Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Notes on Esther

Beginning in Esther

We began a new Bible study in January on the book of Esther. One of the first topics to be addressed is women's issues with appearance. I have for many years used the term "Esther treatments" to refer to spa and beauty applications because of the reference to Esther's preparations before she met the king lasting months, perhaps more than a year (Esth. 2:12). It was my lighthearted way of letting my husband know that if he wanted "royal beauty" he would have to put up with the time and expense it took to make me that way. Beth Moore in her lesson gave me a more sober perspective. Why is it that beauty is something we "do" not something we "are"? It says in the passage that Esther was lovely in form and feature (Esth. 2:7). Why then did she need to go through the many months of treatments? We deal with something like this everyday as women: no matter what your strengths or weaknesses, there is something being pushed by the beauticians of the world that you need more of (or less of) anti-aging, highlighting, enhancing - not to mention make-overs extre and otherwise. Really it is the women's version of I Samuel 16:7 "the Lord said to looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." The Bible says in I Peter 3:3-4 that our beauty should not come from outward appearance, but from the hidden person of the heart. It was David's heart that God was looking at in Samuel and it is our woman's heart that He is looking at now. Still the study of the passage in Esther acknowledges that the focus and pressures are there all around us and we will work through how as women of God we can live knowing He is concerned with our heart. I'll keep you filled in as we go and let you know what God says to me in this new study.

It’s just too much!

It has been so exciting going through the book of Esther! This week we learned that Mordechai asked her to take on her destined task when she felt like "this is really not a good time, can't you see that!"

So often I have felt the way she was described, "now God, me, really?" or "It's just too much!" It is a comfort to know that most of the time God called upon major characters in the Bible it was when they were having a hard time of it in some crisis of their own (I think of Moses - Ex.3 - and Gideon - Judges 6 - and Peter - Matt. 26 look it up!) Yet we know that God's timing is perfect timing because of what He wants to have happen. Another encouragent is that we know that when all is said and done, the eny can't win and we can't lose Praise the Lord for that!

Using What You’ve Got

On a sidebar in our study of Esther one of the sinar leaders shared how we have often seen Esther's beauty as something that puts her in a "special" category. When we as women feel that people can't see past our looks, that is, they think we are beautiful or maybe "not so" beautiful, we feel cheated. In Esther it was apparent that the reason she was picked in the first place was that she was "beautiful of form and face."  Beth Moore has pointed out over these weeks that the Biblical account shows there was much more to her under the surface that drew the attention of the caregivers and ultimately the King.

What our workshop leader pointed out that was so meaningful to me is that God gives us the whole package, ie. looks, past history, talents, personality and Spiritual Gifts in order to fulfill his purpose. She referenced Psalm 139:13-16 in a way I had never looked at it before. When the Psalmist says, "I am fearfully and wonderfully made" that includes our basic personality type and other traits, not just our physical form. I had often shared this verse in the context of our kids' diabetes saying that God made th with that special characteristic for a very purposeful reason. I had not really looked at myself or th in terms of the whole package before.

So our assignment was to discover "what we've got" that God is desiring to use in us but maybe we had not considered as useful. The suggestion was made that maybe we had been limiting God in what we thought He could accomplish by limiting what we thought He was likely to use. Can you think of things that God designed uniquely into you, His child, that He is prompting you to allow Him to use? Maybe you have the gift of hospitality and are an extrovert; maybe you are an introvert and write encouraging notes; maybe you have the gift of administration and can help people figure out "their next move" and of course the list goes on and on.

This little excerpt is my response to God nudging me to use what I already know I have even while I am looking for the hidden things I may have disregarded. Blessings to you as you try it as well!

Conditional Trust

The rubber really met the road for me this week in the video session on the book of Esther. It was from chapter 4 where she says the famous line, "if I perish, I perish."  She has made up her mind to move forward in what is being asked of her and trusts God with the outcome. 

The "big idea" that really hit home with me was that Esther did not have "conditional trust". This was explained in great detail as being the kind of trust that says as we pray, "I am trusting you God to never let ____ happen to me." We were challenged to put our own worst fear in that blank. If we continue trusting God to "never let____ happen" then we are doomed on two fronts. First, we let the enemy of our souls torment us with the possibilty of it happening every hour of every day. And he will do so, have no doubt. Second, we set ourselves up to fail in our trust of God when the worst case scenario does happen. And let's be honest, we've all known situations in someone's life (perhaps our own) where it has.

Unless we are able to say "we trust you God, even if ____ happens, to uphold us and carry out your purpose to your Glory" we do not have "unconditional trust". Put in Esther's words, "If (our greatest fear), then (God will...)" It is the same kind of trust that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had in the face of the fiery furnace (Daniel 3) where they said "The God we serve is able to save us...but even if He does not, ...Oh King, we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."

Our pastor has been sharing this same kind of trust in his series on Elijah, "trust is moving forward in faith believing that God will show up."

All these things tied together to show me that I was suffering from "conditional trust". I said, "God I trust you that my two younger children won't get diabetes" and then Kaycee did. So then I prayed, "I trust you God to not make the ones that have the disease to be picky eaters" (you've no idea what a big issue this is day to day) and yet Kaycee is. So my doubt in God's goodness and love went out the window as one by one my worst fears came to pass.

I see now what my trust needed to be like from the beginning: "No matter what happens, worst case scenario included, God, you will sustain me and cause your story to be worked out through my life and those of my children."

It really struck me the most when Beth Moore said, "If a difficult diagnosis or death is being asked of you, have no doubt that it is a huge part of the destiny that God has planned for you from all eternity"...for such a time as this.

Tell Me it isn’t So!

In one of our homework questions we were asked, "Why do you think Esther sent new clothes down to Mordechai when she first heard he was in mourning?" My answer was that at first she didn't want to believe it could be that bad. Not so much denial as wishful thinking. "I just don't want to face the fact that the worst is actually coming to pass." Some of us process this way. We take longer to come to terms with a situation before we accept it and then look for ways to handle it. How awesome that our God is patient and waits for us when this happens. I think of the passage with Peter again (Matt. 26) where the Lord asked him again and again "do you love me?" until Peter was ready to deal with his own shortcomings and answer the real question. Throughout scripture we see how God deals gently with us, bringing us into acceptance of our place in His plan - the good, the bad and the incredible!

She’s Gonna Blow!

This book by Julie Barnhill was mentioned this week in our workshop on anger. We were covering the several references to "burning with anger" and such from the book of Esther, but went much further and of course touched on the issues that some of us moms have with anger in dealing with our kids. The workshop leader dealt with the topic in a surprisingly helpful way by showing us that the way to determine whether our anger is "righteous" or "unrighteous" is not just in how we deal with it or express it, which is how I've always heard. Sometimes it is the source of it, why we are angry, that makes it one kind rather than the other. If we are incensed because a moral wrong or injustice has occurred, that is very different from being angry because we were inconvenienced or frustrated or offended.

Then she did go on to show that righteous anger always has restoration as its goal and this is where very often, even if we started out from a righteous anger, it can quickly become sin as Eph. 4:26 says. God's anger is ever only righteous, but let's face it ours rarely starts that way and even less does it remain so. Whereas God cannot tolerate sin, He bends over backwards to make a way to wipe it out and bring His people back to Him again. I can't remember the last time I bent over backwards to make something that angered me "go away" so that the person could be restored to God or me or both. Sometimes it would mean letting it go. Other times it would mean asking or encouraging the person to make it right. If we make restoration our goal rather than "venting" (as in "she's gonna blow"), or making our case, I think we would see a real change in the pattern of our anger issues.

Most of the time, my anger begins in unrighteousness, that is, I have been thwarted in my plans or had my expectations disappointed and I just belt the other person with it. Now if I put these principles to use, and want to see this person restored, I can let go my need to "have it my way" or I can share that I was coming from a different place and see if we can work it out. If I feel a moral injustice has occurred, all I can do is request that the person reconsider and make it right and leave the rest to God.

All these things made the whole concept of anger a more rich discussion than I have had before. In the past  I was told "just don't do it" (Col. 3:8) which I  couldn't measure up to, or "some anger is O.K. because God is sometimes angry" (Mark 3:5;11:14) which I couldn't differentiate in my own heart.

These thoughts have been helpful as a beginning for me and I am eager to read Julie's book and also one by Gary Chapman that was referenced in the lesson as well called, "Anger: Handling a Powerful emotion in a Healthy Way".

The Upper Hand

Esther 9:1 tells of how the tables were turned for the Jews and they now had the "upper hand". In the video session with Beth Moore, we were discovering how the scenario where "it's tough being a woman thrown a giant sized weight" is turned around by trust in God. When Mordechai told Esther she may have been born for "such a time as this" it was a huge weight to her to go and risk her life to plead with the king. After fasting (and if you read between the lines, praying) she was ready to go. In the narrative, the turn around came when she was given carte-blanche by the king to do what she felt was needed to save her people. That was her story. The application came when we were asked what we felt was our giant sized weight and told to give it to God, holding it up over our heads, if you will, saying "here, God, you take it." Beth depicted us, like a child handing over the "big" thing, whatever it may be, so we don't have to carry it anymore. She said that the heavier the weight semes to us, the "upper" we hold our hands to our Lord to take the burden - hence the "upper hand". This is the main point that touched a familiar chord in me, of course, with my focus on "hands". I asked myself, "how upper are my hands in giving my burdens to the Lord so He can carry them?" The corresponding verses in the lesson, I Peter 5:7 "casting all your cares upon Him for He cares for you." and Deut. 23:5b "[God] turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loves you." give a clear picture of how deeply God loves us. He wants us to lift those weights up to Him and watch how He turns it around into a blessing. Get the visual with me here: we lift up our hands and say, "Here." We still feel burdened with whatever it is, and we lift it higher and emphatically say, "HERE!"  Then He takes THAT THING, whatever it is, and into our open hands bestows a blessing, and not just a gift, but a destiny. That's what this study in Esther has been all about, DESTINY and from week one, Beth has been saying that the "big" struggles that we have in life are the ones that God desires (and indeed intends) to turn into our singular, blessed, beautiful, destiny.

In the tight fist of fear, fight

As the study in Esther draws to a close, we see  next scenario, "It's tough being a woman in the tight fist of fear..." Beth Moore made reference to Deut. 33:29 where God is described as fighting alongside us and we are told we will see our enemies flee before us; Isaiah 49:16 where it talks about our name being engraved on his hand was described as when you hold something so tightly it leaves an imprint on your palm. This reflects a fierce love that is also tender at the same time, she said. Also Neh. 4:14 "Don't be afraid of them, remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes." This caught my attention, not "our great and awesome God will fight in your stead" but "because He is great and awesome get in there and fight!" When Beth walked around the room and said it over and over, "fight" for your marriage, "fight" for your home, "fight" for your children, it really got to me. It almost seems condradictory to the message about giving it all to Him with our "upper" hands. But in Scripture it is so often the case, isn't it, that "both are true."  Yes, we are to give the Lord the heavy burdens of our heart, and actually that is a form of fighting, because our enemy would love to see us bogged down. We must remember that we do not fight an enemy of human flesh and blood, but rather an invisible foe who would love to see us fold our hands and let him destroy our marriages, our families and our homes. But the message in Esther and indeed in Scripture is to stand and fight the good fight.

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