Monday, January 31, 2011

The Trickiness of Our Motives

When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor, he was enraged. Yet having learned who Mordecai’s people were, he scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai. Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes. Esther 3:5-6

There was a long dark history between the Amalekites and the Jews. The Amalekites fiercely attacked God’s people as they were headed to the Promised Land in the time of Moses (Deuteronomy 25:17-19). King Saul was commissioned to eliminate the Amalekites, but failed in completing his mission (1 Samuel 15). In fact, an Amalekite claimed to have killed Saul on the battlefield (2 Samuel 1:1-10). Bad blood ran very deep.

While Haman had a particular hatred toward Mordecai, because he refused to bow, Haman’s hatred was generalized to all of the Jewish people. Whether they bowed or not, Haman was determine to wipe them all out, if for any other reason, to eliminate Mordecai. There was no way to reason with the evil in Haman’s heart. His motives were both personal and dark.

Motives are tricky things to manage. In fact, people can so deceive themselves that they will do irrational and outrageous things to justify themselves. The Bible says, “All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD” (Proverbs 16:2). What we don’t understand about ourselves, God sees very clearly. We need to invite God to examine us, and to make sure that our heads are screwed on straight. “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). None of us sees all sides of ourselves.

Every one of us has blind spots. Think about it. Why is it so easy for us to recognize flaws and poor motivations in other people, yet we have a hard time owning up to our own? When people point out our flaws, we often become irritated. After all, they must be wrong. We don’t see that in ourselves. We all need people who love us, but who are not impressed with us, to speak into our lives. If we surround ourselves with people who only tell us what we want to hear, watch out. This is dangerous territory.

Wrong motives become toxic when they interact with our pride. Stubbornness sets in. At this point, failure is the only thing that can cure us. But, who will be the casualties in the process?

What are you working hard at justifying these days? What insecurities does this justification reveal? Who are you seeking out for godly counsel? What is God saying to you?

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Are Convictions a Thing of the Past?

After these events, King Xerxes honored Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles. All the royal officials at the king’s gate knelt down and paid honor to Haman, for the king had commanded this concerning him. But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor. Esther 3:1-2

As a Agagite, there was plenty of bad blood between Haman and the Jewish people already. Agagites were descendents of Agag, king of the Amalekites. Just prior to the Israelites entering the Promised Land, they suffered a horrible attack by the Amalekites (Deuteronomy 25:17-19). Saul, Israel’s first king, was commissioned to destroy the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15), yet Saul failed to complete the mission. With this history, Haman was naturally inclined to wipe out God’s people, and Mordecai was naturally inclined to resist Haman.

For Mordecai to bow to Haman would signify surrendering to a mortal enemy of the Jewish people. Mordecai wasn’t going to go there. His allegiance was to God and His people. Mordecai held this conviction, even at a high personal cost.

Conviction seems like an old fashioned word, yet attention to our convictions should be more en vague than ever. We live in a world where anything goes as long as you don’t get caught. But, if you do get caught, you just deny that you did anything wrong. Eventually, the story will cycle out of the news and out of people’s memory, and you can do whatever you want until you get caught again. But, what no one cares to tell you is that all of this comes at a high personal price. You are only as sick as your secrets.

A businessman was traveling with a partner in another country visiting a client. After dinner the clients expected to be “entertained.” The entertainment consisted of going to a strip club. The man was a Christian. He knew how sexual sin would affect himself, his relationship with God, his relationship with his wife, his relationship with his children, his friends, his church, his testimony, and the list could go on. There was no way he was going to a strip club. The problem was that there was only one car. What should he do?

He excused himself, hailed a cab at his own expense, and went back to the hotel. But, it was part of his job, wasn’t it? What if he lost his job? He was in another country. Who would ever find out? Those thoughts are very well part of the deception, but violating one’s conscience and convictions goes far deeper. This is why convictions must be determined before the situation arrives, not in the heat of the moment.

What are your convictions? What stands are you determined to take? Have you decided these things in your heart? Convictions are not just avoiding the sins listed in the Bible. Convictions often go beyond the actual sin to activities that border the sin -- things that will draw you in.

Some people can never step into a bar, because they know where that will lead them. Others should avoid a buffet. Others should consider how much of their life is spent exercising. Overdoing anything is unhealthy. The Bible teaches us to approach everything in moderation (1 Timothy 3:8; 1 Corinthians 9:25), and to avoid the things that will uniquely drag us down (Hebrews 12:1). (There is no moderation for sexual sin, by the way).

Where we get into trouble with convictions is when we begin to expect others to abide by our convictions. This can very quickly turn into legalism. Even in this passage, Mordecai doesn’t incite other Jews to rebel against Haman. He just quietly abides by his own convictions.

What have you chosen not to allow in your life? What is your plan if you are ever introduced into that situation? How do you get out of it? How do you firmly state your position without imposing your convictions on others? Are you prepared to say, “Fellas, you might think that I’m really old-fashioned, but…” When you are confronted with the “strip clubs” of life, on which side of the door will you end up?

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Do The Right Thing

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, January 26, 2011

Thelma and Louise

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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My Apologies

Dear Readers,

I apologize for sending out multiple copies of devotionals today. I am trying to resolve a problem with the email subscriptions. I am not trying to needlessly spam you.

If you ever have a problem receiving the devotionals through a feed, you can go directly to the page here:

Thanks for reading,

The InBetween Time

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, January 24, 2011

Someone to Watch Over Me

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, January 23, 2011

Less Talk Equals Less Trouble

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, January 20, 2011

Habla Espanol?

A few people have asked me about offering the daily devotionals in Spanish. I would love to do that, if I had a translator. Can you translate? The pay is nill, but the rewards are awesome. Email me at

Praying for Your Football Team

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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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Why to God’s What

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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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

God Hasn’t Forgotten You

When the king’s order and edict had been proclaimed, many young women were brought to the citadel of Susa and put under the care of Hegai. Esther also was taken to the king’s palace and entrusted to Hegai, who had charge of the harem. She pleased him and won his favor. Immediately he provided her with her beauty treatments and special food. He assigned to her seven female attendants selected from the king’s palace and moved her and her attendants into the best place in the harem. Esther 2:8-9

If “harem” could be translated “spa,” then this passage might not be so bad. Beauty treatments and special food might sound more like a generous gift certificate rather than orders from a tyrant. But, this was another place, a long time ago and far, far away. It’s hard to imagine.

This scene was less like a slumber party and more like a women’s prison. No woman voluntarily joined a harem. They were either given as a gift from a powerful ruler, or they were enslaved. Esther and the other women who were rounded up didn’t have a choice. So, here in an unwelcomed and horrible circumstance, Esther finds favor with the guy in charge, Hegai. Unlike Joseph, who also found favor during enslavement, and yet escaped a sexual advance (Genesis 39:6-16), Esther was being prepared for one. It seems unbelievable that this would be part of God’s plan.

Yet, here in a much less than ideal circumstance, Esther was singled out from among every young woman in the kingdom. Esther found favor with the king’s servant. We don’t know how much Hegai’s kindness wiped away Esther’s despair, but we do know that she was especially looked after and cared for. Perhaps she had a small glimmer of God’s favor as well.

While we can often identify with the people and circumstances in the Bible, this one is more than a little challenging. Not many of us could comfortably put ourselves in Esther’s shoes. But, if we’ve ever been in despair or felt that God has forgotten about us, then we might have a sense of what Esther experienced.

What situation do you feel has been forced on you these days? When have you felt (or do you feel) that God has abandoned you? What circumstance are you facing that you would rather avoid?

How has God shown favor to you? What person has God brought along to help you? What advantage has He given?

God has a plan for each of our lives. It often takes many unexpected twists and turns. God hasn’t forgotten you.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Life is Not Like the Hallmark Channel

Now there was in the citadel of Susa a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, named Mordecai son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, who had been carried into exile from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, among those taken captive with Jehoiachin king of Judah. Mordecai had a cousin named Hadassah, whom he had brought up because she had neither father nor mother. This young woman, who was also known as Esther, had a lovely figure and was beautiful. Mordecai had taken her as his own daughter when her father and mother died. Esther 2:5-7

In a perfect world, a person would bend over backwards to help another person, whether it was taking in an orphan, befriending an outcast, or adopting a stray, and in return their lives would be blessed and problem-free. But, here’s the deal, whether you’re raising kids or cats, they will make noise, throw up on your carpet, go #2 on your sofa, make a mess, cost a lot of money, and cause heartache anyway…oh, and so will the cats.

Noble causes don’t always reap positive rewards. Hadassah, aka Esther, had nowhere to go, so her cousin Mordecai took her in. He raised Esther as his own daughter. He gave her everything that she needed to have a good life. I would imagine that Mordecai had hopes and dreams for Esther: marry a nice Jewish boy, settle down, and start a family, and maybe even return to the Promised Land one day.

Those dreams ended the day that the king began to enlarge his harem and “interview” candidates for queen. This wasn’t what Mordecai had hoped for his adopted daughter. A dictator’s edict ended all that Mordecai had dreamed for Esther. All of his efforts appeared to be for naught.

All of us have taken on causes that never really played out the way that we thought. Sometimes when you befriend the friendless person at work, instead of receiving gratitude, you’re stabbed in the back. Then, you understand why that person was friendless.

Life is not fair. Most of the undertakings in life, especially the heroic ones, do not always have happy endings or don’t become made for TV movies on the Hallmark Channel (No offense to Hallmark. They paid for half of my college).

So, here’s the big question that you are going to hate me for asking: Do we do things to make ourselves feel good or do we do things out of obedience to God? If we do things merely to feel good, then when things don’t work out, we wonder why we got into it in the first place. If we do things out of obedience and fall on rough times, often we also question why we got involved, but we trust that God has a plan. Regardless of how we feel, what others think, what others are doing, or even what we think, obedience to God’s plan is far more valuable than any reward or acclaim that we might otherwise receive.

Where are you becoming weary in well-doing? What are you about to quit or escape from? What does God say? Even if you got in it for the wrong reasons, you’re in it. How do you need to obey God today?

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Exerting Control Won’t Gain Respect

Author’s Note: Today, we begin an 8-week series on the Old Testament book of Esther. We will discover many modern lessons in their ancient story. I would encourage you to sit down and read the whole book straight through. This will help with the context.

On the seventh day, when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine, he commanded the seven eunuchs who served him—Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar and Karkas -- 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. But when the attendants delivered the king’s command, Queen Vashti refused to come. Then the king became furious and burned with anger.

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
Then Memukan replied in the presence of the king and the nobles, “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.
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.

Then the king’s personal attendants proposed, “Let a search be made for beautiful young virgins for the king. Then let the young woman who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.” This advice appealed to the king, and he followed it. Esther 1:10-13, 16, 19; 2:2, 4

Powerful people are prone to doing dumb things. Xerxes had conquered all of his enemies and was a tyrant over nearly everyone in the known world. His kingdom stretched from modern day Pakistan to the Sudan. He ruled with brute force. Xerxes was the Saddam Hussein of his time, except that there weren't other powers to keep him in check. Xerxes had power over all. Absolute power had certainly corrupted absolutely.

Yet, power, intimidation and brute force don’t bring about respect. Just like a bad boss or an incompetent CEO could force people to work, they certainly can’t get the best out of people. A visit to the break room will quickly reveal how much respect they have earned.

Xerxes called for his wife, Vashti, to walk the runway and once again impress all of his subjects. She refused. Vashti, much like Tina Turner, had just had enough. After all, what’s love got to do with it? She didn’t want to be treated like his property. She just said “No.” His control didn’t gain her respect.

Xerxes had a problem. This wasn’t merely a lovers’ quarrel. If the queen, as his subject, refused to obey his commands, then what other subjects might refuse? It wouldn’t take long to slide down that slippery slope.

The easy solution, according to his advisors, was to find a replacement for the queen. She would certainly never say “No” again. Xerxes regained his control, yet he continued to lose respect.

Who do you find disrespects you? Few people do things simply because their supposed to. “Because I said so” stopped working long ago. What have you invested in the person who disrespects you? Do they understand your motives? Do you understand theirs? Do they know that you are on their side? Do they know that you care? Exerting control won’t gain respect.

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Little Howling at the Moon

LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens. Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? Psalm 8:1-4

A few weeks ago, I awoke to my alarm at 1:45 am Eastern time. I quietly put on my sweats and crept outside into our backyard. It was December 21st, the night of the Winter Solstice and a lunar eclipse. I was surprised to see that a few of my neighbors were also outside howling at the moon with me.

There in the freezing cold, I witnessed the moon slowly disappear behind the earth’s shadow, and then gradually reappear. Laying on the porch swing looking up at this natural wonder, I thought about how God created everything in the universe to work perfectly and to sustain living things. I wondered if the pastor on call was getting any crazy phone calls. I thought about men, women and children out in the freezing cold night after night due to homelessness. I was cold, but I was going back to my warm bed in 45 minutes.

The next morning, I faced a change of plans. Rather than getting ready to head downtown to my favorite coffee shop to write devotionals, I had to call the pediatric surgeons office instead. My oldest son, Sam, had food stuck in his esophagus. We thought we had resolved the problem. But, he hadn’t kept anything down for two days, and he was starving.

We ended up spending most of the day at the hospital waiting for surgery. Television and playstation were a big help in all of the waiting. A kind nurse named Candy took care of us. My suspicion is that she wasn’t just kind to us because I am one of her pastors. I think she’s kind to every patient.

The day ended with a successful hotdog-ectomy. My son and I were both thankful to have spent the day together, although there are less painful and much less expensive ways of doing that. We were thankful that we had avoided surgery for almost six years. We were thankful for kind and skillful surgeons who took care of my boy on the 17th surgery in his young life.

The God who created a universe where three heavenly bodies can align in such a way that the smallest, the moon, seems to disappear is also the same God who cares about a piece of hotdog stuck in a little boy’s esophagus. For a God who created all of the universe, what are humans by comparison? A band from my birthplace sings that “all we are is dust in the wind.” We are certainly made from dust. (Psalm 103:14) In fact, we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). But, we weren’t made merely to exist. We were made for relationship with God and with each other. We were made to fulfill God’s purpose on this earth. I find that to be truly remarkable.

What are you thankful for today? What can you praise God for? Maybe you’re thankful for not being dumb enough to get up in the middle of the night to watch the moon in the freezing cold.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

God Wants You to Be Yourself

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Colossians 4:5

This verse used to seem like a call to mind our P’s and Q’s around non-believers. Somehow if we lived our lives perfectly enough, they would be drawn to the Christian lifestyle and would start faking it with us. The problem is that none of us is anything close to perfect and that most people can’t relate to perfection. So, how are we supposed to act toward outsiders?

 We live in a world where people have become jaded by false claims. Why is every “As Seen on TV” product sold for $19.95, comes with double the order plus a few others things, and ultimately ends up in our garage sales for 50 cents? Maybe because a sucker is born every minute. Seriously, do we need a brownie pan that looks like an old fashioned ice cube tray? Do we need a blanket with sleeves? Why not just put your bathrobe on like a hospital gown? Same thing.

Most people realize that anything worthwhile doesn’t come easily. Everyone who set out to get rich quickly, ended up in the opposite direction at the same pace.

According to a survey by George Barna, people who identified themselves as non-Christians had a higher view of Democrats, real estate agents, movie and television performers, lawyers, and Republicans than they did evangelical Christians (in that order). The only groups that fared worse than evangelicals were lesbians and prostitutes. (Barna Group) I think that we could say that evangelical Christians have a bit of a PR problem. We certainly haven’t been acting wisely toward outsiders. We ranked below real estate agents, come on! (just kidding)

Christians have come across as judgmental, unaccepting, self-righteous, and bigoted. While many of the believers that I know are not this way at all, perception is often reality in the world today.

The 77 million people in America who don’t go to church crave authenticity (so do the ones who attend church). They need to know that Christians have real problems. They need to know that we trust God. They need to know that sometimes we question God. We become frustrated and desperate at times. They need to see that we care for each other and lift each other up. They need to understand that we are willing to help and that we don’t just want their money. They need to see that we’re the real deal.

Who you are, even with all of your shortcomings, speaks far better for the cause of Christ, than the person that you pretend to be. The more that you can learn to be yourself, the more people will see how God is transforming your life.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

You Will Never Find Anything Better

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:10

How does God use you to serve others? For many people this seems like such a lofty task. Certainly God could find better people – maybe folks that weren’t so flawed or sinful. Well, guess what? All God has to work with are sinful, flawed people. And, He chooses to use us just the way we are. He wants to work through you and me.

This verse puzzled me for a while. Some concepts are thrown together here that just don’t seem to fit. We understand “stewardship,” but that usually has to do with giving financially, not with stewarding God’s grace. That’s a little confusing. Yet, Peter got it right.

I used to think that grace was kind of like rain. Grace just showered down from Heaven on all of us. It was our choice to either accept God’s grace or to reject it. If I wanted to put up an umbrella to avoid the drops of grace, that was my choice. But, God has designated believers as stewards (managers or administrators) of His grace. God has given us His grace. For most of us, we came to Christ through the encouragement of another person, whether a pastor, teacher, parent or friend. Their kindness and encouragement was a way of extending God’s grace to us.

The other interesting, and possibly confusing, combination here is gifts and grace. Grace seems to relate more to sin and salvation, not gifts and serving. Yet, the root word of “spiritual gifts” is “charismata.” This is where we get the word “Charismatic.” “Charismata” literally means “grace gifts.” Spiritual gifts are grace gifts. The Bible tells us that every believer has spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:7) and that gifts are given according to God’s grace (Romans 12:6). When we use our spiritual gifts, we are showing good stewardship of God’s grace.

Do you know what your spiritual gifts are? The Bible gives us three lists of spiritual gifts: Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4. Take a look at these lists and see which gifts might ring true. You can also discover your spiritual gifts and much more about yourself at the PLACE class in BrookwoodU. You will learn more about yourself, and you can also find out how God has uniquely gifted and equipped you for ministry.

God didn’t save us so that we could merely avoid Hell (even though that’s a pretty good motivator). God saved us, so we can bless others and win them to the Kingdom as well. This doesn’t mean that we’re all called to door-to-door evangelism. I’m certainly not, even though I’ve tried it. God calls every believer to a ministry uniquely designed for them. It might take a little trial and error to find the right fit, but once you do, you will never find anything better in life.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Car Alarm Athiests

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror… But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. James 1:22-23, 25

“If I told my kids to clean their rooms, and they only memorized my words, would that be enough?” asked Francis Chan, author of Crazy Love and The Forgotten God. That’s a pointed question, isn’t it? But, the reality is that we only believe the things that we actually do.

Most of us are car alarm atheists. How many of us ever run to investigate a car alarm in a parking lot? None of us do. We just assume that the shiny new SUV that’s never actually been driven off-road just got a door ding or something. Car alarms don’t call for an emergency, unless it comes from the cars in our driveways. We run outside because we don’t want to disturb the neighbors. We don’t actually think they’re being stolen.

If we truly believed what the Bible has to say, what would our lives look like? How would it affect our outlook and attitudes? What would be the quality of our relationships? Again, I’m not writing these things to make you feel guilty or discouraged. God has a vision for your life. He wants to mold you into the person that He’s designed for you to be. Not some ill-fitting version of what a Christian ought to be, but the person that He has called you to be.

If we truly believed what God’s Word tells us, then we would:

1. Understand that we don’t know better than God does. Even the things that God says about turning the other cheek (Matthew 5:39) and treating others like we’d like to be treated (Matthew 7:12) often don’t make sense in a business setting, God knows better than we do. His ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:9), but not in a goodie two shoes sense of things. God created everything and everyone that exists. God has a plan for each of us. God is sovereign over everything (Acts 4:24). Who has a better understanding of things than God?

2. The behavior that comes naturally from us is a result of the Fall. I’m not talking about our gifts, talents or personalities. I’m talking about our impulses and our reactions. What seems right to our natural selves is a result of our fallen nature. It’s the part of us that needs to be redeemed. The Bible says, “They follow their natural instincts because they do not have God’s Spirit in them” (Jude 19). God certainly has a higher calling for us.

3. God gives us everything that we need to successfully live our lives for Him. In and of ourselves, we become weary in well-doing. We just run out of steam. But, whoever said that it was up to us to provide all of the steam. There are some commands in Scripture that just might seem impossible to achieve. Left to ourselves, that’s probably true. But, for every believer, the Spirit of God lives inside of us (Romans 8:9). The same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead is available to help us live the lives that God intends (Romans 8:11).

What’s standing in our way? Some of us just don’t believe these things. How do I know? I know by the things that we do. If I believe that God is for me (Romans 8:31), then what do I have to complain about? If I believe that in the end God’s Kingdom is victorious (1 Corinthians 15:57), then why do I get so bent out of shape when ungodly people act in ungodly ways? Isn’t that their job? If I believe that God’s Spirit is working to conform me to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29), then why do I so stubbornly resist His nudges?

God wants to give you the life that you’ve dreamed of. I’m not saying that God wants to make you healthy and wealthy. God wants to make you into the person that He’s designed for you to be. It’s up to you to decide how much you want to resist God’s work in your life.

If you would like to learn to study the Bible, there are some great classes at BrookwoodU starting in January. Hermeneutics teaches the art and science of interpreting Scripture. New Testament Survey gives you the background and overview of what the New Testament of the Bible is all about. Register by January 16 at

A great place to “try on” the truth of God’s Word is in a small group. Many small groups at Brookwood Church are starting a study of the book of Esther, Perry’s new series, beginning the week of January 16. For a list of Open Small Groups:

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Sunday, January 9, 2011

I’m Not Better Than You

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. 1 Peter 3:8

The world’s version of this verse might read something like this: “Finally, y’all, be independent thinkers, be self-absorbed, use others for your own purposes, expect others to feel sorry for you, and look out for number one.” It’s not likely that those words could have appeared in Scripture. It’s also not likely that any of us are naturally skilled at what this verse actually says. We’d be better at achieving the opposite.

Relationships are hard work. And, relationships are necessary. We cannot grow in the faith by ourselves. In fact, left to ourselves, we tend to get comfortable and arrange our lives to suit ourselves. But, before we start thinking that God is requiring us to do the impossible, remember that the Bible is God’s vision for your life. These qualities that build relationship are what God envisions for you to develop. Don’t be discouraged by these words. This is the kind of person that God is making you to be.

Peter gave us the keys to unity and relationship. First, he said to be “like-minded.” Does that mean that we all watch FoxNews and agree on everything they say? Not necessarily. Some of us watch other news channels and never listen to talk radio.

“Like-minded” isn’t group-think. It’s not a mindless assent to what most Christian people think about a subject. Being like-minded is being agreeable. Even if we don’t understand everything about another person, we can be understanding.

Sympathy and compassion are also key to good relationships. These qualities are expressed differently by different groups of people. Women emote much differently than men (do men emote?) Midwesterners are rather matter-of-fact about things. Just give them the facts. Southerners are far more gracious. Their conversations are flavored with a great deal of emotion. Yankees, well, fagetaboutit. Now, that I have offended the majority of my readers (I am from Kansas, by the way), you get the idea.

For some people showing sympathy is being moved to tears. For others, it’s offering a helping hand. For some, it’s listening intently without interrupting or trying to fix things. Sympathy and compassion look different on different people. But, to another person our time, our attention, and a listening ear are big things.

Love one another. These three simple words really sum it all up. In victory and in failure, our job is to love. If for any other reason, we love, because God loved us first (1 John 4:19).

What makes all of these qualities possible in our lives is humility. I am not better than you, but I’m also not worse than you. Humility is not feeling bad about yourself. Humility is thinking less about yourself. If I’m not better than you, then I can’t judge you (1 Corinthians 4:5). If I’m not better than you, then I can identify with messing up, because I’ve messed up too.

Who do you connect with on a regular basis? How do your relationships reflect these qualities from 1 Peter 3:8? Where could you improve? Don’t become discouraged by this. Ask God to fulfill His vision for your life. 

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

All Dressed Up and…

God keeps His promise; He will not allow you to be tempted beyond your power to resist; at the time you are tempted He will give you the strength to endure it, and so provide you with a way out. 1 Cor. 10:13 (GN)

If we choose to persist, God will allow us to sin. If we choose to seek God’s help, He will provide a way out.

When I’ve faced temptation, God has provided a knock on the door or a phone call from a friend. God has provided a picture of what my life would look like if I played the movie forward. What would happen to my family? What would my friends think? What would become of me? But, if I really want to sin, I always can.

A friend in Bible college traveled out of town to be in someone’s wedding. (No, it wasn’t me.) He and another groomsman decided after the wedding that since they were all dressed up, they needed to find some trouble. They wanted to be bad. Dancing, drinking and finding girls that do was their agenda. They headed into a local bar and found a table. While this was taboo in their families and churches, they were out to have a good time.The bar was full of women. They were in luck. There were so many women to choose from. In fact, there were no other men in the bar, and nobody asked them to dance. In their effort to be bad, the two tuxedoed groomsmen had wandered into a lesbian bar. They soon headed back to their hotel. Their plans were foiled. God had provided a way out.

When you are tempted, how do you need God to help you change the channel in your mind? If you ask God for help, He will help. If you ask a friend, he or she will help. If you would rather give in, you can do that too.

Looking for a Small Group? Find one this Sunday, January 9, 5-7 pm at the Small Group Sampler in the concourse at Brookwood Church. This is a casual, open house where you can meet small groups and sign up to try one.Follow us on twitter:

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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Playing the Victim

A person’s own folly leads to their ruin, yet their heart rages against the LORD. Proverbs 19:3

Why is it when we make a mess it’s always God’s fault? Do you think God hates you? He doesn’t. The Bible clearly teaches that God is love (1 John 4:16). Even God’s discipline stems from His love (Hebrews 12:6). It’s not God’s objective to ruin anyone’s life (Jeremiah 29:11).

But, the other side is that God won’t miraculously cause all of our problems to disappear. While I do believe that God does give us faith and does provide miracles, I also know that removing all of the obstacles that we've set up for ourselves doesn’t make us better. It does the opposite. Just like removing a cocoon would only harm the emerging butterfly, removing all of our self-inflicted problems would threaten our survival.

What you and I are going through today is not God’s fault. Say it outloud: “What I am going through is not God’s fault. It’s my fault.” Even if your pain or problems start with another person, what have you done to encourage it or to allow their mistreatment of you? How have you played into the dysfunction? How have you poured fuel on the fire? How do you over-react rather than respond?

Here are two very tough little words: Own It. “I am responsible for my current situation. I am responsible for my attitude about my situation. I am responsible for my life from this point forward regardless of past failures or successes.” But, it was so much easier to blame an unreasonable boss, an unfaithful friend, a critical or unreliable spouse, bratty kids, the economy, the government, and above all a cruel and unloving god.

You and I are not victims of our circumstances. You and I are not facing harder things than other Christians in history have faced. Most of us reading these words are not imprisoned or impoverished. Most are not being persecuted for their faith. Many of us are just big whiners. It’s time to grow up.

The sooner that we realize that God is God, and we’re not, the better off we will be. I cannot control what other people do. I cannot change other people into what I want them to be. The best chance that I have of changing anybody is to commit to changing myself with God’s help.

The Devil wants to keep us incapacitated. The Devil invented the blame game when he introduced sin into the world (Genesis 3:12-14). The Enemy’s battlefield is between our two ears. As long as he can keep us from realizing that we can do all things through Christ who gives you strength (Philippians 4:13) and that God is still working on us (Philippians 1:6), the enemy has won. Someone once described the devil as being a tiny bug with a big mouth. I think that sums it up.

Considering that the Master and Creator of the universe loves us deeply and is fully capable of producing in us what He has called us to be, what is really standing in our way? For many of us, what is standing in the way is ourselves and our attitudes.

Rather than throwing a pity party, which usually only has one invited guest, pour out the whole thing to God. If you're stuck, pray, “God, what in the world am I supposed to do?” If you're frustrated, pray, “God, I give up trying to change this person or situation. I give it to You for You to work on. I will live obediently to You and let You work on the rest.” If disappointments overwhelm you, pray, “God, I am very disappointed because of how _____________ has turned out. It makes me think that you don’t love me. It makes me think that you won’t or can’t help me. Please show me what to do.”

To quote the great theologian, Pogo: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Looking for a Small Group? Find one this Sunday, January 9, 5-7 pm at the Small Group Sampler in the concourse at Brookwood Church. This is a casual, open house where you can meet small groups and sign up to try one.

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Ready for a Self-Test?

Let us examine our ways and test them and return to the Lord. Lamentations 3:40 (GN)

Insanity is commonly defined as repeating the same actions and expecting a different result. It’s crazy, but it’s what we do. The reality is that our system is perfectly designed to achieve the result that we are getting. Unless we are honest about the nature and cause of our problems, then we won’t do anything about it, except blame everybody else. As they say, “Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.”

The Bible says to “examine our ways and test them.” This isn’t a test to see if our way of doing things is perfect. This is simply an evaluation of “if I do A, then I get B.” We can’t really evaluate ourselves in one sitting. This is where journaling comes in handy. Simply write down what is happening, why it happened, and how you feel about it. You don’t need a high-dollar, leather-bound journal. You can just use a notebook from the dollar store. Personally, I don’t like to write with a pen, so I set up an email address for God. When I’m in the thick of it, I send God an email. (No I’m not giving out the email address. You’ll need to set up your own.)

After you’ve journaled for weeks to months, look over your journal. Do any patterns appear? What are the causes behind your circumstances? What have you tried to do differently? How has that worked? You should start seeing some things very clearly.

If you want the Reader’s Digest version (and you’re very brave), then sit down with a friend or your spouse and ask them where you could improve or what they see that’s getting in your way. Your first question probably needs to be “Do you think I have a thick skin?” If the answer is “No,” then go back to the journaling.

You can’t become the person you want to be, if you don’t take into account the person that you already are. If you are attempting to improve the better version of yourself that only exists in your own head, you are simply writing fiction. But, here’s the good news: God knows exactly who you are, where you are, and what He wants you to become.

How are you living in disobedience to God? Ask Him. He will bring it to your mind very quickly. Then, ask God for help. He’s always ready to help us.

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Monday, January 3, 2011

Please Continue to Hold...

If you wait for perfect conditions, you’ll never get anything done! Ecclesiastes 11:4 (LB)

If I just had a new Bible or a Bible on Kindle or a Kindle, I would read the whole Bible this year. If I just got a raise, we could have another baby. If I just had a Bowflex, I could have rock hard abs. If I had a better boss, I would be a better employee. If I had nicer co-workers, then I would be more positive at work. If I had well-behaved children, I would be sane.

If we’re waiting for perfect conditions before we choose to make progress, then the message is simple: “Please continue to hold.” We are setting ourselves up for a lesson in patience that we are destined to fail.

Conditions have never been perfect. Conditions aren’t perfect now. Conditions will never be perfect. So, let’s stop making excuses. Think about this: God orchestrates His perfect plan through imperfect human beings. Even our perfect God doesn't wait for perfect conditions.

What is holding you back from taking the next step in your life? What is the obstacle that is standing in your way? Maybe you cannot make progress at the rate you would prefer, but what progress can you make? “But, if I work that slowly, it might take years.” Okay, do you plan to live for years? Then, what difference does it make how long it takes?

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