Restraint That Makes A Point

The Jews in Susa came together on the fourteenth day of the month of Adar, and they put to death in Susa three hundred men, but they did not lay their hands on the plunder. Esther 9:15

In every province, the Jews sought to kill all those who were armed to come against them. The king’s commission had given them the right to not only kill the women and children of their enemies, but to enrich themselves with the plunder of their conquests. However, throughout the land, the Jews were united in their ethics. Women and children were not touched and no spoils were taken. Worldly goods were left behind with the survivors. Consideration and compassion ruled their behavior.

The Jews were only concerned with the preservation of their lives. They had no designs for wealth. They emulated their father Abraham who, much earlier in history, had refused to plunder the spoils of Sodom.

Just because I have the power to do something doesn’t mean I should follow through with it. There is something self-righteous in me that loves to follow things to the letter of the law. It makes me feel good. The glint in my eye for order and justice can drive me beyond the point where one hears God’s call for grace. Would I be willing to lay down the sword for a better agenda? What if God reveals to me that an act of grace and kindness is more profitable?

  • A child might transgress and deserve harsh discipline. Will I be open to grant an unexpected reprieve?
  • An employee might merit dismissal. Will I surprise him/her with a second chance?
  • A friend might have committed an offense against me. Am I a big enough person to 
overlook it and forgive it?
  • A parent might have sown years of criticism against me. Are my resources in God substantial enough to gift them with affirmation instead of revenge? Restraint can make a strong point if it’s rooted in power, not fear. Only wisdom and a close connection with my Father will show me when to use it.

I can be a loose cannon, always willing to stand for truth to ensure fairness. Make me a balanced person by weaving grace into my character. In Jesus’ Name, Amen. 

Who Is Really My Friend?

And many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews had seized them. Esther 8:17

Once Mordecai was promoted and the Jews were given the right to not only defend themselves, but to search out their enemies, many non-Jews feared for their lives and converted to Judaism. Previously, many of them had been the Jews’ adversaries, though some, I suspect, had been neutral. Nonetheless, they befriended the powerful just to insure their own safety.

When someone enjoys an influential position, it is not easy to tell who his true friends are. The public is fickle. Former critics reform and suddenly massage the egos of the powerful. What may look like the refreshing face of friendship is really self-protective, manipulative behavior. Ones in leadership need to be discerning.

pearlsDavid’s son, Solomon, the wisest man to have ever lived, wrote these words. “Preserve sound judgment and discernment, do not let them out of your sight; they will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck.” Proverbs 3:21-22 I love the word picture given here. Discernment can be ‘as a necklace’. It need never be out of sight. At any time of the day, I can reach up to finger the chain around my neck and touch the ornament that dangles from it. I am ever conscious of my adornment.

There are charismatic men and women who offer words as smooth as butter for purposes of self-advancement. They step to the front of the line to be heard. Others wait patiently behind the scenes and are willing to serve in anonymity. If we’re not careful, we won’t notice them due to the noise of the ones who clamor for our attention. Discretion. Wisdom. Discernment. May we breathe these words often in prayer. God will help us focus our eyes on the trustworthy and attune our ears to the honorable.

My necklace is often too delicate, able to break. Strengthen the chain. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Picturesque Contrast

Mordecai left the king’s presence wearing royal garments of blue and white, a large crown of gold and a purple robe of fine linen. And the city of Susa held a joyous celebration. Esther 8:15

Mordecai had once served the king faithfully in anonymity. Now, he is famous. He once wore sackcloth and ashes to plead with God for the lives of his people. Now, he wears royal garments, a crown, and a robe. Once, his grief was inconsolable. Now, he rejoices because the hand of God has spared calamity for him, his family, and his nation. He certainly does not fear passion. You agree?

I once lived life in such a way that I could play it safe emotionally. Apprehensive of intense emotions, I failed to grieve my losses. But in the process, I forfeited the ability to dance over my victories. My face always looked the same. Pleasant, distant, and unapproachable. I felt like an actress, crying a few tears when I sensed it was appropriate and feigning joy when an occasion called for it. My own heart was buried beneath years of pain and a decision made long ago not to explore disappointments and heartaches.

Stoicism is no way to live. God is not stoic and because I was created in His image, I was designed to follow His lead. When I depart from His design in any area of my life, I cease to be fully alive.

  • He is angry over injustice and gives me permission to feel the same. I am just not allowed to sin in my anger.
  • He weeps over His creation who perishes for lack of knowledge and hopes I’ll cry similar tears.
  • He aches for connection with His children and encourages me to strain for a connection with my own flesh and blood.

The things that move Jesus are to move me. What is the reward for this kind of emotional engagement? The ability to rejoice, to sing, to dance. If I’m too afraid to enter the valleys, my heart will suffer dysfunction. When the good times come, and they will, I will find myself dispassionate and unresponsive.

I’ve learned that I need not fear anything with You living inside of me, even the passion of my own soul. You’ve awakened my heart to all that it can experience. Thank you, Lord. Amen.

One Ring ~ Two Rulers

Mordecai wrote in the name of King Xerxes, sealed the dispatches with the king’s signet ring, and sent them by mounted couriers, who rode fast horses especially bred for the king. Esther 8:10

Once upon a time there was a ring ~ a royal ring that was meant to adorn someone’s hand. Anyone who wore it enjoyed the power to affect many people’s lives. They could write laws, then dip the ring in wax and mark the scroll with the royal seal. The law had to be obeyed because of the power behind the ring.

There once was an evil man named Haman ~ a man who dreamed of wearing the ring and enjoying the privileges it offered.

He did not have a good heart and many people were frightened at the thought that someone like him might be in power over them. Nonetheless, he was able to rise to power. His speech was as smooth as butter. His suggestions charmed many who listened. Before long, he was promoted to the royal court and the ring was put on his finger. Instead of using his power for good, he devised evil schemes to hurt good people. He thought he would reign forever but evil never ultimately wins. What he plotted in secret was made known to the people. He had to trade in his robe of honor for rags of shame.

There once was a good man named Mordecai ~ a man who never dreamed of power and would have declared himself unqualified to have it.

Instead, he loved to adore his Creator who was all-powerful. His heart was good because of who he worshiped. A lifetime of prayers molded his character. Good men and evil men can never live in harmony. Their gods collide. So, Haman hated Mordecai and tried to have him hanged. The God of Mordecai prevailed and before you could blink, the tide had turned. Haman’s head was covered and he was hanged. Mordecai was given the royal ring. Now, he could write laws. And he did! The fastest horses carried his words to provinces far and near. The thundering of horses could be heard across the land. The people shook at the sound until they read the laws of this new ruler. Then they rejoiced. Mordecai saved the lives of innocent men, women and children. Everyone learned a lesson that day. A ruler who worships God with his heart, with his soul, and with his mind ~ can be trusted.

When Life Finally Turns A Corner

The king took off his signet ring, which he had reclaimed from Haman, and presented it to Mordecai. Esther 8:2

Mordecai had never enjoyed a place of honor. He had been born a Jew during a time when it wasn’t popular to be one of God’s people. He had lived his life quietly, learning to be discreet and unassuming. Though he was Esther’s cousin and adopted father, he never made his relationship to the queen public knowledge. I think it’s safe to say that he never expected advancement in this lifetime.

That’s true for so many of us. Life on earth is difficult. Some rewards can only be counted on when we enter into eternal rest. Nonetheless, sometimes God delivers us early. We are moved out of the wilderness into a spacious place, full of blessing. Life turns a corner on a day that begins like all the days prior.

a2eeb9_477d535d6f5e4c6e88eca206766d5e48~mv2I have known such deliverance. I spent four decades in joyless faith. Though most would have seen me as blessed, my internal world was barren. My mindset was resigned. I was a performer, doing my best to appear to live a meaningful life while feeling disconnected from the heart of my Father. Life slowly unraveled until I lay spent, wondering how I would face the last leg of my journey here. God moved. He opened my eyes to the possibility of another way of life. As I became willing to present myself to Him as a clean slate upon which He could write, I began to glimpse a future I thought impossible to attain. The oppressive thoughts and beliefs I held about myself, God, and others, were re-written by the Holy Spirit as my eyes were opened to the scriptures. God brought streams to my desert.

God promises to do something new, if not in our circumstances, then certainly in our spirit. What starts as a normal day need not be routine. We are designed to enjoy internal blessing. We do not need to dread mornings any longer. They are not the doorway to another day in drudgery. Rather, they are a gateway into the garden of new revelation.

You promise to do a new thing in me. Open my eyes to it. I welcome the refreshing rains of Your Spirit. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Coming Back To Haunt Me

But Haman, realizing that the king had already decided his fate, stayed behind to beg Queen Esther for his life. Esther 7:6

If Haman had feared God and governed his life by God’s principles, he never would have been in this humiliating position. He would have loved his neighbor as he loved himself. He would have prayed for his enemies instead of plotting to kill them. Esther would have been his friend, not his foe. Mordecai would have been admired for his integrity instead of despised. He would have been content to serve, not be served.

Those we mis-treat today might just be the ones who have the power to spare our lives tomorrow. Parents who ignore their child’s needs often find themselves abandoned to a nursing home at the end of their lives.

I recall a line from a movie where a mother in her 80’s asked her son in the heat of an argument, “Who taught you to be this cruel?”

He replied, “You did, mother. You did.” The answer shocked her and she had no comeback.

May I be kind to others today, not because my love is self-serving and because I suffer from a paranoia that tells me tomorrow I may need those very people. May the grace of Jesus spill out effortlessly onto others. May kindness mark my lifestyle simply because the Spirit is so large in me that His influence reigns. If I have to behave my way into loving others, that is certainly better than choosing to be selfish but there is a better way. When I become God- obsessed (instead of self-obsessed), then the Spirit who lives in my spirit will rule the rest of my being. I will experience the daily reality that ‘I am a channel through whom God lives’. That phrase will no longer be an abstract cliche, tossed around in conversations to make me look spiritual. In fact, I won’t even have to talk about it. I will be a living example of Romans 12:1 ~ a life that is a living sacrifice unto God.

I need your help, Lord. My love for others is so often self-serving. Remembering how you loved people shows me my own darkened heart in need of Your mercy. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

If You’re Going To Pass Judgement . . .

King Xerxes asked Queen Esther, “Who is he? Where is the man who has dared to do such a thing?” Esther said, “The adversary and enemy is this vile man Haman.” Esther 7:5-6

Esther revealed to the king that that there was a plot to take her life. The king was incredulous. “Who is this man that would do such a thing?” he asked. He failed to see that he was really the one who consented to the bloody edict against the Jewish people. Esther might have said, ”You are the man!” but she never addressed his guilt. Instead, she pointed to the one who deceived the king in the first place.

Perhaps you’ve heard it said that ‘the thing’ in another person which makes you the angriest might also be your own greatest weakness. No wonder Jesus warned us about the perils of judging others without looking first into our own hearts. “Do not judge lest you be judged,” Jesus said. In Eugene Peterson’s, The Message, it reads like this:

Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, and criticize their faults unless, of course, you want the same treatment. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own.

I long misunderstood the ‘judge not’ principle. I concluded that I should never judge but that’s not true. I am to be a fruit inspector so as to be wise about making friendships, business partners, picking a spouse, and appointing people to levels of leadership. But it’s easy to forget the bigger context of this principle in the verses that come before and after. The risk of judging others without first examining myself is that my judgements will come back on my head.

So, how am I to live safely? I expose my heart, daily, to the light of God’s Word and make personal confessions to the Spirit inside. As I become aware of my own sin, I repent and submit to change by the power of the Spirit. Only then will I wisely and safely discern/judge the fruits of another. I remember the encouragement to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. i.e. Making judgements with a clean heart.

Search me, O God, and know my heart. I cannot afford to have a blind spot. Let the wisdom I perceive about others start with wisdom You reveal to me about myself! In Jesus’ name, Amen.