When our church was small I chose to work as a mechanic out of my garage to earn a few bucks on the side. Sometimes I would have to fight a car part that just refused to cooperate. Whenever a bolt refused to come off or a part refused to go on I would exchange a few words with it. I’d call it names and threaten it. One day I was working on a car and Josh decided to work on his trike. He wanted to tighten the wheels or something and the bolt was a little rusty so he went to town on it. He hit the bolt with the wrench and started to yell at it like it was a person. All I could think of was what in the world was my wife teaching this boy?
It was a lesson I will never forget. Parents, you have huge influence in your kids’ lives. Live out your faith at home and be a great example for your kids to follow. They have plenty of bad examples already, you be a good one.
James is described as one of the first disciples to join Jesus. James was influenced by his Jewish father for sure. But after listening to Jesus and seeing the miracle that he did by causing all the fish to swim into his nets he made Jesus the number one influence in his life. James chose to follow Jesus instead of following in his family tradition. As far as we know his father never followed Jesus and probably died a devout Jew. James didn’t let his father’s religion dictate his faith.
We really do get to pick to a large degree who we let influence us. Before I let someone influence me I ask myself two questions:
1. Does this person influence me in a positive way or serve as a bad example?
2. Does this person help me grow closer to Christ or are they leading me further from him?
You have the freedom to choose your own life path. You may come from a family of atheists or new agers, but that doesn’t mean you need to adopt their lack of faith. You might have been raised by an alcoholic or abuse parent, but that doesn’t mean you will automatically become one. Pick your path and the people you allow to influence you based on the will of God.
On the flip side, there are others who you can choose to have a positive influence on. Start to build a relationship with them by inviting them out for coffee or ask them over for dinner. As Christians we are called to help others and one way we can do that is by letting the love of Christ shine through us.
We influence others on three levels: the logical level, the emotional level, and the serving level. The logical level means we influence others with our mind. This is why the Bible tells us that we need to always be prepared to give and answer for the hope we have in Christ. The emotional level is influencing others by sharing your passion about Jesus and what he has done in your life. Serving means people will be influenced by your actions.
Who influences you? Do they draw you closer to Christ or lead you further from him?
Are you brave enough to choose your own path and let Jesus be your number one influence in how you live?
And who will you intentionally influence? Who can you influence on an intellectual level, emotional level and by choosing to serve others?
“15But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,..” 1 Peter 3:15
If we want to raise the spiritual climate of our community, we need more people to be influenced by Jesus who are unashamed to live for his glory.
Matthew was an average kid who came from good stock. His father Alphaeus gave his son the birthname Levi because he came from the tribe of Levi. They were the priestly line who were supposed to live holy lives and live in the temple.
Why Matthew chose to work for the Romans as a tax collector we will never know, but instead of being joined with the Lord, Matthew chose to join with the Romans and collect taxes.
Matthew’s call to follow Jesus came in the middle of a workday. The tax collector outcast was called by Christ himself to a better occupation, to better wealth than what silver and gold could buy, and to serve a better king than Caesar.
This is the only detail we are given: Jesus invited him to follow, and Matthew followed. He gave up his occupation, his reputation, and his income to follow a more worthy king. He did it without reservation or excuse. Matthew felt the tug on his heart and he was moved to action.
The calling of Matthew demonstrates that when God extends an invitation, we should accept it. Have you ever felt God tugging on your heart? Did you respond with action or did you just shrug it off? It might not be clear yet what exactly God is calling you to do, but his invitation to live a better life is always on your calendar. He is always inviting you to live a holy life, a life of love, grace, and forgiveness.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.” Matthew 16:18
Very shortly after Matthew’s invitation to follow Christ he threw a party. He wanted everybody to know that he was a new creation in Christ, as Paul would later say the old has gone and the new has come.
Matthew invited a ton of his old friends who he knew as a tax collector and some of his new friends who he knew because of Jesus. The people who came would never show up in the local synagogue because they would have been judged, labeled, and ostracized. They would have felt shame and rejection all before they even would have heard the word of God read to them. But they were willing to come to Matthew’s house for a free dinner, they didn’t really care what it was about, Matthew was their friend.
We also learn from Matthew, never let your past get in the way of your future. It doesn’t matter if you have a criminal past, a troubled upbringing, lack of confidence, lack of experience, or were the star of the team. Everyone has something in their closet that likes to pop up at the worst times. There is no such thing as a perfect family and a perfect upbringing, we all need to work out our own salvation. Paul writes:
“12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” Philippians 2:12-13
We are not saved by works, we are saved by faith. These verses refer to wrestling out your own faith. Getting past your past, getting past what was and trusting God with your future.
Matthew’s intention was to introduce his friends to Jesus. He wanted them to meet the man who changed his life from depression to intention. From broken to blessed. He wanted them to meet Jesus for themselves and hear his words of life because he loved them, these were his people. What’s fascinating is that Matthew used his influence with his old crowd to introduce them to his new crowd. He wanted to leverage his influence to help others connect with Christ.
As a church our vision is to raise the spiritual climate of the community. If something awesome and amazing in your life is happening, you want to tell others like Matthew did. Accept his invitation, don’t let your past stop you from stepping into your future. There are people near you that need to be near Jesus. God has placed them in your life for you to help them to connect to Jesus. This week will you use your influence to help people find Christ?
Every believer has a God given dream and a God given destiny. The vast majority of people believe that God has a purpose for them but very few actually understand what it means to fulfill it. We get side tracked, we get confused, we take a few hits and fail a couple times and eventually we give up shelving the very dream that God placed on our heart. God wants you to fulfill your purpose and destiny and it’s going to take strong character in order for you to do it.
Genesis 39 records a situation where Joseph refused Potiphar’s wife’s advances. She tried to seduce him and he ran but was still accused of rape and put into prison. Joseph had no idea why God allowed him to be put into prison for doing the right thing but it was in prison that Joseph learned to persevere and it is also where his character was strengthened.
God will develop your character through trials and tribulation. Jesus said “33 I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
In Matthew 7:24-27 Jesus told a parable about two houses that were built. One was built on the sand and the other was built on the rock. Both houses were hit by the storm but only one survived. The point is that storms and trouble come and wise people have strong character that can endure them.
How can God use tribulations to strengthen your character? First, tribulation produces perseverance. When you go through long periods of testing you learn to trust God and not expect immediate answers. Perseverance involves fighting the battle while you are waiting with contentment.
We learn patience at the DMV. We learn patience going through TSA at the airport. But we learn to persevere when we endure long periods of testing. When the trial you are in goes on for months and months or even year after year and you stand in faith you are persevering. There is a difference between learning patience and persevering. James writes: “2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” James 1:2-3
Second, while tribulation produces perseverance, perseverance produces character. In deep trials our character is pressed. Our worst often gets squeezed out under pressure. But if you let the Holy Spirit work in you, your faith can actually come out when you are being squeezed. Why? Because character produces hope and hope will strengthen your character.
Hope is believing that God is working everything for our good right now. Hope is believing that God loves us and is going to take care of us right now. Hope is believing we are in the center of God’s will even if we are in the center of a dozen problems. This is Biblical hope.
And guess what hope produces? Hope produces divine appointments. Romans 5:5 tells us that hope does not disappoint. To disappoint is the opposite of appoint. So hope appoints, lack of hope disappoints. Hope produces divine appointments.
Joseph did not have a pity party when he was thrown into prison. He continued to serve God and look for opportunities to bless others even when he was incarcerated. The king had imprisoned his cupbearer and baker. One day Joseph noticed they were sad so he asked them what was going on. They had dreams and wanted them to be interpreted and that’s what Joseph did. He was interested in them because he didn’t let his own problems consume him. He still saw an opportunity to minister to someone else.
When you go through a difficult trial allow it to produce perseverance in you. And as you persevere, let God strengthen your character. And as your character gets stronger, you will be better able to see things from a different perspective and that will give you hope. And when you have hope you will look for divine appointments to minister to others and take one step closer to fulfilling your destiny. God can use trials and tribulations to strengthen your character if you let him, the choice is up to you.