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Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

Esther by Minerva Teichert

I remember being a little girl and hearing the story of Esther and thinking how lucky she was to be chosen as queen.

She has been called the reluctant, unexpected and chosen queen (among others). She was not, by birth, in line to be royalty, but she was chosen.

Esther was a Jew, living in Persia, with her relative Mordecai, because her parents had died.

Let’s stop here.

This was a tough reality for Esther, who was orphaned, by her parent’s deaths. We do not know how old she was, or what caused their deaths, but this young woman had been left alone by this tragedy, saved by her relative Mordecai who adopted her. This is not the road to royalty that anyone would want to walk.

Then the king (Xerxes), got rid of his queen, Vashti, because she refused his request to dance at his party for his drunken friends (keep this character in mind, later). His advisors wanted to make sure that this would not become normal wife behavior, so they had him issue a command,

“every man is master of his own house; whatever he says, goes.” (Esther 1:22 MSG)

(boy did he get a surprise when he chose Esther!)

Then they gathered “… beautiful young (virgin)) women into a harem (for the king to choose a new wife from)” (Esther 2:3)

Let’s ponder this …

These woman did not choose to enter a beauty contest, they did not choose to compete for the position of queen … she was apprehended, a prisoner, who would be chosen by the king after he would have done a test run on her (aka had sex with her, or also known as, raped her).

This is not the road to royalty that anyone would want to walk.

Then came the events initiated by Hamen, who was eager to eliminate the Jews.

Mordecai advised Esther, “don’t think that just because you live in the king’s house you’re the one Jew who will get out of this alive. If you persist in staying silent at a time like this, help and deliverance will arrive for the Jews from someplace else; but you and your family will be wiped out. Who knows? Maybe you were made queen for just such a time as this.” (Esther 4:13-14)

Esther sent back her answer to Mordecai: “Go and get all the Jews living in Susa together. Fast for me. Don’t eat or drink for three days, either day or night. I and my maids will fast with you. If you will do this, I’ll go to the king, even though it’s forbidden. If I die, I die.” (Esther 4:15-16)

She was ready to obey, but wanted to ensure that she was fighting for her people, with her people behind her. Her wisdom and leadership were shining in her decision-making.

What followed was her appearance before the king (at the risk of losing her life, for doing so), dinner parties for the king and Haman, then her standing up to Haman, by sharing with him how Haman was plotting the destruction of Mordecai, Esther and her people … all while risking her very life.

This is not the road to royalty that anyone would want to walk.

Yet, through all of these struggles, through all of these horrific events, Esther walked the bumpy road she was forced to walk … in complete respect and obedience for the advice of her adopted relative, Mordecai.

(“she continued to follow Mordecai’s instructions as she had done when he was bringing her up” Esther 2:20).

Then she gets the honor due her … right?

Mordecai the Jew ranked second in command to King Xerxes. He was popular among the Jews and greatly respected by them. He worked hard for the good of his people; he cared for the peace and prosperity of his race.” (Esther 10:3)

The book of Esther ends with the above verse. It’s about … Mordecai! Sure he would seem to be a wise and virtuous person but … the book is called Esther!

She lived her life out as a trophy wife to a rich king, whose wisdom and personality equal that of a gnat.

This is not the road to royalty that anyone would want to walk.

Yet, this is the type of road that many walk. We all know far more Cinderella’s whose prince never comes, children are never granted, life is hard, poverty extends for their lifetime and yet … they walk, head held tall, because they know that they are royalty, that they are children of the Prince of Peace … and that peace that passes understanding is the crown that is unmistakably atop their head.

For the road to royalty is not about the road you walk, but about who is your King.

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Just the other day I knew it was really coming.

As I drove around the corner and down the hill the valley was blanketed in fog … autumn morning fog.

It was beautiful! On that overcast day, the shadows replaced the clarity of the mountains, hid the lower part of the road, allowing only towers and mountaintops to be visible. The scene was one of black and greys, of varying degrees.

Autumn fog is hauntingly attractive. It also makes me desire a cozy blanket, a hot cup of refreshment, my wonderdog and a book on my blue sofa by the window.

Autumn fog settles on me like a weighted blanket, whispering ‘slow down … take more time … just listen.’

I like to think of this whispering fog as a reminder that even when my view is obstructed, when I am confused and unaware of what is ahead, I can rest … I can still relax, be refreshed. I can be confident and content that what is unseen by me is being looked after.

When I see that blanket of fog, I hear the words of Paul say,

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)

That fog is like the unknowns of my life … what will tomorrow bring? how will heath play out in the future? will my children have happy and productive futures? will they seek God? … and so many more humanly unanswerable questions.

But, like the giants of the Old Testament, named in this chapter … Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, Moses and more … I have available to me faith in a God who has it all covered, like a blanket of fog on the valley. It is faith in him that allows me (us) to rest, to have confidence, in what we hope for … assurance in what we can not see.

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Mark Twain said many things about politics, but it is his words (above) that have caught my attention these past few days.

One might think that I am referring to a scandal uncovered about a politician, or how dark politics is because there simply could not be an honest man involved in such a power-hungry sector of society.

This time, that quote seems to resonate in the memories of those who knew, knew of, or lived in the constituency which Canadian Member of Parliament, Mark Warawa served. For his fifteen years of federal and fourteen in municipal politics.

Last week it was announced that Mark, with his wife at his side, lost his brief battle with cancer … and gained an eternity with his Savior.

Though I struggle to believe the words of politicians, or believe that their intent is ever anything but political power-seeking or posturing, Mark was a politician who was different, whose integrity was a light in an area that can seem so dark.

As I listened to his colleagues (from all parties) speak their memorials in the House of Commons, there were qualities that kept coming up … kindness, welcoming, generous, strong faith, honest, humble. As I read comments online from his constituents I found them to be the same. These are not normally qualities listed of one who is a politician.

Every time we saw Mark (or Diane) in public, it was as though he was seeing an old friend. That is how he made everyone feel … valuable, worthy, intimate.

Just months ago, as hubby was struggling in illness, Mark invited him out for a coffee, for conversation … an opportunity that again reinforced value, worth and intimate friendship (and blessed the heart of this wife).

In his own farewell speech in the House (just over a month ago), Mark challenged his colleagues and friends to, above all else, love each other.

On his Facebook page, announcing the end to his earthly life, is written:

“Mark’s favourite verse was John 3:16:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Within that verse is the willing sacrifice of service, performed with the greatest serving of love, which results in life eternal in the constituency of the souls of heaven, lead by a gracious and generous king. This is Mark’s new home.

Well done good and faithful servant.

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Why did Jesus take his disciples into Gethsemane to pray?

He knew they did not understand the gravity of that night. He knew they did not understand the cross he was to bear (literally and figuratively). He knew they would not stay awake with him.

So why did he take them into the garden that night? And why was he so obviously disappointed when they did what was natural, after a long day, after a feast?

I expect that Jesus was, quite simply, so sorrowful … he knew that one of his own was to betray him, that his human body would be tortured and broken, that he would die, that his father would turn his face from him … all so that these men, and humankind thereafter, would have the freedom to choose to keep watch or sleep.

I expect that he also had a lesson in mind for them … for us.

The Gospels tell us of Jesus responses to their garden napping:

“Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 4“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:40-41

“Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? 3Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Mark 14:37-38

“Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” Luke 22:46

As we read the commonalities of the three passages there are three things that stand out to me:

  1. When Jesus asks why they are sleeping (and not ‘with’ him), I wonder if Jesus is reminded of a night when he was sleeping, and his disciples were sorrowful? That night on the Sea of Galilee, when the waves were rocking their boat, their world. When they were certain of their demise. And Jesus strolled across the Sea of Galilee and the waves calmed. He had been awake when their very life was at stake.
  2. After finding them asleep Jesus directs them to watch and pray. This is the lifejacket of every follower of Jesus … keep your eyes open, don’t get lazy in looking around, in praying. We stay awake to pray, we also pray to stay awake. We are more than mortal beings who need physical rest, we also need spiritual rest, but that rest comes through connection to God.
  3. Jesus tells them the consequence of not watching and praying … temptation. This, Jesus knows, is the reality of being fully human … the temptation of the flesh over the good intent of the God-infused spirit. In Romans 7:25 we see that Paul laments this reality, when he states, “with my mind I serve the law of God, but with my flesh the law of sin.” Thankfully, for the disciples, as well as us, to follow Jesus is to live under his grace.

It is interesting that John’s account of this event did not mention those things. Instead, John reflects on the prayer of Jesus, for his disciples. This makes me wonder … were all asleep?

“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.” John 17:13-19

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Sanctuary

The news of the murder of forty-nine Muslim worshippers, in their sanctuary, makes the hearts of all worshippers break … for we all know the vulnerability of associating with a belief.

The fact that these people were attacked in their place of worship, their sanctuary, makes it seem an even greater violation on humanity and of hatred.

A sanctuary is a safe place, a place where those who feel they may be persecuted or harmed may go to be protected from the world and it’s laws (separation of church and state in a very practical way). I cannot hear the word sanctuary without hearing Quasimodo declaring it in the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

For blood to be shed in a sanctuary is a particularly devastating and cruel violence.

In January, bombs were detonated at a Catholic church in Jolo, Philippines, killing twenty-three. Last fall almost a dozen Jewish worshippers were killed at their Pittsburgh synagogue. An article at www.nbcnews.com documents numerous such killings over the past decade.

Sanctuary is not just a place, it is also a state of being … one that is birthed in our faith, one that is borne out of shalom, a peace that passes understanding.

The freedom of a sanctuary, freedom of religion is a precious gift. Our faith ought to be a place of sanctuary … our sanctuaries places of worship to the one in whom we have put our faith.

Freedom of religion is a gift that we have in many, but not all, places in the world. Even where we have been given that gift, it can still be violated.

So, what do we do about such hatred, such violation, such violence? We go to our sanctuaries, we pray, we worship … we take advantage of this freedom that we have. And we remember those who are hurting, those whose lives have been turned upside-down by such horrors.

We pray for them, we pray for us.

“Worshipers never leave church…
we carry our sanctuary with us wherever we go.”

Aiden Wilson Tozer

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So there was a day of frustration, of sorrow, of hopelessness. A day I didn’t know what to do. Prayers had been prayed, with white-knuckle faith, with peace beyond human understanding. Chin up, saying my amens expecting the (right) answers any moment.

Nothing.

No grand answer to prayer … not even a hint that anyone was listening.

Ever been there?

Ever had your chin so far up that the air seemed too thin to provide the oxygen needed to breathe in, breathe out? Ever had your hands folded in prayer ’til they were so white-knuckled that their white-washed bones were shining through your paper-thin skin?

In frustration, in exasperation, as hope and faith fade and we cry out:

“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?”

Psalm 13:1-2

Then, from my pit, I reached out to others, sharing my story, my struggle.

In just a few days, change dawned one morning. Complete, beautiful, better-than-I-could-have-hoped-for answer to prayer.

So, why? Why did the many months of prayers in faith result only in silence? Why did answers only come when I shared what was weighing on my mind and soul with others?

For an answer, lets look to Moses (Exodus 17:8-16).

While the Israelites were still wandering, they were attacked by Amalekites. So Moses told Joshua to choose some men to fight, and that he would stand at the top of the hill, with the staff of God raised above his head.

This all sounds a bit weird, except that this staff is the staff that could be thrown down and transform into a snake. It is the staff that tapped a rock and water came from it. It is the staff that was used to bring on the plagues of Egypt. It is the staff that parted the Red Sea. It is the staff of God.

So, as the story goes, as the staff was raised, the Israelites were winning, but whenever the staff lowered they began to take losses. Battles do not end in minutes, but hours and days, and Moses could only hold his arms up for so long. So, along came Aaron and Hur and they sat Moses on a large rock, and they stayed at each of his sides, helping to keep his arms held high.

“As a result, Joshua overwhelmed the army of Amalek in battle.”

Now when Moses raised the staff in the air it provided at least two purposes. One was that of a visual encouragement to those in battle. The other was that of intersession to God.

That staff had been the symbol of the presence of God for these wandering Jews. Moses lifting it up was not a power that Moses had in his own strength, but with the help of Aaron and Hur. Together they were holding the symbol of God’s power acknowledging that they did not have any power without God.1

Matthew Henry’s Commentary speaks of this intersession, and of the help Moses received from Aaron and Hur:

“We should not be shy either of asking help from others or giving help to others, for we are members one of another.”

We have, at our very hands and sides, people who can and will hold us up when we get tired, when we are weak. Others who are willing to intercede on our behalf. That is the encouragement, the help that we need when in the thick of life’s battles.


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Wood Pile by Robert Ammon

“when her beams were yanked from the forgotten wood pile”

and it all made sense.

The teacher was reading a picture book to the high school class for devotions, because sometimes the best stories were written for children … children who never grow up.

It was a story I was familiar with, one that I had read many time to our three, one that our family loved.

I am so familiar with the story I could retell it almost word for word. Yet … those words ignited my imagination as though for the first time.

The story is called A Tale of Three Trees by Angela Elwell Hunt. It is written as a folktale about three trees, and the hopes and dreams that they each have for their futures.

One dreams of holding treasure, the second of being a strong sailing ship and the third just dreams of spending her life growing tall and pointing to heaven.

Their dreams are not fulfilled as they had imagined. The one is roughly crafted into a box. The second into a boat. The third was cut into strong timbers, then left on the woodpile.

What happened next is, what Paul Harvey would call “the rest of the story”.

The first tree, crafted into a box, became a feed manger for animals, then, one night he was re-imagined into a bed for a newborn baby.

The second tree, a small fishing boat, full of passengers, encountered a terrible storm, one that surely could have toppled it, until one of those in the boat stood and demanded peace on the waters, and all was still.

The third tree …

“when her beams were yanked from the forgotten wood pile”

she had been left on a wood pile, dreams and all.

All of a sudden I saw the faces of dear people in my life whose dreams have been left, forgotten like beams on a woodpile.

The woman whose husband died too soon. The lady whose dreams of motherhood just keep getting dashed. The one who just wants someone to come  home to each night. The one who wants health and happiness for her children. The one who …

Many of us have had seasons when we, too, have felt that our dreams and lives have been forgotten, left for dust to gather and hopes to fade.

Not only does it seem that our dreams are gathering dust, but that they (we) have been forgotten by the one who first placed the dreams within us.

Like the third tree, left on the wood pile, there was and is a plan … just not always in the timing or the one that we imagine. 

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,”
says the LORD. “
And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.”
Isaiah 55:8


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