Tag Archives: Sovereignty

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 Eagle, Sovereignty, and Redemption

A photo I snapped of the eagle soaring over our cove a few summers ago.
A photo I snapped of the eagle soaring over our cove a few summers ago.

Does the eagle soar at your command
and build its nest on high?
Job 39:27 (NIV)

When I was a child in elementary school, I remember studying the American bald eagle and how near they were to extinction. I have memories of thinking that I might never see one and how sad that would be. The few that did exist, I was told, were in the wild of Alaska or the Rocky Mountains far from my home on the rolling plains of Iowa.

Much to my joy, bald eagles have become a fairly common sight near my Iowa hometown in recent years, though the sight never ceases to stop me in my tracks and fill me with wonder. Conservation efforts have worked. At our place on Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri there are eagles which nest in the back of our cove. There is nothing quite like the  sight of that giant raptor with it’s snowy white head and tail soaring right over you. This summer we even had the treat of watching a young eagle dive into the shallow water at the back of the cove over and over and over again learning to catch fish.

God’s questioning of Job in today’s chapter focuses on His sovereignty and care over creation. I find it interesting that creation has a natural order to it which God set into motion. It fascinates me how the animal and plant kingdoms operate in symbiotic relationships and function amazingly well in the propagation of life and the natural environment. Humanity has a way of coming along and messing things up more often than not. I would argue that it is a consequence of the Fall, and perhaps that is part of God’s point to Job.

I’m looking forward to seeing the eagles again at the lake this summer. They remind me that there is hope of redemption, even at the brink of extinction. A eucatastrophe in nature. This summer there will be an added layer of meaning as I remember God’s questioning of Job, and me.

Chapter-a-Day Matthew 2

Star of Bethlehem, Magi - wise men or wise kin...
Image by Wonderlane via Flickr

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem village, Judah territory— this was during Herod’s kingship—a band of scholars arrived in Jerusalem from the East. They asked around, “Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth. We’re on pilgrimage to worship him.” Matthew 2:1 (MSG)

It’s interesting to read this passage in light of our recent journey through Jeremiah’s story. Five hundred years before the events in today’s chapter, the people of Israel had been taken into exile. Where? To Babylon and Assyria, in the east. Those taken into exile were the best and the brightest of Israel‘s young men who, in some cases, rose to positions of leadership and influence.

Now, hundreds of years later, a celestial phenomena sends these foreign scholars and astronamers searching for its meaning. How did they know this event in the heavens signaled the birth of “the king of the Jews?” Since there is no record of the prophetic sign in the scripture, it’s most likely that a prophetic word was given through one of the Israelites in exile hundreds of years before. Perhaps it was Daniel or one of his friends. We may never know who it was, but we know that these many years later God weaves the tragic events of the exile into the timeless story of Jesus’ birth. The scholars from the east become a beautiful word picture. Among the very first to recognize the messiah and worship him were non-Jewish gentiles. Even at his birth, Jesus was gathering the nations.

Today, I’m encouraged reading the story of the Magi. It’s a great reminder that God is in control. He weaves the threads of past events into our present circumstances to accomplish his purpose. Like the Magi, my journey is simply a thread in a much larger tapestry.

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Chapter-a-Day Jeremiah 27

“I’m the one who made the earth, man and woman, and all the animals in the world. I did it on my own without asking anyone’s help and I hand it out to whomever I will. Here and now I give all these lands over to my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.” Jeremiah 27:5 (MSG)

The story of Babylon’s Nebuchadnezzar is a curious one. He was not a good man. He was arrogant, proud, idolatrous, brash and selfish. He was a murderous tyrant. He made his own people worship him as a god.

And, at the same time, God was at work in Nebuchadnezzar’s life. God loved Nebuchadnezzar, and used Nebuchadnezzar to accomplish His will. Read the first four chapters of Daniel if you want more of the story. Just when I want to hate Nebuchadnezzar and dismiss him as an evil character of history, God confronts me with the truth that He had His own purposes for Nebuchadnezzar. He went to great lengths to reveal Himself to the man.

Sometimes, I look back and shake my head at the person I remember myself being many years ago. When I was younger, I’m pretty sure I was convinced that I had God all figured out. I’m sure I still act like I do at times. Forgive me. The further I get in the journey, the more I realize how foolish I am to put God in a box. God’s sovereignty is beyond the reach of my finite thoughts. His purposes are greater, deeper, and richer than I can possibly fathom.

How cool that God cared about a godless, corrupt King. How awesome that God’s purposes extend beyond even those who are graciously given the title of “God’s people.” How radical to stop thinking of my “enemy” as an enemy and start thinking of my enemy as a person God loves and for whom God has a special purpose. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus was getting after?

God, forgive me for trying to hold you inside the comfortable confines of my own limited perspective.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and origamijoel

Chapter-a-Day Amos 9

Antelope Island State Park, Utah
Image via Wikipedia

I’m still giving the orders around here.” Amos 9:9a (MSG)

I’ve spent the last three days on site with a client I’ve served for 16 years. I know many of the employees. I’ve coached many of them since their first days of employment. So, when I go on-site and walk into the lunch room it can be a bit like a reunion.

Yesterday my colleague and I ran into one of the client’s senior managers. He’s a good man and we worked very closely with him for a long time before he was moved to different part of the organization. We’ve rarely seen him in recent years. He informed us that the company had uprooted him and his entire team and were moving them to a different office in a different part of the city to work with a completely different organization. It was a bit of a shock to hear the news. It was a bold and radical move on the part of the corporation, and looking into the man’s eyes we could tell it was even more shocking to him at this stage of his career.

“But,” he said without flinching after he shared the news, “I know God is in charge. It will all work out. I just keep trusting God’s promises.”

To hear his declaration of faith in the midst of upheaval was an inspiration to me in the midst of my own daily journey. I was glad we ran into him. It was a divine appointment yesterday.

It easy in the midst of rapidly changing circumstances to feel like God is distant, but He is not. He is still giving the orders around here. Like the old song says, our part is to trust and obey.

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