Purple Pilgrimage

Earlier this week I had a couple of days that required my presence with a client in the Twin Cities. Wendy and I seized the opportunity to mix a little pleasure with a business trip and make our annual pilgrimage to the Metrodome to watch our beloved Vikings playing the San Francisco 49ers.

We left on Saturday morning and drove up to the Mall of America. Wendy and I have been doing this massive purge of our closets and drawers this fall. Clothes that we haven’t worn in years along with clothes that no longer fit us are being given away. We both had a short list of things we needed to replace, so we did a little shopping on Saturday afternoon. That night we dined at the flagship of perhaps our favorite restaurant of all time: Buca Di Beppo’s in downtown Minneapolis.

Sunday was beautiful as we walked from our hotel to the Metrodome. Wendy reminded me that since we’ve been making our (somewhat) annual pilgrimage to watch our beloved “purple people eaters” she had never seen them lose. I explained that she should prepare for that streak to end. The 49ers, who many hold to be the most talented team in the NFL this year, held the edge over our rebuilding Vikes in almost every aspect of the game.

The Metrodome is loud when you pack tens of thousands of screaming football fans inside. It’s raucous. It’s a blast. You quickly build camaraderie with your fellow fans sitting around you. You’re in this together. You’re family. Everyday on the street it’s easy to feel beleaguered and besieged by annoying cheeseheads, but on Sunday afternoon inside the Metrodome you are surrounded by brothers-in-arms. You are a force to be reckoned with.

Wendy made the observation that while we love the game of baseball, the truth of the matter is that the crowd at a baseball game has very little impact on an average game. The crowd cheers after something momentous happens. There is generally no swell of crowd noise until the bottom of the 9th, if at all. In football, the crowd can actually make a difference. When it’s 3rd and long for the opponent and the Metrodome crowd starts to scream, the crowd knows that they are making it almost impossible for the opposing team to hear plays getting called in from the sideline. It’s equally impossible for the opposing quarterback to successfully call an audible. It’s easy for the opponent to make mistakes amidst the deafening din. The average fan can be an active participant in the outcome of the game, and that’s kind of a fun feeling.

The game Sunday was perhaps the most fun we’ve ever had a Vikings game. The Vikings played their hearts out and pulled the upset. We and our fellow fans had a ball cheering the team on. Wendy’s streak is still in tact.

It was kind of a crazy summer for the two of us, and we’ve been really looking forward to a little time for the two of us to relax and enjoy some R&R. Our purple pilgrimage was just what the doctor ordered.


Chapter-a-Day Esther 10

The Triumph of Mordecai by Pieter Lastman, 1624.
The Triumph of Mordecai by Pieter Lastman, 1624. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mordecai the Jew became the prime minister, with authority next to that of King Xerxes himself. He was very great among the Jews, who held him in high esteem, because he continued to work for the good of his people and to speak up for the welfare of all their descendants. Esther 10:3 (NLT)

Mordecai was held in high esteem. He was considered great and in the end his life was marked by triumphant success. The reason given for this was simple: he looked out for the needs of others. The story of Esther is the story of deliverance for an entire people, but it would never have happened if Mordecai had not been diligent in being aware of all that was going on around him. It would not have happened if Mordecai had not loved Esther, taken her under his wing, and mentored her. It would not have happened had Mordecai not been willing to stand in the face of persecution when everyone else bowed in fear and appeasement. It would never have taken place had unless Mordecai considered the greater needs of his people more important than his own personal security.

As I read this morning, I was reminded of this passage from Paul’s letter to Philippian believers:

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

 Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
     he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names,
 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Mordecai was a living example of this attitude that all followers of Jesus are told we must have.

It is Friday as I write this post. It was on a Friday that Jesus obediently hung on the cross for our sins as described above. In the deep tradition of Jesus’ followers, each Friday is a day of introspection and confession as we think about our own sins and shortcomings.  As for me, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of sorrow as I read about Mordecai this morning. I confess that my life is so marked by thoughts of self. My attitude is so seldom about others and so often about me. My bad.

Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Chapter-a-Day Esther 9

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews, had plotted to crush and destroy them on the date determined by casting lots (the lots were called purim). Esther 9:24 (NLT)

The casting of lots was a common practice in ancient times. It was a form of what we would call today “rolling the dice” and letting the future be determined by fate. It’s a practice from which our modern lottery is based. When Jonah was running from God and his ship was being threatened by the storm, the crew cast lots to determine who was to blame for God being so angry. When Jesus’ disciples needed to pick a replacement for Judas Iscariot, they cast lots to decide between the candidates.

While we still have lotteries as a form of gambling and money-making, our culture long ago moved away from trusting in the practice as way of divining God’s will. Today we put our trust more in reason and discernment than to chance.

Nevertheless, I find in the story of Esther and the festival of Purim a reminder that God is not confined to using only the means of our human design and prescription to work His will. I hear in my head some of my stuffy college professors eschewing the idea that God would use anything other than human reason to divine a proper choice. You can’t deny, however, that God worked through both Haman and Esther’s gambles. God used the casting of Haman’s lot to turn the tables on his heinous motives. Esther rolled the dice when she presented herself to the king without being summoned and God used her bet to work His good and perfect will.

Despite our reliance upon knowledge, intellect, and reason, I find that we all face distinct crossroads at different waypoints of our life’s journey. Two paths diverge from our single one and we must make a choice. Sometimes we make reasoned decisions. Sometimes, we roll the dice.  In either case, I believe there is a divine orchestration at work. As it says in Proverbs: “We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps” (16:9) and “We may throw the dice, but the LORD determines how they fall” (16:33). Like me, you may have a hard time wrapping your head completely around how that works exactly. There is a divine mystery to it. Proverbs addresses that too: “The LORD directs our steps, so why try to understand everything along the way?” (20:24).


Chapter-a-Day Esther 8

Purim street scene in Jerusalem
Purim street scene in Jerusalem (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The day chosen for this event throughout all the provinces of King Xerxes was March 7 of the next year. Esther 8:12 (NLT)

Each May, the community where I live (Pella, Iowa) has a large festival to honor the Dutch heritage of the town’s founders. Our community of 10,000 will have upwards of 100,000 guests descend upon us to feast, enjoy one of the many parades, see people dressed in traditional Dutch costumes and (if nature cooperates) to enjoy the half-million tulips blooming around town.

When I was small, Memorial Day was a time when I would accompany my Grandma Golly to the cemetery to plant flowers on the graves of family members and to remember them. When our girls were small, my mother took them to the same cemetery to plant flowers on those same graves along with the grave of my grandmother who had stood there with me.

As a lover of history, I like feasts, festivals and commemorations like our annual Tulip Time or the simple act of placing flowers on family graves on Memorial Day. I think it’s great when peoples, families or communities celebrate their heritage or keep a significant historical event alive for subsequent generations.

For those not familiar with the Jewish culture, you may not know that the story of deliverance we’ve been reading in Esther is celebrated each year with a holiday called Purim. The festival’s date is based on the Hebrew lunar calendar, so the date moves on our calendar each year and lands in February or March. In 2013 Purim will be celebrated from sunset February 23 to nightfall on February 24.

The celebration is rooted in four obligations:

  1. Public reading of the story of Esther
  2. Sending gifts of food to friends
  3. Giving charity to the poor
  4. Eating a festive meal

In an age when change happens so rapidly and culture is pressing forward at a break-neck speed, I often wonder if it will become increasingly difficult for future generations to appreciate the past. I personally believe that it is more important than ever for parents and grandparents to instill in children and grandchildren an honor and appreciation for heritage, history and key events of the past that provide a strong foundation in times when both the present and the future seem shaky and uncertain.

Chapter-a-Day Esther 7

(Photo credit: Thorius)

So they impaled Haman on the pole he had set up for Mordecai, and the king’s anger subsided. Esther 7:10 (NLT)

I have heard it said that hatred is like drinking a cup of poison with the expectation that your enemy will die. Based on the experiences and observations of my own personal journey, I would expand that definition of that cup’s contents to include anger, bitterness, and prejudice.

Today’s story of Haman is a great example of this principle. Haman’s uncontrollable hatred toward Mordecai leads him to scheme, not only against Mordecai, but also against all of Mordecai’s people. The result is  that Haman himself is impaled on the pike he’d set up for his enemy.

Over time I’ve come to realize just how unproductive and personally destructive negative emotions are both relationally and spiritually. Wander through Jesus’ teachings and you find that the theme is always in choosing the things of God over the things of this world: love over hatred, trust over anxiety, faith over fear, kindness over anger, life over death.

Today, I’m asking God to reveal the pikes I have set up in my own heart:

  • Prejudice against entire groups people whom I don’t know or understand
  • Anger towards those who’ve crossed me
  • Bitterness towards those who long ago injured me
  • Frustrations, fears and anxieties over those whom I cannot control

God, help me take this cup of poison in my hand and pour it out harmlessly to the ground. Then fill it with your love, grace, kindness and mercy. Make me an instrument of your peace.

Chapter-a-Day Esther 6

60th Primetime Emmy Awards
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So Haman came in, and the king said, “What should I do to honor a man who truly pleases me?”

Haman thought to himself, “Whom would the king wish to honor more than me?”
Esther 6:6 (NLT)

Wendy and I watched the annual Emmy awards last night on television. I chuckled to myself as I watched. There is no industry like the entertainment industry for sheer self-indulgent self-promotion. Even the host last night made fun of the fact that the Emmy awards were named after who they are really all about: M – E.

The sight of the self-congratulatory television stars came to mind this morning when I read about Haman’s blunder. The contrast between Mordecai and Haman could not be more stark. Mordecai was motivated to do what was right without expecting any reward for it. Haman did what made him look good and expected to be exalted. Haman was blind to the notion that the king would want to honor anyone more than himself.

I learned a long time ago that if you desire recognition you will surely be disappointed. Hard work, doing the right thing and the satisfaction of a job well done produce their own reward. Jesus said:

“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”

Today, I find myself prompted to do a little heart check. Are my actions and deeds motivated by desire for Hollywood like or Haman like self-promotion and recognition? Or, am I willing to do the right thing without consideration of the earthly cost or human reward?

Chapter-a-Day Esther 5

Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

“If I have found favor with the king, and if it pleases the king to grant my request and do what I ask, please come with Haman tomorrow to the banquet I will prepare for you. Then I will explain what this is all about.” Esther 5:8 (NLT)

Yesterday morning as I was sitting and waiting in the airport, something reminded me of an old Chuck Mangione jazz tune I’d not heard since I played the vinyl record of it on my turntable back in high school. I suddenly had the desire to hear that song again. I pulled up my iPhone, quickly found she song on my iTunes app and with a flick of my thumb I spent 99 cents to download it to my phone. From random thought to actually listening to the the song was probably little more than a minute. Amazing.

I can hardly describe for young people how much life has changed in the 30 years since I was their age. We live in an era of such instant gratification. Anything you want you can arrange to get almost instantly. No waiting. No patience required. If you have a smart phone and a cellular data connection you have the world and all of its goods literally at your fingertips.

I often wonder what affect this has on our souls and on our culture.

I smirked to myself this morning when I read of Esther refusing to tell the King and Haman what it was she really wanted. “Come back for another feast tomorrow, and I’ll tell you.” Brilliant. She builds dramatic tension. Gratification is delayed which only serves to heighten curiosity and a desire to know.

I love using that same device as a writer. Throw the question out there and then leave your reader or your audience hanging to find the answer. Last spring a group of actors showcased a few scenes of a play I wrote at an artist’s night. The scenes provided enough of the story to tease the audience with the dramatic question presented in the script, but did not reveal the answer. A couple of weeks ago a man came up to me and introduced himself, telling me that seeing those scenes drove him crazy that night. He immediately went home, pulled up the script on-line and read the whole thing. “I couldn’t stand it!,” he said to me with a laugh, “I just had to KNOW!”

There is something mundane in always getting what you want whenever you want it. It deadens the senses and chokes the soul. Delayed gratification is not a bad thing. It develops patience in us. It quickens the senses. It introduces hope, increases desire, and may even force us to exercise self-control. It makes the moment of gratification even sweeter. It teaches us to appreciate the ultimate reward.

So what is Esther going to ask the king? How is she going to save her people?  What is going to happen with Haman? You’ll just have to wait until next week. I only blog a chapter-a-day every weekday ;-).

Have a nice weekend!

Chapter-a-Day Esther 4

Winston Churchill in Downing Street giving his...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” Esther 4:14 (NLT)

History is full of great stories. The right person is in the right place at the right time and the course of history is changed.

This past summer I read Paul Johnson’s excellent biographical essay on Winston Churchill. I didn’t need to be convinced, but Johnson made the case of how this one man saved a nation and, arguably, the world. Churchill was the right person at the right place at the right time.

In Esther we find a similar example. The fairy tale story of common Jewish girl finding herself becoming the Queen “for such a time as this.”

Those who follow Jesus will find that along the journey the path will lead to similar divine appointments of person, time and place, even if the stakes are smaller and the stories will never make the history books. We experience “small world,” happenstance meetings. We find circumstances fall strangely into place as designs of heavenly origin. The resulting changed courses may be of one solitary life. Nevertheless, like a kicking a pebble on top of a mountain, even one changed life can avalanche to impact countless generations.

Chapter-a-Day Esther 3

English: Vashti Refuses the King's Summons, pa...
English: Vashti Refuses the King’s Summons, painting by Edwin Long (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All the king’s officials would bow down before Haman to show him respect whenever he passed by, for so the king had commanded. But Mordecai refused to bow down or show him respect. Esther 3:2 (NLT)

Two days ago, we read about Queen Vashti refusing to come to the King and how it led to her being deposed. I couldn’t help thinking about Vashti as I read this morning about Mordecai’s conscientious objection to bowing down before Haman. Thousands of years later, we continue to honor Mordecai for his refusal to bow before Haman, but we think very little of Vashti’s refusal to be summoned like a trained dog to be paraded like a stripper before her drunk husband and his cronies.

So it is when we choose to make a lonely stand against tyranny, dishonor or injustice. You can’t predict the results. People might shake their heads and roll their eyes in mockery. You might end up losing everything and suffering incredible personal loss (even your life). Or, you might end up changing the course of history and being honored through the centuries.

When we are called to, or choose to, conscientiously object we must do so out of obedience with a willingness to accept the consequences whatever they may be.

Chapter-a-Day Esther 2

source: corcarpemei via Flickr

Esther was the daughter of Abihail, who was Mordecai’s uncle. (Mordecai had adopted his younger cousin Esther.) When it was Esther’s turn to go to the king, she accepted the advice of Hegai, the eunuch in charge of the harem. She asked for nothing except what he suggested, and she was admired by everyone who saw her. Esther 2:15 (NLT)

About a year ago I found myself on a committee. I had been asked to assist a team as they prepared a series of creative presentations. I was initially excited to be a part of the team. After a couple of meetings, however, it became clear that the chairman of this committee was not looking for wise counsel as much as he was looking for a group of rubber stamp lemmings to do what he wanted, when he wanted it, the way he wanted it done. After making one suggestion for how something could have been better communicated, I was called behind closed doors and asked to leave the team.

Sadly, I watched as the team fell apart. The series of presentations failed to deliver as promised, but the committee chairman continued to live in the delusion that they were a rousing success under his leadership.

The willingness to receive and follow wise counsel is not something we talk much about. Yet, I’ve come to realize what a key part it plays in successful people. It is likely that Esther would never have been queen if she had not willingly followed Hegai’s advice. Her ability to accept her own ignorance and accept Hegai’s wisdom led to her ultimate success.

We all have individual strengths and we all have individual weaknesses. When we listen to and follow the advice of those whose strengths are our weaknesses we shore up where we are lacking and set the stage for our ultimate success.