Monday, October 31, 2016

Ruth's story - no coincidences here

Are you ready to "camp out" for a while, in the book of Ruth?  I'm a-warnin' ya, because there's so much here for us! Married or single, we ladies can learn lots from this book (gents, too, if you are reading with us again) . . . I'd like to give you a "homework" assignment to read the book at your own pace. This won't take long, for there are only four chapters! But it will be awesome, because then it will be familiar to you as we go. (Grin)

Many people point to the book of Ruth as the most beautiful short story ever written. Many call it their favorite "love" story. The Jewish people especially find it significant, as it is a huge part of their Shavuot festival, and is read (and sung) aloud as part of the festivities.
Lots of folks have used it as part of their marriage ceremonies; they repeat the lines to their prospective mate:
Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:17 Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me. (Ruth 1:16b-17)
(It's lovely in the King James, isn't it?)
So, it's a story of love and commitment, on many different levels. And because it is our Bible, it's more than just a story of romance!
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide, we might have hope. (Romans 15:4)
Paul was referring specifically to the Old Testament, including our focus, the book of Ruth. We'll be taught; we'll be empowered to endure rough situations; and we'll be encouraged, too.

Let's lay some foundation for our studies this week, and in the following week, too. Ready?

The story takes place during the time that the judges ruled in Israel. This was a pretty rough time for the people of Israel, and they seemed to go from the frying pan (disobedience) into the fire (defeat). As the Bible tells us, everyone was doing what was right in his or her own eyes. There was lots of sin, and lots of sinful people who had hardened their hearts and had quit listening to their consciences, too.

Now, as a result of all this, there was a pretty bad famine in Bethlehem. It's easy to see that the famine was the direct consequence of the people's sins:
Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. 17 Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut up the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the Lord is giving you. (Deuteronomy 11:16-17)
But that didn't seem to occur to them, did it? They just looked around, some of them did, and figured out where to go. Where was the grass greener? Well, they didn't have smartphones to look at, but they must have heard that the land of Moab had rich soil, and more importantly, had been experiencing lovely rains that made crops grow. So, Elimelech packed up all his stuff, and his wife Naomi packed up hers, and their two sons (Mahlon and Kilion) toddled along, too.  Now, if you look at a map, you see that this was no easy trip -- they needed to go north and then cross the Jordan at the fords. It would have been about one hundred miles, and that's about a week or more of travel, in those days.

Oh, Elimelech! What are you thinking? Moab was a long-time enemy of Israel. Back in Numbers we can read that the Moabites were truly bad boys and influenced their Israelite neighbors to slide into sexual immorality and even pagan worship. And in Deuteronomy, we read this:
No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation. For they did not come to meet you with bread and water on your way when you came out of Egypt, and they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharaim to pronounce a curse on you. (Deuteronomy 23:3-4)
As if it's not bad enough that Elimelech is trying to flee from God's chastening, now he is really pushing it, going to live among the Moabites. And his two sons are going to marry Moabite women: Orpah and Ruth.
Well, Elimelech passed away in Moab, and then about ten years later, his sons die. Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth are all widows now. No means of survival, and no real status. They hear, however, that the famine in Bethlehem is ended.
Naomi has been a good example for these Moabite women for all the years she has lived there. It appears that she has been faithful to her God, as we studied some weeks ago. Ruth has seen the difference that faith makes, and even though Orpah turns back, Ruth is committed to returning with Naomi.

Remember now, there are no "coincidences" here. We see the providential will of God in these events -- a man flees the famine and goes to Moab, where his son marries a Moabitess. The man's wife teaches the Moabitess bride the things of God; then both women return to the promised land, where their adventure in faith continues.

I hope you will join us next time! I believe you will enjoy our study!

Friday, October 28, 2016

Friday slowdown

This song came to mind at the close of yesterday's post....

If you could see what I once was
If you could go with me
Back to where I started from
Then I know you would see
A miracle of love that took me
In it's sweet embrace
And made me what I am today
Just an old sinner saved by grace
I'm just a sinner saved by grace
When I stood condemned to death
He took my place
Now I live and breathe in freedom
With each breath of life I take
Loved and forgiven, back with the living
I'm just a sinner saved by grace
How could I boast on anything
I've ever seen or done?
How could I dare to claim as mine
The victories God has won?
Where would I be
Had God not brought me
Gently to this place?
I'm here to say I'm nothing
But a sinner saved by grace

Thursday, October 27, 2016

A sinner like me, conclusion

Yesterday we watched; we were spectators as Simon disrespected Jesus by not being a good host: he didn't wash Jesus' feet, nor did he anoint His head with oil, nor did he kiss Jesus' cheek.

We saw an uninvited a woman as she was overwhelmed by the nearness of Jesus and the sinfulness of her own life, and she wept. Her tears fell on His feet, so she wiped His feet with her hair, anointed them with her perfume, and kissed them.

Simon was taking all of this in, and thought he had a "Gotcha!" on Jesus. All he had to do was expose the fact that this woman was a prostitute, and the teacher's influence would be destroyed. Simon and the rest of the Pharisees would be bothered by Him no longer.

At least, that is what Simon thought.
In his self-righteousness, he underestimated his foe. Because his eyes were blinded by foolish pride, he had no clue Who Jesus was, nor what He was all about.
Oh, self-righteousness is a very ugly thing. It's like having a log in one's eye, so that the speck in someone else's eye is hard to see. Or you could say it's like having goggles on that prevent you from seeing clearly. These goggles make it impossible for the self-righteous person to see the value in other people.  These are the people who will scorn tears, and laugh at people who show repentance. They are like bullies in the schoolyard; they think they are better than everyone else, and they will take every opportunity to remind all of the kids around.
I bet that as he watched the woman kneel at Jesus' feet, Simon was thinking up some mean, spiteful comment that would embarrass her, and embarrass Jesus, too.

Well, Jesus is not worried about insults against Himself. But He isn't going to put up with Simon's arrogant attack against this woman, sorrowing over her sins.
The Great Physician used His surgical skills, and He proceeded to cut Simon precisely as needed to expose the hypocrisy within him.
He tells him, "Simon, I have something to tell you."
That should have given Simon pause, but remember, he has those goggles on. (Grin)
"What is it you want to tell me, teacher?"
Jesus tells a parable.
 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. (Luke 7:41-43)
Then Jesus turned His back on Simon and faced the woman. Symbolic of His turning away from the self-righteous, judgmental man, and turning to face the simple repentance of the prostitute.
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:44-50)
Looking down at the woman, he delivers his message to Simon with surgical precision: he who has been forgiven little, loves little.
Simon was someone who probably had never felt the need for forgiveness. He thought himself miles and miles removed from people who needed forgiveness, and so he felt little compassion for anyone who did. Jesus said "her many sins have been forgiven, for she loved much."
We know that she loved "much" because she was perfectly willing to kneel before Him; she kissed His feet; she repented. The woman knew she was sinful, and He was righteous. She loved Him. She was a sinner like me.
Well, Simon didn't want to humble himself. He didn't want to kiss Jesus' cheek. We can see that Jesus wasn't important to Him. Of course, there are some folks today who are willing to kiss Him, but it's more as if they are equals. Not that He is their God -- more like He is an acquaintance, and they can listen to Him if they feel like it, but they can also ignore Him if they like.

But those of us who realize that we've sinned and fallen short, are ready to kiss Him in the way the sinful woman did. We know in our hearts that the only way to approach Christ is to kneel before Him and give Him the love He deserves, because He has forgiven so much in us.

Simon just loved himself, I think. He didn't think he needed a Savior. He didn't have any love or compassion for others; he didn't understand the God of his people. Those goggles kept him from loving and knowing God, and that made it so he couldn't love people:
 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (I John 4:7-8)
When he looked at the woman, Simon saw a prostitute. Nothing more.
When Jesus looked on the woman, He saw her as she could be. To Jesus, sin is just something that hides the true beauty underneath. It is something that needs to be stripped away to reveal the image of God that has been muddied and soiled. When we humble ourselves at his feet, we are acknowledging our sinfulness and the emptiness of our souls. It is then that He can remake us as God intended.

I don't know about you, but I read this story with a mixture of joy and tears. I'm confronted with the fact that I'm a sinner, like this woman, but then I'm rescued from that, by a forgiving and loving Savior! Praise Him!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A sinner like me, continued

I'm glad you have joined us today! We're studying the woman whom three of the gospels don't name, but her deed and Jesus' words to her have resonated through history. . .
Let's dive in!

Jesus had been preaching in Galilee for almost a year when this happened, according to Luke. Jesus had become an extremely popular teacher, especially among the common people, the everyday Joes like you and me. Look at his record so far -- He has healed a leprous man, a paralyzed man, and lots of other folks. He has cast out demons and even raise a widow's son from the dead. Everybody loves Him.
Well, almost everyone.
Actually, the scribes and the Pharisees couldn't stand Him. He didn't defer to them, and that hurt their egos. And He said things that challenged all of their man-made rules that they had added to God's rules. Boy, that didn't set well with them, as you can imagine!

They have tried different strategies: they tried ignoring Him, but that didn't work. They tried opposing Him openly, but that failed, too.  They've even tried to trap Him in theological questions and disputes, but He deftly turns their questions and leaves them embarrassed, and the people who are supposed to be their followers are left smiling.
This Simon that Luke mentions, though, as "Simon the Pharisee," thinks he has found a way to remove Jesus as an influence on the people. He thinks he can humiliate Him and then he and the other pompous religious leaders won't have to be bothered any more.
What does Simon do?
Well, he invites Him to a meal at his home, and then he snubs Him.
Scholars tell us that a good host in that time would make certain that when a guest arrived, one of the servants washed his feet. All of the dust and dirt, mud and grime, would be washed away, and the guest would be welcomed -- the next welcoming act would be that the servant would also anoint the visitor's head with oil.  Think just the servant had responsibilities? Not so. The host would (if he were adhering to the etiquette of the day) greet his guest with a kiss on the cheek; this was a special honor. It kinda said, "hey, you're like one of the family. Sit deep. Be comfy. Enjoy."
So when Simon did NOT do these things, it was obvious to all that he held Jesus in contempt. . .
And Simon didn't care who knew it, either.
Maybe he thought that Jesus would react by making a statement or behaving in a way that would embarrass His disciples. That He would respond to being slighted in a negative way. Perhaps Simon thought that if he treated Jesus rudely, He would become angry, and give the Pharisees something to point to.
We have all been treated rudely at one time or another in our lives. Maybe we've said something in response that wasn't very nice, or maybe we've been less than gracious in our actions. Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Jesus was tempted just as we are, but without sin. He responded to this pettiness by . . .

By ignoring it.
Seriously. The Jesus Who had walked the streets of heaven, and Who could call on angels to assist Him, didn't worry about it. He didn't need Simon's approval, nor his acceptance. (Grin) Whoa, there's a lesson for us there, right? We can rise above the pettiness of this world if we stay focused on who we really are . . . we're the children of God! We have an inheritance in heaven that some will never see, and we have a hope that keeps us going in the midst of strife or sadness. Compared to those promises, who really cares if the world approves of us!
So, let's remember this example of how to handle situations like this. Jesus shows us how to live our lives -- He simply ignored Simon's bad behavior, and didn't give him the satisfaction he wanted.

Ahh, but then something changed. A woman walked into the room. Um, how shall I say this? Scholars have looked at the translations here and well, she wasn't the kind of woman that you would think Simon would have invited to this party. She was a prostitute. She may have been dressed in a way similar to other women, but perhaps more expensively. And she would have smelled nice. Let's face it, in a culture where bathing didn't happen frequently, a vial of perfume around her neck would have truly set her apart! So she is here, though she wasn't invited. Verse 37 of Luke's chapter 7 says that she "learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house."
Perhaps she was invited by a friend, or perhaps she slipped in with no invitation at all....after all, this would be like one of us entertaining some celebrity in our home. Maybe the perfume was to be a gift, so she might have stood quietly, hoping to catch His attention.
But then she started to cry.
Probably was not a part of her plan.
Probably just welled up within her and spilled out.
I think that if I had been that close to Jesus, I would have been overwhelmed, and wept, too. I think being that close to Jesus "gets to" a person. Suddenly we realize how shabby and sinful our lives are, and how empty. Something broke within this woman, and her tears begin to flow.

She's a sinner like me.
And like you.
And her tears literally fall on Jesus' unwashed feet. They would have left streaks in the dirt and the grime that Simon neglected to wash away.
How embarrassing!
She falls to her knees and begins to wipe His feet with her hair. Then she pours the perfume from her vial onto His feet, and the aroma begins to waft about the room. And she kisses His feet. She is so humbled that she doesn't care who sees her, or what they say about her actions.

Simon probably thinks this is a "Gotcha!" moment. He thinks Jesus doesn't know who this woman is. That He is unaware of her occupation. All Simon has to do, is reveal the woman, and he will destroy the teacher. So he thinks.

Join us tomorrow for our conclusion.....

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

What are we listening to?

As the days get shorter, and the number of establishments offering pumpkin-flavored everything increase dramatically, our thoughts begin to turn to autumn, harvest time, and the approach of one of my favorite holidays: Thanksgiving.

No, it's not here yet, but it's good at any time of the year to concentrate on having a grateful heart!
Praise the Lord.Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever. (Psalm 106:1)
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)
He has blessed us so richly -- so far above what we deserve! Thanksgiving Day is just not enough time for us to speak our gratitude to Him.

Let's determine to thank Him at our prayer times this week. I kinda think we will get up from our knees with a different attitude!

Thank you, Lord!

Monday, October 24, 2016

A sinner like me

Our studies this week are fraught with peril. (Cue the dramatic music.)

Oh, yes, we tackle some difficult subjects here on the study blog.

But this one is surrounded by controversy. The peril is that we will allow ourselves to be pulled into some chases down rabbit trails. You know what I mean. Sometimes we can get distracted by a side issue, instead of focusing on the "main thing."

This week we will study an incident that is recorded in all four gospels. That in itself makes it a little extraordinary . . . some stories are only mentioned in one or even two of the gospel accounts in our New Testament. For this to appear in all four is remarkable.
Scholars tell us that the gospels were written by four different people. Their choice of words, their focus audience, and even the happenings that they chose to include were all very different. That makes sense, no? Matthew was a Jewish man, and he wrote his gospel to "persuade" his people -- Luke was a Greek, and a physician, so his gospel of Christ's life is different in many ways from Matthew's account.

Well, as someone dear to me always encourages me to do, I'm going to "cut to the chase" here and we'll peruse the four accounts . . . (hang in there, I know this is going to be lengthy, but we are studying God's Word, and our investment in time and attention will be good for us, don't ya know?)

Here it is in Matthew 26:
While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”10 Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. 12 When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.13 Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
Here is Mark's telling of the story:
While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
Luke's gospel (chapter 7) includes a parable from Jesus:
When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume.38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”“Tell me, teacher,” he said.41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
And finally, John's account of an incident:
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him,objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
Alrighty. We can see there are some differences here, and some similarities. The woman is named; the woman isn't named. The response is from all the disciples, or it's from Judas, or it's not even voiced - just the thoughts of a Pharisee. This happened in Bethany, or it happened elsewhere. Even the timing of the event along the span of Christ's ministry has been debated.
No rabbit trails for us, though. You with me, here? I think that we can learn much from this story, even without pinning down the who, what, where, when, and why . . .

Join me next time, won't you?

(And yes, I will divulge my humble opinion. I find myself agreeing with the commentators who use the clues to say perhaps this was two separate but similar incidents. But I think the important things to learn here have little to do with my opinion!)

Friday, October 21, 2016

Friday slowdown

Are we ready to let God use our lives, as Esther did?

There’s a dawn arising on a brand new day
There’s a strong wind stirring ‘cross the ancient graves
There’s a voice that’s calling ‘will you be set free?’
There’s a change a coming
Let it start in me

Let it start in me
Let it start in me
There’s a change a coming 
Let it start in me

There’s a fire that’s burning sweeping ‘cross this land
There’s a heat consuming every evil plan
There is gold emerging from refining flame
There’s a diamond sparkling
Where there once was shame

There’s a revolution gathering o’er the sea
We all know it’s coming people must be free
Feel the tides feel the tides a changing
Hear the waves roll in
Let this revolution wash away our sin

Let it start in me
Let it start in me
There’s a change a coming 
Let it start in me

There’s a storm a brewing 
There’s the sound of rain 
When the thunder’s rumbling ‘cross the thirsty plain
Let the drought be over if we just believe that the rains are coming
Let it rain on me

Thursday, October 20, 2016

For such a time as this, conclusion

What an awesome study this has been! I hope you have been blessed by it; I have learned so much myself!
Today we are concluding our look at the book of Esther, and we'll focus on our main character . . .

With the help of her uncle, who was really a step-dad to her (wowser, that is a lesson right there, is it not? How many of us or our friends are step-parents.....what an awesome responsibility that is, and here is evidence that love and instruction can make a huge difference in young people's lives!) .....
I got off track there, didn't I?
OK, back to my thought -- with Mordecai's help, Esther understood that God had placed her in a position to make a difference. She was able to model extreme courage for those of us who could use an example when our faith is teetering on the edge of I-don't-think-I-can-do-that. Esther bravely did something that could have caused her own death.

I guess that one of the greatest lessons from this story is that God has placed EACH ONE OF US in positions where we can influence others for good. We are never, ever insignificant. He has put all of us where we can make a difference. We are in our families for a particular reason. We are in our neighborhoods for a specific reason. We are in our churches and schools for God's purposes. We are to be salt and light; we are to influence lives; we are to communicate Christ's love to our fellow employees where we work. No one else can do exactly the same job that we can do. There is a God-given purpose for our lives, and He placed us there for a very important reason. We might not see it now. But God never does things by accident!

We may grumble sometimes about our job. We may complain about our school, or mumble under our breath about things at church. Sometimes we should -- maybe there is something constructive that needs to happen after we complain!
So let's not carp so much that we miss out on opportunities to do His work. Behind each and every circumstance in our lives is a greater purpose than what we can see right now. Perhaps we are on a committee at school or at church. It's not easy to stand up and speak, but our input may be just what is needed! Maybe we are waiting at the oil change place, or at a doctor's office. Is there an opportunity to speak up for God when you hear or engage in a conversation?

Sometimes I think that God has placed us where we are, not simply to read a magazine while we wait, or listen to a conversation and not say a word for Him. Perhaps the people around us have been placed in our lives for such a time as this. Utter a silent prayer for guidance and then take a holy risk. Watch what God can do with our lives! Of course, we may not see the fruits of our risk-taking, at least not until heaven. We never know what long-term effect our words and prayers will have.

Did you notice something in this book?
Even though we can see evidence of God's presence behind the scenes, His name is not mentioned in the book of Esther. He is not visible, but He is working His will . . . . He brought Esther to Persia, and made her grow up to be a lovely and personable young woman who would win the "beauty pageant." He placed her as queen, and placed Mordecai in just the right spot to overhear the plot to assassinate the king. He may even have used Esther's cooking to keep the king up at night so he'd hear the story of Mordecai saving his life! And he made sure that Haman was in the palace at the right moment, so that Mordecai would be honored.

Perhaps we need to focus on looking for God's leading each day. If we expect to see Him at work in our lives, we will be surprised at how many times we will have the opportunity to serve Him! There are no "coincidences" with God, and our lives are filled with divine appointments, not accidents.

What does He have planned for you and for me, today?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

For such a time as this, continuing

The book of Esther certainly has been an emotional roller-coaster ride, hasn't it?  We have met some people who have been good, some who've been bad, and one that was downright ugly! (Grin) Haman was a mess, wasn't he?

In the first part of the book, we saw a queen take a courageous stand. Vashti took a moral stand. Remember her part of the story? She knew that her morals would have been compromised if she had walked around in that room full of drunken men. She decided not to cross the line, because she felt like it was the wrong thing to do.

What about us? Do we need to take a moral stand in our relationships? Is there someone who is trying to get us to compromise? Maybe it's a compromise of sexual standards. Maybe it's integrity. Maybe it's a question of how we treat people. Don't give in. Take a stand! We must hold our ground . . . if we have already crossed the line, we can ask God for forgiveness and make a fresh commitment. It's never, ever too late for that. Perhaps we've been talking to ourselves and justifying our compromise, but deep inside the Spirit is telling us that we are doing wrong. We need to quit trying to fool ourselves and live in God's ways.

That doesn't mean it's easy! In fact, sometimes it can be awfully controversial. And it can definitely make us unpopular. Doing the right thing can have some unpleasant consequences in the short term. Look at Queen Vashti . . . she did the right thing, but she lost her position of royalty and power. No more influence. Probably not as much wealth. She was banished from the kingdom. If we take a moral stand in sexual matters, or in matters of finances or integrity, or in matters of how we treat other people, we may be made fun of. We may lose some "friends." We may be ridiculed. We may lose some wealth, too. It requires courage.

Is it worth it?
You bet it is!

Did we see someone else in the story take a stand? We sure did. Mordecai.
Mordecai was willing to take a spiritual stand. Mordecai was a man who was devoted to his faith, and to his God. He had surrendered his life to God, and he wasn't willing to worship, or bow down to, anyone or anything else. It wasn't an easy stand to take. Think about him, seeing Haman coming down the street, and all of the people bowing to him. Think about the courage that it took, to be the ONE person who didn't bow down!

It takes courage to be a Christian in today's world, too. It takes courage for some of us to go to church. It takes courage for us to check out this faith that we see in others. It takes courage to turn our lives over to Jesus . . . we must have the courage to admit that we are sinners. To admit that we need God.
Then it takes courage to face those sins, and that holy God, and ask Him to forgive us. And then, when we receive Him into our lives, it takes courage to follow Him.
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Romans 10:9-10)
Do you and I have the courage of Mordecai? Will we stand up and be counted as a follower of Christ?
Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. (Matthew 10:32)
Do the people around us even know that we are Christians? Let's be like Mordecai and speak up.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Verses that inspire us


Our verse at the close of our study yesterday was an inspiring one:
 “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16)
Can you hear her heart beating as she walks down the corridor to the huge doors? As they swing open, do you hear her take a deep breath?

Oh, the relief she must have felt, when the king smiled and pointed his scepter in her direction! He asks her what is her request -- he tells her that if she would like it, he will give her half of his kingdom! Esther simply asked for him to come to a special banquet in her quarters, and to bring his second in command, Haman, with him. After their sumptuous meal, the king asks again what she would like from him. This brave lady was a master of suspense -- she tells him to come back (and bring Haman) tomorrow for another feast, and she will tell him.

Can't you just picture Haman, strutting around? I bet he feels mighty important; he is the only one that has been invited to eat with the king and queen, and he gets to do it again tomorrow! In fact, chapter five notes that he is in "high spirits."
Oh, what a bummer, though.
As he is leaving, he spots Mordecai at the gate. And Mordecai not only doesn't bow to him, like all the rest, he doesn't even acknowledge Haman. All of the joy gets sucked out of the moment for ole Haman. He is so mad! He just can't wait for the king's decree to be accomplished. When he gets home, he tells all of his friends about his importance. He tells his wife and the others that he is going back tomorrow for the second dinner -- but it's so bothersome that he has to see Mordecai at the gate.

Well, his wife and his friends are just as bad as he. They advise him to build a huge gallows - scaffolding that is about seventy-five feet high! And then, they say, he should ask the king to hang Mordecai from it. After all, a fellow that eats with the royal family surely deserves to have his enemy done away with, right? Haman probably couldn't sleep that night, from the anticipation of having Mordecai gone.

There is someone else who can't sleep, though. Perhaps the king ate too much at Esther's banquet, but he was restless and couldn't sleep well. He thought that some dry, boring reading might soothe him to sleep, so he instructed one of his servants to read from the official records. Just as he started to doze off, he heard about what Mordecai had done a few months earlier, and he realized that he'd not rewarded him for his loyalty. How embarrassing! He needed to do something special for Mordecai.

The first person to the court a few hours later was Haman, so that he could talk about hanging Mordecai. The king asked Haman a very simple question -- "What should be done for the man the king delights to honor?"
Haman was absolutely sure that the king was talking about him! He came up with an elaborate plan to clothe this person in a royal robe, sit him on the king's horse, and have him led around the streets of the city by one of the princes!
Well, the king liked that idea a lot, and told Haman to "make it so." To immediately get the robe, the horse, and do as suggested, but not for himself . . . for Mordecai the Jew!
I expect that he was in a pretty foul humor when he went to the palace that night for supper. Once again, the king asked Esther what she wanted, and this time she was ready to tell him.
Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor with you, Your Majesty, and if it pleases you, grant me my life—this is my petition. And spare my people—this is my request. For I and my people have been sold to be destroyed, killed and annihilated. (Esther 7:3-4a)
Now, suddenly, the king realized that his beautiful bride was Jewish. Without realizing it, he had signed the queen's death warrant. He asked her who had dared to do such a thing, and she calmly replies that it is Haman.
Haman fell out of his chair, and the king went out of the room in a rage. When he came back into Esther's chambers, Haman was begging for his life -- but Persian etiquette forbade anyone from coming within seven paces of the queen . . . and Haman was leaning on her, on her couch. Oh boy! The king exclaims that Haman is "hitting on" his queen, and instructs the servants and soldiers to have him executed.
(Some scholars translate the verses to read that a pole had been erected, instead of a gallows, and that Haman was impaled upon it. Whether a gallows, or a pole, Haman was gone!)

The king responded to Esther's supplications and reversed the decree, so the Jewish people would not be killed. He even supplied the Jewish people with weapons so that they could defend themselves in the future. Because of the bravery of Esther, her people were saved!

We'll learn more from Esther tomorrow.....

Monday, October 17, 2016

For such a time as this, continued

Last week, we saw that Mordecai heard about (and revealed to Esther) a plot against King Xerxes (or Ahasuerus) of Persia. The assasins were foiled, and life went on . . .and it's recorded for us beginning with chapter four of the book of Esther. Yes, life went on....
Except that the king was fearful for his life now. So he shakes up his government, big time! He promotes a really slimy politician to be his right-hand man. (Does this sound anything like the politics of today? Just sayin.....)
Haman is the new fellow's name, and he is known as an "Agagite." That didn't ring a bell with me, either. (Grin)
So, it turns out that an Agagite is an "Amelikite." Remember them? They were enemies of God's people way back in the book of Exodus. You can check it out in chapter 17. The history is this: Saul was ordered by God to completely destroy the Amelikites in I Samuel 15. He disobeyed, and let the king of the Amelikite people live. Because of that, Saul lost his kingdom. And about 700 years later, his sin is still causing trouble for God's people.

This Haman was such an obnoxious guy. He demanded that everyone bow down before him whenever he walked by. No, I don't mean a nod, or a slight bend at the waist for the sake of politeness. He literally wanted everyone to bow down -- and they all did, except for one courageous guy: Mordecai, Esther's uncle. Because Mordecai was a Jew, and because he followed his God faithfully, he was committed to only bowing before God. To him, the verses in Exodus really meant something!

                  You shall have no other gods before me . . . You shall not bow down 
                   to them or worship them.... (Exodus 20:3-5)

Well, the fact that Mordecai didn't bow to him really bothered ole Haman. Got under his skin something fierce. And when he found out that Mordecai was a Jew, it brought back all of the bad feelings from his heritage. He decided to devise a plan to destroy Mordecai and all of the Jews that were scattered around in the Persian empire. Haman bribed the king and persuaded him to sign a decree to destroy all of the Jews on a set day in the month we call February. Young and old, women, men, children. Mordecai hears of the plan and begins to mourn.

He stops eating. He weeps and wails, and puts dust on his head. He substitutes coarse sackcloth for his everyday clothes, as a symbol of death and decay. When Queen Esther hears about it, she sends a messenger to ask what in the world is going on . . . apparently she hadn't heard about the decree yet.

What if we went home this evening and turned on the television, and the news anchor calmly said that on a certain day, all of the Christians in our country were to be killed.
How would we feel?
I have no doubt that Esther was upset about the decree. Mordecai pleads with her, to use her high position to take a stand, and to save her people.

                  Please go into the king's presence and beg for mercy and plead
                  with him for our people. (Esther 4:8)

Esther's first response was a fearful one. For one thing, no one knew that she was Jewish. For another, she knew what had happened when the former queen dared to go against the king. Plus, no one was allowed into his presence unless you had been summoned! In fact, unless you were summoned by him, and he pointed his scepter toward you, you could be put to death! Persian etiquette was no small or trivial matter, eh? Lastly, she told him, it had been about thirty days since she had seen the king.

Mordecai told her that she needed to "step up to the plate." He made a very convincing argument:
he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14)
He's telling her, don't think that you will escape death when the killing happens . . you will be wiped out just like every other Jew in the kingdom because you are one of God's chosen people. And, he says, if  you don't do something, Esther, God will send someone else. Esther, you aren't indispensable, for God will accomplish His purpose. Mordecai is reminding her that God's plans will still move forward, but she could miss out on the opportunity to serve God and enjoy the blessings that come from that service. Besides, he says, God put you here for a reason -- for such a time as this!

Esther's courage picks up and her faith is encouraged. She knows that she cannot do this alone, so she calls on all of the Jews in Susa to pray and fast for three days. Then she tells Mordecai that she will go to the king. She is risking her life for her people -- "if I perish, I perish."

Did you see what happened here? The winner of the Persian beauty pageant just became a courageous woman of God!

We'll continue with Esther next time . . . stay tuned!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Friday slowdown

Do we sometimes feel weary?

Just tired of our "well doing?"

We have the best future to look forward to, that anyone can imagine!
Oh well, I'm tired and so weary
But I must go alone
Till the lord comes and calls, calls me away, oh yes
Well the morning's so bright
And the lamp is alight
And the night, night is as black as the sea, oh yes
There will be peace in the valley for me, some day
There will be peace in the valley for me, oh Lord I pray
There'll be no sadness, no sorrow
No trouble, trouble I see
There will be peace in the valley for me, for me
Well the bear will be gentle
And the wolves will be tame
And the lion shall lay down by the lamb, oh yes
And the beasts from the wild
Shall be lit by a child
And I'll be changed, changed from this creature that I am, oh yes
There will be peace in the valley for me, some day
There will be peace in the valley for me, oh Lord I pray
There'll be no sadness, no sorrow
No trouble, trouble I see
There will be peace in the valley for me, for me
I love the old hymns as well as the new songs. I thought this was a precious song, and wanted to share it with you all.

Blessings to all, and a pleasant weekend . . .