Saturday, August 19, 2017

August 19: Of Charlottesville, Racism and the Lessons of Mordecai and Esther



Esther 4:1-7:10
1 Corinthians 12:1-26
Psalm 36:1-12
Proverbs 21:21-22

Yesterday we began to read the book of Esther, and Pastor Scott Taylor connected it so clearly to recent events in Charlottesville, and issues that have plagued the US since its birth.  He talked about how we are respond to sinful ideas - specifically, in this instance, racism.  Today we continue that story, and in this blog I will try to suggest how we are to respond to people who espouse those ideas.  

The book of Esther continues; word of Mordecai's hateful plans has spread through the Jewish community, and people are deciding how to respond.  Let's be clear - so much more was at stake here than is at stake today in the US: during Esther's time, the Jews didn't face vile language or job discrimination, they faced death.  And let's be clear again - the odds were different in Esther's time, when the oppressors were so much larger in number, and so much more powerful, than is the case today in the US.  As one meme put it so appropriately, the group of "several hundred sick [racist] puppies" was dwarfed by the by the 52 million Americans who went to church, the 62 million who volunteer, and the 83% of adults who give to charity. 

How did the Jews respond?  Did they, on their own volition, go out in righteous anger (and yes, it would have been righteous), protesting Mordecai's plans, picking fights with the ignorant?  Their response could not have been more opposite - "Mordecai...tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly."  And "there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing.  Many lay in sackcloth and ashes."  Even Esther's response could not have been more different - she said "go, gather together...and fast for me.  Do not eat or drink for three days...I and my attendants will do as you do..."

You see, the response of the Jews to the imminent evil being planned against them wasn't to go fight (they did, eventually, after God had made clear their course of action).  No, their response - and, I believe, our response as Christians - was to cry out to God.  Now here's the amazing thing: God fought the battle in His way, and in His time...the king welcomed Esther, and not only thwarted the plot, but elevated Mordecai to a position of great honor, and for good measure did away with Haman - and to that point none of the Israelites had to lift a hand to do any of it.  It gets better - when it came time for the Israelites to do something (and apologies for jumping the gun here), we will see that God gave them the advantage by allowing them to prepare to defend themselves. 

As Christians, then, how better for us to respond to the evil of racism?  With black hoods over our faces, middle fingers raised, shouting profanity and, as the opportunity presents itself, assaulting those who harbor such sinful views?  How much good is that going to do?  Is it going to change a racist heart, or merely reinforce their convictions?  And does it repay evil for evil?  It's easy to see how Psalm 36:2-4 might apply to the racists...does our response mean it applies to us as well?

I submit that as Christians, our first response has to be prayer.  Our God is bigger than all the racism in the world, and only He knows a man's heart and can change it.   And I submit that there are better ways to be instruments for God's change than repaying evil for evil.  Check out the link below for an example - a black man who has probably turned more men away from racism than all those counterprotesters in Charlottesville combined.  

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/kkk-klu-klux-klan-members-leave-black-man-racism-friends-convince-persuade-chicago-daryl-davis-a7489596.html?


Father, when faced with evil, may our first response as Your children be to turn to You, to cry out to You in our helplessness, to ask You for Your help and Your guidance.  And when You tell us what to do, give us obedient hearts that we might be instruments of Your will in these evil times and these evil situations.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Thursday, August 17

THURSDAY, AUGUST 17, 2017

 

 

In Psalm 35, we read about David’s call for God’s intervention against his enemies.  Quite a few psalms, particularly with David as the author, share this plaintive theme of seeking God’s justice against worldly enemies.  David trusts matters into God’s hands and calls on His sovereignty to address situations beyond David’s earthly control.

 

In the New Testament, Jesus taught us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. (Matthew 5:43–48)  This ethic flies in the face of our human tendencies to seek justice ourselves for ourselves.  Both David and Jesus’s teaching point to a deep trust in God’s provision:  that He knows, and He cares.  Jesus and Paul further explained that we should strive for peace with others.

 

How do we react to situations beyond our control?  In my anxiety, I tend to become angry.  I hunger so much for the autonomy that God alone has.  This cycle ultimately draws me back to recognizing God’s sovereignty and His better plans.  Yet, where does the initial urge for control start?  It starts with my pride of position and suggests that I should take care to assign the position of sovereignty to God more clearly and more frequently.  Lord God, give me grace to seek You above any position that my pride would seek to take.

 

 

I sought the Lord, and he answered me;

    he delivered me from all my fears.

Those who look to him are radiant;

    their faces are never covered with shame.” (Psalm 34:4,5)

 

 

I close today with a great prayer from John Baillie’s A Diary of Private Prayer:

 

“Teach me. O God, so to use all the circumstances of my life to-day that they may bring forth in me the fruits of holiness rather than the fruits of sin.

    Let me use disappointment as material for patience:

    Let me use success as material for thankfulness:

    Let me use suspense as material for perseverance:

    Let me use danger as material for courage:

    Let me use reproach as material for longsuffering:

    Let me use praise as material for humility:

    Let me use pleasures as material for temperance:

    Let me use pains as material for endurance.”

 

 

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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

August 16

1 Corinthians 10

My husband likes to put the "news" on in the morning while he's getting ready for work. I very rarely pay attention to the television unless I'm watching for school delays and cancellations.  This morning I couldn't help but notice some of the ridiculous notices that were on.  For instance, somewhere in Europe someone needed cash and thought it would be a bright idea to get a huge digger used for clearing out land and attempt to dig out an ATM machine.  On another note closer to home, a man with some strange tattoos on his face attempted bank robbery.  Did these people think they were going unnoticed?  The Apostle Paul gives us some very wise words in today's reading" "Everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible but not everything is constructive.  Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others" (v.23-24).  Perhaps if these guys had picked up their Bibles this morning, they might have thought twice about what they were about to do.  Paul goes on to say in verses 31-33 that whatever we do, do it all for the glory of God. Toby Mac even wrote a song about it. One of Steven's friends once told me that the acronym for BIBLE is Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. It sounds so simple and to us as believers, it is.  Paul clearly let's us know that we as believers aren't only seeking our good by following Jesus, we're lights for others "so that they may be saved".  Paul encourages us to follow his example of following Christ. What great advise. 

Randi

Saturday, August 12, 2017

August 12: Of Crises and Formation

Nehemiah 3:15-5:13
1 Corinthians 7:25-40
Psalm 32:1-11
Proverbs 21:5-7

Ps 32:6-8

Therefore let all the faithful pray to you while you may be found;
     surely the rising of the mighty waters will not reach them.
You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble
     and surround me with songs of deliverance.
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
     I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.

In today's Old Testament reading: an impossible task, a small work force with meager resources, beset upon by more powerful people, seeking to discourage them, plotting against them.  And yet it was through this crisis God transformed the individual Israelites who had returned into one body, one community.  People worked, at great cost to themselves and their families; those who had earlier taken advantage of the workers' need appear to have ceased charging them interest on loans; and people took on the additional responsibility of protecting each other, even while they worked.  

From a disparate group of individual families working on rebuilding the wall, they were formed into one cohesive body supporting each other in doing the will of God.  How did this happen?  It wasn't as though the leadership had the power to stop the Ammonites from attacking, nor did they have the authority to stop people from charging interest.  Yet all of that DID happen - because they responded to the crisis in a manner so unorthodox in the ways of the world - they turned to God, confessed their helplessness, and prayed.  And God answered their prayers, with action and with guidance.

The psalm today confirms this.  And this is true, not just for a returning remnant; it is true for units as small as families, and as large as nations.  

Father when crisis strikes, let it be catalyst and opportunity for us to confess our helplessness before You, to seek Your guidance and Your help, to trust that You will hear and answer, and to obey Your instructions.  Let the problems You permit in our lives shape us into the individuals and into the body You want us to become.

Friday, August 11, 2017

August 11

Nehemiah 1

Have you ever been faced with an impossible situation?  An impossible situation at work, in your home, in your marriage, in your relationship with your children, maybe an impossible situation with your own health. The truth is our world is filled with impossible situations. Today we begin reading the book of Nehemiah, the memoirs of a man with an impossible situation. His particular impossible situation was a wall that had been in ruins for over 90 years. No one could build that wall, "all the king's horses and all the king's men just couldn't put it together again."

So what do we do in these impossible situations? Nehemiah shares with us several steps he took and they should be our guide in our impossible situations. The first step Nehemiah took was to look around.  He did an extensive survey of the problem. A problem clearly defined is a problem half solved. So many people are living in denial of the real problem. The next step was to look up and pray. Is it too elementary to say that with God there are no impossible situations? When we pray we are talking to the source of our help and hope. Looking up is laying hold of God through prayer to give us guidance and resources during these difficult times. Prayer also reminds us of the awesome character of the God we serve.  Nehemiah basically says, "Jerusalem may be in shambles but you are still a great and awesome God. Our situation is a mess, but you are still in control."  When we pray in these hard times, it focuses our attention on God and not the problem. The third step was looking in his heart with repentance. Nehemiah confesses the sins that have put them in this impossible situation. So many people live as victims but when you are a victim your problems are never solved. And finally he looks out and offers himself as part of God's solution. Looking out is more than passively observing the problem; it means we realize that God might be asking us to be part of the solution. Many people never rise above their impossible situation because they are expecting someone to come in to rescue them, when in fact God might be calling them to rescue themselves.

So whatever your hopeless situation is today, don't fear and don't freak out. Pray as if everything depends on God and work as if everything depends on you.



--
"Multiplying leaders to change the world"

Thursday, August 10

THURSDAY, AUGUST 10, 2017


"If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord's people? Or do you not know that the Lord's people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases?" (1 Corinthians 6:1,2)


Paul discusses lawsuits among believers in today's passage. He urges believers to reconcile matters before heading to court, where those outside the Church might cast judgment on other brothers in the Church. He explains that, given our standing as ones to co-judge with Christ, we should not allow others to sit in judgment over our brothers and sisters.

Seeking reconciliation with others requires a humbling of our pride and a willingness to take an extra step toward bringing resolution. Taking inventory of another's faults may impede that reconciliation; we may become blind to the truth of his or her standing in Christ and God's deposit in his or her life. Forgiving others horizontally becomes possible out of the forgiveness we have received vertically through the Cross.

As Paul concludes his remarks, we may remember that we were once broken people, following the world's patterns. We have now passed from death to life: "But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."

The passage brings to mind the question of: "How do I look at my brothers and sisters in Christ? Do I see their brokenness or their growing wholeness?" It challenges me to keep short accounts and to seek reconciliation promptly. By God's grace, these goals are achievable and honoring to Him.


Lord Jesus, thank You for bearing our sins on the Cross that we may bring reconciliation to this world. We are all hurting and broken, but You have brought healing into our lives. Send Your Holy Spirit to us so that He might fill us and strengthen us to live our calling of reconciliation. Give us grace to keep short accounts with ourselves and others. In Your Name, amen.



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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

August 9

Psalm 31


Remember when we were used to play tag out on the playground and there was a "base" -- that safe place where no one could tag you out --  no one could get you?  When we reached "base" we yell out "safe". That "base" was our refuge and we would run to it for safety when being chased or threatened.  When we take refuge we are seeking protection from danger or distress - emotional, physical or spiritual.  I'm not sure which adventure David was seeking refuge from in this Psalm, but he chose to seek and take refuge in God.  He knew he would be safe seeking the shelter of the Most High.   Like Stephen and Jesus, he committed his spirit into God's hands.  In verse 6, David jumps themes a bit and contrasts trusting in  "worthless idols" to trusting in God.  As I started to think about that I realized that worthless idols might not necessarily only refer to material things.  Once we start comparing things, that means we have a choice. I started to think about my choices of "base"  for me --  where are those safe places where the enemy can't touch me. I can choose to take refuge in  fear, worry, or anxiety but am I really safe or just returning to learned behavior over trusting God.  We've learned through readings and teachings that anything we place over God becomes our idol and if we cling to our idols, (whatever they might be),  we are out of alignment to commit our spirit to God.  That, to me, doesn't sound like being safe.  I pray for all of us that today as we are being chased by the many situations we will face, that we commit our spirits to God and we run to our rock and our fortress. Only there, we will be safe.

Randi