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Preparing For The Unknown

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. And this is how she would go to the king: anything she wanted was given her to take with her from the harem to the king’s palace. Esther 2: 12-13

How anxious Esther must have been the days prior to her night with the king. She was young. And a virgin. Was her connection with God deep enough to give her some measure of peace before an intimate encounter with a stranger? Did God reveal to her somehow that everything would be all right? Or was he silent, beginning to cultivate in her a faith that would survive the challenging times? Esther did not have the Holy Spirit inside to guide her and God spoke so seldom in the lives of ordinary people. Her strength was in the God-stories of her ancestors.

queen_esther_by_verryktIf the night with the king turned out to be traumatic, would that erode her faith? Would she consider God to be faithful if the night was anything but idyllic? Not if she knew the stories of the children of Israel, the ones to whom God entrusted the blessings of leadership but also the burdens of fallen mankind.

Esther’s days were uncertain, mixed with the hues of sorrow and joy. She learned early that life was all about knowing God, bearing His likeness, and taking part in the redemption narrative. This young orphan girl played a pivotal role in the salvation of the Jewish people. Her obedience, starting with the risk of what might happen with a godless king, paved the way for the difficult lessons of faith that lay ahead of her.

Esther teaches me today about risk. God has called me to acts of faith; investing in relationships that appear to yield no return, leading a ministry when I doubted my gifts of leadership, being vulnerable and sharing my story with others when it could reflect badly on me. The risks are numerous.

Risk presents me with the dilemma of how to cope. Will I play it safe by closing the door to my heart so that I can sustain polarized outcomes? Or will I invest my heart, trusting God with outcomes of celebration and/or disillusionment? I am fully alive if I believe that God is strong enough to carry me through both.

I admit my faith is tenuous, Jesus. My words sound so strong today. Tomorrow, my appetite for risk might be minimal. Let me receive what I cannot generate on my own ~ grace and faith. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

A Picture of Father God

Every day he (Mordecai) walked back and forth near the courtyard of the harem to find out how Esther was and what was happening to her. Esther 2:11

Esther had gone to the palace along with many other young virgins. She had been uprooted from the safety of her home and separated from the faces she knew. Can you imagine Mordecai’s anxiety? How was she being treated? Was the king an honorable man with women? Were the people who worked for him trustworthy with impressionable young girls? Such were the fears of an adoptive father who paced back and forth near the courtyard of the palace, hoping to hear any word at all on the girl he raised and loved like his own.

This picture gives us a snapshot of an invisible God. Mordecai was consumed with the welfare of the child he had raised. So is God. Mordecai gave up his life to adopt an orphan. So did God. Mordecai invested himself fully to teach Esther that which would allow her soul to prosper. So does God. Mordecai positioned himself in her vicinity, just in case she might need anything of him. So does God. He knocks at the door of my heart. The sound is soft, but discernible if I’m listening for it.

“How are you?” he asks. “I never stop thinking about you. Do you need anything?”

Often, His arrival can seem more like a disruption. “I don’t have time to talk”, I’ve been guilty of answering. But still He lingers, waits a while, and then knocks again.

By the time I hear his voice the second time, life has begun to unravel. “Things aren’t going as I’d hoped. I’m getting tired.”

Screen Shot 2018-05-30 at 9.24.47 AMHe’s not surprised. How could he be! ”I’m here. I am rest for your soul and wisdom for your decisions.” Now, I’m aware of my need and stop to include Him in my day.

If only I’d stopped the first time I sensed Him knocking to spend time with Him. I’d have been prepared for my day ahead, before the circumstances unfolded. Now, I’m in crisis mode. Undone. Disquieted. Dull of hearing. However, despite my earlier disinterest, He didn’t leave me. He didn’t even scold me for waiting so long. He knows I’ll put those thoughts together. When I do, I’m humbled. Mordecai is a picture of God’s steadfastness and enduring patience.

I simply cannot say today that nobody in the world cares about me. His care has no limits. What a Father You are! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Is It Right To Sit On The Truth?

Esther had not revealed her nationality and family background, because Mordecai had forbidden her to do so. Esther 2:10

A difficult topic, considering the advice given to Esther. Mordecai, still having influence over her, told her not to admit that she was a Jew. What? That’s deceptive. But, he didn’t tell her to lie about it, just not to offer the information. She was to let others think that she was of Persian descent. Looking back, we can see that a sovereign God shaped his instincts and mandate. It would not have been prudent for Esther to reveal herself as a Jew as it would have thwarted the purposes of God. The King would not have considered Esther, a Jewess, to be his Queen.

It can be difficult to know when it’s alright to sit on the truth. You know more than you tell but for various reasons, you are led to keep silent. You don’t feel compelled to tell all you know since righteous outcomes are at stake. You believe the Holy Spirit nudges you to be silent.

Pray-FirstThose with the spiritual gift of intercession, for instance, are given godly discernment into people and situations. They are often called to be the ‘truth tellers’; bringing painful truths to light. But more often than not, God does not release them to speak. He reveals information to them for the sole purpose of interceding. He directs them to pray rather than confront.

This is difficult if I have an unholy need for justice, or the need to be right. Letting someone have it with both barrels, under the guise of ~ “God revealed this to me” ~ feels great and feeds my need to be validated. Showing my hand can make me look important too, as though I have a special connection to God that others don’t have.
Today, I might have spiritual insight into a situation that begs for intervention. I may think that my information is a vital part of the solution. May my passion to be obedient to God’s voice overrule any need I have to take center stage and deliver the truth prematurely. Truth, spoken out of turn, can be a destructive instrument.

My mouth is driven by my heart. Turn Your light on there and show me every motive that is not of You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Parents Are Only Ambassadors

Mordecai had a cousin named Hadassah, whom he had brought up because she had neither father nor mother. Esther 2:7

Esther had no father and mother. Orphans have always moved the heart of God. So, He gave her an adoptive parent named Mordecai who raised her to worship God. He was God’s representative to Esther, sent to show her the pathway back to God who promised to meet all of her needs. It would have been tempting for Mordecai to stand in God’s place; become God to Esther, bringing her only to himself and becoming everything to her. But that would only have hurt her in the long run. Mordecai would have set Himself up as an idol and Esther would not have had the spiritual resources to reign as Queen with a wisdom and an authority beyond her years.

The Psalmist said, Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me. Psalm 27:10 There is a subtle but powerful truth to be understood here. God is declaring Himself to be a Father and a Mother when our parents fail us. He is the One who fills the aching void that comes from feeling like an orphan. How does He reach out to us? Oftentimes, it’s through a Mordecai, a parent-type who extends to us on God’s behalf.

Young woman hugging her grandmother

But here’s the danger when God shows His love to us through people. We so desperately want parents we can touch and experience here on earth that we cease to see them as ambassadors. We clamor to rest beneath their protective umbrella and look to them to meet all our needs when they are only sent to us to point us to our spiritual refuge in Christ Jesus. They are designed to be ‘the icing’ but not ‘the cake’.

God has been gracious to me through the years by sending many older saints my way. They encouraged me, hugged me, prayed for me, but never failed to point me to the One who had filled them with a supernatural love for me. I struggled with idolatry here and there, but God kept bringing me back to Himself. Today, I am satiated in soul and spirit.

I will always be tempted to look to people for what only You can give me. Keep my discernment sharp and my appetite bent toward You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

While In Exile

Now there was in the citadel of Susa a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, named Mordecai, who had been carried into exile from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. Esther 2:5

How could Mordecai have known that there was hope on the distant horizon as he and his people left Jerusalem in exile. It was a time for repentance and mourning. Would he see redemption in his lifetime? He surely doubted it. It felt like the end for the Jewish people, not a pathway to the saving hand of God.
Have you ever regretted the times in which you were born? I know many people who wish they’d lived 100 years ago, or even in the 1940’s. In this day of lawlessness, disrespect of authority and corrupt leadership, it’s easy to pine for the days when Leave It To Beaver was the model for home life. Did Mordecai pine for the days in Jerusalem? Probably so. He never could have guessed that he would play an important part in the plot to save his people.
Flight of the PrisionersThere were righteous among the unrighteous in exile; it wasn’t fair by earthly standards. They suffered side by side. Perhaps Mordecai had been one of the faithful. I don’t believe he was bitter though ~ considering his faithfulness and obedience to God. The spiritual fruits of his future choices didn’t match up with abandoned faith. His spiritual vision was clear and he allowed God to use him in turbulent times. His refusal to bow down to an evil man was the catalyst that brought about the salvation of his own people.
If one lives long enough, he suffers the consequences of other’s choices. I certainly have. Because everyone’s lives are entangled with those in authority over us; imperfect people, sinful people, their decisions affect us. I have spent my time railing against the unfairness of my own captivity. It took a long time for me to embrace the sovereignty of God. My part is always to dwell in the land, cultivate faithfulness, and then glorify God, even if in exile.
Perhaps you are in bad circumstances not of your own making. The footsteps of God’s children are not unseen by the Lord. Your greatest hour is upon you. Bow down to the God who can be trusted to craft your life’s story. When your angry tears give way to silent ones, you will hear God calling you to your greatest purpose ~ to know God, to enjoy God, and to glorify God. The spirit of a man is the candle of the Lord and His glory shines the brightest in dark places.

I thought You had forgotten me. But like Mordecai, you empowered me to be a catalyst for change. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

What Are You Entertaining?

Then the king’s personal attendants proposed, “Let a search be made for beautiful young virgins for the king. Esther 2:2

So that the king could forget Vashti and what he had regrettably done against her, he put out a search to find beautiful young virgins to replace her. It was a contest and one would be chosen out of the ‘best of the best’ of his kingdom. Distractions are usually very effective to drown out a guilty conscience plagued with regret. Satan makes sure of that because his ultimate goal is to see the same sin happen again.

An appetite that strays from God’s prescription for a prosperous life will become, over time, twisted and unquenchable. There’s no other way it can go because sin begets sin. Iniquity can never stay small. The journey to the land of perversion is slow paced because the changes in a sinful appetite seem subtle at first. It is like lowering the lighting in a room a little bit at a time. It isn’t until I’m nearly in darkness that I wake up and say, “Hey, wait a minute. I can’t see.” I am oblivious to the changes as I head toward ultimate blindness.

The degree of sin I will tolerate tomorrow is directly linked to what goes unnoticed today! A stray word, a lustful thought, a brief contemplation of revenge; these are the seeds which sprout spiritual weeds. No wonder Paul encourages each of us to take every thought captive. He’s not encouraging OCD but the prevention of small things becoming big things.

Some time back, a Christian businessman in our small city did the unthinkable. He threw away his future and the future of his family when he robbed a bank here in Athens, GA. It covered the front pages. Everyone who knew him, including me, was stunned. His witness was strong. His family was model. His business was well respected. But somewhere in his thought life, an idea simmered. The time it took from the conception of the idea of robbery to the actual occurrence didn’t happen overnight. It probably took years but the point is ~ it happened.

Did the king act out of character toward Vashti? Probably not. Others must have experienced him as an angry, impulsive person and they walked on eggshells around him. “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” I may not be a polygamist like King Ahaseurus but his life teaches me far more than a lesson on morality. His choices, recorded for anyone to read, reveal the gravity of unbridled appetites that begin where thoughts are conceived, out of sight and usually at random.

Magnify my thoughts so that I may compare them to Your Word. I hold every one of them up to the light of Your glory and do daily sifting. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Too Late To Take It Back

Later when the anger of King Xerxes had subsided, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what he had decreed about her. Esther 2:1

Anger can be productive as it causes someone apathetic to become passionate. It’s empowering, too. I can clean my house in record time when I’m worked up about something. But we all know that anger can also be destructive. Once released without discretion, there are long-term consequences that are often irreversible. How many have blown up, said awful things to someone they care about, and then later lament in regret. They would do anything to take back the words and the hurt they caused.

The king, under the influence of too much alcohol, was furious when Queen Vashti refused to cater to his whims. He overreacted, consulted his advisors, and wrote a new law that banished her from his presence. Once his anger had subsided, he missed his wife but it was too late. Once a law was drafted and then sealed with the royal seal, it was irrevocable. Oh, the grief he must have felt over the sudden death of such an important relationship. I wonder if he regretted the law he had made, or regretted his anger that caused him to write it, or even felt sorry for the original order he gave to Vashti to dance for his drunken party. I hope it was all three.

The writer of Proverbs said, “When the heart is hot, the tongue must be silent.” Tempers release words. Oftentimes, it is anger that enables someone to become eloquent under the influence of rage. Usually quiet, they seem to find their voice when anger is hot, though it’s not a voice that speaks prudently.

Righteous speech is always my priority. Being right is not the goal nor is assaulting the offender and leaving him in pieces. My greatest need, when angry, is to hear God and know what His response would be were he to live His life through me. There probably is a truth to be spoken. It may be pointed or soft. It may sting or it may be merciful. I can’t guess God’s will and just wing it. Never am I more wrong than when I act impulsively out of hurt.

Wise words are cultivated in seasons of stillness. Without a season of prayer, I will say something I regret. Words will forever be remembered, reviewed, and continue wounding even though much time has past. The deeper the wound, the greater the chance that an apology will only be a band aid on something that needs intensive care.

Today, I may be wronged. I will feel the turn of the knife in my soul. The fruit of Your Holy Spirit is self-control. Help me walk away, pray, listen, and then respond as You lead me. In Jesus name, Amen.

What Gets Passed Down

But when the attendants delivered the king’s command, Queen Vashti refused to come. Then the king became furious and burned with anger. Esther 1:12

King Ahaseurus gave an order to his wife to appear before him and his impressive array of princes. She was to be adorned in splendor, wearing her royal crown. The king and his guests were drunk so Queen Vashti refused his request. The king was furious. He was the ruler of 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia yet he could not rule his own anger. Such a powerful man was captive to his own heart.

The irony burns within me. Of what value is one in authority if he is not in control of himself? His leadership will be deeply flawed. Those under him may submit to him out of fear but they will not respect him. He will be unable to provide an environment of safety to his subjects. The umbrella of spiritual protection will have holes in it ~ allowing the enemy access. Everyone underneath him will be vulnerable to the fallout of his immoral character. This is true whether it’s the kingdom of Persia, a country under a president, a small organization, or a home. Sin begets sin.

I consider how the sins of King Ahaseurus permeated the hierarchy. Drunkenness, anger and intimidation became the culture. Immoral leadership allowed the likes of Haman to be promoted. His ideas and biases flourished because there was spiritual blindness. Solomon wrote, When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan. Proverbs 29:2

The same dynamic happens when a leader is legalistic. Condemnation and guilt become the agents of change. A culture of judgement infects the people.

When sexual sin is swept under the rug, a culture of sexual immorality is introduced and you can be sure there will be more of the same. Someone once shared with me that they attended a church where sexual harassment was commonplace. The leadership was soft when asked to confront it. Why? They were numb to the severity of the sin because it had been the culture of the church for the past 75 years. Many grew up in it and learned from those before them to make light of it.

Solomon’s words prove true yet again. If a ruler listens to falsehood, all his officials will be wicked. Proverbs 29:12

Lord, for every one reading this who exists under toxic leadership, keep us sensitive to righteousness. Give us courage to go against the tide. Amen

God Can Always Make A Way

On the seventh day, when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine, he commanded the seven eunuchs who served him to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at. Esther 1:10-11

It was not one of the king’s more sterling moments. While in a drunken state, he sent for his wife for the purpose of parading her in front of other inebriated men. She refused. She was not going to allow herself to be a spectacle that day. In response and in a rage, the king took legal action and banished her from his presence forever. Her daring refusal prompted him to take a new queen. It was Esther who would win the title and eventually wear the crown. God is sovereign over other’s choices and His plan for His child is never snuffed out if they trust Him.

Life is messy. Holy and unholy coexist. Sin runs rampant yet God’s purposes still prevail in the midst of unrighteousness. Think of a few of the ungodly elements in Esther’s story: A king in a drunken state. Exploitation of a wife’s beauty. Wouldn’t such things thwart God’s plans? Ask Esther. Her reign as queen arose as a result of her king’s earlier indiscretion. God hopes we’ll understand that our past cannot destroy His plans of blessing for us. A legacy of unrighteousness is not too daunting for God to redeem. The limits imposed by others on our future do not impede God’s good for His child. Any of us who carries the memories of an ungodly heritage need not despair. God plucks leaders out of the homes of the ungodly as well as the homes of the faithful.

When I feel like my tomorrow hangs in the balance because someone whose heart is far from God is in authority over me, I don’t need to panic. God sees them. They cannot rob your blessing. There are roadways in the wilderness that I do not see. He carves out rivers in the desert sand and leaves me breathless with wonder at His creativity and power to work around, and through, uncooperative people. Reviewing the stories of my biblical ancestors, like Esther, is meant to encourage me when I believe the lie that nothing good can possibly come from my present circumstances. For every Joseph in captivity, know that God can easily produce a cup bearer.

I don’t know how You’re going to bring about good out of
my life right now, Lord. Things look bleak. But just as Your hand was on Esther a dark moment in history, You have not forgotten me. Thank You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

In Esther ~ God Is Not Mentioned

The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases. Proverbs 21:1

In the book of Esther, the name of God is never mentioned. Yet, His presence is so strongly felt that He doesn’t have to say a word. His sovereignty permeates the pages of the story. He is the unspoken architect of history.

Esther was adopted as a child by a righteous man named Mordecai. His godly parenting resulted in a secure, confident young woman with a deep faith. Her poise, coupled with the presence of God in her spirit, impacted the king. So much so, that he made her his new queen. When trouble entered the palace and the plot of Jewish history was woven with dark threads, Esther was able to step up to the plate with discernment and courage. She saved the lives of her husband, her father, and the entire Jewish nation.

Screen Shot 2018-05-20 at 7.07.49 PMI wonder if Esther could have traced the hand of God on the worst of days. I perceive that the dark times obscured her vision of His presence. We, like her, are fooled by the view that only today offers. The challenges, the threats, the seemingly insurmountable mountains, make it appear as if we’re surviving on our own. We embrace the lie that future outcomes are up to us. We stumble under the weight of responsibility that is not ours to bear.

God sees the sweeping story of Esther two ways ~ just as He sees my story. 1. The bird’s eye view. He felt the subtle impacts of Esther’s less than ideal upbringing. He felt her anxiousness as she prepared to meet the king for the first time. He felt the stress of the high stakes when she approached the king to reveal her Jewishness. A bird’s eye view is when God feels what I feel and enters into the moment. 2. The panoramic view. Able to see the past, present, and future within the framework of the grand story of reconciliation and redemption, God aches to see me trust Him with my challenges. He knows what my faith will cultivate. He knows how redemption will unfold. He knew the final outcome in Esther’s story and invited her to take part in the future redemption of His people. It was scary and required courage and though she had not a clue how things would play out, perhaps even facing her own death in the process, she trusted God’s sovereignty in the panoramic view of time.

“I’m here”, God is saying to us. “I’m here, with or without mention!” Your king’s heart is in God’s hands. Your husband’s behavior has not gone unnoticed. Your child’s rebellion is within the realm of His sovereignty. Our life’s tapestry, currently being woven in murky hues of gray, is under the artistic direction of our Creator. History will reveal, perhaps even a year down the road, that God was there all along. The hand of the Weaver will be evident as we view shades of gray displayed against dazzling colors that bring the grey to light. Let us not lose heart but sing of His faithfulness. If you need the warm arms of God in your present moment, He’s here. If you need the comfort of pain’s redemption in God’s panorama of timelessness, it’s there.

I can’t see You today. It’s my eyesight that fails. You are here – creating history. In Jesus’ name, Amen.