Here are some random thoughts from this past week & Sunday, in particular. Hope you enjoy!
With a heavy heart
Many of you have asked how my dad is doing. Well, today I received word that Parkinson’s is in its final stages with my dad. He’s no longer swallowing and hospice has been called in. It’s with a heavy heart that I write to you today.
When my dad came to stay with us this year, one thing was very clear: the Lord brought him to us to make sure that my dad knew where he was going after he died. My dad and I (along with Jill and others) had some very stirring conversations with him about his eternal state when he was clear-minded. He told me very clearly that he was now comfortable with dying and was putting his hope in Jesus for his eternal life. So, while today I am unsure of how long my dad will be alive on this earth, I rest assured that he will live forever with Jesus. I’m very grateful for that, even though I’ll miss my dad. At some later point, I’ll write a few thoughts of what he’s meant to me, but for now, thanks for praying for him and for us.
Blog post of the week:
I periodically read blogs from others. And there are titles that catch my eye. This post by Kevin DeYoung entitled, “Are we really in danger of making Family an idol?” really captured me. You can read it by just clicking here: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/really-danger-making-idol-family/. The reason this blog fascinated me is because I’m concerned about what I see in our culture and even in our church, to some degree. Not to mention the temptations that I feel in this area. I hope you read this because I believe it’s a very good evaluation for all of us. And I also felt that this post tied in quite nicely to yesterday’s sermon on Esther 4.
Overall thoughts/challenges from yesterday’s sermon:
- Through the years, I have found that the sermons that seem to have a broader effect (not sure how to quantify that beyond a sense that I get) are the sermons where I’m preaching more to my own soul than to anyone else. Yesterday was one of those. It’s not rare for the Lord to do this to me and I’m very grateful for that. I was passionate about the subject matter not because I was trying to prove a point to anyone or to preach to anyone, but because of what I personally saw from Esther that affected my heart.
- I really battled from Friday until Sunday morning over my last application point. I wasn’t quite sure how to phrase it. I’m grateful that it seems that the Lord allowed it to come out the way He wanted. I struggled with it because I see in Esther a compelling portrait of the Christian life…laying our lives down for the glory of God and the good of others, especially the people of God. And I have found this to be true…when I give myself to God and the service of others, I am joyful and happy. I have never regretted serving other people or giving my life to Christ. But, I have most certainly regretted serving and protecting myself.
- While I was battling over that last point, I do believe that it was one of those moments in our church where our people heard their pastor not only interpreting/expounding the text, but interpreting/expounding our congregation. The last application point is something that I have been burdened and praying about in the life of our church. Many of us who are raising kids in this church are in the stages of life where are kids’ sports, activities and life can just take over. I’m concerned that many of us are letting the gospel, the kingdom of God and the church get on the circumference of our lives and are unintentionally teaching our children things that we will regret later down the road. We must be people who think primarily and more about Jesus, His church and think of ourselves less. This is the beauty of teaching through the Bible exegetically. God will always, eventually, in His timing, get us to application that He wants.
- I am very aware that God has given me the gift of voice projection. I say this with sarcasm, but in reality, there are times when I’m preaching a text (like yesterday) and my prayer is that my tone, my excitement and my volume do not detract from the content of what is being said. I have worked hard through the years to allow the text and content to motivate the excitement or passion, rather than the other way around. Luckily, we have a “constrictor” on our sound board!
- The other challenge with this sermon was the history of Haman’s and Mordecai’s family and national animosity. I really hope that all the history I try to give is helpful to the listener. I want to be true to the authorial intent and the historical context, but some times I know that I can overdo it.
From the Cutting Room floor: Things that I either didn’t have time for or things that I was not clear if I should bring up:
- One of the things I didn’t mention yesterday is the fact that Esther 4 is the first time we actually hear Esther speak in the book. Her first reply to Mordecai’s plea is one of fearful, yet true reasons (vs. 11). And her final words in chapter 4 are a huge turning point in the book. We’re about to see that from this point forward, Esther starts calling the shots.
- I didn’t have much time to speak about the beauty of seeing human responsibility and God’s sovereignty being evidenced in this chapter. But I found this quote by Karen Jobes really helpful about that: “In this scene the interaction of human responsibility with divine sovereignty is eloquently pictured. Esther comes to this defining moment through her past decisions, whether they are right or wrong. The decision she now faces will irrevocably define her future and determine the destiny of her people as well.”
- More on this point: I find it strange to me that people who don’t “believe” in God’s sovereignty will say things like “well, what’s the point of sharing the gospel anyway if God is going to save His elect?” or “why should I even pray, if God’s going to do what He wants to do?” Jonathan Edwards has always helped me on this when he said, “Prayer is God’s predestined way of accomplishing God’s predestined plans.” God has willed, what He has willed and He will surely do it, but He has willed that He will utilize His empowered people to do it. Further, I think Jesus closes this case on this issue, when in Matthew 6 He made this statement when speaking about prayer, “your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Now, using the logic of those I mentioned earlier in this paragraph, you would think Jesus would then say, “so since God knows what you need, there’s no need to ask.” But that’s not what He said. Instead He said, “Pray then like this…” and He goes on to give us what’s known as The Lord’s Prayer. The point is this…since God will do what God will do and since God knows what is needed before we ask…it is to serve as a motivator to act and to pray. Knowing that He will do His work should inspire our prayers and actions.
- One last thing on the cutting room floor: I didn’t have time to draw out how Esther’s willingness to give her life for her people is a portrait of Christ. Jesus came to earth, knowing that He was going to perish. He willingly gave His, not reluctantly or fearfully. Jesus gave Himself for God’s glory and the ultimate good of all His people. Perhaps I should’ve put that more at the forefront, but due to lack of time, I wasn’t able to clearly draw that out more.
Quotes I found interesting but couldn’t add them:
- “Esther has to decide who she really is. As L. Ryken points out, Esther is the only person in the story with two names—her Hebrew name, Hadassah, and her Persian name, Esther. He reads this as an indication of the identity crisis with which she is faced when, after being raised as a Jew, she is thrust into the king’s court where she must live as a pagan. Her Jewish character led her to obey Mordecai, which meant, paradoxically, that she must deny that character and live as a pagan. She found favor in the court of King Xerxes, enabling her to become an agent through whom God would fulfill his ancient promise to her people, whether she was aware of it or not. Nevertheless, she had to overcome herself in order to do what God had created her and positioned her to do. Then comes that defining moment when she is faced with taking responsibility for the life God has given her by identifying herself with the people of God. According to Ryken, it is through this traumatic ordeal that Esther, “initially a beautiful young woman with a weak character, becomes transformed into a person with heroic moral stature and political skill.” Karen Jobes
- “Many Christians are more concerned about their own security than about the desperate physical and spiritual needs of the world. If they understood that their decision could make a difference, many would make the commitment God is asking of them.” Mervin Breneman (Mervin isn’t a name we hear very often and this quote really stings)
Quotes in the sermon (I see many of you taking pictures of the screen and some have asked me to put these out more often:
- “Esther is now in a defining moment. She can either retreat into self-protective silence or she can take the ultimate risk, hold her breath, and go into the throne room. The first option may save her own neck, but her people will be ruthlessly slaughtered. The second option may save her people, but it risks her own death to do so.” Bryan Gregory
- “The gospel confronts us with the decision either to continue to live as pagans or to identify ourselves with God’s people, the church. Our choice defines who we are and with what people we identify. The decision to be identified with Christ energizes our lives.” Karen Jobes
- “In the biblical perspective election is for service, not just for one’s own benefit. Being liberator of her people was more important than being the queen of Persia.” Mervin Breneman
- These particular quotes hit home to me about my “self-protective silence”, my sometimes unwillingness to “identify myself” with Christ, and my natural inclination towards serving for my own benefit.