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10-05-2014 message by Pastor Rich Doebler

Last week we began a series called “GOTTA” —about things we gotta be or do: Gotta be called…gotta have heart…gotta have a goal… Today we’re looking at tough situations—the difficult experiences that stretch us and challenge us. Today’s gotta is: “Gotta be challenged.”

Why do we “gotta be challenged”? Because if you’re never stretched or challenged—if you’re never put to the test—you’ll never do as well as you would if you were challenged.

I liked the way the coach for the Esko girls’ soccer team said it in last week’s Pine Journal. Huff Emanuel, talking about playing against the defending state Class A champion team, said: “I’d rather play them than a cupcake… We can learn a lot from them. I want to play tough teams.”

If you’re okay with where you are…if you’re content with just getting by…if mediocrity is all you aspire to…if you feel fulfilled by just barely “good enough,” then go for the cupcakes.

But if you want to be better than you are…if you want to do more than you have, then you “gotta be challenged.”

If you want to grow in Christ…if you want to accomplish more for God…if you want to go further on your spiritual journey, then you cannot settle for ordinary. You have to strive for extraordinary.

Phil 3:12-14. 12I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

People who press on and take hold and strain…people who are stretched and challenged are the ones who grow. Going through adversity is the way to develop, to improve, to mature.

James 1:2-4. 2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Rom 5:2-4. 2…And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope.

If you never face a challenge…if you always take the easy way out…if you never stand for your convictions…if you’re content with ordinary, you will drift easily into complacency and mediocrity.

Without any challenges, you will lose your drive…your motivation…your spiritual fervor.

But when you face a challenge head-on, you can dig deeper and do more than ever before!

Teddy Roosevelt quote…

This is why God wants to stretch us, to challenge us. He invites us to work with him to do something far bigger than ourselves! He wants to give us opportunity to be part of his eternal purpose.

So God challenges us. He stretches us.

Good things come from being stretched. More tension and stress can lead to something grand and glorious. Right here we see several examples of that—piano, guitar, bass. Every one of these instruments are under tremendous stress. The strings are stretched tight—so tight they can make music when they are plucked or, in the case of the piano, hit with a hammer. Same with an accoustic drum set—the head of the drum is stretched tight in order to produce a sound. Without being stretched tight and under a lot of tension, these instruments would be loose and floppy and out of tune. There would be no music! So all these instruments have screws built right into them so the tension can be increased whenever the sound gets out of tune.

Do you ever feel like a guitar? You know…where there are screws built right in—and someone keeps tightening the screws, increasing the tension? Maybe it’s God! Maybe God is turning the screws and increasing the tension—ultimately to bring about something good in you! So that when you’ve come through the difficult experience, you will be a better person. You will be more like Jesus. You will be a stronger believer. You will be tighter with God. You will make sweeter music for him.

God allows tension and stress; he tightens the screws and stretches us for a reason. When you find that happening, it might be good if you could imagine God tuning you to make beautiful music out of your life.

When God challenges us to do more than we’ve ever done or become better than we’ve ever been, he challenges us for our own good. He stretches us so we can fulfill his purposes.

If we went through life without any challenge, we would never really fulfill God’s plan. Without a challenge—without being stretched—our lives would probably be boring and inconsequential. It would be like living a life without any music to give glory to God.

What if little Mozart had refused to practice his piano? “No! I don’t want to practice! It’s too much work. I want to go outside and play.”

If Mozart had not practiced, the world would have never enjoyed his music. You “gotta be challenged” so you can become what God wants you to become. To do what he wants you to do.

What if Steve Jobs had been too proud to work out of a garage? “No way am I going to start a business in a garage! I want an upscale facility in Simi Valley!”

If Jobs had not taken his lumps and willing to start out at the bottom, the world would not have the iPhone today. No Siri.

What if Aaron Rodgers took the easy way? “I’m not going out for football. A guy could get hurt playing football. No, I’m staying home and playing video games.”

If Rodgers had stayed home…well— …the Vikings still would have lost.

Last week we looked at the CALL of God—how God calls us out of our sinful past, into his family, up to his higher standard, and to his purpose.

What we didn’t really say is that God’s call automatically comes with a challenge. If we’re gonna answer his call, we gotta be challenged.

Whether you’re a musician, an athlete, a software engineer, or a follower of Jesus Christ, you cannot reach your peak performance without being challenged.

You “gotta be challenged” because God has a specific, unique task in mind for you.

And together in this family of God, in this body of believers, God gives each of us a special assignment to fit in with his bigger plan. Each one has a part in what God is doing—in this place, at this time! All those individual parts combine to form God’s larger vision for this church.

It’s the reason we’re here. We “gotta be challenged” because God has a bigger and better work in mind. Something he wants to do in us and through us.

We are here now, in this time, in this situation because God has a plan.

Let me tell you about a young woman who discovered her mission. She learned why she was brought to a specific place with certain privileges. Why she was given unique opportunities for a specific situation. According to her cousin and mentor she was chosen for “such a time as this.”

Esther’s story is found in the OT book of Esther, the last of the OT books of history, found just before the books of poetry, just before Job.

It happened in ancient Persia during the reign of King Xerxes (also known as Ahasuerus), who ruled an empire that stretched all the way from India to Ethiopia. He was pretty arrogant and invited leaders from all across the land to come to for a big festival. He wined and dined them for six months (!), as he tried to impress them with how rich and important he was. The closing banquet alone lasted seven days—and there was a lot of drinking going on.

On the last day, when the king “was in high spirits from wine” (1:10), he called Queen Vashti to the banquet (a banquet that was for men only), so they could all see her beauty. And the queen said, “No way. I’m not going to be put on display in front of a bunch of drunken men.”

Well—now the king was not only drunk, he was furious. His advisers told him something had to be done or else women all over the land would think they could talk back to their husbands whenever they wanted to. They said, “The queen’s conduct will become known to all the women, and so they will despise their husbands… There will be no end of disrespect and discord.” (1:17-18)

So King Xerxes got rid of Queen Vashti—they passed a law saying she could never again enter the king’s presence, and a decree was dispatched to all parts of the kingdom from India to Ethiopia in dozens of languages saying “that every man should be ruler over his own household.” (1:22)

So imagine how you’d feel if you were a young woman living in the land after the queen was removed and now you were ordered into the king’s harem—where dozens, perhaps hundreds of young virgins, were brought just to please the king. Remember: he was no Prince Charming!

This is exactly what happened to Esther! She was a young Jewish girl, an orphan being raised by her cousin, Modecai. And the next thing she knows, she’s forced into the harem of a brute. She had nothing to say about it. The circumstances were out of her control.

Do you ever feel like your circumstances are out of control? Do you ever face challenges in life? You can be encouraged by Esther’s story, because she learned that God was at work, even when she couldn’t see it. Here’s the first lesson:

  1. Be confident: God is working behind the scenes.
  • Even when ungodly forces seem to be in control—when events seem out of control.
  • God can bring order out of chaos. When things are unraveling and falling apart, God is still in control.

Let’s not sugar-coat this situation. Esther was forced to be a concubine—a sex slave. She had no choice in the matter. It was part of that culture. In other times and other places, people are justifiably horrified by such customs. It was terrible and it was abusive.

Esther trusted God with her circumstances. She followed her cousin’s advice. She made the most of her situation. She did what she could while trusting God.

Not only did she meet the challenge and survive, Esther became queen—with all the rights and privileges and advantages that come with a royal position!

When you face a difficult challenge or a terrible situation, when you can’t catch a break and life is grossly unfair, be confident…because God is working behind the scenes!

God was also working in other ways as well, this time with Mordecai, her cousin.

There was a powerful, influential man named Haman, who had some real ego problems. He wanted to be worshiped—and even got the king to issue a decree that everyone had to bow before him whenever he traveled along the streets.

This was a problem for Mordecai because he was a Jew, committed to God. So he determined he would never give homage to Haman. He was challenged, but he refused to give in. His lesson for us:

  1. Stay true to your convictions.
  • Even it means taking a risk.
  • Of course, before you can hold your convictions, you must have You can’t stand on principles you don’t have.

Esther was forced to obey the king. Mordecai, on the other hand, was able to disobey the king’s order, even though it was dangerous. He disobeyed because he had convictions.

Do you have convictions? Would you dare face a challenge to your convictions? What would you be willing to stand for? What would you stand for no matter what the cost. No matter the risk.

When Haman learned about what he had done, he decided that all Mordecai’s people must die.

Haman got the king to loan him his official ring for making decrees and sent out an order all over the empire that on a certain day everyone was “to kill and annihilate all the Jews—young and old, women and little children…and to plunder their goods.” (3:13)

It wasn’t just Mordecai’s life that was on the line! The entire population of Jews was targeted for genocide because of one man’s convictions.

  • Some may have criticized him for being so reckless—for putting so many lives at risk.
  • Couldn’t you have been more careful? Why did you have to go stirring up a hornet’s nest?

But Mordecai had to stay true to his convictions. He had to do the right thing. He put his trust in God and dared to take a terrible risk. His lesson for us when are challenged:

  1. Count the cost—be prepared to pay a price.
  • When you take a risk to do what is right, there is a price to pay. Convictions can be costly.
  • But here’s another principle: When you trust God, it’s safer to take a risk with God than to play it safe without him.

Mordecai sent word to Esther about what Haman planned to do, and he urged her to use her position as queen to intervene for her people. Up till now no one in the palace knew she was Jewish.

But Esther knew how tempermental and eratic the king was. If it was wrong for Queen Vashti to refuse the king’s wishes, it was also against the law (under penalty of death) for anyone (including Queen Esther) to approach the king without being summoned. To make matters worse, he had not called for her for 30 days, so Esther felt that she had fallen out of his favor.

It was a huge risk to go before the king, but she prepared to pay the ultimate price. She sent word to Mordecai: Get all the Jews to fast for me for three days and nights. After we have fasted, I’ll go see the king, even though it’s against the law. “And if I perish, I perish.” (4:16)

Esther took a risk. She put her neck on the line. But she did not shrink away from her God-given opportunity. And that’s our final lesson:

  1. Seize your God-given opportunities.
  • Opportunities come when certain things fall into place: at the right time, in the right place, when the right resources become available—that’s an opportunity!

Mordecai saw that God had been working behind the scenes, preparing for this very day. He saw that God’s hand could deal with the challenge Esther now faced. He said:

And who knows but that you have come to the kingdom [to royal position, NIV] for such a time as this and for this very occasion? (Est 4:14, AMP)

So Esther seized the moment and made the most of her God-give opportunities. I’ll let you finish the story on your own to see what happened when she went to the king without permission—as well as what happened to Haman and all the Jewish people scattered across the land.

But what we need to know is when God gives opportunities, we must seize them. When we find ourselves in a certain place at the right time with the right resources, we’d better take advantage of our God-give opportunity!

Eph 5:15-16. 15Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.

Here we are as a church—at this time…in this place…with certain resources at our disposal. Some would call it a challenge—what we face in this time and place. But I call it an opportunity!

Like Esther, we have a choice to make. Are we ready? Will we trust God and take the challenge? Will we join with him in his work?