Friday, March 31, 2017

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

Day 5: Mordecai

     I'm all about a good schedule. I like to know what's going on at all times. I don't enjoy schedule surprises- birthday and Christmas surprises are different because they are planned surprises in my mind, I guess. At any rate, schedules + Kristi = a happy day.
     So when my kids suddenly had off for too many days in a row from school this month, I was not happy. I was okay on Monday when Curly Giant (aka, the oldest kid) was home because it was a PLANNED day off. But then when Tuesday and Wednesday got totally ambushed by Pookley (the middle son), Swirly (the token girl), and Mr. Man (the youngest son) due to too much snow in March, I was not cool with that nonsense. My "not cool" bled over into Thursday and Friday when they were ALSO OFF because of conferences. Let's not even discuss what the weekend looked like. It wasn't pretty.
     You need to understand this. I color code my calendar. I record it all on that thing. I have a routine. I like my routine. Don't mess with my routine. I adore my children, don't get me wrong. I love spending time with them. But my routine! I have a routine. I am adjusted to that routine and when it gets interrupted, when I get interrupted, I don't react well.
     But life is full of interruptions. In fact, I heard a speaker say once that life happens in the interruptions. And that certainly seems to be true for Mordecai, on whom we will focus our final day this week.
     Read Esther 2:5-11. What were we told about Mordecai (2:5-6)?

Who was Mordecai's cousin (2:7)?

How did she come to live with Mordecai (2:7)?

     Imagine being Mordecai here for a moment. He's already lived through some huge interruptions in his life. For him to be a "Jew in Susa" means that he (or his family) was already uprooted from Israel. They were living as foreigners in this area known as Medo-Persia where Mordecai wasn't even known by his true, Hebrew name. It's commonly recognized that "Mordecai" is a Persian name that has its roots in a Babylonian deity named Marduk. Reading through verse 7, you can see that his cousin, Esther (Hadassah) also had two names.
     And now, when Esther's parents die for one reason or another, it falls on Mordecai to interrupt his life again. He is the one that must care for Esther. And he does that.

What did Mordecai do when Esther's father and mother died (2:7)?

Why did Esther go to the king's harem (2:8)?

     Notice that this verse reads that Esther "was brought to the king's harem." This wasn't like the Veggie Tales version of this story. Esther wasn't approached and offered a position in some great pageant. She had no choice in the matter here. And neither did Mordecai. Yet another interruption in their lives.

Why did she keep her nationality a secret (2:10)?

What did Mordecai do each day (2:11)?

Reflection: Why do you think that Mordecai did these things for Esther?

     Though Esther came into Mordecai's life as part of an interruption, Mordecai chose to love her no matter how she came to be there. He took the interruption the way God intended it- as an important piece of his life, as something that God had for him to do.

Personal Reflection: What would happen if you reevaluated some of the interruptions in your life and looked at them the way God sees them, as an important part of something bigger that God has in mind for your life?

Thursday, March 30, 2017

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

Day 4: The Harem

     Yesterday we ended the day on regrets. Xerxes flipped out in a drunken rage and made decisions that he couldn't take back. At the time this was written, once the king made a decision and put it in writing with his seal attached, it could not be changed. So whether or not he wanted to forgive and forget with Vashti didn't matter.
     So Xerxes did what we all do. He covered up the bad feelings with something else. In this case, that something else is his harem.
     And Xerxes' harem is filled with women. He uses these women and then keeps them locked away for future use, "just in case." Each one has given him a moment- or two or three- of temporary, earthly pleasure. They've filled an empty place in his life, even if only for awhile.
     Read Esther 2:1-4. What did Xerxes do once his anger subsided (2:1)?

Reflection: What kinds of feelings do you suppose that Xerxes felt as he considered all that transpired?

Who was with Xerxes as he thought (2:2)?

What did they suggest he do (2:2-4)?

How did the king feel about this suggestion (2:4)?

Personal Reflection: Have you ever tried to cover over a sad or upsetting event in your life with something else? How?

     We all have harems in our lives, a place that we keep things that might make us happy or even have made us happy in the past. They're full of people and things that aren't inherently bad, but are used in the wrong way. King Xerxes collected women to fill the empty space in his life, the one that only God could fill. He also collected gold, silver, property, people, and stuff to fill it up and yet that pit in his heart remained unfulfilled.
     I'm not innocent in this. I know what I really need sometimes and try to fill it with food, TV, new activities, new recipes, and new stuff too often. We lost our rooster last week and what am I trying to fill that empty space with now? Baby chicks. They're so soft and fluffy and the epitomy of happiness. To be fair, we were planning to get new chicks anyway, but my urgency for chicks has only picked up now that the rooster is gone.
    People, there are baby chicks in my harem! And they aren't alone in there. They are all cuddled up comfortably in the new fabric I bought for my latest craze in sewing. And that's lying next to a stack of books I bought/borrowed/found for free somewhere that I was sure would make some sort of difference. And that stack of books? It's resting on top of a workout DVD or two right alongside the set of dumbbells. My harem is full. It's full of stuff that really isn't bad, it's just being asked to do more than it possibly can.

Personal Reflection: What's in the harem you've made for yourself?

     Read through the following verses and copy down what stands out to you about finding our satisfaction in God.

Psalm 16:2-

Psalm 16:11-

Psalm 22:26-

Psalm 104:28-

Psalm 107:9-

Personal Reflection: What one step can you take today to shift your satisfaction a little more from earthly "stuff" to God?

     For me, my next step is getting back into this blog by sharing what I'm learning through Bible Study. Maybe your next step needs to be committing ten minutes in the morning to reading your Bible instead of flipping through Facebook. Or maybe you need to start praying as you make dinner tonight instead of complaining to a friend on the phone about the kids who are all you and dying of starvation (I get it, I have those too). Or maybe it's getting into a Bible Study, going back to church, finding someone to hold you accountable like a mentor. Whatever your next step, find it and take it. You won't regret moving toward God and away from the stuff that doesn't leave you satisfied.
     Wherever you are, you are never too far gone for Jesus. He is always waiting for you to turn back. He is always searching for you.
     Read Luke 15:3-7. To what does Jesus compare people?

What does it say Jesus (as the shepherd) does for the lost sheep (the lost person, 15:4)?

How does Jesus (as the shepherd) feel about finding his lost sheep (15:5-6)?

Personal Reflection: If you are among the 99, who in your life might be the one that God wants to lead home?


Personal Reflection: If you are the 1, what's stopping you from turning back and following God back home?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

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

Day Three: Memucan and the Nobles

     Yesterday we ended the day with thoughts about a recent bad decision in our own lives. I make emotional decisions all of the time. Too often, I let my emotions win the argument over the logical side of things. Logically, I know that I should go start a load of laundry right now. But emotionally, I really don't feel like it. Logically, I knew that eating a healthy lunch this past Saturday would give me the fuel I needed desperately to get through the busy day, but emotionally, the huge slice of black forest cake that I made with one of my best friends was too good to pass up- even if it left me feeling run down as I knew that it would.
     Read Esther 1:12-22. What emotion was the king feeling (1:12)?

What did he do as a result of that emotion (1:13)?

Personal Reflection: What is your typical immediate response in a moment of anger?

Personal Reflection: How do you feel about your rash angry decisions once you've calmed down?

     I've read that anger is actually a secondary emotion which means that it comes about as a result of a primary emotion- typically fear or sadness. So when I got angry at my seven year old this morning for spilling a bag of cereal all over the floor, I wasn't just angry. That was the secondary emotion. In reality, I was sad about the loss of the cereal and afraid there wouldn't be enough to go around during the rest of the week because of the spill. As a result of my sadness and fear, I too easily freaked out over spilled cereal (which is better than spilled milk, right?).
     Looking back, I know I overreacted over spilled cereal. I didn't yell or anything, but I was frustrated and I have one of those faces that tells its own story. My baby knew I was frustrated. And I left him feeling sad as a result. I think we all regret our anger once we've calmed down and Xerxes, as you'll see later, is no exception.

Who were the men that Xerxes met with (1:13-14)?

What was Xerxes attitude as they discussed the issue (1:15)?

Who answers the king's question (1:16)?

What does he see as the problem with the queen's response to the king (1:17-18)?

What does he go on to suggest the king do to deal with this issue (1:19-20)?

What is the king's response to this suggestion (1:21-22)?

Reflection: Do you suppose the king had the right heart attitude here when he made this decision?

     My husband's father had this amazing habit as he was raising my husband. When my husband would do something wrong, his father wouldn't react right away. He wouldn't issue a punishment or freak out. He would tell him he needed to pray about it before handing down a sentence. And then he would do just that. If you ask my husband, this was almost worse than just getting the immediate punishment because he knew it was looming. But that's not why his dad did this. He did it because he wanted to be sure he had the right heart attitude and that he was doing exactly as Jesus wanted him to do with this kid.
     If Xerxes hadn't made this decision in a moment of anger, the story would likely be very different. If Xerxes had known God, it may have been different too. But alas, Xerxes did what we all do now and again. He made a hasty decision that he was sure would soothe his bruised ego. And we know that's what he did based on the verse that starts our study tomorrow.
Let's look at it now in Esther 2:1. What did King Xerxes do later when his anger subsided (2:1)?

Personal Reflection: If you could change your angry responses, how would you change them?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

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

Day Two: Queen Vashti

     Yesterday, we ended with this question about Queen Vashti:

Reflection: If you had to guess, what do you think was Queen Vashti's heart motivation for throwing her party?

     Today, I want to look at this question again as we go into our discussion about the queen. I suspect that she did this partially out of obligation and partially out of a desire to not be left out. It was custom in these times to have separate parties. Men and women didn't intermingle at events such as this. It just wasn't done. So part of Queen Vashti had to have been feeling that pressure to perform. You know the one. The one that starts, "I probably should..."
     I do too many things because "I probably should." And while the things I probably should do eventually get done, I have to ask myself, how much of God's blessing am I missing out on here because my heart motivation is all wrong?
     Last week, my best friend posted a picture of food on her Facebook page. The picture was there because she had one of these moments- probably one of many, but this is the one that stood out. Rather than thinking she probably should go pick up her grandson since she had the carseat and her husband did not, she joyfully ditched the lunch she now wouldn't have time to eat and went to get him only to discover that her daughter had made lunch for her. Now, because she embraced the joy and still got the job done, she could see the blessing that stared in her face. She got time with her daughter, time with her grandson, and a hot lunch prepared with love.
     Would those things have been there if she'd gone with a bad attitude? Maybe. But her attitude would have made it hard to see them for what they were. Our attitudes always affect how we see things.

Personal Reflection: What areas of your life need an attitude adjustment so you can more freely give and receive God's grace and blessing?

Read Esther 1:9-12. When did Queen Vashti hold her banquet (1:9)?

Where was the women's banquet being held (1:9)?

Looking back at the verses from yesterday, where was the men's banquet in relation (1:5)?

What happened on the seventh day of the banquet (1:10)?

What was Xerxes' emotional state when he called for the queen (1:10)?

What did Xerxes want Queen Vashti to wear (1:11)?

Why did he want her to come (1:11)?

     The king "was in high spirits" when he called for Queen Vashti. In other words, he was drunk. He'd been partying hard for more than 6 months hosting princes, noblemen, and esteemed government officials. The party was finally winding down as he celebrated with all of his subjects, but still he wasn't in the best frame of mind to be making decisions. Matthew Henry's Commentary actually says, "If he had not been put out of the possession of himself by drinking to excess, he would not have done such a thing, but would have been angry at any one that should have mentioned it. When the wine is in the wit is out, and men’s reason departs from them."
     As I said earlier, women in this culture were not to be in public. The king was asking her to go against cultural norms and risk her honor by doing so. It's very likely he never would have done this if he hadn't been drinking so much.

Personal Reflection: Would you have done the same thing that Queen Vashti did under the same circumstances?

     I want to believe that I would have done the same thing as Queen Vashti, that I would have said "no way" to my drunk husband and stayed in my part of the palace. But part of me wonders if that's true? I'm a hard-core rule follower (except when I worked hard not to be as a teenager but that's another tale for another day), so I would have been torn over what to do here. Listen to my husband or follow the laws laid out by the culture?
     As I studied her choice though, it seems like it wasn't what she did that got her in trouble so much as her attitude as she did it.

What was Vashti's response to the king's request (1:12)?

How did the king deliver his request (1:10)?

     According to Matthew Henry's Commentary, "though he sent his command by seven honourable messengers, and publicly, and Josephus says sent again and again, yet she persisted in her denial. Had she come, while it was evident that she did it in pure obedience, it would have been no reflection upon her modesty, nor a bad example. The thing was not in itself sinful, and therefore to obey would have been more her honour than to be so precise."
     Henry goes on to clarify why this was so upsetting for the king: "What a mortification was this to him! While he was showing the glory of his kingdom he showed the reproach of his family, that he had a wife that would do as she pleased. Strifes between yoke-fellows are bad enough at any time, but before company they are very scandalous, and occasion blushing and uneasiness."
     So it all comes back to feelings and attitudes. They are a fickle thing. In the moment, the king was angry and the queen was appalled. Neither one had a great attitude, frankly. And when we make decisions in moments of anger and bad attitudes, they often end up being bad ones.
     Tomorrow we'll look at what the king decided to do in his anger. Until then, think about this question, because we all struggle with this. Every one of us makes a decision that we wouldn't have made if only we'd taken a little time to evaluate our feelings.

Personal Reflection: What is the most recent bad decision you made in a moment of anger or in the midst of a poor attitude?

Monday, March 27, 2017

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

Week One: Let's Meet the Characters

Bible Verse: As a result of the king’s decree, Esther, along with many other young women, was brought to the king’s harem at the fortress of Susa and placed in Hegai’s care. - Esther 2:8

Day One: King Xerxes

     Go put the word "party" into Google, Bing, or Pinterest and you'll see millions of hits. My own Google search yielded more than 3.5 million hits for the word "party." They range from actual parties to definitions to songs to stores to a million more things. My point? Parties are a big deal even today. We love them. They bring us together in a way that nothing else quite does. Most people get excited about at least one party in their lives.
     When I turned 30, my husband threw me a surprise party to celebrate the occasion. It wasn't a huge ordeal because huge isn't my style and he knows that. But all of my closest friends and family were there. The time flew by and I thoroughly enjoyed the entire thing. Imagine though, if instead of lasting a couple of hours, that party went on for a couple of days or a couple of months.
Read Esther 1:1-9. When did these events happen (1:1)?

Who was the King (1:1)?

     When you read Esther, it's important to note that we aren't sure exactly who King Xerxes was. If you read Nick Page's "The MAP" you'll see a note that Xerxes was "the Hebrew version of the Greek name Ahasuerus." It's possible that he's the same Ahasuerus that appears in Ezra, but we aren't sure of that. Either way, it seems he was likely one of the first kings of this particular empire.

Over how many provinces did he rule at the time (1:1)?

From where did he rule (1:2)?

What happened in the third year of Xerxes' reign (1:3)?

Who was invited (1:3)?

How long did the celebration last (1:4)?

Why did Xerxes' hold this celebration (1:4)?

Reflection: What do you suppose it would have been like in the palace during this party?

Personal Reflection: If you were invited, would you have wanted to attend this party at all? Why or why not?

     According to Matthew Henry's Commentary, it is likely that Xerxes hosted many different people over the course of the 180 days. For example, "perhaps the nobles and princes of one province one day, of another province another day, while thus he and his constant attendants fared sumptuously every day."

Reflection: Based on what you've read, what do you think was the heart motivation for Xerxes' grand party?

     While Xerxes obviously had the wrong motivation for his party if you're looking at this through the "Christian lens," we have to remember that Xerxes was Persian. He didn't know God. Not even a little. In fact, he hasn't even met the woman in this story yet who DOES. So while we can't fault Xerxes too much here since he doesn't have the same moral standard, we can still learn something from him and his actions.

Personal Reflection: Is there anything you've done lately with the wrong heart motivation?

     I know I'm guilty of this. I do things for all the wrong reasons all of the time. Just yesterday, I was taking a walk with my sweet husband and pretending it was warmer than it really was (because March in Pennsylvania, oh my goodness, the struggle is REAL). While we walked, we talked. I told him of my feelings circling this whole writing thing and told him of my struggles with a book I'm trying to write. And his response?
     "What if you're just supposed to be writing it for God? What if you're doing it for all the wrong reasons and that's why it's so hard right now? What if it was never meant to be bigger than it is right now in this moment?"
     I'm going to be real here. Those words made me upset and I, of course, balked against them. But I've been thinking about them ever since. What if he's right? In talking it out with him, I told him that my motivation for writing as I do is to share Jesus with those around me. I told him that I couldn't very well share Jesus through my writing if no one ever read the words I wrote. But was I being honest with myself?
    Jesus, change my motivations. Align my heart with yours and show me my faults. Show me the places that I need more of you.

What happened "when it was all over" (1:5)?

Reflection: Why do you think that verses 6 and 7 were devoted to describing the decorations and surroundings at the party?

What did the king order in regards to drinking (1:8)?

     This is important to note for several reasons. First, it obviously shows the king's generosity even more that he allowed every man to drink as much as he wanted. But it also took all responsibility for what happened off the king's shoulders. If a man drank too much, it was his own fault. One custom that I read about in my studies of these verses said that wine was often passed around and you were expected to drink when it made it into your hands. By telling the people they could drink as they saw fit, the king was removing this custom from the ordeal. Finally, the presence and focus of all of this alcohol indicates banquet rather than feast since the food isn't the focus here.

What was the Queen doing while the banquet happened in the palace (1:9)?

Reflection: Why do you think she held a separate party for the women?

Reflection: If you had to guess, what do you think was Queen Vashti's heart motivation for throwing her party?

     Tomorrow, we'll take a closer look at this question as we move into the verses about Queen Vashti and what happened to her at the hands of her husband.