4 BIG Lessons From Esther

One of my favorite stories in the Bible shows God’s role in world events, and how the obedience of His people fits into God’s plan. Yet this story doesn’t even mention God by name!

It’s an important reminder that we don’t have to say, “God’s at work here” for God to be at work here. We don’t have to say, “I’m a Christian” to live in a Christlike way.

Have you ever read the story of Queen Esther and her cousin Mordecai? Let me tell you, this is a real page-turner of a story! If you already know the story, skip to the four lessons below. Here’s a quick recap (but you really should read this for yourself)…

  • King Xerxes is the ruler of the most powerful nation on earth
  • Queen Vashti (Xerxes’ wife) defies him and is deposed
  • When the king is looking for a new queen, a young lady named Hadassah catches his eye
  • Hadassah went by her Persian name of Esther, so the king didn’t know he married a Jewess
  • Mordecai was Esther’s cousin, her legal guardian, and a palace worker
  • Mordecai uncovered a plot to assassinate Xerxes, which he shared with Queen Esther, who told the king, who investigated and had the plotters killed
  • King Xerxes had a prime minister named Haman, who was really full of himself
  • Mordecai wouldn’t bow down to Haman because Haman thought of himself as a deity
  • Haman wanted to show Mordecai, and all the other Jews like him, who was boss so he deceived King Xerxes into signing a law that would allow for all the Jews to be killed on a set date
  • Mordecai again told Queen Esther about the plot, but the queen was scared to go before the king unsummoned (where the penalty for doing so could be death)
  • Esther finally had the courage to approach Xerxes and invite him and Haman to dinner
  • At dinner, the king asked Esther why she really invited him to dinner, and Esther said, “Come back to dinner tomorrow night and I’ll tell you then”
  • King Xerxes couldn’t sleep that night so he asked for the royal chronicles to be read to him
  • The king discovered that Mordecai had never been rewarded for uncovering the assassination attempt
  • Xerxes asked Haman what he should do for a man he wanted to honor; Haman thought the king was talking about him, so he gave an elaborate plan of recognition, to which the king replied, “Excellent! Go do all that for Mordecai!”
  • Haman was so ticked off that he built a 75-foot tall gallows on which to hang Mordecai
  • At the second dinner, Esther asked for her life to be spared; the king wanted to know who would presume to attack her and the Jews, and she called out Haman
  • The king stormed from the room while Haman stayed to beg for his life
  • As the king returned, Haman was pawing at the queen in desperation, so the king’s bodyguards grabbed him
  • The king found out about the gallows built for Mordecai and gave orders for Haman to be hanged on those very same gallows
  • Mordecai became prime minister and wrote another law to help save the Jews from annihilation

4 BIG Lessons From Esther for Christians living in a pagan culture today

  1. All of History is His Story. God’s timing to bring all of the key players on the scene at just the right moment is obvious. Even giving the king insomnia at just the right time was a part of God’s plan!
  2. God gives us favor and we win favor by obeying God. The word “favor” is all throughout this story. God-fearing people are given God’s favor which leads to man’s favor as well.
  3. God-following people do make a positive impact on their culture. Esther becoming queen pleased the people, as did Mordecai’s just laws.  
  4. Pride humiliates and destroys; humility elevates the person and glorifies God. Just look at the contrast between Haman and Mordecai!

Do you have any other takeaways from this story? If so, please share them in the comments below.

10 Quotes From “Everything You Always Wanted To Know About God”

This book from Eric Metaxas is a great way to stimulate a conversation about spiritual questions, or a wonderful resource for you to read together with a friend who is on a spiritual journey of discovery. Check out my review of this book by clicking here, and then enjoy a few of the quotes I especially appreciated.

“We aren’t responsible for having answers to every question about God or the Bible posed to us, but we are responsible for how we answer, even if we don’t have a full answer.”

“Our culture is so obsessed with the physical and the material that we have lost the ability to think logically about anything outside that realm.”

“The bottom line is that those who follow God have to have genuine love and compassion for others, and if we recognize how profoundly messed up we ourselves are, we will have compassion for other people. So if people don’t have serious humility about their own state of affairs, they should probably keep their mouth shut. God doesn’t want His followers to add to the pain of the people He loves. He wants His children to treat others as people He desperately loves.”

“The idea of a moral structure that cuts God out of the picture is very attractive to humans because that puts us in control. But God wants us to understand that without a relationship with Him, moral behavior isn’t worth anything. Mere moral rectitude doesn’t fool God.”

“Religion in the negative sense of simply being a bunch of rules and rituals is pretty much the same as superstition. Without a relationship with God at its core, all religion devolves to superstition.”

“One of the most harmful things in human history is when people have confused fear-based superstition with faith in God.”

“Either Jesus was God and died on the Cross and then rose bodily from the dead, thereby destroying sin and death and making it possible for us to be with Him in paradise forever, or having faith in him is bogus. Period. Without the central events of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, you simply don’t have Christianity. You can call it Christianity, but it’s not. All religions are not alike, so ultimately you have to choose.” 

“That’s always the case with sin. It never presents itself as sin. It’s always presented as a doorway to a higher consciousness, as a path to enlightenment meant, as the path to divinity—to becoming a god, or like God.”

“To try to earn God’s love is to miss the point entirely. He loves us already. We can’t be more loved by Him. So to try is like adding numbers to infinity. You can’t get higher than infinity, and His love for us is infinite.”

“Faith does not necessarily make us perfect, but perhaps it does have a way of making us more aware of our feelings.”

Get Off Facebook, Dad!

This is reprinted from the Axis Culture Translator

the-culture-translatorMiddle-aged Americans (35- to 49-year-olds) are now spending more time on social media (seven hours a week) than their children, with the fastest growing demographic on Facebook being Baby Boomers. I recently asked my daughter’s best friend what she was doing that evening and she responded, “nothing, just going home to watch my parents stare at their phones all night.” Ouch.

There’s nothing inherently good or bad about social media, it just is. Yet, how we use it matters. Is documenting your life online keeping you from actually living it? Maybe the greatest gift we can give our children is presence. Here are five practical ways to model healthy social media habits in your home so you can be fully present and engaged with your family.

1. Practice Faithful Presence: Root your life in the real. Anchoring yourself in the here and now reduces the impulsive need to broadcast your life, which can lead to envy, depression, and FOMO. Instead, embrace JOMO!

2. Resist the Urge to Share: Instead of posting that picture of you and your husband at the beach, keep that moment just between the two of you. Cherish it, and it will become an intimate memory binding you to one another, instead of cheapening the moment by sharing it with the world.

3. Unplug: Our devices tell us there is something more important going on “out there” than what’s going on right here, but that’s not true. Establish tech-free times during the day or tech-free places (dinner table) to encourage deliberate, face-to-face interaction with your family. Or, try giving up social media for Lent this year.

4. Slow Down: Your life’s pace matters. Our friends Matt and Julie Canlis encourage parents to live at “Godspeed”, which means living life intentionally, mindfully, and slowly. Practice it by reading a novel aloud together as a family at night, or play a board game instead of watching a movie. Start small, take 15-minutes every morning just to be with your kids before heading off to work and school. Build a liturgy to your day that encourages you to slow down and subvert the digital culture.

5. Pay Attention: The best way to capture moments isn’t to post them to SnapChat, it’s to simply pay attention. Cultivating an awareness of the world around us is a big part of being fully human. Henry David Thoreau said “Only that day dawns to which we are awake.” Ask yourself from time to time, “Am I paying attention to my life right now?” Otherwise, whole days, even our very life could pass by unnoticed.

Our kids need healthy boundaries around screen time and social media, what better way to provide those boundaries than by modeling them with our own actions and habits.

Parents, please sign up for the weekly email from Axis. You can do so by clicking here.

The Bad Habits Of Jesus (book review)

the-bad-habits-of-jesusMy wife asked me what book I was reading, and I told her, “The Bad Habits Of Jesus by Leonard Sweet.” Her quick reply was, “Oh, He didn’t have any!” Her gut reaction to this book’s title is probably the gut reaction of most Christians. But to think of Jesus that way is to completely misconstrue how much of a revolutionary Jesus was!

Sweet gives us 15 bad habits Jesus demonstrated while He lived and ministered in first-century Israel. They were “bad habits” because they went against the grain of all that polite, religious society had ingrained in the culture.

To give you an idea, let me list just one of Jesus Christ’s bad habits: He enjoyed the company of women. I know today many people would say, “Yeah, so what’s the big deal.”

The big deal is that women were called “misbegotten” by Aristotle. They were persona non grata if they weren’t in the company of their fathers or husbands. They could be mistreated or divorced solely because their husbands wanted to. And women could never—ever!—be a student of a rabbi.

And yet Jesus not only taught women, but He treated them with a dignity and respect that was unheard of in His culture. He allowed them to have key roles in supporting His ministry, and He elevated their value in society. Leonard Sweet points out, “Jesus is the first Person in recorded history, in fact, to critique the ‘male gaze,’ saying that ‘Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’ Jesus took the proverb ‘As he thinks in his heart, so is he’ seriously but went beyond ‘Don’t do it’ to ‘Don’t even think about it!’” Jesus protected women like they had never been protected before.

This is truly an innovative, paradigm-busting, eye-opening book, and in the process, my understanding of what Jesus taught and demonstrated in the Gospels was expanded as well. The Bad Habits Of Jesus is written in such an engaging style that you will have a hard time putting it down.

I am a Tyndale book reviewer.

5 More Quotes + 2 Graphics From “The Beauty Of Intolerance”

This is the fourth set of quotes I’ve shared from Josh McDowell and Sean McDowell’s book The Beauty Of Intolerance. You can check out the other quotes here, here, and here; and if you missed my review of this book, please click here to read that.

“Respecting the boundaries of sexual morality and prohibitions for extramarital and premarital sex does bring protection and provision. Here are just a few ways it does this:

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“Although sin has separated us from God, His original intent for us and the reality that we were created in His image have not changed. What we do or don’t do may distort that image, but our worth to God as human beings never changes.”

 “So how has Christ loved you? He values all people for their inherent worth and offers grace freely to all people without exception. Cultural tolerance, on the other hand, claims to accept everyone’s differing beliefs, values, and lifestyles, yet it qualifies that acceptance. …  What distinguishes God’s unconditional acceptance from that of our culture is authentic love. His love is intended to make the security, happiness, and welfare of another as important as His own. It is other-focused, not performance-focused. … Real valuing of another’s personhood expressed in the context of authentic love separates doing from being and sees the acts of sin distinct from the sinner (which, by the way, is all of us).”

“The beauty of intolerance is its opposition to wrong and evil in the world—in alignment with God’s righteous and perfect standard of justice, equality, human rights, and caring for others. Intolerance of evil is not mean-spirited and condemnatory; it is actually the only way to be loving and caring. Far from being judgmental, it advances God’s righteous kingdom.”

“Most people in America subscribe to a view of morality called ‘cultural ethics.’ In other words, they believe that whatever is acceptable in that culture is moral; if the majority of people say a thing is right, then it is right. … But there’s a problem with that. If that is true, then how can we say the ‘aborting’ of six million Jews in the Holocaust was wrong? In fact, the Nazis offered that very argument as a defense at the Nuremberg Trials. They argued, ‘How can you come from another culture and condemn what we did when we acted according to what our culture said was acceptable?’ In condemning them, the tribunal said that there is something beyond culture, above culture, that determines right and wrong.”

“We are all entitled to our own beliefs, but this doesn’t mean each of us has our own truths. Our beliefs describe the way we think the world is. Truth describes the objective state of the world regardless of how we take it to be. Beliefs can be relative, but truth cannot. … Moral truth was never meant to be spoken or understood outside of a loving relationship. Being like Christ and speaking the truth in love are synonymous.”

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Book Reviews From 2016

What Child Is This Anyway?!

christ-the-kingA couple of years ago as we were setting up for our Living Nativity, I was wrapping a towel around the doll we were going to use for the infant Jesus. A young boy from the community was carefully watching me and he asked, “Is that baby Santa?”

“No, it’s not Santa,” I said. “See this manger? We’re getting things setup to tell the story about the very first Christmas, long before St. Nick came on the scene. Maybe you’ve heard about Mary and Joseph?”

The young lad’s eyes lit up as he seem to get the answer. “Oh! Is that baby Moses?!”

Clearly, people don’t know all the facts surrounding the first Advent of Jesus. Sometimes things in culture and church get jumbled—what belongs to which? Is Christmas a pagan holiday? Where do Christmas trees come in? Was the birth of Jesus actually on December 25? What does it all matter anyway?

Instead of running from these questions, Christians should use them to point people in the right direction. 

Have you heard the tune called Greensleeves? It’s been around longer than anyone knows. William Shakespeare referenced it in two of his plays and didn’t feel the need to explain it to his audience. The tune has been set to some pretty bawdy words about New Year’s Eve parties, and even as a mocking song to some folks about to go to the gallows. And then in the mid-1800s William Chatterton Dix used this tune to write words about Christ’s birth in What Child Is This?

What an excellent question! Who exactly is this Child? Is Jesus merely a line on the pages of history? Or is His birth something more? Oswald Chambers noted, “The tremendous revelation of Christianity is not the Fatherhood of God, but the Babyhood of God—God became the weakest thing in His own creation, and in flesh and blood He levered it back to where it was intended to be. No one helped Him; it was done absolutely by God manifest in human flesh.”

The first-century historian Luke simply records that Mary is pregnant with “a child.” That is, until Jesus is taken to the temple in Jerusalem eight days later, and we see that a man named Simeon didn’t just see this Child as any baby, but as a fulfillment of prophesy (see Luke 2:25-32; Isaiah 7:14 and 9:6).

This Child is much more than just a historic person. He not only split history into BC and AD, but He has changed my life, and countless others’ lives as well! That’s why the chorus of this Christmas carol joyfully announces, “This, THIS is Christ the King!”

People may be confused about what tradition belongs to culture or Christendom. You may even be confused about what belongs to which. But none of that should stop us from knowing the Child we celebrate this Christmas. None of that should stop us from helping seekers to find Jesus as their own Savior. None of that should stop us from enthroning Jesus Christ as King and giving Him the highest praise He deserves!

Jesus used common, everyday things—farmers, fish, trees, weather, children’s songs—to tell people about a Heaven that was prepared for them. Paul used the cultural idols and poets to point his community to Jesus. Philip used the Scripture a governmental official was reading to point him to Jesus.

So we, too, can use whatever is around us to point people to Jesus this Christmas! What Child is this? This, THIS is Christ MY King! Merry Christmas!!

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