Thursday, July 26, 2018

Becoming Friends With Difficulty & Finding Hope; or, When We Are Esther...

I'm glad I sit on this side of Queen Esther's story.

As I've read through the book multiple times now, and digested a couple of commentaries, I can't tell you how thankful I am to not be Queen Esther.

I can hardly wrap my mind around the position in which she was placed; the decisions she had to make; the courage with which it took to step-up and be a voice; or, the wisdom she needed to cautiously take each and every step!

Example: when the King extended his scepter to her, and asked her what she wanted, then told her he'd offer her up to half the Kingdom --- what made her hold her tongue and only invite the King and Haman to a meal? At dinner, what drove her decisive response to invite them a second time and not speak up immediately?

I'd have been a blithering mess at the moment I touched the end of the scepter...spilling my guts immediately.

Not this woman.

Esther calmly, with her royal head held high, approached the King.

She came with a plan...or, rather, she came with the Spirit of the Lord whispering His plan in her ear, and enough assurance in her soul to hear those whispers in spite of the magnification of her heart-beat pounding in her ears.

On this side of Esther's story, we relish in seeing God's victorious Providence work itself out.

Knowing what we know, we rest peacefully as we read the words of this small book, knowing the outcome; and knowing God, in spite of the lack of evidence, drove the sequence of events.

Yes, we are fully aware, God's hand was in the glove of every unfolding scene.

Esther, on the other hand, didn't have a crystal ball to see how Providence would play itself out.

It's evident to me, as I read (and, in spite of what one author has written) that Esther had faith. She knew God. She knew His promises. I believe she petitioned Him on behalf of the promise that He had covenanted to His people, through Abraham:

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Genesis 12:1-3

Or, maybe this one from Isaiah (54:17)

No weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed,
and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord
and their vindication from me, declares the Lord.

We are not unlike Esther, you and I.

When in the middle of HARD, we do not know how Providence will play itself out...

There is no crystal ball for us, either, to look ahead and see what God might do...

When we have to step into the hallway and present ourselves to the King, we don't have a clue whether or not the scepter of grace will be extended to us in the manner we hope...

When consumed with the need to make a decision, our elevated heart beat drowns out that still small voice of the Spirit...

When we are "Esther," what steps do we take until God brings His Story in us to a conclusion?

Esther shows us how to be "Esther," when life is out of control.

She fasts.

Of course, implied in fasting is praying.

The most important thing we can do when hope is waning, God seems silently missing, and, life just heaps one stone of disaster upon another is to seek the Lord's direction through prayer and fasting. 

Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, 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.” Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.
Esther 4:15-17

Big issues.
Great difficulty.
Immense trials.
Stubborn HARD.
Where-is-God-in-my-life questions.
No-light-at-the-end-of-the-dark-tunnel times.

All of these go better with a fast. 

But, but, but.... 

I can think of a million reasons why I can excuse away fasting, because it is so HARD.

Truth is that the bigger the difficulty, the more I need God's direction; the harder my situation, the more I need to meet it head on with hard-sacrifice. 

It's not easy.

Yet, look at the outcome for Esther:

* She came prepared...

* She entered with her head high, dressed as the Royal Queen she was, not a poverty-stricken, condemned Jewish girl...

* She came hearing the whispers of the Spirit...

* She came in tune with God's heart...

* She entered into the presence of her husband with calm assurance...

* She met trouble head on...

* Most of all, when Esther first responded to Mordecai with these words, "And if I perish, I perish..." they were spoken with an air of resignation; but, by the time she stood before King Xerxes, those words weren't spoken in resignation, but with firm reconciliation.

There is a huge difference between the two (ponder that this week).

I never want to play the martyr.

I want to become friends with every hard challenge I face.

When I do; IF I DO...I also begin to see that light at the end of the tunnel I'm seeking...

...I find HOPE!

Think on it...

Next week, we'll explore this idea a little more....

Thursday, July 19, 2018

What is Providence? How Will it Change Hope When I Hurt?


I ended last week's blog with this quote by B.B. Warfield, a former professor of theology at Princeton (1887 to 1921) - He looks smart, right? Look at the words again, in large print 😆:

A firm faith in the universal providence of God is the solution of all earthly troubles.

I randomly found this message as I was doing some research. At first, I thought it a bit audacious.  Providence, linked with this phrase: Solution to "ALL" earthly troubles. How could he say this? Yet, the more I thought about it, the more it dawned...the two really do go hand in hand. 

Mr. Warfield must have studied the life of Esther. 

If there is one underlying current in Esther's story, it's this:

When life hurts, and God seems MIA, He is not!
God is ALWAYS silently standing in the shadows, working all things according to His plan that will not be thwarted.

That would be my definition of PROVIDENCE.

It's an old-fashioned word, is it not?  That's because it is. It's from a 14th century French word, and most dictionaries give providence this meaning: 

Another theologian, J. Vernon McGee, gave this definition (I rather liked it):


Someone else weighed in: "Providence - God making great doors swing on little hinges."  

Of course, in its most simplistic meaning, it is purely: God providing for His people.

That's the central, core-theme of Esther.

We don't see God's hand.

We don't hear God's voice.

There are no prophets to give guidance, or to speak a word from the Lord. No priests. No spiritual leaders. Not even a donkey. 😀

To get the lessons from Esther's life, we have to read carefully, and, between the lines. 

On the surface, the series of events seems to be a sequence of coincidences. 

We know differently.

Someone else has said that there are no coincidences in life, only God-incidences.

Every detail, from Vashti's refusal to come before the King, to a beauty pageant, to Mordecai's uncovering of a plot to kill the King, to Haman's evil manipulation, all the way to the salvation of a people group, had been ordained by God. 

Nothing was accidental.

There was no "uh, oh," because God never says, "Oops!" He never says, "My bad!"

We must always hold, at the forefront of our brains, that God sees the there and then, while we are in the here and now. He's seen everything before it has occurred, and prepared and planned, from the beginning of time. 

Our finite little minds can hardly fathom it. 

The Lord God knew He would need to raise up a woman between the years of 486 - 465 BC to be in the courts of Xerxes -- a woman He could trust -- a woman who might sway the heart of a ruthless, violent, ambitious ruler, and jealous lover. God chose Esther.

Why? She was beautiful; by birth she was of royal blood (the line of King Saul); by nature she was obedient and kind. Esther (whose Persian name meant star - see below) was all these things...and more. 

Again, reading between the lines, Esther's character was exactly what God could use. She was a woman of courage (yet not without fear), extraordinarily calm, and held to deep convictions. Who better to move into the court "for such a time as this." In spite of her tragic past, Esther shows us that trust in the Providence of God can help us overcome the vicious cycle that sometimes occurs when one has become a VICTIM of TROUBLE...

If...and it's a big the middle of life's difficulties, we can trust in the Sovereign Rule and Providential Care of the Almighty, we'll never lack for HOPE. We'll never lack for PATIENCE. We'll always see, even if it's ever-so-dim, a LIGHT at the end of the tunnel, assuring us that ALL THINGS DO, INDEED, WORK TOGETHER FOR GOOD to those who love the Lord. 

If we trust in God's Providence, we will surely be able to rest in the knowledge that there will come a time when God, Himself, will unwrap the solution for every earthly trouble.

Providential Certainty = Unending Hope

Thursday, July 12, 2018

New Lessons I Didn't Know I Needed on Hope

It's so easy to put words on paper....or, in my case, on a computer screen.

Thus far, I have 27 blogs on one word: HOPE. I try to stick to an unspoken rule of writing between 800 and 1000 words for each blog (this is the guideline that is set for most op-ed newspaper columnists). That makes approximately 27,000 written words on one topic.

Oh, it's taken various turns, but each step of the way, hope has been the banner under which each written word hovers.  

You'd think that by now, more than half-way through 2018, I would have mastered this topic. You'd think that all the note-taking, researching, summarizing, praying, sermon-gathering-and-listening I've done would have made me somewhat of an expert on dispensing hope to myself and others. 

This was my goal back on January 1: to become a hope dispenser...a light-giver in a dark-world.

Then, there was this conversation with a friend…

Life has been a series of hardships.

One after another.

No let ups.

No opportunities to take a long deep breath.

No resting.

One difficulty has spiraled straight into another one.

My friend had questions.

I had words of response; but, in my mind, they fell short.
Words often do.

So, I listened more and talked less.

It seemed like all I  had to offer were cliches, slogans, and Christianese-language, instead of life-giving, hope-dispensing HELP. 

Hope, without practical help, is just "vanity...a chasing after the wind," according to King Solomon.

Oh, I could have talked about how to fill the hope bank; I could have waxed fairly eloquent about God's good promises and His faithfulness; I could have conjured up truths about finding one's way out of the darkness and the resulting bitterness...but, those wouldn’t have solved the current struggle, and the desperation that comes with TIRED...

Obviously, there is still more to learn about hope-dispensing…

I began to question: Aren’t there biblical examples of men, or women, who found HOPE when there seemed to be nothing left? Is there not a model to follow when God’s good promises seem to be falling flat, and frankly, He does not seem to be holding up His end of the bargain? Where do we turn when God seems silent? When He seems particularly absent?

But, of course, there is a biblical account of an absent, silent God! It’s found in a book that bears the name of a woman, a queen, in fact, named Esther. It’s the story of a God whose name doesn’t even appear in the book. 

Esther had her share of problems. She may have had the title “Queen” attached to her name, but in reality it meant nothing. Even queens had no rights in those days of Middle-Eastern culture, certainly not in the world of the Medes and Persians. Esther was simply the King’s possession - charged with doing his bidding, to be available as he called…or face exile (there was one other queen before Esther, named Vashti…)

This is what we know about Esther - She was:

      * Taken captive as a young girl.

     * Orphaned and raised by a cousin, just a bit older, named Mordecai.

     * Forced to live, learn and befriend in an unfamiliar world with unfamiliar language & customs

     * Raised among a people who held strongly to anti-semitic views. 

     * Taught that in order to survive, she had to be a secret-service-Jew, and hide her heritage. 

     * Strongly encouraged to change her name to a more Persian-sounding-name…

     * Stripped of her dreams…most likely, as any young woman, Esther longed to marry, to have a family, to gain back all she had lost. All those dreams died, when she was “chosen” to enter a beauty pageant, ultimately crowning her Queen. 

Enter, Haman, a man of greed, consumed with power. When Mordecai refused to bow to Haman, an age-old grudge was re-fueled, and all Haman saw was “pay back.” He orchestrated an unbreakable law that all Jews would be annihilated in a mass-killing on one particular day: all Israelites (!) from an empire that stretched from India, all the way across Asia, down through the fertile crescent to the Mediterranean (including parts of Europe, all of Asia Minor, to Egypt, and Ethiopia) - some have estimated as many as 15 million Jews…not excluding Esther. 

Now, the hope of millions, rested in the hands of one powerless, young woman. 

     * Where was God? 

     * What about His promises to a chosen people?

     * What more could one girl handle?

     * Where does one find hope, when it seems all the light has gone out?  

Esther holds a key to lessons I've unknowingly missed on HOPE. 

It’s a valuable lesson…a thread to cling to when God seems particularly silent, unheeding, and withdrawn. 

I plan to dig into Esther’s life for a few weeks to discover the mystery, and the answers, she wants us to find; and, I hope you’ll come along.

To end, I’ll leave you with just one word that is the essence of this mystery: 


Let's consider it’s meaning this week…

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Heaven: Am I Distracted and Lukewarm? And, Why Should I Care?

As I wind down my study on heaven, I have a simple observation.

The observation has led to a few questions.

First, the observation: 

As I’ve posted my blogs, turning my thoughts upward, the response to these thoughts has turned downward.

The amount of hits has lessened.

The comments are not as frequent.

The “likes” on social media have slightly altered.

The questions:

Is this indicative that in the midst of LIFE, the last thing we want to focus on is what comes after?

Is this proportionate to how frequently our thoughts turn to things above…significantly less than other things?

Are we, as believers, in general, living with more of a ho-hum-mindset where heaven is concerned?

Are we, not dissimilar to people living in a third-world-culture, less likely to look at what lies ahead as we make our decisions that will affect us in the now? 

Are our lives so focused on what we have to do TODAY, because TODAY is so full and chaotic,  that we can only think about putting one foot in front of the other, leaving no room for what may come down the road ahead?

Have we so bought into the idea of “carpe diem” (seize the day) that we forget there’s a tomorrow for which we ought to prepare?

Or, are we just completely disinterested, and whatever comes comes? We’ll just adjust to it when it happens…

I don’t have an answer to those questions, I’m just curious.

However, focusing on our “upward call in Christ Jesus” is at the foundation of Christianity…for many reasons.

As I’ve pondered this, a familiar passage keeps popping up, so I finally turned to it for specific reflection.

Let’s set the stage -  Jesus has been teaching his disciples in what we know as the “Sermon on the Mount.” Huge crowds have gathered, so many thousands that people were stepping on one another, and there was a growing fear that some could be trampled (Luke 12:1). Yet, Jesus continues to teach. He has just told his disciples not to fear what man might do to them on earth, but rather to place their “fear/awe” in the One who is in charge of what happens to them following LIFE… With this ringing in their ears, a lone voice calls out from the crowd… 

 “Teacher, (then) please tell my brother to divide our father’s estate with me.” (It doesn’t indicate it, but I can just hear the rest of the crowd start to chuckle at this man’s audacity…)

Jesus replied, “Friend, who made me a judge over you to decide such things as that?” (More snickering…)

 Then (Jesus) said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.”Then he told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!” “But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’ “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.”
Luke 12:13-21 (NLT)

What does this have to do with thoughts of heaven? Got to tell ya, I wondered myself, but here’s where I landed the plane…

On earth we live to exist. 

Yet, more than exist, we want to LIVE WELL…

We want to “get all we can, can all we get, then sit on the lid,” to coin a phrase…

Our mindset isn’t too far off from this rich man. Stay busy, busy, busy, to build up our kingdom, so that we can retire in ease.

Our mindset is on earthly-gain, earthly-ease, earthly-retirement, our earthly-future. 

It’s the world’s way, and the prince of the world, has made it look so desirable, that our minds are clouded to the fact that we aren’t of this world…heaven is our home!

If the devil can get our minds distracted on our temporary home, he wins.

This distraction is just enough:

    • to reduce our excitement about God’s Kingdom
    • to introduce the thought that this is all there is to life (so that we forget there is an AFTER LIFE)
    • to forget that the more important goal is not the wealth we gather, but the relationship with the Lord that we invest in (how sad to meet Him face-to-face and realize we don’t really know Him, because on earth we have not been invested in intimacy with Him)
    • to live for what really isn’t even ours in the end anyway (what we work for on earth is only “wood, hay, and stubble” and will simply “burn up” in the end - 1 Corinthians 3:11-13), instead of working for lasting treasure (Matthew 6:19-21)
    • to eliminate all hope…when our mindset is to live in the chaos of the NOW, when hardship comes, persisting in hope is gone (Romans 12:11-12)!

    All of this is just enough to leave us as lukewarm as a nice comfy soak in a bath tub sprinkled with lavender oil.

    So, I’m back where I started when I began to study HOPE. 

    Jesus is the rock on which all HOPE is built.

    HOPE is found in God’s good promises.

    God’s best promise is HEAVEN.

    To get our minds off of heaven is Satan’s goal.

    It leaves us right where that sneaky foe wants us: totally distracted, totally disengaged, totally lukewarm.

    So I echo Jesus’ words (they are always a good idea when it comes to dealing with our adversary):

    But (Jesus) turned and said…“Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
    Matthew 16:23 (ESV)

    Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.
    Colossians 3:2 (NLT)