I would like to ask you a couple of questions here as we get started today.  First, I want you to think about this.  Are you able to just be yourself around people?  Can you be yourself around people regardless of the environment you are in…church, home, work, wherever?  Why is it so hard for us people to just be ourselves, and just be honest about who we are and who we are not?  Well, I want to ask you one more question that I really want to get into with you today because I think the answer to this particular question could take care of answering every other question I asked you so far this morning.  Are you ready?  Do you truly understand Our Heavenly Father’s love for you?  You may understand it, and have knowledge of it, but as we just learned from our study of Proverbs…standing in and making use of that knowledge can be a whole other thing, so let me rephrase the question.  Do you truly believe in God’s love for you?  Is it easier to agree on paper than to stand in for your own life?  Is it easier to believe that He could love other people that way, and harder to accept for yourself?  I want you to really think about this.   Do you truly believe in, stand in, and accept Your Heavenly Father’s love for you?  I don’t want the church’s answer of “Yes, I do!”  Be honest with yourself and your heart here…do you truly understand how much He loves us, and do you walk in that freedom, that joy, that victory each day of your life?  I will tell you; that it is very rare to see people experiencing and living in the awesome and overwhelming victory in Christ that Scripture says we are living in because of God’s incredible love for us…

Romans 8:37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. NLT

Why is it so rare to see Christians standing in the overwhelming victory, which is ours through Christ, who loved us?  Well, when you get right down to it there are reasons for this.  First, it is so rare to see Christians experiencing their best lives, this life of overwhelming victory because we struggle to truly understand how perfect and true and unconditional God’s love is because we humans don’t love that way.  And the second reason is one that we may or may not admit to publicly.  It’s the fact that we know ourselves so well.  The real us.  We know our sin.  We know our mess.  We know our mistakes and imperfections…we know our thoughts, and our motives…and for the most part, when we look in the mirror, we aren’t very proud of the person we see looking back at us.  Now let me add to that, we also know deep down that God knows the real us, and since we don’t like ourselves, we conclude (very wrongly) that Our Heavenly Father couldn’t love us as He does because our perspective and self-view is setting our truth and reality and anything outside of our lens is so hard to see, believe, and accept.  But we must see it and get to a place where we can wrap our heart and mind around God’s great love for us so that we can truly experience this best life possible, that we keep telling others they can have as Christians while never experiencing it in our own lives.  This is what I want to lean into with you today…

Do you truly understand your Heavenly Father’s love for you?

While it is so rare to see people experiencing their best life possible, truly standing in the peace, joy, freedom, and overwhelming victory of a life grasping God’s love for us, it is so important.  This is the one thing that can truly free you up in life.  This is what can allow you to relax and rest.  This is what can allow you to truly let go of control and trust God.  This is what can take all the weight of guilt and shame off your shoulders.  This is what can allow you to simply be yourself, and not have to act or pretend to be someone or something you’re not depending on the environment you are in.  It all comes down to understanding, accepting, and believing in God’s love for us.  Which is so hard for us to do as we walk through so much pain, make so many mistakes, and know so much about ourselves.  But this is the key to us truly experiencing that life we all want but struggle to find.  It is just so hard to grasp how much God loves us, how true, how pure, and how unconditional that truly is.

You know one of the hardest and most painful things for me in life has been watching my children go out into the world and just get beat up, lose confidence, and feel hurt out there in the “real world.”  While they are out there dealing with all of that they are also figuring life out for themselves, which means learning moments and experiences.  They experience their own mistakes, and their own poor choices…and deal with the ramifications of that stuff…Now I know many parents swoop in on all of it, and I get that because it is so hard to watch, but it is also so important for their development in life.  But wow it’s tough to see them walk through so much in this world but for me, there is something that is even more painful than that.  And it’s how as they walk through all the messy painful realities of life and begin to struggle through the person they see in the mirror each day, the thing that is heartbreaking is how they act with me, feel about our relationship, and treat me as this all unfolds.  Through the lens of life, and the hurts and insecurities that grow in them, they begin to lose sight of how much their dad loves them and cares for them, and they instinctively begin to distance themselves or hide from me…they start pulling away.  All I want to do is love and support them, but they have a new reflex, and that is to try to hide, to cover up their issues, while they assume that I will be angry and that they must keep things from me.  They hide from me or do not come to me with their problems when all I want to do is help them and love them.  Ironically, when they do finally come to me or I pull the issue out of them and work through it with them I become a source of strength and truth for them and they are old enough to tell me that those times when they do share mean a lot to them…but it is hard to watch them try to hide things from me, or tell stories and try to act or pretend or just cover up things from me, and it makes me just wishing they understand just how much I love them…while knowing that probably won’t make sense to them until they have kids of their own someday.

You know, this is the perfect imagery of our relationship with God.  This summer I found myself in another moment like this with the kids, and I was just trying to grasp how I get pushed into this spot with them where they struggle to be honest with me.   I was hurting over it, and praying about it, and felt like God showed me this hurt and heartbreak in my life as a window of how He feels about us…because this is exactly how we treat our Heavenly Father.  God simply wants us to know His love for us and wants to be there for us while we just can’t seem to understand or believe or stand in His love for us.  We just can’t seem to grasp how much He wants to be there for us too!  Frankly, as we walk through all we walk through, it can be hard to imagine that God wouldn’t be angry or upset with us, because of the mess and choices we make…think about that.  I mean how many people do you know that truly walk in freedom and joy?  How many Christians do you know that think they messed their lives up so badly that somehow, they are on some kind of backup plan rather than the actual plan God has for their lives?  Think about that for a moment.  We, humans, tend to run and hide from God…this all began when sin entered the scene just 3 chapters into our Bibles…this is where the whole hiding from God thing started.  We get two chapters of perfection where God and humans walk together and then sin enters the scene.  Imagine what it must have felt like for God to be strolling through the Garden on the day that sin entered this world, to see those you love so much trying to hide from you, then tell stories and point fingers…how heartbreaking it must have been, to just wish they could understand your love…knowing they could not.  I feel this in a different way as a dad, just wishing they could understand my love for them…this is us with God.

Genesis 3:8 When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees. 9 Then the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” 10 He replied, “I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked.” 11 “Who told you that you were naked?” the Lord God asked. “Have you eaten from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man replied, “It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit, and I ate it.” 13 Then the Lord God asked the woman, “What have you done?” NLT

We often think about this moment from the human perspective, the guilt and shame they felt, or the perspective of sin, and how hard our lives become from it, and wow, did they become hard because of this moment but let’s try and think through this must have felt from our Heavenly Father’s perspective.  Try to feel and picture just how heartbreaking this must have been for God to see those He loves with perfect love who have no need for anything in their lives now sin, with no need to hide and lie or cast blame now feel guilt, shame, and try to hide from Him…imagine how that must have felt to see those you love and created to be with you, now running and hiding, and distancing themselves from you…unable to look at you, embarrassed and ashamed to be in your presence.  This is so heartbreaking and leads us from the Garden of Eden right back to us here today in the year 2023 and some questions that we need to address today.

Question – Why do we hide, and instinctively feel a need to cover up our mess, our mistakes, and our issues?  

The answer is that we do not understand the perfect love God has for us and because of that we view love from our human perspective…and we struggle to grasp how perfect God’s love is…

1 John 4:16 God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. 17 And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. 18 Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. NLT

This is so profound.  We are talking about how we hide and feel this need to cover up and pretend, another way to say that is that we have a fear of punishment, of how God will or is responding to us.  This is important to see, God is love.  All who live in love, live in God and God in them…and as we live in Him our love grows more and more perfect, allowing us to grasp His love and how He views us…Do you see that?  Now let’s take it a step further, because of this love we have nothing to fear on judgment day but can face Him with confidence!  God’s perfect love expels all fear, if we are afraid, it is fear of punishment which shows that we are not fully experiencing His perfect love!  So, can I ask you something here today?  Are you experiencing God’s perfect love in your life?  When you do, you live in peace, joy, and freedom…you have no need to hide and walk in guilt and shame…are you experiencing God’s perfect love in your life or not?  Think about this and get very honest here today.

Question – Why do we continue to walk through life defeated, heaped in guilt and shame over our issues and sin, when we know that Jesus has won?  

The answer is that we know ourselves so well, and struggle to believe that God could love us this perfectly…we do not!  This makes me think of what Paul says in Romans 8…

Romans 8:1 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. NLT

There is no condemnation for those who belong to Jesus!  What does that mean?  Let’s switch over to The Message version here and let the Scriptures speak to us today…

Romans 8:1-4 With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. 2 A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death. 3 God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn’t deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that.The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. 4 And now what the law code asked for but we couldn’t deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us. MSG

Isn’t that awesome?  Jesus resolved the fateful dilemma for us and because of that, we do not have to continue to live under this low-lying black cloud.  Let’s stop and talk here today.  If you were to look at your life right now, how would you describe it?  Are you walking in freedom, joy, love, and victory?  I think for many people on this planet who love God and claim to be Christians living in Jesus…they aren’t living and experiencing their best lives, or their abundant lives, but are continuing to live under that low-lying back cloud holding on to their sin, their guilt, there mess, unable to see and accept what God has done for them through Jesus.  Because of God’s great love for us and Jesus’ amazing victory on the Cross, we can walk free, victorious, not needing to redouble our own efforts to try to earn something we can never earn, but able to truly stand in God’s great and perfect love, experiencing our best lives possible.  What is interesting is then we see a very similar word from Paul to what we read earlier in 1 John…and we see that phrasing that I bring up so often…overwhelming victory.

Romans 8:35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. NLT

Nothing can ever separate us from God’s love…nothing.  This is an interesting thought for those of us who continue to think we do things that can separate us from God’s love isn’t it?  Think about that for a moment.  What did Paul say here?  Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, despite all that we walk through and endure we have and should be standing in the overwhelming victory of Jesus…you know that victory that we share with others yet can struggle to experience in our own lives.  

Question – How do we understand God’s perfect love?  

Well, the answer isn’t going to shock you.  The only way this happens is to stop living your way and give your life, your time, your focus, and your desires to Him.  We spend time with Him each day and the more time we spend with Him, centering on Him and His desires the more His love becomes clear, and the more we can do what Scripture says rather than contradicting it.  This allows us to get to a place where our instincts can change, and we can stop running and hiding and trying to cover up but we get to this place where we can go boldly to Him.

Hebrews 4:16 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. NLT

If you think about this concept, it’s as we come boldly to God that we will receive His mercy, and we find His grace to help us when we need it most…this is so big, but it can’t happen if we are pulling away from God and thinking that we need to hide.  It can happen as we continue to carry so much guilt and shame around, guilt and shame that Jesus defeated and wants to carry for you today.  We can’t experience this grace and are not experiencing this new life we tell others we have if we live our lives in fear and condemnation over the mess we have made of our lives…yet so many of us do!

So many of us instinctively run and hide…we just can’t grasp God’s perfect love for us, and because of that we never experience that incredible life we tell others about while wondering deep down why we never seem to feel or experience it personally.  It’s incredible really, but we do run and hide, and our reflex seems to be to cover up just like Adam and Eve did in The Garden.  Just like children do with their parents, when all the parent wants to do is love them, help them, and support them.  This is heartbreaking and it leads to devastating results in our lives.  If we could come boldly to God, we would find love and grace to help us when we need it most, when we run and hide, blame, and cover up we never get to experience God’s amazing and perfect love for us, and life just gets harder and harder and harder.  The problem is until we truly grasp the Father’s love we will not boldly go to Him with all our junk, we will run and hide from Him and we can’t understand His love without walking with Him and choosing to live differently.  It’s a vicious cycle in so many lives today and it will not change without a true desire in our hearts to live differently. 

Process this…personalize this…where do you come out on this?  Do you truly know God’s love for you?  Do you feel and walk in guilt, shame, and the instinct to hide and cover up or can you boldly go to Your Heavenly Father for help, for strength, guidance, and love?  Do you continue to look at your life, and hold things over yourself that God does not hold over you?  Why do you do this?  Now let’s really stop and think about something here today.  If you know that God’s love for you is true.  If you know that through Jesus overwhelming victory is yours.  If you know that Jesus won, and you get to stand in that overwhelming victory today…then the question must be asked.  Are you?  Are you standing in overwhelming victory?  Take a moment and think about your life.  Would you describe your life as victorious or living in fear of punishment?

We are going to end today’s service with Communion.  This is going to be your time.  A time to reflect on God’s incredible love for you.  A time to reflect on what Jesus did for you on The Cross…which is the very thing we are supposed to focus on when we are looking for inspiration and strength…

Hebrews 12:3 When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! MSG

But before we have communion, I would like to give you something.  It’s one minute of silence.  This is your time.  For some, maybe it is a time to just sit and relax and breathe.  For others maybe it is a time to truly let go of some things you have been holding on to for way too long.  Maybe it’s time to forgive someone for the hurt you are carrying.  Maybe it is time to look in the mirror and forgive yourself for some things you just haven’t been willing to let go of in your own life, but wherever you are today and whatever you are walking through, use this time to truly process what it means to walk in the freedom, peace, and joy of Christ…to truly live in and experience overwhelming victory in Him.