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Monthly Archives: May 2012

Emails to God – Delayed Evaluation (Esther 2:5-7)

5 Now there was in the citadel of Susa a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, named Mordecai son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, 6 who had been carried into exile from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, among those taken captive with Jehoiachin king of Judah. 7 Mordecai had a cousin named Hadassah, whom he had brought up because she had neither father nor mother. This young woman, who was also known as Esther, had a lovely figure and was beautiful. Mordecai had taken her as his own daughter when her father and mother died.

Dear God, I read this and I thought of Jair, Shimei, and Kish (verse 5). I don’t know what their lives were like. I don’t know if they were loved, or if they treated people well. But history will remember them as the forefathers of Mordecai, the man who helped save the Jewish people (along with Esther, of course). The details of their lives have fallen away, but each one must have done something right at some point.

I just finished reading a book last night about the Presidents of the United States, and at the end of the book the authors make the point that presidents can’t really be evaluated until some time has passed. For example, Bill Clinton was quoted as telling friends that we won’t be able to judge George Bush’s decisions about Iraq for a long time, but he is confident that George Bush did it because he thought it was the right thing to do for the country.

Sometimes I feel like this as a husband and father. I make decisions, especially as a dad, that I know are not appreciated at the time. They won’t win me any popularity contests, but I am making them so that they kids will have something that they can use, whether in their character or their skill set, twenty, thirty, or fifty years from now. I’ll be dead by the time the book is written on the kind of job I did as a father. Much like Iraq for George Bush, we can’t tell yet what the results are, but I am confident in saying that I did each thing because I thought it was the right thing to do.

Father, much like I prayed yesterday about you overcoming any mistakes I make so that your will is always done in spite of me, I pray that you will overcome the ways I hurt others around me so that your will will be done their lives. I pray that you will help me to keep from hurting those I love, and I am sorry for when I fail them. At the same time, I know I will never be perfect, but I pray that you will overcome my imperfection in their lives.

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Posted by on May 31, 2012 in Esther

 

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Emails to God – No Mistake Too Big (Esther 2:1-4)

Later when King Xerxes’ fury had subsided, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what he had decreed about her. 2 Then the king’s personal attendants proposed, “Let a search be made for beautiful young virgins for the king. 3 Let the king appoint commissioners in every province of his realm to bring all these beautiful young women into the harem at the citadel of Susa. Let them be placed under the care of Hegai, the king’s eunuch, who is in charge of the women; and let beauty treatments be given to them. 4 Then let the young woman who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.” This advice appealed to the king, and he followed it.

Dear God, this is an interesting way to do a “Match.com”. The sad thing is that it had to be done at all. The only things that make this story passable for me is that 1.) Vashti wasn’t killed and 2.) you were working in this to save the Jewish people.

It kind of begs the age-old question—Do you cause bad things to happen to people for your purposes or do you simply work within the bad things that people do for your purposes? I feel like the answer is the latter. I don’t think you caused Xerxes to banish Vashti, but you knew how to use his sin.

Frankly, stories like this give me some comfort because I know that there are times every day when I fail you, but it seems that there is nothing I can do that will go too far to destroy your plans. I can hurt individuals, to be sure, and this is something I should avoid, but I know that you have accounted for my incompetence in whatever your plans for me are.

Father, what I really do not want to do with my life is hurt those around me. Whether it be my wife, children, family, friends, business, etc. That is where my desire for perfection starts. I want to be pleasing to you. I want to be your man to the people to whom you have entrusted me. Help me to not make the mistakes that Xerxes made (figuratively or literally), but at the same time I want to thank you for loving me just the way I am and planning around me accordingly.

 

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2012 in Esther

 

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Emails to God – My Memorial Day Confession

I had the privilege of speaking to the “Choose Life” Sunday school class at Fredericksburg United Methodist Church this morning. The teacher asked me to speak about Memorial Day and oure responsibility of service given the freedoms given to us. As I tried to put together some thoughts, I found that other emotions were coming out. I finally ended up writing down my thoughts. Below is what I read to the class as part of my presentation. I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to ever veteran and their family for what you have done for all of us.

I am always a little uncomfortable on Memorial Day. I grew up a privileged child. While I wasn’t born into a wealthy family, by the time I graduated from high school we were a family of wealth. My father could afford to send me to college so I never had to consider serving in the military as one of my career options. I know that there are people of means who choose the military anyway out of a sense of calling or duty, but that wasn’t me. I thought of it as too limiting. Perhaps even beneath me. “I could do better.”

I was 31 when September 11 happened and young enough to join the military at that time, but, in all honesty, the cost was too high. I had a wife, two young children, and a career. People hated us and were trying to kill us in a fairly random fashion, but I let others fight that battle for me and my family. There seemed to be enough people to do it. The government wasn’t making a special plea for men of my age to join. They just wanted to make sure I kept shopping. That was my out and I took it.

There are many times throughout the year when I feel embarrassed about my having never served in the military.

  • When I went once to greet the Wounded Warriors who were visiting Fredericksburg from BAMC. I couldn’t even bring myself to go forward and shake their hands. My embarrassment kept me in the back of the crowd, applauding but trying to be unnoticed. I could visibly see their sacrifice and it humiliated me.
  • When I’m at any event where they recognize veterans by asking them to stand up. I always feel ashamed when I remain seated.
  • When I am talking with a veteran who served in some conflict (whether it be Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East, or even during peacetime). They sometimes ask if I served and my answer is an embarrassed no.
  • When I am at a military funeral and they give the family a flag and give the deceased full military honors. I know my funeral won’t have anything like that.
  • When I see the lists of soldiers who have died fighting overseas. I am glad when news programs run these lists, but I always have the sense of guilt as I watch the names go by and I think of the life that was prematurely lost.
  • When I see friends from high school on Facebook who served overseas in the Middle East (Angelo, I’m thinking of you). I am reluctant to even message them because I am humbled by their sacrifice.

So should I feel embarrassed and ashamed? Would the women and men getting off of the bus from BAMC care if they knew I never served? Would they wonder why I wasn’t by their side while they were over there, or would they simply just want to know how I am using the life they helped to provide for me?

What about God? Does he care that I didn’t serve in the military, or does He simply just want to know how I am using the life that He helped to provide for me?

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2012 in Musings and Stories

 

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Emails to God – Advising Through Conflicts of Interest (Esther 1)

1 This is what happened during the time of Xerxes, the Xerxes who ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush: 2 At that time King Xerxes reigned from his royal throne in the citadel of Susa, 3 and in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his nobles and officials. The military leaders of Persia and Media, the princes, and the nobles of the provinces were present.

4 For a full 180 days he displayed the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and glory of his majesty. 5 When these days were over, the king gave a banquet, lasting seven days, in the enclosed garden of the king’s palace, for all the people from the least to the greatest who were in the citadel of Susa. 6 The garden had hangings of white and blue linen, fastened with cords of white linen and purple material to silver rings on marble pillars. There were couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl and other costly stones. 7 Wine was served in goblets of gold, each one different from the other, and the royal wine was abundant, in keeping with the king’s liberality. 8 By the king’s command each guest was allowed to drink with no restrictions, for the king instructed all the wine stewards to serve each man what he wished.

9 Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for the women in the royal palace of King Xerxes.

10 On the seventh day, when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine, he commanded the seven eunuchs who served him—Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar and Karkas— 11 to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at. 12 But when the attendants delivered the king’s command, Queen Vashti refused to come. Then the king became furious and burned with anger.

13 Since it was customary for the king to consult experts in matters of law and justice, he spoke with the wise men who understood the times 14 and were closest to the king—Karshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena and Memukan, the seven nobles of Persia and Media who had special access to the king and were highest in the kingdom.

15 “According to law, what must be done to Queen Vashti?” he asked. “She has not obeyed the command of King Xerxes that the eunuchs have taken to her.”

16 Then Memukan replied in the presence of the king and the nobles, “Queen Vashti has done wrong, not only against the king but also against all the nobles and the peoples of all the provinces of King Xerxes. 17 For the queen’s conduct will become known to all the women, and so they will despise their husbands and say, ‘King Xerxes commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, but she would not come.’ 18 This very day the Persian and Median women of the nobility who have heard about the queen’s conduct will respond to all the king’s nobles in the same way. There will be no end of disrespect and discord.

19 “Therefore, if it pleases the king, let him issue a royal decree and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed, that Vashti is never again to enter the presence of King Xerxes. Also let the king give her royal position to someone else who is better than she. 20 Then when the king’s edict is proclaimed throughout all his vast realm, all the women will respect their husbands, from the least to the greatest.”

21 The king and his nobles were pleased with this advice, so the king did as Memukan proposed. 22 He sent dispatches to all parts of the kingdom, to each province in its own script and to each people in their own language, proclaiming that every man should be ruler over his own household, using his native tongue.

Dear God, I find the advisors’ advice interesting. They weren’t as concerned about the idea of the king’s authority as they were concerned about the authority of men over women in the entire society. Getting more personal, they were more concerned about their own lives and their own wives. They had a conflict of interest in giving this advice. Did they do the right thing?

I am reading a terrific book right now about the different Presidents of the United States and their relationships with each other behind the scenes (The Presidents’ Club). It is interesting to see the times when a former or current president will reach out to another under the guise of helping, but it really falls into the category of helping their own self-interests. The book is also clear that it is often easier for the person who isn’t the president at the time to make an aggressive decision than when they are president. They give an example of a president never taking the country into a war while he was president, but then encouraging his successor to take a harder, more aggressive line in using the military to advance foreign policy.

I guess my point is, Xerxes needed some sound counsel and got this instead. Perhaps it was cultural, but it would have been nice if he had just gone to his wife and asked her why she wasn’t coming. Perhaps she had a good reason.

Father, I know that marriage, especially between kings and queens of that era, are not what I think of as marriage now. I know that there is no comparison. My point is, this man needed some wise counsel. Perhaps he got it for that time. I, however, don’t think he did. Help me to seek wise counsel when I am in a quandary. Help me to know how best to tap into your wisdom in any given situation. Help me, also, to be your counsel to others. Give me your words and your voice. Help me to look beyond mine and others egos into the depths of what you might have me to do that might even be at my own expense so long as it is for your glory and your plan.

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2012 in Esther

 

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Emails to God – Matthew’s Wrap-Up (Matthew 28:16-20)

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Dear God, this ending seems so abrupt, especially considering some of the details we get in the other Gospels. Was Matthew just trying to get this story wrapped up? Also, it is interesting that in verse 17 it says that “some doubted.” What did they doubt? What did they see while they were there? For such a long book that gives us such great details (including all of the genealogy stuff at the beginning) it seems that this ending just doesn’t make sense.

Of course, the big thing that all evangelicals quote from this is verse 19. It’s an important thing for all of us to remember that we are to be about making disciples of Jesus. For all that Matthew lacks in his wrap up, he and Mark are the only ones who talk about the disciples being charged with preaching the Gospel. In fact, it is interesting to go and look at each Gospel to see how they end. Each one is certainly unique.

Father, help me to be a person who is about, above all else, making disciples. I feel like I fail often in that way. In fact, now that I think about it, I had an opportunity yesterday with a friend that I missed. He is suffering a bit, and we had lunch together. Hmm. Somehow, I didn’t even think to bring you up. How awful is that? Please forgive me and make me more sensitive to the still, small voice that you are speaking to me at any given time.

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2012 in Matthew

 

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Emails to God – Hard Hearts (Matthew 28:11-15)

11 While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

Dear God, the idea of one person’s word against the other is interesting here. Assuming that verses 12 and 13 are true (and I do), then at what point did the chief priests not stop in their tracks and ask, “Oh my. Did we kill the Messiah?”

I think a hard heart is one of the hardest things to avoid for any human. We get so wrapped up in our agenda and in self-preservation that we can miss the basic facts. I can see instances in my work where I continually have to remind myself to step back and look at the facts rather than try to make the facts fit my own agenda (like the chief priests did here).

I am a Rotarian, and every week we recite the “Four-Way Test”:

  1. Is it the truth?
  2. Is it fair to all concerned?
  3. Will it bring good will and better friendships?
  4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

Father, there is a particular conflict in my life right now, and I end up asking these questions of myself a lot as I go through this process. I don’t want to lose sight of truth in the midst of the struggle. I don’t want to be so bent on my own agenda that I can’t live within the confines of these four questions. So far, I am at peace that I’ve been able to do this. I pray that you will help me and all who are involved in this struggle with me to be able to do the same.

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2012 in Matthew

 

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Emails to God – The Resurrection (Matthew 28:1-10)

1After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Dear God, there are different tellings of this story in the Gospels, and it is interesting to see the different details that each write shares. Matthew seems to be more nuts and bolts about the story. Perhaps it’s the accountant in him. He doesn’t tell us the story about Jesus appearing as a gardener. He doesn’t tell us about Peter and John running to the tomb to check it out for themselves. But I just looked at the other four stories and I think this is the only one that mentions the earthquake.

In times like this I always try to take the story’s details and try to figure out what the author’s message to me is. What is it that Matthew wants me to take away from this? In this case, I think he wants me to know that:

  1. It was the women who were out working to ensure Jesus was buried correctly. In fact, the disciples didn’t do anything to take care of Jesus’ body after the crucifixion (that was left to a couple of Jewish church leaders) and they were apparently not going to do anything to ensure his body was buried correctly (perhaps this was considered “women’s work” at that time, but it’s still interesting).
  2. The women felt God move supernaturally. They felt the earthquake. They saw the angel. They saw the stone had been moved. They saw the guards “like dead men.”
  3. The angel told them that Jesus was alive, “just as he said,” he was going to Galilee, and that they needed to tell the disciples to meet him there.
  4. The women actually saw Jesus himself, and He also told them to tell the disciples about meeting Him in Galilee.

Father, I guess my overall take away from this story is that this wasn’t a vague, mysterious resurrection. You demonstrated your power. You communicated with the women who were trying to care for Jesus. You reminded them that this had all been predicted before. Then Jesus actually appeared to them. There was no room left for interpretation. Thank you for this story. Thank you for the resurrection. There is a gentleness about this story that is sweet. It seems to be about reassurance (to the women) and forgiveness (of the disciples). There is no vengeance here for the terrible death of Jesus. There is only a continued execution of the plan. How great is that?

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2012 in Matthew

 

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