For Such A Time As This

“Mordecai sent this reply to Esther: “Don’t think for a moment that because you’re in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed. If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?”- Esther 4:13-14. 

One of the most interesting stories in the Bible is Esther. Esther is an attractive, young (secretly Jewish) woman who was a member of the harem of King Ahasuerus who became queen. Esther did not have a typical queen’s backstory. She was an orphan, living in a strange land with Mordecai. The world overlooked her potential. But God did not. Esther became queen and overcame unbelievable circumstances all because of a single truth; God had chosen her for this moment.

The chosen moment was when she became queen: “On the third day of the fast, Esther put on her royal robes and entered the inner court of the palace, just across from the king’s hall. The king was sitting on his royal throne, facing the entrance. When he saw Queen Esther standing there in the inner court, he welcomed her and held out the gold scepter to her. So Esther approached and touched the end of the scepter. Then the king asked her, “What do you want, Queen Esther? What is your request? I will give it to you, even if it is half the kingdom!“

Esther realizes that the fate of a whole nation is in her hands. She understands that she has not been brought to this point in her life for the sake of accumulating an exquisite wardrobe, precious gems, and exotic fragrances. She’s part of what God is doing on this earth.  She had waited for a long time before she ever had the opportunity to face the king. She knew all along that she was in there for God’s purposes, but she held on, trusted, and knew when to plead her case. 

Esther’s life appears to be a series of coincidences strung together to deliver the Jews from certain death. However, God selected Esther for a particular purpose at a particular time “…for such a time as this.” (Esther 4: 14) 

How does “for such a time as this” apply to you? What if you have come to this place for such a time as this? God’s planning is never random; His purpose for you and your life was set in place before you were born. We’re reminded in Ephesians 1:4, “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.”

God created you for such a time as this, and He has a plan for you and for a time such as this.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When people say that God has a wonderful plan for their lives, what do they usually mean?
  2. Part of God’s wonderful plan for your life is to make you like His Son. Does this excite you? 

Waiting and Watching

“But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love.” – Jude 1:21-22.  

We are waiting. We are in uncharted territory, our entire planet is trapped between ordinary life and sheltering in place because of the coronavirus. We are waiting for it to be over. For those who are sick to recover. For the economy to recover. For school to start and baseball to open. For a paycheck once again. We want to see the ten-day forecast, the timeline, the strategic plan, the goal, and the expected outcomes. 

Waiting on the Lord seems passive where COVID-19 requires action. But staying focused on the Lord is exactly what we need. Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.” Psalm 39:7 says, “And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in you.” And Psalm 130:5 says, “I am counting on the Lord; yes, I am counting on him. I have put my hope in his word.” 

A classic story of waiting can be found in the book of Habakkuk. The prophet Habakkuk did not know what to do. Habakkuk needed direction, so he goes up on the ramparts of the city walls to wait for an answer from God. “I will climb up to my watchtower and stand at my guardpost. There I will wait to see what the Lord says and how he will answer my complaint. Then the Lord said to me, “Write my answer plainly on tablets, so that a runner can carry the correct message to others. This vision is for a future time. It describes the end, and it will be fulfilled. If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed. “Look at the proud! They trust in themselves, and their lives are crooked. But the righteous will live by their faithfulness to God.” (Habakkuk 2:1-4).   

So we are waiting. But what if you swapped the word wait for trust. When facing an unknown future, which is true for all of us with the coronavirus threat, remind yourself that waiting and trusting is frequently the best response. Waiting, or trusting in God, is well-portrayed in the beloved verse from Isaiah 40:31: “But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” To wait is to trust. 

So here we are, waiting, trusting, amid a global pandemic. So, we wait upon God as we pray “We put our hope in the Lord. He is our help and our shield.” (Psalm 33:20)

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think we sometimes struggle with God’s timing or His delays? 
  2. How can we know when it is time to wait? 

Doing What God Wants Us To Do

“Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”  – John 6:28 (NIV) 

In chapter 6 of John, Jesus just finished feeding the five thousand and He walks on water. Two amazing miracles that we are still talking about today. The crowd Jesus fed then follows Jesus to the other side of the sea and they ask this question:” What must we do to do the works God requires?” (vs. 28) 

I don’t know about you but I think about this question a lot. I want, as a Christian, to be doing what God wants. But there are so many things to do and how do I know if I am doing the right things?

Fortunately, Jesus gives us the answer to what we need to do. In John 6:29 we read, “Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” Jesus brings some simplicity to the whole subject: Believe. God wants you to simply believe in Jesus. And when you believe in Jesus, you are doing the work of God. It is going back to your roots. “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33) Believe means, of course, to recognize first that He is present in your life. Believe that when He died and rose again and ascended into heaven and sent the Spirit again into this world it was in order to make Himself available to us. 

Believe also means that we look at our situation through Jesus’ eyes, to see life as He sees it. That means you must listen to what He has to say and pay attention to His words. Oftentimes that is totally different than the views of people who are always eager to give advice. Do not take your advice from others. Take it from Jesus. That is what it means. Believe in me. Believe that I love and have a plan for you. Believe that I will guide you. “That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.” (1 Timothy 4:10) 

David had a heart for God and wanted to do everything God wanted him to do. Psalm 143:10 says – “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God…” This is the heart of David’s great success in life. Even when he was facing adversity, he wanted more than anything to do what God wanted him to do. No wonder the Bible says this of David in Acts 13:21-22: “Then the people asked for a king, and he gave them Saul son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years. After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’

Discussion Questions:

  1. What’s one area of your life where you know where God is leading you?
  2. What’s one area of your life where you wish you knew what God wanted you to do?

Work or Pray

“Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” – Philippians 2:12-13. 

Living the life God intends you to live requires us to understand the balance between waiting on God or just plunging ahead on our own. We have all come to the point where we wonder whether trusting God seems like laziness while starting off on our own seems like doing something in our own strength.

The reality is we are both responsible to grow and dependent upon the Holy Spirit to enable us to do so. This is a difficult principle to learn and even harder to find the right balance. We tend to vacillate between total self-effort and passive dependence. One day “we put in the work” and the next day we want to just “turn it all over to the Lord and let Him live His life through us.” Either extreme is wrong. As Jesus said in John 15:5, “…apart from me you can do nothing.” At the same time, He doesn’t do the work in our place. Rather, through His Spirit, He enables us to work as Philippians 2:12-13 tells us.   

So spiritual growth very much involves our activity. But it is an activity that must be carried out in dependence on the Holy Spirit. It is not a partnership with the Spirit in the sense that we and God have our respective tasks to do. Instead, we work as He enables us to work. His work lies behind all our work and makes our work possible.

So we depend on the Holy Spirit to do a work in us that only He can do. It is impossible for us to become more Christlike on our own. We must depend on Him to enable us to do what He has given us to do. We are dependent on Him whether it is His work or our work. 

Scripture talks about this idea of responsibility and dependence at the same time. Psalm 127:1 says, “Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted. Unless the Lord protects a city, guarding it with sentries will do no good.” The psalmist sees God intimately involved in the building and watching. You notice he does not say “unless the Lord helps the builders and the watchmen,” but instead says unless the Lord builds and watches. Yet I don’t think the psalmist expects the builders to just sit there and hope the building builds itself or the gates guard themselves.  The builders should build and the watchmen watch, but they must carry out their responsibilities with total dependence on God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do we find the balance between doing and waiting on God?  
  2. What can we do this week to be more dependent on God?  

The Voice Of God

“The voice you believe will determine the future you experience.” – Steven Furtick”  

A few years back, a friend was talking about how much they missed their mother who had died a few years before.  He said that whenever he saw a photo of her or thought about her, he could still hear her voice. He not only could recognize her voice immediately but remembered the phrases she so often repeated. Spending all those years with his mother ensured that he knew her voice, even when he could not see her.

We become very adept at listening for and tuning in voices in our lives. Hopefully, that includes the most important voice in our life, God. There can be times when we are listening to so many voices that we don’t hear the one that really counts. We all want to hear the voice of God; we are created that way. 

But that doesn’t make it easy. We need to work at it. We need to put ourselves in a position to hear God’s voice. Habakkuk 2:1 says, “I will climb up to my watchtower and stand at my guard post. There I will wait to see what the Lord says…” How do we do this? By waking up in the morning with the sole objective of hearing God’s voice. Isaiah 50:4 says, “The Sovereign Lord has given me his words of wisdom, so that I know how to comfort the weary. Morning by morning he wakens me and opens my understanding to his will.” Start your day by deciding not to do anything until you have spent time listening to God.

The goal is to not only listen, but to listen consistently. Notice the words “morning by morning” in Isaiah 50:4. Each morning we should pray, read the Word and expect to hear the voice of God. Consistency is the key to anything in our lives. If you will consistently start your day listening to God, you will begin to recognize when God has something to say to you.  

The voice of God will sound very personal. He knows everything about you. To a German He speaks in German, to a fisherman He relates to him about fish, to a farmer He relates to him about farming, to a computer whiz He relates to him or her about computers. In John 10:27 Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” God’s call to us is personal and He also leads us that way. The goal for 2020 and the next decade is to have a personal relationship with our God where we can clearly hear His voice and have a daily time of fellowship with Him.  

Expect God to speak to you today. You can hear His voice. Make a decision to listen with a heart of expectation.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Describe a time when you think you heard God speak to you. What was that like? What impact did it have on you? 
  2. What does it mean to “hear” the word of God?
  3. What can we do this week to hear God?

A Flood of Doubters

“But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God.” – Genesis 6:8-9. 

If history has taught us anything, there will always be doubters. Whether you are seeking a financial goal, a business goal, a personal goal, or really anything – there will always be a person waiting to tell you that you aren’t good enough. Your idea isn’t good enough. It’s not going to work. It’s going to be too hard. It’s unrealistic. You get the point. But unlike today, when we seem to divide into several camps, Noah was in a camp by himself. You can only imagine what people were saying or at least thinking: 

“This is madness. How long will this boat be?”

“This guy has lost his mind. No one can build a boat that big and why would anybody even want to.” 

“He is building a three hundred cubit foot boat in the middle of nowhere.”

Imagine being Noah and hearing God’s command to build an ark. Noah was nearly 600 years old at that time. He had “walked faithfully with God,” and he wasn’t about to stop. But what a strange demand. The ark would be massive. The task was huge. But Noah obeyed God and got to work. He didn’t sit around and stew all day on the fact that people thought he couldn’t make all of this work. It didn’t consume him. He focused on God and in God, he found the motivation to keep going. And Noah stuck to the task to the end, despite the assignment taking over 100 years.

Walking with God may mean doing things that look foolish, but a true walk with God means having fellowship with God and praying seriously, “…Speak, Lord, your servant is listening…” (1 Samuel 3:9). It means acting on divine wisdom that will seem like foolishness in the mind of the world.

We are all like Noah in the sense we want to do big things in our lives. And along the way, we go through hard times. We doubt ourselves. We worry about the future and if we are doing the right things. Like Noah, we need to be confident that God who sees from beginning to end, has the perfect timing. And through us, like Noah, God can achieve His purposes in spite of the doubters.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Faith is about a relationship with God built on trust. In other words, faith is about having enough confidence to believe and act on that belief, despite the doubts you may experience. Do you find this view of faith more helpful and encouraging?

Action This Day

So my people come pretending to be sincere and sit before you. They listen to your words, but they have no intention of doing what you say…You are very entertaining to them, like someone who sings love songs with a beautiful voice or plays fine music on an instrument. They hear what you say, but they don’t act on it!” – Ezekiel 33:31-32. 

What does a successful Christian decade look like? The purpose of the Decade of Impact series is that all of us experience success in our Christian life over the next ten years. Success in the Christian life is being strong in the faith and capable of sharing that with others. But how do we get there? What are the snares and pitfalls with which we have to be concerned. 

What Ezekiel describes above is one of the possible snares: People want to hear the word of God preached. In many cases, they enjoy what is said and the style of the person preaching. We go to church and listen to the message and the music and we leave feeling recharged for another week. For that moment when the music is playing we sing hallelujah like we really mean it, but is that moment left behind when we leave? We have to be careful of mechanical religion where we come to church to punch our cards or to socialize with others. But success in this decade depends on the willingness of the Christian to put forth a wholehearted effort in living for Christ.

How then, do we walk out unwavering joy-filled faith every day, determined to let go of the things that keep us from experiencing abundant life and fulfilling the plans God has for us? 

The Bible, however, speaks about an intimate and dynamic relationship with Jesus. He is, after all, a person, not a “theological concept;” not someone who once lived on the earth and now is far away, but a person who is alive and can be found every day of the week.  He has all the power and grace to make your relationship with Him be full of life, not just something that comes alive on Sunday.   

Imagine waking up every single day convinced that the twenty-four hours ahead of you are a precious gift to be used wisely. Now imagine that you know exactly how to spend them to be a force for God’s good. All too often we wander through life without appreciating the gift of every day we’ve been given. That leads to an unsatisfying life, missed opportunities to experience the joy of being in sync with God, and days marked with apathy instead of passion. Our time on earth is short. We should want to make every moment count—not only because we aren’t guaranteed the next one, but also because this is exactly how our Savior spent His time here.

Let’s make every day count for God this decade. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you live out the hope of the gospel every day?
  2. What can you do to make God a priority every day this week?

Living A Christ-Centered Life

“Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.”– 2 Corinthians 5:14-15.   

Christ-Centered” – it’s a phrase we love to use. If someone asked if your life is centered on Christ, how would you respond? Oftentimes a Christ-centered life is equated with going to church, giving, praying, reading the Bible, and talking to other people about Jesus.  But “Christ-Centered” is a lot easier to talk about than to live, isn’t it? A lot of other things compete with Christ for center stage in everyday life. 

A Christ-centered life begins with realizing that the source of everything we are is the Lord. He created us, He authors our story, and every blessing that we receive comes from Him. James 1:17 tells us that “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens…” Additionally, Christ is the source of our daily righteousness. We simply cannot live up to biblical standards on our own; but in Christ, we have everything we need for godly living. “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence.” (2 Peter 1:3).

A Christ-centered life has one ultimate goal: that Jesus gets the glory. Because we want Christ to be known, honored, worshipped, and obeyed, we submit every other attainable goal to Him. Our decisions are no longer controlled by selfish desires, but instead, we will “live for Christ who died and was raised for them” as we read in the 2 Corinthians passage above.  

The answer is to shift our focus to Christ and what He desires. Our battle with self is one that will continue as long as we live in these earthly bodies. That’s why Paul tells us to “throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted” and to “Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.” (Ephesians 4:22; 4:24).

A Christ-centered life is fueled by a love for the Savior, which flows from increasing knowledge of Him. And we learn to know Jesus more intimately through reading, praying, and quietly abiding in His presence. As Christ increases in our mind and heart, we’ll discover that our self-focus decreases and He becomes the delight of our lives; lives which will be better for it. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What stands in the way of deepening your relationship with Jesus?  
  2. What can you do this week to begin to overcome those obstacles? 

Are We Ignoring God?

“The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they ignored all his warnings.” – 2 Chronicles 33:10.

The Coronavirus has separated the world into basically two camps. The first camp is the rule followers, people who wash their hands and maintain a safe distance and shelter in place in hopes of flattening the curve. The other camp is the people who have ignored the warnings and have been storming the world’s beaches, bars, and burger joints in spite of the risks presented by the Coronavirus. The experts can’t understand why this group of people has chosen to ignore their advice.    

The fact is, no one likes to be ignored, especially God. But it happens, sometimes completely, sometimes selectively. The decision to accept our Lord and Savior is an important, critical first step in your walk with God. But the next step is to get to know God intimately. It is easy to postpone or even ignore that step. That is not to say the reasons for putting off that step are not noble. You have been busy providing for your family, pursuing your career or helping people. But where is God in the process? When you truly love someone you don’t ignore him or her.  

If you love somebody, you spend time with them, listen to them,  spend quality time with, return their calls, engage and check up on them to name a few. Love pays attention: it engages, in a marriage or any relationship, disregard, and love cannot co-exist.    

If we ignore somebody it also means that we are not very passionate about their interests. We see them as a distraction. The same can be true of God. If you feel with you have been ignoring God in some part of your life, take a spiritual audit of your life. See if there is some part of your walk with God where you have been blasé. Does your week reflect that the Lord has a prominent place in your life? Do I inadvertently ignore my busy schedule or do I pursue intimacy with Christ?

Imagine, for a second how it must grieve God when we ignore Him. Think of how He must feel when He dwells in us but there are parts of our life when we ignore Him.  Or consider how He must feel when His guidelines contained in the Book He gave us are ignored.

It is hard to ignore God if we keep Him in our thoughts moment by moment. We do that by reading the scripture He has given us; by spending time in prayer and listening for His still, small voice; by thinking about His presence; by serving others in His name. Then we can echo the words of the Psalmist, “I cling to you; your strong right hand holds me securely.” (Psalm 63:8).

Discussion Questions:

  1. 2 Chronicles 33:10 (ESV) says, “The Lord spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention.” What does it mean to you to pay attention? 
  2. What can we do this week to pay more attention? 

Living The Gospel

“Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” – Luke    

We live the gospel daily when we follow Acts 29. Before you look, there is no Acts chapter 29 in the Bible. Never has been. The point is that our lives are that next chapter, the continuation of Christ’s mission on earth.  To do that we must try to bring Christ into all parts of our lives. And that starts with living the gospel on a daily basis.   

It is one thing to understand the gospel but is quite another to experience the gospel in such a way that it fundamentally changes us and becomes the source of our identity and security. It is one thing to grasp the substance of the gospel but it is quite another to master its implications for life. We all struggle to explore the mysteries of the gospel on a regular basis, but we should allow its message to influence our lives daily. This is an important part of everyday life for everyday people who follow Jesus. So how do we do that?  How do we learn to do God’s will—to walk with Him—every single day? 

First, look to Christ today: We look to doctors, lawyers, financiers, teachers, and friends for various kinds of assistance, information, and help. But the One Who can help, advise, and befriend us more than all others is Jesus Christ. The Lord is an ever-present help and never-failing friend in our race of life. “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.” (Hebrews 12:2) Second, learn from Christ today:  We must never get so busy that we neglect God’s Word. Only by reading, studying, and meditating upon the Word can we find true wisdom to guide us on a daily basis. 

Third, lean on Christ today: Proverbs 3:5 (ESV) says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”  Our memory, strength and endurance may fail us at times, we can confidently lean on Christ, knowing He is with us, before us, beside us, and in us, enabling us along the way. Psalm 37:40 says, “The Lord helps them, rescuing them from the wicked. He saves them, and they find shelter in him.”

And fourth, love as Christ today: “Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.” (Ephesians 5:2). Love is a little word but not a little thing. Just as God said to Abraham, “I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others.” (see Genesis 12:2) He will also do the same through us. If we will make it a habit to help people, encourage them, and treat them the way we want to be treated, then we will show God’s love in ways that really matter. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you think of the gospel on a daily basis? If not why not?
  2. What can we do this week to make the gospel a part of our daily lives?