Thursday, July 30, 2015

Do The Right Thing

By Allen White

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. But Mordecai found out about the plot and told Queen Esther, who in turn reported it to the king, giving credit to Mordecai. And when the report was investigated and found to be true, the two officials were impaled on poles. All this was recorded in the book of the annals in the presence of the king. Esther 2:21-23

If like Mordecai, you and your people were being held captive by a world power, Xerxes’ assassination might not sound so bad. After all, if the powerful leader was gone, then the kingdom would splinter. Territorial leaders would grapple for power. The instability of the region might even allow for the Israelites escape. But, what often seems right to people is counter to what God intends.

Mordecai, being a devoted follower of the One True God, was not looking for the shrewd thing to do. He wasn’t carefully calculating how to manipulate the situation to his advantage. Mordecai erred on the side of generosity toward Xerxes and obeyed the commands of God. It would have been worse for Mordecai to end up being a co-conspirator in a tyrant’s death than to honor God by his actions and thus remain in captivity.

Mordecai did the right thing. He reported the assassination plot. The offenders were immediately executed, and Mordecai was immediately forgotten. There was no reward. There were no honors. There was no celebration. It was a good thing that Mordecai had better reasons for his actions. If he was looking for recognition, he would have been greatly disappointed.

Most of us are not going to ever overhear an assassination attempt. That’s just not very likely. But, what things do we hear, but choose to ignore? Is there a fellow believer who is headed for a train wreck? He’s started another bad relationship. She’s made bad choices at her job. Without becoming a busy body, how does God want to use you to help that person?

What things seem easy for you to get away with these days? What are you tempted to fudge on in your life? What is the right thing to do, whether anyone else knows or not?

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Thelma and Louise

By Allen White

When the virgins were assembled a second time, Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate. But Esther had kept secret her family background and nationality just as Mordecai had told her to do, for she continued to follow Mordecai’s instructions as she had done when he was bringing her up.
Esther 2:19-20

When life brings us to the brink, many of us are tempted to pull a Thelma and Louise, and just plunge right over the cliff. Whether those feelings are toward literal actions or emotional reactions, they betray our fears and lack of trust. Trust is the antidote for fear.

In the book of Esther, we don’t see a strong prayer life. At this point, the Israelites were a spiritual mess. But, what we do see is Esther’s implicit trust in her cousin and adopted father, Mordecai. In the fog of despair and uncertainty, Mordecai was her guiding light. (“Like sands through the hour glass” – nevermind, that’s Days of Our Lives).

While we see God’s providence all over the book of Esther, God is not mentioned one time in the book. While God is certainly not out of the picture, He is operating behind the scenes. We don’t know anything about Mordecai or Esther’s connection with God. In exile, God’s people seem to have been very disconnected, yet God still endeavored to work on their behalf. And, He’s still there for us today.

The parallel is that even for those who have given up on God or who ignore Him, God doesn’t give up on any of us. God is always arranging circumstances and “coincidences” to draw us back to Him. His desire from the very beginning was to be in relationship with us. That has never changed.

How is your connection with God? Is it a direct connection? Do others help you? God wants to spend time with you. Take two minutes right now to be silent in His presence. Watch the clock if you need to. I do.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The In-Between Time

By Allen White

Before a young woman’s turn came to go in to King Xerxes, she had to complete twelve months of beauty treatments prescribed for the women, six months with oil of myrrh and six with perfumes and cosmetics. And this is how she would go to the king: Anything she wanted was given her to take with her from the harem to the king’s palace. In the evening she would go there and in the morning return to another part of the harem to the care of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the concubines. She would not return to the king unless he was pleased with her and summoned her by name. Esther 2:12-14

Twelve months is a long time to prepare for a blind date. In a time before microderm abrasion and photoshop, a full year was apparently necessary to be received by the king. This seems like a lot to put up with.

For most of us, waiting is far worse than the diagnosis. Worrying about a situation takes a greater toll sometimes than the actual rejection. Esther had a full year to wait. She had no idea what the result would be. The difficulty was in the in-between time. Much like Joseph who sat forgotten in prison for two years (Genesis 41:1), when we are in an open loop and closure seems beyond the horizon, it’s easy to fall into despair and doubt. It’s easy to question everything and everyone. It’s easy to give up.

In these valleys, every one of us has a decision to make: do we fight against what we fear or do we cooperate even when we don’t understand the outcome? Now, if you’re in captivity or prison, you don’t have much choice physically but to wait. But, while our bodies can be incarcerated, no one can put chains on our souls.

Whether you face a dead end job, a lifeless marriage, or actual prison, your attitude is up to you. (Those of you who know me well at this point are probably saying: “Hello, kettle, you’re black.”) And, you’re right. I have thrown some pity parties like it was 1999 -- Y2K, you know).

But, as I’ve grown older, wiser and tired of living in the pit of despair, I’ve decided to change some things. I count my blessings more often. I’ve become more accepting of the fact that God has me where I am for a reason. I’ve learned that cooperation achieves far more than competition. Do I still freak out over things? Yes, I do once in a while.

What circumstance are you fighting against these days? How can you become more cooperative in the situation? I’m not saying that you’re wrong and the situation is right. But, how can you allow God to develop His character in you using your situation as a catalyst for growth?

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Someone to Watch Over Me

By Allen White

Every day [Mordecai] walked back and forth near the courtyard of the harem to find out how Esther was and what was happening to her. Esther 2:11

Mordecai was Esther’s rock in a very traumatic situation. No, the harem wasn’t all manicures and pillow fights. It was a rather intimidating place. His presence helped to prevent her despair. When her feelings might have gotten the best of her, Mordecai was around to keep her grounded.

If there was trouble in the harem, no one could really remove Esther from the situation. Mordecai could do very little to protect her from physical harm. But, his role was far more important. He was that calm, persistent presence that stayed nearby and helped her process what she was dealing with.

We all need a non-anxious presence in our lives. For believers, we find that presence in God’s Holy Spirit. Jesus promised that God would send an Advocate, which can also mean Counselor, Comforter or Encourager (John 14:16-17). God’s Spirit is always present with us (Psalm 139:7). He gives us the things to say when we don’t know what to say (Luke 12:11-12). When we don’t even know how to pray, the Spirit prays on our behalf (Romans 8:26). When we need wisdom and direction, it is God’s Spirit, who lives in every believer (Romans 8:9), who inspired every word in the Bible (2 Peter 1:20-21; 2 Timothy 3:16). God’s people, filled with God’s Spirit, interacting with God’s Word, is a very powerful thing.

God also brings other believers in our lives to encourage and help us. But, let’s take that one step further, who has God brought into your life that you can encourage and help? Who can you walk alongside in a difficult time? Your calm reassurance might be just the thing to help them through.

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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Less Talk Equals Less Trouble

By Allen White

Esther had not revealed her nationality and family background, because Mordecai had forbidden her to do so. Esther 2:10

I have far more regrets over things that I’ve said than over things that I haven’t said. Let me qualify that though. Being a typical male, I don’t always tell people how I feel about them. Feelings – they’re just plan scary. So, I am making an effort to let my family know how I feel about them and congratulate folks for excellent work. Those things shouldn’t go unsaid.

But, overall, I find myself talking less these days. Less talk equals less trouble. It’s not that I’m holding back a vast reserve of sarcasm and critical barbs. I’ve just decided that everyone doesn’t need to hear everything that I have to say about every subject. And, things are going much better.

Esther, under the direction of her cousin, Mordecai, didn’t reveal her nationality or family background. While Jews were regarded more favorably under the Persians than under their original captors the Babylonians, it might have been dangerous for Esther to reveal her true identity. Now, we don’t know if anyone had actually asked her about her background. If she had lied about who she was, then that would have been a problem and a sin. But, not telling, well, that’s another matter. As scholar Matthew Henry puts it, “All truths are not to be spoken at all times, though an untruth is not to be spoken at any time.”

We don’t know if being a Jew would have disqualified Esther from the queen competition. If that was a possibility, then why wouldn’t Esther just shout her ethnicity from the roof tops? She could have avoided the whole thing. But, then again, her people would have been wiped out.

Mordecai, by wisdom or intuition, directed Esther in the right way. Esther’s silence, then courageous appeals later, saved her people from annihilation.

How’s your mouth these days? What kinds of things should you stop saying? What kinds of things should you start saying? If you’re not sure, then choose to look very intelligent by keeping it closed.
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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Praying for Your Football Team

By Allen White

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Romans 13:1

According to this verse, every position of power in every country in every age was established by God. I don’t believe that God endorsed the evil of Adolf Hitler, Vladimir Lenin, or Saddam Hussein, but God did establish the authority.

Think about it: in the time of Esther, the Israelites were under the authority and control of the Persians. They had disobeyed God by worshipping false idols. Their punishment was to see their nation fall and to forcibly join the company of other idol worshippers. Sometimes the thing that we think we want is the worst thing that can happen to us.

Most of us have not lived in a dictatorship or in captivity. We have a hard enough time with the opposing political party comes into power, let alone, being ruled by a tyrant.

But, if this verse is true, then why would God put an ungodly person in office to perform His will? That’s a big question. The belief in a democracy is that the collective will of the people expresses the will of God. But, let’s be honest, praying for your political candidate to win is much like praying for your football team to win while the opposing team prays for theirs. If God answered all of those prayers, it would make for some pretty strange championships.

This doesn’t mean that we need to accept whatever decisions someone in power makes carte blanche. Why did God put them there? Did He put them there to wake us up, as in the case of the Israelites in Persia?

Lastly, regardless of whether we agree or disagree with those in power, as believers we should be respectful and civil in our thoughts and deeds toward others. This world is destined for ultimate recycling (Revelation 21:1). But, God’s Kingdom lasts forever. Winning someone over to your political views is not nearly as important as winning someone for the Lord.

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The Why to God’s What

By Allen White

All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. [God] does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?”  Daniel 4:35

We have all heard that hindsight is 20/20. After time passes, we gain perspective and begin to understand why the things that we were counting on didn’t work out. We know now why a certain prayer wasn’t answered exactly the way that we had wished. Once there is some distance between us and the circumstance, most things become clear. For the rest, we will understand it “by and by.” But, when you’re in the middle of it, it’s a whole other story.

When we’re dealing with a problem, our perspective is more 20/200. We lose sight of our goals. We tend to question God’s character. Sometimes, we even wonder if we’ll actually survive. In these times, we need our friends to be for us and to pray for us. We don’t need a great deal of advice or quoted Scripture for that matter.

When my wife and I were in the thick of it with our first child in intensive care, by the grace of God no one quoted Romans 8:28 to us. While I believe that verse, I would have told that person what they could do with it. In the middle of a problem, the tunnel looks dark in both directions. But, even in dark circumstances, there are glimpses of hope.

Daniel was exiled with the Israelites in a foreign land. This was far different than being shut up in your house for two days because of snow. To the best of his knowledge, Daniel and every other Israelite would spend the rest of their lives in captivity. It would have been easy to question the promises of the Promised Land. To Daniel and the others, it certainly felt like broken promises.

In the middle of Daniel’s darkness, God gave Daniel some needed perspective: “All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. [God] does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?”  (Daniel 4:35). It sounds like we’re right back to being “dust in the wind” again. But, consider what Daniel is saying.

Sure the Israelites in captivity are nothing. But, the captors are also nothing in comparison with God. “God does as He pleases.” God is a big boy. He can take care of Himself. And, He can take care of us.

We don’t understand all of the why’s to all of the what’s about God’s work. But, we can understand that God is good (Psalm 73:1) and that God has our best interest at heart (Luke 12:7). His ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9). Thank God for that.

Now, while you’re fixin’ to “encourage” your friends with God’s word, get this: this revelation came to Daniel directly from God. Often we think that we’re helping others, when we are actually coming across more like Job’s “friends.” Even with the best of intentions, these “blessings” will not be received as such. We can be there for each other and pray for each other, but we need to hold back on the advice giving.

The other side of this is that God wants to encourage you. God wants to encourage you in your situation. God wants to encourage you in a particularly personal way. To receive God’s encouragement, we only need to listen to Him. How do we know if it’s God? Well, if it doesn’t contradict God’s Word, then you’re on the right track.

As Thomas Merton put it, “The ever-changing reality in the midst of which we live should awaken us to the possibility of an uninterrupted dialogue with God. We must learn to realize that the love of God seeks us in every situation, and seeks our good” (From New Seeds of Contemplation).

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