This Week...Red Letter Challenge: Hearing and Obeying the Teachings of Jesus
Jesus said some pretty amazing things. People quote him. Others write books about what he said. Theologians parse his words down to the very letters to squeeze out as much meaning as they possibly can. Some Bible translations put all his words in red so we don't miss them. Beyond the study, the "Wow!" and the highlighting of his words, there appears to be a disconnect between the hearing of them and the obeying of them among his followers. Crazy, right? Well, the time has come for that to end. For the next 40 days, we will be challenged through our Sunday morning messages, groups/classes and a personal devotional book to connect hearing and obeying. The goal? To be molded by the Holy Spirit to make us more like Jesus.

This Week... Jesus Has Sent Me
Ananias who? He slips in and out of the pages of scripture so fast that we hardly notice him. It's a wonder we even find his name. I doubt there's this huge line of people in heaven waiting to get to talk to him. Abraham? A big line. King David? His autograph is a hot commodity. Joshua - the warrior leader? No doubt everyone is looking for a fist bump from him. Ananias was just "a disciple" that the Lord Jesus himself tapped for a big job. The job? Lead Saul, the soon to be Apostle Paul, to Christ. Lay hands on him. Give him the Gospel. Baptize him. Then what? Disappear from the pages of scripture to never be heard or seen again. Easy, right? No. Beyond hard. Saul was hunting down people like Ananias and Ananias knew it. So, why not just slip out the back and remain out of the Biblical story? Well, he was a disciple. It's like this... 

This Week...What Child is this?
No doubt this question circled around and around in Joseph's head. We don't know how he first heard about it - his betrothed being pregnant. Mary may have told him. If she did right after the angel spoke to her, she then disappeared for three months to her cousin's house. If later, maybe his mom or his aunt noticed the enlarging womb and told him the earth-shattering news. What a shock! None of it made sense to him. This was not something Mary, his Mary, would ever do. He was right, of course, but it took an angel to enable him to overcome the evidence of infidelity. Now what?

This Week...Horns and Shouts
Joshua definitely feels like one of those guys that you want on your side. He was fearless and up for whatever. After spending so much time with Moses and the Lord, this man was ready to fight wherever and whenever God told him to do so. As the first fight neared, how outrageously odd it must have felt to hear the Lord's battle plan. If not for the amazing demonstrations of God's power he had already seen and the in-person visit from the Lord's army commander, he probably would've chuckled and said, "Yeah, right!" The battle plan was more than a little suspect. Joshua (and all of us, too) needed to understand and embrace the reality that God loves to accomplish impossible tasks by impossible means inviting imperfect people to be a part of it. Think Jesus with the five loaves and two fish feeding thousands using the disciples as the waiters. What were Joshua's orders? 

This Week...A Living Sacrifice
Even the most casual study of the interaction of people with God in the Bible reveals an inseparable connection between obedience and sacrifice. We were made by God and for God. We simply do not function as we were made to function independent of him and his instructions. His call for unconditional obedience is non-negotiable. Jesus wasn't fuzzy about this truth and many stopped following him because of it. "Deny yourself, take up your cross(die) daily and follow me" isn't a real crowd-pleasing slogan.  Abraham was tested by God again and again and again. His final test? Sacrifice your son. God's tests will either break us or bring us to the heights of a relationship with him where the returns are out of this world. What did Abraham do? Great question! 

This Week...Never Forget
We are challenged repeatedly in scripture to remember. Too often, the urgency of the moment and the power of our emotions draw us into patterns of thought that distract from the information we have stored in our memories. This information, when sourced from God's word provides the correct perspective on our present realities and the wisest course of action in the midst of those realities. Bottom line: Forgetting is a real problem with real consequences. As we near the end of our study in Esther, we find our two heroes, Mordecai and Queen Esther, working very hard to make sure that this mighty deliverance of the people of Israel from the scheme of her enemies would never be forgotten. They had no confusion or lack of appreciation of the imperativeness of remembering. This week we will find ourselves challenged and encouraged to "Never Forget."

This Week...Hard Obedience
At some level, all obedience is hard. Surrendering our mind, will, body and heart to God for his purposes is not only a tough choice to make, it's a tough choice to maintain. It's one we need his help to make. Now, add to that struggle a directive from God that is so hard that you simply can't make sense of it. Your heart sinks. The cold sweat breaks out. Surely, God doesn't want me to do that. During this series we'll be looking at a snapshot of five people who were asked to do something so hard, that either an angel or God himself had to give them the orders, or they simply couldn't have believed it was really coming from God. The truth is, all of us have been and are going to be called to hard obedience. These stories will help encourage and prepare us to yield ourselves when those moments come.

This Week...Greatness
The greatest of all time or the G.O.A.T., as it is often called, sparks lively debates in our culture. Typically, the reference is directed to a sports figure. Opinions are plentiful and passionate. Interestingly, Jesus had much to say about greatness. Not surprisingly, we see Jesus' comments on greatness wonderfully reflected in the conclusion of our adventure with Esther, Mordecai and King Xerxes. Are you great? Are you willing to walk in the sandals of heaven's G.O.A.T.? 

This Week...Victory
The opportunity for victory and victory are not the same things. Last week the people of Israel were given a chance, for which, they rejoiced. But now, it's time to fight. The anti-Semites that permeated the entire Medo-Persian empire did not die when Haman died. He was the front man, not the army. What will happen now that the day selected by purim (lots) months earlier has officially arrived? Does their story help us understand what Paul said when he wrote, "I have fought the good fight."? Don't miss this timeless discussion.

This Week...The Big Turnaround
We all love the turnaround story. The story that begins with a person in a very bad place, either by their own choices, the choices of others or just because of the reality we live in a fallen world, but ends with their triumph. Most of the time they have had to make some hard decisions, sacrifices and/or commitments in order for the turnaround to become a reality. The book of Esther is just such a story. In the chapter this week, we see much of the extent of this turnaround for Esther, Mordecai and the Jewish people.
 

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