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

NEW BOOK: “Jesus Is…”

Kindle & Paperback Editions

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Ryan+Stratton+jesus+is&ref=nb_sb_noss

“Who do you say Jesus is? Some say he was just a good person. Some say he was a prophet. Others say he didn’t exist. CS Lewis says, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said wouldn’t be a great moral teacher. He’d be either a lunatic on a level with a man who says he’s a poached egg or else he’d be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.” It is important for us to know who Jesus is because this is who we are being formed into. We are not forming Jesus into ourselves, but rather he is recreating us to make us into his image.

This 8 chapter book goes over the big moments of Jesus’ life to help us see how the life of Jesus is still impacting our life today. The next time you’re asked “Who is Jesus?” you can have some answers to help people understand the power of the Risen Christ that is with us always and who is giving us our identity.”

Betrayed, Denied, Tried, Crucified

In the 1924 book by Richard Connell, The Most Dangerous Game is a story of big game hunter Sanger Rainsford and his friend Whitney ending up on an island owned by General Zaroff. The General talks about how he is bored with “traditional” hunting and has moved into hunting the most dangerous, the most cunning animal, ship-wrecked humans. This is a dark story that shows what happens when we lose our way and give in to the darkness of the world.

As disturbing as this book was, and still is, this is a good picture of the darkness humanity is capable of. We like to think that because we’re “evolved” and “more civil” now that we do not act like this. But the reality is human nature has not changed. There is still darkness looming over humanity. There is still something that pulls us away from the God who created us. There is still Sin.

Over the past several weeks, we have been diving into the life of Jesus Christ. Originally this was going to be the last message, but after some prayer, we’re adding two more so we can take the time to talk more fully about the life of Jesus Christ.

Remember we talked about why the question, “Who do you say Jesus is?” is really the most important question. From there we talked about his birth and were reminded this is not just a story we should only hear at Christmas time. Then we talked about his baptism and temptations. From there, we talked about his healing ministry. Last week, we talked about Jesus’ mission to seek and to save the lost. Today, we’re going to talk about the final 24 hours of Jesus’ earthly life.

READ LUKE 23:1-3

Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.”

So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.

In this scene, we are already in the courtroom of Pontius Pilate. How did we get here? To understand what’s going on, we have to go back in time about 12 hours.

Pastor and author Chuck Swindoll writes, “Jesus didn’t come to win the approval of people or to swing the majority of a disenfranchised voter base to embrace his platform and sweep him in a position of power in Jerusalem. He came to speak the “solemn truth”. And let’s face it; the truth is rarely popular. In fact, it usually offends the majority.”[1]

This is an important thing for us to remember, especially when we talk about the final 24 hours of Jesus’ earthly life. All of a sudden we have shifted to what appears the majority wanted – for Jesus to keep doing his mission – to a different kind of majority, a group of people who are threatened by the truth and will stop at nothing to get what they want – Jesus gone so they can continue ruling and living the way they see fit.

Whenever people’s pride is threatened, there is really nothing that can stop them from acting the way they do. Reason doesn’t help because we begin to act on our feelings and emotions rather than logical thinking. In fact, if you really think about it, we have moved beyond the Age of Reason and are living in the Age of Feelings.

To understand more of why Jesus was so focused on his mission and purpose, we have to explore more into the depths humanity is capable of.

We can see a picture of this during the last supper (Luke 22:7-38).

BETRAYAL

Jesus and his disciples were gathering together to eat a meal together. They were enjoying the company, the food, the conversation. None of them know, except Jesus, the intentions of a single person. This person would have been upset because Jesus was not overthrowing Rome in a militaristic fashion. This person could also have been nervous because, as the writer of John points out, “[Judas] was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.”[2]

Judas was probably feeling guilt which turned into shame and he did not want anyone to find out what he was doing. This “secret” sin begins to eat at him and will cause him to betray the one he professed faith in. Judas was living a double life, and Jesus knew it. One of the most difficult things for us to hear is we do not ever really do anything in “secret.” God is always watching us. We learn through Jesus, “secret sin has a way of warping the mind and twisting one’s values grotesquely out of shape.”[3]

Jesus always knows when we are living hypocritically because Jesus knows “what [is] in each person[4].” A double life always catches up with us and will cause us to act in ways we never intended or dreamed would be possible – all in the name of self-preservation.

Now, it is easy to keep this image of Judas, the image of the one who betrayed Jesus with a kiss and leaves it at that. We, as a people, tend to like it when people get “what they deserve.” But we have to be careful not to condemn Judas completely. Remember, Judas’ feet were still washed by Jesus (John 13) and Jesus was on the cross even for people like Judas. When we hear the words Jesus cried from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,”[5]we hear Jesus’ compassion even for the worst of sinners. We hear the forgiveness of God stretching across the earth, across time, across ALL boundaries and borders that Sin has built.

Maybe you’re someone here today with a “secret sin,” one that would cause embarrassment. Make sure this does not take a hold of you and cause you to live a life far away from God, even though people see you as loving God. Hear this today, “You are NEVER too far from God. God is eternally drawing himself to you, desiring you live a free life: free from guilt and shame and pride. He is pursuing you so you can live in true freedom. Repent and come to the throne of grace where he is graciously and mercifully waiting for you.”

DENIAL

The next scene we come to is Peter. I love Peter. Peter can put both feet in his mouth – at the same time. He is always trying to show that he is “better” than the other disciples. So when Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me,”[6]Peter becomes indignant and says, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.”[7]

Can you hear the pride in Peter’s reply? Here’s the deal though, whenever we are faced with a choice, the fallen human nature is to choose our own safety and preservation. It is only by the grace of God through the power of the Holy Spirit we have the strength to stand up for Christ and be counted as among his followers. We all have to understand we ALL deny Jesus every single day. When we focus on ourselves. When we choose to not help. When we choose to stay away from people different than us. When we refuse to publically acknowledge our faith in God because we’re scared of how people react or because we’re afraid of losing our jobs. We all have denied Jesus many times in our life.

Denying Jesus has more consequences than we might realize. Every time we do not live as God desires us to live, another person is turned off by Christianity and can become angry with God. We see this all the time when followers of Jesus Christ are mean, purposefully acting one way after professing another, refuse to let new people in, become so self-centered in our life we become indifferent to the suffering around us.

Jesus does not leave us in this state. He is giving us grace upon grace so we have new opportunities to turn our life around and so the world can see Christ in us. I love the line in the prayer of St. Patrick, “Christ in heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in the eye that sees me, Christ in the hear that hears me.”

Peter’s denial is left in the four gospel accounts on purpose. It is to show that we cannot think we are better and will never deny Jesus.

When have you been like Peter? When have you denied Jesus? He is not mad at you. In fact, Jesus is eternally calling you to come to him so he can show you grace upon grace and restore and redeem you.

TRIALS

Peter’s denial happened during the time Jesus was being tried. In scripture we see six trials taking place. None of them are really legal (according to the Jewish law) but they still took place. Three of the trials were in front of the Jewish religious leaders and three were in front of the civil authorities of Rome (Pilate and Herod). These were all undercover and attempted to be kept private so the religious leaders could get what they wanted without the rumblings or rioting of the crowds that adored and believed in Jesus.

During the trials, there were false accusations against Jesus. But Jesus stayed focused on his mission. He stayed the course for what he was sent to do and he did not let anything stop him. It may seem as if the people are doing this on their own; but what we begin to see is these trials are actually against humanity, not Jesus. God is taking this opportunity to further reveal the hearts that are in humanity. He foreknew this was going to happen and, in Jesus Christ, allowed the people to carry out their plan which God used for the redemption of the world.

Jesus came to show humanity the real life God intended for us to live. He is the living embodiment of the “suffering servant” the prophet Isaiah wrote about several hundred years beforehand:

He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.[8]

CRUCIFIED

The crucifixion story is difficult for many people to encounter, even read about. Steve Seamands writes, “Yet despite the unbearable physical agony, people in Roman times dreaded the shame associated with crucifixion…By pinning them up like insects, crucifixion was deliberately intended to display and humiliate its victims…Crucifixion, then, was deliberately designed to be loathsome, vulgar, revolting, and obscene…The hideous shame associated with the crucifixion was the main reason why the message of the cross seemed ludicrous to its original hearers.”[9]

It is so easy for us to wear the cross as decoration or even as an accessory. But the sight of the cross, throughout history, has been gruesome and hideous because of how it was used. When you wear a cross or have the decorations of the cross, remember to see them as not something pretty to hang up. This is what the Son of God died upon. This is what God used to conquer the power of sin and death over humanity. This is the key that unlocked the chain so humanity did not have to be slaves to sin and the power of temptations anymore. The cross is the sign of victory.

Alister McGrath says, “The cross of Christ is the point of reference for Christian faith; Christian faith is based upon it and judged by it…Christian theology, Christian worship, and Christian ethics are essentially nothing other than an attempt to explore and develop the meaning and implications of the crucified Christ in every area of life.”[10]

Many people around the globe love to have the cross with the body of Jesus to remind them of the suffering God in flesh endured for the sake of humanity. This is a constant reminder of how God is with us even in our sufferings because God himself suffered.

Many people prefer the empty cross to symbolize the risen Christ and the ultimate victory of sin and death. It is a reminder that Christ did not stay on the cross but is living eternally and has become our mediator between God and people.[11]

The crucifixion is an important aspect of Jesus’ life we cannot just brush aside. The crucifixion reminds that God is willing to do EVERYTHING possible to redeem and restore humanity and all of creation. The cross reminds us that God knows and understands suffering on a very personal level.

Jesus died. Jesus was buried. Jesus was left in the tomb.

Always remember that this is not the end of the story. The worst thing in life is never the last thing. God always has the final word.

Stay tuned next week as we talk about the next incredible event of Jesus’ life that continues to change the world today..

We all have been in a place to betray Jesus. We all have denied Jesus. Jesus took on the weight of sin on humanity and carried that with him on the cross. Do not live in fear that God is mad at you. Do not live with guilt or shame. Repent (change your heart and lives), confess and live into the freedom that God has waiting for you. Come to the throne of grace and experience an incredible presence of grace and mercy that changes our lives.

 

Works Cited:

[1]Swindoll, Charles. “The Greatest Life of All: JESUS”

[2]John 12:6 NIV

[3]Swindoll, Charles. “The Greatest Life of All: JESUS”

[4]John 2:25 NIV

[5]Luke 23:34 NIV

[6]Luke 22:34 NIV

[7]Mark 14:31

[8]Isaiah 53:2-7 NIV

[9]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”. Page 57

[10]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”. Page 55

[11]Hebrews 9:15, 1 Timothy 2:5

Why Are You Worrying?

READ SCRIPTURE: Matthew 6:25-34 NIV

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Today, we are beginning a 3-week series on stewardship. This is an important topic for us to focus on because everything we have is because of God and is God’s. We are really just stewards of the resources we have been given.

When we talk about stewardship, we are talking about the wise utilization of the resources that God has given us.

Many times, people hear stewardship, in the church, and automatically think about money. This is a good part of stewardship. But we also can easily neglect the other aspects of what it means to be a good steward. We ask the question of how we spend our money; but we also ask, where does our time gets spent, how is our energy spent, how do we use our talents God gave us.

Stewardship is much more than just money. It is also about the talents and energy God has given us. It is about the physical materials God has given us. It is about God’s creation we care for.

The truth is, when we talk about stewardship, people tend to get antsy and edgy because the thought is this, “You can’t tell me how to spend my [money, time, talents, etc]!” Why do we tend to default to this kind of thinking? I think some of this feeling is because we are worried that God is not happy with our lives, or other people would not be happy if they found out what we did with the resources God has given us.

This is one of the areas of our life we will try to “earn” God’s favor and the favor of people. We can focus on showing what we are doing because we like to appear generous. The point of all of this is to break free from the worry of how other people view us. The point is to keep striving for the Kingdom of God.

The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is Jesus giving a long sermon about how people live in the Kingdom of God. What it means to break free from the kind of life the world around us offers and live as free, joyful, peaceful people in God’s Kingdom, God’s eternal presence.

The passage on not worrying is good for us to look at and remember this aspect of living so our minds are not clouded and jaded toward the world we live in. If we stay in the mindset of worry, it becomes like a self-fulfilling prophesy: we will see what we are worrying about come to pass.

When we read the word “worry”, in the passage from Matthew 6, it is the Greek word merimnao. This word is much more than just every day, little worries such as. This Greek word talks about being anxious, to brood over the situation.

This is why the passage in Matthew 6 about not worrying is so important. If we can break free from anxiety and brooding over things we don’t really have control over and focus solely on what it is God wants us to do with the resources we have been entrusted with, then

we can be free to be the people God has created us to be.

What do you get anxious about?

Why do you think you get anxious about it?

There are many things I worry, get anxious about. SOME of them are:

  • Not saying what I need to say in the right way
  • Offending people
  • Am I doing enough for my family
  • Not having enough financially to provide for my family

There are always things that get us worked up with worry and anxiety. The key is to always keep in focus the Kingdom of God and the reason behind why we share the faith of Christianity in the world.

God never promises us an easy life, but he does promise to give us everything we need. When we worry, we tend to have our mind clouded with negativity. This can cause our thoughts to go “rogue” on us and begin to think negatively. Then the thoughts we have tend to control how we act.

Think about that. What we watch. What we read. Everything we take in through our senses can cause us to be filled with joy, happiness, life, negativity, despair, worry, etc. So, when we have thoughts that bring worry to our lives, I like to remember specific verses in scripture:

2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV, “We demolish arguments and every pretention that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

 Galatians 2:20 NIV, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

John 1:5 NIV, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Psalm 119:105 NIV, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, and a light on my path.”

These are some of the verses I call to mind when I am facing worry or anxiety. They help, me personally, remember the grace that God has bestowed up me, upon the world. Sometimes it takes times for the negativity to leave my mind; but when it does, the light of Christ shines through.

Over the course of these next three weeks, I’m going to challenge us to rethink how we spend the resources we have. We’ll bring up the challenge to fully tithe (giving 10% to the glory of God). Let’s talk about this briefly.

Financial tithing is important. But many people say they cannot give 10% of their income because that is too much. The reality is, I think most people give away 20% or more of their income and not really think about it. So, we do tithe. Just not in the places that will bring about eternal transformation. We instead focus on things that will last only a week or so before it has to be restored, rebuilt, torn down.

Why is tithing important? First of all, we remember that everything we have is because of God. Everything we have is God’s. Psalm 24:1 says “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;” The truth? We are really giving back to God what is already God’s.

Tithing (giving God 10%) is also an act of worship and devotion to God. My wife, Amanda, had a great point the other day. We were talking about tithing (which we do) and she said, “The whole point of tithing is to prove money does not control us. It’s about giving to God without reservation and then fully trusting that what remains is enough to provide for your family.”

How many of us go through the month and not worry about money?

What are some other things we tend to worry about?

I have noticed people worry about:

  • Whether they are liked
  • Whether they are getting what they “deserve”
  • Whether they really have what they need
  • How we are going to get to do what we want
  • How we’re going to pay for colleges/weddings
  • We worry our money/time/talents will be spent on things we do not believe so we hold back and try to control where the money goes.

Notice what all of these “worries” point to – SELF!

Behind all of this is a sense of anxiety because we know we are not doing what we need to be doing. But we have to be careful because it is not about “checking the box” to get things done. It is really about Christ coming into our lives and transforming us from the inside out.

What causes us to “worry”?

The underlying cause can be several things: feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, pride.

But the truth is

THERE REALLY IS NO NEED TO WORRY.

Jesus tells his followers, in the Sermon on the Mount, “do not worry…but seek first his kingdom and righteousness.”(Matthew 6:25,33b NIV)

Christ calls us to continually seek the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. We are given the word to seek after Christ, to seek after his Kingdom. Not only is Kingdom; but his righteousness as well. Some of the ways we seek the Kingdom is to call to mind scripture, find the good around us and in us, be kind when we don’t feel like it, thank God for everything (even the hard times because he is with us).

The beauty of it is, it is not us who earns righteousness, or even life everlasting. It is Christ who freely gives. It is by the grace of God that we do not have to let anything, except the Kingdom of Heaven, fill our minds and hearts.

Christ is saying to not let worry or anxiety fill our lives, but instead to allow the Kingdom of God to fill our lives. It is then we will realize everything God is giving us because of his love for us. Because of grace.

If we are worrying and allowing anxiety to rule our lives, we are really looking after ourselves. But, if we are seeking the Kingdom of Heaven, we see there is no need to worry because God is taking care of us.

Think about your life. Maybe you had an easy childhood, maybe now. Maybe things have gone well for you professionally. Maybe not. Maybe your life is exactly like you wanted. Maybe not.

But God has given us everything we need because he has given us talents/gifts to take care of ourselves and family and to work in the world for transformation.

God has given us encouragement through certain people he has placed in our lives.

God has given us wisdom to know how to handle situations and people.

God has given us himself because he loves us so much that he wants to dwell within us through the Holy Spirit.

All of this is because of grace. See, it is grace we have what we have. It is becasue of grace we can do incredible work in the world. It is grace that we are able to breathe.

We know all of this intellectually, but it is not easy to live fully.

The challenge I have for us all is to continually seek the Kingdom of God first in all areas of our life.

Let us all allow God to break us free from the worries/anxieties of earth and help us experience his kingdom more and more each day.

Psalm 51:6-9 NIV is a great starting prayer for us as we begin this journey over the next few weeks. “Yet you have desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me now, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out my iniquity.”

It is challenging, but let’s let go of the feelings of worry and anxiety. God has given us all we need and is continually with you and me. God is doing great things.

 

More To Your Story

There is an interesting line in Genesis 37 that says, “This is the account of Jacob’s family line.” (Genesis 37:2 NIV)

This is actually a pretty significant line. Have we paid attention to it before? We can think it is talking about the people that descended from Jacob, and it does; but there is more to consider.

For one thing, we have to remember who Jacob was. He was the grandson of Abraham. Jacob’s name means “deceiver or heel.” When he was born, he was grabbing the heel of his twin brother Esau.

His name fits him. After all, Abraham set the example when he would lie to keep himself safe in other countries. Abraham was the person God had called out to be the father of the Hebrew people, God’s set apart people.

Along comes Jacob, and he seems to only want to play by his own rules and only get what he wants, even if it means to run people over. He would get upset when others would cheat him. Many people could have thought that Jacob’s life path was set, that he would be a swindler and cheater all of his life, only concerned about himself.

But, when we realize God is with us and we are part of His story, we realize that it is not our past, or even our present, that defines us. It is God who defines us. Jacob’s story was not over, and neither is yours or mine.

Genesis 37:2 says, “This is the account of Jacob’s family line.” Jacob’s story gets to live on, because of God’s grace, through his family!

Yes, there are many examples of how the people of Jacob (people of Israel) left God’s path, and God guided them back. Yes, there are times we will stray from God’s path; but there God is guiding us back as well.

God somehow uses our past and redeems it. God works through our past to bring healing, transformation, and ultimately redemption.

Your story is not over yet. There is so much more that God can do and will do with your life, your family line. Look no further than Jesus Christ.

When Jesus was on the cross, his arms were outstretched. We can think of this as him having his arms stretched out to embrace the world. He not only came for the world; Jesus also came for you.

Just think about all Jesus Christ can do in and through your life. When you feel discouraged or down. Or your past seems to get in the way on visioning for a bright future, remember this:

“This is the account of Jacob’s family line.” Jesus was part of this family line. Because of Jesus, your life, my life, and the world will never be the same. There is always hope and a chance to experience an incredible future and life because of Jesus.

Convincing Arguments

Click here to read Acts 26.

When was the last time you tried to convince another person (not family or friend) about coming around to your way of thinking? How did it go?

I love talking with sales people. They really know their stuff, and you can tell the ones who are passionate about their product/service. People in sales are always fun to talk with because you know their goal is to try and sell you on what they’re offering; but at the same time, it is the customer who really is in control of the situation.

People are going to hear what they choose to hear. If a person is convinced they need ______ product, it is because the value of the product/service for their life was heard. On the other hand, if a sales person offended the potential buyer, all the potential buyer will hear is how they don’t like what the sales person is saying. There is always a line to walk when trying to sell any product or service. The two things that must be demonstrated are: 1) passion about the product/service and 2) knowledge about the product/service.

Look at today’s passage in Acts 26. Paul gives his testimony many times and is in positions to defend himself a lot. But, is he really trying to prove himself right? No. Even though he is in custody, he is still doing his best at sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with all he encounters. Paul is even placed in in front of powerful rulers that willingly listen to him.

All this time, we can see that Paul has had many hardships and difficulties throughout his ministry and missionary journeys; but he did not waste any opportunity. Paul was still, first and foremost, a slave (servant) of Jesus Christ and was compelled to share Christ wherever he was and with whomever would listen.

How does this go for us today? I hear many people say something like, “all my friends are Christian.” To that response I say, “well, you don’t know enough people.” Another thing I hear a lot is “everyone around here goes to church.” Then I say, “nope.”

One of the things that gets in our way is our own perception of reality. All we have to do is look around and see that not everyone knows Christ. Even Jesus’ own followers miss the boat at times. But it is all because of God’s incredible grace that we are given chances to talk with people about Jesus Christ.

Have you noticed what happens within you when you seize the opportunity to talk about Jesus? I hope you feel like I do and sense an overwhelming feeling of joy and peace. Sharing Christ to others is not just good for them to hear and be ushered to the throne of grace; but it is also important for us to share because it is a great reminder for us about who Jesus Christ is.

So, do we have to be the best or most convincing sales people when we talk about Jesus? Not at all; but we should allow our passion for Him to come out in such a way that people are willing to listen. When we do not quench our passion, the Holy Spirit uses that to draw people to God through Jesus Christ.

We will not always get our words correct; but we can continue to share the hope, joy, peace, love, grace the God through Jesus Christ offers the entire world.

Keeping Calm in Turmoil

Click here to read Acts 24.

After reading the scripture for today, do you relate to Paul in any way? After all, he had people rise up, spreading gossip, and telling the truth in a twisted way. My guess is we all would like opportunities for the complete truth to be told. We all may want for us to come out looking good in the situation.

The truth is Paul is still made to look like a trouble maker in the eyes of the accusers and the people they talk with the most. How does Paul react? We do not see him getting angry, or upset. Instead we see a person who is allowing the accusers to make their case and keep silent in the process. If he has a chance to speak, he will speak truth; but he stays quiet and still while they declare all of these “bad” things about him.

So, how do you think you would be in that situation? I believe most of us, at some point in our lives, go through something like this. The first thing we have to remember is not everyone is going to like us. This can be for all kinds of reasons: being hurt unintentionally or even intentionally, jealousy, and even more reasons. The point is for us to be able to remain calm and share grace whenever we can.

Do we allow people to walk all over us and say whatever they want to? No. You will get a chance to speak the truth. We find ways to talk with the right people who will actually listen and be able to discern what’s really going on. Finding peace in the situations is not always easy. It is better for an outsider to come in to carefully examine the facts.

Paul has been facing trouble similar to this his entire ministry. Jesus, our Lord and Savior faced trouble. We should not ever think that just because we follow Jesus Christ that our lives are going to be easy and perfect. What we can expect is because we follow Jesus Christ, we will face opposition because the gospel challenges the world.

Through whatever you are facing, have faced, or will face, it is important to rely on the movement and working of the Holy Spirit in your heart and life. The Holy Spirit will guide you and give you greater comfort and peace than you could ever have imagined. Trust that this is a great blessing and reminder of God’s presence in your life in the midst of strife. You just never know how God will use the situation, the people, or the people in power.

Keep these verses in mind:

Philippians 4:6-7 CEB

Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.

Proverbs 25:21-22 CEB

If your enemies are starving, feed them some bread; if they are thirsty, give them water to drink. By doing this, you will heap burning coals on their heads, and the Lord will reward you.

Colossians 3:15 CEB

 The peace of Christ must control your hearts—a peace into which you were called in one body. And be thankful people.

Galatians 5:22-23 CEB

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this.

It’s About Kingdom Building

Click here to read Acts 23.

Paul is in a heap of trouble here. It seems the message of the gospel has touched a raw nerve with everyone he comes in contact with. Everyone, that is, except the Roman centurions watching set to watch over the apostle in chains.

In one of his letters to the Corinthian people, Paul tells them he has become all things to all people so that some may be saved. Paul is one who can learn the area, learn the people, and know what to say and how to say it to strike nerves. That is why he was able to give more defense of his work and insult the high priest (presumably not knowing who the high priest was).

The apostle is respectful of those in positions of authority and he shows it by apologizing and showing he knows, through scripture, how he is supposed to behave. He is masterful at gaining the rulers ears and attention and, at the same time, he is phenomenal at banding people together because of their hatred for him and the message of Christ he proclaims.

Several years ago, I bought the CD audio version of Dale Carnegie’s famous book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” This is a book I would like to re-read again someday in the future. This is a book I would recommend to you, if you haven’t read it yet.

One of the concepts I derived from listening was making sure people know why you do business with them (i.e. remind them what their good at) and then ask for what you are needing. I have learned that when people know you truly respect, not just use flattery, you can easily “win” people over. No, this is not manipulation. This is using Ephesians 4:29 into practice and applying it to everyday people’s lives.

It really is about finding the right people to talk with, to do business with, and to basically hang around that will help you get what you are needing. I know this can make it sound like this is all one sided; but it’s not because the other person has a chance to build a new relationship, gain business, and live with the joy of knowing they are doing what God has called them to do (as long as what they do helps to build society up and move it towards redemption and reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ).

Influencing people is where is gets more challenging. This would mean people have to have some sort of respect for you or what you stand for. Paul was masterful at influencing people to band together against him. Did they respect Paul? I think their respect for the power of God was greater and they were terrified to listen to how their lives were not meshing with the real God. The people were influenced by the fear of repentance that Paul was proclaiming.

Now it’s your turn. Think about who you’re influencing and how. Does your life, and your actions, work towards building people up to be who God created them to be? Remember, it’s not about getting what you want; it is all about allowing the Holy Spirit into our lives to mold us into the image and likeness of God through Jesus Christ.

It’s about building the Kingdom of God with God.

Ephesians 2:8-10 CEB

You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith.  This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. It’s not something you did that you can be proud of. Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.

God Working Through Our Lives

Click here to read Acts 22.

Have you ever been in a place where you have to defend what you’re doing? Of course you have. We all have. My kids love to give me the reasons why they’re playing the way they are or why the other person is upset. We all love to find ways to defend ourselves.

The question comes into play as to why we are defending ourselves. Do we defend ourselves simply to make ourselves look good? Or do we defend ourselves to show how God has called us and give him the glory for all he has done through us?

Paul has now left Ephesus and was captured by the authorities. He had to give testimony as to who he is; but really he talked about how Jesus called him and has used him. Everything he said was pointing people to the Christ, the One who is, who was, and is to come. Notice how he also shows the people to trained him and his background. He is showing how God has worked in and through his life to bring him to the place he is now.

Now, I want you to look back in your life. Think about everything you have done. How has your past helped you to be where you are today? How has your past helped you become who you are today?

Many times, I hear people talk about how their past was not what they wanted. We can look to the past and see what we have done, or we can look back to see how God was working in and through our lives. It is here, I think of the quote, “We can complain because roses have thorns; or we can rejoice because thorns have roses.”

If you have the time, think through the toughest and best parts of your life. Do you think of those times as something that could have been better? Can you think of them as something you went through to help you get to be who God has created you to be?

Paul could have been discouraged as to how his life was now going. Prison, beatings, humiliations, etc. But he was able to rejoice because he has discovered that he actually has everything he needs, and more. He has the real presence of Jesus Christ with him each and everyday.

Take time to praise God for your past. Praise him for how he has brought you to this particular moment in your life. Praise him he is with you right now.

Now if you are doubting God is with you, I am inviting you to sit down and say something like, “Jesus I want to know you.” Say that over and over. You never know how he will appear and make himself known to you and you can see how he has never left you. God is always working in your life, especially when we don’t know it.