Saturday, December 7, 2013

For Such a Time As This

And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this? (Esther 4:14)

The Jews were in trouble. For decades after their capture and exile to Babylon in the 5th century BC, they lived in relative peace with their Babylonian – and later their Persian – neighbors.

Until now.

Haman, the chief officer in the court of Ahasuerus – also known as Xerxes – developed a vendetta against Mordecai the Jew. But instead of executing only one man, Haman decided to destroy Mordecai and every other Jew scattered across the Persian empire. So he smooth-talked Xerxes to order their annihilation and take their homes and possessions as plunder.

What Haman did not know (nor, by the way, did the king) -- what Haman did not know was that Xerxes’ queen – her name was Esther – was a Jewess. Nor did Haman know Mordecai was like a father to Esther.

If it’s been a while since you’ve read the book of Esther in the Old Testament, I recommend investing the 20 minutes or so it will take to read the 12 short chapters.

Despite the impending disaster to her people, Esther was terrified about barging uninvited into the king’s throne-room to plead for them. In the Persian culture of the day, doing so could mean her death – even if she was the queen. And that is when Mordecai said to her “Who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?”

The story of Esther and Mordecai is more than a historical account of God’s intervention in the lives of His people. It holds rich encouragement for you and me in the 21st century. What do any of us have that we have not been given to use for our King? What position or station in life have any of us attained that has not ultimately come from God to be used for His glory?

CEO or warehouse clerk, sanitation worker or high school teacher, homemaker or physician, white collar employee or blue collar, unemployed, employed, or underemployed – wherever we interact with others, we are each today where God has placed us “for such a time as this.”

Today is a time like few others wherein people across our towns and cities struggle with a plethora of burdens. Some suffer under crushing financial weight. Some, devastating illnesses. Some endure abject loneliness; some, bitter despair; some, powerful addictions, and others a host of destructive sins from which they cannot free themselves, despite how they hunger for freedom.

As I write these words my thoughts carry me to a poem written by St. Teresa of Avila in the 16th century:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which He looks
compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good,
Yours are the hands with which He blesses all the world.

Through Mordecai, the Holy Spirit encouraged a fearful Esther to use her position to make a difference in the lives of her people. Likewise, through the words of Scripture, the Holy Spirit encourages us to use whatever position and situation in which we find ourselves to make a difference in the lives of those around us.

Oh, Lord, help us not be so focused on our fears or our own problems that we miss the privilege and the purpose to which you have called us – for such a time as this.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Blood

 . . . and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)
For it was the Father’s good pleasure . . .  to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross (Colossians 1:19-20)

One of the things that drew me to my wife 38 years ago was her walk with Christ.  Nancy was never one to relegate her relationship with the Lord to Sundays. Commitment for her meant a day by day, week by week, year after year ever-growing effort to know and to please her Lord. Her desire to know Jesus more intimately has over the years led her to communicate with Him each day in prayer and to bring Him each day her venial sins for forgiveness and reconciliation.  

The other day when I returned home from work she told me about her time with the Lord earlier that morning. As soon as she told me what He had said to her, I knew instinctively she’d heard from His lips. 

She said, “I asked Him this morning if there was anything between us, and before I finished my question, He answered, “The Blood of Jesus.”

The blood of Jesus. What a word of encouragement. What a promise, what a hope, what an assurance.

In the late 19th century hymn writer Elisha Hoffman penned these lyrics:

Are you walking daily by the Savior’s side?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Do you rest each moment in the Crucified?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

Are you washed in the blood,
In the soul-cleansing blood of the Lamb?
Are your garments spotless? Are they white as snow?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

Because of our move across country, the last several months have been like few other times in our lives. The stress has taken its toll on our sense of peace and stillness. And although we continue to do the right things by attending Sunday Mass and spending time each day with Christ in prayer and reading Scripture, I’d begun, in the midst of my spiritual weariness, to forget what it is that brings us into the Father’s presence. It is nothing less than the grace of God through the blood of Jesus, the blood that purchased mercy, pardon, forgiveness and eternal life for this chief of sinners.

Few things encourage me like that verse in 1 John. I know how dirty I was. I know how dirty I am. But the blood of Jesus washes it all away each time I bring my sins to the foot of His cross.

What about you? Are you washed in the soul-cleansing blood of the Lamb? Are your garments spotless? Are they white as snow? Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

You too can be reconciled, just as my wife and I have been. Ask Him. He will never turn you away.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Don't Count Him Out

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.  Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. (Genesis 1:1-3)

The Biblical writer – Moses, in this case – gave us an account of creation that does far more than document the formation of the heavens and the earth. He gives us reason to hope, especially in the midst of our own formless void and darkness.

Perhaps you have been there when life spins out of control, your prayers remain unanswered – even after decades of asking, seeking and knocking. And all around you the firm foundation of God’s promises seem as amorphous, void and shapeless as planet earth in the beginning.

Moses reminds us, don’t count God out. Even if our lot is to pray as some of the heroes of faith prayed, who died “without receiving the promises” but yet saw through the eyes of faith the fulfillment of their prayers “from a distance”* then we must do and continue to do what God has given us: Pray.

Pray – looking if necessary through eyes of faith to the God who spoke to a dark and formless universe, “Let there be light,” and light shattered darkness.

Pray. And in prayer, grow in confidence. He will yet speak to our darkness, doubt, and disappointments.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout . . . so will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:8-11)

Christian, persevere. Persevere in hope. Persevere in prayer. Persevere in faith despite the doubts. The night is almost gone. The day is at hand.

Don’t count God out. Whether we see it in this life or the next, His word will not return to Him void. It will accomplish what He sent it out to accomplish. It will do that – because He is God.

*See Hebrews 11:13



Saturday, October 19, 2013

Just Call Out His Name

Decades ago Carole King penned these lyrics: When you're down and troubled, and you need a helping hand, and nothing, nothing is going right . . . . just call out my name, and you know wherever I am I'll come running to see you again. Winter, spring, summer or fall, all you have to do is call, and I'll be there . . . .

I doubt she was thinking about Jesus when she wrote those words, but her lyrics came to mind as I contemplated this passage from Isaiah: Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, even when you turn gray I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save you. (Isaiah 46:3-4).

The Holy Spirit was speaking to Israel in this text from Isaiah, but how easily applicable His encouragement is to the individual Christian today. “I will never leave you or forsake you,” Jesus promised. “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” He repeated elsewhere in the Gospels. One cannot contemplate the Bible’s message without coming away with a sense that God’s eye is always on the sparrow, and His eye is even more so on you and me.

My wife and I have been young. Now we are old. And during our nearly forty years of marriage we have walked through floods and through fires. Life has bruised us, scratched us, and clawed us. It has taken away our breath, and sometimes kicked us while we were down. But through those decades of growing to know God through prayer and through His Scriptures, we could look behind us and point to each bruise, each flood, each fire, and see where God repeatedly bore us, lifted us, carried us, and saved us.

What the Holy Spirit said to Israel was not only and uniquely for their encouragement. He also speaks encouragement to us in the 21st century. When we who love Him are down and troubled, when we need a helping hand, when nothing – nothing is going right, we can call on His name and know – because Scripture tells us it’s so – we can always call on His name and He has promised to carry us, to bear us, and to save us who cry out to Him for help.*


*see Jeremiah 33:3 and Romans 10:13.


Friday, October 18, 2013

Let Down the Nets

Now it happened that while the crowd was pressing around Him and listening to the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and He . . . . got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And He sat down and began teaching the people from the boat.  When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered and said, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets.” (Luke 5:1-5)

St. Peter said to the Lord, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing. But I will do as you say and let down the nets.”

Some of us this know too well what it is like to have worked all of our lives until we are now in the night of our days on earth, and as we look at what seem empty nets, we conclude we’ve done nothing of value for Christ. It is easy, then, for despair to settle over our spirits.

But Scripture encourages me, and I hope you as well, to do something better. What the Lord Jesus said to Simon Peter, He also says to me and to you who’ve worked hard all our days for Him, even if we’ve not seen so much as one piece of fruit:

“Let down the nets one more time.”

Verse six in that passage is an important part of the story because it reveals something we sometimes forget: the supernatural power of God: “When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break.”

Faith, the writer to the Hebrews reminds us, is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). Our omnipotent God multiplies a few fish and loaves of bread when offered to Him for use, which is why we can let down our nets once again. We can continue doing whatever it is we do for Him because of Scripture’s encouragement to “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that our labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (see 1 Corinthians 15:58)

“Yes, Lord, I’ve worked hard all night and have caught nothing. Nevertheless, at your bidding I will let down the nets.”