Thursday, September 3, 2015

Jesus’ Opposite World

By Allen White

That same day King Xerxes gave Queen Esther the estate of Haman, the enemy of the Jews. And Mordecai came into the presence of the king, for Esther had told how he was related to her.  The king took off his signet ring, which he had reclaimed from Haman, and presented it to Mordecai. And Esther appointed him over Haman’s estate.
Esther 8:1-2

Mordecai was a faithful man. He faithfully raised his cousin, Esther, as his own child. He faithfully watched over her while she lived in the harem. He faithfully advised her in how to handle herself. He faithfully reported the assassination plot against the king. He faithfully mourned for the fate of his people. Mordecai was a man who chose to do the right thing without thinking of himself or how he should be rewarded. The world could use more Mordecai’s.

Mordecai is a good example of the opposite world that Jesus introduced in His Kingdom. “Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45).
That’s not what they taught us about standing in line at school.

Jesus said, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:31-32). Boy, we can sure get caught up with things.

It’s easy to get our priorities out of line. When everyone else is looking out for number one, we feel that we’ll be left behind if we don’t do the same. Often we become so concerned for our own happiness and well-being that we don’t allow room for God to provide for us. Sometimes we become so focused on the here and now that we lose sight of eternity. Our time on earth is remarkably short compared to our life in eternity.

The Serenity Prayer closes this way:
“Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him Forever in the next.”

If we’re scraping to get it all right now, we are certain to lose our serenity in the process. Don’t fret. Your life and good deeds, and even your suffering, will be rewarded, just not yet.

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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Time Doesn’t Heal All Wounds

By Allen White

The king got up in a rage, left his wine and went out into the palace garden. But Haman, realizing that the king had already decided his fate, stayed behind to beg Queen Esther for his life.

Just as the king returned from the palace garden to the banquet hall, Haman was falling on the couch where Esther was reclining.

The king exclaimed, “Will he even molest the queen while she is with me in the house?”

As soon as the word left the king’s mouth, they covered Haman’s face. Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs attending the king, said, “A pole reaching to a height of fifty cubits [about 75 feet] stands by Haman’s house. He had it set up for Mordecai, who spoke up to help the king.”

The king said, “Impale him on it!” So they impaled Haman on the pole he had set up for Mordecai. Then the king’s fury subsided. Esther 7:7-10

What started as a personal grudge against Mordecai escalated to Haman’s demise. Mordecai refused to bow to Haman (Esther 3:2) out of loyalty to the Jewish people and their 1000 year issue with the Amalekites (Deuteronomy 25:17-19). Rather than take up the issue with Mordecai, Haman decided to eliminate Mordecai and everybody else like him. Haman’s ego caused his emotions to go overboard. His lack of self-control eventually led to his own undoing.

Blinded by pride and selfish ambition, Haman did everything he could to elevate himself in the king’s eyes. On the surface, things were going well for him. But, then reality set in. Haman’s plot led to his own undoing. By choosing to globalize the issue with Mordecai, Haman created a problem that he couldn’t escape or avoid. If only he could go back and do it differently now. (There’s a joke in there about Haman finally getting the “point,” but I’m not going to go there).

How many small issues given time become huge issues? By refusing to handle things early-on with individuals, people tend to put things off, involve other people, draw up sides, and create major problems. Do you know someone who was offended by some little thing 20 years ago and now there is a family feud? “Well, if he’s coming, then I’m not going because I can’t stand to be around him.” And why can’t they stand him? Maybe he said something stupid 20 years ago. Since we have never said anything stupid, we have every right to judge him.

Time doesn’t heal all wounds. In fact, neglecting our wounds and refusing to forgive infects our souls and causes us to die a little bit. By refusing to reconcile, we are not only missing out on them, we are also missing out on us.

What situation is an open loop in your life? What do you need to close it? What can just be considered water under the bridge at this point? What needs to be talked out? Before you bring harm to yourself, what can you do to resolve the issue?

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Do You Engage People or Lecture Them?

By Allen White

King Xerxes asked Queen Esther, “Who is he? Where is he—the man who has dared to do such a thing?”

Esther said, “An adversary and enemy! This vile Haman!”

Then Haman was terrified before the king and queen. The king got up in a rage, left his wine and went out into the palace garden. But Haman, realizing that the king had already decided his fate, stayed behind to beg Queen Esther for his life.
Esther 7:5-7

Once Xerxes understood the severity of the situation, he asked the question, “Who?” At this point, Esther’s job wasn’t to intrigue him, but to very directly get him up to speed. He was ready to hear it now.

If Esther had started the conversation with finger pointing, Xerxes might have directed his energies toward defending his right-hand man, Haman. But, because Xerxes understood the seriousness of the matter, he was willing to take on whoever had brought this about. He wanted to defend his queen and her people. At this point, he could handle the truth.

Often we are guilty of answering questions that others aren’t asking. People don’t want to be talked at, they want to be engaged.

A few years ago, our team at Lifetogether.com led 17 conferences calls per week for all of the churches participating in 40 Days of Purpose and 40 Days of Community through Saddleback Church. The pastors on these calls had just received their campaign kits and were completely overwhelmed by what they had taken on. Our job was to equip them and talk them off of the ledge.

One of the call moderators would start in giving instructions and 60 minutes later would take questions. It was fire hose to face for sure. So, on some of the calls we opted for a different approach. We started the call by asking questions. What we found was that the participants were much more engaged, and to our surprise, we covered the same material as the lecturer.

What do the people around you need to hear? Rather than assuming that you know, listen to their questions. When are they teachable? When is it information overload? If you can answer their questions rather than lecturing them, the answers will stick.

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Monday, August 31, 2015

How to Fascinate Others

By Allen White

Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor with you, Your Majesty, and if it pleases you, grant me my life—this is my petition. And spare my people—this is my request. For I and my people have been sold to be destroyed, killed and annihilated. If we had merely been sold as male and female slaves, I would have kept quiet, because no such distress would justify disturbing the king.”
Esther 7:3-4

Esther makes an eloquent request. She doesn’t cut to the chase. Her words are intriguing. She left a few unanswered questions, and fascinated the king. Her goal was to engage the king’s mind and to evoke strong emotion. And, she succeeded.

Sometimes our attempts at persuasion boil down to a battle of wills. “This is what I want.” “Well, this is what I want.” Where do you go from there? Often confronting a situation directly just blows up in our face. When we take a person head on, they become threatened and defensive. When we speak frankly to another person about him or herself, their defensiveness causes them to miss the point.

People can’t look directly at themselves. It’s too close. It’s too personal. It’s hard for them to see. We can only see ourselves in reflections.

Esther doesn’t lay into Xerxes about his edict to exterminate the Jewish people. Xerxes wouldn’t have connected the dots. He would have felt personally attacked. Esther’s mission would have failed right there.

Instead, Esther causes Xerxes to look at the situation by talking about it indirectly. This wasn’t a passive-aggressive, innuendo and insinuation kind of tactic. Esther’s approach allowed Xerxes to look at the circumstance objectively. He would automatically ask himself, “Who would do such a thing?” before he realized that he was the one.

How do you approach other people? Do you go straight for the jugular? Do you immediately rub their noses in it? How can you discuss the facts without causing them to become defensive? Is there a story you can tell from another situation? Is there a way to invoke their interest without provoking their anger?

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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Hey God, I’ve Got This One

By Allen White

So the king and Haman went to Queen Esther’s banquet, and as they were drinking wine on the second day, the king again asked, “Queen Esther, what is your petition? It will be given you. What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be granted.” Esther 7:1-2

Much had transpired since the last banquet just 24 hours before. Haman had gone from the elation of dining with the king and queen to the humiliation of parading Mordecai through the streets proclaiming his honor. Haman knew in his heart that his plot would be undone. What he didn’t know was that the other shoe was soon to drop.

Haman gathered what little dignity he had left and attended another banquet with the king and queen. If anything, his ego needed some re-inflating, even though he had been warned by his wife, his advisors, and the circumstances of that day.

Pride is a powerful and dangerous trait. The Bible says, “The LORD detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished” (Proverbs 16:5).

Now, if we were completely humble, we could sit back and gloat a little bit. “Those prideful, you-know-whats are going to get theirs.” The problem is that we struggle with our pride too. I don’t say this for us to fear punishment. God’s grace has removed the punishment of our sin (Romans 8:1). But, we do need to be aware of the dangers of our pride.

“In his pride the wicked man does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God” (Psalm 10:4). Is there room for God in our thoughts? Do we seek after God? Or in our life and actions are we telling God, “I’ve got this.” Jesus only did the things that He saw His Father doing (John 5:19). Are we better than Jesus that we can figure things out on our own? That doesn’t mean that we’re bad people. It just means that we’re proud.

Haman’s pride led to his downfall. Mordecai’s humility led to God’s success. Which side of the equation do you want to be on? What does it mean for you to humbly submit yourself to God? What does it mean to release your stubborn pride?

You hold the key to God’s work in your life. As long as you insist on your way, God will give you what you want. Sometimes that’s the worst thing that can happen to us. If you want a life beyond what you can create for yourself, humility is the path.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

God Trumps Strategy Every Time

By Allen White

Afterward Mordecai returned to the king’s gate. But Haman rushed home, with his head covered in grief, and told Zeresh his wife and all his friends everything that had happened to him. His advisers and his wife Zeresh said to him, “Since Mordecai, before whom your downfall has started, is of Jewish origin, you cannot stand against him—you will surely come to ruin!” Esther 6:12-13 (NLT)

The king’s honor certainly didn’t go to Mordecai’s head. He returned to his post at the king’s gate where he had been keeping a watchful eye over Esther and had been mourning for the fate of his people. Mordecai didn’t brag to his friends. He didn’t see victory over the impending evil. Mordecai kept this honor in the proper perspective. He had done the right thing in reporting the plot against the king, and now he received the king’s reward. But, that’s as far as it went. It was back to business.

While we might have expected Mordecai to have an emotional outburst of celebration, it’s Haman who’s emotions are out of control. The plan that Haman had so carefully wove now had him completely tied up in knots. All of his plotting fueled by selfish motives was now beginning to work against him. Mordecai wasn’t more strategic than Haman. Mordecai’s God was greater than the evil in Haman’s heart. Evil is not overcome with cleverness. Evil is overcome with good (Romans 12:21).

Often we get caught up in the motives and actions of other people. Some people seem so opposed to us that we might even consider them to be our enemies. But, people are not our enemies. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). How much time do we waste struggling with flesh and blood? How much of our energy is devoted to outwitting other people? What if that energy was directed toward drawing closer to God?

“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13). Just as Mordecai depended on the promises that his faithful God made to His people, we must depend on the promises God has made to us. Our defense is found in God’s Word, prayer, His righteousness and salvation, faith and truth (Ephesians 6:13-17).

Who are you ready to go to battle against today? Is this really your battle to fight? Could this just be a distraction from what God really wants to accomplish in your life? Have you given this situation over to God?

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

If the Claw Fits

By Allen White

So [Haman] answered the king, “For the man the king delights to honor,

Then let the robe and horse be entrusted to one of the king’s most noble princes. Let them robe the man the king delights to honor, and lead him on the horse through the city streets, proclaiming before him, ‘This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!’”

 “Go at once,” the king commanded Haman. “Get the robe and the horse and do just as you have suggested for Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king’s gate. Do not neglect anything you have recommended.”

So Haman got the robe and the horse. He robed Mordecai, and led him on horseback through the city streets, proclaiming before him, “This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!”

Afterward Mordecai returned to the king’s gate. But Haman rushed home, with his head covered in grief,

Esther 6:7, 9-12

The reward Haman requested for the unnamed recipient was obviously Haman himself, at least in his own mind. Haman was practicing half of the Golden Rule: “as you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12). He just forgot the “Do unto others” part. But, the reward wasn’t for Haman.

After learning that the honor went to Mordecai, Haman quickly toppled from the thrill of victory to the agony of defeat. Haman had to parade Mordecai through the city and proclaim, “This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!” I would imagine that coming up with a smile was more than a challenge for Haman.

We are all naturally jealous. Maybe we’re not proclaiming the good deeds of our archrival like Haman. We don’t have to go that far to be jealous. If a co-worker gets a promotion or a friend gets a new car, our first reaction is usually not, “Good for you. Way to go.” Our first thoughts are jealous thoughts.

Someone asked years ago, “How do you keep crabs in a basket? You don’t need a lid. You just need two crabs. One will make sure that the other doesn’t escape the basket.” I hate to admit that sometimes the claw fits.

The Bible tells us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). If we were honest, we would admit that often it’s easier to mourn with the mournful than rejoice with the joyful. I’m not saying that we’re a bunch of Eeyores ready to darken anyone’s day. We’re probably more like crabs.

When someone is suffering, we can pray for them. We can offer our help. We can lift them up. Often when something good happens, there’s nothing for us to do, except maybe envy them. They don’t seem to need our prayer. After all, they’ve succeeded. They don’t need our help. They don’t need to be lifted. They’re already up there. We wouldn’t want them to get a big head or anything. Maybe our job is to keep them humble amid their success. Maybe we need to get over ourselves.

There is something poetic about Haman honoring Mordecai at the king’s request. I don’t think Mordecai took advantage of the situation. I don’t think Mordecai was haughty. I doubt that he gloated. He doesn’t strike me as being that kind of man.

We can certainly cheer Mordecai’s success and even Haman’s humiliation. We all want the good guys to finish first – the tortoise to beat the hare, the underdog and the dark horse to get the advantage. We want the force to be with us. This calls for a little excessive jubilation in the end zone of life. But, we are not called to rub other people’s noses in it.

The Bible tell us to “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1 Peter 5:6). It’s not our job to lift ourselves up. It’s our job to humbly submit ourselves to God. God does the heavy lifting.

Where do you feel that you need to assert yourself and your agenda today? Are you considering the good of everybody or just your own good? What signal have you received from God: Stop, Yield or Go?

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