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)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

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.

 

ATTENDING TO THE PRESENT

dawnYet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. [Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT

Jesus once said that Satan was a thief. Satan does not steal money, for he knows that money has no eternal value. He steals only what has eternal value – primarily the souls of men. [Zac Poonen]

C.S. Lewis’ religious satire The Screwtape Letters consists of 31 letters written by the senior demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, a novice demon in charge of acquiring the soul of a young man. Screwtape’s suggestions of ways to cause the fellow’s damnation could be described as a self-help book in reverse. As the diabolical demon advises Wormwood in methods of temptation, the reader learns Satan’s assorted strategies and ruses and what not to let happen. While walking the other morning, I thought of Screwtape’s advice to Wormwood regarding the young man’s focus of attention.

To beat the heat of Southwest Florida, I start my walk while it still is dark. When crossing one of our bridges, the previous night’s full moon was on my left and the coming day’s sunrise on the right. Caught between the day that was and the day yet to come, I thought of Screwtape’s words that God prefers man to be concerned with either the present or eternity rather than yesterday or tomorrow. When in the moment, he is “obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, [or] giving thanks for the present pleasure.”  When considering eternity, he is meditating on God. Wanting neither of those things, Screwtape advises Wormwood to get the young man to live in the frozen past or the unknown future.

Of the two methods, Screwtape prefers getting him to live in the future: either in perpetual anticipation of the rainbow’s end or in constant fear of the horrors tomorrow may bring. Clarifying his point about the future, Screwtape explains that God expects man to make plans but planning for tomorrow’s work actually is today’s duty. God, however, doesn’t want man to place his expectations in the future. Naïve optimism and unrealistic expectations inevitably end in disappointment while anxiety and distress rob the present of joy. Unlike God, the demons want man to be “hagridden by the future” and so obsessed by images of either a surefire windfall or a pending catastrophe that he will be willing to do anything to attain his pipe dream or prevent the disaster. If there ever were a time we’re tempted to live in a pre-pandemic yesterday, ignore reality and view tomorrow with rose-colored glasses, or be so fearful of the future we can’t face it, that time is now. When we focus on yesterday or tomorrow, we’re playing right into our enemy’s hands.

Standing on the bridge, I knew God wanted me to attend to the present—to leave yesterday behind and accept with faith what tomorrow brings. As I walked forward, however, I remembered that He also wants me to attend to eternity—to look beyond time to Him: the Eternal One who holds yesterday, today, tomorrow, and eternity in His loving hands.

God has set Eternity in our heart, and man’s infinite capacity cannot be filled or satisfied with the things of time and sense. [F.B. Meyer]

So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. [Matthew 6:31-34 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

EXPRESS YOUR GRATITUDE

One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? [Luke 17:15-17 (NLT)]

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. [William Arthur Ward]

roseWhen writing yesterday’s message (“Jehovah Rapha”) about my ski accident, I thought about the ten lepers healed by Jesus. Only one returned to thank Him. Did the others assume they would see Jesus some other day and could express their gratitude then? Jesus, however, was on His way to Jerusalem. The lepers had a week’s worth of purification ceremonies, cleansing, isolation, and offerings ahead of them and that “other day” would not come. By not returning immediately, they missed a precious opportunity to thank Jesus.

We were seasonal residents of our Colorado mountain town so, after my accident, we didn’t return to the Rockies until winter. At our first church service back, I found myself behind the woman with the healing hands. During greetings, she turned back, looked at me intently, held my hands in hers, and asked, “How are you!” Hers wasn’t just a cursory church greeting and her question peered deep into my soul. I looked at her with a smile, squeezed her hands and, thinking we’d talk later, simply said, “I am well.” Although the previous months had been challenging in many ways, I finally was physically, emotionally and spiritually well. The music resumed and she turned back to face the pastor and worship leader. When the service ended, she immediately was surrounded by others. Not wanting to interrupt and anxious to get home, I decided to wait until the following week to thank her. I didn’t see her the next week and, one week later, our pastor told the congregation that she’d been killed instantly in a car accident in Denver.

I’d missed the opportunity to speak with this woman, share my testimony, and thank her. Making the mistake of thinking there always was time, like those nine lepers, I’d let life get in the way of my gratitude. Instead of personally telling this beautiful woman how much her compassion, touch, and prayers had meant, not just to my body, but to my soul, I ended up telling her husband in a letter of sympathy. I hope my words gave him some comfort in the depth of his sorrow. His wife was loved by all who knew her and her departure left a huge gap in our church family.

Heavenly Father, forgive us for our unspoken words of thanks, both to you and to those acting on your behalf. Thank you for your servants: the life lines, rescuers, spiritual first responders, and healers that you send into our lives. As your emissaries, they offer their prayers, hands, compassion, and encouraging words. They inspire, comfort, lead, teach, and lift us. Let us never delay expressing our gratitude for the blessings bestowed upon us.

It’s one thing to be grateful. It’s another to give thanks. Gratitude is what you feel. Thanksgiving is what you do. [Tim Keller]

Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done. Sing to him; yes, sing his praises. Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds. [1 Chronicles 16:8-9 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

FOR THOSE WHO LABOR

If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. For we are each responsible for our own conduct. [Galatians 6:3-5 (NLT)]

Old World WisconsinLabor Day was my least favorite holiday when I was a girl (and not just because school started the next day)! For the Smith family, Labor Day meant work. We spent the entire day helping my father as he climbed up and down a ladder to exchange the screens (that had been mounted the previous Memorial Day) with the external storm windows. It was several years before I understood that Labor Day was not a special day dedicated to this yearly ritual of washing windows, lugging screens and windows to and from the garage, and otherwise spending my last day of summer vacation working. Energy efficiency and fuel bills were of no interest to me and, selfishly, it never occurred to me that my father probably didn’t enjoy the holiday ritual any more than did his children. I certainly never thought to thank him for working so hard to provide us with the house (and storm windows) that kept us safe and warm all winter long!

In 1894, Labor Day became a federal holiday to honor the contributions workers make to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our nation. Nowadays, rather than the storm window ritual, most people celebrate with barbecues and shopping the Labor Day sales. They probably don’t give much thought to the people whose labor makes all that we have and do possible. This year, however, I have a new appreciation for our nation’s workers.

While my husband and I can remain safely at home to limit our exposure to other people and COVID-19, many workers can’t. They continue to harvest food, manufacture products, package goods, deliver boxes, stock shelves, work cash registers, keep the utilities running, prepare the dishes, serve the food, repair what’s broken, cut our hair, teach our children, care for the sick, put out fires, fill prescriptions, and protect our safety. Being in contact with others puts them at a higher risk of infection and many are working under challenging conditions. They deal with daily temperature checks and health screenings, masks, sanitizing regimens, new procedures, irate customers, anxious parents, testy co-workers, fearful patients, and child care issues while schools teach on line. Although safer, working remotely from home offers its own set of challenges. It’s not easy to give the sermon to a computer screen week after week, be isolated from the rest of your management team, have the kitchen table do double duty as your office and your child’s schoolroom, or make your business video-chats from the bathroom because it’s the only private spot in the house! Keeping the attention of a classroom of first-graders while teaching remotely from your bedroom on Zoom, discussing investments with a client when the dog is fiercely barking at the Amazon delivery man, or closing a deal when your toddler calls for help going potty is problematic!

This Labor Day is more than the end of summer and beginning of pumpkin spice everything season. It is a time to pray for our workers: both those still employed and those who’ve lost their jobs.

Lord, we thank you for the gift of work and for all who labor in our communities, many of whom we never see or thank. We lift in prayer those who labor and ask that you keep them safe. May they always be treated fairly and properly compensated for their work. For those who long for employment, we pray for their perseverance as they seek work and for success in finding it. Make us attentive to the needs and appreciative of the efforts of the workers we encounter. May their work always glorify you.

O God, you have bound us together in this life. Give us grace to understand how our lives depend on the courage, the industry, the honesty, and the integrity of all who labor. May we be mindful of their needs, grateful for their faithfulness, and faithful in our responsibilities to them; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [Reinhold Niebuhr]

Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ. [Colossians 3:23-24 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.