Sunday, April 28, 2013

Following God includes trust, understanding, and risk! -- Esther 4:1-17

Following God includes trust, understanding, and risk! -- Esther 4:1-17
By Pastor Lee Hemen
April 28, 2013 AM

Tyler felt that after his call from God he should have been given a clear sign. When he sought the advice of others, they cautioned him as to his calling. Most did not see that God was actually calling Tyler to be a pastor. In fact, one of the deacons in the church who taught at the local seminary bluntly told him that he needed to work on his interpersonal skills first. Tyler went ahead, signed up for seminary, and soon was working at a nearby church. Within the year, Tyler had quit seminary and was let go from his church position. Occasionally folks expect God to do everything and then blame Him when things in life do not turn out the way they think they should; this is not only unrealistic, it is unbiblical.

Whatever had been Mordecai’s reasons for not bowing to Haman, he was now in great mourning. His feud with Haman, whether legitimate or not, had caused a great crisis for his whole nation. He feared that God’s Chosen People would be destroyed and God’s program thwarted. He knew the amount of money Haman had agreed to spend on this vast project as he had a copy of the edict, and now he would have to learn that following God includes trust, understanding, and risk. Let’s discover how…

READ: Esther 4:1-17

Julie Ackerman writes, “Spring is the time of year when God reminds us that things are not always as they seem. Over the course of a few short weeks, what appears hopelessly dead comes to life. Bleak woodlands are transformed into colorful landscapes.” She continues, “The faithful arrival of spring every year comforts me when I’m in a situation that seems hopeless. With God, there is no such thing. No matter how bleak the landscape of life may look, God can transform it into a glorious garden of color and fragrance.” Mordecai had reached a winter life experience. He needed to learn that…

I. Following God includes trusting! (Vv. 1-7)
  1. Haman had succeeded in passing an irrevocable law authorizing the massacre of all Jews living in the Persian Empire. Because of his favored status with Xerxes, Haman was given great latitude in drafting the legislation. In return, he promised the king an enormous bribe. Haman cast the lot to choose the day for the Jews’ destruction in the first month of the year, which supposedly was the time to find the best day for important events of the coming year. When Mordecai learned of the edict, he immediately mourned the Jews’ fate. Where was God in all of this? Mordecai would learn trust. This mourning involved wearing sackcloth as a public demonstration of grief and pouring ashes on his head. He also went into the center of the city and wept bitterly. Other Jews joined him and expressed their anguish in like manner. Because of his apparel, Mordecai could not enter the royal palace. Anyone wearing sackcloth, according to Persian law, was “prohibited… from entering the King’s Gate” (v. 2). Nevertheless, word spread to the palace concerning Mordecai’s behavior. Esther’s servants and eunuchs told the queen what was happening, and she took steps to learn what was behind it. Esther sent some servants with clothes to replace the sackcloth, wanting Mordecai to stop the public display and to explain the situation. When Mordecai refused, Esther then turned to a trusted servant, a eunuch named Hathach, to secure the desired information. She likely sent him instead of going herself due to the restrictions of Persian law and culture for the wife of a king. Esther soon learned the sensitive nature of this information. Esther had to learn trust as well! She literally had put her life in Hathach’s hands since her identity was still a secret. Both Mordecai and Esther learned that following God means trusting!

  EXAMPLE: Bill Crowder wrote that, “Although I try not to be shocked by the things I see these days, I was caught off-balance by the message on the woman’s T-shirt as she walked past me in the mall. The bold letters declared: ‘Hope Is For Suckers.’ Certainly, being na├»ve or gullible can be foolish and dangerous. Disappointment and heartache can be the tragic offspring of unfounded optimism. But not allowing oneself to have hope is a sad and cynical way to view life.” As those who follow God we must learn to trust Him in every area of our lives. Both Mordecai and Esther learned that following God means trusting!

Why is it we like to hear bad news before we hear good news? There have been TV shows that failed within weeks because they tried to sharing only good news. We not only like getting the dirt on the rich and famous, we like to get the dirt on others in our lives, whether it is relatives, friends, or others. This has infected us within the church as well because before we get all the information we often go on what we think we know instead of what we truly understand. Mordecai and Esther dared not do such a thing. They learned that…

II. Following God includes understanding! (Vv. 8-9)


  1. Mordecai fully informed Hathach of Haman’s plot and sent word, through the servant, urging Esther to plead with the king on the Jews’ behalf. The problem seemed impossible to resolve. The Jews could not overturn Haman’s offer. They surely could not outbid what Haman had promised to give the royal treasury (v. 3:9). Mordecai and Esther provide good examples for gaining understanding in order to follow God. When investigating a problem, a wise person restricts the analysis of the problem to facts and does not deal with speculation. Mordecai provided Esther with a copy of the edict. His information was devoid of speculation or hype. When a problem exists, go to the one most in a position to impact the situation. Mordecai sent word to Esther. (As a Jew and condemned to die, he did not want to personally approach the Queen of Persia). Hence, he followed the protocol of Persian society and went to her indirectly. Offering positive, helpful suggestions, Mordecai encouraged Esther to approach Xerxes. The verb “instruct” literally means to command and is used for the instruction of a father to a son. Hathach lacked the authority to command the queen. However, as her former guardian, Mordecai was within his rights to instruct his adopted daughter to take certain actions. Therefore, Hathach's statement to the queen would convey Mordecai’s command to her. In contrast, the language to be used toward the king was that of an entreaty. Neither Hathach nor Mordecai had the authority to command Xerxes, and neither did Esther. Hathach returned to Esther and told her exactly what he had learned. Living by faith is not living in ignorance. We render to the Lord the most effective service possible by being informed. We need to gain as much information as we can about opportunities of service to which the Lord may be leading us. Following God includes understanding!

  EXAMPLE: How many of you read the entire warrantee for some of the things you buy? Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Missy Sullivan noted that many user agreements, warranties, and disclaimers that come with products are nearly unreadable. Intentionally set in very small type, they actually discourage people from understanding them. Because of this, many people don’t read all the terms of contracts before signing them. A university professor of graphic communication pointed to a 32-page user agreement that came with his new smartphone, and said of the company, “They don’t want you to read it.” They do not want to read it because they do not want you to understand it. God desires that we not only try to understand Him, but that we go the extra mile in understanding one another. Following God includes understanding!

There are those in life that are risk takers. These are the folks who start businesses from scratch, work hard, and are not afraid to fail. Often failure teaches us the most in life. God desires that we become risk takers for Him and His kingdom. Mordecai and Esther would learn that there is no such thing as safety in life, especially when is concerns following God. They learned that…

III. Following God includes risk! (Vv. 10-17)

  1. Esther continued to employ an intermediary in conversing with Mordecai. Although he was familiar with the danger Esther faced, Mordecai still asked Esther to intervene with the king. As her adoptive father, his instinct was to protect her, but his faith in God led him to place her life at risk for her people. Xerxes possessed life and death authority over his wife. Coming to him without a summons was a serious breach of protocol punishable by death. Since she had not seen the king in 30 days, Esther may have assumed she no longer was in favor at court and she could not understand how her death would improve the situation. When Esther responded fearfully about approaching the king uninvited, Mordecai challenged her by suggesting she perhaps was made queen to save her people. Mordecai warned Esther her status, as queen did not protect her from Haman’s edict. All Jews were to be killed, and she was a Jew. Since she already was sentenced to death, Esther had nothing to lose by approaching the king unbidden. One cannot run away or hide from problems. Not even Esther’s royal status could exempt her from the king’s edict. Her only hope was to approach the king and to risk receiving his wrath. At this moment, the entire purpose of Esther’s life and existence was at stake. Becoming the liberator of her people was more important and significant than being queen, or even than just staying alive. God had made her queen so she could deliver His people. God always places people where they can risk it all for Him. Esther had been more concerned with her safety than with that of her people. Mordecai’s logic had enabled her to make the right choice. Esther decided to risk her life for her people and approach the king. So she requested the Jews in Susa join her in spiritual preparation for her seeing the king. They were dependent on Divine intervention so the preparation involved fasting. The people were to neither eat nor drink for a 72-hour period. Esther promised to do the same, and in doing so, she learned that following God includes risk!

  EXAMPLE: Manuel Gonzalez was the first rescue worker to reach the 33 miners trapped for 69 days in a Chilean mine explosion in 2010. At great risk to his own life, he went underground more than 2,000 feet to bring the trapped men back to the surface. The world watched in amazement as one by one each miner was rescued and transported to freedom. We are told of one of the most amazing rescues in history concerning God’s people. It involved great risk for Esther. It teaches us that in following God, it includes risk!

Conclusion:

Following God means trusting! Following God includes understanding! Following God includes risk!
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Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 27 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2013 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Following God includes loyalty -- Esther 3:2, 5-6

Following God includes loyalty -- Esther 3
By Pastor Lee Hemen
April 21, 2013 AM

Sandra struggled with two seemingly irreconcilable forces in her life. She believed God had called her to be a missionary but she could not believe He would send her to such a dangerous place. Like many Christians Sandra has falsely assumed God’s primary function is to protect, preserve, and prosper His people. They focus on Scriptures that affirm God’s love and care for His own. These believers assume God would not lead them to serve Him where they would be uncomfortable, much less, where there is potential danger. However, God’s objective is to carry out His purposes through His people. Those purposes may require His people to serve Him at great personal risk. The Lord expects His people to exercise faith as they serve Him in the risky situations into which He leads them. Perhaps we forget that following God includes loyalty even when there is risk involved.

The plot of the Book of Esther thickens in chapter 3 with the introduction of the villain. A man named Haman accepted a promotion by King Xerxes to a position of prestige and power. The office to which he was elevated is not stated, but several details about Haman are noted. His father’s name was Hammedatha. He was an Agagaite, which identifies him as a descendant of Agag, the king of the Amalekites during the era of Israel’s early monarchy. Mordecai, Esther’s cousin, teaches us that following God includes loyalty. Let’s discover what occurs…

READ: Esther 3:1-6

One cannot sort-of-kind-of follow God and expect God’s blessings. King Saul failed to learn this lesson and his disobedience affected not only himself but future generations. The Amalekites were a Canaanite tribe who consistently opposed Israel from the exodus out of Egypt to the reign of David. God had ordered Saul to eradicate the Amalekites in a holy war. However, Saul spared Agag until the prophet Samuel voiced the Lord’s displeasure and then executed the Amalekite king. Saul’s failure to completely obey God allowed the Amalekites to survive and to continue to harm Israel. In these verses, we discover that in following God…

I. God alone is worthy of worship and ultimate loyalty! (Vv. 1-3)
  1. The writer of Esther portrays King Xerxes as a man easily manipulated by others. The king had ordered his subjects to bow down as recognition of Haman’s status. The Hebrew verb means to fall on one’s knees and bow down. The important aspect was not the posture but the attitude it reflected. The word translated pay homage often is used to denote worship of deity. No doubt Haman’s vanity had influenced Xerxes to order this gesture. The narrative does not state why Mordecai refused to bow. His behavior throughout the story demonstrates his personal loyalty to the Persian king. So his refusal was not a sign of treachery. Nor can it be attributed to some Jewish law against bowing to other humans. The Scripture offers numerous examples of Jews’ bowing to other people: “Abraham rose and bowed down before the people of the land, the Hittites”, so he could bury his wife Sarah.  (Genesis 23:7 NIV) David honored King Saul after he could have easily killed him, “David bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground.” (1 Samuel 24:8 NIV) Those who sought audiences with the King of Israel, bowed before him in respect (2 Samuel 14:4). And Bathsheba bowed before David in order to garner his support for Solomon to be king (1 Kings 1:16). However, Mordecai had both religious and political reasons for steadfastly not bowing to Haman. Jewish tradition held that no self-respecting Jew would ever show reverence to an Amalekite. So Mordecai may have seen his refusal as conforming to God’s command to not honor false idols, “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God!” (Exodus 20:5 NIV) Mordecai would have understood that the Persians saw such tribute as an act that bordered on acknowledging the honored individual was a god. In that case, bowing would have been idolatry. I would conclude Mordecai took the risk of offending Haman because he recognized God alone is worthy of worship and ultimate loyalty!

  EXAMPLE: What risks have you taken lately for your faith, what risks are you willing to take? Many say they “love” Jesus and we all desire that He love us, but what has our love or His love motivated us to risk for His kingdom purposes. Do your co-workers, classmates, friends, neighbors and family members know you will not bow to the world’s ungodliness? Frank got up from the lunch table and walked out when one of fellow co-workers began telling a crude joke. The jokester snickered, “What a prude Frank is. He thinks he is better than us!” Art looked at him, stood up, and remarked, “No, perhaps he doesn’t appreciate your ungodly crude jokes, and in fact, neither do I.” Art then left the table. Later, as Art was working, the young man who had been telling the joke sought him out and apologized for his poor choice in jokes. He related that his wife did not appreciate his humor either and wondered why. Out of this conversation, this young man and his wife soon were attending Art’s church. Art had shared with him that as a Christian, we show our worship and loyalty to him even by the words we use. Just as Mordecai took the risk of offending Haman because he recognized God alone is worthy of worship and ultimate loyalty, we can as well!

Vowing revenge but scorning to lay hands on a single victim, Haman meditated on the extirpation of the whole Jewish race. He knew they were sworn enemies of his countrymen; and by artfully representing them as a people who were aliens in manners and habits, and enemies to the rest of his subjects, he procured the king’s sanction of the intended massacre. All because “Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor.” Mordecai teaches us that…

II. Identifying one’s loyalty to God can result in hardship!

  1. Mordecai's loyalty to God in not bowing to Haman enraged the Persian. His anger revealed his true character. He was obsessed with his power and prestige and consequently craved constant human praise. His pride left no room for accepting less than unconditional adoration. Therefore, Haman resolved to kill Mordecai for not admiring him as much as he admired himself! The death of just one man would not satisfy Haman’s vanity. So great were his rage and his pride that he resolved in destroying every Jew in the Persian Empire. He believed only this result would be appropriate considering the so-called offense against him. The failed attempt to rid Persia of Jews is the primary plot of the Book of Esther. Identifying one’s loyalty to God can result in hardship. The hardship may affect the individual, God’s people, or both. In the case of Mordecai, it put him and all other Jews in danger. God’s people today sometimes confront hostility when they refuse to give others what God alone deserves. They are to remain steadfast and not allow opposition to lead them to compromise. On the other hand, God’s people must not blame an entire group for the actions of one member as some folks do when they decide to leave a church fellowship over their own personal pride being wounded. When Mordecai failed to show Haman the respect he desired, the Persian determined to eliminate all the Jews from the empire. When Haman cast lots to identify the proper time for his mass murder, it fell in line with God’s purposes. The Amalekites, not the Jews, would be annihilated. Afterwards the Festival of Purim was begun in celebration of the Jews’ deliverance by God from Haman’s evil plans. Haman had persuaded King Xerxes that the Jews threatened the Persian Empire’s national security. To these false accusations, Haman added a bribe and was able to accomplish his aims He obtained a royal decree setting aside a time for slaughtering the Jewish people. Haman’s scheme might have succeeded except for God’s providence. Mordecai's cousin and adopted daughter was the Queen of Persia. God had placed Esther in a situation where she could make a difference if she trusted Him. When faced with a choice of either remaining complacent or standing for his beliefs, Mordecai learned that identifying one’s loyalty to God can result in hardship!

  EXAMPLE: Isn’t it interesting that Jesus taught, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that, your brother has something against you; leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:21-24 NIV) Yet, far too often Christians act like the hated Haman and get easily offended when they are not properly recognized, bowed down to, or respected in the way they think they should be. What a contrast is Mordecai to Haman! Haman wanted and sought after human recognition, Mordecai sought only to honor God. Mordecai learned that identifying one’s loyalty to God can result in hardship!

Conclusion:
God alone is worthy of worship and ultimate loyalty! Identifying one’s loyalty to God can result in hardship!
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Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 27 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2013 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Esther 2:1-23 – Inner beauty and outer beauty!

Esther 2:1-23 – Inner beauty and outer beauty!
By Pastor Lee Hemen
April 14, 2013 AM

Jesus once related, “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’” (Mark 7:20-23 NIV) While in our day and age we place great importance on outward beauty, we discover biblically that what matters most is what is inside a person. This is what reflects the true inner qualities of a person. During the days of Esther, folks were not much different than they are today; they valued outward appearance more then what was found inside.

My Fair Lady is a musical based upon George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion and with lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe. The story concerns Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower girl who takes speech lessons from Professor Henry Higgins, a phoneticist, so that she may pass as a well-born lady. What transpires is that Eliza’s true inner qualities stand out through her course Cockney flavor, and when it is highlighted by her new personification, Eliza truly shines both inwardly and outwardly. While we discover that Esther needed little preparation in her outward beauty, we also discover her true inner beauty as well. It is something believers need to remind themselves, concerning their relationship with God. Let’s discover why…

READ: Esther 2:1-23

Esther teaches about the importance of a good…

I.  Foundation! (Vv. 1-7)

  1. How we weather the storms of life is contingent upon what we’ve used as a foundation! The Jewish historian Josephus says that when Xerxes’ anger was over he was exceedingly grieved that the matter was carried out. He would have liked to have been reconciled to Vashti but because the judgment was irrevocable, those around Xerxes had to make him forget her. They contrived how to entertain him with a bevy of beauties and then to get him to like the most agreeable among them in order to find a new wife and queen instead of Vashti. As the world often does, it is out with the old and in with the new; yesterday’s queen is today’s bag lady, and the superstar that once shown so brightly is but an ashen cinder in the eyes of the ever-fickle world of today. “Then the king's personal attendants proposed, ‘Let a search be made for beautiful young virgins for the king. Let the king appoint commissioners in every province of his realm to bring all these beautiful girls into the harem at the citadel of Susa. Let them be placed under the care of Hegai, the king's eunuch, who is in charge of the women; and let beauty treatments be given to them. Then let the girl who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.’” (Esther 2:2-4a NIV) Proverbs reminds us, “My son, keep your father's commands and do not forsake your mother's teaching.” (Proverbs 6:20 NIV) And, “The eye that mocks a father, that scorns obedience to a mother, will be pecked out by the ravens of the valley, will be eaten by the vultures.” (Proverbs 30:17 NIV) Just as foundation is important when applying makeup, a strong spiritual foundation is important for one’s life! Esther did not forget her foundation. Of course, “This advice appealed to the king, and he followed it.” God was preparing just the right girl for the job. There was a man named “Mordecai [who] had a cousin named Hadassah, whom he had brought up because she had neither father nor mother. This girl, who was also known as Esther, was lovely in form and features, and Mordecai who had taken her as his own daughter when her father and mother died.” Esther was being raised with the proper foundation!

  EXAMPLE: Over by the Costco next to the Panda Express near our church, they built a small strip mall. The buildings look great, modern, and they are in an excellent location. There was only one problem; they did not establish a good foundation. The doorways and windows in the buildings soon sagged and buckled because when they put the building in place they did not make sure the ground was stable. A poor foundation creates all kinds of problems. This is true of our lives in God as well. Many mega churches and new work starts are discovering that they have failed to properly train their congregations concerning what it means to be a Christian, a member of a local church, and how to develop themselves in the Lord. Esther had a good foundation passed down to her by her uncle.
We discover from Esther that our lives cannot be glossed over with…

II. Spackle and paint! (Vv. 8-15)

  1. God does more than make us look good; He cleanses us completely for His service! Paul wrote that we need to be careful what we build our lives from, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:11 NIV) Xerxes’ order was followed and all the girls that met his criteria were pampered, prettified, and brought before him. “Esther also was taken to the king's palace and entrusted to Hegai, who had charge of the harem.” Of course, Esther “pleased him and won his favor. Immediately he provided her with her beauty treatments and special food. (Spackle and paint.) He assigned to her seven maids selected from the king's palace and moved her and her maids into the best place in the harem.” Now, Esther was not stupid, she did exactly what Mordecai told her to do, “Esther had not revealed her nationality and family background, because Mordecai had forbidden her to do so.” In fact, we discover that “Every day he walked back and forth near the courtyard of the harem to find out how Esther was and what was happening to her.” Not only had Esther’s upbringing helped her now to cope with what was happening, but the wisdom she had gained helped her to use those around her for her benefit as well. We learn that Esther “had to complete twelve months of beauty treatments prescribed for the women, six months with oil of myrrh and six with perfumes and cosmetics.” Esther learned that “Anything she wanted was given her to take with her from the harem to the king's palace.” The idea was that she had to be completely cleansed from her old life in order to be able to enter the presence of the king. No stink, sweat, or old odor could remain. It is not unlike those of us who must be completely cleansed of our old sins in order to go before our King of kings. Far too often, the world tries to cover up the mess instead of completely cleansing it away. (Spackle and paint.) No amount of Febreze, Spackle and paint, can rid your life of the stink of sin. Esther “asked for nothing other than what Hegai, the king's eunuch who was in charge of the harem, suggested. And Esther won the favor of everyone who saw her.” True inner beauty is found in God alone.

  EXAMPLE: The old hymn asks, “What can wash away my sins?” The immediate answer is, “Nothing but the blood of Jesus!” God alone is the one who can cleans us completely of the stink of our sin. Humorously, Ecclesiastes tells us, “As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.” (Ecclesiastes 10:1 NIV) When building restoration occurs after a fire one of the things they work hard to do is to get rid of the smell of smoke. Restorers will tell you it is more than just using paint and Spackle. We often try our own way to cover our sin and it never works, only God can cleanse us completely. Only God can clear the air of the stench or of sin condition. When we reject God’s ways we come under His judgment; He reminded Jeremiah, “What do I care about incense from Sheba or sweet calamus from a distant land? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable; your sacrifices do not please me.” (Jeremiah 6:20 NIV) Esther did not depend upon the world’s paint and Spackle, her inner beauty shown through because her outer beauty was in her faith.

Esther and Mordecai show us how God is involved in the…

III. Highlights! (Vv. 16-23)

  1. God’s grace is always at work. Finally, Esther “was taken to King Xerxes in the royal residence in the tenth month, the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign.” Her foundation and all the paint and Spackle now come down to whether or not she can impress the king. No worries, “the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favor and approval more than any of the other virgins. So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.” It is the highlight of her life! She is the queen and no one suspects she is a Hebrew because she had kept that her little secret as per her uncle’s instructions. “And the king gave a great banquet, Esther's banquet, for all his nobles and officials. He proclaimed a holiday throughout the provinces and distributed gifts with royal liberality.” Esther was where God wanted her, and “Mordecai was sitting at the king's gate,” where God desired him. God always works behind the scenes in our lives to highlight His work and His ways. Nowhere is this seen more than in the lives of Mordecai and Esther. God’s grace was working in Modecai's life; it was working in the life of a young teenage girl named Esther, and God’s grace was working in the life of an unworthy arrogant king. We find that “During the time Mordecai was sitting at the king's gate, Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king's officers who guarded the doorway, became angry and conspired to assassinate King Xerxes.” In fact, when “Mordecai found out about the plot and told Queen Esther,” she, “in turn reported it to the king, giving credit to Mordecai.” Isn’t God amazing! God worked in Mordecai's life, Mordecai worked in Esther’s life, who also allowed God to show her what to do. And God is glorified because we discover “when the report was investigated and found to be true, the two officials were hanged on a gallows!” Nehemiah and Ezra would profit from God’s grace extended to this king through Esther. Proverbs reminds us to “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV) Here we discover the highlights of God working in the lives of Esther and Mordecai.

  EXAMPLE: Highlights are important in makeup and in art. In fact, the great masters knew how to use highlights in such a way that made their art come alive. Highlights can give art depth, vibrancy, and bring the viewer into the work itself. Thomas Kinkade was an American painter of popular realistic, pastoral, and idyllic subjects. He is notable for the mass marketing of his work as printed reproductions and other licensed products via The Thomas Kinkade Company. He was claimed to be “America's most-collected living artist” before his death it has been estimated that one in every 20 American homes owning a copy of one of his paintings. He characterized himself as “Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light,” a phrase he protected through trademark but one originally attributed to the English master J.M.W. Turner (1775–1851). Turner was a British Romantic landscape painter, water-colorist, and printmaker. Turner was considered a controversial figure in his day, but is now regarded as the artist who elevated landscape painting to an eminence rivaling history painting. Although renowned for his oil paintings, Turner is also one of the greatest masters of British watercolor landscape painting. God highlights our lives as well, just as He did with Esther and Mordecai.

Conclusion:
Today we learn from Esther about the importance of a good foundation, that Spackle and paint cannot hide our true nature, and God is involved in the highlights of our lives.
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Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 27 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2013 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Esther 1:1-22 – Obedience and responsibility!

Esther 1:1-22 – Obedience and responsibility!
By Pastor Lee Hemen
April 7, 2013 AM

The Book of Esther is entitled by the Jews, “the volume of Esther,” or simply “the volume.” In ancient times, it was always written on a separate roll, which was read entirely at the Feast of Purim. The Greek translators retained only “Esther,” which became the ordinary title with Christians. There is much controversy concerning the date of “Esther.” The extreme minuteness of the details and vividness of the portraits in “Esther” suggest it was written by the hand of a contemporary rather than someone who lived long after the events commemorated. The entire tone of the book is in accord with the history, which it narrates, and is not unlike that of Zechariah. Therefore, overall, there is no sufficient ground for placing the composition of Esther later than that of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah.

Esther is the only book of the Bible in which the name of God is not mentioned. The New Testament does not quote from the Book of Esther, nor have copies of it been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Law is never mentioned in the book nor is sacrifices or offerings mentioned. Prayer while possibly inferred is never specifically mentioned in the book either, though fasting is. Both Esther and Mordecai seem to have lacked spiritual awareness except in their assurance that God would protect His people. Esther was written to encourage the returned Jewish exiles by reminding them of the faithfulness of God who would keep His promises to the nation. The author instructs us how the Feast of Purim began. It also teaches us about obedience and responsibility in trusting God no matter what the circumstance.

READ: Esther 1:1-22

Obedience and responsibility are twin pillars of a strong faith. This first chapter in Esther graphically exposes the contrast between King Xerxes who ruled by royal writ and Mordecai who was wise by faith and especially between Queen Vashti who was self-centered and the commoner Esther who we discover is self-sacrificing. Let’s look at the role of…

I. Obedience! (Vv. 1-12)

  1. The author gives us a very personal account of what occurs within the confines of the royal court of the time of the Medes and Persians. “This is what happened during the time of Xerxes, the Xerxes who ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush: At that time King Xerxes reigned from his royal throne in the citadel of Susa, and in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his nobles and officials. The military leaders of Persia and Media, the princes, and the nobles of the provinces were present.” This special occasion was held by the mightiest king of the time. King Xerxes ruled the Persian Empire for 21 years from 485 to 465 BC. He held absolute sway in all things and his orders were to be carried out immediately. This banquet lasted “For a full 180 days” where “he displayed the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and glory of his majesty.” It was a political show for those who were part of his inner circle. However, we discover that “When these days were over, the king gave a banquet, lasting seven days, in the enclosed garden of the king's palace, for all the people from the least to the greatest, who were in the citadel of Susa.” No one was left out in order for the King to show off his prowess. The party took place in a beautifully decorated garden, with an abundance of the King’s best wine served in goblets of gold! This was a men's only event, however, we find that “Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for the women in the royal palace of King Xerxes.” And, “On the seventh day, when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine, he commanded the seven eunuchs who served him… to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at.” The King wanted to use his wife as a trophy, as one of his things to be shown off when he desired. He was not used to being ignored or refused. “But when the attendants delivered the king's command, Queen Vashti refused to come. Then the king became furious and burned with anger.” It should not have mattered to Vashti why the King called her; she was to be obedient to the King. When the King calls, you obey!

  EXAMPLE: My father expected to be obeyed immediately when he asked us to do something for him. There were no other options. However, we are such ornery people and so obedience comes hard for us. I remember thinking, after my father had asked us to weed the flowerbeds, “He can’t make me!” Of course, he not only could, he did. When King Xerxes gave a command, whether others felt it was justified or not, even if it was for his personal pleasure in order to show off his trophy wife, he expected obedience. Vashti was asked to show up “o’ natural”, so-to-speak, and she was miffed. She refused to obey, forgetting that when the King ordered, he expected obedience. The same is true for our lives in Christ. We may not want to do what He asks of us or we may not desire to do what He asks, but when the king of Kings asks, we are to be obedient.

What we can fail to realize is that respect flows from our willingness to be obedient. When we are obedient, we show that we respect the one who asked us. The contrast could not be more surprising between Vashti and Esther and I believe this is why the author wrote about it. We discover that we should not only be obedient but also…

II. Responsible! (Vv. 13-22)

  1. The crime the queen had committed was that she disobeyed a command of the king. Obviously, the king and queen did not share an emotionally intimate relationship based on mutual respect. It did not matter, with position comes responsibility. Xerxes was not foolish; he seeks advice on how to handle the situation with his queen. He could have had her forcefully dragged from her chambers, but he did not. “Since it was customary for the king to consult experts in matters of law and justice, he spoke with the wise men who understood the times.” These men were “the seven nobles of Persia and Media who had special access to the king and were highest in the kingdom.” Xerxes wants to know what is to be done and is told, “Queen Vashti has done wrong, not only against the king but also against all the nobles and the peoples of all the provinces of King Xerxes.” Herein is our clue. If Vashti could get away with refusing her responsibilities, then maybe other women and then others would dare to do so as well! “For the queen's conduct will become known to all the women, and so they will despise their husbands and say, ‘King Xerxes commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, but she would not come.’ This very day the Persian and Median women of the nobility who have heard about the queen's conduct will respond to all the king's nobles in the same way. There will be no end of disrespect and discord.” Now whether we agree with it or not, there are roles within society that keep society functioning the way it should. Christianity has brought about the “liberation” of not only slaves but of women as well. And, rightly so, however, there was concern Vashti's arrogance and disrespect would spread dissent. Others would emulate her, so it was decided, “Therefore, if it pleases the king, let him issue a royal decree and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed, that Vashti is never again to enter the presence of King Xerxes. Also let the king give her royal position to someone else who is better than she.” It was hoped that, “when the king's edict [was] proclaimed throughout all his vast realm, all the women [would] respect their husbands, from the least to the greatest.” So the King “sent dispatches to all parts of the kingdom, to each province in its own script and to each people in its own language, proclaiming in each people's tongue that every man should be ruler over his own household.” Vashti learns that position carries with it responsibility.

  EXAMPLE: We live in a day and age whereby we arrogantly declare, “It’s my life, and I can do what I want.” And then we are shocked when others do that very thing to innocent people by murdering them in droves. We try to solve our societal problem of irresponsibility by making those who are responsible suffer by taking away their constitutional rights. Or we try to redefine irresponsibility to make it sound acceptable; such as in the redefinition of marriage or what constitutes a family. In our sin sick society, there are those who would see Vashti as a heroine. She is just as arrogant as King Xerxes was. You can rest assured that this was probably not the first time Vashti had been asked to present herself. Vashti is not someone to emulate. She blithely tosses aside her position by arrogantly rejecting her responsibility as queen.

Conclusion:

Today we learned about being obedient and being responsible.
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Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 27 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2013 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Doubting Thomas – John 20:24-29

Doubting Thomas – John 20:24-29
By Pastor Lee Hemen
March 31, 2013

I was wondering what you thought about doubt. You know what I mean do you doubt yourself. Perhaps as you head to the finals of your education, you doubt the outcome. Maybe it is the future you have serious doubts about or a significant other. Perhaps, in your darkest moments, you have even doubted him who died for you. While we can be doubting Thomases at different times in our life, we should not live our lives in such suspicion. The one who made us has a plan for our lives. And, in that plan, he will never leave us nor forsake us. Cast you doubts aside because he cares for you. If you doubt what I am saying, try it and you will discover your uncertainties vanish.

Many of us are familiar with the story of Thomas and this morning we will return to the theme that we have been presented. It is an extremely important message for our day and age as well. The tomb is empty, some have seen the risen Lord, and some have had the experience of actually talking with Him. However, one doubts because he has not seen, heard, nor experienced the risen Lord himself. His name is Thomas. Let’s see if his doubts are the same as some of ours…

READ: John 20:24-29

I. Thomas doubted himself! (John 20:24-25 NIV)

Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." (John 20:24-25 NIV)

EXAMPLE: I had jumped off things before, the water never scared me, and my father was right there to catch me. Why could I not jump? I doubted myself. I doubted my ability to swim, to jump into the water, and for my father to catch me. That is kind of like many of us who struggle with our faith. We say we believe, we say we love Jesus, but we are afraid to jump into his arms -- so we hesitate. We doubt ourselves. We need to trust in God.

II. Thomas doubted Jesus’ promise! (John 14:1-7 NIV)

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going." Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him." (John 14:1-7 NIV)

EXAMPLE: Thomas forgot what Jesus had promised all along. That he would die and then rise again! Far too often, we come to Christ because we experience his love, his forgiveness, and we accept him there, and then the doubts begin to creep into our lives. Can the dead live? Is there truly eternal life for those who believe? We begin to doubt and ask, “Can I trust God with my life, love, and where I am headed?” The answer is, “YES!” Jesus had already promised Thomas -- never doubt Jesus’ promise!

III. Jesus answered all of Thomas’ doubts! (Vv. 26-29)


A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!" Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." (John 20:26-29 NIV)

EXAMPLE: Russell Kelso Carter (1849-1928) was a star athlete of a military academy and an excellent student academically, who went on to be a successful teacher and coach. He then spent several years as an ordained Methodist minister, after which he went to medical school. He spent the last of his professional years as a doctor of medicine. Carter was also a musician and songwriter. Although Carter was a professed Christian most of his life, it wasn't until a crisis with his natural heart that he began to understand the reality and power of Bible promises. At age 30, his health was in critical condition and the physicians could do no more for him. Carter turned to God for help and healing. He knelt and made a promise that healing or no, his life was finally and forever, fully consecrated to the service of the Lord. It was from that moment that the written Word of God became alive to Carter. He began to stand upon the promises of healing, determining to believe no matter what his physical condition, no matter how he felt. Over the course of the next several months, his strength returned, and his heart was completely healed! Carter lived another healthy 49 years. The hymn Carter had written several years before his healing miracle became more than words and music to him. Standing on the Promises became an integral part of his life: Standing on the Promises.

Standing on the promises of Christ my King,
Through eternal ages let His praises ring,
Glory in the highest, I will shout and sing,
Standing on the promises of God.

Refrain:
Standing, standing,
Standing on the promises of God my Savior;
Standing, standing,
I'm standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
By the living Word of God I shall prevail,
Standing on the promises of God.

Jesus answers all of doubts!

Conclusion:

Thomas doubted himself! Thomas doubted Jesus’ promise! Jesus answered all of Thomas’ doubts! On this Easter, let us remind ourselves of the promise of God, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” The tomb is empty, Jesus is at the right hand of God, and when we believe we are saved!
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Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 27 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2012 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.