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Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Grafted Into Royalty


     In the year 478 B.C. in the land of Persia (present-day Iran) a beautiful 15 year old girl was kidnapped and taken from her home. No stranger to tragedy, Hadassah had lost both parents at an early age and was providentially taken into the home of a kindly older cousin. If it brought her any comfort, she was not the only girl to be unceremoniously snatched away that night. Several hundred other damsels from the provinces of this kingdom were also captured and spirited away to Shushan, the site of the king's palace.

    Perhaps even these isolated young ladies had heard that the king and queen had a royal tiff that left the king looking for love elsewhere. Quite possibly they suspected the reason for their sudden abduction. Remarkably, Hadassah did some capturing of her own as soon as she found herself in the house of the women. She won the admiration of the keeper of the house, who gave her seven maids to assist in her preparation for the king's beauty contest. He also reserved the finest apartment in the house for her and her maids. Certainly she was beyond beautiful; she was also courageous and graceful. Instead of bewailing her fate or cursing her captors, she comforted her competitors. Although the situation was not of her choosing, she maintained an air of serenity. She conducted herself as a queen before her feet ever touched the palace floor.

    From whence came this resiliency? I believe she grasped the concepts contained in the 139th Psalm. 

1 Lord, you know everything there is to know about me.
You perceive every movement of my heart and soul,
and you understand my every thought before it even enters my mind.
3–4 You are so intimately aware of me, Lord.
You read my heart like an open book
and you know all the words I’m about to speak
before I even start a sentence!
You know every step I will take before my journey even begins.
You’ve gone into my future to prepare the way,
and in kindness you follow behind me
to spare me from the harm of my past
With your hand of love upon my life,
you impart a blessing to me.
This is just too wonderful, deep, and incomprehensible!
Your understanding of me brings me wonder and strength.
Where could I go from your Spirit?
10 Wherever I go, your hand will guide me;
your strength will empower me.
11 It’s impossible to disappear from you
or to ask the darkness to hide me,
for your presence is everywhere, bringing light into my night.
13 You formed my innermost being, shaping my delicate inside
and my intricate outside,
and wove them all together in my mother’s womb.
14 I thank you, God, for making me so mysteriously complex!
Everything you do is marvelously breathtaking.
It simply amazes me to think about it!
How thoroughly you know me, Lord!
15 You even formed every bone in my body
when you created me in the secret place,
carefully, skillfully shaping me from nothing to something.
16 You saw who you created me to be before I became me!
Before I’d ever seen the light of day,
the number of days you planned for me
were already recorded in your book.
17–18 Every single moment you are thinking of me!
How precious and wonderful to consider
that you cherish me constantly in your every thought!
O God, your desires toward me are more
than the grains of sand on every shore!
When I awake each morning, you’re still with me.

(From The Passion Translation)

    Did you notice verse 5? "You've gone into my future to prepare the way." How utterly reassuring! We have that same promise. Young Hadassah knew who and whose she was. She also trusted that the king was not in charge of her destiny; that was held by much more capable and loving hands. Understand that it may have been a dazzling thought to become queen, but the entry fee for this competition was extremely high. There were several hundred contestants, and the 99% who weren't chosen were then resigned to spend the rest of their lives in the king's harem. Undoubtedly, reality threatened Hadassah's composure at times. The purification process of twelve months allowed plenty of time for these worrisome thoughts.

    Why did the process take twelve months? Due to the fact that pregnancy tests hadn't been invented yet, the king wanted to be sure that any heir produced with his queen would be his own. This reminds us that our King allows no flesh to glory in His presence. Everything that brings glory to Him in our lives is the work of His spirit. We must learn to give preference to the nudging of the Holy Spirit instead of responding to fleshly impulses. John 15:4 in the Amplified Version says "Just as no branch can bear fruit of itself without abiding in the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in me." King James says quite simply in verse 5, "without Me, you can do nothing."

   Sid Roth, a Messianic Jew, has stated that he sees the book of Esther as THE end-time book for the present day church. There are many fitting comparisons in this book to relate to our lives as we prepare for the return of our King. The keeper of the women's house schooled Hadassah, otherwise known as Esther, on how to prepare herself to go before the king. During these twelve months, the young ladies soaked in various oils, spices and ointments. Myrrh, the most notable of these, removed odors and left the skin clean, soft and pure. It stimulated the immune system and promoted release from fear and stress. Myrrh also killed parasites. Don't we want to get rid of those things that pull the very life and energy from us, draining us of physical, emotional and spiritual strength? This remarkable oil of myrrh represents the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

     John 14:26 says the Holy Spirit will teach us all things. We're also aware that He does not speak of Himself, but relays messages from our Father. We would do well to heed His instructions. I have a feeling that Hadassah was an attentive student. You probably know the happy ending of this story; our young heroine was indeed chosen to become Queen Esther. Five years later, God used her to save the nation of the Jews. The main theme of this book is that God is always working behind the scenes. This thought is encapsulated in the statement her cousin, Mordecai, made to her at the moment of crisis. When she hesitated, he reminded her that perhaps she had come to the kingdom for such a time as this. 

   What can we take away from this beautiful, breathtaking story? For one, I am very thankful that we can all be chosen to reign with our King.  Esther's life serves as a reminder that nothing is wasted in God's economy and He has indeed been preparing us for the situation we are facing today. Noteworthy also is the principle that our actions affect others, quite possibly people that we will never meet in this life. In these demanding times, the most difficult concept is that of "soaking" in the Holy Spirit, turning aside to slow down and listen to His whisper. Don't we need this oil to make us immune to the weight and worry of the world and to purify us from the contaminants we face daily? 






Tuesday, September 29, 2020

You Just Made My Day!

    You remember having one of those horrible days when nothing went the way it was supposed to? The coffee spilled on your last clean shirt and then the car wouldn't start. Or you got that awful phone call just as you were leaving for work but there was no time to process it. You had to quickly assume that plastic face and pretend you were on top of the world. You had a job to do and there's no way around it. The usual pep talk you recite didn't work this time. That's how my workday started.  In fact, the entire week had been like that.  
    Feeling physically and emotionally drained, I knew I had 20 residents to take care of and they all needed their morning medicine in the next few hours. I think I plowed along on auto-pilot for the first hour. Then it was time to enter Ms. Nester's room. Even on a good day, this was unpleasant. Her strong body and shrill voice belied the late-stage dementia her mind was suffering from. In general, it mattered how calmly you approached a resident and how soothing your voice was. Not so with Ms. Nester. When anyone crossed her line of sight, she began to scream loudly and gesture wildly. Usually she spat, bit, scratched or slapped at anyone within arm's reach. Inevitably, before you left her room she cried. Not softly, but in a sputtering, woeful screech that hurt your ears and heart to hear. Maybe once in a blue moon she would cooperate with a caregiver. She did not carry on conversations, but rather seemed to exist in her own world where everything was disjointed. I don't think I had ever heard her form a complete sentence.
    Knowing her as I did, if you told me what I'm about to tell you, I would not believe it. Forgive me for being brutally frank, but that's the truth. Holding my breath, I knocked on her door. I was greeted with the sweet sound of silence. Tentatively, I pushed the door open. 
    Sometimes miracles come because we've prayed for them. Sometimes they are much-anticipated and long-awaited. And sometimes, they catch us completely by surprise. Ms. Nester was smiling--no, she was laughing as she reached for me with both arms. Then she patted her heart and literally sang, "I heard somebody and I kept looking and there I saw YOU! Oh you look so good. I'm so happy to see you, come over here!" I was tempted to look behind me. Was she talking to someone else? No, her eyes were definitely focused on me! Dare I get within arms' reach? This was my best opportunity to administer her medication, if the mood lasted long enough. To my amazement, she happily accepted my offering, then reached out to gently hold my hand. Her exuberant salutation continued. "Oh, you look so good. Thank you, Lord. I'm so glad to see you, come sit down." 
    Was she looking at me but seeing someone else? I was not about to burst her bubble. "Oh, I just feel so happy! Praise the Lord; He is so good to me." Her face  lit up with the most beautiful smile. Sitting by her bedside, wondering if I should pinch myself, I assured her that I was so happy to see her, too. Then as she quieted, I patted her hand gently until she slowly let go of mine.  She gazed at me happily as I closed the door. Never had I seen her so calm and rational. Never before and never since was she glowing and ecstatic. Not once had she calmly let me leave the room, as she did that day. 
    Somehow I felt as if tender arms had hugged me. Tears filled my eyes, and I asked, "God, what just happened?" He replied softly, "I did that. That's my love for you that you've seen here today. I used her to show my love for you." A passage from the book of Zephaniah rang in my mind. "For the Lord your God has arrived to live among you. He is a mighty Savior. He will rejoice over you with great gladness. With His love, He will calm all your fears. He will rejoice greatly over you by singing a happy song" (Zephaniah 3:17 NLT). 



Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The Guy Was a Scoundrel

    If I thought I would be the only person to ever tell you this story, there is much I would omit about the man. But I fear you will discover it anyway. First may I say that he was very good-looking, and although that is not a guarantee of character, it certainly makes the character a bit more interesting while we determine what his heart is made of. Suffice to say the ladies found him irresistible. His early life was not picture perfect and he certainly wasn't born to privilege. Just another common lad, outshone by his older, stronger, and even better-looking brothers. He was shaped, as we all are, by his experiences and his culture. Who would have dreamed that one day he would be one who shaped culture, that world leaders would seek him out and history would adore him? 
     In his heart, he plotted and ordered the execution of an innocent man, an honorable man who kept his word. A man who was in fact, committed to a life of service to this very scoundrel .How can this contradiction be?  When I tell you that the innocent man, the murdered man, had a very beautiful wife, perhaps now you understand. That man was Uriah the Hittite and his wife's name was Bathsheba. I would have omitted this chapter from King David's life. I would not have you know that the man God said was a man after His own heart, could be capable of such depravity. I would prefer to make David look better to the world. 
    Doubtless, he was the greatest king of Israel. Millions have been comforted by his prayers in the book of Psalms. From a heart only a grief-stricken parent can understand, he uttered the oft repeated words "My son can't return to me, but I will go to him."  This son was born out of wedlock but David could not have loved him more. David was the epitome of mercy, even to Jesus's day. When Bartimaeus cried out to Jesus, saying "Son of David, have mercy on me," he was reminding Jesus of David's mercy. Scripture records that God had mercy in a matter concerning David's descendants 300 years after David's death. What a legacy!.
   In the days of King Saul, modern psalmists sang the praises of David the victorious warrior as he came home from battle. God Himself whispered songs to David in the night, as he hid like an animal in caves from Saul's army.
   As a young shepherd boy, David composed songs of worship on his harp. These timeless songs not only comforted the restless sheep but have brought hope to millions through the ages.
    Yet how could he stoop to adultery and murder and still be God's man? What good could possibly come from such a life? Rejected and ridiculed by his family, David found refuge in a heavenly Father who would never forsake him.
   In today's critical culture of conformity, David likely would not be remembered for his anointed leadership, his incredible defeat of his nation's enemies and the prosperity of the nation under his rule. His detractors would not have us know that his government commissioned and salaried 24 hour worship leaders. As long as they praised and magnified God, not one enemy touched the nation of Israel. What a non-conventional Department of Defense!
  Why didn't God leave this part out? Wouldn't protecting David's image highlight his accomplishments? Or does God wants us to see the contrast; to see what David did when he followed his own way.
    But the world remembers King David for what he did when he surrendered to God's way. One thing we love about the Psalms David wrote is the heartfelt sincerity they express. David hid nothing; we see his fears, his hatred, his loves and his faith.
   Instead of asking how God would use a man like David, perhaps we should be rejoicing in the plans He has for someone like me and you.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

How lonely sits the city

9 Self-Defense Tips To Protect Against Complainers...Toxic Negative People Are No Fun To Be Around...They Suck the Energy Right Outta You "How lonely sits the city that was full of people." The time is 586 BC. The author is the prophet Jeremiah and the book is Lamentations. That title is a translation of the original Hebrew word, "alas!" or "how?" It sounds as though the nation was in shock at the sudden catastrophe that had come upon them, totally upending their lives. Lamentations by definition means wailing, complaint, mourning. The occasion of mourning is the capture of the nation of Israel, under Nebuchadnezzar's army, resulting in their captivity and the destruction of the center of Jewish life, their temple. They had supposed their temple to be indestructible. The book is a national and personal lament.
  But sorrow and woe is not what impressed me the most about this passage. The Jewish people were known to be quite demonstrative and I can just imagine the commotion. What stood out to me most of all amidst this tale of tragedy are several verses; Lamentations 3:22,23 "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness." In the midst of such a disastrous situation, how did Jeremiah find such peace and assurance? What was his secret? It can be found in Psalm 91:1 "He that dwells in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty." Some expositors say this meant to stay in the temple but I don't see that. Only priests could live in the temple and as we see from Lamentations, even the sacred temple was not safe from enemy attacks. Neither is the secret place something you stumble into or casually enter. It is like an "X" on a treasure map; a place that is diligently sought after and carefully guarded.
   What does it mean to abide under the shadow of the Almighty? Does God really have a shadow? Doesn't the Word say there is no shadow of turning with thee? (James 1:17.) This passage refers to the steadfastness and unchangeable nature of God. He is light and in Him is no darkness at all. So to be in His shadow is to snuggle up just as close to Him as is humanly possible. And do we dwell or live there, in His presence? Or do we occasionally go in and out?
  Once we're that close to Him, we will know that He is the Almighty; possessor of all might. One of my favorite scriptures is Isaiah 40. Verse 21 asks "Do you not know? Have you not heard? ..God sits enthroned above the circle of the earth. To who will you compare me? Or who is my equal? says the Holy One. Why do you complain, Oh Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, My way is hidden from the Lord? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom."
  Jeremiah rejoiced at the majesty and constancy of God, no matter the painful circumstances that surrounded him. And he knew that though the present situation was disheartening, it was not permanent. God, however, is all powerful and unchanging. His mercies are sure and eternal. Jeremiah lifted his eyes from his surroundings to the One who surpassed the temporary. The prophet's understanding was limited but his trust was not. The city would thrive again and the temple would be rebuilt. Because God's mercy and faithfulness were, and are, unfailing. In this we rejoice.
Lamentations 3:26 "It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord." And Chapter 3, verse 41 "Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens."
    Perhaps instead of lamenting all we have lost, we should, like Jeremiah, be celebrating all that forever remains.