Christianity 201

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.”

October 20, 2014

God Isn’t Always Looking for Ability

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:19 pm
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But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.        1 Peter 2:9

Years ago I remember hearing the idea that “God isn’t looking for your ability, just your availability.” You can be a very competent person, but if your talents and gifts aren’t fully surrendered — or even casually offered — you won’t get picked for the team on God’s next mission.

After leaving university, I remember wanting to work in a particular facet of a particular industry. I sought information on the training needed and was told that the dominant employer didn’t actually take graduates of that program. Simply put, it was easier for them to take willing people off the streets and train them than to take people who thought they know how to do everything and have to retrain them in the company’s methodology. The gifts and knowledge that would have resulted from the training would have actually gotten in the way.

Our pastor spoke on this yesterday; how our culture tends to default to able-ism. I didn’t take exhaustive notes because I intended to ask him after for his sermon notes, only to discover he was working from a rough outline. (He’s always better off-script anyway; not to mention one-on-one with people in his office or over coffee.)

The notes he sent me follow. What does it mean to be a chosen people?

What did that mean?

God would work through everyday people

  • not through the most powerful
  • not through the religious hierarchy
  • or the ecclesiastically ordained
  • not through an elite group of somebodies
  • but through everybody

And this truth bears out over and over again in the pages of scripture as God chooses the most unlikely people to do his work.

John Goldingay: “God’s instinct is to resist social conventions by resisting eldest-ism, able-ism, racism and sexism.”

God works in the ordinary and God works through the ordinary.

The idea that God would not choose the eldest in the family repeats over and over again in scripture, and in a couple of real-life situations today, I’ve seen the same thing play out in everything from Christian organizations to families.

In the sermon, he noted that God chooses to work through

  • the second oldest*
  • the foreigner
  • the woman
  • the weak

*In our sermon text, I Samuel 16, God doesn’t just choose the next oldest, but he chooses the youngest. It was pointed out that to have the prophet — no, wait; that should be capitalized — to have The Prophet visit your home was a rare and high honor, but nobody even bothered to go get David at that point. Furthermore, in verse 11, he isn’t even mentioned by name, just by “the youngest” which is a polite translation of a derogatory term.  Eugene Peterson renders this verse:

“Well, yes, there’s the runt. But he’s out tending the sheep.”

All other translations listed online use youngest, except for the Wycliffe Bible:

Yet there is another little child, and he pastureth sheep.

The Spanish RVR1960 is interesting, rendering the verse:

Queda aún el menor

which while it could also translate as “youngest,” also  translates (as you might expect) as “the minor.”

And yet, this is the one Samuel realizes that God has chosen. David had his flaws and his failings but he is called ‘one after God’s own heart;’ and thus we remember him favorably. But we were reminded at the outset of yesterday’s message that David was also very ordinary: There are no miracles associated with his story as one finds with Elijah or Joshua.

There may not be any miracles in your story, either; but God chooses to work through people just like me and you.


Thanks to Rev. Jeff Knott for today’s inspiration and notes!


We’ve used this song here four years ago, but it really fits. Danniebelle Hall singing Ordinary People: (Audio window showing; click center of the black bar to play.)

October 7, 2014

Four Applications from Elijah

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:43 pm
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Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.  James 5:17 ESV

Last year we introduced you to Louisiana pastor Waylon Bailey and today we pay a catch-up visit to his blog.  As always, click the link below to read this at source; we chose this from a number of excellent articles.

Four Takeaways from the Days of Elijah

Can something that happened 2900 years ago really be relevant for someone growing up today?

After all, there are only a few things the same today as 2900 years ago.

Let me give you two things that have not changed.

Human nature has not changed. A teenager living with an iPhone may seem far different from teenagers before the time of Christ, but human nature has not changed. The kid growing up today has more information in a day than the child in ancient times had in a lifetime, but they are the same on the inside.

Human nature has not changed.

The message of God has not changed. He is the same. He is consistent. God and His word have not changed.

For these reasons, we can learn valuable lessons from the prophet Elijah (I Kings 17-19).

Here are four takeaways you can get from the days of Elijah.

First, even in the worst of times, God has a man. Elijah was that man. He proclaimed the word of the Lord with fearlessness but not without repercussions. Jezebel swore to hack him to death within twenty-four hours.

Elijah gave the message and suffered the consequences. Even in the consequences, God remained faithful.

Jesus promised the same for His followers. When you are brought before officials because of your faith, don’t worry about what you will say. God the Holy Spirit will give you the words to say. God is faithful.

Second, either there is one God or there is no god. You can’t have both. The confrontation on Mount Carmel showed the impossibility of continuing to waver between two opinions.

Third, there are plenty of people who love God and who can be counted on in times of persecution. God assured Elijah he was not alone. God had preserved 7,000 in Israel who had not bowed down to Baal.

You are not alone either. Thank God for the fellowship of faithful believers.

Finally, God is God and will not be denied. He is the Sovereign Lord. As He showed His power in the days of Elijah, He will do so today.

The day will come–maybe soon–when every knee will bow before the Lord (Philippians 2:9-11).

If you would like to receive a devotional like this six days a week, please subscribe to http://www.waylonbailey.com. It will come to your inbox free of charge, and we don’t give out your email.

Go Deeper: Article on Elijah at BibleStudyTools.com

Of course, we had to include the song, right?

March 24, 2014

The Modern Equivalent of the Bible-Times Tax Collector

Today we introduce you to Bryan Lowe, and when I say introduce, this time around, I want you to take a few minutes to read his story

…Wow! Now that we’re back, we introduce you to his blog Broken Believers (the title makes sense now, doesn’t it) where you’ll find today’s post, The Modern Tax Collector. (Emphasized sections in original post.)

Luke 18:9-14, ESV

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

Essentially it would seem, that there are only two kinds of people, (which simplifies things.)  On the right stands the religious man, who has confided  in a level of righteousness that he deems adequate.  But his sin is multi-faceted.  A big chunk has to do with how he perceives others in comparison to himself.  He often despises those who are failures, losers, and criminals.  He points to them only to bolster his own standing. It generates his own feelings of religiousness.

Too many churches have become places were Pharisees come together to congratulate themselves.  These men and women do not operate from brokenness and humility.  They know nothing of tears over their sin.  But they pat themselves on their back because of their progress in the ways of God.  Life seems so wonderful in our churches.  We leave the service comfortably encouraged in our self-righteousness.

The tax-collectors of this world are its drunks, addicts, mentally ill, and the losers.  They stand afar off. And they don’t even have the energy or confidence to turn to God.  They know exactly what they have done, and understand perfectly that they are less then zero.  There is such a gap between these two men, and it has only deepened to this present situation.

Where are the bipolar, the schizophrenic, the person with OCD in our churches?  For that matter, where has is the unwed mother, the crack addict, and the homosexual gone?  I will tell you where, they are “standing afar off”.  People with ugly secrets and intense issues are often scared to death by religious people.

Please be aware. I didn’t intend for this to be a hard word.  But many of the “rascals” of the Church have gone missing!  We must seek them out and bring them home.  The sinner very often needs our encouragement to “come and dine” with Jesus. The last verse of Jesus’ parable sums up the lesson–

“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”