Tag Archives: Fate

Unlikely Hero

“And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”
Esther 4:14b

In a couple of weeks, I’m scheduled to give a message among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers entitled “It’s a Secret.” In preparation for that message, I have been pouring over some of Frank Warren’s PostSecret books. For those who are unfamiliar, Warren is simply a small business person who decided to do an art project. He handed out about 3000 black postcards with his address printed on them and asked people to share their “secret” with him. Years later they keep arriving from all over the world and his blog at postsecret.com is among the most popular in the world.

As I read today’s chapter, in which Queen Esther is made aware of Haman’s plot to annihilate her people, I thought about her secret. Esther had successfully managed to become the queen of Persia by being keeping her heritage and ethnicity a secret. She had assimilated into Persian culture. She did not demand a kosher diet, which would have given her away. She did not bring up any moral objections during her year-long education in providing the king sexual pleasure. The evidence would suggest that Esther was not a “godly woman” (by the strict definition of religiously following the tenents and disciplines of Judaism) and the faith of her people does not appear to have been something she practiced or felt compelled to take seriously.

I was also reminded, once again, that God is never mentioned in the book of Esther. It’s also interesting that when Esther asked Mordecai and her people to fast for three days it does not mention prayer in conjunction with the fasting. While prayer and fasting traditionally went together, the prayer part of it is not mentioned by the Queen.

Along the journey, I’ve observed that the institutions and adherents of my own faith like to try and keep God in their own binary boxes. I confess that I have, at times, fallen prey to this notion myself. People are either “sinners” or “saints.” God’s pleasure and purpose are reserved for the latter but definitely not the former. And yet, there are so many examples of God using people who wouldn’t pass our moral or religious litmus tests in order to accomplish His purposes. I’ve come to embrace the fact that when Paul wrote of God who is “able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine” it includes working through and accomplishing His purposes through the most unlikely, seemingly unworthy, of individuals.

Esther is an unlikely hero who reveals herself to be, like all of us, very human. I compare her to Daniel who zealously and religiously clung to his faith, religious discipline, and heritage, and he still succeeded to carve out position and purpose throughout a lifetime in captivity. Esther, on the other hand, follows the easier path of cultural compromise. She keeps her heritage, her people, and what faith she might have had in her people’s religion a secret. She likely kept her secret in order to avoid prejudice and persecution. Some would call that cowardice. Her response to Mordecai upon learning of Haman’s genocidal plot reveals her feelings of powerlessness and fear. All of this, and still she finds herself in just the right place at just the right time to accomplish God’s purpose of saving her people.

Ever since I became a follower of Jesus, I’ve sought God’s purpose in my life journey. I’ve tried to be a person of zealous, disciplined conviction like Daniel, but any who care to look closely at my track record will find that it is dotted with the same kinds of compromises, secrets, easy choices, and fear revealed in Esther. My solace is that God did accomplish His purposes in both of them, and I believe that somehow in the mysterious tension between God’s sovereignty and my free will I continually find myself at just the right place, at just the right time, to accomplish the purposes God has for me at this very moment.

And so, I begin another day in the journey. Press on, my friend.

The Fateful Knocking

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
2 Timothy 4:6-7 (NIV)

He knew he was going to die. I don’t know how he knew. He had been struggling with his health for some time. Nevertheless, he knew. He heard fate knocking like the opening measure of Beethoven’s fifth. He asked his caregivers to call me, and I went to his bedside. He was restless, agitated, and there was fear in his eyes.

I had pleasant conversations with him and his wife before. They were very sweet people who lived in a little house on top of a hill with a gorgeous view. They were both humble individuals with gentle spirits. He loved to tell stories. They had no desire to talk about spiritual matters. So, we didn’t. I visited and we swapped stories. We talked about many other things and enjoyed the view together. It really was spectacular.

Now, things were different. He needed to get some things out. He needed to take care of some matters of Spirit. He’d always avoided this conversation so he had no idea how to have it. I took his hand and began to ask him questions. He wept. He talked. I listened. I gently asked more questions. At his request, I helped him pray. I believe it may well have been his first and only time.

When I left he was quiet and resting peacefully. He died a few hours later.

It was what many people call a “deathbed confession.” My experience is that when that phrase is used in conversation it has typically been uttered cynically or sarcastically as if a dying person is trying to rig the system. I liken it to taking on the mantel of the prodigal’s older brother who gets pissed that little brother squandered his life and partied like it’s 1999, and then dad just welcomes him home with feasting and homecoming gifts. Where’s the justice in that? Perhaps I should have told the man, “Too bad, old man. You had your chances and now it’s too late. Good luck. You might want to take a fan with you.”

Everyone has their own journey. Everyone has their own story. Who’s to say that his story wasn’t a great story? Who am I to judge? The fear in his eyes was genuine. The words, the tears, and the prayer were humble and sincere. I am honored to have played a bit part in his final chapter.

Speaking of chapters, today’s is the last surviving words that Paul wrote. He, too, hears fate knocking. His story is very different. He welcomes the journey’s end. He looks forward to what lies beyond. His earthly journey is a sojourn. He is the prodigal heading home and looking forward to being welcomed.

In the quiet this morning I’m thinking about life and death and resurrection. I’ve recently been walking with a friend whose father has heard the fateful knocking and, along with his family, is making preparations. It’s a strange time when it comes – however it comes.

Everyone has their own stories in both life and death. Paul’s journey had prepared him in mind and spirit for the journey’s end. My friend, who asked his caregivers to call me, had never allowed himself to think much about it. I certainly identify with Paul as we share a common faith and a common hope. I find myself saying a quiet prayer for those who, like my friend who made his deathbed confession, have not thought much about it – and have no one to call.

Dramatic Roles and Required Wisdom

kenobi vader fight

Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Since he would not be persuaded, we remained silent except to say, “The Lord’s will be done.” Acts 21:13-14 (NRSV)

A few weeks ago Wendy and I watched the original Star Wars episode with some young friends at the lake house. We reached the dramatic scene when Obi-Wan Kenobi is confronted by Darth Vader and the two have a light saber fight while the others escape. You know the outcome. Obi-Wan chooses to shut off his light saber and accept death from his former padawan.

The scene prompted a discussion between us about Obi-Wan’s motives for doing so. He clearly realized that there was a larger story playing out and his sacrifice was his assigned role. His words to Vader reveal that he knew his death was not the end but simply ushering him into a new and more powerful role. It’s a dramatic moment.

There is no shortage of drama in today’s chapter as Paul, the lightning rod who has stirred up passionate opposition wherever he went, is determined to return to Jerusalem. In Jerusalem he is a wanted man by the Jewish leaders who see him as a turncoat and a troublemaker. Paul’s friends beg him to avoid this trip to Jerusalem and the dark fate that has been prophetically foreshadowed, but he will not be persuaded. Like Obi-Wan, Paul knows that he is part of a larger story being played out, and this is his assigned role.

I am reminded this morning of Solomon’s wisdom. There is a time to run from trouble, and a time to confront it head on. Wisdom is knowing and discerning the time you are in.

To-morrow, and To-morrow, and To-morrow

Patrick Stewart as Macbeth.
Patrick Stewart as Macbeth.

When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 2 Samuel 7:12-13 (NIV)

  • When I was five I intended to grow up and be an astronaut.
  • When I was seven I intended to grow up and become President of the United States.
  • When I was ten I intended to go into the navy and become a naval aviator.
  • When I was thirteen I intended to become a lawyer and politician.
  • When I was sixteen I intended to become a great evangelist like Billy Graham.

It was never  my intention to live in Pella, Iowa. It was never my intention to spend twenty years in the customer research and quality assessment business or to be a business owner. It was never my intention to be divorced and remarried.

As I look back on my life’s journey I find that there are many things I intended to do that were clearly not part of God’s plan for me. David wanted desperately to build a temple for God, but that was not God’s intention. God intended for David to become the warrior leader who would establish the throne and prepare the way for his son to build the temple. There are many things in my life I never envisioned which I now believe God both knew and ordained for me.

Just last week Wendy and I were discussing a man we have observed who is aggressively striving after his own intentions, who appears to have failed miserably on many counts, and also appears to be in denial regarding it all. Wendy remarked that the man reminded her of Macbeth who destroyed his life intending to fulfill what he believed was his prophesied path. But, that’s one of the things I love about following God: He eventually redeems even our foolish wanderings and failures for His purposes.

Today, I am reminded to be discerning between my intentions and God’s designs. I desire to lean into the plan God has for me and follow the path laid before me. I have no time to waste blazing trails that lead, at best, to nowhere or, at worst, to tragic ends. I don’t want to end up thinking along the same lines as Macbeth who concluded at the end of his tragic strivings:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

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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 1 Chronicles 24

Roll to see who goes first.These were the Levites by their families. They also cast lots, the same as their kindred the sons of Aaron had done, in the presence of David the king, Zadok, Ahimelech, and the leaders of the priestly and Levitical families. The families of the oldest and youngest brothers were treated the same. 1 Chronicles 24:31 (MSG)

“Roll to see who goes first.”

How often have we said that when playing a game with family or friends? It’s a common practice to let fate decide the outcome, but the practice didn’t begin with Milton Bradley or Hasbro. The casting of lots took on different forms in different regions and cultures, but it was analagous to drawing straws, flipping a coin, or rolling a dice.

Journeying through God’s message, we find numerous times in which “lots” were cast to determine all sorts of things. Lots were cast on Jonah’s ship to determine who was responsible for the storm. Lots were cast by Jesus’ disciples to determine who would replace Judas Iscariot among the twelve. In today’s chapter we find lots being cast to determine the order of Levitical duties.

The main idea between casting lots was to take human judgement, favoritism, nepotism, or prejudice out of a decision. By casting lots, you were eliminating human influence on the outcome and giving the results up to God.

I wonder if we sometimes rely too heavily on human reason and judgement in certain decisions. Perhaps the casting of lots is, in some situations, a good practice.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and topher76

Chapter-a-Day Daniel 2

King born in a manger.  "Blessed be the name of God, forever and ever. He knows all, does all: He changes the seasons and guides history, He raises up kings and also brings them down, he provides both intelligence and discernment…." Daniel 2:20-21 (MSG)

This is the time of year when all of the media outlets come up with their "Top 10" lists from the previous year. It's interesting to look back, but it can also get kind of depressing for me. There's so much craziness in the world on so many levels. I don't need a recap of the death, tragedy and scandals – thank you very much.

As I watch the daily news, I have to remind myself that God is guiding history. It sometimes takes conscious effort to recall that God "raises kings and brings them down." It is so easy to get discouraged and fatalistic.

I was reminded again in todays chapter of the season of Advent we are in. David reminds King Nebuchadnezzer that throughout the earthly kingdoms God will be "building a kingdom that will never be destroyed." Advent is the season of expectant anticipation of the coming of the King of Kings. Advent culminates at Christmas, the celebration of the birth of the "Prince of Peace" who came to establish God's Kingdom work on Earth.

Even so, come quickly King Jesus.
 

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and mtsofan