Thoroughly Equipped: For Such A Time As This

Today’s reading is Job 1:1-3:26, 1 Corinthians 14:1-17, Psalm 37:12-29, Proverbs 21:25-26.

However, my thoughts are still back in the story of Esther.  Let’s savor that story for just a bit longer.  We will continue to walk through the story as if it were a play.

Scene 8:  Revenge is sweet—for a season.

When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor, he was furious.  Having learned who Mordecai’s people were, he began to plan a way to destroy not only Mordecai, but also the entire Jewish race.  He appealed to the pride of King Xerxes, telling them of a group of people in his kingdom who did not follow the customs of the land and who did not follow the king’s laws and that it was not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them.  Haman then suggested that a decree be issued to destroy them all.

The king agreed and plans were made for the total destruction of the Jewish people.  When the Jewish people, including Mordecai, found out about the decree there was weeping and mourning throughout the land.  Esther’s maid came to tell her that Mordecai was in great distress; she was very worried about him.  She had not heard the report yet about the planned destruction of the Jews, and she sent someone to find out what was troubling Mordecai.  He sent back a copy of the edict of destruction urging her to go into the king’s presence and beg for mercy and plead with him for her people.  She sent word back reminding him of the law that stated that if anyone approached the king in the inner court without being summoned they would be put to death.  The only exception was if the king were to extend his golden scepter to them and spare their life.  And, Esther informed Mordecai that the king had not sent for her in a full month.  Mordecai sent her back a very powerful reply, saying:

“Don’t think that just because you are the Queen that you will not face destruction, too.  And if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your family will perish.  And who knows, perhaps you have come to royal position for such a time as this.”                     

                                                                                                                  Esther 4:13b, 14

Scene 9:  For such a time as this!

Well, that did it for Esther.  She realized that this could be the greatest purpose of her life.  She sent back her reply saying for Mordecai to gather all of the Jews in the area and they along with Esther and her maids should fast and pray for three days.  Then, she said, “When this fast is over, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law.  And if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16).

When the three days were over, Esther put on her royal robes and went to the inner court of the king.  He was pleased to see her and extended the golden scepter to her.  Then he asked, “Queen Esther, what is your request?  Whatever it is, it will be given to you, even up to half the kingdom” (Esther 5:3).  Esther wisely waited for the right time to discuss her people’s plight, and instead invited the king and Haman to a banquet that she had prepared for them.  They immediately went to the banquet where the king again asked Esther concerning her request.  She responded that she requested that he and Haman return tomorrow for another banquet, at which time she would answer his question.

Haman went home that night very puffed up about being invited to the queen’s banquets.  On his way home, he saw Mordecai who neither bowed, nor showed fear in his presence.  This infuriated Haman.  He went home and gathered all of his friends and family, bragging to them about being invited to Queen Esther’s banquets.  But, he confessed that this satisfaction was diminished every time he saw Mordecai.  His wife and friends suggested that he have gallows built, seventy-five feet high, and ask the king in the morning to have Mordecai hanged on it.  This suggestion delighted Haman and he had the gallows built.

Scene 10:  As good as Ambien.

That night, the king could not sleep so he ordered that the book of the annals be brought in and read to him.  It had been recorded there that Mordecai had exposed the assassination plan of the king, thus saving his life.  The king realized that nothing had ever been done to show his appreciation to Mordecai.  Right at that time, Haman came to the outer court to ask the king to give permission to hang Mordecai.  The king called Haman in, but before he could ask the king asked him what should be done for someone who pleased the king.  Thinking proudly that the king was referring to himself, Haman replied that that man should receive one of the king’s royal robes and royal crests and royal horses and be led throughout the city, proclaiming before him, “This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor” (Esther 6:6).  The king then commanded Haman to go at once and do for Mordecai just as he had suggested.  So Haman had to lead Mordecai through the streets, announcing that the king delighted in him.  He was mortified, of course, but soon after had to go to Queen Esther’s banquet.

Scene 11:  Vengeance is mine, says the Lord!

At the banquet, the king once again asked Queen Esther what her request was, and vowed that whatever it was it would be granted, up to half the kingdom.  At that time, Esther revealed her request: that he would grant her life, and also spare the lives of her people.  Not knowing that she was of Jewish descent, the king did not know what she was talking about.  He asked, “Who is he?  Who would dare to do such a thing?” (Esther 7:5).  She replied, “The adversary and enemy is this vile Haman” (Esther 7:6).  The king was enraged, and Haman was terrified.  The king left in a rage to go out into the garden.  Haman stayed behind to beg Queen Esther for his life.  When the king came back into the room, Haman was falling on the couch where Queen Esther was reclining.  The king screamed, “Will he even molest the queen while she is with me in the house?” (Esther 7:8).  Haman was immediately taken out and hung on the very gallows that had been prepared for Mordecai.

Scene 12:  Lest they forget.

That very day, a new edict was signed by the king and sealed with his ring which overruled the destruction of the Jews.  There was great rejoicing and celebrating, and Mordecai sent word that this festival should be an annual celebration in remembrance of the Jews being spared.  It was called the Festival of Purim, and it is still celebrated to this day.

In the story of Esther, we find the repetitive cycle that exists throughout biblical history and even into our own lives: People are hungry for God; God gives His instructions and warnings; People obey for a season, then forget their allegiance to God;  God gives warnings; People do not heed the warnings; God allows the people to suffer the consequences of their disobedience for a season; The people are humbled and begin to seek the Lord and His ways again, and then God provides a way of escape, a savior.

As always, the Old Testament is a mirror image of the New Testament.  The New Testament always fulfills the Old Testament.  In many ways, Esther was a sacrificial lamb that saved her people from sure destruction.  This was an image of what was to come.  That is why, in our Christian tradition, Jesus is called the Lamb of God, the ultimate sacrifice, after which no sacrifice was ever needed to be offered again.

It is interesting that Esther told Mordecai that the law was death for anyone who approached the king in the inner court.  In the history of the Israelite temple, the inner court of the temple was called the Holy of Holies, the place where God, the King of Kings dwelt.  It was so holy that no one could stand in the inner court, lest he die.  It was separated from the rest of the temple by a great curtain, very high and very thick.  Once a year, the high priest went into the inner court to offer a sacrifice for the sins of the people.  A rope was tied about his ankle so that he could be pulled out of the inner court if he died in that holy place.  We are told in Scripture that the day that Jesus died on the cross, this mighty curtain ripped from top to bottom.  It was too high and thick for a man to rip it.  Our Christian tradition maintains that it was ripped by God, symbolizing that we could now come boldly to the throne of grace because of the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf.  The royal scepter of the King is now extended to us.

Today, go boldly to the Throne of Grace.  Go to the King of Kings and place your requests before Him.  Ask Him what He wants you to do and to be “for such a time as this.”

 

This is the day we wrap up our lessons of Esther.  We have seen God take an orphan girl and make her a queen.  We have seen Him call her out of her ordinary status to walk the life of one chosen to risk all for the sake of the Holy One.  There are many things we can learn from the story of Esther.  Today I want to focus on just four things.  I call them The Four P’s.

What we learn from the story of Esther can be summed up in the following way:

Preparation, Perspective, Prayer, Praise

Preparation:  God wants to prepare us for the extraordinary.  We can only receive that preparation by reaching up to Him.  That is why I always emphasize the concept of Reaching Up to God.  You prepare for the extraordinary by letting God be God in your life.  He wants to be your redeemer.  He wants to use even the difficult circumstances in your life to show His mighty power and His glory.   He will also use His Word, godly people, and His Holy Spirit to prepare you for the extraordinary.

Perspective:  We should seek God’s perspective in every situation, knowing that we will never be able to—this side of heaven—see the whole tapestry of our lives.  Esther could not have known all the many ways her story of obedience and purpose would bear fruit even thousands of years later.  To have a godly perspective our eyes must be on Him, not on us.  It is about trusting that He is able to do far more than we could ever hope, or dream, or imagine, even if we don’t see the end of the story.

Prayer:  I don’t exactly know how prayer works, but it does.  Sometimes prayer changes situations, but always prayer changes me.  Prayer is honest communication with God.  Prayer is talking and listening.  Prayer is acknowledging God’s power and acknowledging your weakness.  Esther fasted and prayed for three days (there’s that holy number three again!) before she went before the king.  And she got others to pray with her and for her.  Prayer is crucial in finding and participating in God’s extraordinary plan for your life.  Ephesians 2:10 says, “For you are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  Pray that God will show you the good works that He has prepared for you!

Praise:  Lastly, the outcome of the extraordinary purpose and plan for Esther resulted in praise to God alone.  Recently I read a book by Steve Saint where he described being in Israel during the Feast of Purim, which is a celebration of God intervention and salvation through Queen Esther. This celebration still exists today. Through that feast, centuries after the fact, there is still much praise and celebration toward our extraordinary God for the extraordinary work He did in and through Esther, an ordinary girl.  Our ordinary ways, surrendered to His will can produce extraordinary fruit.  God loves to use the ordinary to produce the extraordinary.  Because when extraordinary things happen in and through the ordinary, the glory and honor and praise go to Him alone.  Let God use you.  He will do far more than you could ever hope or dream or imagine.


Thoroughly Equipped: Important Scenes

Today’s reading is Esther 8:1-10:3, 1 Corinthians 12:27-13:13, Psalm 37:1-11, Proverbs 21:23-24.

If Esther’s life were a stage play, there would be 12 key scenes that trace the development of her story:  Today, I want to share with you the first 7 scenes and tomorrow we will look at the last five scenes.  My prayer is that as you learn about Esther, you will see valuable life lessons for yourself.

Scene 1:  What a party!

The story of Esther begins in the setting of a great feast.  King Xerxes was having a grand banquet for all of his nobles, officials, military leaders, princes, and other dignitaries from the surrounding provinces.  The banquet was in celebration of his great successes, and it lasted for seven full days.  Wine was flowing freely, and the king had instructed the wine stewards to serve each man whatever he wished.  Queen Vashti, the wife of King Xerxes, was at the same time giving a banquet for the royal women.  On the seventh day, when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine, he commanded that Queen Vashti be brought before him in order to display her beauty to the nobles present, for she was very lovely to look at.

Scene 2:  Who does she think she is?

However, Queen Vashti refused to come.  The king was furious because she had disgraced him in front of the dignitaries.  You see, at that time, a wife was more like a piece of property.  Legally, she had no right to refuse to come.  So the king consulted experts in matters of law and justice and it was decided that Queen Vashti would have to give up her crown and be banished from the King’s presence.  This was announced throughout the land as an example for the other women.

All of this was fine, until later when the king’s anger had cooled and he began to miss his wife.  So, to cheer the king, his attendants suggested a royal beauty pageant.  The king appointed commissioners from all over the province to find the prettiest virgins to bring to the palace for a year of beauty treatments.  At this point, Esther steps into the scene.

 

“Now there was in the citadel of Susa a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, named Mordecai son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish,  who had been carried into exile from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, among those taken captive with Jehoiachin  king of Judah.  Mordecai had a cousin named Hadassah, whom he had brought up because she had neither father nor mother. This girl, who was also known as Esther, was lovely in form and features, and Mordecai had taken her as his own daughter when her father and mother died.”

(Esther 2:5-7)

Scene 3:  And who are your parents?

When we first meet Esther, we immediately see that she has several strikes against her.  She had a heritage of slavery.  She was a foreigner in the land.  She was an orphan.  But we also see that Esther was a beautiful, young Jewish girl who had been raised by her cousin, Mordecai, after her parents had been killed.  Mordecai had been carried into exile, but eventually worked his way into some sort of official role in the king’s court.  So, Mordecai arranged for the beautiful Esther to be one of the contestants in the royal beauty pageant.  It is unclear whether Esther wanted to do this, but she obediently followed Mordecai’s instructions, including keeping hidden that fact that she was Jewish.

“Esther had not revealed her nationality and family background, because Mordecai had forbidden her to do so.  Every day he walked back and forth near the courtyard of the harem to find out how Esther was and what was happening to her.  Before a girl’s turn came to go in to King Xerxes, she had to complete twelve months of beauty treatments prescribed for the women, six months with oil of myrrh and six with perfumes and cosmetics.”                                                                       

                                                                                                            Esther 2:10-12

 One thing that I noticed in those verses was that Esther was humble enough to listen to godly, wise counsel.  Mordecai obviously cared for Esther and he cared greatly about completely following God’s way.  I believe that God will send people into our lives to speak godly wisdom and wise counsel, and to encourage us in our journey to God’s extraordinary plan for our lives.  But we must be humble enough to listen.

Once, I had a dream.  I have always dreamed vividly.  My old roommate, Kelli, called it “story time” in the mornings when I would tell her what I dreamed.  I don’t remember all my dreams, but I remember this one.  In my dream, a ferocious lion was chasing me.  I was ahead of him, but I could feel him catching up, and I was getting very tired of running.  Then I ran into a big arena, and when I entered the arena suddenly people started cheering.  I looked up and realized that they were cheering for me!  The more I looked, the more people I recognized—family members, people from my church, friends.  They were all cheering for me.  Shortly after that, I read Hebrews 12:1-3:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Suddenly that verse made sense to me.  God will provide a great cloud of witnesses for each of us, to cheer us on and encourage us during our lives.  1Peter 5:8 says, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”  God will provide this cloud of witnesses to strengthen our faith so that we will not be devoured.  But most of all, He will give us Himself, a very present help in time of need.

Scene 4:  Win him over!

Esther won the favor of the man in charge of the new harem and he immediately provided her with beauty treatments and special food.  He provided her with seven maids and moved them into the best place in the harem.  We don’t really know if each candidate had seven maids, but I think the Scripture tends to suggest that they did not.  Remember that the number seven means completion and perfection.  When God begins to prepare you for His extraordinary plan for your life, He will send you everything you need to complete you and perfect you and make you ready for extraordinary fruitfulness.  But, once again, you must be humble enough to receive all the things He sends your way for preparation.

Scene 5:  Don’t forget your beauty rest! 

Every day Mordecai walked back and forth near the courtyard where Esther was staying in order to find out how she was doing.  For twelve months it was a continual spa experience.  The girls were prescribed beauty treatments: six months with oil of myrrh and six months with perfumes and cosmetics.  After the twelve months, each girl was presented to the king.  The girls were allowed to take anything from the harem with them in order to entice the favor of the king.  When it was Esther’s turn to be presented to the king, she went before him simply adorned, taking nothing with her except what was suggested by the man in charge. She did not try to be something that she was not.  She simply trusted that her ordinary life was in the hands of an extraordinary God.

Scene 6:  Victory!

Esther won the favor of everyone who saw her, including the king.  She basically won the beauty pageant, a royal crown was placed on her head and she became queen in place of Vashti.  The king once again gave a royal banquet to celebrate his new queen!  Queen Esther was now far above Mordecai in social standing and importance, but she continued to show him a father-figure respect.  She did not forget her “ordinary” status.  They kept in close contact through a maid, and Mordecai continued to sit at the king’s gate keeping tabs on his beloved Esther.  One day, while sitting at the gate, Mordecai overheard a plot to assassinate King Xerxes.  He immediately told Queen Esther, who in turn reported it to the king, giving credit to Mordecai.  And this incident was reported in the book of the annals, or royal history books.

Scene 7:  The sins of the forefathers.

Now go back in time to King Saul’s day.  Remember, the people disobeyed God, and allowed some of the Amalekites to live.  One of the nobles of the royal court of King Xerxes was a man named Haman.

“After these events, King Xerxes honored Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles.  All the royal officials at the king’s gate knelt down and paid honor to Haman, for the king had commanded this concerning him. But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor.

“Then the royal officials at the king’s gate asked Mordecai, ‘Why do you disobey the king’s command?’  Day after day they spoke to him but he refused to comply. Therefore they told Haman about it to see whether Mordecai’s behavior would be tolerated, for he had told them he was a Jew.

“When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor, he was enraged.  Yet having learned who Mordecai’s people were, he scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai. Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes.”                        

                                                                                                                  Esther 3:1-5

 Scripture says that Haman was on Agagite.  Centuries back, King Agag was the ruler of Amalek.  So Agagite was another way of saying he was an Amalekite.

He was a descendent of the Amalekites that had been allowed to live 500 years before, when King Saul did not completely obey God.  And Haman the Amalekite hated the Israelites just as much as his ancestors had.  Now Haman had continued to rise in power and all the royal officials would bow as he walked by—all except Mordecai, who was determined not to bow to anyone except his God. This allegiance to God set in motion a conflict with great repercussions.  But God ….

Once again, we must remember those two precious words:  But God ….  When all looks hopeless, when we feel helpless, when we can’t see how our story could be redeemed, we must remember our God is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  He can create something new and different and beautiful out of the great messes of our life.  Tomorrow we will see how God came through for Esther and His people.  They were set for sure destruction, but God ….


Thoroughly Equipped: But God

Today’s reading includes Esther 4:1-7:10, 1 Corinthians 12:1-26, Psalm 36:1-12, Proverbs 21:21-22

To truly understand the story of Esther, we must go further back in history to a time that God gave a very specific instruction to King Saul.  This instruction, found in 1Samuel 15, was that he was to lead the Israelites in battle and that, with God’s help, they were to completely destroy the evil people called the Amalekites.  The instructions were so explicit that they could not confuse the purpose of the battle.  They were to totally obliterate the Amalekites, allowing no one to live.  They were also to leave all of the riches and spoils alone, taking none for themselves as was the usual custom.  God did not want them to have anything to do with any of the Amalekites or their possessions, and He made that very clear.

Now, King Saul was obedient to an extent.  He led the people in battle against the Amalekites, and as God promised, they won.  However, he did not follow the instructions fully and made the decision to leave a few of the Amalekites alive, taking them as slaves.  He also disobeyed God when he allowed the people to take, and keep, various riches and spoils of the war.  God spoke to Samuel, Hannah’s son, about Saul’s disobedience.  Samuel boldly confronted Saul about his lack of complete obedience.  And Saul responded much like we all do when first confronted with sin…he rationalized.

 

“When Samuel reached him, Saul said, ‘The LORD bless you! I have carried out the LORD’s instructions.’  But Samuel said, ‘What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?’

Saul answered, ‘The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the LORD your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.’

 

“’Stop!’ Samuel said to Saul. ‘Let me tell you what the LORD said to me last night.’  ’Tell me,’ Saul replied.

 

“Samuel said, ‘Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The LORD anointed you king over Israel.  And he sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; make war on them until you have wiped them out.’  Why did you not obey the LORD? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the LORD?’

 

“’But I did obey the LORD,’ Saul said. ‘I went on the mission the LORD assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king.  The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the LORD your God at Gilgal.’

 

“But Samuel replied:

       ‘Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices

       as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD ?

       To obey is better than sacrifice,

       and to heed is better than the fat of rams.’”  (1Samuel 15:13-22)

 

Saul did not obey completely.  I like to think of it like cooking chicken or pork.  “Almost” done will still make you very sick!  Saul did just enough right to try to justify his actions.  And he assigned some of the plunder to go to God to make himself feel better.  But God does not need our token acknowledgements.  He sees right through that.  We may fool many people, but we can’t fool God.  Being completely honest with God and with youself is one of the first steps to being prepared for God’s extraordinary plan.

God demands complete obedience, not because he is a dictator-type God, but because only He can see past, present and future.  Only He can look behind and ahead and trace the thread of our actions in the tapestry of our life story, and the story of the generations to come.  Now, I have to stop for a moment and remind you that this is not a call to legalism.  Jesus reprimanded the legalistic Pharisees much more than the overt sinners.

Always remember the principles of God’s Grace: we don’t deserve it; we can’t earn it; Jesus bought it for us; It’s free!  But once we experience God’s Grace first hand, we want with all of our hearts to please Him and show Him how much we love Him.  He is a holy God who can’t dwell with sin.  That’s why we turn to Him to set us free from sin, and to give us the power to live a life pleasing to Him.  It is His grace that also shows us our sin, so that we can be relieved of it and released from it.

He does sometimes allow consequences for our sins, even consequences that are revealed further down the road.  The consequences that Saul faced were both immediate and far reaching.  God removed His favor from Saul and eventually replaced him with King David, who, though not perfect, yet, nonetheless, was a man after God’s own heart.  And it was through King David that God’s Ultimate plan of salvation was fulfilled when generations later Jesus was born in the lineage of David.

I believe the difference that we see between these two examples of sinful people is the heart with which they faced their sin.  In Saul’s story, he never really received a mighty redemption.  David, on the other hand, turned his whole heart to God, acknowledged and truly repented of his sin—not just because he was caught, but because he was convicted and grieved by what he had done.

The full repercussions of the sin of King Saul were not seen immediately.  However, years down the road, the ancestors of those Amalekites who were left alive caused great problems for the people of God.  The Israelites were eventually taken captive from Jerusalem and carried into exile in Persia.  We will see later in the week that the sin of King Saul–the sin of not obeying completely and the sin of not being completely repentant—nearly caused the destruction of his descendants. But God…

Don’t you love those two words:  But God…  Many times in my life I could have taken a destructive turn.  I could have ended up in a much different place.  But God…

Today, let’s praise Him for the times He has saved us, not just that one time of eternal salvation, but the many, many times He has saved us, rescued us from ourselves and our own sinful choices.  Today, let’s choose to obey Him completely.  Is He asking you to do something, to give up something, change something in your life?  Just do it.  Don’t wait.

 


Thoroughly Equipped: Ordinary Men, Extraordinary God

Today’s reading is Esther 1:1-3:15, 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, Psalm 35:17-28, Proverbs 21:19-20.

This week we will learn of Esther and her great calling.  We will learn of her willingness to used of God, “for such a time as this”.  We will learn that God can use our ordinary lives for His extraordinary work. But before we dive into the story of Esther, I want to take a look at a more recent account of an ordinary man being used by God.

Charles Spurgeon was a powerful and famous minister whose anointed ministry began in the mid to late 1800s and the fruit of which is still seen today.  Many have called him the “Prince of Preachers”.  At the height of his ministry, he spoke twice weekly to thousands of people at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London.  Yet, in his writings we find that he wrote:

 

“I sometimes think I might have been in darkness and despair until now had it not been for the goodness of God in sending a snowstorm, one Sunday morning, while I was going to a certain place of worship.”

 

Because of the bad weather, he entered a Primitive Methodist Chapel, joining about a dozen people in worship.  He wrote that “they sang so loudly that they made people’s head ache,” but he didn’t mind, “for I wanted to know how I might be saved, and if they could tell me that, I did not care how much they made my head ache.”

The regular minister did not show up that day, so a member of the small congregation got up to speak.  Spurgeon described the impromptu preacher as “a very thin-looking man, a shoemaker, or tailor, or something of that sort…”   (In other words, an ordinary man, someone who was an unlikely candidate for the extraordinary.)  In fact, Spurgeon went on to say that this ordinary man “was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had little else to say.”

The text that substitute preacher had chosen was from Isaiah 45:22, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” Spurgeon describes what happened that day in the following words:

“He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter.  There was, I thought, a glimpse of hope for me in that text.  The preacher began thus:–‘My dear friends, this is a very simple text indeed.  It says, ‘Look.’  Now lookin’ don’t take a deal of pains.  It ain’t liftin’ your foot or your finger; it is just, ‘Look.’  Well, a man needn’t go to College to learn to look.  You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look.  Anyone can look; even a child can look.  But then the text says, ‘Look unto to Me.’ Ay!’ said he is broad Essex, ‘many on ye are lookin’ to yourselves, but it’s no use lookin’ there. You’ll never find any comfort in yourselves… Jesus Christ says, ‘Look unto Me.’”

The man continued on for several minutes, until he reached the end of his sermon.    Spurgeon went on to say, that suddenly, he saw…

“…the way of salvation.  I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that work, ‘Look!’  what a charming word it seemed to me!  Oh!  I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away.  There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which looks alone to Him.  Oh, that somebody had told me this before, ‘Trust Christ, and you shall be saved.’”

The thing that I love the most about that story is that the person that led the “Prince of Preachers” to Christ was a very ordinary man.  He was not a preacher, he was not very educated, but he loved Jesus.  And God used that ordinary man to produce extraordinary fruit.

What does this story mean to you?  To me?  Can it not inspire us to expect extraordinary things in our ordinary lives?  God wants to use you.  Are you willing to be used despite your ordinary status?  God loves to use the ordinary to bring about the extraordinary because then, all the glory is Him alone.  Today, let’s offer ourselves as a living sacrifice.  Let’s be open to being used be it at home or work, in the grocery store or car line.  We may never know until heaven how the Lord uses us.  But on that glorious day we will be able to hear those most precious words from the Lover of our Souls…”Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Esther was a young Jewish girl; an ordinary girl who became Queen and helped save her people from sure destruction.  It is a great historical account filled with intrigue, suspense and bravery.  As I pondered this story it occurred to me that it must be of great significance because it was set apart in Scriptures from the other books.

There are many other wonderful historical accounts of various God-followers found throughout the books of the Old Testament.  The histories of many of the great spiritual forefathers are compiled together in the books of Genesis through 2 Chronicles.  The stories of better known patriarchs of faith such as Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Moses are compiled together in a conglomeration of many important historical accounts, some of which had various contributing authors.  Why was this story set apart in its own book, instead of simply    being added to the other great historical accounts?

The fact that the story revolves around the life of a woman makes the fact that it was set apart even more significant.  This story was set in a time when women’s equality and rights were unheard of.  I am sure there is some important reason for it being set apart in a self-titled book, but my own contemplation believes that it is because its message was so important that it did not need to be lost among the numerous other stories.  While not more important than the story of our other patriarchs of faith, it must have a message within, historically as well as practically, that merits a pause, a reflection, a remembrance.

My NIV Study Bible states that “The author’s central purpose was to record the institution of the annual festival of Purim and to keep alive for later generations the memory of the great deliverance of the Jewish people during the reign of Xerxes.” Basically, the author of this book had a stone of remembrance to share.  Although we do not know who wrote the book of Esther, a study of the story clearly indicates that he was a Jew.  He shows great patriotism for his people in his description of the story, and it is obvious that he was not from Judah or Jerusalem but was a resident of one of the Persian cities.  So our conclusion about the author might be that he, homesick for his homeland, had a desire to preserve the historical and spiritual implications of this event for the sake of patriotism to his people, and for the sake of his children and grandchildren and even those afar off.

I grew up in a small town in Mississippi which has a significant historical past.  The town thrives on its history.  Why is it important to remember such things, devoting years of study recalling historical accounts?  I believe it is because in looking back we discover pieces of ourselves.  History always shows us things that we want to hold on to and things that we can learn from the mistakes that were previously made.  And, I believe it is through history that we find the common thread of the faithfulness of our Creator, weaving a tapestry that we are included in as we live out our lives.  A significant fact of the Book of Esther is that it is the one book of the entire Bible that makes no mention of God.  There is no doubt, however, that evidence of God as sovereign and active deity is woven throughout the story.  And the story clearly shows that Esther had a deep, abiding, personal faith, which affected both her actions and the outcome within the story.

What is your history?  Think about it for just a moment?  What threads of the past did God weave together to create your particular story?

We all have a story.  And God longs to write this story with a beautiful, redemptive ending.  Some of our stories have lots of twists and turns. Some of our stories are filled with conflict and tragedy.   But God is the Author of our stories.  Submit your story to Him and let the great Author translate your story into one which becomes a classic in your family, one that is passed down from generation to generation, one that your descendants can reflect upon and say, “Now that was a great story.  That changed my life.”  Submit your life’s story to Him.  You won’t be sorry!

 

 


I Am Not Colorblind

I originally published the following post last summer, but given the events of this week, a friend encouraged me to repost.  Please, Jesus, bring us unity in this country!

This week, I have asked the Lord to show me what I am to do with—how I am to feel about—the situations in our country right now.  I asked Him to show me what He wanted me to see.  I can’t say that I got a clear word on that, but I have gotten glimpses.

First of all, I have realized that I am not colorblind.  And I believe that is okay.  I do notice the color of people’s skin.  It makes them who they are.  It is how God created them.  It is okay to notice.  It is okay to not be colorblind.  What a different—lesser—place the world would be if we were all colorblind.  We would miss the uniqueness, the variety, the joy of being different.  A colorblind world would be very mundane.  So, how do we notice the differences without making automatic assumptions?  I think it has to do with relationships.  It has to do with a smile, a kind word, a question asked which conveys that another’s opinion matters.

I have a nephew who is Black.  Yes, I notice the color of his skin.  It is beautiful.  An ebony color that makes his face so very handsome.  And the contrast of that dark skin against his white teeth.  Wow.  Yes, I notice the color of his skin.  But that is not a bad thing.  I know him.  I have a relationship with him.  When I think of him, yes, I think of the color of his skin.  But I also think of his courage, his perseverance, his intelligence, and his sense of humor.

I have two children who are Asian.  Yes, I notice the color of their skin.  It is smooth and dark with the perfect hint of yellow.  I love their skin.  Sometimes I just stare at their arms and legs, amazed at that perfect skin.  Yes, I notice that their skin and eyes and hair are very different than mine.  And I love that difference.  I would not want them to look any other way.  Because that is how God created them, that is what makes them, them.  My relationship with them allows me to see them—and all their differences—and love them.  They are mine.  I don’t love them in spite of their differences.  I love their differences.

I have dear friends who are Hispanic.  I love their culture.  They are strong and hard working and kind. After I got through the initial hesitant smiles as they endured my low-level Spanish, I found true friends.  I have been invited to their weddings and birthday parties and get-togethers with hot tamales and arroz con pollo, and I have loved each event.  They celebrate differently than I do.  They look different than me.  They are different than me.  But I love who they are.  If they were more like me, they would not be them.  It is my relationship with them that allows me to love and accept all the ways we are different.  And I believe they feel the same about me.

The rest of my family are Caucasian.  Some have olive skin that tans well and of which I am often envious. They have dark brown eyes that shine when they smile.  The rest of us are spotted with freckles and have lighter hair and lighter eyes, which also shine when we smile.  It is who we are.  I am white woman whose roots are can be traced to England and Scotland.  I love Downtown Abbey and Jane Austin novels.  It is who I am.  I don’t want to be different—not because I am better than someone else, but because it is me—it is how God created me.

I think the problem is not a Black/White problem.  The problem is a relationship problem.  If we take the time and make the effort to begin relationships with those who are different, our views will become different—softened, more understanding, accepting.

My point is, let’s make the effort to get to know each other.  Let’s don’t make assumptions about each other.  Yes, sometimes our story involves memories that make it hard to not make assumptions.  We have been wronged and we have wronged.  We all have.  But can we forgive?  Can we pull up the roots of bitterness and keep trying?  I believe we can.  I believe we must.