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Daniel Plan #6: "Winning With the Hand You're Dealt" -


Nov.15, 2015 Matthew 25:14-30

(adapted with permission from Rick Warren, Saddleback Church)

The Bible says there's nothing simple about you. You're very complex. There are many factors and forces that create you. In Psalm 139:14, David says "Thank you Lord, for making me so wonderfully complex." Guys if you're sitting next to your wife whisper into her ear right now, "Honey, you are wonderfully complex!" And then wives you whisper back, "You are amazingly simple!" The Bible says we're all wonderfully complex. To become all that God intends for you to be, you have to look at every dimension of your life, not just one. Ecclesiastes 7:18"A person who fears God deals responsibly with all of reality, not just a piece of it." If you're going to be who God wants you to be, you're going to have to look at every factor in your life and deal with all of them, to be all that God made you to be.

Today, we're looking at this subject of being who God meant you to be. We'll title this, "Winning with the Hand You're Dealt"; because there are actually five factors in your life that influence your identity and who you are.

Recall the parable of the talents? Jesus said the master goes out and gives one guy ten talents and another guy five talents and another guy one talent. Then he probably said something like, "Go off and make the most of what I've given you." You're not going to be responsible for talents you weren't given. You're not going to be judged by God for opportunities you didn't have. But God IS going to judge you one day and evaluate your life based on what you did with what you were given. The point of the parable of the talents is we don't get the same thing. We don't have the same talents, the same background, pains, problems, potential...We don't have the same anything except we're all loved by God. We are all unique; we are all different.

But there are five factors that inform your identity. You did not choose these factors. God dealt them to you. And just as you didn't choose your talents, and you didn't choose the talents you didn't get, you didn't choose a lot of other things in your life that make you you. To use a card game analogy: you have to play the cards you're dealt; you don't get to mix and match them. You don't get to say, I want to play his euchre hand, her cribbage hand. You have to play just the cards you are dealt. So in life: you didn't choose your parents, when or where you were born, your race, or talents. There are a lot of things that make you you that you had no choice in at all. They are the hand you were dealt, and you've got to play it, work with the hand you were dealt. Thankfully, the Bible tells us how to still win the game with the hand you've been dealt. There are 5 things that influence your life that make you you; then we'll look at what God says to do with them to make sure you turn it into a winning hand.

1) The first factor that makes you you we can call "My Chemistry"

This is your chromosomes, your dna, your genes, your hormones - your chemical makeup. Everything that happens to you in your life impacts your body and your body is made up of chemicals. You may have a high tolerance for pain, or be hypersensitive - like the Princess and the Pea. You may have a high or low energy level. We all have structural and chemical weaknesses in our bodies. You may be predisposed to have your back go out - ouch! Some of us wear glasses. Your brain chemistry may not be ideal; you get migraines or depressed, or your thyroid's off. It's just the way your body's wired. All of us have biological and chemical deficiencies; and these create problems - emotional or physical or mental. If you're low on oxytocin, you have a difficult time connecting with others. It's simply part of your chemistry, the way you're wired.

The first characteristic in your life that makes you you is your chemistry, your body.

2) The second thing that determines your identity is Connections

My connections are my relationships in life. You are a product of your relationships, especially your early years' relationships. Those relationships may have been good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, nonexistent, or even abusive. But you are a product of your relationships, particularly those early year relationships. Your identity, how you see yourself is largely determined by how you perceive the most important people in your life think of you: that influences strongly your self-image / self-esteem / self-concept. So - make sure Jesus is the most important person in your life, because He's going to love you unconditionally and tell you the truth.

Connections give our lives identity, meaning, and purpose. If you grew up feeling disconnected from other people, you'll have a hard time finding meaning in your life. People who have really healthy connections, they're not wondering, "Does my life matter?" They know their life matters because there are healthy relationships in their life. But if you're disconnected, dysfunctional in your relationships, it affects your identity, meaning, and purpose. Why? Because life is all about relationships.

One day Jesus was walking down the street and a guy asked, "Lord, what's the most important thing? What's life all about?" And Jesus said in essence, Life is all about love: it's not about accomplishment, acquisition, popularity or power or prestige - it's about love; it's about relationships. He said, You can summarize all of life in two sentences: 'Love God with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself.' That's the Great Commandment, the main thing. Be connected to God and with each other, in harmony with God and each other. If you don't have that, you miss the purpose of life: it's all about love and relationships. If you don't understand that, then you'll be left wondering why your life lacks meaning.

There are 3 problems with our connections. We're all imperfect, so there are no perfect relationships. That causes problems in our lives: we hurt each other, have conflict and stress, and misunderstand each other. Second, sin disconnects us. It disconnects us from God - all have sinned and fallen short. And it disconnects us from each other: we accuse others and try to excuse ourselves. We hide our faults and hurl at others. We try to cover up our vulnerabilities, defects, and faults. And we cop out on being real with each other: we fake it even with those we love the most. Third, the more disconnected I am, the more fearful I become - fearful of God, of you, fearful at a party...So we find we're caught in a bind: we crave intimacy - that deep soul searching, heart to heart union, where we accept and love each other. We crave that intimacy, but fear the vulnerability; we crave acceptance but fear rejection. And that too is part of your identity.

There's a third card that makes you you along with your chemistry and your connections...

3) The third card that makes you you is Circumstances.

These are the things that happen to you and around you. You are a product of the traumas and troubles in your life, the suffering and the shame and the shock and the stress, the problems and pressures and pain.If you've ever been abused - I'm sorry, but your abuse has affected and wounded your identity whether it was physical, emotional, sexual or whatever. If you've ever experienced rejection or failure, or undergone a crisis, that has affected your identity.

There's a fourth card, a fourth factor that makes you you.

4) It's what I call My Consciousness.

My Consciousness is how I talk to myself. How you think about you. You're talking to yourself constantly. If you talked to your friends the way you talk to you, they wouldn't be your friends! Because you are your toughest critic. And you lie to yourself all the time. The Bible says, the heart is deceitful (Jer 17:9). You lie to yourself, run yourself down, tell yourself things that just aren't true, but you believe them. "You're no good / worthless/ will never amount to anything / you're uncoordinated/ unattractive / a loser, blah, blah, blah." That impacts greatly your identity. Proverbs 23:7, "For as a man thinks in his heart, so he is." Proverbs 4:23 cautions: "Be careful what you think, because your thoughts run your life." If you want your life to go in a different direction, you're going to have to direct those thoughts in a different direction.

Our fears are often self-fulfilling: we sabotage ourselves. Note: Feelings aren't facts. "I feel unattractive" - that doesn't mean you are! Feelings lie all the time.

But there's a fifth card, which is so important because it controls all the other cards.

5) The fifth card that makes me me is My Choices.

The Bible says that you were created in the image of God. That means you have a free moral choice. This card is a wild card: (now we're playing Crazy Eights!) it can change the suit and the number of any of the other cards you're dealt. "My Choices" is the wild card. I didn't get to choose my chemistry but I can choose what I do with my body and how I make the most of what I've got. I didn't choose all of my relationships but I can choose how I respond to them. I can choose new relationships, and to learn relational skills. I don't choose my circumstances but I certainly can choose how I respond to them. I am response-able: that means I'm responsible, I'm able to respond - hence accountable for how I choose to respond.

With regard to my consciousness, I didn't control what people said to me, those old tapes that went in my mind and I started believing them. But I can choose to stop believing them and to start thinking differently. That's good news! Jesus saves, Almighty God is at work, change is possible. Choosing to trust and obey Him changes the number and suit of every card. That affects your life and your destiny in eternity. Choice is the wild card that can change everything else.

There are five winning choices that you can make with the hand you've been dealt. Take the first card, My Chemistry, my biology, my physical being...

First choice: I can choose to get healthier

You can be healthier than you are right now, if you choose to get healthier - eat better, get more sleep, reduce the stress. You're likely not making the most of the body you've been given. Psalm 119:73, "You made my body, Lord; now give me sense to heed your laws." Maybe you need to go get a checkup, get some blood work, go see a dentist, get a supplement...There are some steps you can do - medicine, exercise, controllable things. The Daniel Plan.

The second choice has to do with My Connections.

2) I can Choose to Deepen Relationships

I can learn some communication skills; build some new, healthy relationships; I can reach out, risk connecting. It's a risk, because the fear of rejection prevents connection. But note: 'Awkward won't kill me!' How do I get rid of fear? 1John 4:18, "There is no fear in love.Perfect love casts out all fear." Why? Because love takes the focus off me and puts it on somebody else. Love grasps that "It's not about me." My needs, my health, my heart, my hurt...No, love says, It's about you! The other person...Love has no fear because it's not about me.

Take your typical party. Self-centeredness walks in the room saying, "How do I look to everybody else?" Love walks in the room going, "Who here needs my help? Who needs a word of encouragement, a pat on the back, a little affirmation? Who at this party looks like they're a little on the outside and uncomfortable and I could put them at ease?"

Love, which requires humility, is not thinking less of yourself: humility is thinking of yourself less. You're so focused on thinking about other people, you're not thinking about yourself. Jesus helps us stop being so self-centered and frees us to think about somebody else - their needs / hurts / interests and how you could help them. Perfect love casts out all fear.

1Corinthians 14:1 "Let love be your highest goal." LOVE ought to be your goal for the rest of your life: not accomplishments or achievements. Life is all about learning how to love.

Suppose you say, "I loved, pastor, but I got burned so bad. I gave my heart on a platter and they took it and stomped on it and tore it up and put it in a grinder and made hamburger out of it. I am still hurting from that." Well - sounds a bit to me like the cross of Christ! Do you think that excuses you to not love again? Jesus' way for His followers is to love and forgive and love again. Love means risking connections. There are people all around you who are starving for your love right now. You don't get to say, "I'm not going to love because I got hurt once."

Pray with Paul as in Ephesians 3:17, "I pray that Christ will live in your hearts by faith and that your life will be strong in love and be built on love." Every morning get up and say, "Today, Jesus, I want you to fill my heart by faith, and make me strong in love, built on love."

The third choice has to do with the circumstances of life - the trauma/ trouble/ pain/ pressure/ problems/ stress/ suffering in your life.

3) I can choose to Trust God no matter what happens

Choose to trust God regardless of your circumstances: that gives you an identity nobody else is going to have. Romans 8:27-29, "God knows us far better than we know ourselves.That's why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.[It's not all good but it can be worked into something good.] God knew what he was doing from the very beginning.He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son.[God's goal is to make me and you like Jesus, his Son.] The Son, Jesus, stands first in the line of humanity he restored.And we see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him." God wants to use every circumstance in my life to make me like Jesus.

Psalm 34:1, "I will praise the Lord no matter what happens." That has to be a choice: When you can say, "I will praise the Lord no matter what happens." That's a confidence that's not built on money or sex or status or passion or possession or position: it's built on my relationship to God, His covenant or deal sealed at the cross and signed in Jesus' blood, and that can't be taken from me. "I will praise the Lord no matter what."

I'm a product of my past but I'm not a prisoner of it. By God's power, I can be different.

That leads to choice number four.

4) I can choose what I think about

I can't choose what other people say about me or what they say to me; but I can choose what I continue to allow in my mind, my memories that create my sense of self. When you think a thought it creates a pattern, an electrical trace; when you think a thought a thousand times, it creates a rut, a Niagara gorge of doubt or depression in your mind.

The winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in neurobiology proved you can rewire the adult brain.It's elastic, not concrete; transformation is possible. Romans 12:2 "Don't copy the behaviour and customs of this world [the habits and their pattern of thinking] but let God transform you [change your mind, change your brain, transform you, do a caterpillar-to-butterfly 'metamorphosis' on your brain] - Let him transform you into a new person by changing the way you think." Change your brain, change your life.

Fight those lies the world has put in your life - "You're no good, you're worthless.You don't amount to much.You're not coordinated or smart or athletic..." Fight those lies, replace them in your mind with God's truth. We're not just talking about the Sunday sermon here: you need to feed your mind every day on the Word of God. Read it, memorize it, meditate on it, write it on little cards and stick it where you can memorize the Word of God - start with your bathroom mirror, your car dashboard, your flip-down visor. Feed your mind heaven's life-infusing truth. Your outlook will start to change! You're as happy as you choose to fill your mind with the right things.

Philippians 4:8 "Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right.Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. [That doesn't sound like television, or much of what's on Netflix or Hoopla Digital! That doesn't sound like Fifty Shades of Grey: it may be popular but it's pornography - it's poison; and you shouldn't be filling your mind with it.To read something just because it's popular is stupid, self-destructive.] Fix your thoughts on what's true and honourable and right.Think on things that are pure and lovely and admirable.Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise." Get the garbage out of your life! Junk tv, some movies, a lot of books: you have to be discriminatory, selective, choosing only what's excellent and worthy of praise. Surround yourself visually and orally with things that create good memories, that tell you who you are and Whose you are. Put the Word of God on your walls. Put God's promises on the walls, beautiful sunsets on the walls. Take a positive memory from your past and put a Scripture on it. You can rewire your brain. I can choose my consciousness.

5) The fifth choice I can choose is this: I can choose Jesus as my Saviour

When we say "Saviour" we're not just talking about saving you out of hell into heaven, that initial commitment saving you from your sins and receiving God's forgiveness, although that IS basic: you ought to do that if you haven't already.

This goes further: we're talking about letting Jesus be your Saviour every day. When you do that, you get the power to follow through on these choices. I've got to make choices and then depend on Jesus moment-by-moment to give me the power to do these things. I choose him as my Saviour, constantly. I say, "Jesus, I need You to save me from my chemistry.I need You to save me from my physical, emotional, mental defects.I need Your salvation in my heart, body and mind. Jesus, I need You to save my relationships, so I can have healthy not harmful ones. Jesus, I need You to save me from my circumstances. From the problems, pressures, trauma, and trouble. And Jesus, I need You to save my mind and put a guard up there. Help me to put on the helmet of salvation; protect my mind from the thoughts that come in and influence me. Jesus, I need You to save me from more than just sin: I need You to save me from myself."

2Corinthians 5:17 "When someone becomes a Christian, he becomes a brand new person inside.He's not the same any more.A new life has begun!" It's like being born again, starting over, a whole new identity.

Are you waiting on God to change stuff in your life? As for all those things, God says, I'm waiting on you to use the wild card I gave you: 'According to your faith it will be done unto you.' (Mt 9:29) You get to choose how much I bless your life.And it's never too late to start over."

When I choose, when I use the wild card God has given me, I choose to get healthier; to start risking healthy connections; to trust God no matter what the circumstances are; to change the way I think. When I choose Jesus as my Saviour each day, each moment - He gives me a winning hand! Let's pray.