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July 28, 2014, 11:19 AM

One concept that is missing from the book of Esther... Big Time.


We're wrapping up a series on Esther here at Red Bridge this coming Sunday.  It is curious the varied responses I've gotten throughout the series and the rather blunt and negative paintings I've displayed on the characters of Esther's story.  Through it all the general anxiety I've created is that we want to cheer for the characters in this book, placing them on the pedestal of hero while ignoring some of the harsher bits of apathy or lapses in character.  But when it comes right down to it, when the rubber meets the road, the characters leave little to cheer for without some digging and generous applications of grace.  

Allow me one more sweeping critique of this story and it's characters before we wrap things up Sunday (8/3/14) with what I believe is the pivotal lesson to be learned from Esther.  Here we go... buckle up one more time:  There is zero presence of forgiveness in the story of Esther.

Instead of forgiveness and grace we see bitter rivalry and prejudice.  These characteristics show themselves in Mordecai and Haman, leading to the near destruction of the Jewish nation.  We cannot expect Haman to exhibit any godly characteristics, as his story and history is devoid of grace.  Mordecai, however, should know better.  He is familiar enough with the story of the original captivity, the wanderings in the desert, the attempts to claim the Promised Land and ALL of the failings of Israel to understand that there are bigger things to worry about than a grudge.  

If I were given the liberty to retool the story of Esther, the one thing I would incorporate into the characters would be the addition of giant robots that wipe out Persia and return it to the peaceful nations that existed prior to the conquest and captivity.  I guess that's why they didn't let me write anything.  In reality, the last thing I need is another reminder of how much I lack in the grace-giving department.  Instead of giant robots, the one piece that I would really add is that of forgiveness.  More than God's hand showing up and saving the day ala Daniel.  More than a mighty miracle that reshapes everyone's belief system in one fell swoop.  I want to see how forgiveness and grace can reshape the story of Esther. 

The story of Esther, far removed from my own existence and experiences, is a pleasant place to start with wishing for more of God's grace to be shown.  It is far more unpleasant to want to see more of God's grace expressed in my own life circumstances.  When grace rules the day, anger is pushed out.  Impatience is not allowed to rule our attitudes.  Prejudices and grudges disappear, fading away in the shadows of peacemaking and forgiveness.  I really wonder how the story would have reshaped itself if Mordecai treated Haman with the respect and impartial care he chose to offer Xerxes (remember Mordecai saved Xerxes' life despite the captivity and enslavement of his people at the hand of Xerxes).  

What I really wonder, far more than with the story of Esther, is how the Church's story would look if we infused our lives with forgiveness and grace.  In a global scale, would we see an end to prejudice, or would we even care anymore?  If we echoed God's grace in every action, word, and breath we wouldn't worry about the angst of others, we would've already forgiven them!  Focusing in closer, what would our neighborhoods look like if we were the people known to forgive and accept?  Red Bridge would become known for its people and their acts of grace that glorify God, rather than being known as the "one across from the big Baptist Church" (with the typical response being: "Oh, I didnt know that was a church building.")  

To end this thought with how we began: How would the story of Esther change? Esther's story would look a lot more like Daniel's story if we infused it with grace and forgiveness.  So would mine.  So would yours.  And so would Haman's.  




July 21, 2014, 10:18 AM

Coincidence? I Think Not...


This blog thought is a simple one... How awesome is our God!  

I am a cynic by nature, which probably doesn't surprise anyone.  I was raised to see the negative first, then be surprised when something worked out.  Its a frustrating existence to always assume the answer is going to be "NO", and it should not then be surprising how little one asks for when it is already assumed to be denied.  I wish this had instilled a stronger work ethic within me, but alas I simply grew a streak of cynicism to counter the general lack of hopefulness.  

Well, as you expect things to, this train of thought turns to matters of faith and belief.  It is difficult, if not tremulous, to balance being a natural-born-cynic and a faithful believer in God.  The two trains are often competing to be the filter through which thoughts, feelings, and beliefs are strained.  One of those realms that strike the cynical portion of my brain is the realm of "coincicence."  Things happen, and whether the outcome is fortuitous or disastrous, there is a timing to them that always rings further than the moment.  Meaning, there are greater things happening than just the moment or "thing" that occurred that connect to greater streams of actions or thoughts.  Perhaps the most relatable example of this would be that for a few weeks perhaps, you could be struggling with a certain habit or frustration in your life, looking for something and anything to shed some light on the struggle.  It just so happens that the sermon that Sunday morning speaks directly into your issue and heart, opening the door to resolution and change.  

Is that coincidence?  I think not.  My perspective on that situation (which has happened too often to even be considered in the state or even the continent of coincidence) as a preacher is to simply point to the sheer awesomeness of God and crush that little portion of cynicism in me to a pulp.  When I write my sermons I intentionally clear my mind of specific ministry moments and characters from the 'real world.'  I do this so that it cannot be assumed or interpreted that I am preaching "AT" someone.  That is "Preacher Code, Rule #1" for me.  I will not preach a sermon to you that I do not need to hear myself.  Period.  So the person, heart, habits, sin, frustrations, or joys that make themselves evident in the sermons I preach stem simply from my heart, which is longing to squish the cynic with unmitigated belief and explore the wide-open world of God's love.  When this wrestling connects with someone else, the battle commences between cynic and believer.  The cynic says "coincidence", while the believer is shouting (with relief that the sermon worked) that God is Awesome!  

This past week (July 13 - 19, 2014) I was able to spend the week working at one of my most favorite places on the planet: Gasconade Christian Service Camp.  I taught a class based on the "This" sermon series I preached a couple months back at Red Bridge.  Taking the core concept of "why do we do 'THIS'" and turning it towards the hearts and emotions of teenagers proved to be a challenge, but it was so worth it.  What I enjoyed most was the room I gave myself to be transparent in my own struggles and growth from learning to belief.  Well, the stories from my childhood and teenage years that I shared were just simple, and in my own mind rather trite, examples of how I got it wrong or was fed the wrong things.  The intention was for these short glimpses into my formative years to take the backseat to the powerful message of how Jesus grows in us a heart to love Him and therefore seek Him in all things, especially those we practice with regularity in the Church setting.  However, it became a regular occurrence during our post-class break times that the stories I told were resonating with a few of the campers.  I use the word "resonating" with great emphasis, because what poured from them were tears of "someone they could finally relate to."  I was shocked, and stunned that a few of these campers could never relate to someone like this before, more or less through my rather lame flashbacks in a 30 minute class about the Lord's Supper!!!    

Coincidence?  I think not.  

There are a couple things I'm taking away from this experience at camp, and so often with sermons:  1) God is Big.  And when I say Big, I mean BIG!!  His ways, his thoughts, and his timing are so far beyond anything we can comprehend that it should not surprise us when anything good happens.  His love and mercy connects us so completely that our lives, joys, and struggles cant help but intersect.  Because He Is, the mere idea of coincidence can be thrown out the window.  God is too Awesome to leave things to mere happenstance.  And 2) you are never, ever, EVER alone.  No man, woman, or child is an island.  Period.  We are too connected to the creative majesty of God to assume that what is happening within us is a singularity of thought or event.  Even the smallest, or trite moments of our lives can and will resonate with others because God is too big and loving for us to experience this drab existence outside of heaven alone.  

So join me in squishing the cynic to the side and letting even him revel in the power of God.  

 




July 7, 2014, 9:44 AM

The World Without Us


One of my favorite blogs is the Church and Culture site (link below), written by author, preacher, and theologian James Emery White.  While most of his posts tickle my brain in the good way, the one I'm referencing in the title of this blog and commenting on here has taken hold. The premise he presented was:  "What would the world look like without us?"  This is not an Its a Wonderful Life type question, or even one to aggravate the thoughts of suicide... it is directed at those of us who claim Christ as our King, and attempt to live up to the charge of being The Salt of the Earth.  What would our world look like without us? 

On a global scale, much has been said and proposed what the Earth would look like without human influence and consumption (see the links in the original blog).  In fact, within years, our very memory would be wiped from the land if we were gone.  That seems like a small amount of time to undo what has taken centuries to build.  I wonder, how long would it take to erase the memory of me from the environments I consume everyday?  

Does our influence matter?  Even more so, does our Christ-like influence matter?  Would wrongs go unforgiven if we were removed?  Would justice be unserved if we disappeared?  Is peace possible without us?  I am not so proud to think my influence stretches globally, but I wonder how my sphere of influence would be impacted by my absence (and I'm speaking to those outside my immediate family).  If the offering I contribute to society is so quick to be erased, perhaps the salt I offer just isn't strong enough. 

We are called to be the Salt of the Earth directly, no confusion or misinterpretations can change the direct words of Jesus in Matthew 5... that is not the seasoning type of salt, but the preserving element.  The Earth, without those gifted with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, would rot.  Simply put.  We are sent, commissioned, approved, and empowered to preserve everything that is beautiful and holy on this planet.  

Are we doing as such?  Are we keeping joy fresh?  Does peace ring through our relationships and words?  Are we patient enough to allow God's timing to roll forward?  Do simple acts of kindness flow from our fingertips and those areas we treasure most?  When we respond to the fallen world, are we good and gentle?  As time pulls us apart, in hundreds of directions, are we faithful to the Truth?  Will anger and impulsive anxieties be thrown to the backseat as we exert self control over those outburst that bubble under the surface?  And does love trump the law, every time (it did with Jesus)?  

More than the requisite flowers on my grave site, I want to know that the impact I have on this world is one that preserves and lasts long after the memory of me fades.  

 

Here's the link to the Church and Culture website




June 24, 2014, 9:04 PM

AZ Mission Trip report, day 2


Day two report: we are tired, sunburnt, and we smell a little off. But dinner was fantastic and our time around the table with the 3:18 team is always uplifting and refreshing. 
The work today went well, and we were nicely precise with building the front wall with window and door framed in. The roof is complete and sitting on the ground right in front of the shed. A few of the Apache guys who have worked with 3:18 in years past are going to help us lift and place the roof (needless to say, it weighs A LOT). 
After that we spent about an hour filling water balloons for our time in the park for Bible Club. Bible club is a couple hours we spend teaching a lesson, playing games, doing crafts, and general running around with about 30 children from the neighborhood. The team was great, giving piggyback rides galore and playing catch and jumprope over and over and over. 

Thanks for praying. Keep it up, we have two solid days to come. 




June 23, 2014, 9:00 PM

Day 1 AZ update


It always seems like the first day is the hardest, most tiring, and most sun burning. Today didn't disappoint in that department! We are all tired, and burned. But the work is rewarding and there is a sense of fulfillment when we see a structure standing where none stood before. 

Our first construction task is building a shed for an Apache woman who lost her husband this past January. She wants to keep as many of his things as she can, in turn keeping him close as well.  The current storage she is using is falling apart, leaky, and unstable. 
As we build, in  a community so impoverished and falling apart, it amazes me to see the generosity shown from those with truly nothing to give. Our lunch today was prepared and served to us by the woman we were helping....and it was delicious!  There isn't much work I wouldn't do if the offer of fry bread was on the horizon. Add in beans, cheese, lettuce, and tomato and you have an Apache Taco. Amazing. 

Tomorrow we are aiming to complete the shed, needing a roof, door, window, and siding. It's a tall order for one day of work with inexperienced construction workers, but we'll get it done. 

Thanks for supporting us. Pray for the family we are working with, she is still in mourning, being too young to be alone. The shed is a small thing we can help with, being more an extension of the love the 3:18 team has for her than just another outbuilding. 

 


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