Sunday, May 22, 2011

Storyline: Queen Esther, #3

When we left Queen Esther last, she had called her people to a fast.  While she waited on the Lord, God stepped in to 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," put in Esther, and you could just as easily have her testimony.

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...

Do you wonder what went on in her husband's mind?  Think 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. Obviously realizing something was wrong, Xerxes asked what troubled his Queen enough 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 "waiting on the Lord," not only gave her strength, but gave her a clear plan, and patience (something I lack).  So, she invited her King to a feast (ah, yes, another banquet), 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 faith...she knew the voice of her beloved.  That kind of listening doesn't just is developed over time.  It takes other times, lots of 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...

Monday, May 16, 2011

Storyline: Queen Esther, #2

We aren’t born with courage.  We can’t search for it, or find it hidden somewhere in the grass like an Easter egg.  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 heard 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 in chapter 4.  To 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, “...gather all the Jews to be found, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day.  I and my young women will also fast as you do.  Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” (4:12-17)

It’s one thing to speak courageous words; it’s another to follow up on them.  Someone has said that courage is not an absence of fear; rather, courage is the absence of self.  Esther must have heard that definition, as well.  She knows she will be absolutely unable to do what she is being asked in and of herself.  In fact, if it’s left up to her, there’s no way she would make an attempt to go to the king!  So, Esther knows she must empty herself of self in order to serve her people selflessly.  So, Esther fasts...and asks that of every Jew in the country.  God-centered fasting is exactly what Esther needed!  Jesus said to his disciples, “When you fast... (Matt 6:16)” – not if you fast, but when you fast!  Fasting has always been an exercise to remind us of the control we like to have over our own lives, and as we relinquish that control, we open ourselves up to the Lord for his filling, his perspective, his guidance, and, of course, his protection.  Fasting always has a purpose in mind – but we must be careful not to elevate our purpose over God’s.  Fasting is a sign of our hungry hearts for God himself – more of him, less of me.  As Esther fasted, God gave her a clear plan and courage for the hour was born.

Got courage?  You don’t need more of you...just more of God...trying fasting! You won’t ever find a complete absence of fear, but what you lose will give you great gain!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Storyline: Queen Esther, #1

As I begin to write about Esther, one phrase stands out to me (used three times), which I’d like to settle on in today’s thought.  First let’s see that phrase 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 grabbed my attention.  In the Hebrew text, it literally reads “She lifted up grace (also be translated kindness, or pleasantness) before his face.”  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 this, 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.  Esther didn’t respond as I would.  There in this unfamiliar world, she looked her difficulty in the face, and smiled.  She 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.  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.  She lived the quote: “Pain is inevitable; but, misery is optional.”
What else can I say?  Not much.  Esther was a godly woman of virtue, who lived a life of grace in the face of adversity.  May I so rest in the sovereign goodness of God, that my life follows her example! 

Monday, May 2, 2011

Storyline: Queen Vashti

In my mind, it’s time to start winding down the theme of “Storyline” and move on, but I have wanted, yet waited, to share some thoughts on my favorite heroine of the Word – Esther.  My hesitation comes because of thorough and excellent Bible Studies that are available.  I certainly can’t do Queen Esther the justice of these comprehensive works.  At the same time I don’t want to ignore her, so we’ll highlight just a few scenes from her world over the next few weeks.

Of course, we can’t begin a look at Esther, without a glance at her predecessor, Queen Vashti.   In every way this woman belonged on the throne.  The granddaughter of King Nebuchadnezzar, Vashti was born to royalty; and, by the same token, royalty flowed in her blood.  Undoubtedly, she was also chosen to be Xerxes queen, by beauty, for we read that she was so lovely to look at the King desired to display her  beauty (Esther 1:11).  Vashti was no fairy tale princess; she was the real deal.  Little girls daydreamed being her.  Little boys grew up looking for their version of Vashti, always marrying slightly short of the perfection.  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 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 where 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.”  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.  She was the queen!  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: exit Vashti, eventually enter 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 anywhere in the 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); 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.  When my dignity threatens to be eliminated, by choice, I eliminate myself.

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)."

When my dignity threatens to be eliminated...I eliminate myself.