Special Access

esther-1_12_13_special-access

He was the most powerful man on the face of the earth at the time – and he had a problem he needed to address.  His wife (Vashti) had refused a direct command, and he was ticked off (Esther 1:12)!  One might think that Xerxes (the king of Persia, which extended from Africa to India) would simply make a decision, issue an edict, and move on.  After all, it’s so easy to make a rash decision while angry.  But that wasn’t the way Xerxes operated.  Instead, we read:

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… (Esther 1:13)

Friends, if the most powerful man alive recognized his need for advisors, shouldn’t we as well?  Not only does talking things through with others allow us to “cool our jets” when angry, it provides us with much needed perspective.  Xerxes had seven trusted men “who had special access to the king,” with whom he consulted (v.14).

To whom have you granted special access to your life?  Who has your permission to ask you  the difficult questions about what you’re doing and why?  With whom do you consult about the major decisions in life?

The King of Persia needed his trusted band of advisors, so do you!  –Dave

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Stiff Necks and Hard Hearts

2 Chron 36_11_13_Stiff Necks and Hard Hearts

Zedekiah was a descendant of Josiah, one of Judah’s most faithful kings.  Unfortunately, his apple refused to grow close to Josiah’s tree.  Instead, we read this about Zedekiah’s reign:

He did evil in the eyes of the Lord his God and did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet, who spoke the word of the Lord. He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him take an oath in God’s name. He became stiff-necked and hardened his heart and would not turn to the Lord, the God of Israel. (2 Chronicles 36:11-13)

Zedekiah is sadly relatable.  For you see, Zedekiah was his own man.  He was captain of his own ship and master of his own destiny.  Nobody – and I mean NOBODY – told Zedekiah what to do.  He told Nebuchadnezzar where to get off, and refused to humble himself before even God.  No sir, Zedekiah was king of his universe.

A closer look at Zedekiah reveals his two biggest issues – a stiff neck and a hard heart.  If you’ve ever woken up with a stiff neck, you understand how difficult it is to turn your head.  In Zedekiah’s case, his neck was stiff not due to a bad pillow, but a bad (proud) attitude.  The Hebrew wording carries the connotation of being “set firm (stiffened) in one’s way.”  There is an unbending stubbornness.

Similarly, hard heartedness has the meaning of “becoming bold” in one’s abilities or having confidence in oneself.  Both stiff necks and hard hearts stem from pride – the belief that I know best, and I am enough.  Proud people need nobody else – not men or God.

I wish stiff necks and hard hearts had died with Zedekiah.  They didn’t.  I wish they automatically died when we come alive in Christ – they don’t.  Instead, we must choose daily to put them to death so the Lord can turn us in any direction.  

Are you suffering from a stiff neck or a hard heart?  God’s answer is humility. –Dave

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Just Checkin’ In

esther-2_11_the-daily-update

Following the death of her parents (Esther 2:7), Mordecai took Esther into his home and raised her as his own.  So when the call went throughout Persia for all virgin girls to report to the king for an “audition” to become the queen, Mordecai was rightfully concerned. 

He was powerless to control the circumstances and he had no say in the outcome.  We’re not told much regarding how Mordecai dealt with all the changes, but we do know this:

…every day Mordecai walked in front of the court of the harem to learn how Esther was and what was happening to her. (Ester 2:11)

It’s a simple little sentence, yet it’s packed with practical ways to demonstrate care for those we love.  First we see that Mordecai checked in DAILY.  The need to make frequent contact with our loved ones has perhaps never been greater than it is today.  Just as a king’s edict had ripped Esther out of Mordecai’s life, Covid has separated us from those we love.  Therefore, frequent contact remains important.

Next we see that Mordecai made connecting with Esther a priority.  Was it convenient for him?  I doubt it.  It wasn’t as simple as making a phone call or sending a text.  It was a daily hike to the palace, waiting for Esther to have a break, then stealing a few minutes with her to catch up.  It became a new demand upon his time; yet love required the change to his routine.

Lastly, the primary reason for his contact with Esther was to learn about HER.  You see, Mordecai’s world likely went on pretty much “as is.”  However, Esther was alone in a new setting, surrounded by strangers.  Her need to be heard was greater than his.  While mutual sharing is important, the essence of love is to put the other ahead of ourselves.

Friends, I know that making frequent contact with those you don’t see routinely anymore is difficult – but someone likely needs to hear from you today.  Who might that be? –Dave

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One Consolation

Job 21_2_3_34_One Consolation

Aside from his wife, Job had lost it all.  His children, his livelihood, his health – all gone within minutes.  Three of his friends showed up to try to comfort him, and they did – for a while.  But then they opened their mouths…

On and on they went trying to explain to Job what had happened to him.  Worse yet, because they believed that bad things only happen to bad people, they blamed Job for his many losses.  Soon their trip of comforting and consoling turned into a barrage of accusations.  Let’s allow Job to tell us what he needed – and what he didn’t:

Listen closely to what I am saying.  That’s one consolation you can give me.
Bear with me, and let me speak.   After I have spoken, you may resume mocking me…How can your empty clichés comfort me?  All your explanations are lies!
(Job 21:2-3,34,NLT)

While much could be said about the empty clichés we tend to throw out to those who are suffering, I’d rather focus on what Job said he needed in his darkest hour.  In short, he needed his friends to patiently listen.  Period.  He needed to vent; to let out his frustrations; to air his many questions.  To Job, their silent, listening presence was consoling.

“Consolation” in this verse comes from a Hebrew word which meant “to sigh or to breathe strongly.”  It was used to express sorrow, pity, and comfort.  Folks, sometimes a sincere sigh brings much more comfort than well-intended words.  During deep sorrow, our words tend to ring hollow.  Instead of uttering empty clichés, let’s practice the ministry of our silent, supportive presence.

When hearts are heavy, it is more important for us to be present than to be heard. Consoling is done more with our ears than with our words.  –Dave

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An Unlikely Ally

Philippians 3_14_An Unlikely Ally

“To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time.” (Leonard Bernstein)

We live in a time-obsessed culture.  And almost every mention of time I’ve heard within the Christian circle is a warning against being too busy.  Certainly, packing too many activities within too short a time creates a schedule that is unsustainable.  We’re wise to frequently take an inventory of all we’re doing and why.

However today, I’d like to look at time (or more correctly a shortage thereof) as our friend.  Believe it or not, a shortage of time can be a great ally – IF we’ll listen to its voice.  You see, we will never finish tomorrow the things we don’t begin today; and we’ll rarely begin unless we sense some sort of “due date.” 

The scarcity of our time should not only drive us to remove the nonessentials from our schedules, it should also motivate us to begin (and finish) the things which are most important to us.  Whether it’s visiting a neighbor, writing a letter to an old friend, or starting a needed ministry – the ticking of the clock is a reminder to get going.

Time will do one of two things – crush us under its weight if we sit still, or propel us forward if we’ll keep pressing on. 

What have you been putting off for “some day?”  That some day may never come, but today is here now – make the most of it! –Dave

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:14)

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Delighting in the Details

The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. (Psalm 37:23, NLT)

Sometimes we just need to be reminded.  God is big enough to orchestrate the entire universe; yet not so remote that He’s unaware, or uninterested in each person’s life.

Not only is God aware of you, He’s involved in every detail of your life.  He’s working, perhaps imperceptibly behind the scenes, to direct your steps.  He’s making a way for you through the confusing maze of your life.  We may not sense His involvement, but on the authority of God’s Word, we can know He is involved in everything.  And He’s delighted to be so. 

God is not some reluctant parent being dragged to yet another of His children’s activities.  He’s delighted to take part in EVERY part of your life.  If we could, we’d see God sitting in the bleachers happily watching us and cheering us on.  But more than being a casual observer and cheerleader, God is also somehow directing the outcome of each “game” we play.

Finding yourself in a difficult season of life?  Do you think God is unaware or unconcerned about you?  If so, read and remember the promises of this verse – He’s delightfully directing every detail.  –Dave

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Right, True, and Faithful

His word is right and true – you can’t go wrong spending time in it!
 
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The Fool and His Money

The wise have wealth and luxury, but fools spend whatever they get.

At first glance, this may seem like a political statement about money – but it’s not.  It’s a direct quote from the Word of God (Proverb 21:20, NLT).  And believe it or not, the real focus is not on money.  The verse deals primarily with wisdom (or the lack thereof).

Scripture repeatedly admonishes us to get wisdom.  Though it may cost us everything, we’re told to obtain wisdom and understanding (Proverb 4:7).  Why put forth such effort?  Because wisdom is far more valuable than silver, gold, rubies, or any other material thing we could acquire (Proverb 16:16; 8:11). 

The answer to poverty may occasionally be for the poor to be given money.  But perhaps more important is for the fool to obtain wisdom.  After all, if a fool is given money, they typically won’t keep it long or use it wisely.  Proverb 17:16 asks a fair question, “Of what use is money in the hand of a fool, since he has no intention of acquiring wisdom?”  The biblical tie between money and wisdom simply can’t be overlooked.

Want to truly help people constantly in financial need?  Don’t JUST give them money.  Take time and help them see if the real need is money or wisdom.  Don’t judge – help.  Specifically, help them spot any possible areas in which there has been foolish handling of finances in the past.  And most importantly, point them to the source of real wisdom – God Himself!   –Dave

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Preparing Despite…

1 Peter 3_15_Preparing Despite

The coaches had a difficult task on their hands.  According to a source close to the situation, this major college football team had a game scheduled in just nine (9) days.  The problem?  Due to Covid-19, nobody knew if the game would be played before a packed stadium, a stadium with reduced occupancy, an empty stadium, or even IF the game would actually be played at all! 

As a coach, how does one convince his players to be fully prepared for a game that may never be played?  Likewise, as a player, why put in the practice and grueling hours in the weight room if the opportunity never presents itself?  Motivation under the best of circumstances  can be a challenge; but how does one remain motivated in this situation?

I’ll leave it to the sports psychologists to figure it out.  However, if it were my job to convince the players on the roster to continue preparing, I’d focus on what if the opportunity DID come… would they be ready?  I’d not spend a moment worrying about the wasted effort if the game was NOT played.

Such is the case with our preparations to share the gospel.  We never know WHEN the opportunity may come, but we’re told to be ready anyway.  If I were a betting man, I’d say we’re more likely to have an opportunity to share Christ than any football team is to play before a packed stadium this season. 

Yet they’re putting in the work to prepare.  Are we?  –Dave

Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. (1 Peter 3:15, NLT)

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Bury the Hatchet

Like Joseph, Jephthah was grossly mistreated by his brothers.  When their father died, Jephthah’s brothers refused to share the family inheritance with him and chased him out of town (Judges 11:1-3).

But not long after, those same men sent for Jephthah so he could lead their army against the Ammonites (vv.4-11).  While they were unwilling to live with him or share the family inheritance, they were willing to use him for their benefit!  Pretty sad situation.

Yet I’m impressed with how they resolved that sad situation.  First, the men of Gilead swallowed their pride, acknowledged their prior mistreatment, and asked for help.  They did not try to excuse or defend their prior actions.  There’s a lesson in there for us I think.  But I’m even more impressed with Jephthah.  The one who had been mistreated graciously set aside his pride, hurt, and anger long enough to listen to their request.  Not only did Jephthah listen, he responded in a positive way.  He was willing to bury the hatchet.

Speaking of burying the hatchet, that phrase comes from an Iroquois ceremony in which war axes or other weapons were literally buried in the ground as a symbol of newly made peace.  According to tradition, when the Iroquois leaders Deganawidah and Hiawatha convinced the Five Nations (the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca) to stop fighting, they buried their weapons under the roots of a white pine.  An underground river then miraculously washed the weapons away so they could never be used again.

I love that picture…weapons initially buried so we’re not tempted to use them against anyone NOW.  And weapons washed away, so we’re not tempted to dig them up and use them LATER! 

Friends, unforgiveness is a heavy burden to carry.  Is there someone you need to forgive today?  Why not take the hatchet out of their back and bury it instead? –Dave

So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and leader over them. 

(Judges 11:11, ESV)

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