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Connecting with God and People

Read this message transcript from the "Standing Strong When Things Go Wrong" message series

Matt Sturdevant: Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there. In fact, if you’re a mom watching, go ahead and let us know in the chat right now. With so much around us having changed over the last eight weeks or so, it’s really the love and sacrifice and care of our moms that bring a great deal of comfort and stability during uncertain times, especially if you’re a little one living in the home. I am so grateful for my own mom who loved and cared for me while I was growing up in the home and then continued to love and support me as a grown man. I’m also extremely grateful for my wife, Jessica, as she is mom to our two preschoolers, Kensi and Kai. Over the last eight weeks while we’ve all been stuck at home, she’s just done an amazing job taking care of them and trying to keep life interesting on top of all the other things that she does as a mom. We really appreciate our moms and the contributions that they make to our lives. 


How about you? I want to give you just a moment to consider how you’re grateful for or what you appreciate about your own mom. Take a moment and maybe jot something down in your handout. I want to invite you that if your mom is still living that you give her a call today and share with her what you jotted down. How do you specifically appreciate what she’s done in your life? Today, we’re going to continue our series, Standing Strong When Things Go Wrong. We’ve been taking a look at what some Biblical principles are that we can use to stand strong when we face crisis when we face problems—in any kind of crisis or problem. At the time of this series, we’re all living through the Covid Crisis, and we’ve been in this period of time now for about eight weeks where there’s been a great amount of uncertainty. But, we’re starting to have a new level of new normal where here in Texas, things have been opening up. We had our stay-at-home order expire at the end of April, and now things are starting to look a little bit more normal. 


The last few weeks we took a look at how you grow through crisis, not just go through it but actually grow through it. I want to invite you to go back and check out last week’s message or any of the previous ones in this series. If perhaps you missed those, you can always go to hopechurch.com, or you can check out our YouTube channel or our podcast to get caught up in the series. Today, we’re going to take a look at connecting with God and people. When we’re connected with God and people, that has a direct impact on our ability to stand strong when things go wrong. In fact, one of the reasons why it’s been really difficult for many of us over these last eight weeks that we’ve had to stay home or we’ve had to be under quarantine or shelter in place or whatever it’s being called… One of the reasons it’s been so difficult is we aren’t made for quarantine. We aren’t made for social distancing. The truth and the reality is that God made us for relationships.


It’s interesting to me that we’re talking about this on Mother’s Day because when we started the year, this wasn’t the plan to be doing this series at this time. But, this is what we’re talking about now on Mother’s Day. As I was thinking about how God made us for relationships and how we’re talking about it on Mother’s Day, He literally created us to come out of our mothers. Regardless of the type of relationship you have or had with your mom if she’s passed away, your life began inside your mom. She literally carried you for about 40 weeks, and until you were born, you were connected to her with an umbilical cord. Someone had to actually cut the cord after you were born. Without the environment of growing within our mothers’ wombs, none of us would be here. In a sense, we all ow our lives to our moms. That’s kind of difficult for us to comprehend as Americans because we’re so proud that we’re individuals. We don’t need anyone, and we’ve got everything that we need within ourselves. But, it was our mothers who carried us; it was our mothers who gave birth to us. In most cases, our mothers were the ones who fed us and nurtured us and even diapered us. 


God actually made us for relationships, and this bond between a mother and a child is just one of the examples of a relationship that God Himself created. There’s something deep within each one of us that we have this need and this desire and this want for connection with people. We don’t even have to be a follower of Jesus to have that, but we have this deep inside of us because that’s how God made us. He made us for relationships—to have a relationship with Him, our Creator. He also made us to have a relationship with all the other people that we interact with. That true if you’re the world’s shyest introvert or if you’re the most outgoing extrovert ever. It’s true for everyone. One kind of fun thing that I’ve heard is that several introverts have said now that after eight weeks of social distancing and quarantining that they are fully recharged and just ready to be around people. If that’s you and you are an introvert who can’t wait to be around people, let us know in the chat. Give us a fist bump or something in there.


This is true because we all want and need a meaningful connection. That’s how God designed it. If we go back to God’s Word and we look in the book of Genesis, which is the first book of the Bible, the first book of the Old Testament, and we look at the plan of creation—how God created this world and everything in it—we see that He created the world in six days, and He rested on the seventh. As He was creating, He gave a commentary. He said, “It’s good...it’s good…” When He got down to the pinnacle of His creation, He got to man; He said, “It’s very good.” Just a few verses later, listen to what God says—“It’s not good that man should be alone. I will make him a. helper fit for him.” What we see here in just the early pages of the Scripture at the very beginning of the story is that God values relationships, the importance of connecting. He didn’t just make Adam by himself; He created Eve so that Adam would have someone to connect with, someone to relate to. He gave Him a suitable partner, and He shows us the need for real, genuine connection. 


Why did He do that? Why did God put this desire within each one of us? I want you to hear from our senior pastor, Harold Bullock. He’s going to talk about what this connecting with God and people is all about. 

(Pastor Harold) “You and I were actually made for relationship. We weren’t designed to be loaners living in the forest or loaners farming the land. We were actually made for relationships—relationship with God and relationships with people. One of the wonderful things is that Scripture tells us how those relationships are to work. Jesus, at one point, was questioned by some fellas who were trying to trip Him up, experts in the Old Testament. They asked Him, “What is the greatest of the commandments?,” because there were lots of commandments. He answered...here it is. “Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” These are the two nails that hold the Old Testament in place—love for God and love for people.


Actually, these two commands are found in the Old Testament. Sometimes people want to think God is sort of an angry God in the Old Testament who chilled out and got nice in the New Testament, but this love goes back to the beginning. Deuteronomy has that verse in it that Jesus quoted about love for God. Leviticus, before Deuteronomy, has the verse in it about “love your neighbor as yourself.” Relationships actually work off of love; relationships prosper off love. Love for God—well, that involves several things. Actually, when you love someone, there’s a whole lot involved in that. There’s emotion; there’s attitude...all kinds of things. Love for God involves affection for Him, gratitude to Him, obedience, serving Him, and then honoring Him. As He is the Person He is, you don’t change that around. They way He’s made things, the way He has ordained things, you don’t mess with that. You honor Him by operating in line...marriage and everything else...in line with the way God made it.


John, the apostle, actually gets down to the very core of this love for God, though, whenever he says in his gospel and then in his letter what the focus is. In John’s gospel, he reports Jesus saying, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.” Hmmm...has my commands and obeys them… A moment later, he says, “He who does not love me will not obey my teaching.” That’s pretty simple. You obey what He said; you love Him. In our day and time, the tendency is that if you don’t want to obey what He says, then you find all kinds of reasons why that verse doesn’t really mean that. It means this. But, here’s the truth; if you love God, you obey Him. John says again in his first letter to the churches: “This is the love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.” If you love God, you obey His commands. If you actually love God, His commands are not so wearying, just so hard to put up with. “Oh, it is such a burden!” Oh, no, no, no, no. If you love the Father, you know what He’s done for you through Christ Jesus, so His commands are not burdensome. They may be difficult. It’s not that heavy, wearying thing because you love Him.  


Love of people is slightly different. It’s similar; Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” A lot of people think that verse means first you have to love yourself, then you can love your neighbor. But actually, Jesus assumes you love yourself. You and I will put ourselves first, so that’s what He means by love of self. We may not like ourselves, but we will get into the restaurant faster than the other couple who’s walking to the door because we put ourselves first. Even if we don’t like ourselves, we go first. Jesus is talking about putting other people’s interests first. Love...we love people by serving and helping. Whenever you love someone, you’re willing to sacrifice for their best if they need something. So, love of people very often comes at a cost personally. Jesus tells a story about what we call the “Good Samaritan.” Samaritans were outcasts at the time, but He tells a story of the guy who’s making his way on a mountainous road. Robbers have been waiting on someone to come along. They grab him, beat him up, rob him, strip him of his clothes...clothes were expensive in the time...and leave him for dead. A priest comes by and another very religious person; they come by and they see this fellow. This could be a dangerous place; robbers could still be around. They see in his suffering, and they very religiously go on their way to do priority things.


But the Samaritan comes along, and he’s an outcast as far as the religious people are concerned. He comes along and sees this guy. His heart goes out to him, so he loads him on his own donkey and takes him to an inn where he might be nursed back to health and puts down the money to pay for it. Jesus asks the question of the crowd to whom He told the story; “So, who’s really being a neighbor in the sense of ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’? Who’s being a neighbor here?” The people say, “Uhh, the Samaritan?” Yeah, because he was willing for it to cost him to help someone. Jesus Himself loved you and me; He died for us on the cross while we were still sinners. This was at great cost to Himself that He loved us. When we love people, we’re willing to pay a cost to be of help to them. We’re willing to pay a cost to serve. 1 John 3:16 says...John again writing…”This is how we know what love is…” Here it is, guys. This is the core of loving people—loving God is obeying Him. Loving people—this is how we know what it is… “...Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”


Loving people is more than wishing them well. Loving people is more than being glad to see them at church. When you love people, you’re willing to help. You serve them. You serve them through the church and then personally. We have lots of ministries in the church where people serve. Scripture says we ought to because we care for people and we want to be a help. We serve the Lord this way; we also help them personally. We help me; we help in church, and we help people personally. This love of God and love of our neighbor as ourselves are actually the very core of how life works. Made for relationships? We were. Made to thrive in relationships? We were. Struggling with relationships? We are. But, God’s Word tells us how to really connect with Him and then the core of what it really means to connect with people.”


(Pastor Matt) There’s a God-given purpose for our relationships. We are made to love God and to love people. As we get to meet people and get to know them, they’re able to help us. They’re able to be involved in our lives, and in some cases, they’re able to help radically change the trajectory of our lives. I want to give you some real and practical advantages and challenges when we think about connecting with others. One simple advantage is friendship. Think for a moment about your closest friend. It’s hard to remember a time that you didn't’ know them. It’s hard to remember that there’s actually a moment that you didn’t know your closest friend. You first met them, and then your friendship developed over time. It took an initial connection for that friendship to begin. This is true for all of our friendships. When we connect with others, one of the benefits is that we’re able to make friends. Obviously, we don’t become best friends with everyone that we connect with, but there’s sort of a progression that we all go through at different paces and different speeds.


It looks something like… First, you have an initial connection, and then you form an acquaintance. Then, they become a casual friend, and finally, casual friends become close friends. Then, from our close friends, sometimes we have a best friend. There’s this process that we go through. I love what Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says about friends. It says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” Just one of the great benefits of our friendships is that we have people to rely on. We can enjoy them in the good times, and then they can encourage us and strengthen us during the not-so-good and the difficult times. This is something that I have experienced time and time again. 


How many of you over the last eight weeks while things have been difficult for us were encouraged by a call or a text from a friend? Again, give me a fist bump or an “amen” or a “yes” in the chat if you have been encouraged by someone in these last eight weeks. If you’re newer around Hope, here’s something that I want you to know. Perhaps you just started joining us after we were gathering online and you’ve never actually been here to our building to our service, and you’ve never been able to meet the people of Hope yet. But I want you to know this; you really can find friends among us. This was my story when my wife and I, shortly after we got married, moved to Fort Worth, Texas, after living in California for a bit. We moved here; I started a business career, and over the last 18+ years, we have formed many dear friendships. We have gotten to know so many people who are so close to us today. That’s our story,and that may be your story, as well, as you connect with people.


Another advantage is encouragement. I already sort of mentioned it, but who’s had a hard week this week? We probably all have, because one of the ways that life just tends to go is it tends to run on two rails or two tracks. There’s always something good happening, and there’s always something difficult happening. It’s not uncommon to have gotten to the end of the week and have had a hard week, as well as having some great things happen. Here’s some encouragement for you from Hebrews 10:24-25. It says, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”  As we move through our days and our weeks, there’s usually a lot of resistance or some negativity that comes from the world around us. Especially, we might be experiencing that during the days of the Covid crisis, where if you watch too much news you just get hit with all of the horrible things going on in this world. 


It’s also easy to just feel cooped up in your own home. We love our families, but when we’ve been cooped up for the last eight weeks, you just sometimes want to get out and see some different people. You know that phrase, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” After you’ve been gone for a good hard day’s work, you come home, and how much more do you love and appreciate your family? We all need some encouragement, and it’s really important to be around people even if we can’t be physically around them right now. To have people in our lives who can sharpen our edge and who can encourage us and call us forward to the things of God... One of the reasons why we have groups here at Hope Church is to do just that. It’s a chance for people to meet together during the middle of the week. This spring, for obvious reasons, we’ve had to change the method of our groups. We moved from in-person meetings in homes or restaurants or wherever groups were meeting to virtual meetings. We’ve had to change the method, but we’ve not changed the mission of our groups.


I want you to hear from just a few people who have been a part of groups this spring and what it meant to them and their lives…

Devin & Kristen - “So, we just recently joined a group at Hope, and during the beginning of the quarantine, we were not in a group. I missed the community that we had at Hope, so I am usually an “out of sight, out of mind” person. So, I wasn’t really reaching out to people, and I realized that I really missed the community. It has been nice to join a group again.”

Scott & Lesley - “During the pandemic, it’s been really hard to get any quality time with anyone else from church. Groups have been a way to really get the opportunity to interact with people. Church on Sunday has been great, and I know that they move mountains to make it happen on Sunday mornings to where we can all watch digitally, but we’re still not getting some face-to-face interaction with people. Fellowship is such an important thing. Being in a group has really helped us kind of fill the gap there. While going through the pandemic.” “As an introvert, I think it would have been really easy for me to get isolated, and group just helped me stay connected. It helped to share what was going on and have people praying with us through some hard things that have happened. There were multiple times where I had had a really long day working at home with children that I either needed to keep working or would have just wanted to go to sleep if I could have. I was always really grateful to log on every Wednesday, and our kids were always excited that they got to see some of their friends at the beginning of group. It was an encouragement, and God used the time just really to keep me connected to everyone in our group and encourage me throughout the whole pandemic.”

Ruth - “One of the great things about being in a group has been the prayer support. Unlike most people during the pandemic, I started a new job and did not get the training that I needed, and it has been quite challenging. Also, today I got a call from my sister, crying and saying my brother-in-law was having some major health issues. I immediately went on GroupMe and was able to ask for prayer support from my group. So, I have really appreciated having that group during this time.”

Aaron - “Some of the ways my family has really been blessed by groups at Hope during the quarantine is just the ability to stay connected with others. Staying connected with other Christ followers, being able to be encouraged by some of the ways God’s working through people’s lives right now, and really seeing some of the unique situations that we’re experiencing to glorify Himself and to further the Kingdom.”

Kenny & Pamela - “Being part of a life group during the Covid pandemic has been helpful because we’ve been able to meet with our group through Zoom on a weekly basis and still pray with one another and encourage each other and get life updates to kind of break up the ‘stay at home’ if nothing else.”

Leta - “One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about being in a group at this time is getting to see familiar faces and hear what is going on in my friends’ lives. That has really been a joy.”

Brian & Sommer - “One time in particular stands out… We found ourselves in the emergency room with our youngest daughter in the middle of the night, and we got a visitor. It was Elizabeth, our group leader, who had tons of stuff going on in her own life at that time and found the time to drive quite a ways to be with us, help us answer questions, interact with the doctor. It was super helpful, and it really loved us. We just reflected on that how that was an example to us of love and steadfastness. The group has been a great time, and we love Aaron and Elizabeth.”


(Pastor Matt) The really great thing about encouragement is that it’s a two-way street. We get to encourage others, and they get to encourage us. Also, as we connect with others, there’s a kind of protection that exists. Have you ever seen those Stupid Human Trick blooper roll videos? You can find them on YouTube. In fact, a friend recently sent me one that just had dozens and dozens of them in an order, one after another, and all kinds of clips of people doing things with and on skateboards that they should just not have attempted. In fact, take a look at just one example of what I’m talking about.  (Skateboarder with cardboard box over his head trying to skate on a ramp and falls) Now we don’t even know if that was a guy or a girl because they had that box over them, but whoever it was could really have benefited from the wisdom of Proverbs 13:20, which says “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.”


You see, they needed someone in their life to say, “Dude(Dudette), I don’t think you should get on the skateboard with the box and try to go down that half-pipe like that.” One of the truths and realities is that influencing works just like encouragement. When we’re around others, we’re encouraging them; they’re encouraging us. But also, they’re influencing us, and we’re influencing them. That’s why we need to be around people who will call us forward to the right things to protect us from making stupid decisions, protect us from hurting ourselves, and eventually, basically maybe even wind up on YouTube like that person did. 


Another advantage of connecting is direction. Listen to Proverbs 19:20; it says, “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.” It’s kind of hard to gain wisdom in the future from other people if you don’t have people to connect with and if you don’t have people to connect with who know you and know you well. But as you are connected, you can have people in your life who help you navigate especially uncertain times and times of big decision and great need. That is just one of the advantages of having people in our lives. I’m sure you could probably come up with a list of additional advantages, so I would encourage you to write down on your notes any other advantages that you have had in your life as a result of connecting with people.


But I also want to mention two challenges, two ways that connecting with others is challenging. I want to mention them because when you encounter them I don’t want you to be caught off guard. I don’t want you to be surprised by it if it’s something you experience. Basically, if you want the advantages, you’ve got to pay the price, and the price is overcoming these challenges. The first challenge in connecting with people is that it requires initiative. All relationships, all friendships, all connections are a two-way street. It requires initiative at some level. Why? Because there’s two sides to every relationship. There’s my side, and there’s your side. It requires both of us to take initiative to have a good, prosperous, healthy relationship. 


Here at Hope Church, the staff and the leaders want to work really hard to provide you with all kinds of opportunities to connect. Groups are a great way to connect with others. In fact, you got to hear some stories of how groups have made an impact in people’s lives. But as a staff, we can recruit, and we can develop some really, really great leaders who are ready to help you meet and connect with other people, help you connect deeper with God. But here’s the thing—you have to take the initiative to sign up for the group. More importantly than signing up for the group, you have to take the initiative to show up to the group and to be an active participant in the group. It always requires initiative on our part when it comes to connecting. 


Another challenge for us is that it always requires risk. Anytime you connect with people, there’s risk involved. Why? Because you could get hurt. Why? Because we’re sinners. I’m a sinner; you’re a sinner. Sinners sin, and we hurt people. In fact, we’re all selfish, and it’s really easy for me to get caught up in my selfishness, not even pay attention to what’s going one and who’s around me and say or do something that hurts and offends someone. And, I wasn’t even paying attention. I didn’t even know they were there, but I easily hurt them. Then, that can have an impact on us wanting to relate with others if we’ve been hurt. Understandably so, because if you’ve been hurt and really hurt, then it’s hard to put yourself out there. It’s hard to move forward in relationships, but the way that we move forward is this. We risk a little; we see what happens. Then, if we’re not hurt, we risk a little more. We keep doing that over time. Over time, we take initiative and we risk, and the result is that we’re able to form and develop really deep, meaningful relationships. Relationships that help us connect with God and allow us to connect with others and just thrive and have a sense of life and community that we wouldn’t have if we hadn’t connected.


As you think about connecting with God and with others, where do you need to take some initiative? Maybe, where do you need to risk a little bit so that you can develop some relationships? What’s your next step when it comes to connecting with God and connecting with other people? Would you bow with me in prayer? Father, thank You that You made us for relationships. You made us for a relationship with You and for a relationship with the other people that You bring into our lives. Father, thank You for our mothers. Thank You for the life that they have given us and the ways that they have cared for and sacrificed for us when we were children in the home and the ways that they continue to support us and love us, those of us who are grown adults. Please bless our mothers today on Mother’s Day. May they feel Your love, and may they feel the love and appreciation that their children have for them. Please show each one of us what our next step is in order to connect deeper with You and to connect deeper with the people that You have put in our lives. We pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.