Esther: “Wrong” Place, Right Time

We have been in this series where we have been looking into the lives of biblical characters to see how we can still see ourselves on the pages of scripture. As we said last week, our way of life, and society may have changed, but human nature really hasn’t changed. We still fall prey to the effects of the fall and original sin. No one is without fault.

But then, we also see a beautiful picture of a God of Holy Love who continually offers grace and works in and through his people for his work in the world. This has been a constant throughout history and is something that will never change. Why? Because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

As we move through the Old Testament, we come, again, to, maybe, a familiar person—Esther.

The biggest verse, the most memorable verse, to many, in this book is chapter 4 verse 14b: “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (NIV)

This is something we do have to really think about for our lives, in general—maybe you are where you are “for such a time as this!”

Now here’s a tough question for you today, “are you happy with your life and what’s going on around you?”

Some will say, “YES!” Others will not.

One of the challenges we face is to realize we have been placed here, at this time, in this location for the purposes of God. If there is any unrest within us, we do need to ask if we are truly doing what God has called us to do. Remember, God’s calling has no expiration date. His work, in this world, is for people of all ages, ethnic groups, socio-economic status, education level, etc. If we ever get to a point that we don’t have to do the work God has called us to, because, “someone else should step up,” maybe God is calling us to do something even more grand than we ever imagined. Maybe God is calling each one of us to mentor and be part of raising up a new generation of believers and Christian leaders, outside our family.

Here’s the reality, not everyone around us, not everyone we come in contact with, not everyone we think about, communicate with will know and fully live into the life Jesus Christ offers. But, everyone is seeking Christ whether or not they realize it. Why? Because life is meaningless without any purpose. Life does not make sense without the grace of God acting in and through our life. Life is empty and hollow without the known presence of Christ. This is what we get to help people realize.

Maybe, you are here “for such a time as this.”

So what is Esther about? Here is a brief recap of the story:

“Esther lived in ancient Persia about 100 years after the Babylonian captivity. When Esther’s parents died, the orphaned child was adopted and raised by her older cousin Mordecai.

One day the king of the Persian Empire, Xerxes I, threw a lavish party. On the final day of the festivities, he called for his queen, Vashti, eager to flaunt her beauty to his guests. But the queen refused to appear before Xerxes. Filled with anger, he deposed Queen Vashti, and forever removed her from his presence.

To find his new queen, Xerxes hosted a royal beauty pageant and Esther was chosen for the throne. Her cousin Mordecai became a minor official in the Persian government of Susa.

Soon Mordecai uncovered a plot to assassinate the king. He told Esther about the conspiracy, and she reported it to Xerxes, giving credit to Mordecai. The plot was thwarted and Mordecai’s act of kindness was preserved in the chronicles of the king.

At this time, the king’s highest official was a wicked man named Haman. He hated the Jews, especially Mordecai, who had refused to bow down to him.

Haman devised a scheme to have every Jew in Persia killed. The king agreed to his plan to annihilate the Jewish people on a specific day. Meanwhile, Mordecai learned of the plot and shared it with Esther, challenging her with these famous words:

“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14, NIV)

Esther urged all of the Jews to fast and pray for deliverance. Then, risking her own life, brave young Esther approached the king with a request.

She invited Xerxes and Haman to a banquet where eventually she revealed her Jewish heritage to the king, as well as Haman’s diabolical plot to have her and her people killed. In a rage, the king ordered Haman to be hung on the gallows–the very same gallows Haman had built for Mordecai.

Mordecai was promoted to Haman’s high position and Jews were granted protection throughout the land. The people celebrated God’s tremendous deliverance, and the joyous festival of Purim was instituted.”**

There is something, seemingly, missing from the book of Esther…the name of God. Does this mean that God is absent? It is easy to believe that God is absent when things don’t get better, or when we’re confronted with challenges that life will bring. But the truth is, God is always present. God is always working. He is always reconciling, restoring, redeeming. God is always bringing people to faith in Christ. God is transforming whole communities through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

A major challenge we face today is that many people don’t really believe God can do all of this, or that God desires to use you and me. But know this, because of God there are no coincidences. It is not coincidence you meet the people you do. It is no coincidence you go in the places you go to. It is no coincidence you have the friends you do. Did God make you do all of this? I don’t believe so. But I do believe that God has been working behind the scenes, and prompting your spirit by the Holy Spirit to step out and follow this path.

I used to tell people that I would know I was following God’s plan when I had complete peace within me. I don’t believe that anymore. Why? Because I get to be in situations that are uncomfortable and unpleasant, simply because of what God has called me to. Imagine the unrest Esther experienced, yet was determined to do what she needed to do. The peace comes because I know I can trust God in all things. And because I trust God in all things, I can live a life of peace even when the world around me seems chaotic. What is God calling you to do? Who is God calling you to be?

I remember it, like yesterday. I was having a lunch Bible Study with one of my friends and his pastor and I remember when Jesus Christ became real to me. I was at a phase in life where I was searching for meaning and looking for who I was supposed to be. I loved these lunch Bible Studies with Bernie and my friend Micah. Micah will probably never know how much I appreciate him for this.

It wasn’t until several years later that I realized what I was supposed to do with my life. This came after 7-8 years of unrest within me. Things were going really well for me, for the most part, but I still was seeking meaning and purpose. My identity was wrapped up in what I did for a living. This is where it got challenging for me.

One day, because of Facebook, I was able to reconnect with one of my Kindergarten and elementary school best friends. I was excited. While on my way to visit some family, on the coast, I stopped to have lunch with her. When I left, I felt the need/desire to read the entire Bible. I had read much of it before that, but something inside me told me to read the whole thing. So what did I do?

I went to stay on the beach for a few days. About a week or so later, the feeling kept coming back, so I went and bought a brand new study bible…the King James Version. I found a plan to read the Bible over the course of a year. But I couldn’t get enough, so I began to read more each day. It still took about 3 months, but I read the Bible all the way through.

But, it was in the book of Genesis, the calling of Abraham that I began to sense God leading me to a life of ministry. I kept is quiet for a couple months, but something strange began to happen. Some of my close friends began to tell me they could tell I was in conflict about continuing martial arts as a job and said something to the effect that they could see me in ministry. A couple months later, I “retired” from martial arts and began this vocation of a life in full-time ministry with God.

Throughout this journey I have come across people I never dreamed up. I often felt, and still feel like sometimes, that I was in a different or “wrong” place than where I wanted to be. But I realized later that I got to connect with people that God needed me to. I got to marry Amanda and have an incredible family.

Because of this life, I have seen incredible things. I have also seen the face of evil. But most importantly, I can see the Kingdom of God and the presence of Jesus Christ all around us.

Church, this is a difficult time for ALL churches. It is easy to try to say we need someone to “fix” everything. The world is looking for people to “fix” whatever’s wrong. Often times we begin to work and fix things that are not the underlying issues.

But there is only one person that can fix the world, and he died on the cross, rose from the grave, and ascended into heaven. He is the carpenter that brings his tools with him wherever he goes and does some hard work in his people. He will begin the work to fix what really needs to be fixed/recentered/refocused/redeemed, and it may not be what we thing or with whom we think.

Jesus is where our eyes stay focused. Why? Because he is focused on you and what he has called you to. Jesus is going to call you to do things and be in situations/positions you are not qualified to be in. He knows what you’re passionate about and what you’re good at.

Jesus continually sees value in you and because of this says, “this is the one I am using here and now.”

Church, look around the world. Look at the media. God is calling you and I to be instruments and vessels to expand his grace and Kingdom. Trust that you are exactly where God needs you to be. You and I are put here for God’s purposes, at this right time and place.

**Taken from: https://www.learnreligions.com/book-of-esther-701112

Noah: Nobody’s Perfect

There are movies and books and stories that we allow to speak to our hearts. We fall in love with the characters and root for them, or want what’s coming to them to happen. The stories we seem to pay more attention to add to our notion that life is all about us.

One of the things I love about the Bible, and there are a lot of things, is how the scriptures are full of stories and people we can fall in love with, even dislike. But it doesn’t go there. When we take the time to read through the scriptures, we see the people are just like us. Humanity and human nature have not changed, though our culture and lifestyle may have changed. But Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow!

Noah and the flood is one of those stories many people love from the Bible. But, is there more to it than just Noah, his family, and the animals getting saved from the water?

As with any good story, we have to know and understand the back story:

Before there was anything, God was. The waters we read about in Genesis 1 represented chaos to the ancient people, so, God created order from the chaos. His Spirit was hovering and realigning the chaos to fit his plan, fit his design.

God created the heavens, the stars, the sun, the moon, the plants and animals. His crowning moment of creation was humanity, his image-bearers whom he hand crafted and placed in paradise to care for, till, and even extend paradise to the rest of the earth.

God is the God of goodness, perfection (holiness), and order—there is nothing he is not part of.

Then, the trip into what became the fall of humanity took place. We talked about this last week—Adam and Eve ate from the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the tree they were supposed to steer clear from. They got banished from paradise, yet still allowed to live (that’s grace).

What happens next is horrific. When we allow sin into our lives (in any shape or form) things go bad really quickly. Adam and Eve’s son, Cain, kills his brother Abel because he was jealous. Things got worse from there.

One of the worst parts of the Bible is when God says, “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” (Gen 6:5 NIV)

And then the worst part, “The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.” (Gen 6:6 NIV)

But remember, there is always grace in the pages of scripture. Genesis 6:8 says, “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” This is hopeful. There is someone willing to listen and obey God, even in the midst of all the selfishness, greed, murder, crime, sin, Noah was willing to stand out and follow God.

When a person decides to follow God, they will most certainly stand out and be noticed, even if they are not drawing attention to themselves. So, a question right off the bat is “will you live the kind of life that is completely different from everyone else, for God? Or will we continue to cater to our own comfort and preferences?”

One thing we have to remember is fewer people than we realize live the kind of life they say they live. Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (NIV)

Even when everyone else was trying to get Noah to do what they wanted, or do the things they wanted, Noah stood out and found “favor in the eyes of the Lord.”

Side Note: People will do anything to make you look bad, make you look evil, lazy, etc. when you’re following Christ. Don’t give in to it, take the road that leads to life, always.

Genesis 6:9 says, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God.” (NIV) This is a pretty cool picture of God’s grace shining through. Even though no one else was not following God, Noah did, and he did so in a way that people saw there was something about him different from them. The truth is, it is only by the grace of God we are able to live this life and follow God. Without God’s grace we cannot and we will be lost. Noah lived his life in the grace of God.

Now, the life we live for God will look odd to the rest of the people. The text doesn’t say this, but Noah was really an evangelist trying to teach and show the people what will happen if they don’t turn from their way of life. How do I know this? Noah faithfully kept building ark.

This would have been a huge undertaking and hard to miss. People would have been making fun of Noah for doing this, but he kept building away. He kept being faithful to what God laid out before him instead of giving in to the taunting and desires of the people around him.

The people were probably taunting him and trying to get him to stop what God called him to do because they did not understand. They must have thought because he was not living up to their expectations that he was in the wrong. But Noah kept building away.

Imagine the heartache Noah felt during this time.

Then, the rains came. This was something the people had never experienced before. When the rains came, and did not stop, I’m sure the people began to panic. But God chose to close Noah, his family, and the animals in the safety and security of the ark.

One of the things we don’t really hear much about in this story, except when non-Christians bring it up, is the death toll surrounding Noah and his family. Realize that only Noah and his family were saved from the destruction. Everyone else perished. This is not a children’s fairy tale story.

But Noah stayed the course and trusted God to guide and direct the ark during this time. Noah and his family cared for what they were entrusted with on the ark and kept their trust in God through the storm.

The waters and damage from the rains and flooding did not quickly go away. The rains came for 40 days, but the waters stayed, Noah and his family stayed on the ark for over a year. Imagine the patience and trust, in God, that was required to sustain their faith. Noah faithfully trusted God, especially in the storm, and the recovery period.

When they were finally able to exit the ark, Noah was given the command God gave Adam and Eve, to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth. The people of God were starting over in a small number. But Noah faithfully trusted in and followed God.

Then when it was time to plant the seeds for a new beginning, Noah planted and grew grapes. The grapes he grew became fermented and he drank the liquid and became drunk and passed out. Know this, too much of anything puts us in a place of vulnerability and susceptible to sin.

Sin creeps in, and is more tempting, when we are at our weaker points (hungry, hurt, tired, lonely, etc.). This is why the devil came to tempt and to test Jesus after Jesus had fated for 40 days and nights.

Noah’s son found him and basically made fun of him to the other brothers. The scripture could imply other things, but basically Ham did not honor or respect his father. Because of this, Noah’s anger burned and said, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.” (Gen 9:25 NIV)

Noah allowed his vulnerability, he placed himself him, to cause himself emotional hurt and embarrassment from what Ham did, and then came out in anger.

We’ve said it before: anger is always a secondary emotion. If our needs are not met (whether we say what they are or not), if we get embarrassed, jealous, hungry, lonely, tired, etc., then anger is what is manifested. Not only that, anger is manifested outward instead of inward where the work needs to begin.

At first, Noah found favor in the eyes of God. At the end, Noah still found favor in the eyes of God because of his faithfulness. The covenant, promise, blessing, sign of the rainbow was given to Noah simply because he found the way to faith.

Church, the way to faith is not in anything we can find on our own. It is not something or anything we can do. It is not trying to please people or do things to try and please God. The way to faith is a person. The way to faith, and true salvation (here and now) is in the person of Jesus Christ. John 14:6 reminds us of this truth, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (NIV)

Jesus also said that he is the gate (John 10:7). Not only is he the way, he is also the door to enter into the salvation promised by God, the rest that God promises.

Church, if you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, trying to make sense of the world and events happening. Stop trying to please people, yourself, God. Seek the person and presence of Jesus Christ because he has already found you and is working to give you peace.

Nobody is perfect. We will all make mistakes and will fail others constantly. But God is faithful when we are not and that’s who’s working in us and through us to reach a world hurting to know God.

He has given you a task, an ark to build. Are you building for the Kingdom glory?

Let’s pray…

Gracious God, so often we seek to find our security in people and we miss out on the opportunities you provide all around us. Lead us to complete fulfillment. Guide us to the person and presence of Jesus Christ. We know we cannot live this life without your grace. Thank you for pouring your grace out upon us. Now, O God, we need your strength and courage to live out this life you have called us to live. This, and so much more, we pray in the powerful name of Jesus Christ. AMEN

RESPONDING TO CHRIST AND THE PRESENCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT HERE AND NOW

NOW IF YOU have never said YES to Jesus by answering his call on you life, now is the time. I pray you get to live into the joy. If you say YES to Christ’s call, let us know and we can help you live your response out. If you say YES again, let us know and we can help equip you for God’s purpose in life.

Between Two Friends

Click here to read Acts 15:36-41.

Just when everything seemed to be going well, or at least moving in the right direction, another conflict arises. This time it does not come the outside world; but inside the Christian faith. The argument is between Paul and Barnabas about whether or not John Mark should continue to go with them.

This may not seem like that big of a deal, on the surface. Paul was really hurt when John Mark left (deserted) them in Pamphylia. Why did he leave? Acts 13:13 says, “Paul and his companions sailed from Paphos to Perga in Pamphylia. John deserted them there and returned to Jerusalem.” We know where he went; but why did he leave? It doesn’t say. Maybe he got scared after “Bar-Jesus’ eyes were darkened and he began to grope about for someone to lead him around by the hand.” (Acts 13:11) John Mark would have been there when “Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Saul, also known as Paul, glared at Bar-Jesus and said, “You are a deceiver and trickster! You devil! You attack anything that is right! Will you never stop twisting the straight ways of the Lord into crooked paths? Listen! The Lord’s power is set against you. You will be blind for a while, unable even to see the daylight.” (Acts 13:9-11a) Constantly seeing acts like this and being there when Paul and Barnaba were thrown in prison and treated harshly, would make be nervous as well.

Maybe John Mark left because he needed a break. The point is Paul felt hurt by the desertion on their colleague. They wanted and needed him to be there with them; and he left. He went back home to a safe, familiar place. Paul did not want him to rejoin their group, Barnabas wanted to give John Mark another chance. Paul and Barnabas split ways.

This is how it seems to happen, even for us today. We can look at this passage and say that Paul was being too harsh and should have shown more grace. But Paul was too hurt and had a hard time believing John Mark would continue to stay with them even in the difficult times to come. But did he really have to get angry over the situation?

We should remember that anger is a secondary emotion. This means anger is manifested because we are hurt, tired, emotional, or a whole host of possibilities. When someone is angry, the best thing to do is let them calm down. Nothing productive comes to pass when both parties are angry and not listening. Staying in a state of anger can, and does, ruin relationships. So, listen to what is being said, ask questions (without making it worse), and be patient.

Maybe going different directions is what is needed at times. Maybe it is easier to part company than it is to work things out and get to the heart of the matter. But maybe we can allow our pride to get in the way and miss out on even greater things if we continue to pursue tasks out of anger.

Keep in mind, we are all human beings. We all live in this fallen state of humanity. It is when we experience the Holy Spirit living and moving in our lives that we will produce the fruit of the Spirit in us. It will not always be easy; but the time it takes to develop love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control will eventually prove to be worth it.

Yes, we will continue to respond in anger; but I hope and pray that we can all learn to get past ourselves and really listen to the other side. Maybe, just maybe, we can all learn how to better live with each other, developing more and deeper relationships instead of having more division.

NOTE: Paul does let John Mark rejoin him later on. J

Keep Moving Forward

Click here to read the passage for today: Acts 8:1-4.

The cards seem to be stacked against you. It seems like everyone is against you or making your life more difficult. We have all had those days, or even those weeks, where it seems nothing we do will improve the situation. A co-worker could have betrayed you, a spouse could have been unfaithful, people we trusted could have been found out to be frauds. Whatever the situation, or your personal experience, God is still present and active.

Right after the stoning of Stephen, the church scattered. They were nervous and scared because of the threats and harassment they were subjected to. Now, this was not harassment by governmental leaders like the Romans. This was done by the people they used to call family, by those in the same faith they grew up in.

But since the followers of Jesus said he was the Messiah and began to follow his teachings and worship him. This infuriated the religious leaders because they were losing the control over the people because of Jesus.

Isn’t it interesting how people react when the power and control they had is beginning to dissolve. They will panic. They will act in ways of anger. Remember anger is a secondary emotion, meaning something else is triggering the anger. Whenever someone loses the control they enjoyed for so long, they begin to feel scared and insecure because now what are they going to do? From this place of fear and insecurity, people lash out in anger.

Jesus came and showed people a new way of life. Well, actually, the original way of life God designed people to live. When the people heard this truth and experienced the life of Christ, they were different and had a new source of joy and peace. But in the situations of being persecuted (threatened, harassed, tortured) fear begins to creep in. So the people scattered and got away from the place so they could try to live in peace and safety.

Was God in this? Absolutely! Remember what Jesus said in Acts 1:8 “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all of Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the earth.” Because of the harassment and persecution they were facing, they spread out. When they spread out, they began to tell the people around them about Jesus Christ. God’s Word was continuing to spread and expand!

Here in America, we Christians do not face persecution like what is seen and experienced in other countries around the world. I invite you to take some time and pray for Christians around the world. Pray for the message of Christ to be known and shown. A good resource to help remember to pray, and pray for a country or area each day is Operation World. Click here to begin to learn about other countries and to pray for the world.

No matter what is going on in the world, the gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ continues to move forward. So should we.

Checking Emotions

You see and hear it all the time. Police shows and court shows are very popular for us because we like to see what will happen. Whenever we watch these shows, or read about the news stories, we cannot take turn our eyes and ears away because we have to know how it ends. I remember the OJ trial in the 1990s. That was a huge news story that captivated America. People still talk about it today.

As we watch or read about these stories, the question inevitably comes up, “How do you answer to these charges against you? How do you plead?” Now, we pay attention to what the person says. Our system is set up to where the defendant will either say “guilty” or “not guilty.” Eventually the final verdict and sentencing will be given.

Take some time to read through today’s scripture passage. Click here to read Acts 7:1 – 8:1 CEB.

I love how Stephen does not give a direct answer. Instead, he goes on to show, using the Old Testament, Jesus Christ is the long awaited Messiah (Savior) and how it was the religious leaders who were the “stubborn” or “stiff-necked” people.

How would you respond if someone talked to you that way, how would you respond? We would be tempted to experience the same emotions. You and I would most likely get angry because another person sad bad things in front of a group of people. But, think about why you get angry.

One of the reasons we tend to get angry is because we know deep down, the person is pointing out one or more of our flaws that we try to hide because we want to appear as perfect. It is not fun to have people think of us as less than perfect. But isn’t this the exact place we fully begin to experience the transforming power of God’s grace? It is in the recognition and acceptance of the truth we are not perfect and need grace we actually experience grace.

If we are not careful, we will allow the emotions caused by our insecurities and our own pride to fester and we will end up going down a path we do not need to go down.

The leaders had Stephen stoned. This may seem like the end; but Christianity spread like a wildfire after this incident.

Click here to listen to the sermon that talks about the stoning of Stephen.

Peace: Have No Fear

ADVENT WEEK 2: Peace

The four weeks leading up to Christmas is a time we should take each year to prepare ourselves Jesus Christ coming into the world: a time of celebrating his birth, and also preparing ourselves for his return. When we take this time seriously, we have the opportunity to again place our hope in God through Jesus Christ, to experience the peace and joy the Holy Spirit brings us, so we can truly live in love and experience true life, life in the presence of God here and now AND in the life to come.

This week, our scripture focus brings us to The angel’s proclamation to Mary she is the one to give birth to the Messiah, Emmanuel, Jesus the Christ.

Luke 1:26-38 (CEB)

“When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee, to a virgin who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David’s house. The virgin’s name was Mary. When the angel came to her, he said, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!” She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you. Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.” Then Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen since I haven’t had sexual relations with a man?” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the one who is to be born will be holy. He will be called God’s Son. Look, even in her old age, your relative Elizabeth has conceived a son. This woman who was labeled ‘unable to conceive’ is now six months pregnant. Nothing is impossible for God.” Then Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” Then the angel left her.”

More than likely, these are words you have heard many times. It is too easy for us to read a story, scripture passage, message that we have heard time and time again and think we know what it says. Remember, “God’s Word, is living and active” (Hebrews 4:12) so each time we carefully read it, we can experience God speaking. Take a few minutes to reread the scripture passage again.

What stands out to you? What have you not noticed before? What do you hear, feel, touch, see? If you placed yourself in this passage, where would you be? What would you be feeling?

Mary is in the middle of her day, when angel appears to her and delivers this incredible news. Mary, like us, would most likely have responded in fear at first. Thinking about what would happen to her and her family, to her husband, if this all came to be.

Fear seems to make sense. We say we need to protect ourselves, so our self-preservation instincts take over. We are all driven by fear on some level. We save up excess money for the future because we get fearful we don’t have enough. We buy many imperishable foods because we’re fearful a storm will come and take out our power. We give our kids everything they want because we’re fearful they will through a fit in public. We buy the best and most expensive clothes, toys, electronics, houses because we’re fearful people won’t like us or we won’t feel valuable. Fear if kept unchecked will result in a person feeling anxiety, then turning to stress, then turning to anger. But, this is not how God desires us to live. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear… The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)

Everything around us can be chaotic, messy, scary; but God gives us grace so we can live in peace. Peace is not the absence of conflict. Peace is the presence of Jesus Christ around us and within us. Mary could have stayed fearful; but soon she would have the physical presence of Jesus the Christ growing inside her.

So, we can choose to respond in fear, or trust God, even when it seems impossible. This was Mary’s stance. She did wonder and ask how this can be since she has not been with a man. But the angel told her, “nothing is impossible with God.”

Many people get stuck on the question, “how can a virgin give birth to a baby?” If we stay in this Lin of thinking we will miss a much more important question: “How big is your God?” Here’s what I mean:

  • Is God big enough and grand enough to create the world in 6 literal days and give it the appearance of age?
  • Is God big enough to create a world, set it in motion, create the math, science, down to the smallest detail for the world to evolve and get ready for humans over a few million or billion years?
  • Is God big enough to shut the door of an ark, fight battles for the Israelites, bring a whole nation into the promised land?
  • Is God big enough to supply the missing DNA needed to give birth to his son here on earth?

We do not have to have all the answers; but we can trust that God can make it happen. Personally I find great peace in this because I know God is holding a tight grip on us and is giving us everything we need.

Mary really did not get an answer as to how, exactly, this was going to take place except for hearing the “Holy Spirit will overshadow her.” But she resolves to step out in faith and trust that God’s plan for her life is much better than anything she could have dreamed of or planned. Which brings us to a final thought.

Was Mary’s life easier because she said “yes” to God? No. Too often we have this idea that following Jesus makes our life smooth and easy. Following Jesus does not mean this. If anything it makes out lives harder because we have to go into the world to shine his light. People will look down on Jesus followers because they don’t understand or know. We get to help those and be in relationship with those who everyone else says is scary or dangerous. We get to go to places that we hear on the news is war torn and in complete chaos. But…

We don’t need to fear because the real presence of Jesus Christ is with us.

This Advent season, take time to experience the peace of Jesus Christ in your life. Fully embrace the grace God gives, fear not or be anxious about nothing because the best task is to focus on Christ.

In the words of Jesus, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27)

Unheard Voices 

I am not one to engage in political or any form of attack or criticism via social media because I see too much negativity and very little building up of those who did incredibly horrible, insensitive, and just plain wrong things. It hurts when people get hurt, especially people I know because of what it is done.

I am part of the group that appears to be silent on social media, and is criticized for not “speaking out” and blasting people all over Facebook, Twitter, etc. There is truthfully many people who are getting the point across over what is happening in our communities, our cities, our nation, and the world.

One of the things that is difficult for me to witnesses is the method that others are using to try to bring about change. Changing legislation, rioting, protesting (more specifically non-peaceful), calling people hurtful things and dumping people into a large group and stereotyping. The laws can change to make people more aware of what’s going on; but this is not the way people really change. Change does not happen instantly. Some people, unfortunately never experience the change in society, in our culture, in their lifetime. It is a very noble and important task to bring attention at a national and world level for the injustices that happen each and everyday. People are shot for no reason. Racism still comes out. Blind eyes and non-helping hands are all around us. If we really look at what is wrong, we see this is really a problem of people’s hearts. This is what needs to change first and foremost.

Too often we result to name calling and threatening when a person acts a certain way. Too often we put blame in objects or the situation. Too often we try to change people by making it illegal to act a certain way. Change does not happen in this way. It is pretty much impossible to change someone by demonstrating anger toward them. If anything, I have seen people become numb, angry, stubborn and resistant to change when another person comes back and attacks.

People are murdered, theft happens, kidnappings happen because we as a people do not value human life as much as we say we do. Look at our thought process. We go from thinking that a person said or did something wrong; but then we keep focusing on that and vent to others, becoming so angry that we begin thinking that person IS evil and IS wrong. This is just a step away from hating the person / group which makes it easy to say they do not deserve to live and therefore it makes it easy for a person to come out and kill. All because human life is not valued.

We see this kind of thinking and behavior everyday. Many based their hatred on snap decisions and feelings rather than trying to look a what is going on, what is at the heart of the matter. Again, the actions and the objects get blamed and punished and we forget to see what is going on: that human life is not valued like we think it is. Our media, and social media makes this possible. Because of the 5-30 second sound bites, it makes it easy for our opinions to be sueded, mostly in a negative way. Then we can and do share the short clips and memes that do more harm.

I find it interesting, and disturbing, that the same kind of mindset we are told not to act upon in 6th grade is the same thing we do today. We get hurt, and we try to hurt other people. Hurting others does not really teach why something is wrong, rather it is retaliating for vengeance, for revenge. Revenge has never gotten complete justice; instead it seeks after retribution.

The way that I see people change is one-on-one or in small groups. I have found that most people, though there are ones who won’t and that’s something they have to work through, will listen is they feel listened to. I am not on a national stage so I don’t have a platform many others do. It seems we need to go back and follow Jesus’ example of how He worked to change the world. There were times large groups were around; but he really did it by starting one-on-one and with his small group. He challenged their hearts to experience the Kingdom of Heaven that is already here, if we open our eyes and our hearts to it. People are not changed from trying to change what is going on around them. people are changed from the inside out. Like Jesus does, we have to work with him to change a person starting with the heart. Every life matters. All people have value.

Do I do everything I can to work with Jesus to bring change in my community, which I pray spreads out to the world? I try. I am nowhere near perfect, and I know I still have biases of my own; but I praise God for the transformation he is doing in me and for the transformative work I see happening in this community. When we can build people up, instead of insulting and tearing down, God’s love and grace is able to come in. People are valued. People realize they are loved and need love. People see how they have been gifted to make a change in this world.

I know there are people who would read this and say this is not good enough. I know I could be criticized for this post in some form or fashion. My prayer is that God keeps working here, and in my heart, so we all can experience the Kingdom of Heaven here and now. God’s presence is already here. I believe God is waiting for us to stop thinking only of what is wrong and is waiting for us to join him in the true work which is the heart of the matter: the human heart. Changing this makes all the difference. Real, lasting change happens from the inside of a person first then is shown through their outward words and actions. The task is to allow Jesus Christ to work in and through us for the transformation, not fixing, of the world.

Sabbath Retreat

I came back from a week in the mountains with some great friends as well as some new men I haven’t met before. This was an incredible week to take time away and rest in the Lord, intentionally.

Sabbath rest is extremely important and it is a discipline that is overlooked. One of the books I was reading during this week was “Emotionally Healthy Leader.” This is an awesome book which forces you to look inside yourself and see how, through the grace of God, we can be better and more healthy leaders. This is a book that I would recommend.

In the chapter on “Practice Sabbath Delight,” Peter Scazzaro writes about a time when he visited a trusted friend. He was frustrated when the Christian leaders he taught all over the country preach about Sabbath rest and even say it is a great “idea,” would not actually practice a true Sabbath. Bob, his clinical psychologist friend told Peter, ““They can’t stop. If they stop, they’ll die. They’re terrified. They’re frightened to death of what they’ll see inside themselves if they slow down. And you want them to immerse themselves in things like solitude, Sabbath, and silent reflection?” He chuckled again. “Do you have any idea how foreign this is for any leader —Christian or not? Something so much deeper is driving them; they just have no idea what it is.” It was the penetrating truth of this statement that stunned me: If they stop, they’ll die. They’re terrified.”

Does this describe you? If I was honest earlier in my life and ministry career, I would have to say that that statement actually pinned me to a “T.” After all, why would I want to purposefully look into the depths of my character, passed mistakes, and anything else that God wants me to work on. My thought was “I can do this. I’ll spend time with God and make Sabbath as part of my daily life. But there was a problem with that mindset; I wasn’t discipline to take at least an hour away from “my day” when I “had to be productive and get things done.”

As I have learned and realized the importance, I try (not always though) to take a complete 24 rest from the work I have to do the other 6 days of the week and spend time to delight in God. This means I will rest from work (paid and unpaid) and only do the things that give me complete joy. Some of this includes spending time with family, more time for reading, prayer, reflection, play.

For the last few years, I have been going on week long men’s retreats to the mountains. During this time away (not off like we think of being off), I have learned how to structure my days so I can come back refreshed, joyful, and ready to get back into the work of life.

Each day I will take a minimum of 2 hours, and a maximum of 5 hours for reading, meditation on Scripture, prayer, taking a walk, etc. This is usually done by myself. The rest of the day I would spend time with the group and go hiking, go into town to walk or hangout. Basically, the second half of my day is play and spending time with friends.

I am not sure of your station in life, or what you are going through. But I would encourage you to take time every 7 days for a true Sabbath rest (not necessarily stopping work; but having no deadlines to focus on). If taking 24 hours to do this each week seems challenging, I would encourage you to take time to build up to it. Purposely plan what you will and will not do on your Sabbath time and just see how God refreshes your soul for the next 6 days of building relationships and your work.

“Becoming Great”

Mark 10:41-43  Now when the other ten disciples heard about this, they became angry with James and John. Jesus called them over and said, “You know that the ones who are considered the rulers by the Gentiles show off their authority over them and their high-ranking officials order them around. But that’s not the way it will be with you. Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant.

There have been may times that something I have said has made another person, or even a group of people, angry or upset. I have gotten upset over words from another person (hearing a voice or via written message). We can easily allow what people say to upset us and let our emotions determine how we act.

This is how I imagine the disciples mindset at this point in time. I cannot blame them for feeling the way do at this point. It is easy to understand what might be going through their minds at this point. If they would have taken time to talk with James and John, would they have gotten angry? Would they be able to understand the brothers’ background and meet them where they were? Did the other ten disciples want to have the same position of greatness and were angry because they did not ask first?

I wonder if James and John understood why the other disciples were angry.

Jesus teaches his disciples about true greatness. He tells them that earthly position and authority are fragile. We should not strive to gain earthly recognition, but to strive for the glory of God.

To live for the glory of God means we live our life for something bigger than we are. When we do this, we become more humble. Becoming more humble means we begin to be a servant rather than a master. It seems backwards. Becoming a servant to become great. I think this makes good sense when we think about it. We cannot just jump to becoming an owner, we have to work for it. We have to be able to do the lowliest tasks in order to become ready for the bigger tasks.

“Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant.”

Reaction Time

Hello church!

The book of James is a good one to challenge us to live deeper in our faith. The thought I believe we should take time to unpack during this worship series is, “Be who you say you are, yes!; but more importantly allow God to work through you to transform you into the person He created.” This is something that can challenge us since it has us go beyond our human desires and become something even more than we thought because we live out our faith deeper and become closer to God through Jesus Christ.

Today we continue looking in James chapter 1 and come to some verses I need to hear, and my guess is that there are others who need to read these verses as well.

James 1:19-20 CEB “Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry. This is because an angry person doesn’t produce God’s righteousness.”

Children are funny and incredible people. They go from happy to angry to throwing a tantrum faster than we adults can react to. We pray and work with children to learn to slow down and control their anger and emotions so they don’t hurt themselves or other people. Do we adults do this as well?

A couple days ago, I was in the store and found myself getting frustrated and upset because people kept cutting in front of me and I kept thinking “they need to think about other people and not try to only do what they want.” I think a similar thought happens in most people. We do not like it when people stop us, or slow us down from doing our tasks. We are busy people who do not like to be redirected.

What do we do with children? We attempt to redirect them in order to guide them to utilize their energy in an appropriate way. Is this something we can do as adults? I love the speed analogies used in these verses “quick,” and “slow.”

We should be fast in our reaction time to listen and observe the situation and what people are actually saying. We should be slow in our reaction time to speak because we may say something not helpful, something we might regret, something we can’t take back, something that doesn’t build the character of the person just tearing it down. Finally we should be slow to become angry.

We make brash decisions when we’re angry and lose our ability to see the entire picture. There are times when it is okay to become angry. Most of the time we become angry about trivial things. These verses are showing us that we should take the time to listen and observe so we can discern the appropriate thing to say (if needed) and so we do not act out of anger which could actually hurt the relationship.

What are some things that make you angry? Football team losing? Traffic? Long lines to check out at the store? Spouse not do the dishes? Children without food? Abuse? What makes you angry? Is it worth allowing that emotion to be fueled?

This is why we take time to observe and listen to the situation. Our reaction time of our emotions can help or hurt our witness to show people the grace of God. Everything we do is an opportunity to bring people to faith, and give a tangible witness to what we really believe.

I work on my reaction time daily. This is possible because the Holy Spirit is our counselor and guides us in our lives.

Lord God, you have given us the gift of faith. Help us to live righteously, in Your sight, so we can have our lives reflect Your glory, Your love, Your holiness. In Christ’s name, Amen.