Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A Study of the Book of Esther: Week Four, Day One

Week Four: Wrapping It All Up

Bible Verse: The Jews were filled with joy and gladness and were honored everywhere. -Esther 8:16

Day One: Help Is On the Way!

     Today is a HUGE day at our house. We have been incubating eggs for the last three weeks! Translation- I've been worrying over and losing sleep over these eggs as they've been growing and changing for three weeks. Last night, I even dreamed about them. All 13 hatched but we ended up with 20 because some of them were cloning themselves. Weirdest dream ever.
     As I was saying, today is huge here. It's exciting because our sweet babies are hatching. We already have one out and four more are on their way through. After days of fear and uncertainty mixed with the occasional exciting moment, our worries are over. Hatch day is here.
     And while the Jewish people weren't waiting on a trivial thing like chickens hatching, they were walking through some much more fear-filled days until this point in our story. Up until this particular day, their days were numbered and deaths were imminent. But then God rescued them! Read Esther 8:1-17. What was our first hint that things were finally turning around (8:1)?

What did the king give Mordecai when he came before the king (8:2)?

What did Esther do for Mordecai (8:2)?

What did Esther beg the king to do (8:3-6)?

What was the king's response (8:7-8)?

Reflection: Was there ever a point in the story where you thought God just might not intervene this time?

     I've had plenty of moments in my own life where, for one reason or another, I just didn't think God was going to come through. It's why I worry so much about everything I guess. I am always so concerned that what I'm worrying about isn't important enough or big enough for God to step in. Why would He care if I'm late to my son's track meet? How would it affect His big plan for my life if my favorite chicken didn't come home one day? What does it ultimately matter if I lost a pound this week? But the amazing thing is that through all of that and more, God has shown Himself faithful to me.
     Does that mean I always get my way? No. Definitely not. I can't tell you the number of times I've prayed for all green lights only to get red the whole way or that I've prayed for a day where no one fights in my house but the kids spent the entire day in a giant bickerfest.
     But here's the thing, whether things are going our way or not, God is still there, still present, still available to us, still close by, still listening, still loving us, and still acting on what's best.

Who dictated the king's written decree (8:9)?

To whom was the decree sent (8:9)?

And in whose name was it written (8:10)?

What authority did the king's decree give to the Jewish people (8:11)?

Where was the decree to be issued (8:12-14)?

How did the Jewish people feel about this decree (8:16-17)?

What happened as a result of the decree (8:17)?

     I love that because of this decree, more people came to know about God. Through this horrible circumstance where the very lives of the entire Jewish community were at stake, God makes Himself known to people outside of the Jewish faith. God used something bad and made it good just as He always promises He will.

Copy Romans 8:28-

Personal Reflection: Can you think of a moment in your own life- whether recent or in the distant past- when you thought God might not come through? How has He shown Himself faithful through it?

Friday, April 14, 2017

A Study of the Book of Esther: Week Three, Day Four

Day 4: Esther's Second Banquet

     As I read over today's verses, one word stood out to me as the theme here- timing. Timing is essential in everything we do. Baking a cake? The time in the oven better be right. If not, you'll get either burnt cake or raw batter. Incubating chicken eggs? You'll need to give them a full 21 days in the incubator. If not, let's just say you won't get baby chicks.
     Timing bleeds over into human life too. It takes 9 months to grow a baby. Look at the struggles that early babies often have as evidence that timing is essential here. If I'm telling you a joke and blurt out the punch line too soon? I've ruined the joke. My timing was way off. If you and I met in real life for the first time and my very first words to you were a story about my worst moments growing up, you'd probably be pretty turned off the idea of becoming my friend. Timing is everything.
     And Esther knew it too. Read Esther 7:1-10. What did the king and Haman do for the second time?

What question did the king ask Esther for the second time (7:2)?

     The first time the king asked Esther this question, she didn't give any response that he expected. Instead, she invited him and Haman to attend a second banquet. Interestingly, a lot of things happen in two's in this story. There are two banquets, two guys plotting the king's death, two whiney conversations between Haman and his wife...

What answer did Esther give to the king's question (7:3-4, 6)?

Reflection: Why do you suppose that Esther told the king that if her people had only been sold into slavery she wouldn't have said anything?

What is the king's response to her statements (7:5-7)?

     I can totally picture this scenario. In my imagination, the king is holding one of those giant turkey legs that you can get at Renaissance Fairs. He's just taken a big bite and is leaning back, his pudgy belly a little pudgier. Maybe he has a big glass of wine nearby that he's been swigging throughout the dinner. He probably isn't completely sober. I'm sure Esther timed this moment well too. She likely waited until he was relaxed from some wine, but not totally gone yet.
     And when she tells him who did this horrible thing? I bet the king's eyes bugged out of his head and he went into a fit of rage. That's why I imagine he went outside, to cool down and collect his thoughts. But all the collection of cooling thoughts is lost the moment he goes back inside.
What did Haman do while the king was outside (7:7-8)?

How did the king react to seeing Haman in that position (7:8)?

What helpful thought did Harbona, the king's eunuch, offer to the king (7:9)?

     This is more speculation on my part, but I have to wonder if Harbona was so helpful to the king here because he'd had a few upsetting run-ins with Haman too? I would imagine that Haman didn't save up all his jerkiness just for one guy. He likely oozed it with everyone.

What order did the king give (7:9)?

And what finally happened to Haman at the end of the chapter (7:10)?

     I would love to point out here that this is what the majority of the world calls irony and karma. But really it's neither of those things. This is perfect evidence of God's divine timing and intervention. It was God who placed Esther in that palace. It was God who prompted Mordecai to urge his cousin into action. It was God who showed Esther the perfect time and place to discuss the issue with the king. And it's God alone who will save the Jewish people, His people, in the coming chapters.

Personal Reflection: What is a time in your past that you can see God's perfect timing now that you look back on that moment?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

A Study of the Book of Esther: Week Three, Day Three

Day Three: The King Honors Mordecai

     In my experience, people tend to be in one of three camps. In the first camp, we see ourselves as God's gift to the world. Everyone we encounter should feel honored and privileged that we are gracing them with our presence. "Who wouldn't want to be around me?" is the thought in this camp. This is where Haman is hanging out in our story.
     In the second camp, which is way on the other end of the spectrum, we see ourselves as unworthy. What was God thinking when He made me this way? How could I possibly have anything to contribute to the world when this is my personality and my genetic make-up? Woe is me...
     And in the third camp, we are somewhere between the two on the continuum. We aren't exactly God's gift to the world but we also aren't worthless. We are special and valuable in God's sight. We accept that God made us with a purpose and we seek a way to fulfill that purpose. This is where Mordecai is camping in the story of Esther.
     Read Esther 6:1-14. When the king had trouble sleeping, what did he do (6:1-2)?

What did he discover there (6:2)?

What question did he ask concerning what he learned (6:3)?

And what was the answer to that question (6:3)?

When the answer wasn't quite what the king had hoped, what was his next step (6:4)?

     Pausing here a moment, I think it's important to point something out. Mordecai never went to the king and reminded him what he'd done. In my mind, this means that Mordecai saved the king's life because it was the right thing to do and not because he thought he would get anything from it. That speaks to Mordecai's character in my opinion. He knew the right thing to do and did it without question. But then he wasn't rewarded. We don't ever see or hear him complaining about that though. Character.
     The second thing that you should notice here is that the king DID notice what Mordecai did. It took him awhile, but he noticed. I have to believe that God's hand was in that. The king just happened to have trouble sleeping the night before Haman was going to try to kill Mordecai? That particular volume just happened to be chosen to be read on that very page? I don't think so. God was looking out for Mordecai even if it doesn't specifically say it in the story.
     Remember that Mordecai is in the third camp with those who believe in God and believe in His divine purpose. He knows that God is going to take care of him. He knows that God has a bigger plan than he could ever hope to understand or imagine. And it's that amazing faith that will save him.

Who was in the outer court that the king called in (6:5-6)?

What question did the king ask of Haman (6:6)?

What assumption did Haman make about the king's question (6:6)?

What did Haman suggest be done (6:7-9)?

Reflection: How do you suppose Haman felt when he discovered it was his enemy that would be honored?

     It feels yucky to associate ourselves with someone so obviously evil as Haman, but think about it for a minute. Have you ever felt like Haman? Have you ever watched someone else get the honor over you? Maybe you were in a 5K and finished first but someone else got honored above you because they were the youngest runner there. Maybe you got passed over for a promotion at your job or you're a mom who makes dinner every night without praise. Then dad makes one meal and he gets praises up and down. The fact is, it hurts when someone else gets noticed for the things they do and we don't. It's hard to remember in the moment that though the world might not see what we do, God definitely does.

What does the king tell Haman to do (6:10)?

Does Haman do what the king says (6:11)?

How does Mordecai react to this honor? And Haman? (6:12-13)?

What advice does Haman's wife give him (6:13)?

What happens at the end of the chapter (6:14)?

Personal Reflection: Considering a time or an event in your life where you felt underappreciated, how does your perspective of that moment change knowing that God still always sees you and values you?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A Study of the Book of Esther: Week Three, Day Two

Day Two: Haman's Rage

"And he gives grace generously. As the Scriptures say, 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'" - James 4:6

     We live in an entitled world these days. Everything around us screams out to us that we need more, should want more, deserve more, and in reality, all of that couldn't be further from the truth. Honestly, all that we have is only because of the grace of God. We don't want what we really deserve. What we really deserve is death and hell, eternal separation from God. Because of God's gracious gift of His son, a miracle and an honor that we didn't deserve but will celebrate in just a few short days when Easter Sunday arrives, we are blessed with more than we deserve.
     Paul really said it best in 2 Timothy 1:9-

"For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus."

     If only Haman had known all of this. Maybe this story would have taken a different turn. Read Esther 5:9-14. What was Haman feeling as he left the banquet (5:9)?

To what feeling did he quickly switch when he saw Mordecai (5:9)?

Why did he feel that way (5:9)?

What did Haman do when he got home (5:10-11)?

Reflection: Why do you suppose Haman responded that way after being so angry just one verse back?

     I think this all boils down to making himself feel better and more important. Haman has allowed so much outside influence dictate his worth that he has to climb all over others and knock them as far down as possible in order to build himself up. He is missing out on a great blessing that he could be getting straight from God- if only he knew Him. It's something that we, as followers, have access to always. Our worth in God.
     Our worth is directly tied to God and the perfect gift He gave us on the cross. Nothing and no one can tell me or you what we are worth. My value is huge because I am a daughter of Christ. Period. What I do, how I react to my kids or my friends, the feelings I'm feeling? None of it is the truth. I have value because God says so and so do you. God says He loves you the you are right now. He doesn't say He will love you IF you do this or that. He loves you right here and right now.
But again, Haman has no idea.

What does Haman brag about to lift himself up (5:12)?

What complaint does Haman add after bragging (5:13)?

     We can choose our response. Sometimes are harder than others, but we are in charge of our own emotions, our brains, our own reactions. Haman chose to focus on what Mordecai was not doing for him rather than on the honor of dining with the king. He focused on his judgments and anger at Mordecai rather than the promotion he received.
     A few years ago, my family and I went on a vacation together. I was in charge of booking the hotel and making the tentative plans for how we'd spend our time, where we'd eat, etc. I chose a hotel that I remembered fondly from my own childhood. When we walked in, it was just as grand as I remembered. It brought back nice memories. The rooms were clean and spacious. We got breakfast with our lodgings. It was fantastic. But there was this one tiny issue. They were renovating the pool. I'd been counting on being able to take the kids swimming in that pool. It was still late winter/early spring. A pool was the perfect out-of-the-ordinary, free (ish) activity. And we couldn't use it. I let that one tiny issue destroy our time at that hotel. I was so focused on the one small, inconvenient event in my life that I didn't enjoy the many other blessings we had on that trip.

What does Haman decide to do to deal with his own "inconvenient" problem (5:14)?

Personal Reflection: Thinking about an event in your recent past or even one you are currently going through, how could things be different if you thanked Jesus for the blessings along the way and focused on those rather than all that's gone/going wrong?

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A Study of the Book of Esther: Week Three, Day One

Week Three: From the Top of Mount Drama

Bible Verse: Esther replied, "This is my request and deepest wish." -Esther 5:7

Day One: Esther's Request

     Yesterday we read about Esther and Mordecai discussing the king's order to have the Jewish people eliminated. Remember that this is really Haman's plan and that the king is actually an unwitting pawn in the plan. But Esther and Mordecai have a plan. Esther will approach the king and plead for their lives. As Esther said at the end of chapter 4 though, this is a risky plan. It could result in her death if the king is unhappy with her decision to come before him uncalled.
     Read Esther 5:1-8. How much time passed between the conversation between Esther and Mordecai and the actual beginning of their plan (5:1)?

What did Esther do before entering the inner court (5:1)?

Where was the king sitting when she entered (5:1)?

How did the king react when he saw her (5:2)?

Reflection: Has there ever been a time where you were scared to do something big?

     On Saturday, I got to go to a writer's workshop where I listened to all sorts of speakers and experts in the publishing world talk on various topics. While I was there, I also had the amazing opportunity to share my book idea with a literary agent. This is a seriously awesome thing but also very scary! What if she hated me? What if she hated my idea? What if she laughed at my very serious idea? I was so nervous and scared all week leading up to that pitch time! But I had to do what Esther did. If you look at her process, you'll see that she talked to God (very likely during her time of fasting) and asked others to do the same on her behalf. And when the time came to execute the plan, she took it one step at a time. She made sure she looked her best so that she felt her most confident. Then she put one foot in front of the other and trusted God to take care of her along the way, which He absolutely did- for me and for her.

What does the king say to Esther after she touches his scepter (5:3)?

What does Esther tell him (5:4)?

How does the king respond to the invitation (5:5)?

What question does the king ask of Esther at the banquet (5:6)?

What answer does she give him (5:7-8)?

Reflection: Why do you suppose Esther asked the king to two banquets rather than just making her real request from the beginning?

     When I read this through the first time, I thought maybe Esther just lost her nerve and was using a delay tactic so she wouldn't have to share her real request quite yet. But I was wrong. Think back to how we were introduced to this king. What was he doing in chapter 1? He was throwing a huge party! This king loved a good banquet and Esther knew that! So what's the real reason Esther didn't share her real request right away? It's called knowing your man.
     When I have something really upsetting or tough to tell Shaun that will need his attention when he gets home, I send him a text or give him a quick call or even send an email letting him know what's going on. I know that my man needs time to think on the big things. He can't just spit out an answer because I want one right here and right now. He needs the time. So knowing that, I give it to him.
     And Esther knew that if she wanted to make a big request of the king, she was going to need to soften him up with a good banquet or two first. She knew that if she went into that inner court and just blurted everything out that it wouldn't have ended well for her. She also knew that there was great value in how she said what she had to say. She took the time to pray about it, to think it through, and then to carefully execute her plan.

Personal Reflection: Thinking about your most recent conflict, how would things have been different if you had prayed through it first and then approached it with a clear mind? Or, if you already approached your conflict in this way, can you see how badly it could have gone if you hadn't done these things?

Monday, April 10, 2017

A Study of the Book of Esther: Week Two, Day Five

Day 5: Mordecai Talks to Esther

     We talked a bit about not being controlled by our feelings last week, but let's face it, we still have them and we will still be outsmarted by them from time to time. And beyond that, God gave us these feelings to feel. They aren't inherently bad. The thing that takes us from fine to not-so-fine is when we just soak in our feelings like they're a hot tub.
     Over the weekend, I went to a writer's conference. One of the speakers was talking about advice to improve your writing career. One of his tips included continual forward movement. He went on to say that he has been in the business for 14+ years. He knows that he isn't supposed to take rejection personally. But it still hurts every single time. And he allows himself to feel those feelings. It's what he does after that which makes all the difference. He feels the feelings and then he makes a plan to move forward.
     And that's exactly where we find ourselves in today's verses. Read Esther 4:1-17. How does Mordecai respond to the news of "all that had been done" (4:1)?

How far did he go (4:2)?

Why did he stop (4:2)?

How did the rest of the Jewish people respond to the news (4:3)?

Reflection: Do you suppose that this would still be the common response to this news today? How would it be different right now?

     I know that everyone would react in the same exact way today. There's no doubt in my mind. But the news and the complaints and the feelings would be splashed all over social media sites. There would be hash tags galore- #notmyking #whyisgodlettingthishappen #allthefeelings.

How did Esther respond to the news of Mordecai's behavior (4:4)?

What else did Esther do in response (4:5-6)?

What is Mordecai's reaction to each of her actions (4:4, 4:7-8)?

     I find it interesting that Esther's first, knee-jerk reaction here is to fix the surface problem. She can imagine her dear cousin, Mordecai, walking around wailing in mourning clothes and she does the super obvious thing- offers him new clothes. But that isn't what Mordecai NEEDS. She is offering a bandaid to cover up a gaping, bleeding wound that needs stitches!
     It's her second reaction that is the better one, though it's definitely the more difficult path to take. She talks through his feelings with him. She begins the painful process of stitching him back together. She comes alongside him and offers to walk this hard path with him.

What response does Esther send back to Mordecai (4:10-12)?

And what does Mordecai tell Esther (4:13-14)?

What decision does Esther reach based on her conversation with Mordecai (4:15-17)?

     Esther struggled with what to do. She had feelings of her own about what was going on and it was tough for her to fight past that fear. What if the king turned her away? What if he had her killed for daring to appear unbidden?
     And now it was Mordecai's turn to reassure Esther. Isn't it wonderful that God gives us people to do life with? Mordecai and Esther were both scared and uncertain about the future. And rather than trying to deal with the proverbial wound on their own, they leaned into each other in that scary time.

Personal Reflection: Who has God placed in your life that you can lean into and count on when things get tough or scary?

Thursday, April 6, 2017

A Study of the Book of Esther: Week Two, Day Four

Day Four: Haman and Mordecai

Read Esther 3:1-15. What happened "after these events" (3:1)?

What did the royal officials do in response (3:2)?

What did Mordecai do (3:2)?

     "After these events," according to the notes in my Study Bible, actually tells us that four years have passed since Esther was chosen as queen. That's four- probably uneventful- years between chapter 2 and chapter 3. And you'll notice that these verses say nothing about why Haman received this honor. Maybe you also noticed that Mordecai received nothing for saving the king's life earlier.

Reflection: Why do you think Haman was honored and Mordecai was not?

What did the royal officials ask Mordecai (3:3)?

What happened when Haman saw that Mordecai refused to bow (3:5)?

What did Haman decide to do in response (3:6)?

     If you look at Haman's introduction in verse 1 again, you'll notice that it says there he was an Agragite. This very likely points back to a king named Agag, king of the Amaleks. The Amalekites actually attacked Israel after they fled from Egypt.
     Read Exodus 17:14. What instruction did Moses receive from the Lord?

     God promised to wipe out the memory of the Amalekites. Those events happened about 500 years before the story of Esther ever took place. This anger and hostility between Mordecai and Haman went back a long way. Mordecai didn't simply refuse to bow for religious reasons, he refused to bow because the Amalekites were sworn enemies of the Lord. Haman knew who Mordecai was. He knew he was a Jew and he hated the Jews. Look at what he decided to when Mordecai wouldn't bow! He didn't want to just destroy Mordecai. He wanted to take the entire Jewish population down with him. That's some serious anger and need for revenge.

How did Haman decide on a date for the Jews' destruction (3:7)?

What did Haman tell the king in order to get his way (3:8-9)?

Reflection: Why do you think Haman didn't mention who the group of people was?

     Haman had an evil plot in mind here. He decided to kill all of the Jews and he needed the king's blessing to do it. So he took one sin and piled another on top of it by mixing a little truth into his big lies. He tells the king that a "certain people" in the kingdom have their own customs and laws (truth) and that they are disobedient to the king (lie). He tells the king that they should be destroyed because of this. And then to top it all off? He promises quite a large sum of money to secure this request.

What does the king do in response (3:10-11)?

After the orders were written, where were they sent (3:13)?

What did the king and Haman do once the order was made (3:15)?

How did the people of Susa respond to the order (3:15)?

     So many things stand out to me about Haman in this chapter of the story. First, Haman is full of pride. He is proud of his rise to power. He is forcing those around him to bow to him in order to stroke that ego of his. And when someone refuses? He reacts in a dramatic and angry way. He lets his pride lead the way and gets a decree issued that cannot be taken back, not that he wanted it to be.
     And that makes me wonder, how often do I allow my emotions to lead the way? How often do I make a bad decision because I'm hurt or sad and then let that lead to another bad decision? I've never plotted someone's death or tried to get revenge on anyone, but I do avoid conflict too often or choose to do the easy things rather than diving into the hard things.
     This weekend, I'm set to attend a writer's workshop where I'm supposed to be meeting with a literary agent to tell her about my current project. The problem? She doesn't represent what I'm working on so that's leaving me floundering for the right thing to present. And rather than dealing with that, diving into the hard stuff even when it's hard, I'm ignoring it. Suddenly I want to clean all the things and finish sewing projects and work on catching up on Gilmore Girls. I want to bake cake and eat the whole thing. Like Mordecai, I'm refusing to bow here. And like Haman, I'm following my feelings too much rather than listening to the logic in my head that this needs to just get done.

Personal Reflection: In what ways are you refusing to bow in your own life or even following your feelings a little too closely?