Thursday, May 19, 2022

Who Do You Say I Am? Why Does It Matter?

Last January, as I sat contemplating a "word" from the Lord on which to focus in 2022, nothing seemed to register with me.  

I tried on different words like one might try on a new outfit for purchase at a favorite clothing store, but "notta"...nothing seemed quite right.

At the same time, it seemed like one little prefix kept presenting itself...

A simple little syllable that precedes a variety of different words.

Two little letters that, when squished together, mean: to do again,  or, to go back and do over that which you did in the beginning…” 

NOT,


Because you weren’t doing it right…but for the purposes of doing “better”…or “perfecting”….or, my personal favorite, for the purpose of “MATURING…”



So, since the beginning of 2022, I zeroed in on "RE:"


Re-reading some meaningful books from years back, from authors who've inspired me along the way in ministry.


Re-visiting our ministry mission statement and why we do what we do.


Re-organizing old files...


Re-learning old lessons...


Re-evaluating...


Re-investing...


And, even some re-writing...


So, it is with this next series I'll be posting week-to-week on this blog site. 


It's a series, I started working on 11 years ago this month. 


(Back then, I still served as Dean of Women at Arizona Christian University...)


This series, I soon recognized as crucial for walking college women through a concrete understanding of their identity in Jesus...and, it's true for all of us: adults, college students, teens: 


until we know our Savior up-close and personal, we can't truly live out our identity in Christ. 


Out of who He is...I am.


So, over the next few weeks, my goal is to re-engage with just who Jesus says He is...and, with this, dig into the "I am" statements from the gospels. 



I have to admit, beginning a series, such as the one on which I'm about to embark, feels much like preparing to explore some deep oceanic waters.  



Don’t get me wrong, I love the ocean, having been raised in a little sea-side community.  


To this day, no place on earth brings me more of a sense of peace than sitting on a sandy shore.  


However, to be honest, I have a healthy fear of deep water.  


The vastness and dark depths overwhelm me and, sometimes, panic sets into my soul.  



So, this is a bit how I feel in regards to submerging myself into the “I Am” statements of Jesus (overwhelmed by the limitlessness).  

              

On the other hand, if I don’t truly know Him, I won’t trust Him.  
If I don’t know Him, I won’t believe what He tells me.  
If I don’t know Him, I can’t really love Him; and, it is love that drives out all fear (1 John 4:18).  
Knowing is the hinge on which everything turns in regards to the Christian journey.  
 Recently, as I’ve saturated myself in the Psalms (particularly the ones King David wrote), I’ve noticed a pattern (simply read one Psalm a day for the next month and I think you’ll see the same pattern).  
I love this man’s honesty – he shamelessly pours out the mess of his heart to God. 
He's familiar with lament...and does it well! 
Sometimes, he brutally accuses his Lord.  
Then, David starts talking to himself.  He reminds himself just who his God is and how faithful his God has been.  
Before you realize that David has placed a period at the end of a sentence, he’s going off in praise.  
His attitude has changed and you read the words of a confident, courageous, content man (who is able to sleep in peace in spite of his situation).  
Confident, courageous, content...In this fashion, I want to be just like David; and, intimately knowing the Lord is the key!
So while sandy beaches are safe, the real beauty is beneath the surface of the water – out in the scary depths of the sea.  
I might need a little practice learning to breathe (maybe in my bathtub first), but I’m ready to go diving!  

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Final, Concluding Thought on My Story Matters...

Time to wrap up this idea of "MY STORY MATTERS!"  

As we say our farewells to some remarkable women from the Word, I want to recap what I’ve learned as I’ve pondered the stories of these amazing ladies...


·    Their stories are true stories – as sure as I live, so did they.  What they came through is a reminder that there is a season to everything I go through.


·    Their stories are stories of God’s grace at work...a reminder that God's grace is at work in my story, as well.


·    In each of their stories – God reveals His love in a myriad of ways:
Their stories remind me that He loves me no matter what I’ve done...
Their stories remind me that He could not love me more and He will never love me less.
God loves me, even though He knows me well, inside and out...


·    In each of their stories, these women are the focus of God, the center of His attention.  He celebrates their lives! The same is true of my story.  I am the focus of His attention...I am His celebration. Imagine!  God throws a party in heaven and, one day, I will be the guest of honor!


Write this final thought down in your Bible; and make this your final prayer!

I am a line in God’s story.  
May all that I write with my life bring Him glory!

Now...let’s start sharing our God-stories.  

They are an essential part of our community of believers. 

If nothing else, from these women I’ve learned that stories build our faith!  

THINK ABOUT THIS: 
My story...your story...these will increase someone else’s capacity to believe God.


Consequently, faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God – the stories of God at work!  
Romans 10:17

Thursday, May 5, 2022

My Story Matters: Esther #4 (conclusion)

No matter the translation in which I read Esther 9:1, I find myself getting goose bumps.  

Read this verse, written out below, in several different versions:

The order the king had commanded was to be done on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar.  That was the day the enemies of the Jewish people had hoped to defeat them, but that was changed (NCV).
Now in the twelfth month (that is, the month of Adar), on the thirteenth day when the king’s command and edict were about to be executed, on the day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the master over them, it was turned to the contrary…(NASB)
The thirteenth day of Adar came, the day on which the royal proclamation was to take effect, the day when the enemies of the Jews were hoping to take effect, the day when the enemies of the Jews were hoping to get them in their power.  But instead, the Jews triumphed over them (GNT).
On the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, the king’s order came into effect.  This was the very day that the enemies of the Jews had planned to overpower them, but the tables were now turned (MSG).
Four translations should suffice.  
Did you feel it?  Did you sense the relief?  Hear the sighs?  Experience the joy?  Taste the sweetness of the words, “but the tables were turned…all that was changed…but instead…it was turned to the contrary?”  
There would be no chapter 9, verse 1, except for an insignificant orphan girl from a defeated country, named Esther.  
I hope that sinks into the very depths of your soul.  
Esther had no great qualities – she was simply God’s girl, in God’s place, during God’s time, fulfilling God’s dream for God’s people.  
There was a need.  
Esther stepped down (in humility), stepped up (in prayer and fasting), stepped out (of herself), and stepped forward (with courage).  
As a result, everything changed.  
The enemy was defeated.  
Salvation was delivered.  
Celebration was proclaimed.
We often find ourselves in situations where the tables need turning – wrongs need to be made right, children need to be protected, the unborn need to be fought for, the values we hold dear need to be embraced, marriages need help, and enemies need to be eliminated.  
Sometimes those things that we are most passionate about are the very things that God puts in front of our eyes so that we might be the one to stand in the gap.  
We might be His woman. or His guy.  
He might have us in this place, during this time, to fulfill his dream for His people in our day.  
He doesn’t ever seem to use those who are qualified.  
He only seems to use those who are available, surrendered, and willing to set self aside.  
Will that be me?  Oh, I pray so!  
I pray I’m trained to hear His sweet soft voice calling me forth.  
Will that be you? 


Thursday, April 28, 2022

My Story Matters: Queen Esther #3

 

When we left Queen Esther last week, she had called her people to a fast.  

As she waited on the Lord, God stepped in with an answer.  

No doubt, He helped to do exactly what He promised Isaiah years before:  

They that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles. They will walk and not grow weary; they will run and not faint (40:31). 

Not too many verses later, Isaiah gives another promise:  

But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (41:9-10).  

Take out "Israel/Jacob," add the name of Esther, and you could just as easily have her testimony....and, possibly mine/yours...

Strengthened, Esther stood before the King. 

I'm sure she, along with everyone in the room, held their breath. 


This was certain death for Esther...unless...

Well, unless:
GRACE was extended.

Do you wonder what went through her husband's mind?  

I wonder if he might have been remembering another time, another place, another queen...but one who refused to come into his presence?  

Whatever he was thinking, his processing led him to extend the scepter. 

GRACE was extended.


Obviously realizing something was wrong, Xerxes asked what troubled his Queen enough that she'd risk her life to come to him unbidden.  

Here was Esther's moment... Here is where I would have poured forth the whole bloomin' story...I wouldn't have wasted a minute.  You don't have to ask me twice, but, not so with Esther.  

Her time of "waiting on the Lord," not only gave her strength, but gave her a clear plan, and patience (something I lack).  

So, she invited King Xerxes to a feast, along with evil Haman - two meals over a two day period.  

I have to ask myself, why?  Why wait?  

The only reason I can feasibly come up with is that the ears of Esther's heart were sensitive to the voice of her true King.  

I think I know this because of what happens in the interlude.  

God used the waiting to remind Xerxes he'd done nothing to honor Mordecai for saving his life, and it forced Haman to eat a little humble pie, and build the gallows for his own hanging (even though he thought it was for Mordecai). 

So, this brings us to yet another aspect of Esther's story of faith...she knew the voice of her Beloved (the Lord).  


That kind of listening doesn't just happen...it is developed over time.  

It takes other times, lots of times, consistent times of solitude and silence to hear that sweet, still small voice.  

As a result, Esther walked in patience, grace, and confidence, and didn't rush ahead of God.  

Oh, my!  Can you say, "convicted?"

Lord, may I spend enough time in your presence that I pick your voice over all the others clamoring for my attention.  I so want to not run ahead of you, but move gracefully and patiently forward one step at a time, especially, Lord when crucial conversations are at stake...

Thursday, April 21, 2022

My Story Matters: Queen Esther, Part 2 (Her Secret Weapon)

Since January, I've been reading books written by, and about, several women of great faith. 

All of them, women who have "gone before" - most of them missionaries - whose compelling virtue was to speak the Word of God to people who needed to hear!

Women, who lived in the early to mid 1900's, a generation apart from us.

A generation often awarded the title, "The Greatest Generation"; and, I now know why.

If there is one outstanding lesson gained by looking into their lives it is this: 

They made it through great difficulty because each held to a solid theology of suffering. 

Our world today is poignantly lacking a solid theology of suffering.

A verse popped up this week in the Daily Light (a little volume of compiled verses, first published in 1794, that each woman held in common): 

"Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)."

These gals sought and found their courage to live amidst incredible hardship in the God of EVERLASTING COMFORT AND GOOD HOPE & He, then, in turn, gave them COURAGE!

You and I aren’t born with courage.  

We can’t search for it, or find it hidden somewhere in the grass like last week's Easter eggs.  

Courage can be developed and lost again.  

It’s as elusive as a cloud on a windy day.  

When we most need courage, for certain that’s when we won’t have it. 

 I’m as certain as I am of the sun going down this evening, that Esther didn’t have any the day she learned the reason why her uncle was wailing in the city gates, dressed in sackcloth, and pouring ashes over his head.  


A number of things transpired between Esther’s crowning and her courageous stand before the King.  I will quickly summarize:  
  • Mordecai uncovered a plot to kill King Xerxes
  • He wasn’t honored (not even a pat on the back) – but that served God’s purposes
  • Haman the Agagite was promoted to a high ranking position – like Vice President or Majority Leader
  • Haman wanted everyone to bow to him
  • Mordecai would not
  • Haman plotted to kill Mordecai by virtue of killing off Mordecai’s entire race (this was an act of revenge for his great-great-great-great grandfather – a long story)
The king signed Haman’s plot with his irreversible signature, which meant this was a done deal, and this is why Esther find’s Mordecai wailing in the city gates.  


Through a messenger, Mordecai unfolds the bad news to his niece, and cryptically confides in her these challenging words:  

“Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews.  For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish.  And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”  


The words hit a home run in Esther’s heart, and she responded

Thursday, April 14, 2022

My Story Matters: Queen Esther, Part 1

 

As I begin to write about Esther, one phrase stands out to me in the early part of her story. These words are used three times, in which we are told Esther "won the favor of the King."  Here's where I’d like to settle today, as it says a lot about the woman and her story.  Let's read that statement in context:

When the king’s order and his edict were proclaimed, and when many young women were gathered in Susa the citadel in custody of Hegai, Esther was taken into the king’s palace and put in custody of Hegai, who had charge of the women.  And the young woman pleased him and won his favor… (2:8-9).
When the time came for Esther the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had taken her as his own daughter , to go in to the king, she asked for nothing except what Hegai the king’s eunuch, who had charge of the women, advised.  Now Esther was winning favor in the eyes of all who saw her. (2:15)
The king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. (2:17) Emphasis Mine.
There are so many characteristics to comment on regarding the woman, Esther (who couldn’t have been even 20 years old), yet this one phrase printed in bold can't be overlooked. 
In the Hebrew text, it literally reads 
“She lifted up grace before his face.”  
Grace could also be translated kindness, or pleasantness..
We’re talking about a woman who had been ‘carried away’ (2:2-3, 6) – first from her homeland, her culture, and, then, ultimately, from her only remaining family.  
Not only did these hardships occur, but she was removed from her religious upbringing and placed in a heathen court that emphasized nothing but worldliness:  power, prestige, prettiness, and seductive persuasion.   
When the Scripture talks about being taken away, the word used refers to a forced movement.  
She may have gone willingly, trusting in God’s sovereignty, but with each transition, she found herself in a place that was uncomfortable, difficult, and painful.  
There, in this unfamiliar world, she looked her difficulty in the face, and smiled.  
Esther kept her composure, and she treated everyone around her with a pleasant kindness that turned their heads, and caused them to respond to her with respect, admiration, and love.  
She "won their favor..."
Whining and complaining were not in her vocabulary.  
Anger, bitterness, and unforgiveness were absent from her heart.  
Seduction and people pleasing were games she did not play.  
Self-centeredness and competition were far removed from her mind. 
Gotta tell ya, I'm no Esther... 
She lived this quote: 
“Pain is inevitable; but, misery is optional.”

What else can I say about Esther?  
Well, that's challenge enough for me today... 
Esther was a godly woman of virtue, who lived a life of grace in the face of adversity.  
She made friends with her difficulties and the unasked for turn-of-events throughout her life...
In hardship, she lifted up her face in pleasantness...and smiled at the future to come...a true Proverbs 31 gal!
Esther knew how to rest in the Providential, Sovereign hands of her God...
May I, also, learn to rest in the same Goodness of God, so that my life might follow her example of faith! 

Thursday, April 7, 2022

My Story Matters: Queen Vashti

I've enjoyed reviewing some of the stories of significant women of the Bible over the last 30 weeks (30 weeks!!!! I had no idea). 

But, I'm thinking it's time to start winding down this series I've based on the theme, "My story matters." And, so over the next month, I'll zero in on Queen Esther...and, then, bring this to a close.

Of course, we can’t begin a look at Esther, without a glance at her predecessor, Queen Vashti (Esther 1).   

From what I read, in every way this woman belonged on the throne.  

As the granddaughter of King Nebuchadnezzar, Vashti was born into a royal family; and, by the same token, royalty flowed in her blood - it was in her DNA.  

Undoubtedly, she was also chosen to be Xerxes queen, because of her striking beauty, for we read that she was so lovely to look at the King "desired to display her" at a political party he was hosting (Esther 1:11).  

Vashti was no fairy tale, Disney princess; she was the real deal.  

Little girls daydreamed being her; and, little boys grew up looking for their version of Vashti, always marrying slightly short of the perfection that was their ideal.  

AND, because she was royalty by birth, blood, and beauty, Vashti confidently lived a life of quiet dignity.  

She was who she was and this fact was indisputable...

Yet, this is also where her trouble began and ended.  


There came a time, when (as already mentioned) her pompous husband, decided it was time to show off his greatness.  

Boastfully (and narcissistically), he paraded his great wealth, and all he possessed, for a full 180 days.  

Can you imagine having to attend 180 days of parades? 

The thought is appalling to me...but, essentially, that is what he did.  

At the end of the 180 days, he held a 7-day banquet. 

The wine ran freely into golden goblets, where it did not stay.  

In his drunken state, Xerxes realized that he had not revealed his most prized possession, his glorious wife.  

So, he commanded her presence - “in her crown.”  


Now then: It’s been debated as to whether that was all he wanted her to wear, or whether she was to appear with the splendiferous crown as part of the full attire, but it doesn’t matter.  

What matters is that Vashti was no object to be displayed.  

Vashti was the queen - and as such, to be respected and honored. 

Her response was brief and matter of fact, and the attendants had to deliver said response, undoubtedly quivering in their sandals, “Queen Vashti refuses to come.”  


End result after excruciating debates: exit Vashti, and, eventually enter a lovely Jewish girl, who came from a conquered refugee family, Esther.  


Behind the scenes, God was setting the stage for His woman to be in the place where He needed her as a part of His sovereign plan (although we never read this summary anywhere in the entire book).

Yet, there is a marvelous lesson to learn from Queen Vashti.  

As a believer in Christ, I am royalty by birth (I have been born into the Kingdom of God); I am royalty by blood (the blood of Christ shed for me on Calvary); I am royalty by beauty (the King delights in my beauty, Ps. 45:11); and I am the bride of the King of Kings!  


Like Vashti, I am to be envied, but not taken advantage of; I am a valuable vessel of honor, but not a “thing” of possession; I am a woman of submission to authority, but not a doormat to be walked over.  

I live who I am by virtue of my inheritance and my position, in dignity, yet there are times when “NO” is a part of my vocabulary.  

This, my sisters-in-Christ, is a fine line, yet many women do not know where it is drawn.  

Vashti led the way, and teaches us still, that wives are to be highly prized, not handled possessions.  

I love what Chuck Swindoll says in his book, entitled, Esther.  

"Submission does not mean that a wife is a sexual pawn in the carnal desires of her husband.  It was never God's design that a wife submit to her husband's evil desires.  In Xerxes case, this took the form of desiring to display her before those who would have nothing in mind but lust.  What he asked for was not submission; it was sexual slavery (pg. 27)."

Vashti's lesson to us all: When my dignity threatens to be eliminated...I eliminate myself.