A few weeks ago I mentioned our church is going through the book of Esther. This last Sunday's sermon on Esther Chapter 4 was both powerful and practical. I encourage you to listen to it at www.riverlakeschurch.org.
In this chapter Esther has become queen and her guardian, Mordecai, has refused to bow down to Haman who was second in command to the king. At this time Mordecai had chosen to make it known that his reason for not bowing was because he was a Jew. Haman, enraged, got the king to issue a edict declaring an appointed day would be execution day for all the Jews in the land. Letters were sent to all governors in the land in the King's name, stamped with the king's seal, making the edict an irrevocable law. Mordecai hears of the law and puts on sack cloth and ashes and sits at the palace gate grieving loudly. Other Jews hearing the decree begin to fast, grieve, and lament along with him. The people in Esther's court let her know about Mordecai's actions and she sends a servant to find out why he's grieving. Mordecai lets her know of the plan Haman connived and he entreated her to approach the king and plead for the lives of her people. She lets Mordecai know she's not been summoned by the king and that approaching him without being summoned could put her life at risk if he chose not to find favor with her.
I love Mordecai's response to Esther. He warns her that as a Jew she, too, is in danger and not exempt from the edict. He tells her if she chooses not to approach the king he is confident that relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from somewhere else. But then he poses to her the possibility that she may have been made queen for this very purpose. Her life in danger no matter what she chose to do. I imagine her fear grew as she realizes there is no safe option for her. She has come face to face with one of those life defining events that has the potential to alter the course of her life and the lives of many others as well. She considers his request and delivers some requests of her own. She asks those mourning to fast three days along with her and her ladies. Then she would approach the king ending her message with, "...if I perish, I perish!"
Life defining moments can come suddenly and instantaneously. Some examples of this type of defining moments could be the temptations we face daily. For some it might be the temptation to use pornography. For addicts it might be the temptation to take a drink. It might be the temptation to commit adultery, to lie on taxes, to fudge data on a research projects, or skim money off the company books. It might be the temptation to say harsh words that do irreparable damage to relationships.
Defining moments can also come in the form of choices. Do we move or do we stay? Do I take this job or that job? Do I attend a local college or one far away? Do we attend the neighborhood church or the one across town? Do we go on the mission field or stay on the home field? Do I foster this friendship or look for a different one?
Defining moments can also be life events that have huge impacts upon our lives. They might be a natural disasters. They might be fires or accidents that cause injuries that alter our lives either for a season or for a life time. They might be illnesses like cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, or Epstein Bar that leave us exhausted to the core. They might be the death of people we love or relationships ending in conflict or an unexpected divorce. They might be acts of abuse or violence perpetrated against us, causing emotional pain, PTSD, skewed thinking, and a hampered ability to trust or ability to connect at a heart level. They might be the problems of dealing with a special needs child who has autism or learning disabilities.
Some defining moments may alter our lives in such away that they present ongoing defining moments. For example, parents whose children are born with heart defects and have to face untold surgeries and the continuous monitoring of their children. Some come in the form of injuries that caused chronic pain that brings with it depression and frustration of living with chronic issues. Some come in the form of fertility issues and all the questions that come with that. Some are those living with family members who suffer with Alzheimer. Some moments come in the form of jobs lost or messy, broken relationships that are full of temptations and frustrations.
When we look at the defining moment that Esther found herself facing we can see it forced her to define her identity, expose what she believed both of which drove her choice to act. Originally Mordecai had told Esther wasn't to reveal her identity as a Jew. Now she was face to face with the decision to make known her true identity as a Jew or not. I can't help but wonder if those believers brutally murdered by ISIS wrestled with the same questions Esther did.
As believers, every time we face defining moments and fail, it is because we forget in the moment who we are as God's children--beloved, set apart, empowered, and gifted. I serve in a ministry that ministers to wounded women who have long defined themselves by what others have said and done to them or by what the enemy has whispered in their ear in the aftermath--you know those ugly lies that paralyze and shame--lies like stupid, ugly, invisible, unloved, unlovable, too much, not enough, and unworthy. Even though most finish our groups embracing their true identity in Christ, they continue to face defining moments only to have old messages resurface in their mind forcing them to choose again and again to believe the truth of who they really are in Him. Sadly, we sometimes make choices to hide our identities. I remember in college I played down my faith, afraid a guy wouldn't like me if he knew I was a believer. That choice burned guilt so hot in my soul that I soon repented, beginning to be more open about my true identity. If we could grasp the concept of identity, it would govern many of our decisions and our actions, especially when the flesh is in a raging battle with the spirit within who longs to do good.
Mordecai and Esther also had to also come to terms with what they believe about God. Did they believe He was good? Did they believe He was truly Israel's redeemer and their salvation? Did they believe He had a sovereign plan for their lives in life or in death? Did they believe that it mattered to God what they chose to do? Did they believe His promise to preserve their nation?
We, too, face those same kinds of decisions. Parents who bury children have to come to terms with what they really believe about God. Is there really an afterlife? Is God really good? Does He really care about their pain? Can He really work this horrible situation and this devastation to their good?
Those who experience natural disasters will have to wrestle with their beliefs about God who allows widespread destruction as they pick through the remains of the home that the earth shook into a rubble or as they remember the children snatched from arms by a tsunami's rage. A woman who has begun to have flashbacks of childhood sexual abuse will wrestle long and hard with who God is as she is plagued by the memory of praying for safety only to be victimized again. She will have to decide at some point if she can believe God is good and trustworthy as she grapples with His sovereignty in allowing such evil to be perpetrated against innocent children.
The defining moment that Esther faced also brought her face to face with fear. Some believe fear is sin, but I don't. It is a great emotion God gave to help us stay safe. Esther probably had a big dose of it pounding in her chest, making her hesitant to approach the king uninvited, knowing he had already banished one queen and she wasn't considered a mutually partner. It was in the choice Esther made to acknowledge her identity and believe God is who He says He is, that lead her to believe He should be glorified either by her life or by her death that gave her the courage to act. They fasted and prayed, and she came up with a wise plan.
In looking back at my life defining moments I thought of the time a son was being wheeled into surgery after his spleen ruptured. I face the fear of possibly losing a child. I wrestled with my identify as a believer that night in the waiting room. Even with the crowd of family surrounding me, as a mother I felt totally alone. It was terrifying to realize there was nothing I could do to insure that I would get the outcome I so desperately wanted. There were complications that kept him in ICU for ten or eleven days and then in the regular room for six. There were times I felt I couldn't handle any more thing and wondered if he could continue to fight his way back to health. But as I remembered my identity in Christ, I remembered that as alone as I felt, I was not alone! I wrestle with what I believed about God, knowing in my head He is good--but not fully trusting it in my heart. I had to decide if I really believed in His goodness down to the core of my being where my soul needed peace. For you see, I never doubted that He could heal, but for me it was a matter of seeing His goodness as our son dealt with pain, as the fluid collected around his heart, and the possibility of maybe another surgery after having been cut open wide already. The decision to remind myself of who I really am and to choose to trust God is truly good helped me to sit there and engage with my son all those long days and long nights without falling apart. Choosing to pray to God who held his life in balance gave me hope and strength when I had nothing left to give. During that time God allowed me to see my son through new eyes and it gave us sixteen days in close quarters to truly get to know each other. I gained a whole lot of respect for him as a young man facing some really tough, scary stuff. I grew compassion for other mothers and father's going though medical issues with their kids.
Another thing happened after hearing the sermon Sunday. My husband and I went out to eat. I noticed a couple in the restaurant. He was sitting beside her and feeding her. She didn't appear to be very cognizant of her surroundings, but he was so very attentive and so kind to her. When they left, he helped her stand and then took her hands in his and he walked backwards so that she could walk forward. They were face to face as she took small shuffling steps. He was looking directly into her eyes and smiling kindly at her the whole times, ignoring all the commotion of the busy place. They would go about five or six steps and then he would taker her into his arms and embrace her sweetly and then after a moment or two they would resume the shuffle. They did this repeatedly. It took them twenty minutes to get to their car. Whatever has caused her to be in the state she is in had to be a huge defining moment for them as a couple. Then every day that he cares for her, he will be faced with defining moment after defining moment. He can choose to love with acceptance, with patience, with kindness, and with endurance even when she can't give respond in kind or he can get angry over the circumstances and choose to be impatient and bitter. In watching him treat her with tenderness, I had the feeling that I was on sacred ground and was seeing him live out his true identity--his identity as a man, as a husband, and as a believer. I had the feeling I was given the privilege of seeing Jesus loving and encouraging her through her spouse. "Come on, Sweetie, just take one more step." And the significance was that it was one more step with Him!
Sometimes, defining moments are small, but, oh, they have the potential to impact life in huge ways because we have a huge God! I think most people face those "small" moments in marriage, especially after kids come, when life gets busy, when jobs get demanding, when energy runs low, when neglect of relationships happens, and when the distance between spouses is so great it stirs up loneliness that cuts to the soul allowing seeds of bitterness to be implanted. Its in these time when each longs to be seen and to be heard that hope runs low and we tend to retreat to protect our hearts. That is when the "small" defining moments come. We know those moments--the moments when God tugs at our heart to be the first to reach out and take a hand, to refill a mate's cup, or to speak a sentence of affirmation to a heart hurting as much as our own. It is in that moment when everything in us wants to wait for the other to move first to save face that humility can help us push past the fear of being hurt again. What if its in the humility and the choosing to be the first to move one tiny degree closer to the one we miss that changes everything around? What if its that hesitant touch, that thirst offering, or that kindness spoken that stirs the last ember of love so it can grow and flourish again? What if we learn to recognize that the temptation to leave is a life defining moment that gives us a chance to remember who we are as believers, as spouses, as moms or dads, or as friends? What if that moment gives us an opportunity to truly remember who God is and trust His ability to write redemption stories? What if this small act gives us a chance to move our knowledge of God from head to heart, giving us both the will and the power to act? What if its in that moment that we snatch the victory from the enemy seeking to destroy our souls and prove to ourselves and to the world that God redeems the messiest of the messes.
I would love for you to share about some of your defining moments in the comments here or on our Facebook page. Can you see how those defining moments have impacted your life, how they have brought you face to face with your belief and maybe even your unbelief? How different our stories might be if we each grab on to this concept of defining moments bringing us face to face with our identity, what we believe, and our choices.
Monday, March 9, 2015
Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!