COMFORT ZONES (Esther – Part 2)

So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and fasting. I also wore rough burlap and sprinkled myself with ashes. [Daniel 9:3 (NLT)]

So we fasted and earnestly prayed that our God would take care of us, and he heard our prayer. [Ezra 8:23 (NLT)]

orchidWhen writing about Esther yesterday, I thought how terrified she must have been when Mordecai asked her to step out of her comfort zone to save the Jews. Even though she was queen, her access to Xerxes was severely limited.  Living secluded in a private chamber in the women’s quarters, she didn’t regularly dine with the king. Powerless, she was the one to be summoned rather than the one who did the summoning and she hadn’t been summoned by Xerxes for a month. She was just one of many beautiful women in the king’s harem and perhaps someone else had caught his eye. The previous queen was banished when she defied the king and Esther could expect nothing less if her presence wasn’t welcomed. The young queen had a simple choice: comfort or courage. She chose courage and saved a nation!

Where did Esther get the courage to defy the law and approach the king? She got it from God! That may seem a strange answer since God isn’t mentioned anywhere in her story. After asking Mordecai to gather together all the Jews in Susa and fast for three days, however, Esther promised that she and her maids would do the same. The beautiful queen wasn’t fasting so she’d fit into her sexiest gown! She was fasting in prayer.

For a Jew, fasting and prayer went hand in hand and, while prayer is not specifically mentioned, it certainly is implied. Fasting combined with prayer was a customary practice in times of grief, distress or repentance. It was a way to seek God’s favor and demonstrate the sincerity of one’s prayers. Although fasting was only demanded on the Day of Atonement, Scripture tells us that the Israelites and people like Ezra, David, Nehemiah, Jehoshaphat, and Daniel all combined fasting with prayer. When Esther and the people of Susa fasted, I have no doubt their fast was accompanied by their heartfelt prayers. Only then did Esther have both a plan and the courage to step out of her comfort zone.

Unlike Esther, we may not be asked to save a nation. Nevertheless, God has a mission for each of us. Because He is far more interested in our growth and obedience than our comfort, God’s mission for us, like Esther’s, usually begins at the end of our comfort zone. How do we move from comfort to courage and from fear to faith?

Like Esther, we could choose to fast. The purpose of fasting is never to change God; its purpose is to change us. A fast helps us take our eyes off the world and focus them on God. While Esther probably fasted from food, a fast also can be from things like gaming, social media, alcohol, television or anything else that takes our mind off God. Although Scripture tells us that Jesus and the early church fasted, it does not demand that Christians fast.

The spiritual practice of fasting is a personal choice for a Christian but prayer is not. Prayer is an act of obedience to God; it is the way we demonstrate our faith. When faced with the choice of comfort or courage, whether or not we choose to fast, we must choose to pray. Prayer is what will enable us to step out of our comfort zone and courageously do God’s work.

Courage is faith that has said its prayers. [AA slogan]

I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears. Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces. In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened; he saved me from all my troubles. [Psalm 34:4-6 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

INDIFFERENCE (Esther – Part 1)

No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. [Micah 6:8 (NLT)]

snowy egretIn 1986, holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” That thought, however, has a longer history. In 1897, in George Bernard Shaw’s The Devil’s Disciple, these words were spoken: The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity.” The evil of indifference can be found as far back as 474 BC in the story of Esther and as recently as today in our newspapers.

It’s in the Persian capital of Susa that we find King Xerxes’ “prime minister” Haman (a descendant of Agag from the race of Amalekites) facing off with the Jewish Mordecai (a descendant of King Saul’s tribe of Benjamin). The two families had a long history of hatred between them and Mordecai continually refused to bow down to the powerful Haman. Although Jews were permitted to bow down to people out of respect, Mordecai did not respect Haman and no self-respecting descendant of Saul would ever bow before an ancient enemy like an Amalekite. The incensed Haman took their personal animosity to another level by convincing the king that a “certain race” in the empire posed a threat and should be killed. The king was so indifferent to these unidentified people that he never even asked who they were. Xerxes gave Mordecai free rein to do with them and their wealth as he wanted. Written in the king’s name and sealed with his ring, Mordecai sent out an order for the Jews’ extermination to take place March 7.

Although the Jews had their unique dietary laws and customs, they had integrated into the Persian culture. They lived throughout the kingdom and interacted with the Persians daily. Mordecai, for example, had been born in Persia, had a Persian name, was a court official himself, and had even saved the king’s life. The Jews reacted to their extermination date with mourning, but what of the Persians? Scripture tells us that the city of Susa was perplexed but nothing more. There was nearly a year between the edict and execution date but we never read of people approaching the king on behalf of their Jewish friends and neighbors. The nation appeared indifferent to the slaughter of an entire people!

Enlisting Esther’s help, Mordecai asked her to beg the king for mercy. While not exactly indifferent to the Jews’ plight, Esther was more concerned with her safety than theirs. She balked at his request until Mordecai pointed out that the Jewish queen was not exempt from the king’s edict. To quickly summarize: Esther took action, Haman was executed, Mordecai became prime minister, and the Jews were saved.

Xerxes’ indifference to the fate of an entire race, the Persians’ indifference to the massacre of their neighbors, Esther’s initial indifference to her people’s plight, the indifference of Elie Wiesel’s countrymen as Jews were hauled off to Auschwitz, the world’s indifference as it looked the other way while millions were exterminated, and our indifference as we witness injustice, genocide, inequality, human trafficking, discrimination, slave labor, and repression in the world today—indifference to wrongs that don’t personally affect us—is, indeed, “the essence of inhumanity.” Let us remember that, like the beautiful queen Esther, we are not exempt from being touched by the world’s evil. Perhaps, like her, we are here “for just such a time as this!” [Esther 4:14]

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me. [Martin Niemöller]

Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it. [James 4:17 (NLT)]

Those who shut their ears to the cries of the poor will be ignored in their own time of need. [Proverbs 21:13 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

SCHEDULED

Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray. [Mark 1:35 (NLT)]

clock

I like the calendar app on our smartphones and its ability to remember recurring events: just put in an occasion and tell it to repeat every day, week, month, or year for as long as you want. Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, yoga class, tennis lessons, Bible study—there’s no reason to miss any of those recurring events and my man no longer has any excuse for forgetting my birthday or our anniversary! Our devices notify us of the day’s events and, with just a quick glance, we’re reminded of something we need to do, somewhere to go, or someone we should remember that day.

Attentive as we are about scheduling book club, haircuts, birthday cards or the dentist, are any of us as diligent about scheduling God into our lives? Do we schedule a recurring daily appointment with Him or is He just allotted one hour Sunday mornings? The most important appointment of the day (one that should be repeated each and every day with no end date) is the one we have with God.

Scheduling an appointment, however, doesn’t always mean it is kept. Things come up, plans change and appointments are broken. Since some professionals like doctors, lawyers, and personal trainers often charge when we don’t show for a session, we’re usually careful about keeping their appointments. God, however, doesn’t charge a fee if we skip our time with him. Perhaps, since He’s never too busy for us, we take Him for granted and frequently get too busy for Him! If we don’t have time to pray and read Scripture, we are far busier than God ever intended us to be.

Moreover, for what the lawyer, physician, or trainer charges per hour, we’re usually attentive to whatever it is they have to say to us. Are we as attentive when we meet with God? I start the day reading the day’s Bible verses and meditations in my in-box but my attention can get diverted to emails from the kids, humor from a friend, or a sale from my favorite retailer. While reading Scripture, I can get side-tracked, as well. I start researching one thing and, several links later, find myself totally immersed in another thing! It’s not so much that I’ve wasted the time—it’s that God is no longer at the front and center of our appointment and something or someone else has taken my attention. Pretty soon, breakfast and the day’s activities call; prayer and meditation get put off until a more convenient time. I promise to get back to God later, but that rarely happens. Even though I’ll spend time later in the day writing devotions, that’s doing a task for Him, rather than spending time with Him and the two are not the same.

Originally, I started this devotion with the point being to schedule and keep a daily appointment with God. Now, I realize I’m wrong. In actuality, God shouldn’t have to be scheduled; He should be there in the forefront 24/7/365. Rather than making time with God fit into our calendar and plans, it’s all of the other things demanding our attention that we must arrange to fit into His agenda and timetable.

We usually spend our money on what is most important to us—on what do we spend our time?

The biggest battle you will face in life is your daily appointment with God; keep it, or every other battle will become bigger. [Ravi Zacharias]

Search for the Lord and for his strength; continually seek him. [1 Chronicles 16:8-11 (NLT)]

Teach me your ways, O Lord, that I may live according to your truth! Grant me purity of heart, so that I may honor you. [Psalm 86:11 (NLT)]

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STILL IN EGYPT

But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. [Ephesians 4:20-24 (NTE)]

Abiquiu NMBack in 1963, Bob Luman sang “You can take the boy from the country, But you can’t take the country from the boy.” Along the same line, Brookes & Dunn sang that while you could take the girl out of the honkey-tonk, you couldn’t take the honkey-tonk out of the girl. I wonder if Moses thought about singing, “You can take the people out of Egypt, but you can’t take Egypt out of the people!”

When the Israelites departed Egypt, they brought more than their flocks, tents, matzo, possessions, and the Egyptians’ gold and jewelry. Egypt’s influence was still in their hearts and minds. After the ten plagues visited on Egypt clearly demonstrated Yahweh’s supreme power and the impotence of Egypt’s assorted gods, it’s difficult to understand how they still doubted Him. Nevertheless, even though God was guiding them with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night, they panicked at the first sign of trouble. Seeing Pharaoh’s army approaching, they complained that slavery in Egypt was preferable to dying in the wilderness.

After they’d safely crossed the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army drowned, they were free physically but not mentally! Within a month after departing Egypt, rather than trusting their powerful God for provision, they again longed for the meat and bread of Egypt. By the time they arrived in the Sinai wilderness the next month, along with the ten plagues and the parting of the Red Sea, God had provided Israel with water, quail, manna, and victory over the Amalekites. Nevertheless, they still carried their 400 years of Egyptian bondage in their hearts and minds.

During the forty days Moses was receiving the Law from God, the people began to fear that he was lost. Remembering the gods of Egypt, they wanted a god with a face: one they could see and touch, one who could lead them on their way. Within forty days of their acceptance of God’s covenant that specifically prohibited idolatry, the Israelites were fashioning an idol of their own. While the choice of a golden calf seems odd to us, it wouldn’t have been to them. There were several bovine deities in Egypt. The Egyptian goddess Hathor, for example, was depicted as a heifer and her powerful son, Apis, as a bull. A golden calf was the obvious choice for people who’d brought their Egyptian bondage with them!

The purpose of all those laws God gave Israel was to take Egypt out of His people—to teach them a new and better way of living. Yet, more than a year later, we again find Israel complaining and craving the “good things” of Egypt. When the scouts returned from exploring Canaan, we see how little they progressed. These were God’s chosen people who had not suffered one defeat during their travels through the wilderness. Yet, with the mind set of slaves still in bondage, they were so afraid to cross the Jordan that they wanted to pick another leader to take them back to Egypt! It took forty years and an entirely new generation before the Israelites finally rid themselves of Egypt and entered the Promised Land.

What about us? When we became Christians, did we leave the old life behind and allow God to transform us into something new or, like the Israelites, are we still in bondage: bondage not to Egypt but to the past’s sins, habits, attitudes, and mistakes? Jesus brought us through the wilderness and set us free from our slavery to sin. Rather than looking in the rear view mirror at what has been and the way we were, let us look ahead to Christ’s promises of what will be!

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. [John 8:34-36 (NLT)]

We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. [Romans 6:6 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

 

LUKEWARM

Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. [Revelation 3:20 (NLT)]

I’ve learned something about my housekeeping habits during this pandemic. Like many, when it first began, I took my pent up energy and enthusiastically cleaned, arranged, sorted and scrubbed. Cupboards and baseboards were wiped, windows were washed, furniture moved, fan blades dusted, files sorted, and every closet, cupboard, and drawer organized. That, however, was many months ago. I now realize that hospitality was my real reason for cleaning house. Pre-pandemic, we frequently entertained, neighbors regularly stopped over, and houseguests often occupied one of the bedrooms. Being ready for visitors at a moment’s notice was my incentive for keeping the house spic-and-span. Guests, however, are a thing of the past and only repairmen get beyond the front door! While our house is still presentable, it’s not the way it used to be. With just the two of us, I’ve lost my motivation and become far more tolerant of things like dust, disorder, and dirty windows!

The image of Jesus knocking at the door to an unbeliever’s heart has been used by evangelists for decades but the unbeliever’s heart is not the best understanding of Revelation 3:20. Jesus wasn’t speaking to a non-believer; He was speaking to the believers in the church of Laodicea. Like the tepid water supply of their city, they were neither hot like the healing waters of the nearby hot springs nor cold like the refreshing springs in Colossae. They were a church that had become lukewarm and indifferent to Jesus. Their self-satisfaction and apathy had led to idleness and lethargy. Jesus had some harsh words for them as He stood knocking at the door of a church that didn’t even know He’d left the house!

The church at Laodicea had grown as lax in their faith as I have in my housekeeping. Their initial fervor for Jesus waned just as my early enthusiasm about cleaning did. They’d become satisfied with superficial religion rather than growing deeper in faith and I’ve become satisfied with surface cleaning rather than getting deep into the corners. The church at Laodicea, having grown content with their wealth and easy life, were cutting corners. Having grown content with sheltering in place, I’m taking short cuts, as well. While making these comparisons, I realize that the Lord’s words of censure are not limited to Laodicea. Just as I slipped into indifference about housework, like the Laodiceans, we easily can slide into a half-hearted perfunctory faith.

Indifference leads to idleness but I’m sure my zeal for housekeeping will return when I again welcome people into our home. Sheltering in place, however, doesn’t keep Jesus from knocking at our doors. Have we become too complacent, self-satisfied, or apathetic to hear Him knocking? Open the door, invite Him in, and share a meal as friends! He’s far more interested in our hearts than the cleanliness of our homes! Let us never become indifferent to Him or spiritually lukewarm!

I do not think the devil cares how many churches you build, if only you have lukewarm preachers and people in them. [Charles Spurgeon]

I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!… I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference. … Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. [Revelation 3:15-16,19,22 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

MORE THAN HOT AIR

But I will come—and soon—if the Lord lets me, and then I’ll find out whether these arrogant people just give pretentious speeches or whether they really have God’s power. For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power. [1 Corinthians 4:19-20 (NLT)]

hot air balloonBecause we heard the fan running, we didn’t realize the AC wasn’t working until we returned home after being gone most of the day. By then, the inside temperature of 86 told us we were in trouble. A check outside told us the AC compressor wasn’t operating and the blackened grass near it told us why: a lightning strike during the previous night’s storm! Although the fan could still operate, without the power of the compressor, all it did was blow hot air!

Sure there was a lesson somewhere in all of that useless hot air, I thought of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians expressing his concern about eloquence without evidence. Even though some of their teachers were saying the right things, they weren’t living them out. Without God’s power, they were just windbags and, like our fan, full of hot air! Accustomed as they were to great orators, the Greeks were impressed by eloquent speeches but talk is cheap. Paul explained that the Kingdom of God isn’t speaking the right words; it is living them! He promised that, when he came to Corinth, they’d see the real power of God!

When Paul referred to the Kingdom of God, he wasn’t referring to Christ’s future reign but to Christ’s present reign in the hearts of His followers. The Kingdom of God is wherever the King is and His kingdom isn’t powered by words; it’s powered by the Holy Spirit and leads to changed lives.

John Calvin described a Christian’s task this way: “We must make the invisible kingdom visible in our midst.” That’s not done with flowery phrases, grandiose sermons, impressive words, or empty promises; it’s done by the way we live. As Paul said to the Corinthians: “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” [13:1] The Kingdom is made visible by the evidence that our King rules us in every aspect of our lives: whether at work, school, church, or home; with family, friends, co-workers or strangers; when writing a check, browsing the internet, or posting on social media.

The power enabling our air conditioner to function is in its compressor; the power enabling us to function as citizens of the Kingdom of God is found in the Holy Spirit. If we find ourselves just blowing hot air; it’s time to check the connection!

We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love. We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense. [2 Corinthians 6:6-7 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.