Monday, June 27, 2011

Chapter 21 - Rebuilding the Walls

Saying goodbye to a good friend is a bitter sweet experience - while fondly remembering all of your common experiences you bid farewell often without knowing when you'll see each other again. Reading chapter 21 in The Story stirred up some of those same feelings. With this chapter we wrap up what we call the Old Testament saying goodbye to all the friends we have made along the way. It has been quite a journey and it'll be a while before The Story will pick up again.

Actually, for all of us making this journey together it'll be just next week when we'll pick up with the New Testament, but in real time there is a 400 year gap between Malachi and Matthew! God has graciously placed his people back in the Promised Land with Jerusalem's wall rebuilt and the temple (though not even close to the splendor of Solomon's temple) rebuilt and back in business, but now comes the long wait. Little did any of the Israelites know that the plan was once again in a holding pattern awaiting just the right circumstances to resume.

I often wonder why there are such large gaps in God's plan. It's almost as if that friend you have said goodbye to neglects to contact you even after weeks or months of absence. Why does God "go dark" on his people?

Years ago flying home from Texas to Boston I had a layover in Atlanta. We were scheduled to land but because of storms below us the pilot announced that we were going into a "holding pattern." For about an hour we circled the Atlanta airport until the storm passed waiting for the time when landing would be safe. You see, trying to land in an electrical storm just wasn't prudent. The delay seemed interminable and was somewhat irritating, but really the delay was for our own good. Circumstances just weren't right. In this case silence was sensible. Waiting was wise.

I can’t say for sure why the time wasn't right to send Jesus into the world earlier, but I do know that Scripture assures us that Jesus came at "just the right time."

So I say goodbye to my old friend and patiently wait for his call. I'll have to wait quite a while but when God speaks next he has something to say to us that will blow our socks off. For up to this point God has spoken from afar - from distant mountaintops and thunderous storms. Up to this point God has communicated through his servants and prophets. But when God speaks again he will announce a new twist in The Story. One that no one could have imagined.

HE is coming!

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Story Chapter 20 - The Queen of Beauty and Courage

"Do you believe in Miracles?" Those words will forever be associated with the unlikely victory of the USA hockey team over the indomitable Russian team in the 1980 Winter Lake Placid Olympics. Not only was this victory memorable because we won, but because "they" lost. "They" being what was regarded as the best hockey team on earth. The Russians had already proved their dominance in victories over an NHL All-Star squad, so a bunch of amateurs certainly seemed to be no challenge for the mighty USSR. "They" also being the arch enemies of the good old USA. They were perceived as such an evil threat in so many areas of our life that beating them in tiddlywinks would be cause for celebration.

It was a classic story of good over evil -- underdog over prohibitive favorite!

Esther tells that same story. A pretty but for the most part insignificant Jewess from the tribe of Benjamin (one of the smallest and least significant tribes) teamed up with an equally insignificant uncle take on the most powerful man in the known world and all his henchmen!! And in the end the good guys win, but the victory is even sweeter because the big, bad, powerful guy goes down in flames!!! If Al Michaels was calling this contest he may very well have had the same classic response - "Do you believe in miracles?"

Strange thing however about this Esther story is that there are no outright miracles. No plagues, no fire from heaven, no timely natural disasters. So how does a victory like this happen without direct intervention from God?

Here's the post-game analysis; the keys to victory.

(1) The underdog always believed in a God who was more powerful than any king. Mordecai, Esther's uncle, refused to bow down to any man. Worship was set aside only for God. No king or noble man deserves what is only reserved for God. Key #1 - Unyielding Devotion.

(2) Esther used some cunning to carry out this plan to corner Haman, the henchman. Esther stays quiet about her Jewish roots. Esther sets up the banquet with the king and Haman without revealing her real purpose for the meeting. Esther never lies and is never deceptive but she is crafty. She knows how much information to let out and how much to keep to herself. Key #2 - Wisdom.

(3) When it becomes necessary, Esther risks her life for her faith. Calling for an audience with the king, even if you were his wife, could upset him to the point where he might decide to have your head on a platter. In spite of the risk, Esther (encouraged by her wise uncle) realizes that some opportunities cannot be passed up. Mordecai's inspiring words, "Who knows, you may have been chosen queen for just such a time as this," remind us that there are some things that we have to stand up for right now even if our lives are on the line. Key #3 - Risky faith

Put them all together and the result is almost always the same. Victory! And that's the word forever associated with men and women who display unyielding devotion, wisdom, and risky faith!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Chapter 19 - The Return Home

When I was a kid I remember whenever I was in a place that had public telephones I would always check the coin return to see if I could pick up any extra change left behind by careless callers. It was rare to find anything but every once in a while I'd come up with a nickel or dime which for me was like a pirate digging up a buried treasure! However, one day I remember hitting the mother lode! I came upon several quarters left behind in two or three pay phones - it was by far the biggest payday of my treasure hunting exploits.

Come to find out, those coins were not left behind carelessly but were placed there by family members. Knowing my tendency to check all the coin returns they had set me up!!

Chapter 19 is a set up of sorts. After seventy years in exile God makes things happen. The Lord moves the heart of King Cyrus to send the Jews back to their land to rebuild what Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians had destroyed. Not only that but he opens up the treasury to fund the project AND returns to the Jews all the belongings of the temple that had been looted by Nebuchadnezzar. Everything just seems to fall into place, but behind the scenes we see that God is popping in the quarters to bless and restore his people.

In many ways I see my life like that as well. So many experiences I have had have just seemed to fall into my lap. An incredible and supportive family to raise me. Friends and professors who have richly blessed my life through my college years and young adulthood. A precious wife and an incredible family of my own. A church to minister in that really I really just stumbled upon.

As I look back at all the good things that have happened I know they are not because of my doing, nor do I believe that all of these have been a coincidence. No. I believe that behind the scenes God has been setting me up.

Too often we take credit for all the good things in our lives when really we need to praise God who richly provides for his people. Like a good parent, God delights in blessing his children and I believe he still delights in making things happen in our lives. So next time you stumble upon an unexpected blessing, look up and say thanks!

James 1:17

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

The Story Chapter 18 - Daniel in Exile

I was born and raised in Massachusetts. I live in Texas. Shortly after I had moved to the Lone Star State I came across a bumper sticker - "Keep Texas beautiful. Put a Yankee on a bus." Although that sentiment has not been characteristic of my life in Texas, I know how it feels to be an outsider. People talk differently, the food is different, customs are different and sometimes I have struggled just to fit in. All in all, the jokes and the jabs have all been in fun but still there is some discomfort in being a "foreigner.".

Yet, my experience is minimal in comparison to what the Jews experienced as they were exiled to Babylon. The jokes and jabs were not in fun. In fact, the differences that existed were often times a matter of life and death. Conformation was often not an option, but a state-mandated requirement. This is the dilemma that Daniel and his three cohorts (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) find themselves in and the same dilemma faces all of us today. We Christians live in an alien culture that is often inhospitable to serious disciples of Christ. And many times the jokes and jabs are not all in fun. Daniel stands as an example of how to live as a serious believer in a culture that strongly discourages such a lifestyle. We can all learn a lesson or two from our friend Daniel who boldly resists conformation to the ungodly culture he finds himself in.

Lesson One: Resolve to be different when the differences matter. Right off the bat it is said of Daniel that he resolved not to be defiled by the royal food and wine. Daniel had already made a decision that here were some things that were non-negotiables. We must resolve to stay true to those habits and practices which define us as disciples.

Lesson Two: Daniel maintained godly habits in spite of their censorship in the foreign culture. Daniel's practice was to pray three times a day. This was not something he decided to do just when in trouble or when he needed to impress his colleagues. Daniel practiced this spiritual disciple on a regular basis. We must stay true to those godly habits that help form us as disciples.

Lesson Three: Daniel was committed to endure suffering when threatened to compromise. He and his three cohorts had a "come what may" attitude when threatened by punishment and even death when their convictions conflicted with the king's decrees. It was this willingness to die for a cause that eventually brings God glory that never would have been possible had they given in. We must be willing to suffer if we want to make changes in our culture.

Resolve, discipline, and commitment are three components of faithfully and successfully living as an outsider. So, stay true to who you are even if they threaten to put you on a bus!