Saturday, July 30, 2016

Esther 7:5-6 (ESV)

[5] Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has dared to do this?” [6] And Esther said, “A foe and enemy! This wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen.

Esther calls Haman, “A foe and an enemy.” Earlier, in Esther 3:10, Haman was called, “The enemy of the Jews.” The King is the one who signed the order for all the Jews to be destroyed, yet he is never called an enemy. That title is reserved for Haman. There are enemies of the church, and there are those whose actions may be destructive or divisive, but who are not deliberate enemies. Haman was a deliberate enemy of the Jews, Ahasuerus was not, although his decision had seemingly assured their destruction.

We would like to think that those in positions of authority, whether in politics, churches, or homes, are wise, loving, and godly. We would like to think that they are above being manipulated or used. We would like to think that they can see through the smoke screen of enemies to the truth. But the reality is that the highest leaders are just people. They are people with satisfaction, security and significance issues just like the rest of us. They are people with limited vision and partial perspective, just like everyone else. That is why wise counselors are so important. That is why a plurality of leadership is important. That is why humility and an attitude of service in leaders is invaluable. That is why Peter wrote these words about leadership:

1 Peter 5:1-3 (ESV)

[1] So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: [2] shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; [3] not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.

Whether you are leading a church, a ministry, a small group, or your family, these words are appropriate to consider. We are to carry out our leadership willingly, unselfishly, and humbly by example rather than coercion and control. We need to understand that we are easily susceptible to mistakes and misunderstandings, and be ready to admit when we are wrong. We need to listen well, and model what we teach.

For those following leaders, remember that bad decisions do not make leaders our enemies. Yes, there are enemies of the church, the gospel, and the family out there. But, we need to be careful not to label people as enemies when they make bad decisions. There are enemies. There are patsies. There are poor decisions made because of poor judgment. We have an Enemy who wants to destroy the work of God, but not everyone he uses is an enemy. Maybe that is why Jesus challenged us with these words:

Matthew 5:43-48 (ESV)

[43] “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ [44] But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, [45] so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. [46] For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? [47] And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? [48] You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Esther 7:7 (ESV)

And the king arose in his wrath from the wine-drinking and went into the palace garden, but Haman stayed to beg for his life from Queen Esther, for he saw that harm was determined against him by the king.

How that tables have turned! Two chapters earlier Haman left Esther’s first banquet joyful and glad of heart (Esther 5:9). What a difference a day makes. One day earlier Haman was at the top of the world. Now he is begging for his life. During the night Haman had gallows built to hang Mordecai. Now Haman is being hanged on those very same gallows after having to lead Mordecai through the streets of the city in honor. How quickly life can turn.

But this passage is not how fragile life is, nor about how fleeting, temporary, and fickle life’s experiences can be. This is about something more. It is about the foolishness of hoping in something temporal. It is about the shortsightedness of judging life from an earthly perspective. It is about the emptiness of pursuing personal fame and fortune. It is what Jesus was talking about when he said, No man can serve two masters (Mt 6:24). It is what he was referring to when he told the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day (Lk 16:19). But the rich man died, was buried, and found himself in a place of constant torment. It is what the Apostle Paul was talking about when he said,

Philippians 4:11b-13

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

It is what Paul was talking about when he wrote,

Philippians 1:18b-21 (ESV)

I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, [20] as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. [21] For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

This story of Haman and Mordecai is about perspective. It is about where we find meaning in life. It is about who we trust. It is about what we value in life. Haman was focused inwardly. His vision was filled with himself. His meaning in life was found from his circumstances. But that kind of existence is fleeting. Proverbs 31:30 says, Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Esther was that kind of woman. Mordecai was that kind of man, a man who feared the Lord rather than being taken by his own glory. Haman never learned that truth. It leads me to consider: What is my perspective? Who am I trusting? What kind of person am I? Am I an Esther, or a Mordecai, or am I another Haman?

Matthew 6:24-34 (ESV)

[24] “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

[25] “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? [26] Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? [27] And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? [28] And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, [29] yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. [30] But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? [31] Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ [32] For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. [33] But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

[34] “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Esther 6:12 (ESV)

[12] Then Mordecai returned to the king’s gate. But Haman hurried to his house, mourning and with his head covered.

What a contrast between Mordecai and Haman! Chapter 5 ends with Haman making plans for the death of Mordecai. He has already put plans in place for the destruction of the Jews, but he can’t wait for Mordecai. Haman’s ego has blinded him. Mordecai, on the other hand, has remained at the king’s gate to keep an eye on Esther, and he has been fasting on behalf of his people. Every word and every action of Haman has been about the ego of Haman. Every word and every action of Mordecai has been on behalf of others. He even spared the king’s life by revealing a plot he had overheard. Two men are contrasted in this book. One is all about self. The other is all about others. We have come to the turning point of the story.

It just so happened that the king couldn’t sleep that night. Haman is making plans for Mordecai’s demise. The King can’t sleep. Only Mordecai appears to have a good night. Because of the king’s insomnia he has someone read to him. In the reading he is reminded of how Mordecai saved his life. He decides to honor Mordecai. Haman just so happens to have come to speak with the king at that moment. There is no such thing as “it just so happened” in the economy of God. Though the name of God is never mentioned in Esther, the hand of God is clearly seen even in the “it just so happened” moments of the story.

Just as the reader of Esther is beginning to wonder where the story is going, there is a twist. Chapter 5 is a bit like a TV series season finale. We are left hanging, wondering… Will Esther actually ask the king to spare her people? How will the king respond if she does ask? What will Haman say? If God does deliver the Jews, will Mordecai survive long enough to see the deliverance? Then comes chapter 6 and the tables turn. Haman is humiliated. Mordecai is exalted. The stage is set for Esther’s request to the king.

This is where the story begins to turn. The man who has been sitting in sackcloth is clothed with the king’s robes. The man who sought no attention for himself has been paraded through the streets in honor, riding the king’s horse. The man who was enamored with his own greatness has been humiliated and mortified by having to exalt the very one he wanted to execute. The tables have turned.

It is significant that after Mordecai’s exaltation he went right back to the king’s gate. He could have gone to tell his buddies all about it. He could have sent a message to Esther bragging about his glory. He didn’t let it go to his head. He returned to what he had been doing. Haman, on the other hand, was mortified by what transpired. Mordecai had eyes on the bigger story. Haman had eyes on himself. He had yet to learn that life is not about him. In the midst of events of either pain or glory we tend to act as though that moment is everything. The pain causes us to believe that pain is all life will ever hold for us. The glory causes us to believe that nothing can ever go wrong again. In both cases we have our eyes on our circumstances when we should be looking to God behind the scenes. We don’t know how long the pain or the glory will last. We do know that God is working his purpose in our life, and we can to look to him in faith. It reminds me again of Hebrews 12:2a “Looking to (or keeping our eyes fixed on) Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.” Where are your eyes fixed today?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Esther 5:8-9 (ESV)

[8] If I have found favor in the sight of the king, and if it please the king to grant my wish and fulfill my request, let the king and Haman come to the feast that I will prepare for them, and tomorrow I will do as the king has said.”

[9] And Haman went out that day joyful and glad of heart. But when Haman saw Mordecai in the king’s gate, that he neither rose nor trembled before him, he was filled with wrath against Mordecai.

What an interesting contrast. Esther, whose life is hanging in the balance, shows great respect to the king and Haman. Haman, who has everything he could ever want, is devastated by the rejection of one insignificant man. What makes the difference? Esther entered the feast after having fasted for three days. Her focus was on God and his gracious power. Haman came into the feast thinking about himself. What he does when he goes home is eye-opening. He gathered all his friends and his wife and told them how great he was. Then he whined to them about Mordecai. I can just hear him, “Look at how great I am. Look at how much wealth I have. Look at how important I am to the king and his queen. There is nobody as great as I am, yet this Mordecai refuses to honor me. I can’t go on like this! What ever shall I do?”

Haman’s self-focus blinded him to all the good things in his life, robbed him of the pleasurable events in his life, and took him down a path that led to his demise. Esther, on the other hand, is focused on her people and her God. She acts graciously even in the presence of her enemy, Haman. She has accepted the truth of Paul’s words in Philippians 1:19-21:

[19] for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, [20] as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. [21] For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Her actions reflect Paul’s words in Philippians 4:10-13 (ESV)

[10] I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. [11] Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. [12] I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. [13] I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Esther had learned from her Uncle Mordecai what Haman, in all his glory, never understood. Life was not about her. When life is about us it leads us straight to Haman’s demise. We lose the joy of the pleasures God provides, and end up with a handful of dust. When life is about the One we serve we are able to enjoy the pleasures God brings our way, live in the peace of his sovereign care, and still be willing to lay our lives on the line for others with grace and dignity. Joy is not based on what we have or on what people think of us. What an amazing contrast between Esther and Haman. It raises the question in my mind: How will I choose to live? It reminds me again of the truth of Hebrews 12.

Hebrews 12:2, 11 (ESV)

[2] looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

[11] For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Father, train me in righteousness, whatever it takes. I prefer the peaceful fruit of righteousness over the destructive fruit of self-focus. I would rather be like Esther than like Haman.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Esther 5:1-2 (ESV)

[1] On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace, in front of the king’s quarters, while the king was sitting on his royal throne inside the throne room opposite the entrance to the palace. [2] And when the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, she won favor in his sight, and he held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand. Then Esther approached and touched the tip of the scepter.

Often when I pray I picture this scene in Esther. Esther fearfully and tentatively approaches the king’s quarters, standing in the inner court waiting to see if she will be invited in, or executed. Esther knew that approaching King Ahasuerus without being invited was dangerous. Persian kings had a chair set up high enough that it required a footstool. It was usually covered or inlaid with gold. From this chair the king carried out his official business. No one sat in the king’s chair except the king. No one approached the king’s chair without invitation. Persian kings always carried a long walking stick. It usually had a gold knob on one end. This was what the text refers to as his golden scepter. Esther stood outside the king’s room with her life in the balance, waiting and hoping for an invitation. Then she saw the invitation. She had gained the king’s favor. He extended his staff, inviting her to approach. She came, touching the tip of the scepter. She was invited to present her request.

When we approach God we are approaching a king far higher and greater than King Ahasuerus. I fear that we take prayer for granted. We flippantly refer to him. We quickly, and too often, thoughtlessly offer our prayers more out of habit than out of Esther’s desperation and utter dependence. Do we consider that approaching God is of greater consequence than Esther approaching Ahasuerus? Do we consider the proper response to approaching such a great God? “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Hab 2:20). The Israelites shook with fear. Ezekiel thought his life was over. John fell at his feet as though dead. We too often flippantly treat him as a buddy. Consider these scriptures:

Psalm 11:4

The LORD is in His holy temple; the LORD'S throne is in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men.

Micah 1:2

Hear, O peoples, all of you; Listen, O earth and all it contains, And let the Lord GOD be a witness against you, The Lord from His holy temple.

Zephaniah 1:7

Be silent before the Lord GOD! For the day of the LORD is near, For the LORD has prepared a sacrifice, He has consecrated His guests.

Zechariah 2:13

"Be silent, all flesh, before the LORD; for He is aroused from His holy habitation."

Approaching God is dangerous business. But here is the good news, we have already been invited to approach. Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” We don’t approach God flippantly. We don’t approach God glibly. He is not our bff. Yet, unlike Esther, we approach with confidence. We have received favor in the King’s sight. Even as we approach his outer chamber we realize that the scepter is already extended. Instead of a golden knob at the end of the scepter, we see a cross. Even as we fall on our face before him we realize the words he always speaks, “Fear not!” Esther approached the king with fear and trepidation. We approach the King of kings with overwhelming awe and wonder, but also with full acceptance because of the cross. May we never take that privilege for granted.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Esther 4:14 (ESV)

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?”

To say, “I am in this time and place for a special purpose,” sounds arrogant. We live in a strange time when children have been told that they are special and unique. They have been told that they can become anything they want to become. Yet once they are adults they are never to voice that idea aloud lest someone think them arrogant and self-centered. Perhaps the real problem is that we have come to believe that being in a special place and time for a special purpose somehow makes us special.

It is interesting that the verse above has a balancing idea to it. On the one hand Mordecai tells Esther that perhaps she is in a special time and place for a special purpose. On the other hand, he reminds her that God will accomplish his purpose with or without her. In other words, God had uniquely placed and prepared her for his purposes, but she is not indispensable. Too often we confuse those ideas. No one is indispensable to the purpose of God, yet every believer has a unique part to play in his plans and purposes.

What if Mordecai had not been there to instruct Esther? What if there had been no servant to carry messages back and forth? What if Esther had not been chosen as queen? Each of those individuals were placed in a unique place for a unique purpose. Yet none of them were indispensable. Not even Esther. “For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place.”

This is true in the church. Each person is called, gifted, and placed by the sovereign power of God. Too often we only see the obvious ones. Too often the only gifts we value are preaching, teaching, and music. Too often we neglect to see the crucial part others play in the Kingdom work of God. Yet Paul warned about this very thing in 1 Corinthians 12:14-20.

[14] For the body does not consist of one member but of many. [15] If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. [16] And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. [17] If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? [18] But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. [19] If all were a single member, where would the body be? [20] As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

Each of us are special, but none of us are indispensable to the purpose of God. What a challenging and freeing concept all in one. There is no fear that if I mess up, God’s eternal work is somehow hindered. On the other hand, there is an amazing challenge to play a unique part in the eternal purpose of God. There is something in me that says, “I don’t want to miss out! Count me in.” What is God calling you to do? You don’t have to be one of the “beautiful people” to be part of God’s plans and purposes. You only have to be available. We all need to embrace Esther’s response in Esther 4:16 (ESV)

“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.”

Are you willing to put your life on the line for the purposes of God no matter how things turn out? After all, it’s not about us. It’s about Him.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Esther 4:16 (ESV)

“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.”

In my previous posts on Esther I made reference to a call to prayer. The truth is, neither the word “God” nor a reference to prayer is ever made. Mordecai fasted. Esther asked the Jews to fast for three days. Esther and her attendants also fasted for three days. Fasting is so connected to prayer that I made the leap from fasting to prayer. Fasting is intricately connected to prayer. Fasting is a way to listen to God. Fasting is a physical act of prayer. Fasting is a form of intense prayer. It is not inappropriate to say that they were praying, but technically they were called to fast.

Matthew and Mark record a time early in Jesus’ ministry when he was asked about fasting. “And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast” (Mt 9:15 ESV). Fasting has not been a major part of my faith tradition, although I have fasted a number of times over the years. Jesus did not say that fasting would no longer be appropriate for the church. He just indicated that it was not appropriate when he was there with them. Acts 13 and 14 indicate that the early church practiced fasting in connection with ordaining people to ministry and appointing elders. Polycarp, one of the early church fathers, wrote to the church in Philippi about 150AD that they should be fasting in order to guard themselves against the temptation of false teachers. Fasting, then, is a part of our faith as believers in Jesus Christ.

It makes me wonder what would happen if, instead of the church calling for more delegates to caucuses and conventions and more involvement in the political process, we called for a nationwide fast among believers? What if we were more concerned about preserving God’s people than about preserving our way of life? What if we were more concerned about pursuing God than about pursuing the perfect political candidate? I have appreciated Franklin Graham’s focus on prayer rather than on a particular political party throughout this election. Maybe we need to pray more, fast more, and debate less. What would happen if God’s people truly sought God over the next four months? What would happen if God’s people put as much energy into prayer and fasting as we typically put into the political process? What would happen if God’s people acted as though everything depended on him instead of everything depending on us? What would happen if God’s people were actually desperate for God? What would happen if, in our desperation for God, we were so passionate about God that we forgot to eat? What would happen if the whole church in America took three days to fast, praying and listening to God, before we took any action? What would happen? I wonder?

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Esther 4:4 (ESV)

When Esther’s young women and her eunuchs came and told her, the queen was deeply distressed. She sent garments to clothe Mordecai, so that he might take off his sackcloth, but he would not accept them.

There are several interesting insights into the human psyche in this chapter. Behind it all, however, is the continuing sovereign care of God. One of the first things to catch my attention is Esther’s immediate response to Mordecai’s fasting. She wants to remove his immediate pain. Without asking why Mordecai is in sackcloth, Esther sends him clothes. Too often we settle for the quick fix, which doesn’t address the real issues of life.

Someone is grieving, hurting, suffering, or struggling in some way. The Scriptures instruct us to “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2). They say to “weep with those weep” (Rom 12:15). Our natural tendency is to distract them, make them laugh, or cheer them up. It is true that sometimes we just need a fresh perspective, but too often we try to fix people without understanding what is really broken. For Mordecai the issue is the lives and future of his people. For Esther the issue is Mordecai’s comfort. She needed to ask some questions before jumping in with an irrelevant solution.

Our nation is fractured. There are many voices speaking to the problem without understanding the problem. The issue isn’t a black/white issue. What about the Asians, Hispanics, Middle Easterners, and Native Americans? They too are often profiled and treated differently. The issue isn’t a justice issue. We have been trying to legislate justice for years. It’s not the real issue. The issue isn’t even a moral issue. Yes, morality on several levels is being challenged and redefined, but that’s not really the issue either. At the root is fear. We are an anxious, fearful society. We have forgotten how to trust God.

Change frightens us. But let’s face it, change happens. Nothing ever stays the same. That’s life. The real issue is whether we step into a changing world with the faith that God is at work behind the scenes where he cannot be seen. Can we believe that? Can we trust him? We are running around trying to put clothes on Mordecai by shouting, “Black lives matter!” “Blue lives matter!” “All lives matter!” These statements miss the point. We are trying to put clothes on Mordecai by shouting, “We must preserve our political party at all costs!” That misses the point. We are trying to put clothes on Mordecai by shouting, “Put prayer back in school and the Ten Commandments back on our buildings!” That misses the point.

On a whole different level, we are trying to put clothes on Mordecai by preserving our youth as we inevitably age. We are trying to put clothes on Mordecai by distancing ourselves from death, hunger, pain, and discomfort. Let’s be honest, death still happens. Disease still comes. Pain still exists. We live lives of constant denial, thinking that somehow that makes us safe.

The point is that people are dying because an enemy has convinced us that we are safe even if others are dying. No one is safe. Whether we are talking about aging and disease, or political and social change, we live in a broken world. Change happens and no one is ever safe. Mordecai had to remind Esther that not even she was safe. “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews” (Esther 4:13). Our fear causes us to hide, or react. Faith moves us to do what Esther ultimately chose to do. She put her life on the line for others, but first she called them to prayer.

Esther 4:16 (ESV)

“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.”

Instead of shouting at each other, posting vitriol and anger, and reacting to reactions of reactive people, maybe we should be calling God’s people to listen, to pray, and to be willing to put our lives on the line for others rather than threatening the lives of others. Instead of reacting to pain, disease, and death by ignoring it as long as we can, perhaps we need to bear one another’s burdens. Maybe God put us here for such a time as this and we need to start listening to Mordecai rather than trying to clothe him.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Esther 3:8 (ESV)
Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, “There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom. Their laws are different from those of every other people, and they do not keep the king’s laws, so that it is not to the king’s profit to tolerate them.

Reading through Esther 3:7-11 there are three interesting observations that lead to some interesting questions. First, Haman says, “I will pay 10,000 talents of silver into your hand.” How much is 10,000 talents of silver, and where is the money coming from? Second, Haman says of the Jews, “Their laws are different, and they do not keep the king’s laws.” He concludes that it is not beneficial to the king to allow them to continue living. Why is it not beneficial, and what evidence is there that they do not keep the king’s laws? Third, Haman says that “There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom.” Why is that significant? Wouldn’t they be a greater threat if they were all together and building an army, rather than scattered?

I don’t know the answers to all these questions, but I do know some. According to the Greek historian Herodotus the annual income for Ahasuerus’ kingdom was 14,500 talents. Haman is offering the King nine months’ income. Not nine months of a king’s salary, but nine months of the entire kingdom’s gross annual income. That’s a lot of money! Where is it coming from? Surely Haman doesn’t have that kind of money. The clue is in the text. The king tells Haman that he and the people can have the money. This indicates the money isn’t coming from Haman. Secondly, the letter sent out to all the provinces says not only to kill all the Jews, but to plunder them. Apparently there are a lot of Jewish people in the Persian provinces and they are quite wealthy. The 10,000 talents will come from the Jews. Ultimately this story becomes about money. The Persians see an opportunity to increase their wealth off the backs of the Jews.

Haman told the king that it is not beneficial to the king to allow the Jews to continue living. Why is it not beneficial, and what evidence is there that they do not keep the king’s laws? God’s covenant with Abraham would seem to indicate just the opposite. “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 12:3 ESV). According to this passage it would be beneficial to Ahasuerus to bless the Jewish people, not kill them. In fact, that was Persia’s experience. There were Jews in high positions of influence in Persia and they had been a blessing. Think of Daniel and Nehemiah. They were influential men in high positions that had done nothing to undermine the authority of the Persians in any way. Haman isn’t really worried about rebellion. He is just angry because Mordecai won’t honor him. The only evidence Haman could offer that the Jews don’t keep the king’s laws is the fact that Mordecai won’t bow before Haman.

Haman said that these people were “scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom.” That is supposed to make the king worry about a possible insurrection. But the truth is that there were many people groups scattered throughout the kingdom. Babylon had made it a practice to bring conquered peoples back to their homeland and scatter them so as to protect against insurrection. The very reason they didn’t leave people groups together was to prevent rebellion. Persia inherited this from Babylon. It shouldn’t be new to the king. Unfortunately, people often do not respond to information rationally. They react emotionally. We see that today in our political climate. The current presidential race has been primarily characterized by emotional reactivity rather than rational thought. Too often, even in our churches we make decisions out of reactive fear rather than listening carefully to the Spirit. Notice that Haman and the king are reactive. In contrast, Mordecai says, “Esther, talk to the king. We’ll be praying.” Shouldn’t that be our response? Let’s take one step forward resting in God, and we’ll be praying. Let’s see what God does.

The world system is about fear, reactivity, and personal gain. God’s system is different. It is built on a different foundation. God’s economy is built on the foundation of faith that God is in control and that he is good. We can trust him. How different this story would have turned out if Haman had understood that truth.

I love the contrast between Haman and Mordecai. Haman is looking for power, prestige, and possessions. The story ends with him hanged on his own gallows. Mordecai is only interested in protecting Esther and his people. He ends up with everything Haman wanted. This is not a guarantee that we will be healthy and wealthy in this world. This is a reminder that we live by a different understanding of life. It’s not about us. It’s about Him, and we can trust him. Let’s stop reacting, and start serving and praying. That reflects the heart of God.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Esther 3:12a, 13b (ESV)
Then the king’s scribes were summoned on the thirteenth day of the first month, and an edict, according to all that Haman commanded, was written…to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods.

All of this begins five years after Haman’s promotion. For five years he has been feeling disrespected. For four years he kept it to himself. For ten months he waited for the right time to reveal his plot to the king. When the plot is finally made public, he has twelve months to make preparations for this genocide attempt. The Jews have twelve months to be anxious about this coming event. This was no rush deal. It was a growing animosity that developed into an intentional, well thought out attack on the people of God. What Haman doesn’t know is that twelve years earlier (not twelve months earlier, but twelve years earlier) God already knew it was coming and had made plans to protect his people.

Esther didn’t know God’s plan. Mordecai didn’t know God’s plan. “And the king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa was thrown into confusion” (Esther 3:15b ESV). Obviously the Jews didn’t know God’s plan, and the king and Haman had not clue. No one in Susa knew God’s plan. The only ones that seem to be relaxed are the king and Haman. They are the very ones that should be worried. God had a plan, and he had all the pieces in place to accomplish his purpose.

That is not unlike the End Times described in Revelation. Satan seems to have the upper hand. He has a plan to usurp God. What he can’t see, nor can anyone else, is that God has a plan, and all the pieces are in place to accomplish his purpose. Whatever is happening in our world: whether we are entering into the end of time; whether we are in a major culture shift in our world; whether we are facing financial, cultural, moral, or ecological ruin; whatever is happening in our world is not taking God by surprise. He has a plan. We may not see it. It may feel like the whole world is out of control. But God has a plan, and he has all the pieces in place to accomplish his purpose. What an incredibly encouraging book Esther is. It just keeps coming back to this one truth. God can be trusted. We, as believers, are the ones that ought to be able to sit down to a quiet meal while all the world is in confusion because our God reigns.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Esther 3:4 (ESV)
And when they spoke to him day after day and he would not listen to them, they told Haman, in order to see whether Mordecai’s words would stand, for he had told them that he was a Jew.

Mordecai had been repeatedly warned by the king’s servants that he should bow down to Haman. He responded that he was a Jew. Just as Daniel’s friends refused to bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s statue, so Mordecai refused to bow to a man. For Mordecai, to bow is to worship. It would be wrong for him to show to Haman what is due only to God. For Haman his reaction to Mordecai was about money and ego, but that is a discussion for another time. For Mordecai, it was about his faith.

Jesus said that the world would hate us because it hates him. Some of us, as believers, have been looked at as though we are a bit weird. That usually because we are a bit weird. There is nothing particularly commendable about that. Some of us, in our changing society, have experienced a bit of opposition because we have made a big deal about things that probably shouldn’t be a big deal. For example, on the one hand it says a lot about our society when prayer is taken out of the school and the Ten Commandments are no longer posted on the court house lawn. That is a big deal, but is is really such a big deal? Will restoring placards and prayer really change anything? The truth is that those things are symptoms of a much larger issue. When we fight over the Ten Commandments on the court house lawn we may be missing the point. It is like trying to give an energy pill to someone because they are tired, when the real problem is that they have pneumonia. Treating symptoms sometimes needs to be done, but if the root cause is never addressed then nothing changes even if we win a few battles.

All of that to say that we sometimes like to think that we are suffering for our faith, but I’m not sure we’ve even come close to that yet. When the government says that all prayer is wrong what will we do? See Daniel. When the government says that only the government can be worshiped, or that the government needs to be worshiped in the same way that we worship God, what will we do? See Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. For that matter, see the early church when they were required to bow before statues of Caesar and pay homage as they traveled. What then? I fear that we are all too quick to fight battles over symptoms, but when the real persecution comes we will fold like a poorly built kite in a strong wind.

Where are the Daniels and Mordecais that aren’t out to make a name for themselves? They aren’t reacting emotionally. They aren’t fighting windmills. They are just quietly and faithfully remaining true to their faith. Where are those people in the church? They are the ones that truly get the Enemy roiled up. They are the ones who truly know what it is that they believe. They are the ones that will eventually experience real persecution like Jesus prophesied. I believe that we have far too many reactive Hamans in the church. What we need are more Daniels and Mordecais who are willing to quietly stand and do the right thing no matter the consequences. Where are they in the church today?

Monday, July 11, 2016

Esther 3:6 (ESV)
But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone. So, as they had made known to him the people of Mordecai, Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus.

What incredible overkill. Haman’s ego was so fragile that his response to one man’s disdain was to destroy an entire race. But, that is not unlike what is happening in our own country today. A black man is killed by a cop. We conclude that all cops are evil. Cops are killed by a black man. We conclude that all black men are angry and destructive. A pastor cheats on his wife. We conclude that all pastors are hypocritical, cheating, and selfish. An LGBTQ individual feels hurt by a statement made in church. We conclude that all Christians hate the LGBTQ community. We divide and destroy, not because cops kill people, not because cops get killed, not because some pastors cheat on their wives, or because some Christians do hate LGBTQ. We divide and destroy because of our own insecurities.

Haman could easily have laughed at one little, insignificant Jew who spent most of his time hanging out in front of the palace. He could have easily had Mordecai punished. He could have recognized the silliness of requiring everybody to bow before him and lifted the requirement. It was his own insecurity that pushed him to genocide. That’s a pretty major issue, but so many of our own relational issues in life are also viewed as the result of someone else’s actions. In fact, almost always it is simply the result of our own sense of insecurity and insignificance. We have not learned to find our security and significance in Christ and so we blame others.

Mordecai didn’t have to bow before Haman. He didn’t have to bow because it didn’t matter to him what Haman thought of him. He didn’t have to bow because he knew his security was in God, not man. It wasn’t about one ego standing up against another ego. It was about one man who understood where his security lay. It lay in the God who had protected his people throughout the ages. It lay in the God who had kept his word and sent his people into captivity when they disobeyed. It lay in the God who promised to restore his people if they would repent. It lay in the God who had set things in motion to protect his people years before the threat showed up. That is the God Mordecai trusted. That is a God Haman had no knowledge of.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Esther 1:3 (NIV)

and in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his nobles and officials. The military leaders of Persia and Media, the princes, and the nobles of the provinces were present.

Esther 2:12 (NIV)

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 2:16 (NIV)

She was taken to King Xerxes in the royal residence in the tenth month, the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign.

            When we read this story of Esther it all runs together as a single event. We often miss the details of time involved. The story starts in the third year of Xerxes reign. We don’t know how much time passes before Esther comes into the picture, but we do know that before she sees the king she goes through a twelve-month beauty treatment. We also know that she is established as queen in the seventh year of Xerxes reign. The first two chapters of Esther cover at least four years.

            In a day of twenty-two minute Netflix shows, forty-five minute dramas, and movies that drag on for almost two hours, it is hard for us to imagine a four-year drama playing out. We want a quick fix. Imagine Mordecai walking in front of the King’s harem every day for a year just to make sure that Esther was okay. Esther 3:7 says that it is in the twelfth year of Xerxes reign that the plot to destroy the Jews surfaced. Between chapter 1, when Queen Vashti is deposed, and chapter 3, when the plot to destroy the Jews is revealed, nine years have passed. Esther has been queen for five years. Mordecai has keep watch from the outside for at least six years. This story didn’t unfold in a two-hour movie plot.

            Here is the amazing thing about this story. Nine years before anyone knew anything about a plot to destroy the People of God, God knew. Nine years before Haman hatched his plot, God was already working behind the scenes to set up their protection. Nine years. We don’t always understand why things happen the way they do. Looking back, we can sometimes see how events were orchestrated by God’s sovereignty. Sometimes we can’t even see it then. Yet God is never caught by surprise.

Did it just happen that Esther was queen in the twelfth year of Xerxes reign when Haman hatched his plot? Did God put her in place just in case someone tried something insidious? What if the plot had come earlier when Vashti was still queen? God’s timing was impeccable. He was in no hurry. He was not panicked by Haman plot. He was not caught off guard by Xerxes poor decisions. God knows the end from the beginning. He is always years ahead of his enemies. He works his purposes in his time.

Sometimes things seem to be out of control. Sometimes it feels like God has forgotten us. Sometimes is appears that the Enemy has gotten the upper hand. Never forget, God anticipated his moves before he even thought of them. If he knew there would be a plot against his people years before the plot was conceived, do you think he knew about your cancer before it showed up? Do you think he knew about the death of a loved one before it was even on your radar? Do you think he knew that you were going to lose your job, or your spouse was going to leave you, or that those you thought were allies would become enemies?

None of this takes God by surprise. None of it sends him into a panic. What we forget is that he is not in a hurry. He is not playing out a drama in forty-five minutes. He is playing out a drama that began before the day of creation, and will culminate with a new creation. He is not there to make us happy. If that were the case, then he would have left Esther with Mordecai right up until the day they would have been killed by Haman’s henchmen. God is working a bigger purpose for his own glory. We are chess pieces on his board. The queen is never about the queen. The pawn is never about the pawn. They both exist for a higher purpose. Whether you are a pawn or a queen, God is working out that purpose in and through you. Don’t get in a hurry. Just trust him. Don’t get anxious. Just trust him. Don’t get impatient. Just trust him. He knows what he is doing.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Esther 2:1 (ESV)
[1] After these things, when the anger of King Ahasuerus had abated, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what had been decreed against her.

In this second chapter of Esther we begin to see the plot unfolding. Pieces of the puzzle are beginning to be put into place. Esther is made queen. Mordecai saves the king’s life. A record is made of Mordecai’s actions. As the story unfolds these seemingly disruptive life events become the catalyst for saving the people of God. Looking back we can see it, but I’m sure that neither Mordecai nor Esther had a clue of the significance of these events at the time they occurred.

So with our lives. Often God is putting pieces into place to accomplish his purposes. A random encounter with a stranger. A seemingly negative and disruptive event in life occurs like an accident, a sickness, the loss of a job, a death in the family, etc. We can’t see the importance of it. We can’t see any possible good. How can a young woman being conscripted into a Persian king’s harem be a good thing? Yet God is putting things into place. He is sovereign.

Along with the sovereignty of God unfolding in this story, the second chapter of Esther reveals an interesting contrast. Notice the difference between the king’s lack of wisdom, in fact the lack of wisdom in Persians in general, and the wisdom of Mordecai and Esther. The king made a decision out of drunkenness and anger. When his anger abated he had to deal with the consequences of his actions. At the end of the chapter two of his eunuchs plot the king’s assassination out of anger. The result is the loss of their own lives. Mordecai, on the other hand is keeping an eye on Esther. Esther is listening to the advice of the eunuch over the virgins. They are acting with wisdom and self-control in a situation over which they have very little control. The king and his eunuchs are acting with little wisdom and self-control in a situation where they have much control.

What a contrast not only between Persians and Jews, but between Jews in exile and Jews in their homeland. At the end of Judges, the Jews are described as more ungodly than the people around them When the Babylonians destroy Jerusalem and carry the Jews off into captivity it is because the Jews have unwisely ignored the repeated warnings of their prophets. Now they are acting with great wisdom. The same could be said for Daniel and his friends. In captivity the people of God have finally become wise and begun to live accordingly.

In our own lives it seems that it sometimes takes a crisis to shake us up and get us to start listening to God. Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Proverbs 4:5-7 says,
“Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth. Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee. Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.”

Mordecai and Esther seem to have gotten wisdom. In a situation where God has apparently abandoned his people He is there. He is protecting them when things don’t appear to make sense. He is providing them with wisdom beyond themselves, while turning the wisdom of the Persians into foolishness. In Psalms 55:9 David prayed, “Confuse the wicked, O Lord, confound their speech for I see violence and strife in the city” (NIV). That is exactly what God is doing in Esther 2. We may not see him at work. We may feel like everything is out of control. We may feel like children up against giants, but we can trust him. In faith comes wisdom.

James 1:4-5 (NIV)
[4] Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. [5] If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Esther 1:12 (ESV)
But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command delivered by the eunuchs. At this the king became enraged, and his anger burned within him.

The king threw a six-month extravaganza to show off his greatness. The culmination of this event was a seven-day feast. The feast ended with the king divorcing his queen. Three things contributed to this decision. First was alcohol. “When the heart of the king was merry with wine” (Es 1:10) he called for his queen to present herself. Proverbs 31:4-5 warns,
[4] It is not for kings, O Lemuel,
it is not for kings to drink wine,
or for rulers to take strong drink,
[5] lest they drink and forget what has been decreed
and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.
Alcohol affected the king’s judgment.

Second, is anger. “the king became enraged, and his anger burned within him” (Es 1:12). Proverbs 14:29 gives this insight, “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.” Alcohol and anger are a deadly combination, but there was a third element that led to the king’s decision. Fear led to foolishness. The king asked his counselors what the law said about the queen’s actions. They responded, not with a legal decision, but with a fear based judgment. They were afraid that if word got out that the queen ignored a command from the king then every woman would be emboldened to show the same contempt for their husbands. This was not a legal decision, but a power decision. For fear of losing power Queen Vashti needed to be made an example. Alcohol fueling anger and fear is a lethal combination when it comes to making wise decisions.

Granted, we see God’s sovereignty in the story. God uses a foolish king to provide protection for his people. God uses a debauched party to lay the foundation for his deliverance. But the fact that God uses people for his own purposes despite their foolishness does not make the king’s decision any wiser. How many of our own choices, decisions, and actions are fueled by a lack of clear thinking combined with anger and/or fear? By contrast, Paul encourages Timothy with these words, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5 ESV). What a difference it would make in our lives if we lived more like Paul and Timothy, and less like King Ahasuerus. Never let anger and fear drive your choices in life. God has something better in mind.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Esther 1:1-3 (ESV)
[1] Now in the days of Ahasuerus, the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces, [2] in those days when King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne in Susa, the citadel, [3] in the third year of his reign he gave a feast for all his officials and servants. The army of Persia and Media and the nobles and governors of the provinces were before him,

Thus begins the story of Esther. A mighty king throws a three-month party to impress people and show off his greatness. The party involved great amounts of alcohol, excessive displays of wealth, and likely considerable immorality. One would not expect a story of God’s gracious protection and provision to start in such a manner.

Maybe that expectation in itself reveals a problem with our faith. Why is it that we can believe that a story of God’s protection and provision would begin with circumstances of safety, peace, morality, and power, but not with debauchery, arrogance, and abuse of power? Do we really believe that God is limited by circumstances? We have been trying to manufacture revival and morality by programs, processes, and procedures. We have acted as though God can only work if the circumstances are right. Since when has God been limited by circumstances?

Creation was brought into existence out of nothing. Redemption grew out of sin, separation, and death. The ark would never have been used to save the world had not sin brought about its destruction. Abraham and Sarah received a child of promise out of a barren womb. David became king after hiding in caves, fearing for his life. Jeremiah’s prophecies came true after being thrown in a well, and then being forced to go to Egypt where God had told them not to go. Daniel and his friends were spared more than once in the face of unlikely odds. God rarely works powerfully when the circumstances are right. He almost always shows up when conditions are hopeless.

Not only does he show up when conditions are hopeless, but he rarely works the way we expect him to work. Who would have imagined that God would produce a great nation from a childless couple over ninety years old? Who would have dreamed that God would spare three young men from a fiery furnace so hot that it killed the men who threw them in the furnace? Who would have fancied that God would spare a man faithful in prayer by shutting the mouths of hungry lions?  Who would have thought that the means to sparing the people of God in captivity would be a party filled with debauchery, and ending in a royal divorce?

God is not limited by circumstances and resources. God rarely conforms to our expectations. God is God. No matter what laws are passed in our country; no matter who is in power; no matter what society becomes, God never stops being God. He will accomplish his purposes even if he needs to use depraved leaders and wicked people to do so. He is not limited by our imagination, expectation, or even our ability to anticipate what he will do next. God is a God of surprises, and a God of startling grace and power. We can trust him! He is greater than our circumstances.

Reflections on Psalms 77-78

Psalms 77:7 (ESV) [7] “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?   The first nine verses of this psalm express abso...