Christianity 201

March 16, 2019

The Cost of Trust

This article is taken from the first half of a longer article with two subsections titled ‘The Cost of Trust’ and ‘The Benefits of Trust.’ It’s from a site we first introduced here six months ago named My Olive Tree. Click the header below to read the entire article.

Purim: Trusting God

The Cost of Trust:

We all know of the story of Esther, or Hadassah, as was her Jewish name…

Of how she, the cousin of Mordecai, was taken to the palace with dozens of other candidates for the position of queen, due to her beauty. How she, by the grace of God, was chosen to take the place of Vashti and hid her identity. How, even when the king had not called for her for some time, she went before the king to petition the life of her people—the Jews. Of how she risked death because she trusted in her God… because trust was all she had.

This story, while containing many pieces—many ways it can be unpacked—has one thing at its heart…

Trust.

Faith in action.

Not only with Esther, but all the Jews of Persia!

They all turned to God in that time of jeopardy. They remembered God’s promises and help from generations past and decided to act. They decided to trust.

They prayed to God; fasted; and many, such as Mordecai, even put on sackcloth and ashes.

They trusted that God was the only answer. That their faith and love of Him would be rewarded.

Yet, it was Esther herself who had to bring forth the greatest show of trust…

She prayed and fasted, as did all of her people, yet she knew she was going to be at the greatest risk—and, unlike her people, she was making that choice. Many of her fellow Jews might be able to flee. Indeed, as the decree for their destruction was but proclaimed for one day, perhaps some could simply hide and hope for the best…

Yet, Esther was going to plead for her people. She was going to go before the King of Persia unannounced—surely to die should God not soften the king’s heart toward her. She was choosing to trust in God’s power… in His faithfulness.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;

in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight. — Proverbs 3: 5,6

What a test of trust that was. What a symbol of Esther’s devotion.

We can imagine the scene…

Walking to meet the king, guards preparing to kill her as the king had yet to hold out his golden scepter. Only her trust in God could have kept her going. Only her faith in His goodness and mercy.

Her legs surely felt heavy as she walked toward the king; how her heart must have beat wildly despite her trust.

Swords being drawn, the king seemingly immobile and not ready to act as her courage so beguiled and bewildered him.

Yet, God softened the king’s heart. He caused him to remember her kindly; to remember why God had prompted him to choose her… and he held out the scepter. He spared her life.

But, even then, was Esther truly safe with Haman so close… as she invited the king and Haman to dine with her?

Did she still not have to trust in God that the king would hear her petition? Did she not have to trust as she revealed her heritage, identity, and very people… a people destined by law for destruction?

It was an act of trust to invite the king and Haman at all… let alone two times as she and God prepared the heart of the king further still.

She trusted God with her life… the lives of her people… her future and that of generations to come.

It cost her to trust God.

By trusting in Him and not herself, she directly placed herself in danger…

The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!” — Daniel 6:16b

Dictionary.com describes the definition of trust as:

  1. reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.
  2. confident expectation of something; hope.
  3. confidence in the certainty of future payment for property or goods received; credit

Esther relied on God’s goodness, His strength, integrity, and surety to help His people. She was confident in His love for His people, and hoped in the unseen… in a future where God would act. She had a confidence in the covenants that God had made with His people, and was assured that He would make good His promises.

“God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?”—Numbers 23:19

 

…continue to part two, The Benefits of Trust… (scroll down to header)

September 27, 2018

How to Not Go Crazy When Offended

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

Offence can drive us crazy. Offence can make us crazy. We can sink to our lowest thoughts and actions when offended. Nothing draws foolishness out of us like offence. John Bevere calls offence “the bait of Satan”. Indeed he wrote a whole book on how offence can lead the offended into terrible trouble. No one took the bait more quickly, no one stands as a better example of foolishness in taking offence, than Haman from the Book of Esther. Let us learn from Haman how not to handle offence.

Haman went out that day happy and in good spirits. But when Haman saw Mordecai in the king’s gate, and observed that he neither rose nor trembled before him, he was infuriated with Mordecai;  nevertheless Haman restrained himself and went home. Then he sent and called for his friends and his wife Zeresh, and Haman recounted to them the splendor of his riches, the number of his sons, all the promotions with which the king had honored him, and how he had advanced him above the officials and the ministers of the king.  Haman added, “Even Queen Esther let no one but myself come with the king to the banquet that she prepared. Tomorrow also I am invited by her, together with the king.  Yet all this does me no good so long as I see the Jew Mordecai sitting at the king’s gate.”

Then his wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, “Let a gallows fifty cubits high be made, and in the morning tell the king to have Mordecai hanged on it; then go with the king to the banquet in good spirits.” This advice pleased Haman, and he had the gallows made. Esther 5:9-14 (NRSV emphasis added)

First, do not make it about you, do not take it personally. What do I mean by that? Haman takes the offence of Mordecai’s failure to rise in his presence very personally. It is as if he is thinking “how dare this man do this to ME, this is so disrespectful to ME, does he not realize who I am, how could anyone do this to ME?”. What he could have thought instead was “This Mordecai is a disrespectful person”. You can feel the difference! When we take things personally, we make the problem centre on us. We can, instead, leave the problem where it belongs, at the feet of the offender. Consider that an offence may be more about the offender than about you. “This person has a problem with gossip, I hope she can get some help with that” is a much different response than “She said bad things about me, time for payback”. Refusing to take the offence personally might even cause us to have empathy. What happened in the offender’s life to make them act like this?

Second, watch to see if there is something to be learned. Offence is an opportunity for growth. Do not assume that the offence has nothing to do with you. “What is it about me that was a trigger for this offence?” Had Haman stopped to reflect for a moment, he might have considered his over-the-top narcissism. He might have considered his over-the-top pride. Biblical scholars are of two opinions as to whether Mordecai was doing the right thing by his refusal to ever bow or stand in the presence of Haman. However, we can be sure that Mordecai had a valid point, that Haman was not all that. When someone causes you offence, it may be an opportunity to grow and learn. They might be shining a light on a blind spot in your life. They may be pointing you to something about yourself than no one dare tell you about. Offence, if it is rooted in a person’s honest negative reaction to something about you, may be of greater benefit than a thousand compliments.

Third, do no overreact in your response to the offence. Haman responds with a plan to impale Mordecai on a pole fifty cubits high. Seriously? Esther’s response to the offence of a threatened genocide is wise. She asks for a just response. In fact she says she would not have said anything if it were a lesser offence (see 7:4).

Fourth, do not rush to respond to the offence. Haman’s wife suggests a solution and Haman in effect says “Okay, let’s go!”. Esther, on the other hand, is wise in her patience in dealing with a much bigger problem. She fasts for 3 days before even speaking to the king about the offence, and even then delays another day.

Fifth, consider if the offence is something that can stop you from living well. Is it really all that important? Mordecai neither stands nor trembles in Haman’s presence. Oh well, life goes on! In contrast the Jews are to be wiped out thanks to the Haman’s plotting. This is a life and death issue. This is an offence worth dealing with. When offended, can your life go on just fine if you let it go?

To help us in our discernment, we can ask if God has our back on this one. God does not have Haman’s back. He does have Esther’s. Is your offence truly an experience of injustice and is your response righteous?

Sixth, do not underestimate the power of conversation. At no time do we see any initiative on Haman’s part to talk it through with Mordecai. This again, stands in contrast with Esther who won’t even speak about the offence against her people until she has had dinner with the King and Haman twice. She is building relationship, leading up to talking about the offence. Jesus teaches us about the importance of conversation when offended:

“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. 16 But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. 17 If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17 (NLT)

This means that we do not deal with offence by tweeting! Recently I heard podcaster Carey Nieuwhof lament that in our Facebook world people engage in broadcasting rather than conversation. Offence is handled better through a conversation rather than a broadcast.

Esther stands as the wise person in the Book of Esther, Haman stands as the foolish one. Esther points us to the wisdom of God. Though our sins are an offence to Him, He offers forgiveness and reconciliation. God Himself offers the best example of what to do when offended; pick up a cross.

When offence makes you crazy, look to wisdom, look to God’s Word, look to God.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Read Clarke Dixon’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

 

September 20, 2018

For Such an Evil Time as This

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

How do we respond when evil threatens to undo us? We see how one young lady responds to the declaration of genocide against her people in the Book of Esther, chapter 3. Esther initially responds to the bad news from Mordecai with fear, and who would blame her? Though going to her husband, the king, might seem like a no-brainer, a certain wrinkle would make anyone think again:

Then Esther spoke to Hathach and gave him a message for Mordecai, saying,  “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—all alike are to be put to death. Only if the king holds out the golden scepter to someone, may that person live. I myself have not been called to come in to the king for thirty days.” Esther 4:10,11

Mordecai provides some further encouragement:

When they told Mordecai what Esther had said,  Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews.  For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” Esther 4:12-14

Esther’s next response is instructive for  when we face evil, whether great or small:

Then Esther said in reply to Mordecai,  “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.”  Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him. Esther 4:15-17

Two things stand out.

First, Courage! Esther commits to making a courageous connection with the one person who can make a difference. “I will go to the king”. Though it might cost Esther her life, she is resolved: “I will go to the king”. Esther knew who could make a difference. “I will go to the king”.

When evil is facing you down do you have the courage to connect with someone who can help, a difference maker? Facing depression? With whom might you need some courage to connect with? Facing addiction, mental illness, financial stress, spiritual darkness, bullying, harassment, abuse, or what have you, who might be your difference maker? Do you have the courage to move, to get up and go to them? Let us pray for courage. Let us follow Esther’s example.

Second, Desperation. Though God is not explicitly mentioned in the Book of Esther, the fasting Esther called for and committed to was a sign of desperation for God. There is a desperation about the situation, which becomes a desperation to connect with God. Fasting is sometimes turned into a very pious thing, “look at what I am willing to go without”. Here in Esther, it is not a sign of piety, but of desperation.  It is the acting out of the petition, “God help us!”. Fasting is a very human thing, something you do naturally in the face of grave evil. Who could eat at such an evil time as this anyway? Are we desperate for a connection with God, the Great Difference Maker? Do we have a desperation for His presence in our lives?

Are we more like a cat or a dog? We adopted a cat once. We filled out all the paperwork and made the commitment to care for this cat and give it a good home. We got the cat home, assuring her that our home was now her home, that we would love her and take good care of her. She looked at us, as cats do, with that expression that says “I suppose I can let you live here with me if you must.” We can be like that with God. He adopts us into His family, giving us the assurance of His love. We respond with “well I suppose you can be in my life if you must”. Dogs on the other hand have a desperation about them. With school having recently resumed our two dogs took up their positions, with no cue from me, at the front door about half an hour before the boys were expected to be home. When the boys came into view, the dogs got to their feet, tails wagging furiously. As they came closer and closer the dogs got crazier and crazier. They were desperate. Dogs have a desperation for their people. Are we like that with God? He is far more to us that we could ever be to any dog.

Do we know we are welcome before the king? Esther had no confidence in approaching the king even though she was his wife. We, however, can have great confidence in approaching the King of kings:

Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God,  let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:19-22

He is not just King of kings, but our Heavenly Father, and, as a recent songs remind us, a “good, good Father”. We know this because of Jesus.

Esther demonstrated courage in connecting with a difference maker and desperation in connecting with The Difference Maker, God. That made all the difference in the world. When we face such an evil time as this, whatever that evil is, it is time for courage in our connection with difference makers, it is time for desperation in our connection with God, the Great Difference Maker.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. Listen or download the 35 minute sermon on which this is based: Click here.

Read Clarke Dixon’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

July 18, 2018

God’s Perfect Timing

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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We periodically visit the devotional website of The Presbyterian Church in Canada, which features a different writer each day. This devotional reminds us three “timing” passages in scripture and was written by Dee Renaud.

The Right Place At The Right Time

When my husband and I were asked to lead an Alpha small group at our church a few years ago, we were in the right place at the right time. Thus began many Bible studies and many special relationships with so many wonderful people in our congregation.

When Esther saved her people from certain death, she was in the right place at the right time.

Esther 4:14 – 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 royal position for such a time as this?” (NIV)

Have you ever looked back on your life and realized that God’s timing was perfect in one or more situations? We can always trust in God’s timing. We are impatient people, and we want everything now. Too often, we forget that God knows what is best for us and that He wants what is best for us. His timing is always perfect.

At exactly the right time, God sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to earth.

Galatians 4:4 – But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law. (NIV)

Some may think that when Jesus was crucified on the cross, He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, His death was God’s plan for our salvation. We needed Jesus to be our Saviour, to save us from our sins. When He died on the cross, He took our sins upon Himself so that we could be forgiven. He was definitely in the right place at the right time.

Romans 5:6 – You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. (NIV)

Many of us who have accepted Jesus as our Lord and Saviour will remember when we were in the right place at the right time.

  • Maybe we were listening to a sermon.
  • Maybe a friend was telling us about Jesus.
  • Maybe we were reading the Bible and the Holy Spirit convicted us of our sins.

There will be times in our lives when we make bad choices. It’s never too late to repent and turn back to God. The price has been paid. The offer is there. Will you accept God’s offer of forgiveness and receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour? Have you been waiting for such a time as this?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we thank You that every day is a new beginning with new opportunities to trust in You. There is a time for everything in life. Forgive us for the times when we have made bad choices and we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Thank You for the times when we have been in the right place at the right time. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.


 

 

September 29, 2017

Getting to Know the Real Esther

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast  for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish.
 -Esther 4:16 KJV

We had the website Adorate recommended to us, and we’ve been tracking it for a week now. There are some great articles here. For the one we chose to feature here, click the title below and read this at source instead, then navigate the site to read other articles.

Demythologizing Esther

by Dr. Tom Larson

Esther is a great story of redemption – one that comes about in a great crisis forced upon Esther. But, we often re-tell it as a Christian fairy-tale – one that equates her beauty with goodness (just like all fairy-tales seem to do).

Of the course, the storyline framework of “pretty girl” equals the “good girl” and star of the story has all kinds of problems, especially if you think about the consequences on young girls. The truth is that Esther enters (some may read it as she is coerced into entering) a contest that is not about simply being the prettiest or with the best homemaking skills. The contest centers on a series of comparative sexual performances for the Persian monarch.

Esther lives months within the Royal Harem with no one seemingly knowing she’s Jewish. As the book of Daniel makes clear, this would have to mean she is making no effort to maintain the dietary laws of Moses. The contest involves spending a night with the King – and the one “who pleases the King” (yep, that’s what the text says) the most wins. Esther does not win by having devotions with the King or just by being pretty. Also, when news comes to her of the impending assault on the Jewish people, her own un-coerced response is hardly commendable. It’s close to, “Gee, that’s a tough break for you guys. But, there’s nothing I’m going to do about it.”

Mordecai’s response to Esther’s less-than-desired reaction is clearly both a threat (don’t think people won’t quickly find out who and what you really are, little Miss Jewish Princess) and a challenge (it just may be that you’ve been brought to this place, this position, and this moment for this very purpose). And it is then, and perhaps only then, that we see the remarkable woman emerging from all too human girl.

Like stories about real people, and not children’s fairy tales, Esther begins with a the real person. A young woman who may be beautiful, but is also self-serving, skilled at whatever sexual skills Persian monarchs expected, and certainly not showing any signs of tremendous personal religious convictions. But, pushed by events she hardly expected or wanted, she comes to a time of crisis that changes her, as surely as it results in the protection of the Jewish people. Her last words before preparing to enter into the King’s court, “And, if I perish… Well, then I perish” are a seminal example of what people used to mean by the word “courage.”