may be going well but more often than not has so many challenges…we can say it, life just hurts at times, and it doesn’t really let up, it continues to throw a lot of things at us that hurt us, tire us out emotionally, physically, and spiritually and can really distract us from this life in Christ that we are to be living.  When we built this series the big conclusion to this conversation was going to build on this truth…to rise up and stand firm you must take your place. Who you are and what you do matters!  Which is so true.  My initial thought was to build right from that concept, and engage Paul’s words in Romans 12, where Paul really challenges us to live out our faith and I thought that would lead into a talk about real religion or real spirituality and what this true spirituality actually means but I think we have something else that we need to talk about before we close this series down and head to Easter.  So, Paul helps us here showing us how to live a Godly life…

Romans 12:1 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life — your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life — and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. 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

This is a pretty awesome place in Scripture that is showing us how to live out our faith, but the thought that I can’t get out of my mind is how good this looks on paper, but just how hard it is to actually live this out.

Can I ask you something?  How do you view life?  I think we would all probably answer that differently depending on the life stage that we are in.  When you are young and starting out in life you would probably have a much different view of life, probably a more exciting and optimistic outlook or view of life than someone who has felt a lot of pain and experiences in life over time.  Some may say that they view life as a highway, actually I think that was a rock and roll song from the 1990’s, but I think some would agree with that imagery…life is like a highway with lots of exit ramps, and hopefully not too many detours, accidents, or traffic jams along the way.  I can see that I guess.  You know, this past weekend my wife and I went on a little getaway to celebrate our 20th Anniversary.  It was really nice to get away, and just take a moment or two and breath and talk…with four teenagers in our home, and lots of activity between our 6 schedules and the 2 churches, I will just nicely say, it was nice to have a moment or two to ourselves!  I spent a lot of the weekend reflecting on life, looking back, talking through memories…it’s amazing to think how quickly two decades can go by.  Twenty years ago if you asked Mashawn and I how we view life, I think our answer would look a lot different than it does twenty years later…there has been a lot that happened over that time.  There were some tremendous highs, some painful lows, lots of joy and laughter, lots of hurts and tears…and to me that is life.  It’s a rollercoaster of highs and lows, of terrifying turns and screams, and relief in the safer more peaceful moments of the ride…I am on that roller coaster now, watching many of those moments unfold as I watch my children grow, learn, and make decisions some of which I enjoy and some of which I just close my eyes and pray through…sometimes you feel upside down like you are going around the loop, sometimes you wonder why you ever got on the roller coaster in the first place, but it’s the ride…it’s life, a lot of experiences, emotions, time, energy, which is all part of the ride.

So if you ask me, the most important question of the series becomes, how do I rise up and stand firm as the person God created me to be as I ride this roller coaster I call my life?  That’s the real question isn’t it?  I mean, simply functioning through life is hard enough with all the activity, schedules, people, obstacles, and things going on but we are also opposed Spiritually.  We do have an enemy and we are riding this rollercoaster we call life in the midst of a Spiritual War designed to take out our hearts, which takes us out, and I want to really dive into some very practical ways the enemy can assault us as we ride this roller coaster of life.

Lately it feels like life is starting to ramp up again and life is getting busier around my home with the family, and you can feel things starting to ramp up again even around the churches.  I don’t know if I’m just getting older or if it was a year without as much going on or what, but it can feel a little overwhelming trying to hold all the details and plans together as I’m running the kids around to school, and different activities…especially while those highs and lows of the roller coaster keep happening.  So I can run from one activity to another, one emotional moment with my oldest daughter right into an emotional moment with another one of my children.  I pray a ton about the direction of our churches here at MRC and try to point people towards God and ask them to center on Him, and can try to lead and walk with others well and then as I’m driving along thinking through how people respond to God’s love, or how they respond to the life we are all invited into by our Heavenly Father, and then look at how my children make decisions that can make me cringe or flat out hurt me at times…then I jump back in the car heading to the next thing I need to be at, something hits my brain…and if I am not careful, I agree with it pretty quickly.  “Sam, you are a failure.  Why do you keep trying?  You should just quit it all…your family doesn’t get you.  People don’t want to hear this God stuff.  You are a failure.”  If I am not careful, I take a deep breath and agree with those lies and accusations in my life.  Have you ever experienced this?  You are riding the roller coaster that is life, maybe things aren’t going well in one area or another, and all of a sudden you start believing things about yourself that aren’t true…that you are a failure, or a loser, or that you aren’t worthy of love.  All of which are lies, thrown at you by the enemy, but most of us are too busy, or overwhelmed, or just hurting from the roller coaster we call life so much that we don’t see these lies for what they are…assaults that keep us from rising up and standing firm in our faith.  This is how challenging this Spiritual War really is…and then we are told to live out our faith in our every day ordinary lives in the Bible.   Let’s go back to Paul’s words that I wanted us to study here today…this time let’s read it in the NIV…

Romans 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will. NIV

Like I said earlier I think this looks good on paper but isn’t always easy to live out as we ride this roller coaster we call life getting bounced around one corner and over many highs and tremendous lows all while being opposed by our enemy…but I would like to point out something about how Paul is telling us to live and give you this as a reference point…Paul is writing this while being held prisoner over his faith.  Leading, encouraging, and trying to help us live out our faith as he is…and he is doing it as a prisoner…so that gives us some context that his life wasn’t all that easy either.  And what does Paul tell us to do?

Romans 12:1 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life — your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life — and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. MSG

This is awesome, he is saying, take all of this roller coaster we call life and give it all to God and embrace what He is doing for you, that is the best thing we can do for Him!  It’s our spiritual act of worship!  Not at church with a hymnal in our hands, but through our everyday life.  Now check out verse two…

Romans 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will. NIV

So in the Message it tells us we must fix our attention on God and here in the NIV version my focus really turns to the idea of being transformed by the renewing of our minds.  I think that is huge!  So let’s stay with verse 2 here and move to the NLT version to get an even clearer picture here…

Romans 12:2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. NLT

Paul is writing from experience here for sure.  This is a man who at one time was killing Christians, who identifies himself as the chief of all sinners, who remember is writing this while in chains as a prisoner, and he is telling us to let God transform us into a new person by changing the way we think.  I’m thinking Paul had quite a few lies and accusations hitting his mind about what a loser, or failure, or how unworthy he is of His Heavenly Father’s love hitting him as he moved through his life too.  Just like you and I do today.  Paul has ridden this roller coaster of life too.  He has been through so much and knows how important it is that we fix our minds and our thinking on God.  I think this is a hard thing to do as we plow through life with so much going on all the time, but it is so important.

It’s pretty interesting how often we hear about our thoughts and our minds in Scripture.  You may also be thinking Sam, you guys have spent this entire series talking about the spiritual war and how it centers on our hearts so why would you close this series down talking about my thoughts and my mind?  Well it’s because they are one and the same.  Remember our hearts control everything from the words we say to the actions we take, to what truly matters most to us, all of it comes out of our hearts…and our thinking is no different.  Solomon makes a profound statement here that ties our thoughts to our hearts.

Proverbs 23:7 For as he thinks in his heart, so is he…NKJV

So, we are starting to really build into something here today.  We live in a challenging world, a world that really can beat us down emotionally, and physically, and spiritually. We can be riding this amazing roller coaster of tremendous highs and painful lows and just plow our way through life really distracted from the truth…that we live in a world at war, with an enemy who will use your struggles and all that you are walking through in life against you.  As a parent you may be doing things really well for your children, but your child still has to make their own choices as they grow up, and it hurts and it’s so hard to watch these things unfold at times but it’s life…and your enemy sees that moment and will try to capitalize on it, whispering lies to you that you are a terrible parent, you are failing.  It could be a challenge in your relationship with a loved one, or a work situation, or something going on here at church, but if we aren’t paying attention which isn’t all that easy to do in this life, especially spiritually as we plow through another crazy week, we can really end up in a bad spot quickly.  Paul says we must fix our attention on God as we walk through all these challenges and hurts.  He says that we must allow God to change our thinking so that we can be changed from the inside out, and we just added something from Solomon here that your enemy most definitely knows…what you are thinking is your reality.  It doesn’t have to be true; it doesn’t have to be accurate.  It just has to be something you agree with, because as we think in our hearts, so are we.

This means as I drive down the road after one of those painful lows on this roller coaster we call life, thinking through a hurtful or challenging situation and I get hit with something like this; “Sam, you are a total failure you are losing everywhere…just quit trying.” I need to pay attention, stay focused on God and not agree with this lie…or in all the chaos of life with all the distractions, texts, calendar notifications, people stuff, and different activities I will agree with this lie…and feel like less…because as I think in my heart so am I.  It doesn’t have to be accurate or true, but it becomes my truth…and if it does become my truth, I will never rise up and stand firm as the person God created me to be.

Listen, this is the battle that we all face, and it doesn’t really seem fair does it?  I mean life is hard enough without the world and our enemy throwing so much at us! Paul totally agrees with that statement, and this out in Corinthians and then look at where he goes again in verse 5…

2 Corinthians 10:3 The world is unprincipled. It’s dog-eat-dog out there! The world doesn’t fight fair. But we don’t live or fight our battles that way — never have and never will. 4 The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. 5 We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. MSG

We are to smash through warped philosophies, tear down lies that keep us from God’s truth, and grab hold of every loose thought, emotion, and impulse…focusing on and fixing our lives in Christ.  Paul brings up our thoughts and our minds a lot.  I think he is helping us see a huge way our enemy attacks us, and he also wants us to understand the way through is to focus on and fix our thinking on God.

Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things. NIV

Can I ask you something?  What do you think about?  If we stopped the talk right now and could just be transparent and honest for a moment, what thoughts cross your mind?  Not sure what you think about?  Well, what do you talk about with people?  Where do you spend your time?  Does that help you?  The reality is the things you think about most are probably the things you are spending the most time with, or the things you care about the most.  For some of you, there hasn’t been too many thoughts that don’t revolve around politics these days.  You can’t even worship at church without trying to figure out who voted for who in the building.  You see someone in a mask or not in a mask and you know things about them.  You can’t stop thinking about politics.  It’s funny I almost didn’t use politics as an example because it is so distracting for some people right now, and I know that I just lost some of you as our blood pressure goes up when I even mention the word!  If I’m describing you, your time probably goes to the news channel of your choice, to discussions on politics, to social media article after article after article, on the subject…and I would also bet spending your time there isn’t bringing a lot of peace and joy and rest to your life.  What did Paul tell us?

Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things. NIV

Maybe it’s your children and their next big step or decision or maybe miss-step they make in life.  It’s all you talk about, it’s all you think about, you hurt over it…you stress over it, you are crushed by it.  PS – You are allowed to have emotions and love your children, but remember what Paul told us to do with our thinking?

Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things. NIV

Do you see it?  We live in a world at war.  Our lives are crazy, and it’s hard to pay attention to every thought and lie that the enemy hits us with.  Which is why Paul tells us we must fix our lives and thinking on God…because this war is tough, and your enemy doesn’t fight fair.  So we must fix our minds on God…on what is good, noble, right, pure, and lovely.  Which we can’t do if we aren’t spending time with God.  If all our time is spent in social media, scrolling through Facebook, or staring at the news channel that best affirms your political beliefs, or whatever…we cannot fix our focus and live a Godly life centered on Him without spending time with Him and prioritizing Him in our lives. This is a world at war, and it isn’t fair that we have to fight it as we ride the roller coaster of life, with highs and lows…with an enemy trying to capitalize on all of those things…but one thing that is awesome is Jesus literally shows us how to rise up and stand firm and how to deal with these assaults from our enemy.  Which is a total blessing that Jesus shows us how to handle these brutal tactics from our enemy here in Matthew 4…

Matthew 4:1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:”‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'” 7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'” 11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. NIV

This is key, three times the devil tempts Jesus and all three times He is able to protect Himself from the devil with God’s truth…He uses the Word of God to protect Himself from the enemy.  It’s also interesting that Jesus is led out into the desert where He doesn’t eat for 40 days and 40 nights…he is on empty and he is hungry…and what is the first temptation all about?  Feeding him!  Curing that hunger…the enemy will use what we are struggling with most!  This is why as I’m hurting from life I get hit with a lie that is right on point with what I’m dealing with in the moment…it isn’t fair, but we know the enemy doesn’t fight fair.  He lies, and the way to defeat these lies is to replace them with truth.  Jesus all three times pushes back with God’s word.  Jesus has spent His life in God’s word, so as the enemy comes at Him, he is able to push back these assaults and lies of His enemy by replacing them with God’s truth.  Do you see it?

Can I tell you something here today?  It’s really no different for you and I.  Paul is right, the enemy doesn’t fight fair and he will hit you with lies where it hurts the most and your way through, your weapon in this fight is Truth…it’s God’s word.  This is why we continue to challenge you to read your Bible and study God’s word.  This is why we must cherish it in our hearts…because it leads us through this difficult roller coaster ride, we call life.  Where we spend our time and our focus is shaping our thinking and I didn’t want to close out a series on The Spiritual Battle, and the condition of our hearts without really pushing in on this very important idea.  I want you armed and ready for this difficult fight, and we arm ourselves with God’s truth.

The other day I was really struggling, hurting in my heart over a decision one of my children is making and I was driving out to the office, really just staring at my windshield.  I didn’t have the radio on, it was just quiet…and I heard this lie.  “Sam you are failing. You should just quit.”  It hit me right where my heart was hurting the most in the moment, but I saw it for what it was…and immediately a verse or two from Psalm 91 came to my mind…

Psalms 91:1 Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him. NLT

It was God’s truth that took the place of that lie in my heart…because as I think in my heart so will I be.  It gave me strength and reminded me that I am not a failure, I am loved by God, and no matter what I trust Him.  I was thinking a lot about this idea of rising up and standing firm and how I wanted to close this series down, because it’s so important that we do stand as the people we were created to be, but it’s so hard to do in a life that is so challenging with so many highs and so many lows, with an enemy that doesn’t fight fair.  The devil lies, and jumps on every insecurity and hurt that we face in life to try to get us to agree with his lies…and if we are not spending time in the Bible, we have no weapon, no truth to replace those lies and accusations with.

So as we close this series and head towards Easter I want to ask you a few questions today.

  • Do you spend time with God each day? Are you reading the Bible, so you are armed with God’s truth and able to protect yourself from the lies of the enemy?
  • When you look at your life what takes up your time? What is taking up your focus?  What do you think about and talk about with others the most?
  • When you look at your life what do you need to stop doing so that you can spend time focusing on Your Heavenly Father?
  • Do you wake up each day and give every aspect of your day to God?
  • Can you see how fixing your mind on God could change your perspectives and life from the inside out?
  • What areas of your heart hurt the most right now? Can you see how that is affecting your thinking, perspectives, and everyday life?  Would you have placed that as Spiritual before today?  Do you see that as a Spiritual issue now? 

We love you and want to see each and everyone of you rise up and stand firm as the people God created us to be…and I wanted you to see something really important today.  It is really hard to rise up and stand firm living in this world that throws so much at us.  It’s really hard to do with an enemy who doesn’t fight fair, hitting us in the areas we hurt the most…and I want you to see that it is impossible to do if we aren’t spending time with God and engaging our Bibles so we are armed with God’s truth to counter and defend ourselves from all these lies from the evil one.