I think blogging is a great way to unload. In fact, I’ve made it a bit of a discipline in my life. I love to sit down, process through my month, figure out themes, look for what God has been teaching me, and write it all out to share with others. I realized, however, it’s not just for others that I write this blog, its for me too. I love to read back and… remember. In my darkest of times what helps me the most is when I take time to remember everything that God has faithfully done for me and taught me. So much of the Christan life is about remembering, I think.
Over my time spend home, I didn’t blog at all. I did do a lot of speaking engagements, however. Being able to speak and teach was an important element in my time home. Again, it allowed me to process my first year here in Thailand and relate to to other people. Each speaking engagement was an exciting reminder of how great my God is and how amazing it is to be a part of what he is doing in this world.
In an effort to fill the void of a few missing months in my blog, Following is a sermon I gave at the college and young adult ministry at my home church on the book of Esther. It is a message calling the hearers to do exactly what I was just discussing… to remember.
” So we are coming to an end of our time in the book of Esther. And as a quick recap, In this story the Jewish people had just been in Babylonian Exile. Persia is the reigning power, Xerxes is our king. His wife disobeys him so he gets rid of her and he needs a new queen. All the beautiful women of the land are brought together for a year of beautifying… Enter Esther. A beautiful Jewish girl who wins the favor of the king and becomes the next Queen.
Then the plot thickens, enter the antagonist of the story, Haman. This guy has a thing against the Jews, wants to kill them, convinces the king, sends out a decree that all Jews should be killed. Mordeci, Esters uncle and former caregiver, finds out about this and goes to Esther for help. She’s scared because she could die if she displeases the king, but goes to him anyway making Haman look the fool, then he is hung, and here we are. Haman dead, Esther still in the good audience of the king.
Like any good action story or movie, just when you think all is resolved, the guy you thought was dead is suddenly alive again, found a gun and, is shooting at the main character again. Haman does not return from the dead in this story, but what we do have is the existence of that decree that was sent out calling for the execution of all Jewish people. The reason this is such a problem is because a decree, once sealed with the Kings seal, is irreversible. Problem.
However!, since Haman’s decree could not be reversed, Mordecai was allowed to write a “counter-law,” if you will. According to the new decree that was quickly sent out , the Jews were warned and informed that they were to defend themselves on that same day. In fact, in chapter 9, we are told that the Jews armed themselves, and rather than waiting on the enemy Persians to attack, they went on the offensive and decided to attack their enemies first.
The Bible says that the Jews killed 500 people in the palace city of Shushan, and another 75,000 people throughout the 127 provinces of the kingdom. At the end of the day, Esther even asked the king for an extension of time, so the Jews in Shushan continued the fighting throughout the second day as well. Since the extra day of fighting could not be communicated throughout the provinces, everyone outside the palace city rested and celebrated their great victory on the 14th day of Adar, but the people inside the city were still fighting. These fighters, then, did not rest and celebrate until the 15th day. Rather than try to get everyone to recognize one day or the other as a day of celebration, Mordecai and Esther decided to allow both days to be days of celebration, and as we are about to read, those two days became what we know to be the “Feast of Purim.”
20 Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, 21 to have them celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar 22 as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.
23 So the Jews agreed to continue the celebration they had begun, doing what Mordecai had written to them. 24 For Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them and had cast the pur (that is, the lot) for their ruin and destruction. 25 But when the plot came to the king’s attention, he issued written orders that the evil scheme Haman had devised against the Jews should come back onto his own head, and that he and his sons should be impaled on poles. 26 (Therefore these days were called Purim, from the word pur.) Because of everything written in this letter and because of what they had seen and what had happened to them, 27 the Jews took it on themselves to establish the custom that they and their descendants and all who join them should without fail observe these two days every year, in the way prescribed and at the time appointed. 28 These days should be remembered and observed in every generation by every family, and in every province and in every city. And these days of Purim should never fail to be celebrated by the Jews—nor should the memory of these days die out among their descendants.
Feast of Purim began in this time as a feast of remembrance that the Jewish people, from this day on would celebrate. It is likely to have been celebrated by Christ , and still celebrated by Jews around the world today.Of the various feasts that the Jews observed and are mentioned in the Old Testament, the Feast of Purim is one that was not instituted by God. It was however initiated by His people and appears to have been blessed by God.While you and I don’t celebrate it, the Feast of Purim is an annual reminder to the Jews of several lessons they learned about God during their time of great sorrow and grief.
Now most of us are not a part of the Jewish nation, but we do, as God’s people, share a special relationship to Him, and because of this special relationship, we enjoy many blessings that are common to all who call on the name of the Lord. So as God’s people, why does God call us to remember? What is it that God wants us to remember each time we read the book of Esther or encounter its story?
You see – the story we find is the same story that is being told over and over again throughout history.
It is the story of your life, the story of our church, the story of your family, being told over and over again; and I believe that unless we realize that we are caught up in this story and learn the lessons God has for us, we are destined to lives of sorrow and grief – not because your circumstances will be any different than any one else’s, but because your eyes have not yet been opened to the reality of how God is being played out in the story of your life.
So what are the things that the story of Esther teaches us?
First, it is a reminder that we will always have an enemy in this world… in short, there will always be Hamans.
One of the first things you realize when you step into Thailand is the feeling of oppression. Spiritual oppression runs very deep but is also very much in the open. I live in a very dark place where the enemy feeds on even the smallest weakness. I live right in the middle of one of the red light districts in Bangkok. The view from my window is a banner of half dressed girls advertising a bar called planet pimp. Every night I fall asleep to bar music, a constant reminder of what is going on around me.
My walk home is anything but peaceful. The streets are lined with girls looking for a customer. Bar after bar is full of even more women beckoning at any foreign man that walks by. A few buildings down is the entertainment plaza. Three floors of go-go bars where girls dance for the customers making it easier for them to “check out the merchandise” they stand there complete with numbers tacked to their boots to make it easier for the customer to point out which one he wants as if they were some type of value meal at Mc Donald’s instead of a living breathing person.
Even walking into one of those bars is a mission in and of itself. The atmosphere is so dark, our presence alone is breaking ground. There is no ignoring the advances of the enemy there. Here [in America] it is easier to forget that there is a battle going on around you. We get smothered by our comforts and our hurry and its easy to avoid the things we don’t want to see.
But sometimes as a whole we need to become more aware of our enemy. Satan knows exactly what buttons to push in your life, what gets you angry, what distracts you or takes you out of the battle. Don’t ever underestimate the advances of the enemy, he has done his homework.
Whenever we go on outreach we cover ourselves in protection, that God would make us aware of how the enemy might be trying to attack us so that we are able to stand against it.We are fully aware of the battle we are in. We know that this side of heaven we will always have an enemy, there will be trouble, but…
Second, God will always have a way of deliverance for his people
While the Jews were in despair down in Egypt, God was raising up a Moses.
When they couldn’t get in to the Promised Land, He was preparing a Joshua.
When the giant Goliath taunted the people of Israel and there seemed to be no hope, God was preparing a David.
And when the people of God were being threatened by Haman, God was preparing an Esther.
Over and over again we see this miraculous story of deliverance.
Those of us who know God each have our own story of deliverance. No matter what the age, no matter what you face, God always has a means of deliverance. The point is simply this – God is going to bring deliverance to His people whether we choose to be a part of it or not. Sometimes it is spiritual deliverance, other times it may be physical or emotional, but you can count on this one thing – the Lord Jesus Christ cares more for you than you could possible care for yourself and has made a way of deliverance for you.
Why did Jesus come in the first place? He said in Luke 4,
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Whether we fully understand how the Lord works in our lives or not, the fact is that He said that He has come for the express purpose of deliverance – He wants to free you.
Most of us will never know the terrors of physical bondage or the kinds of fear that the Jews experienced under the death wish of Haman, but you live with fear and worry and anxiety every day of some sort. God wants to deliver you from all of it. And he’s good at it, God has his hand in everything, he will always provide away
I see this all the time at Nightlight. Testimony after testimony of girls being delivered out of their dark circumstances. One such girl states in her testimony, “Working in the bars was like walking in a storm all the time…” This same girl now leads worship almost daily at our morning chapel times….
It can be hard and draining work going on outreach week after week seeing one broken girl after another, but when I step into the Jewelry buildings and I see all these girls that were once lost in the sex industry rescued from that world… it is the best encouragement there is.
I get so amazed when I think about the provisions God as made for his lost ones. I know of a ministry that specifically reaches out to children from Cambodia who beg on the streets of Bangkok, another ministry that specifically reached out to the Lady Boy community, I even met a group of missionaries from the Philippines who are here to minister to the Filipinos who are in Prison here in Thailand! God has his hand everywhere.
If you are here tonight and you believe you are caught up in something that is too big for God to fix, you think you have a past that is too dark for God heal, I am here to tell you, you are believing a lie…
The third thing we can learn from Esther’s story, We all have a part in what God is doing in this world.
The bible is a continual story of deliverance and one of the coolest things about this story is that we get to be a part of that story. Not only does he want to deliver us, he wants us to be a part of the deliverance story of others! I always get really sad when I meet people who stop at their own personal deliverance, as if that is where the story ends. Because there is so much more! When we become one of Gods own he will launch us onto the adventure of a lifetime if we let him, cause there are so many more people who don’t know him, so many people who need help!
He doesn’t need our help, but he wants our help; And not his sake, but for ours…
One of my favorite things Mordeci says is when he sends a message back to Esther after she tells him of her fears about going to the king. He says: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish…”
When I first read that I was like, that’s messed up, he just trying to freak her out. But then I noticed with such certainty he says “for if you remain silent relief and deliverance will arise from another place.” This guy knows his God. Mordeci know God doesn’t need us, if Esther decided not to do this, God would have used someone else.
But he placed Esther is a place where she could have the privilege of being a part of this incredible deliverance story.
And then Mordeci finishes this little plea to Esther with basically the theme verse of the whole story “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (4:14)
Which poses the question that we touched on a bit last week. Why are you here, in this place, in this time? What royal pupose has God been preparing you for?
We are all a part of a royal inheritance made for a royal purpose. 1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
God is inviting us to be a part of what he is doing in this world. The reason God is always calling us to remember his stories of deliverance is #1 so we don’t forget what he did for us, but #2 so we don’t forget why in the world we are here…
What royal positions has God put you in to help those who are currently around you?
What are you willing to risk or suffer to save people that you will probably never meet?
What voice has God given you to speak up for those who are not heard?
What resources/connections has God given you to be an advocate for those who are alone?
A lot of us live very fearful lives, we have somehow convinced ourselves that we are not capable of much and so we mostly never even try. But what we must remember is that God is perfectly able to make us able. He is just waiting for us to step out and test him on this.
This is one of the things I love about Ester’s story. God does not just use the ones who seem to have super star courage right off the bat. He simply uses people who are willing. People who are willing to get past their fear and step out in him.
You’ll remember that when Esther is first asked by Mordeci to approach the king she isn’t so sure. This is no small task. Its no wonder she is afraid. The girl does not want to do this… but she does it anyway because her uncle explains her back into the purpose of her existence. She thinks about her people, she thinks about her God, and then there is no question.
I may sound like such a brave person moving to Bangkok and living and working in the red light district.. .but I’ll be the first person to tell you that I’m just as much of a coward as anyone else… All I do is walk in trust that God will enable me as I go along, where ever that leads me. Esther teaches us how to live in this world with courage and integrity, carrying our responsibilities to the best on ones ability and trusting God in his providence to protect and provide.
So what is it that you need to remember today?
Some if us need to remember that we have an enemy in this world and need to spend some time equipping ourselves accordingly.
Some of us need to remember that our God is a mighty deliverer. We need to spend some time remembering our personal deliverance stories and trust that whatever we are dealing with now, God is able to deliver us from that too. Some if us have never let God be that deliverer in our lives and we need to finally let him do that.
And then some of us continue to forget that as the delivered, we are now invited to be on God’s team of deliverance. We need to remember the ultimate purpose that God has called us to and brace ourselves for that amazing adventure.”
Message given at Seven24, New Song Community Church, October 4th, 2010