Monday, 29 September 2014

Unusual

So, Esther has feared for life by approaching the king uninvited, but, instead of punishment, she is welcomed warmly and generously. He even offers her half his kingdom!

I expected her to launch straight in with her message. After all, the situation is desperate and MUST be favourably resolved for Esther and her people.

She didn't. The days of prayer and fasting have made her wise.

"Esther answered, “Your Majesty, please come with Haman to a dinner I will prepare for you later today.”
The king said to his servants, “Hurry and get Haman, so we can accept Esther’s invitation.”
The king and Haman went to Esther’s dinner,"   
Esther 5:4 - 5

Would I have had this wisdom and courage? Patience is hardly one of my virtues, but loyalty is: I can imagine having deep antipathy towards Haman, would-be murderer of my family. How could Esther invite HIM as well as the king?

This was so wise. Esther trusted God to give her the right words to say to the king. She knew that Haman needed to be present to hear the king's answer, so that he could not, later, deny all knowledge nor pretend that he had misunderstood any relaying of the message.

I pray that I would have the wisdom to approach problems patiently, carefully and with great wisdom. Only possible by waiting on God first in prayer.

Psalm 20:4 says: "May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed."

I pray that, first, HE gives me the desires of my heart. May it be HIS will in me. As it was for Esther.

Lessons from Esther; Esther 5

Whitney, at Love God Greatly, has this take on Esther:

"How can we confidently enter the hard places God has called us to, and become women that God can use? Together, let’s learn from Esther Chapter 5:
1. A woman God can use in the hard places is willing to take that brave first step…
It’s one thing to say you’ll do hard things, but it’s quite another to take that first step and stand in the “inner court,” risking it all. As we begin Chapter 5, we see Esther entering in to approach the king. A woman God can use does more than just talk. After proper preparation, she turns ideas into action, she follows through with her commitments, and she doesn’t let fear stand in the way of taking that first brave step, because she knows that the battle is the Lord’s (Prov 21:31).
2. A woman God can use in the hard places knows when to speak and when to remain silent…
The Bible is packed full of verses that talk about the tongue and its power. It has the potential to be used for good, but there is also great danger in speaking many words (Prov. 10:19). I find it beautiful, refreshing and convicting that as Esther enters the inner court of the king’s palace in Chapter 5, she wins the favor of the king without even speaking a word. A woman God can use knows when to speak and when to remain silent, because she knows it is God alone who has the power to move in the hearts of kings (Prov. 21:1).
3. A woman that God can use in the hard places earns respect instead of demanding it…
In Chapter 5, we see a stark contrast between the way Esther appears before the king and the manner in which Haman handles Mordecai’s irreverence to him. Esther is humble, deliberate and wise in her approach, and Haman responds with pride, wrath and vengeance. A woman that God can use earns respect instead of demanding it, because she finds her identity and worth in Christ instead of from the things of this world (Col. 3:3).
4. A woman that God can use in the hard places knows that God’s purpose for her life isn’t just about her…
The favor that is on Esther’s life to this point is really extraordinary. This girl has gone from orphan to Queen, and in Chapter 5, Xerxes is willing to offer her “even to the half” of his kingdom. But Esther doesn’t settle for comfort, and she’s not easily swayed by fame and riches. Esther remembers the task to which she has been called, and she remembers the lives that are at stake. A woman that God can use knows that God’s purpose for her life isn’t just about her, because she remembers a world in need of a Savior (1 Cor. 15:57).

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Facing fear

Three days later, Esther goes to the king. Three days of prayer and fasting. Three days, in which Esther has faced the possibility that these might be her last three days left to live.

We think of those other three days, after Jesus had died and seemingly disappeared from the face of the earth, when the disciples' world had ended. Three days of grief.

Esther, too. In those three days, she faces death. Perhaps not for the first time: she endured the death of her former life when she was taken from Mordecai's family, the death of her innocence and purity; the death of her hopes for her future. Perhaps, even then, fearing she might lose her life if she did not please the king. Perhaps she had lived under threats for a long time. Esther was no stranger to fear.

Or, perhaps, her days of prayer and fasting had led her to a renewed faith, a greater sense of God's protection and an inner certainty that what she was doing would end well. Psalm 34:7 says that "God’s angel sets up a circle of protection around us while we pray."

Whichever it was, Esther had faced and overcome her fears and was now taking action to save her family.

"Three days later, Esther dressed in her royal robes and went to the inner court of the palace in front of the throne. The king was sitting there, facing the open doorway. He was happy to see Esther, and he held out the gold scepter to her.

When Esther came up and touched the tip of the scepter, the king said, “Esther, what brings you here? Just ask, and I will give you as much as half of my kingdom.”"


Whitney, at Love God Greatly, says: "But Esther saved the doubt and the drama, and instead responded with:“Then I will go.”

From preparation to service. From out from under the covers and into the hard places.

I want to crawl out from under the covers, don’t you? I don’t want to look back on my life and realize that in all of my hiding and avoiding and wishing hard things away, that I missed out on key opportunities to be used by God. At some point we actually have to get up, show up, and with much wisdom and trust in the One who holds the world in His hands, engage in the hard places He has called us to."


Death, for Esther, does not happen. The king was, after all, pleased to see her. Extravagantly so. (I guess he must have been drunk again. However did he manage to rule such a great empire?)

Esther's mission is destined for success. Even the combined wealth of all the Jews must be far less than the value of half of the Persian empire.

Too good to be true: of course. It was an empty promise. Still, this is a good sign - for the moment. What happens next, though, is not what we expect.

To be continued...

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Preparation

Esther knows she can no longer sit on the fence, but must act. The law says that ANYONE who goes into the king's presence without being summoned must be killed, unless the king then gives permission by stretching out his sceptre towards them. Perhaps that could happen; but she doesn't know. She has decided to go to the king in an attempt to save her people's life and realises that, whatever happens, she is likely to die.

So, wisely, she decides to pray first, and asks Mordecai to pray with her in support. 
"Esther sent back her answer to Mordecai: “Go and get all the Jews living in Susa together. Fast for me. Don’t eat or drink for three days, either day or night. I and my maids will fast with you. If you will do this, I’ll go to the king, even though it’s forbidden. If I die, I die.
Mordecai left and carried out Esther’s instructions."

C S Lewis puts it like this: "I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God- it changes me."

And fasting? Fasting really, really concentrates my mind on prayer...

Psalm 32:6 - 8 encourages me: we can come to God in trouble because, despite what we are like, he loves and forgives us.
"Therefore let all the faithful pray to you while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters will not reach them.

You are my hiding-place; you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
"

Esther 4:15 - 17

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

At this time...THIS time.

Was Esther going to do what Mordecai asked her, and go to see the king even though she wasn't allowed to? He didn't wait to find out: "When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, 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. 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 4:12 - 14

Esther now has a decision to make: does she believe Mordecai, or does she think that she, as queen, will be protected? Will she risk the king's displeasure and thus her royal position? Or is she, too, now facing death? No doubt there would have been many at court who were jealous of her and would have insisted that the king's orders be followed.

Or perhaps she recognised the truth of Mordecai's words: that everything that had happened to her so far (taken from her family to the harem and then being actually chosen as queen) was to put her in the perfect position to plead for the lives of her family and her fellows.

"And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this."  Famous words. But God puts us all into our circumstances for good reasons. What can I do today to take a stand for justice, peace and love? Who am I placed to talk to, to demonstrate God's love to?

Quite often - especially at the moment, as we face retirement and changes in our lives - I find myself absorbed in plans for a future which may never happen. Which probably won't happen the way I expect it to, anyway. So planning and looking ahead is all well and good, but not at the expense of the present. Here is a challenge, to look at MY present circumstances with fresh eyes and take courage to speak out, to act.

"If not me - who? If not now - when?"

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Desperate

Up until the plot to kill the king, Esther's relationship with Mordecai was a secret. No longer. She has now sent Hathach to find out why Mordecai is behaving as if some terrible tragedy has happened, and the detail of the account is compelling:

"Esther called for Hathach, one of the royal eunuchs whom the king had assigned to wait on her, and told him to go to Mordecai and get the full story of what was happening. So Hathach went to Mordecai in the town square in front of the King’s Gate. Mordecai told him everything that had happened to him. He also told him the exact amount of money that Haman had promised to deposit in the royal bank to finance the massacre of the Jews. Mordecai also gave him a copy of the bulletin that had been posted in Susa ordering the massacre so he could show it to Esther when he reported back with instructions to go to the king and intercede and plead with him for her people.

Hathach came back and told Esther everything Mordecai had said. Esther talked it over with Hathach and then sent him back to Mordecai with this message: “Everyone who works for the king here, and even the people out in the provinces, knows that there is a single fate for every man or woman who approaches the king without being invited: death. The one exception is if the king extends his gold scepter; then he or she may live. And it’s been thirty days now since I’ve been invited to come to the king.”
"

Proverbs 20:28 says "Love and faithfulness keep a king safe; through love his throne is made secure." which the CEV translates as "Rulers are protected by their mercy and loyalty, but they must be merciful for their kingdoms to last."  Xerxes did not have love and mercy to keep him safe so, to ensure his own safety, he  had surrounded himself with such an amount of physical and legal barriers that not even his own wives could see him unannounced.

It sounded like such a simple request: just ask Esther to go and tell the king what is going to happen.

Yet it was so much more. Moredecai was well aware that the order to massacre the Jews had come, albeit through the hand of Haman, directly from the king: signed and sealed.  He must have thought so highly of Esther that he believed that she could get the king to change his mind. Was Mordecai unaware of palace protocol? Or was he so desperate that he wanted Esther to do everything in her power - and beyond it - to help save their people?

Am I so desperate to love and serve God that I will do everything in my power to save His people?


Esther 4:8 - 11

Monday, 22 September 2014

Comfort and encouragement

Interesting. Esther's first response to her uncle's distress is, perhaps, to try to pretend that there is nothing the matter. Why? Because she sends him fresh clothes to replace his mourning garb. It is a poor response: it negates his feelings, tells him he is doing the wrong thing and that he should 'get a grip' and return to normality.

But of course he can't, He, his family and his entire people face annihilation. Refusing to bow to Haman had revealed his ethnicity: now, it was confirmed. All of Susa would have seen his actions and wondered, and I imagine the rumours must have reached Esther's ears. Nevertheless, she sent a trusted servant to find out the full story.

But perhaps her wish was primarily to restore his dignity and get him in a place where he would be presentable enough to return to work and, even, to meet with her. Perhaps her connection with him was already known. Perhaps her maids had told her about Mlordecai, knowing the relationship; or, perhaps, it was all just part of the palace gossip.

What she heard could not have been comforting - the rumours could not have sounded worse than the actuality.

Yet Esther had, in a sense, already lost her life. She had been taken from her family and it was only by the grace of God that she was where she was. (Who knows, with such a king, what could have happened otherwise?) She had been brought up a Jew in a family which was so well assimilated into the culture that their identity had been kept secret, so how well did she know the mighty Jehovah who had saved his people from slavery in Egypt? Did she recognise what he had done for her?

Paul knew. He could shout out, in his letter to the Corinthians: "All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us." The God who "who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God."

So Esther tried to comfort Mordecai in his mourning, sending him clothes, then sending someone to find out what the matter was.

We all need comfort and encouragement: Maddie MacMath reminds me: "when we are living under the weight of insecurity ourselves, we become incapable of thinking about others. We are concerned about self: how we feel and how we can improve our self-confidence. No one wants to feel like they aren’t enough or they are a failure, so we naturally focus on digging ourselves out when we fall into that hole of lies. But the catch is that we all have insecurities because we all have weaknesses. We focus on improving our weaknesses (through Christ, of course), which is a good thing. It’s the process of sanctification. But there’s a danger. We run the risk of missing out how the Holy Spirit is moving in someone else’s life, and getting the humbling privilege of encouraging them in that. And they miss out on the blessing and community that encouragement brings. I’m reminded of what Paul says about our weaknesses. . .it’s all too familiar:
“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
 2 Corinthians 12:9
My insecurities, my weaknesses – I have to remind myself that those are the places Christ is made strong. Those are the areas where I can’t rely on myself. They are places where I am reminded that when you squeeze me in my flesh, nothing good or righteous or holy comes out. I am 100% dependent on Christ and His Spirit in me. So, the places that spur on my personal sanctification should also be promoting my encouragement of others. Because Scripture tells me that my weaknesses are never meant to point back to me; they are meant to point back to the God who has victory over all of them. The holy, holy, holy King who pours out such GRACE upon us. Insecurity can kill encouragement. Because insecurity keeps us focused on us. But it shouldn’t be that way. Yes, we are weak in our flesh – but that only means that Christ that much stronger! So maybe we should step outside of ourselves and recognize what He’s doing in the people around us. Because everyone, even the most confident and seemingly secure people need to hear Truth. Write a letter. Send a text. Meet someone for coffee. Pick up the phone. It doesn’t matter how the encouragement comes. What matters is that it does, and that’s it’s rooted in Christ. Not encouraging others because you are too focused on fixing your own insecurities (or because you are “too busy”) doesn’t build up the Body of Christ. Encouraging superficial things or offering fake compliments doesn’t build up the Body of Christ. Jesus-lovers should be the most encouraging people around because we’ve been saved and encouraged in the most undeserving way. Even if encouraging others is a weakness of yours – whether in the family or outside of it – it’s not a fatal flaw; it’s just another place where Christ can show Himself stronger and more merciful than you could ever imagine."

Encouragement. Esther was trying to do that, but what she really needed to do - couldn't do, because of who and where she was - was to come and sit with Mordecai in his distress.

Uncomfortable. Comforting others, really really comforting others in God's spirit, might, perhaps be uncomfortable. Esther discovered that...

Esther 4:4-7

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Broken

"My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise."
Psalm 51:17

Or, as it says in the Message so meaningfully: "Going through the motions doesn’t please you, a flawless performance is nothing to you.  I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered.
Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.
"

So: "When Mordecai learned what had been done, he ripped his clothes to shreds and put on sackcloth and ashes. Then he went out in the streets of the city crying out in loud and bitter cries. He came only as far as the King’s Gate, for no one dressed in sackcloth was allowed to enter the King’s Gate. As the king’s order was posted in every province, there was loud lament among the Jews—fasting, weeping, wailing. And most of them stretched out on sackcloth and ashes." (Esther 4:1 - 3)

Devastated in the face of impending death. Perhaps it might be easier to face one's own inevitable death: but the thought of the terror and barbaric cruelty inflicted on those we love strikes us down.

We become broken.

And none of us want to feel like that: it's unpleasant, to say the least. Overwhelmed, destroyed, traumatized. We become reduced to chaos, disorder, completely helpless.

Yet it is when we have no strength left, that we cannot take any pride in the least of our abilities, that God is able to take and use us. He desires the sacrifice of ourselves, the complete emptying of our spirits because he knows that then HIS spirit is able to fill us, overwhelm us, empower us in ways that would not be possible if we had some of our own strength left.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Hate and anger

"Bulletins were sent out by couriers to all the king’s provinces with orders to massacre, kill, and eliminate all the Jews—youngsters and old men, women and babies—on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month Adar, and to plunder their goods. Copies of the bulletin were to be posted in each province, publicly available to all peoples, to get them ready for that day."

Unbelievable. Wholesale slaughter. Yet we have seen it in modern times in Rwanda, and countless times inbetween. Driven by hate and anger. Prejudice and jealousy. Grudges and resentment.

And Jesus said; "You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill.

 “This is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters. If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.
" (Matthew 5:21 - 24)

Sobering stuff. The disciples took it very seriously, as we must:

" Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble....Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him....Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen." 1 John 2:9 - 10, 3:15, 4:20

Paul adds: "At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone." (Titus 3:3)

This is a continuing challenge: not to harbour envy, anger, resentment...but to bring every ugly thought to Jesus, admitting my sinfulness and utter dependency on him.."...we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."  (2 Corinthians 10:5

And we know the end of the story, but just think of the fear and the terror the Jews must have experienced. The sense of betrayal in a country they had learned to call home....

Esther 3:13 - 14

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Fear

"The king’s secretaries were brought in on the thirteenth day of the first month. The orders were written out word for word as Haman had addressed them to the king’s satraps, the governors of every province, and the officials of every people. They were written in the script of each province and the language of each people in the name of King Xerxes and sealed with the royal signet ring."

The detail. Haman lost no time in implementing his plan. It must have been just a few days later that he gave the order, ensuring that it was written out exactly in every language in the empire, so that there could be no possibility of any Jews managing to survive.

I am almost in awe. Such a clever manager. Imagine the news travelling by courier: by camel or donkey caravan, on foot, carried rolled up in cloth or in leather bags. The messenger meeting the dignitaries of a city, the leaders of a town, the head men of the village, announcing it in the market place to a gathered together population. Were people shocked? Did they know for sure who the Jews were? Mordecai and his family had blended in so well that he could keep his identity a secret; were there many like him? Or, had the Jews kept faithfully to their heritage and customs, living quiet, God-fearing lives? Either way, they would have prospered: Jeremiah's prophecy many years earlier had told them to "... settle there (Babylonia) and build houses. Plant gardens and eat what you grow in them. Get married and have children, then help your sons find wives and help your daughters find husbands, so they can have children as well. I want your numbers to grow, not to get smaller.
Pray for peace in Babylonia and work hard to make it prosperous. The more successful that nation is, the better off you will be.
" (Jeremiah 29:4 - 7, CEV)

And so "Bulletins were sent out by couriers to all the king’s provinces with orders to massacre, kill, and eliminate all the Jews—youngsters and old men, women and babies—on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month Adar, and to plunder their goods. Copies of the bulletin were to be posted in each province, publicly available to all peoples, to get them ready for that day." (The Message)

How long did it take for the news to travel? Did rumours reach remote parts of the empire before the official communication? How long did the people live in fear, knowing that, by the end of the year, they would all have been killed?

The Jews had obeyed God's command to settle in the country. They had prospered and lived in peace in the midst of a violent kingdom. They had done what God said, but now? Did they trust in God's good plans for them or did they give in to fear?

Do I?

Esther 3:12 - 13