I would value you, the reader, imagining that you have been given either the pulpit of a church (preaching to Christians), or a soapbox on a street (preaching to the lost), and you have ONE message you can deliver about Christmas. What would it be? Give it some real thought and prayer, and then send me your answer in a comment which I will review and then post (assuming it is not offensive).
So, what about Christmas, or the Christmas story, would you most want to share if you had one crack at sharing it with someone? When you reply, specify if your "message" is from the pulpit (directed to Christians) or from the soap box (aimed at the unsaved)—or send me an answer to both.
I would treasure what you have to share. I'd love to know what about Christmas, or the Christmas story, fills your heart and would be the one thing you could share if you could. Would it be different to a Christian or non-Christian? What is Christmas to you and how do you keep your heart fixed on it? Let me know, please. It would bless me to be ministered to by you and to share your heart, and I know it would bless others as well. Don't sell yourself short, God has great things to say through you!
Saturday, November 28, 2009
I hope that all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and that thankfulness is still filling your heart as the days after Thanksgiving unfold. It is amazing, when we consider that the Word says that every good and perfect gift comes from God, how many things we have to be thankful for when we start to count EVERYTHING good in our life . . . from every breath, to every meal, to every smile we give, to every smile we get, to every bit of love we show, to every bit of love we are shown, to every piece of clothing we wear, to every night in a warm bed, to the Cross of Christ, to the Word of life, to . . .
We had a wonderful day after Thanksgiving going to a local Christmas tree farm to cut a tree for our home. An anonymous person gave our family a certificate for one free tree and we went to the farm to find hot chocolate and a tractor pulling a trailer with a hay bale on it to sit on waiting for customers. The girls had a great time running through the trees, playing with the owner's dogs, and even sitting on the back of the owner's horses. We tied our tree to the roof of the van, drove home under a cloudy sky, and got out some of our Christmas stuff. Before we brought the tree in or decorated anything we sat in front of the fire and read the Christmas story from Luke and Matthew (chapters 2 in both) and then we set up our nativity scene (complete with the glowing star I made out of a plastic can lid mounted on an old night light, and a poster board back drop with stickers of stars and a cut out moon on it—see picture). It has been a wonderful few days as a family, and I am grateful to God for the time.
Christmas is always a time in which I seek (and sometimes struggle) to grow deeper and closer to the heart and message of the Savior come to earth. Each year it seems that a different part of the story comes alive for me. Last year it was the concept Immanuel (God with us). It became the "theme" of Christmas for me and, to this day, if I'm heading in to something hard, Bethany will still whisper to me, "Immanuel" as a reminder that He is with me. I don't know what it will be this year, but I do have to say that as we read the Christmas story Luke 2:9 leapt in my heart, as I wondered what it meant, and what it looked like, and what it was like to have the glory of the Lord shine around them. (Luke 2:9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.)
So, this leads me to the title. I am going to post another post in a minute with an invitation to you. If this works out then maybe we'll do this more often. My heart has always been that this page would be about more than me, and here's a chance for you to bless me and the body of readers. So, read the next post, "So, You've Been Given the Pulpit . . . Christmas."
Thursday, November 26, 2009
The best part of the morning so far has been the opening of our Praise Jar. Some years back, in an effort to put God at the center of our holidays, we came up with the idea for this jar. (You can see it in the picture of Mary Ann and the girls by the fire—and its lid in the picture of Abigail and I that Bethany took this morning.) Basically, I took an old pickle jar and I made a wooden circle and cross which I then fastened to the lid of the jar.
The ideal is that each night at dinner we bring over the old cigar box (now painted gold and covered in "jewels") that you see the Praise Jar sitting on in the picture. Inside it is a pen and a pad of small sheets of paper. Then, we record any praises from the day—times or instances we have specifically felt or seen God's hand in our family's life that day—and put them back in the box. At the end of the week we read the week's praises to remind ourselves of God's hand and goodness in our life, and then we put the week's praises in the Praise Jar. On Thanksgiving, we spend the day opening it and reading the past year's praises. It is an amazing time of remembrance and joy and praise as so many things we thought we'd never forget, and did forget, are brought back to us.
For us, in many ways, doing this is our "New Years." I say this because we spend the day looking back over the year remembering God's hand in it, and then we empty the jar and start filling it again the day after Thanksgiving. So, in a sense, the year we keep record of goes from Thanksgiving to Thanksgiving.
My hope is to, one day, make copies of all the praises, year by year, and bind them in a book for each of the girls to take to their own homes. This is, after all, the testimony of God's hand in our lives—in their family—and it is the heritage and legacy they carry forward. Biblically, the preservation of the testimony is very important, and Biblical history shows that any time the testimony of God is lost the people fall away. The testimony of God and His hand in His people's lives, beginning with the first pages of the Bible and continuing in to our lives today, is critical to preserve. It is our heritage. It is our inheritance in the family of God. It builds faith and thankfulness, and carries with it power to reproduce. If you think about it, we are all living in the period of the Bible between the last epistle and the book of Revelation. We are, in that sense, still "writing" the work and hand of God—filling in the blank pages until He comes again or takes us home.
So, now I head back to the family and the fire. I wish you a wonderful, blessed, praise-filled day in which God is glorified in your hearts. May His love and goodness break through any barriers in your life or heart, and may the joy of the Lord be your strength today. If you ever want, or need, to talk just drop me a note in a comment. No one will see it if you ask me not to publish it. Let me know how I can help, or get in touch with you, and we can talk. Even if we can't share a cup of coffee and fellowship in person, in this day and age we certainly can share together over the phone.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
One of my favorite Christmas carols, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, did not begin as a Christmas carol, but rather as a song or poem born out of the hurting heart of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882, seen in this 1878 picture). According to the Maine Historical Society web site (who graciously has allowed me to use this picture), in 1861 Longfellow's wife, Fanny, was melting sealing wax when she set her clothes on fire and was enveloped in flames. Longfellow tried to put the fire out, but failed and she died the next day. While trying to put the fire out he burned his face and hands, and he grew the famous beard he is well known for to hide his facial scars.
I quote their web site here: A month after Fanny's death, on August 18th, 1861, Longfellow gave voice to his despair in a letter to his late wife's sister, Mary Appleton Mackintosh. He wrote, "How I am alive after what my eyes have seen, I know not. I am at least patient, if not resigned; and thank God hourly—as I have from the beginning—for the beautiful life we led together, and that I loved her more and more to the end."
The same year that Fanny died the Civil War began and in 1863 Longfellow's son, Charley, ran off to join it against his father's wishes. The United States was plunged in to a bloody war on its own soil, one that pitted brother against brother and family against family. In July of 1863, in the battle of Gettysburg alone, close to 50,000 American's died in three days. In the war Charley was also severely wounded (he would survive), and Longfellow's pain of heart for both personal and national loss must have been close to overwhelming.
Depending on which source you read, it was on Christmas Eve, or Christmas Day, of 1863 that Longfellow penned the now famous words which would, some years later, be put to music by others and become the Christmas carol we now know so well. The stark honesty and questions, the doubt and fear, and the overcoming faith of this song cause something deep to rise in me. As you read it, follow its progression, and lay within the words whatever it is around you that causes you to doubt or fear or feel lost or overwhelmed. Then, remember, that we walk by faith and not by sight, and rise up in the soaring conviction of the fourth stanza—that though around us it seems hope may be lost, God is not dead, nor does He sleep, the wrong shall fail and right prevail! God is good. All the time. And He loves us so much He sent His Son to die for us, that we might live again in relationship with Him. We walk by faith, and not by sight, and we stand convinced of that which is not yet seen, but promised. Christian, He will not leave you or forsake you, and greater is He who is in you than he who paces about this world.
1. I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
2. I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
3. And in despair I bowed my head
'There is no peace on earth,' I said,
'For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.'
4. Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
'God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.'
5. Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
Monday, November 23, 2009
As I have thought about Thanksgiving in these recent days, there has been one story from the Bible that has returned to me repeatedly. It strikes me that it goes to the very core of Thanksgiving, because I believe, ultimately, that our attitude at Thanksgiving is directly tied in to our attitude toward God. If we see God as the source of all good and all life then we are tremendously, eternally, "fall at His feet" grateful for our lives, the cross, and all that He has done. Every single thing that we start to take credit for ourselves or attribute to luck or skill or whatever, other than God, erodes that plateau of Thankfulness toward God.
I believe that the Biblical lepers were a tremendous picture of the state of man. We are cast out, cut off, sick and dying. The difference between them and others is that their sickness was/is so obvious they can't deny it. We can find a hundred ways to deny our sickness of soul and deadness of spirit.
But God, who knew ahead every rebellion we would commit, every pain we would cause, and that our life would mean His Son's death, gave us life, and gave us His Son that we might have relationship with Him restored. Every man, woman, and child on earth should be "fall at His feet" grateful to Him, but so few are. Even those who know and believe in His truth often (myself included) live in a posture of grumbling, lack of gratitude, and failure to recognize the thousands of beautiful, good gifts He gives us each day—simply because He absolutely loves us beyond measure. Every breath, every meal, every bit of love and kindness received or given—it all comes from Him. Our life in the womb, our life on earth, our born again eternal life with Him—it is all a gift.
And so, with all that said, I offer you the following account from the Bible. Read it. Read it again. Read it again. Invite the Holy Spirit to open your eyes to it and to what Jesus would have felt in it, and read it again. For me, this story is the story of Thanksgiving and it has challenged me tremendously. It comes from Luke 17:11-19:
On the way to Jerusalem he [Jesus] was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”Those words of Jesus ring in my ear and touch and challenge my heart, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” I have a sense that no words I can write will evoke in you what this evokes in me. It will have to be a God-thing (and, then again, maybe it is just for me).
When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed.
Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan.
Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
God bless you, and may you have a wonderful, blessed, grateful, "fall at His feet" Thanksgiving, whether or not this account touches you like it touched me.
Friday, November 20, 2009
My great grandfather on my dad's mom's side, Harvey Randall, was a Methodist minister. (I have posted a picture of him and my great grandmother, Lauretta Randall, on their Golden Wedding anniversary in 1942.)
Stuck inside my great grandfather's Bible, in the Hebrews 11 faith section, was a printed flyer (or sheet) by Ralph Beebe. At the top of the sheet it says:
FEAR KNOCKED AT THE DOOR. FAITH ANSWERED. NO ONE WAS THERE.
Mr. Beebe then wrote, "I read these words over the fireplace of the Hind's Head Hotel in Bray-on-Thames, not far from London, a year ago. They were ascribed to no author, and I had never met them before, but they have been with me since."
These words really spoke to me. If you have followed this blog any length of time you know that faith is a strong theme of it. The Bible says that we walk by faith and not by sight, that without faith it is impossible to please God, and that faith released many people's desperately needed miracles and unbelief quenched the work of God as well. I believe faith is, ultimately, at its core, the commitment we make in to the conviction we have of God's goodness, love, trustworthiness, power, and Word, and I believe that there is tremendous power in faith—it is like the water that brings out the life in the seed of God's Word and promises.
When fear knocks, we answer with faith. We bring God's Word and promises and character to bear on the situation, and rest our emotions and thoughts and expectations and hopes on what He says and brings, and not on what we see before us. We dare to believe and rest our trust in the One who calls things that are not as if they were, and who, with a word, speaks in to existence that which was not. He's the One who will never leave me. He's the One who died that I might have an intimate relationship with me. He's the One in me who is greater than the one pacing the world. He's the One who is faithful to complete the good work He has begun in me.
To borrow the cry of the Zimbabwe believers, "That's my God!" (see the November 19, 2009 post That's My God!).
Thursday, November 19, 2009
This story tremendously touched my heart. It reminded me of Amy’s story of her first Christmas in which she, for the first time, understood and personally “owned” the words found in Christmas carols she’d sung all her life. (Her story is in my November 18, 2009 post “A Christmas Memory to Share . . .”).
Here’s the story, then a few thoughts:
Ezekiel Guti thanked me profusely for taking him to Universal Studios theme park in California. Guti, founder of a very large organization of black churches in Zimbabwe, was not excited about the rides or other shows. He especially appreciated the knowledge of how they fooled our eyes and made things seem to be something that they were not.Back to my thoughts. It is truly touching to me to see a people who so unashamedly rejoice and shout about the works of their God, and who so personally claim Him as their very own. I see people shout like crazy at sporting events, cheer for celebrities, etc., but rarely do I hear people shout with childlike joy and pride at the works of our Father, be it the miraculous, the healing of a marriage, the salvation from depression or addiction, or any way in which He works. I know that this story truly challenged my heart. May it will speak to yours as well. God bless you all.
He explained, “My people are not sophisticated enough to know that this is trickery. They think that what they see on the movie screen is what actually happened. This is wonderful that I can go back and tell them the truth.”
I tell you this to introduce another event of great proportions. Another friend, Bruce Coble, went from Tennessee to Zimbabwe to serve as the director of Gutis’ Bible College. He became a much-loved person to the students. On one of his trips back to the United States, Bruce collected some of his favorite videotapes to take back and show to the students. The tapes included Hollywood’s version of The Ten Commandments. The classic scene in the movie is the parting of the Red Sea. Bruce found it difficult to tell me this story without choking up with tears, but he said that when the students saw that depiction on the screen, as far as they knew, the camera was actually there recording the scene. They got so excited that they were all standing on their chairs shouting, That’s my God! That’s my God!”
Such straightforward love of God!
Multiple readers of this blog have expressed difficulty posting comments to it. I truly value your comments and thoughts and reflections—they make this blog more of a community than just about me, and they grow me along with you—so I asked a couple of people who are able to post comments for help making up a list of instructions about how to do it (it is different for me than it is for you since I am logged in as the blog's administrator).
1) You need to be on the blog's page, not in an email, to view or make comments. For those of you who have signed up to get an email each time there is a new post this means that you need to click on a link in the email to get to the blog itself. You can click on the post's name to go to just that post, or the blog's name at the bottom to get to the blog (the most recent post will be shown at the top).
2) At the bottom of any post will be a link "# comments," with # = to the number of comments that have been made to date on that post. Click on that. (For some of you, comments will already be visible when you go to the post.)
3) Clicking on the "# comments" link will show you any comments that have already been made (and approved), and at the bottom of them will be a window to "Post a Comment". Type in what you want to say.
4) Select a profile in the "Comment as" drop-down menu. If you have a Google account choose that, if not choose the Name/URL option and, then, type your name in but skip the URL window.
5) Hit "Post Comment."
6) At that point, your comment Preview will come up, along with a Word Verification box with some funny letters that you have to type in to prove you are a real human and not a "spam" computer. Sometimes people get a error message before or after they fill in the Word Verification, but just hit "Post Comment" again and fill in the Word Verification a second time; that has always worked.
7) The screen will then tell your comment will be sent to me for review. As one reader said, U R DUN!
Thanks, and let me know if this works for you or if you have any suggestions to add to it. I look forward to hearing from you, and what you have to share with me and others.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Yesterday I posted the following fun thing on my Facebook page: Okay, I've done it. The Christmas music started getting played today. Usually it is an after Thanksgiving thing, but I couldn't resist. I tried. I fought it. I know, I need help. But I couldn't hold out any longer! I love this time of year! Thanksgiving is such a beautiful time, and to have Christmas follow it is awesome! Thanks, Lord, for all your goodness in our life and for Your Son who gives us Christmas!
In addition to a bunch of fun comments on my page I received the following email, which touched me (and challenged my heart), and I asked permission to share it. It comes from one of this blog's readers, Amy, who Mary Ann and I have known for years. She came to Christ shortly before I did, both of us tremendously drawn that direction by how God was using Mary Ann in our lives as a witness in both word and life. If you follow this blog you may remember that I talk a little about Amy and a dream I had at her house when Mary Ann and I stayed there in my August 28, 2009 post Happy Birthday to Me.
Amy's email went like this:
So! Talking about Christmas carols on Facebook brought back a wonderful memory. In December of 1992 I was nearly a year old in Christ, but it was my first Christmas as His child. If you recall, I was still living in Fort Collins . . . but was housesitting in Carmel for xxx that December. That's the background; here's the memory: You two (MAZ and EAR) and I were walking around downtown Monterey at night, and there were old-timey carolers (dressed in costume) in the various historical buildings (I think—they might have been strolling and stopping at various places). It was the first time I had really heard the words to the songs. I heard, "Glory to the newborn King" and thought, "Hey, that King is MY Savior!" I heard, "Christ the Lord!" and thought, "Wow, EVERYBODY is calling Him Lord!" On and on. The words that had so automatically come out of my mouth for 38/39 years were now shining and sparkling and proclaiming the glory of God in my heart! And, as Walter Cronkite used to say, "You were there!" Love you both and the girly-girls too.
Thanks, Amy, for reminding us of the joy of our salvation, and the true PERSONAL meaning and richness of the CHRISTmas tradition, and traditions, that sometimes become more tradition and impersonal than living realization. He is OUR King, OUR Lord! I am a new creation, a new man, His child, and He is MY Father in Heaven!
As a pastor I struggle more with Christmas teachings than almost any other teaching because I am so inadequate to capture the majesty and love and wonder and awe of what Christmas means—of Creator coming in to His Creation, subjecting Himself to it, out of love giving Himself for those who have rebelled against Him. Some years back I felt God lead me to turn December over to a month of testimonies in our church on Sunday mornings. Each person I ask to share I ask to prepare with the thought, "Why is my life different because of Immanuel—because God came to earth and is with me?" After all, the ultimate end of Christmas was a people restored to their loving Creator. Christmas is, ultimately, what Amy wrote about and captured so beautifully—I am His, and He is mine, and we are no longer separated but joined for eternity. Lives are, naturally, radically different for that!
I'd love to hear others of your stories or what Christmas means to you. We can all use help keeping the joy of the Good News of the Gospel fresh and alive in our hearts! God bless you all.
P.S. MAZ is Mary Ann Zuzow. EAR is Erick Arthur Reinstedt. MAZ is what many of us who knew Mary Ann before we were married call her.
Monday, November 16, 2009
One of the first books I ever had recommended to me as an early Christian was Gayle Erwin's The Jesus Style. Since reading it, Gayle's books have been woven into my life in different, various ways. One of the most special has been his book, That Reminds Me of a Story, in which he shares different anecdotes and stories from his rich life. It has become our family's summer "tradition" to spend some mornings on our upper deck enjoying the beautiful view (see photos from our deck), sip coffee and hot chocolate, and read stories from Gayle's book.
I recently was able to find a copy of Gayle's second book of stories, That Reminds Me of Another Story . . . I have enjoyed what I have read so far a lot. Some of his stories are more serious than others, but all touch or speak to me in different ways. I contacted Gayle yesterday through his web site Servant Quarters (http://www.servant.org/) and asked his permission to share a few of the accounts. He graciously granted me that privilege and I will share the first below. I think, if you know me, or simply knowing the title of my blog, you will understand why I enjoyed this so much . . .
Coffee and Angels
At my first pastorate, an elderly, retired preacher served as one of my favorite people and staunchest supporters. His background in the denomination of his past was highly legalistic. They had preached against coffee, doctors and just about anything else. However, this brother was a few steps beyond that because of his gentle spirit and relationship with God.
He told me that he preached against drinking coffee (an official position of his denomination) until one night he dreamed of dying and going to Heaven. He described it as incredibly beautiful with angles walking around everywhere. He said that every angel he saw had a cup of coffee in his hand. After that, he never preached against coffee.
So, for those of you readers who love the Lord and who I will never meet or share a cup of coffee with on this side of the grave, there is now strong evidence that we can share some heavenly brew on the other, and I am looking forward to that time ahead with you!
The only problem with Gayle's story is the deep theological questions that it raises—in heaven do they drink decaf or regular?, Columbian or French Roast or another?, drip or perculated or French Pressed? straight coffee or some foo foo drink? In heaven, do you get a free cup after you've had 10,000? Do they have free wireless access, or are laptops banned in deference to the old school coffee house lovers who don't like being surrounded by them? Are there free refills? Do they care how long you sit? What will Abraham and Moses and Noah and Peter be drinking? Will they think less of me if I don't drink it black?
As the bank robber said in Dirty Harry, "I gots to know!" If coffee doesn't keep you awake at night, I am sure these questions will :) At least we do know this, the coffee shops there will be "non smoking," and they are sure to have quite a view! God bless you all. Love ya!
Thursday, November 12, 2009
The Bible says that the heavens declare the glory of our God and the heavens are, indeed, massive and glorious beyond our ability to fathom or comprehend. I tried to keep this picture small enough to not clog your internet, but large enough for you to see some detail. Try clicking on it to enlarge it and see if that helps. For the image in this post I brought their 5-picture sequence into a draw program and put in the arrows to help it make sense. In a nutshell, in each case the "next" picture in the sequence is an enlargement of the small square in the previous picture. So, if you follow it across and then down, the last picture is probably not even a visible fraction of the first picture! And this is all in just one tiny slice of the sky we could probably cover with our tiniest finger nail! Wow, when Isaiah writes, "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Is 55:9) it really makes us pause and wonder!
Our family has been watching a lot of Creation videos lately and one thing that really comes through in them is just how immense our known universe is. There are billions of stars in our Milky Way galaxy alone, and there are billions of galaxies, each with their own collection of billions of stars . . . and as the heavens are higher than earth (higher than we can even fathom!) so are His ways and thoughts higher than ours! It really gives us some pause for thought. What comfort to know I am trusting my life to a God so huge and wonderful and glorious! (Note: as of 1999 the Hubble Space Telescope people were estimating there were 125 billion galaxies . . . and that was 10 years ago!) I find that if I can keep the size of things like this in perspective in my mind the things in this life that seem really big to me often just shrink as a result.
Enjoy the picture! Let me know if you like this and I can share some more of my favorite Hubble pictures. If you want to cruise the Hubble site (awesome pictures, not so accurate date estimates) the link to a good starting page is: http://www.spacetelescope.org/bin/images.pl?searchtype=bestof . I also have posted quite a few of my favorites on our church web site in the Photo Gallery section in an album called, "The Heavens Declare."
(Also, you may have noticed, I added a few fun widgets to the blog that should be neat to watch as the blog grows. One is a live activity feed which shows where people are visiting from. There is also one that shows the most recent comments. At the bottom of each post a widget now suggests other posts I've done that it senses are similar and that might interest you if that one did, and there is another that shows some of the different tags that I have used for posts. You can click on any of the tags shown and it will show you other posts which have that same tag. Let me know how you like these widgets, I thought they were fun.)
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
I want to express my sincere gratitude to all who serve, and have served, to keep our country safe. Your willingness to risk your lives, to be separated from your families, and to submit your lives to another's leadership and decisions is a Christ-like quality. I value that I live in a country where I am free, where I can freely proclaim my faith, where I can raise my daughters, and where I have easy access to food, clothing, and shelter. I treasure that I can write a blog, express my views, preach from the pulpit, and do so not in fear. Again, thank you to all who have and do serve, and to all the families that share their loved ones in the service with us.
Let us, who call on the name of Christ, remember that we never cease being soldiers in a spiritual war until the day we are called home to Heaven. Unlike the seasons of our life where we may have served in the military, there is no retirement from the war we are in. Even if we choose to "step out of it" or ignore it, we are in the war none-the-less and the enemy never rests. One of the greatest challenges I faced as a platoon leader in Panama shortly after the invasion was keeping my men at a high level of readiness. After days and weeks of no encounters we tended to drop our guard, forgetting that the enemy, when he chooses to attack, will do so at 100% readiness.
Nowhere in the Bible does it say we are to be afraid of the devil and his hosts, but it does say we are to be on guard, vigilant, and prepared against him. He is an enemy who I feel that Haman in the book of Esther represents well. Haman was the man behind the orders given in Esther 3:13 which says: And the letters were sent by couriers into all the king’s provinces, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all the Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, on the thirteenth [day] of the twelfth [month], which [is] the month of Adar, and to plunder their possessions. Satan is a thief and a liar who works in deception, and he is ruthless beyond measure. Just look in to the lives and eyes of those around you and see the hopelessness, pain, broken marriages, "orphan" children, deceived people, depression, longing for love and worth, wasted lives and resources and hours, addictions, blasphemies, vulgarities, and twisted senses of right and wrong that call good, bad, and bad, good.
The exciting thing is, if Haman is a picture of Satan, and the book of Esther has anything to say about it to us, then Haman and his plans were defeated when Esther rose to her place and exercised her favor with the king. She was given Haman's house, and Mordecai was given rule of Haman's house and the Kings signature ring of authority that used to be Haman's. The very gallows Haman intended to hang Mordecai on became his own gallows (just as the cross the devil intended to destroy Jesus on became Satan's own defeat). The Jews, strangers in the land (like us), moved in the King's authority and destroyed the hosts that Haman had stirred up against them. It is a beautiful word and picture, I believe, of the life we are called to live in as servants of Christ—tender and loving and humble to others around us, and ruthless to the hosts of darkness we have been given authority and command to oppose. Just as Mordecai wrote orders and sealed them with the King's ring (or name) we, also, operate in Jesus' name. This is not a magical phrase we tack on the end of prayers, but a powerful realization that we walk in His place and authority with His power of attorney.
So, today, on Veterans Day, thanks again to all who have (and do) serve in our armed forces, and to your families who share you with us. And, thank you, my brothers and sisters in the faith, for your fight, for your prayers, for your example, for your encouragement, for your carrying Christ's image and authority into the spiritual battle on behalf of our King. May His Kingdom continue to expand in every area you are given authority, and may His image (love, holiness, servanthood, power, wisdom, creativity, submission) be shown in you to a world that desperately needs to see it. You carry His name, His authority, His image, and His presence. Go and turn the world upside down! Like Esther, live for the season you are called for, from a place of intimacy with the King, walking in His authority, saving a people and defeating an enemy.
(Note: The picture is from my time in Panama when we were preparing for a raid on a walled home. I'm the silhouette in the middle with the shotgun barrel up in the air.)
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Here's another Esther thought: From Esther's place of intimacy with the king she was positioned to save a people. It was a chance that involved risk for herself, but, as Mordecai told her in Esther 4:14 ". . . And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"
As Christians, with access to the King's voice and heart, we have had our eyes opened to the eternal realities of heaven and hell, and the glorious news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the salvation of men. We are offered the anointing of the Holy Spirit to empower our ministry (even Jesus said He cast out demons by the Spirit of God) and we are given the commission (really a command) by Jesus to go in to the world and make disciples, operating in His name.
Our eyes have been opened to the great, eternal truths, and we have been placed where we are for such a time as this. We operate from our place of intimacy and favor with the king in an effort to save a people. We have been given both the terrible revelation of eternity without God that so many around us are headed toward, and the most amazing revelation of eternity with God that we know the key to. It may involve great risk to ourselves, but we can't keep that to ourselves simply to protect ourselves. Like Esther, we have a call upon our lives and we must decide---do we play it safe to protect ourselves while others around us perish when we might have done something about it, or do we take the risk and answer our call and step out to save a people?
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Es 2:17-18 says: the king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. Then the king gave a great feast for all his officials and servants; it was Esther’s feast. He also granted a remission of taxes to the provinces and gave gifts with royal generosity.
Notice here that the entire province was blessed by the favor Esther had in the King's eyes. For nothing they did, simply because the King was delighted in Esther, the region experienced blessing and relief and gifts. I believe that our "regions" (neighborhoods, workplaces, classrooms, homes, circle of friends) should be experiencing localized blessing simply because of our place of favor with the King as His children and friends and the bride of His Son.
Think about the workplace, for example. We are the ones with access to the King's wisdom, His blessing, and His creativity (just look at nature—He defines creativity!). When unique solutions are needed, when problems arise that are new, when great wisdom is required, who better to display that than the ones who have access to the wisdom and mind of the Creator of the universe? Our bosses should see in us excellence and creativity and wisdom outside of this world's (that doesn't mean they will receive it).
When areas are struck down, and hopelessness abounds, and unforgiveness and judgment loom large, who better to alter that atmosphere than the ones who bring with them the living Holy Spirit of the living God?
Whatever our environment or region of influence, simply walking with the King and having access to His heart, and having He who created intricate flowers and DNA and ecosystems dwelling in us, should make us supremely different. And that, like radiant heat, has the potential to lift up and bless all those around it.
God loves the whole world, but He has given His heart to His children. He has given us a place of friendship with Him and favor with Him and access to Him. When the Creator of the Universe, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, makes His face to shine upon us and grants us His favor and delight, that should flow not just upon us but all around us—it is too big to contain. This doesn't mean that others will receive it or recognize it, but it should be there none the less.
The world has enough judgment and anger and selfishness. Let them see the unselfish love of the Father in us as we share the blessings of our favor with Him with them, and then they will see modeled the heart of the Father who gave His Son for them when they didn't deserve it, and they will see glimpses of a heavenly realm that will lure them as Heaven touches them and reveals itself to them through us.
Note: I owe great credit to Bill Johnson for opening my eyes to this line of thought through his teachings and books.
Monday, November 2, 2009
As I was reading in Bill Johnson’s book Dreaming with God he was talking about how the disciples went from a servant to friend relationship with Jesus in which Jesus said, “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). As Jesus’ friends He shared with them the things of heaven, the things His Father shared with Him.
It reminds me of when Jesus told Nicodemus, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12). I believe God stands ready to share His voice and thoughts, and reveal secrets of His heart from heaven, to those who will be His friends. He has, I believe, created us for intimate relationship with Him which involves a sharing of hearts. For a variety of reasons we don’t always hear (or recognize) His voice as easily as other times, but I believe the invitation is there for us to pursue.
While talking about that change in relationship with Jesus that the disciples experienced (from servant-based to friendship-based) Bill mentioned casually that of the people of old the one who might really understand that would have been Esther who went from captive to queen. As God so often does for me, a comment made almost in passing can change the entire direction of my study or thought. I found myself looking up the book of Esther and from there starting to read it, and I was caught up in excitement as my heart was quickened to so many things in that book that I had never seen before.
I plan on sharing some of these things in some upcoming blog posts. I shared a few at church yesterday and I want to state something here that I stated there, which is this: In what I will be sharing that He showed me I am not saying that God meant these things to be symbolized as He authored Esther (that He intended the symbolism or wrote it to symbolize them). I believe the book of Esther to be a true, historical account that stands as it is written without there needing to be symbolism in it (though, maybe He DID intend it, I just don’t know). What I am saying is that He is USING the story of Esther to illustrate some things for me. As I told the church, I don’t believe God created seeds and soil simply to illustrate evangelism, but I believe He USES seeds and soil to illustrate evangelism. Likewise, I don’t know that He authored the book of Esther to illustrate the things I will share, but rather that He is using the book of Esther to show the things to me that I will share.
The first of the things that I felt God showed me was the invitation to us all to move from captives to a place of intimacy with the King. Esther was an orphan, and a captive, living in a land not her own (the least likely, in other words). Then, one day, she finds herself the Queen of Persia, and in a place of intimacy and relationship and favor with the King—still living in a land not her own, but now positioned to hear the King's voice and to influence the land from her place of favor with the King. We all are captives to sin and slaves to Satan until we accept the blood of Jesus as our sacrifice for our salvation. When we do we become the Bride of Christ, the children of God, colaborers with God, citizens of heaven living on earth (not our own land) with a tremendous potential to have tremendous influence over our regions because of our place of favor with God and our new identity as His children and dwelling places of His Spirit.
So, I encourage you to pick up your Bible and read through Esther. It’s not too long. Tell me what God shows you. I’ll be telling you what He has showed (and is showing) me.
Your friend in the journey. Love ya all. Erick.