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Esther—Stand with Conviction

This devotional was originally published at the Biblical Recorder here.

Focal Passage: Esther 2:21-3:6

Mordecai, though a Jew in a foreign land, was loyal to his king. Overhearing a plot against the ruler, he promptly informed Esther who reported the planned crime. Mordecai’s loyalty to the king came from a deeper source. He would not compromise his faith in God.

When Haman was paraded through the streets, Mordecai would not bow. He would not worship a man. He would only worship God. These two mini-narratives in the book of Esther remind us that it is always right to do the right thing.

Mordecai’s conviction reminds me of another man a few centuries later, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Not content to stand idly by under Adolf Hitler’s evil Third Reich, Bonhoeffer actively opposed the Nazis. Bonhoeffer held his Christian faith firmly and even served as a spy for the German resistance. Eventually, Bonhoeffer was captured and sent to prison. While at Flossenberg prison, Bonhoeffer was executed. He was only 39 years old. The doctor at the prison commented about his execution, “Through the half-open door in one room of the huts, I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling on the floor, praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer.

“At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the steps of the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost [50] years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”

How was Bonhoeffer able to die with solemnity and peace? I believe the clue is the same as Mordecai’s strength. Standing with conviction begins by kneeling in prayer. We can pray with that same boldness and conviction because Christ died to give us the right to pray.

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Esther—Be Ready to Stand

The next few devotionals I will post come from the book of Esther. She is a wonderful character in God’s redemptive story. She embodies humility, characterizes courage, and reflects God’s sovereignty. I trust you will be both encouraged and challenged by the lessons this book teaches us.

Focal Passage: Esther 2:5-10, 15-17. Originally posted at the Biblical Recorder here.

Sometimes it is easy to have present-day bias. We think that today’s culture is more advanced than previous cultures. Or we think that today’s culture is more evil than previous cultures. Or we think that politics today could not be any worse.

Of course today’s politics are filled with corruption, partisanship and intrigue. Even a cursory glance at any major news network will reveal the perversion and corruption of too many politicians, but our culture and the nature of politics today are not really that unique.

King Ahasuerus of Persia was known for his selfishness, disregard for others and immorality. Perversely dismissive of his first queen, Vashti, the king needed a new queen.

The suggestion for finding a new queen pleased King Ahasuerus. Virgins from across the kingdom were brought to the harem, pampered, then sent to spend the night with the king. The story of Ahasuerus and Esther is neither a fairy tale, nor a model of biblical morality. But the story of Esther should give us confidence in the Lord.

Behind the immorality and the machinations of king and court, God is accomplishing His purposes. God is working through the integrity of Mordecai. God is working through the humility of Esther.

We must be careful not to judge Esther’s conduct in the same manner we would criticize the king. Esther really had no choice but to present herself at the king’s proclamation, but Esther stood out. She stood out precisely because she acted out of humility. She was not governed by queenly ambition. She knew who she was, a Jew, and knew who God was. As a result she found favor with everyone she met.

That favor is very important to the story as God was poised to use the humble character of the new queen who stood out to keep His promises to His people. The lesson for us – we can stand up and stand out for the Lord because He is sovereignly orchestrating events, even behind acts of immorality and corruption.

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Christ—Our Righteousness

Bible Studies for Life Sunday School lesson originally published here at the Biblical Recorder.

Focal Passage: Jeremiah 33:3-8; 14-16

In Jeremiah 33, the Lord makes a great many claims: “I will answer you” and “will tell you,” “I shall strike down,” “I have hidden my face,” “I will bring it to health and healing,” “I will heal them and reveal to them,” “I will restore” and “rebuild,” “I will cleanse them,” I will forgive,” “I will fulfill the promise,” “I will cause a Righteous Branch.” Finally, Jeremiah declares that Jerusalem will be called, “The Lord is our righteousness.” I hope the pattern is obvious. The Lord is the active agent when it comes to righteousness. We are like the people of Israel. We have been given commands and expectations, but we consistently fail. We are certainly to strive toward righteousness. No doubt the Scripture teaches that God expects holiness. But we must acknowledge that we have no hope of earning the righteousness we desperately need. When we examine our lives against the expectations of righteousness that God has for us, we can grow depressed and discouraged. Thankfully, the Lord does not leave us wandering in hopelessness. He acts, answers, heals, forgives, fulfills and provides a Righteous Branch. The Righteous Branch is none other than the Lord Jesus who is the incarnated fulfillment of God’s righteousness for us. Jesus came to do what we could not. He obeyed God’s Law, kept every standard and fulfilled every expectation. He did what we could not do. Because he is Righteous, he could take our place. He became our substitute, carrying our sin on the cross and transferring his Righteousness to us. Again, I hope the pattern is obvious. Jesus is the active agent with regard to righteousness. We cannot hope to earn God’s approval. But we can receive it. We should heed the Lord’s command to Jeremiah, “Call to me.” If we will call upon the Lord, we can receive the Righteousness without which we cannot know the Lord.

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Our Shepherd

Bible Studies for Life lesson originally published here at the Biblical Recorder.

Focal Passage: Psalm 23:1-6

Our youngest son, Nathan, was a difficult baby. He had colic along with an irritable stomach. Eventually, we had to give him nutramigen baby formula for him to eat. If you’re not familiar with nutramigen, that’s ok. Think of it as liquid gold. At least that’s what it seemed like when we paid for it. Anyway, I can remember fighting with him to eat. We knew what was best for him even if he didn’t want to eat. I think David had something similar in mind when he penned the verses of his most influential psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd…” As a shepherd, David knew that his sheep were entirely dependent upon him. They required green pastures and still waters (sheep will not drink from moving streams). But more than provision, the Lord our Shepherd guides us. He guides us to places of provision and protection. Our Shepherd also leads us in the “paths of righteousness for his names’ sake.” David understood leadership. It was his responsibility to lead and guide his sheep. But when David comments about God’s leadership, he reflects on God’s purpose. As sheep, we don’t know what is best or where we need to go. We tend to wander and drift. But God leads and guides us, and notice why. He guides “for his name’s sake.” God guides us because he’s redeemed us. We are the recipients of his love, the bearers of his name. So he guides us because we reflect his reputation and glory to the world. The Lord “leads us in the paths of righteousness” because the only way we can walk in righteousness is by him and through him. When we walk in righteousness, it becomes obvious to others that we are walking with wisdom and purpose. Would you join David? Would you follow the leadership of your Shepherd in the paths of his righteous word for the sake of his glorious name?

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Are you evangelistic?

Have you ever had news so good to share you couldn’t wait to tell someone? We tend to be wiling to share news about pregnancies or weddings or promotions very easily. But do you share the best news of all? Are you evangelistic? Do you regularly put yourself in situations where you can share your faith personally?

In the New Testament, especially the book of Acts, the early believers are consistently, regularly, faithfully sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Privately, publicly, personally and powerfully they shared the good news with sinners. Philip, one of the church’s first deacons provides a great model for being evangelistic in Acts 8. Philip offers five imperatives that will help us be more effective and intentional evangelists.

  1. Be Obedient. Philip had been preaching in a revival setting in Samaria, but God sent him to the desert. Philip obeyed. His obedience led to an opportunity to share the gospel with an Ethiopian eunuch. Sometimes you may be frustrated with your situation and location. But be obedient. Maybe God has you right where you are just because he wants you to share the good news with someone.
  2. Be Attentive. Philip noticed the eunuch and ran to speak to him. I think sometimes we fail to share the gospel simply because we are so busy with our own stuff. Look for a person to talk with. Pay attention to the waiter or waitress at the restaurant or the homeless person on the street corner. Being attentive to our surroundings and to others will afford us opportunities to share the good new
  3. Be Inquisitive. Philip’s first words to the eunuch were in the form of a question, “Do you understand what you’re reading?” It can be challenging and intimidating to know how to share your faith with someone. But when you are not sure what to say, ask a question. Being inquisitive allows you to genuinely be interested in other people and move the conversation toward spiritual things.
  4. Be Prepared. Philip connected the reading in Isaiah 53 to Jesus himself. If you know Jesus as your Lord, then you know enough to share the gospel. Would you consider standing in a pulpit to preach with no preparation? I would hope not. Your greatest evangelistic preparation comes from your daily walk with Jesus Christ and meditating and memorizing Scripture.
  5. Be Available. Philip was not only ready to share, but even baptized the Ethiopian right there. This imperative should also be an overarching theme of our lives. Are you available to share Christ and make disciples or are you too busy doing other church things? There is little more important in our lives than sharing Christ with others and leading them to follow Jesus. We must be available.

It is so easy to be distracted and hampered by good things from sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. But when we look at the story of the early church, the gospel was not hampered. They shared over and over again because they were ready to share. Are you?

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God is Faithful—Jesus Kept His Promise to Rise from the Dead

Bible Studies for Life lesson for April 1, 2018 from Luke 24:1-12 (originally published here at the Biblical Recorder)

It amazes me the memory of my children. If I said I would play with them or take them somewhere or get them something, they never forget. I wish I could say that my faithfulness matched their memory. We are flawed and many times unfaithful. We break promises. But God does not. God is supremely, perfectly, gloriously faithful. There is no greater miracle than the miracle of the resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection has been doubted, denied and dismissed by skeptics over the years. Theological liberalism arose from Enlightenment skepticism. Where skeptics outright denied the claim of Jesus’ resurrection, theological liberalism contended that the resurrection was a spiritual experience that took place in the heart of every believer, but not an historical event. How could the resurrection actually happen? Dead people don’t come back to life. But Enlightenment skepticism and theological liberalism neglected to explain an integral element of the resurrection story—Jesus predicted it. Not only did Jesus predict his resurrection, but the disciples themselves dismissed his prediction. The angel they met at the empty tomb told them, “Remember how he told you… that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” They were completely unprepared for Jesus’ resurrection as they huddled together in fear and hopelessness. But when Jesus appeared to them resurrected, they came face to face with his faithfulness. Jesus kept his promise. Not only did he rise again, but he had predicted he would rise again. His resurrection declared his deity and the fulfillment of his promise vindicated his faithfulness. Before the resurrection the disciples were more likely candidates for depression than for becoming spokespersons for the largest religion of all time. The only explanation for change in the disciples is the ratified faithfulness of their risen Lord. Jesus promised he would rise. The disciples saw him, changed and declared his resurrection. And we today can have confidence in the historical reality of the resurrected Christ who has redeemed billions of lives.

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The Lord, Our Peace

Bible Studies for Life devotional originally published here at the Biblical Recorder.

Focal Passage: Judges 6:11-16, 22-24

Alfred Nobel is known today as the man whose estate funded the Nobel peace prize. What you may not know is that before the peace prize, Nobel invented dynamite. While dynamite has other uses, it was quickly adopted by militaries and used to destroy countless lives in war. Alfred’s brother Ludvig died in 1888. By fateful mistake, Alfred’s obituary was printed instead of Ludvig’s. One newspaper opined, “The merchant of death is dead.” That caption changed Alfred and led him to fund the peace prize that bears his name. We are a world enamored with peace that that seems impossible to achieve. Conflict continues geopolitically and interpersonally. Peace evades us. In Gideon’s story, the people of Israel were not at peace. They were under Midian’s rule because of their sinfulness. God chose Gideon to lead Israel to cast off Midian. After perceiving he had met the angel of the Lord, he became afraid. But God said, “Peace be to you. Do not fear; you shall not die.” God promised Gideon peace. But Gideon would face internal turmoil and lead armies into battle, how could there be peace? We can have peace with God even though our external situations do not reflect it. Gideon met an angel of the Lord, likely none other than a preincarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. The peace we so desperately need, the peace the world lacks and the peace Nobel hoped to achieve with his prize met Gideon that day. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. He came to bring us peace, to end our war with God, to release us from sin’s bondage. Jesus is also the King of kings and he will return. One day interpersonal turmoil, political parties and international conflicts will be in the distant past because there will be One King, One Ruler, One Prince, One Lord, and all will bow before him as the Prince of Peace.

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