Here are some rambling thoughts from Sunday’s sermon (and really from the weekend)…
I am still thinking about the thought provoking time from our men’s breakfast on Saturday when James Ellis, Todd Crouse and Mike Keller shared. The highlights for me were that these guys are dear friends who are trying to live their lives for Jesus as best as they can and are having great impacts, even if it’s one person at a time. I love seeing and hearing God at work in our people.
Worship in Song
And that makes me think of our singing this past weekend. I know that some videoed our guys singing on Saturday together and that was really cool. Then on Sunday, I have had to just stop and listened as the church sang. I was again humbled by a couple of thoughts: 1) how has God done this work at CLF? It amazes me each time we gather, to see new faces, to see old friends loving others, and the vigor and excitement our church has for Jesus. 2) why has God allowed me to lead these people? I say this with total amazement. I’m not a great leader; I have made tons of mistakes and yet God has been really good to me, as a pastor.
Moments I’d like to have back:
Each Sunday afternoon and into Monday, I really struggle with condemnation and guilt over things I said or wish I would’ve said differently. Yesterday was no different. I’m finding it really helpful to express these moments to the Lord, thanking Him that He knows that I’m not a perfect pastor and marveling again at Jesus. And I find it helpful to share this with others so they can pray for me. Most of these moments are things that are “off-script” or things I didn’t plan on saying. So here are a couple of moments that I regret from yesterday:
I really didn’t like the way I started the sermon to clarify my statements from last week about the gardens in the Old Testament. That came across as snarky and arrogant.
There was a moment, that I was talking about life not being “black and white” and mentioned a popular US preacher. While the statement was true, I think it was a waste of time.
Now, I realize that these things might not be “big” deals to some and no one has mentioned to me, there just moments I’d like to have back.
Things I left on the cutting room floor:
These are things I left out of the sermon because they either didn’t fit, weren’t clear or we didn’t have time for.
Esther having 2 names in the book is substantially important. Her Jewish name, Hadassah, and her pagan name, Esther are key to understanding how she had to live in “two worlds”. However, one key thing from this is the fact that Esther may come from a Hebrew transliteration of Ishtar or goddess of love and war. This really fits who Esther is in the story: lovely to look upon and satisfying to the King as the “goddess of love” and yet, later in the story, she will courageously seek the destruction of Jewish enemies, “the goddess of war.”
The parading of the young virgins into the King’s bedroom is disgusting to the Western mind and it sickens me. However, a tidbit of their history really helps us understand that this story is not just about a misogynistic king who only cared about having his sexual pleasures fulfilled. It was told by Herodotus, the historian of the time, that over 500 young boys a year were brought to King’s palace to be made eunuchs. That’s 500 young men a year who were used by the King for his own service. This quote helped me see what King Ahasuerus was really about: “Herodotus also reports that five hundred young boys were gathered each year and castrated to serve as eunuchs in the Persian court. The gathering of the virgins, whether consensual or not, is not sexism. It is a brutal act typical of how power was used in the Persian court. Everyone, whether male or female, was at the disposal of the king’s personal whims.” This tells me that the king was not only sensual, he was selfish and dictatorial towards all in his kingdom.
One thing hit me throughout this study…God’s purposes are normally, primarily corporate, more than they are individual. This is a really hard thing to think about. Just consider: Esther’s life might not have been all that great after she was used to deliver God’s people from disaster. She had to live with this sensual, arrogant, ostentatious, out-of-control king, until the day he was assassinated in his own bed. In the Western world, we reverse it…the individual is in God’s mind more than the corporate. The reality of Esther is the fact that God is saving His people…not just Esther. He’s going to use Esther to be a deliverer…but it was very difficult for her prior to deliverance and after deliverance.
I worked hard to not impose my personal feelings on Esther’s one night with the king because the text doesn’t seem to allow for it. So, I left out my personal feelings that Esther willingly gave herself to this night and did all she could to please the king. I believe that very possibly, Esther, later in life, looked upon this with regret, not unlike some of us as we look back on immoral decisions. My reasoning for this is two-fold: 1) she did not willingly reveal her identity and she seems to have “won” the King’s favor. She seems to have done all she could to make sure she was going to be the queen; 2) this fits with the Bible’s heroes and heroines sinful past. When we look over the landscape of the Bible’s story, we find many with some shady pasts and even shady decisions. This fits with God’s work of redemption, where He takes sinful people like us, transforms us, and uses us for His purposes, so that in the end He alone will receive the glory.
Closing and application section:
As a pastor (a human for that matter), I wish I had more answers on “why” God does what He does. It sickens me that there are so many unanswered questions in this world. And one of those is, I don’t know or understand why God allows rape and allows people to take advantage of others. I wish I could be more specific on “how” God will use this for His glory and the good of His people. Esther is one of those few books in the Bible that shows us the end result of Esther’s one night with the king. But I wish, as a pastor, that I could be more specific with those who’ve gone through this.
With that in mind, after my sermon, I did speak with a lady who was sexually abused in her teens. She told me that the greatest power for healing that she found was in the power to forgive that only Christ helped her with.
Finally, it was a raw and difficult sermon. I saw many in our church affected and hurting. I’m praying today for those in my mind’s eye that I saw and remember. I’m praying that God would comfort those who hurt and ache over their past. I’m praying that God would care for those who were abused and still bear those scars. And I’m praying that God will uniquely apply His word to all of our hearts.