I’m a Fraud – Esther 2:5-23

“They are all so perfect. Perfect Christians, perfect friends. They come from perfect, holy Christian homes and families. They are not going to want to hang out with me once they know my story.”

These are all things that passed through my mind at a dinner my host family held for me after I had first moved to State College, Pennsylvania. They had invited over staff from their college ministry, who were about my age, to meet me. They were all so friendly and close with one another and it seemed that they all had lived what one may consider the perfect Christian life.

I on the other hand had not, and my community in Arizona was built of a whole bunch of prodigal sons (Luke 15) just like me. See I had a story (later I would find out that though a little bit different, my dinner partners did too). Mine was wrought with promiscuity, heavy drinking, and a bunch of scarring done by my own hand and others. I felt like I was a danger to a community full of saints. I was stained and I wasn’t so sure how I would be received or thought of. I knew the Truth that Christ washed me clean, I had just never been around people who didn’t have stories like mine or to the extent that mine went. I felt like a fraud.

As I continued to get to know these people, I was continually comparing myself to them. They mentored so many college students. They dressed perfectly and appropriately. They had major impact on students. I couldn’t help but to be led to think could God even use me?

Have you ever felt that? That if people knew who you were, what you had done, where you came from that they would label you a danger to their way of life? Have you felt too scarred, complicated or dirty to be used by God?

I find a lot of comfort for my story, and I hope you did and will, in Esther 2:5-23.

We are finally introduced to our heroine, Hadassah, more commonly known as Esther, but she looks a little different than maybe you thought she would. Though lovely in beauty, she has a story that you would think would disqualify her from being queen, but also by being used by God.

 

  1. The author makes it point in 2:5-6 to tell us Esther’s lineage. Esther comes from an exiled Jewish family “who had been carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah”.

At this point in history the exile had ended and many Jewish families had returned            to Judah in order to rebuild the temple. However, Mordecai, Esther’s uncle and                    adoptive father, along with other Jewish people had decided instead to stay in the              Persian capitol Susa.

This is important to note. It not only gives us the perspective that Esther walked                  around as an outsider in this land, but it also shows that she is a part of the Jewish              people who did not, for one reason or the other, find it important enough to return            to Judah to rebuild God’s temple.

  1. We are also told that she is an orphan being brought up by her relative Mordecai.

“He (Mordecai) was bringing up Hadassah, that is Esther, the daughter of of his uncle, for she had neither father nor mother… and when her father and mother died..  Mordecai took her as his own daughter.”  (Esther 2:7)

          Though she was an orphan, we know she was truly loved b Mordecai because after           she was taken away to be a part of the King’s harem, “..everyday Mordecai walked in           front of the court of the harem to learn how Esther was and what was happening to               her” (Esther 2:11)

  1. She was taken away as one of the virgins gathered after the King’s decree went out. She was taken to the harem, where she was went under beauty treatments for a year before going in to the King. (v8-9)

We are also told, that at the command of Mordecai, Esther was not to reveal that she          was Jewish. She had to hide a part of her identity at this point in the story.

  1. Esther lost her virginity to the King as an unmarried woman. Feminists today, would possibly condemn her for playing into the patriarchal society. Others may have grace as it seems she didn’t really have another choice. According to Jewish law and scripture, she could be stoned for having sex before marriage. She seems to be a failure either way.

 

This woman has a story, and it’s not the prettiest cookie cutter one. She’s an outsider, oppressed, kidnapped, raped, no longer a virgin, and rather than choosing God at the cost of her life she chose to lay with the King.

This woman is broken, even though she is lovely to look at and finds favor in Mordecai, the eunuch in charge of the harem, and eventually the King.  Though she is crowned Queen, part of her identity is still a secret.

How in the world could this woman ever be used by God? She’s weak, she’s betrayed the Law it seems, she has no real family unit, she’s kidnapped and taken away from all she knows.

But this is the beautiful thing about our God, He is the ultimate Redeemer or broken people. I really believe, the invisible hand of God is at work in Esther’s life and that He’s setting her up to make a large impact. And we begin to see that played out in the last few verses of this section after Esther has been crowned Queen.

“19 Now when the virgins were gathered together the second time, Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate. 20 Esther had not made known her kindred or her people, as Mordecai had commanded her, for Esther obeyed Mordecai just as when she was brought up by him. 21 In those days, as Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, Bigthan and Teresh, two of the king’s eunuchs, who guarded the threshold, became angry and sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus. 22 And this came to the knowledge of Mordecai, and he told it to Queen Esther, and Esther told the king in the name of Mordecai. 23 When the affair was investigated and found to be so, the men were both hanged on the gallows. And it was recorded in the book of the chronicles in the presence of the king.”

We begin to see God’s invisible hand bringing both Esther and Mordecai into more favor with the King as they unravel a plot of his servants to kill him.

See God uses unlikely, unqualified candidates to bring about His will and the good of His people.

To the eye, I am an unlikely candidate to be used by God. But in fact,  my brokenness more than qualifies me to be used by my Redeemer to display his power.

Our life story is God’s story. It holds power and displays the gospel so clearly when we aren’t afraid to share the not so pretty spots.

We will continue to see the rest of Esther & God’s story unravel in future chapters.

 

Reflection/Application Questions:

  1. When circumstances change in your life do you cling to God’s commands the way Esther did with Mordecai’s? Why or why not?
  2. What part of your story are you too ashamed to share? What does God have to say about it?
  3. How do life circumstances change your view of God?
  4. Are you willing to bear the cost of hardship in order to be placed in a position to make change?

 

Wakey-Wakey-Eggs & Bakey Bonus Smoothie Recipes!

I am a breakfast fiend. The smell of french toast and bacon in the morning wakes me up drooling.

I could eat it in the morning, afternoon, evening and if I’m up late enough, at midnight. It’s just that good.

I also know that breakfast can be either one of the healthiest meals of the day or the unhealthiest. We’re going to touch on two ways breakfast can be unhealthy, and also what I personally do for my normal “wakey-wakey-eggs-and-bakey” 😉

Some of us literally kill ourselves in the morning when we don’t eat breakfast. My husband can be one of these criminals. Ya’ll, a healthy breakfast is SO important. Not only does a healthy breakfast give us energy and curb our appetites throughout the day so we don’t get the munchies for those pop tarts in the vending machine (or is that just me?), but it also kickstarts our metabolism. Our guts are a key part of our bodies that we can use to measure good health. (FYI -If you’re not making two or more trips to the bathroom daily, you’re either not eating well, not active enough or not drinking enough water.) Not eating breakfast gives you less energy throughout your day, allows your digestion to slow down, and lends to snacking on things that aren’t the best.

I know for myself, not eating breakfast isn’t my problem. My temptation is to eat the whole nine-yards. Pancakes, butter, syrup, eggs – aka glory. Although it sounds and smells good, a breakfast like this one actually has similar effects to not eating breakfast at all. When we eat an unhealthy breakfast, our metabolism isn’t ready to process all the junk we’re feeding it so it slows down. The loads of sugar leave you crashing later. You’re body doesn’t receive the substantial energy it needs to function throughout the day. So when that inviting aroma of pancakes is calling your name, remember your body needs to be fueled with more than carbs and sugar.

Okay now, before I share my breakfast routine with you, I need to add this caveat – it’s okay to splurge here or there. Part of fueling your body with grace means living a healthy lifestyle that is maintainable. Most weeks, my hubby will make pancakes, eggs and bacon (protein with carbs is a helpful thing!) on Thursday or Saturday mornings. Instead of having three larger sized pancakes, I’ll opt for two smaller ones (or my mini-Mickey Mouse Waffles).

All right here we go.

Before I eat ANYTHING I down two big glasses of water. This helps kickstart digestion, clears out my gut, and hydrates my body because I can often forget to through out the day.

The next thing I make is my fruit and veggie smoothie (recipe below). We’re supposed to have 4-5 servings of fruit and veggies a day, so why not knock out two of them in the morning with a tasty smoothie made solely from fruit and veggies?

I’ll get my protein in usually with a couple of eggs and yes, sometimes even a couple pieces of bacon. That’s right bacon. When we are eating a healthy diet throughout our day, the fats in bacon in smaller amounts can be really good for us!

If I’m exercising that day, I make sure to eat an english muffin or some other carb without butter. (I attempt to cut out dairy where ever possible, but cheese can be a weak spot. I’ll be writing another blog on the affects of dairy on your body at a later time.)

I would say the most important things for me at breakfast are to get water and veggies. I also have a tendency to have lower blood sugars so the eggs help me balance that.

If we want to reach our highest potential and the calling we believe has been placed on our lives, we need to take care of our bodies. You want to chase those dreams? You need to be healthy to get there. Bad health = distraction and energy spent elsewhere.

So…

What two things can you implement into your breakfast routine to fuel your body better?

Leafy greens, dairy-free yogurt substitutes (I love coconut cool whip!),  & protein powders can be added to each of the recipes below.

fruit-smoothie

Basic Fruit Smoothie

(1 serving)

  • 1 cup frozen berries
  • 1 -2 cups frozen spinach
  • 5-10 baby carrots (to taste)
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1/2 cup 0% greek yogurt

Banana Ginger Smoothie

(1 serving)

  • 1 frozen banana, sliced
  • ¾ c (6 oz) vanilla yogurt (substiture
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • ½ tsp freshly grated ginger
  • 1 cup frozen leafy green of choice (kale, spinach, spring mix etc)

Pumpkin Pie Fall Smoothie Recipe

(Makes 3 cups )

  • 1 cup almond/coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon agave syrup/pure maple syrup
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 apple, cored

Strawberry Mango Spring Smoothie Recipe

(Makes 3½ cups)

  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 banana, peeled, sliced, and frozen
  • 1 mango, skinned and chunked
  • 5 large strawberries hulled
  • 1 cup packed frozen spinach
Super Green Super Vibrant cucumber apple & ginger smoothie
 (2 servings)
  • 1 small cucumber
  • frozen handful of spinach
  • 1 apple, cored
  • 1 Tbsp minced ginger
  • freshly squeezed juice of 1 lime
  • 1 Tbsp honey/agave/maple syrup
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup ice

Spinach orange smoothie

(1 serving)

  • 1 navel orange, peeled
  • 1/2 frozen banana, peeled
  • 1 cup tightly packed frozen organic spinach
  • 1/4 cup coconut water, adjusted as desired
  • 1 tablespoon hemp seeds, optional
Pina Colada Smoothie

(2 servings)

  • 1 cup frozen baby spinach
  • 2 tbsp unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 cup fresh pineapple chunks
  • ½ cup frozen mango chunks
  • 1 small frozen banana
  • 4 oz 0% plain greek yogurt
  • ¾ cup cold water

Peanut Butter Banana Cream 

(1 serving)

  • 1 frozen banana, ripe
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 2 Tbsp peanut butter
  • ½ cup fat-free greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 Tbsp milled flaxseed
  • 2 low-fat Graham Crackers, crumbled

Happy breakfast!

Story of Grace: The Perfect Satisfaction

This week’s guest blogger is an extremely sweet friend of mine. Theresa Gionta is a laughter loving, dynamic, honest and real woman. I have seen her walk through many struggles, temptations and come out on the other side with a new beauty that Christ has given her. She’s also a nutritionist and blogs some pretty yummy, healthy goodness. You can check that out here.

As women, there are many standards we set for ourselves. Receiving the best education, owning a nice car, sculpting the perfect body, dating the cutest boys, and the list goes on. We strive for satisfaction in these areas and the more we strive, the less we have. It’s almost as though we are trying to fill an empty hole in our hearts with the material things of this world expecting some type of gain. I can honestly say that none of those things I listed above have ever satisfied me. The only satisfaction I have ever received in this life is by completely dedicating my life to Christ.

“But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

John 4:14

Surrendering my life to Christ did not automatically make my life easier, but what it did was even better–it creates a new life under God’s authority that’s not my own. Why would you want to let someone else tell you how to live your life, you ask? Grace. God’s grace and redemptive power are the reason I chose to dedicate my life to Him.

Before knowing Christ, I remember spending countless hours of my high school years asking myself about the purpose of life and thinking that everything I did was worthless. I believed the only point of life was to grow up, go to school, get a job, get married, have kids, and then die. How sad is that? Thinking that life has no meaning or purpose. This thinking led me into a serious depression which ruined my self-esteem. I lived for being skinny, popular, smart, and successful, and when I fell short of these standards, it made me depressed. I was a slave to perfection.

My sin led me to believe I had to be perfect in every way to be loved, but the gospel set me free. I no longer need to strive for perfection, because He lived the perfect life on my behalf. I remember the day Christ gave me life. It was as if an excessive amount of weight was lifted off my shoulders. He redeemed me through His death on the cross. He died as the ultimate sacrifice for sin, so that we can be free from the bondage of it for eternity. I found perfect satisfaction when He called me to Him and adopted me into the family of God.

“For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

2 Corinthians 5:21

To be honest, striving for perfection is a sin that I still struggle with and always will, evidenced by how upset I am every time I forget to do something on my to-do list, make a mistake that affects me, or eat too much one day and feel “fat.” I will always fall short of the glory of God, but I am reminded of this verse:

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”

(Romans 3: 23-24)

We are all still flawed and our world is still broken, but for this, there is grace. God’s redemption has taken place in my life, but I will continue to be broken. I will never be perfect no matter how hard I try and that is because no one is perfect apart from the one who had no sin. The power of sin has been broken in me, but the urge to always be perfect still lives in me and will always be redeemed by God’s amazing grace.

In God’s Absence – Esther 1:13-2:4

As I sat on our living room couch late into the evening, Ricky and I grieved the pain we had just been submitted to and we weren’t sure just how much more we could bear.

“It’s just hopeless and only gets worse. If it keeps going like this, I’m not sure I want to keep watching it,” Ricky lamented.

See, we had just hit the first episode in season seven of AMC’s “The Walking Dead”. My eyes were misty, my heart was sad, and I was dreading where the series was going. (spoiler alert!!) We had become emotionally invested in this show and its characters. In that first episode of season seven, we watched two of our favorite characters die horrific deaths at the will of this new, evil and all-powerful Negan guy and his “girl” Lucille, a barb-wired baseball bat.

Why would the writers of the show do this?

Haven’t they had it bad enough?

Who wants to watch a story without any sight of hope to hold onto?

As we continue into the book of Esther, working our way through chapter one, verse 13 through chapter 2, verse 4, I started to ask the same type of questions that I did after watching that brutal episode.

Why is King Ahasuerus (Xerxes) so angry that he would willingly cast away his wife?

Why are all these evil men so powerful?

Why are women so oppressed in this time?

Why should I care about this King’s drama?

And where in the world is God? Is he blind to the evil going on? Does He care about the ugly pride of Xerxes and his friends? (by the way, I challenge you to look up the meaning of each name of the men listed in 1:14)

The fact is, friend, we will see no mention of God throughout this story of Esther. It is the only book of the bible that doesn’t refer to God once. And in our repeated word observations, I not only discovered what seems like the absence of God completely, but also the story of a man just like The Walking Dead’s Negan.

Xerxes is looking to exert and make a show of his power after Queen Vashti has undermined his authority. He is acting impulsively after being enraged at his wife’s rejection of him. He is surrounded by self-seeking men who also celebrate enslaving the weak. (Side-note – this is not where to go for a biblical view of marriage or God’s view of women. Ephesians 5 is the place to go for a correct biblical view of marriage.) In his offense, King Ahasuerus decrees the second-rate nature of all women to their husbands. He casts out his beautiful wife and bride, never to be seen again. He makes an example of her.

And then, in verse one of chapter two, the King fondly remembers Vashti and regrets his impulsive decision. That is, until once again, his friends offered more thoughtless advice to first fill the emptiness inside of him with all the young beautiful women in his Kingdom, and then whichever woman he enjoyed the most in his overnight rendezvous, He could take as a wife.

Once again, the King became pleased with the thought of fulfillment through sex, power, and affirmation.

What do we take away from this?

When we are not looking to God for answers, or believe He doesn’t care because we don’t see Him at work, we turn to others and our own devices, often acting out impulsively.

The next morning after watching that horrible show, as I was getting ready for work, I watched the “talk-show” that usually runs after each episode of the Walking Dead. It was from the writers of the show themselves where I found the hope to carry me through this latest season. They gave me a new perspective and a reason for why they allowed what they did, and though I didn’t have to like the brutality, I could continue to watch with expectant hope of seeing a grander story appear.

But I wouldn’t have found that hope to keep going if I had simply based my view on what I was seeing. I had to look to the author of the show for revelation. I had to know they weren’t just sadists.

God is not a sadist. If only we would be still and wait to see Him unravel the masterful story not only in Esther, but in our own lives as well. He is there despite what you think, feel or even see. Often He calls us to His Word to find the reassurance and hope to endure through what seems like His absence. The bible is full of stories in edition to Esther where God’s people fear His abandonment or distrust His plans in the face of battle. But sweet sister, whatever it is you are facing, I pray you will find an anchor and hope for your soul in the gospel and the truth that He will never leave you nor forsake you. Hold on, He has a better resurrection headed your way.

“The awareness of a master storyteller weaving my life lets me pause and, like an artist, see hidden blessings and patterns where I begin to bear the cost of narrowing my life. It let’s me endure in love because I know Someone is guiding the story toward resurrection.”  – Paul E. Miller, A Loving Life

 

Are You Bold Enough to Dream?

I’ve been reading this book “You’re Made for a God-sized Dream” by Holley Gerth. First of all, a God-sized dream doesn’t have to be large in the world’s eyes. A God-sized dream is one that stems from the desires He has placed within the dreamer. It could be being a parent or a spouse, traveling foreign countries to serve others, writing a blog, or creating a vulnerable community. There are two things all God-sized dreams have in common. A God-sized dream brings the dreamer closer and into a more intimate relationship with God, and a God-sized dream loves other people. That’s it.

Easy-peasy.

There is so much injustice in the world – so much hurt. God has equipped many people with the ability to stand up and fight for the weak and oppressed. And yet, so many people that don’t because of fear.

“All the king’s servants and the people of the kings provinces know

that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called,

there is but one law- to be put to death,

except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter so that he may live.

But as for me, I have not been called to come in to the king these thirty days.”

Esther 4:11

What if I told you, that you and I, were made to take a stance against the injustices that break, tear and ruin our hearts? What would be the response? Would it be Esther’s first response to Mordecai’s plea for her to appeal to King Ahasuerus to end the genocide of her people – a denial to stand against injustice for fear?

“For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will come from another place,

but you and your father’s house will perish.

And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

Esther 4:14

If a dreamer stays quiet and refuses the call, someone else may step up to address the issue, but then world will never see the unique legacies that only the dreamer was built to leave. The dreamer will have become nothing. The world – the hurting, abused and enslaved, they will never experience or see the light the dreamer was made to shine.

All because we were afraid to step out in boldness and faith. Because all we saw were our weaknesses, this world’s obstacles, and how the combination of the two seem like a recipe for failure. Because we stand in fear, instead of in the faithfulness of God and the freedom He has given us to live an abundant life.

“I will go to the king, even though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.”

Esther 4:16

Oh, if every dreamer had Esther’s courage. That if she’s going to perish, she’s going to perish not in silence but in boldness and faith.

Silence is not a response I’m willing to choose. I don’t know what God’s going to do with my dream. I don’t know how he’s going to transform and morph it. But I pray with everything I have that He turns it into something beautiful. Something that changes lives. Something that leaves behind not my own legacy, but the legacy of the house of my Father. The legacy of the Kingdom of God.

 

Reflection Questions

  • What’s holding you back from chasing your god-sized dream?
  • What do you want to do with your life?
  • What are two ways to make steps toward your dream?

 

Story of Grace: Officially Unfriended

I am so excited to introduce our first Story of Grace! Madi Wenger is a sweet friend, campus missionary for DiscipleMakers, lover of Jesus, and blogger at She Laughs Without Fear. She is talented, joyful and so, so wise. Check out her story below! 

I realized that a friend from college unfriended me today. We were friends from theatre, had enjoyed watching movies together, and a smattering of other memories, but she unfriended me at some point over the past few years. I’m not surprised. She’s one of several individuals that I still care who have decided to no longer be friends with me on Facebook.

Every time I realize that I’ve lost a friend whether online or in real life, a number of thoughts flow through my mind…

 Was it something I posted? Did I share something that offended her?

Is it because I’m a follower of Jesus?

It’s at that point, Paul’s words to the Galatians comes to mind:

“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

Galatians 1:10

Five years ago, I would have been devastated to find that someone unfriended me. You see, I lived for the approval of others. I wanted others to take notice of me, of my abilities, personality, and to praise me. I put my worth in what others thought about me, and my days were spent feeling high or low depending on how people responded to me that day. Simply put, I was enslaved to the approval of man.

I’ll never forget the first time a dear friend and mentor brought this to my attention. She brought my people pleasing into the light, and I came face-to-face with a habitual sin in my life, one that blinded and enslaved me for years. I had just started following Jesus earlier that year, and I was learning how God was renewing my heart and my mind to make me more like His Son. My friend encouraged me from Scripture to see that my worth is in the finished work of Jesus on the cross and to live for God’s approval, which I already had in Jesus Christ.

I’ll be honest, I’ve been working through this sin for years, seeing the subtle ways that I seek the approval of man: wanting more followers on Instagram, desiring others to praise my blog or my work, getting jealous when others have more seemingly fruitful ministries than mine, or even coveting others’ homes or belongings. And let me tell you, seeking the approval of man always leads to emptiness, but the gospel has set me free as I choose to live in light of God’s approval.

You see, Jesus Christ did not live for the approval of man, ever.

He lived for his Father’s approval and he pleased God. (Mark 1:11)

He was perfect, and yet so that he could save others, he died a death that he didn’t deserve, and his Father forsook him (Mark 15:34).

Jesus was forsaken so that I could have God’s approval, even as I struggle with wanting the approval of man instead. But that wasn’t the end of the story. Jesus rose again, defeating the grave, and defeating sin and death… defeating my sin of seeking the approval of man over God.

When I have moments like I experienced today, when I realize that people aren’t pleased with me, I’m free to walk in the freedom of the gospel, knowing that I don’t need the approval of man. Because of Jesus, I have God’s approval, and his approval brings more life and joy than any person’s approval ever could.

God is making me new by grace by taking an approval junkie like myself and helping me to not find my worth in the approval of others, but rather in the finished work of Jesus Christ.

How about you, my friend?

Have you experienced enslavement to the approval of others in your life?

If so, I would encourage you that you don’t have to be enslaved anymore. There is true freedom in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and there is hope to be made new.

Tell Me I’m Pretty – Esther 1:1-12

Esther 1:1-12

Not only was this Valentine’s Day our first one as a married couple, but it was also the first that Ricky and I were able to spend together.  So when I got home from work, I of course tore through my closet and tried on about four or five different outfits that would (in the words of Thomas Rhett) “bring him to his knees”. I even put on a pair of pumps which is a rare occurrence.

Ricky had ran out and bought flowers earlier in the day and set up a super sweet card on the table with pictures and the flowers. He showered me with words like “my love” and all the other encouraging, sappy, sweet things that as a woman I melt for. He had made a reservation at one of those places in town that you don’t go to without a special reason. It was a sweet setup, but one thing was missing.

When I walked downstairs, my husband didn’t tell me how beautiful I looked.

Left without the affirmation I wanted from my husband, though I had everything else, my spirit deflated and my heart grew disappointed and frustrated. How could his knees not get weak looking at me in these painful high heels, perfectly cut dress and curled hair? If he really was attracted to me, if he really loved me, if I really had value to him, he would have swooped me off my feet with his Song of Songs poetic lines about my beauty too. But, he didn’t and I was frustrated that the man I married didn’t revel in my beauty like other men I knew.

I waited throughout the entire evening to have my beauty acknowledged, and I waited to no avail. In fact, for other reasons Ricky withdrew throughout the evening.

Instead of ending our night together, I went to bed this Valentine’s Day without the acknowledgement I thought I deserved and I was left frustrated, withdrawn, even more insecure and as far as I could get away from him in our king-sized bed.

Can the wives here relate?

Even if you’re not a wife (but still oh-so-special-and-loved), aren’t there times in life where we parade our beauty, money, clothing, children, husband, career, home, car, hot date in hopes of affirmation from others about such a thing and then get severely disappointed or even angered when our friends, colleagues or family don’t affirm our value because of these things?

This is the situation we find ourselves peeking into when we open the first 12 verses of Esther. King Ahasuerus is throwing a huge party, and not just a normal one-night or weekend party. No, this party is 180 days long. It’s purpose? To parade all of the things the King finds his worth tied to – the “riches of his royal glory and the splendor of his pomp and greatness” (v4). The King was parading his wealth and power before all the higher ups in the land, possibly to grow trust in his power and their allegiance to go fight the Greeks. And after that, he throws another feast, this time for a more modest week, for all in the capital city of Susa. As he demonstrates his worth to his subordinates and princes on the last day, the King thinks of Queen Vashti, his wife, “for she was lovely to look at” and he orders his eunuchs to fetch her to display her beauty (and his worth) to the people and princes.

But Vashti, refuses the call.

And the King becomes enraged and I would guess embarrassed in front of those whose affirmation he was seeking.

See we are not so different from King Ahasuerus. Often we find ourselves tying up our worth and value in things that aren’t secure, that we have no control over, and that can be destroyed. Whether it’s our appearance, intelligence, children, or home décor, these are all fleeting and the affirmation we receive because of such things (though not innately bad) will never fill up our souls and spirits.

Those things are made to be blessings and gifts, not to serve as a measure of our worth or act as ego-boosters. That affirmation from that one person you desperately want attention from (husband, child, mother, father, teacher, coach) is good and encouraging, but it should not define you. You will be left disappointed, hurt and angry when these fail.

But this world is passing away, every day there’s death and lies and hurt people hurting people.  So where do we hold onto for security?

I know a King who gave up all the heavenly riches and glory He had, in order to parade you, my sweet sister, as His inheritance. In stark contrast to King Ahasuerus, Jesus Christ set aside His power, riches and beauty to save you unto himself even to the point of death.

But He is risen.

And He calls you beloved, chosen, set-apart, beautiful, and precious. His love is based on nothing you got goin’ on for yourself and endures despite the pieces of you that you try to leave hidden. You don’t need to prove yourself and parade yourself before Him to love you. He already does.

So, sweet sister, whatever it is that you’re finding your value and worth attached to that is passing way, lay it down and take up the easy yoke of Christ’s love once again.

What did you gain from your study of Esther 1:1-12?

Let us know in the comments below!

 

Next Saturday we’re continuing our study of Esther 1:13 – 2:4.

Keep highlighting repeated words, listing what you learn about each character and try splitting the passage into 3 sections to help break things down for your study!

Tearing Up My Moldy Floors

You know that show Extreme Home Makeover? Some of the homes are very obviously completely rundown. Some look fine on the surface but the damage can be seen once you dig a little bit, and others just need a little bit of sprucing up on the interior design. Sometimes, the damage is done by the homeowners. Sometimes the homes were made incorrectly. Sometimes the homes are just worn from the wear and tear of everyday life; anything from the weather to the kids that climbed and jumped off the couch 1,001 times. Regardless, every homeowner has realized that it is something they do not have the skills to fix or change and so they call in the experts who rush in with backhoes, cement slabs, bright colors of paint, and yards of beautiful linen.

My time abroad in 2015 really showed me where my home, the foundation of my identity, hadn’t been completely built by the Lord. Because of that, the wear and tear of life had damaged it.

Those girls in high school that didn’t like me because of the way I walked (seriously though that’s not a joke) or friends that made my joyfulness out to be annoying or even the praise I received from teachers and coaches bred parts of my identity that I didn’t realize had become so foundational to who I was.

And I was tired of fighting and killing myself over what people thought of me, or said about me, and how these false aspects of my identity were affecting my life today. I was frustrated as I tried to lay a hardwood floor over a bumpy concrete slab that I had no idea how to do.

So I sat down with the Lord. Incredulous that I was struggling with things (years later, and it’s the same struggle different situations) that I felt were so elementary. I never really thought twice about all of these things in my life. I think I honestly would have said these labels truly had nothing to do with the foundation of my identity, especially because I know my identity is found in Christ and what He says of me. So why am I so fearful of what people are saying about me or how people are perceiving me?

The Lord answered me with Isaiah 44:24-28:

“Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer,

who formed you from the womb:

‘I am the LORD, who made all things,

who alone stretched out the heavens,

who spread out the earth by myself,

who frustrated the signs of liars

and makes fools of diviners,

who turns wise men back

and makes their knowledge foolish,

who confirms the word of his servant

and fulfills the counsel of his messengers,

who says of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be inhabited.’

And of the cities of Judah, ‘They shall be built,

And I will raise up their ruins’:

Who says to the deep, ‘ Be dry;

I will dry up your rivers’:

Who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd,

and he shall fulfill all my purpose’:

saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built,’

and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’”

The truth is, I have built pieces of my foundation on things other than Christ more than I thought I have. But the beautiful thing about our God is that He is in the business of remodeling and complete makeovers. My God is a Redeemer of broken things, and He has a purpose for the way He alone originally knitted me together. In fact, He has a purpose for all things He created in the heavens and on earth.

He uproots lies that others and even we ourselves have created about His creation and purpose. He makes them fools with his redemptive work. And when you think you have it all figured out, He says, “Try again.” His design for us as individuals and collectively is so much bigger. He is a God who speaks confirmation and encouragement to his followers. He is the power that transforms people.

He spoke to me that my foundation hasn’t been laid completely on Him, even though a lot of it has been. And I threw up my hands and asked, “How do I fix it then Lord?” He calmly said in this scripture, “You’re not going to. I am. Because you don’t know yourself. Other people don’t know you either. But I, I am the one who created everything. You will be used the way that I originally designed you, just as Jerusalem will be inhabited. And your ruins and brokenness, I will rebuild and replace it with something even more beautiful just like the cities of Judah. And everything that is giving you imitation life, I’m going to take those away and give you My living water; just like I will dry up the river. You are my servant and you will be used for my purpose. I am going to build you. Others will not. You will not. And we are going to start this remodeling at the foundation of your identity as a temple to me and me alone.”

At that point I was kind of like those homeowners that get too involved in the makeover process. How can I help? What can I do? Shouldn’t it be done this way? Wouldn’t it be best to…? But my God just told me very simple directions.

“Seek me above all else. Love people with the Gospel. Be slow to speak. Quick to hear. Enjoy your life everyday. I will relay your foundation as you walk with me.”

No matter what age you are, or what level of maturity you’ve attained, there is always some remodeling Jesus can do in your heart and identity. Oftentimes, this comes out during times of conflict or suffering. Here are some questions to help you identify some areas the Lord may be wanting to rebuild in your life.

  1. When conflicts occur, how do you respond and why do you respond that way?
  2. Where is the root of the current issue and emotion?
  3. When was the first time you felt this way?
  4. What is the lie you believed about others and/or yourself through that situation?
  5. What is the truth that God calls us to? Who does God say you are?
  6. Are you allowing God to come in and smooth out your bumps?
  7. Do you trust that He is capable of redeeming and rectifying you in every aspect of your life?

Esther

Join me in diving into the incredible story of God’s plan to use an orphaned Jewish girl to save her entire people from genocide decreed by the Persian Empire of King Xerxes.

 Together we’re going to uncover the mysteries of the providence of God and our own conflicting loyalties, and on the way, we’ll also learn how to even understand that confusing bible lingo.

It’s a drama of power, fear, hate, beauty, sex, pride and reward.

 Are you ready to grow a richer, deeper knowledge of our God?

Setting the Stage

Setting the stage for your study is so, so, so important in being able to understand the text and all the hidden gems Christ hid in His Word for us to discover. I always begin my in-depth bible studies by reading through the book I’m going through once, and then with an overview of the book.

Need a good starting point? Here’s the main things I always try to look for, for an overview:

(Try to find the answers in the text first!

They are often there. Next go to helpful commentaries.)

  1. Author: Who wrote it?
  2. Audience: Who is it written to or for?
  3. Genre: Is it an epistle (aka letter), narrative (historical or historical novella), poetry, wisdom, prophesy, gospels, apocalyptic?
  4. Purpose: Why is this written? (For ex: In the Gospel of John, John states in 20:31 that he wrote all of his account so that the reader would believe Jesus is the Messiah and would believe in Christ for salvation. Other books are not that obvious.)
  5. Date Written: When was this book written?
  6. Setting: What was going on at the time this book takes place? What was the culture like?
  7. Themes: As you read through the book initially, were there any major ideas that stuck out to you repeatedly? What might the author be trying to emphasize?

 

Below is my overview of Esther. I also put the place I found the answer.

(i.e. text, commentary, inferred)

 Author: Unknown – Jewish and aware of 4th Century BC Persian Culture (text/inferred)

Audience: People of Israel (text/inferred)

Genre: Diaspora Story/ Historical Novella (text/inferred/commentary/)

Purpose: To explain the establishment of the Jewish holiday Purim; to display God’s silent sovereignty (text/commentary)

Time Written: ~470-350 BCE (text/commentary)

Setting: (~484-474 BCE ) The Book of Esther is believed to have taken place in the Persian Empire under the rule of the famous King Xerxes I, well after Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II destroyed the temple and sent the Jewish people into Exile. The story begins three years into King Xerxes rule. Then there is about a 4-year gap between the time Queen Vashti loses her throne and Esther is made Queen. From the time Esther takes the throne to the end of the book is about 7 years more. (text/commentary)

Themes: Providence of God, conflicting loyalties, sex, fear, beauty, death, hate, honor, pride, submission, reward, power. (text)

Next week we’re going through Esther 1:1-12. I’ll be talking a little bit more about the setting, the people of King Xerxes and Queen Vashti, and just how pride, wealth, beauty and rejection are never enough.

 

Things to look for, for next time:

Repeated Words

What do we learn about each “character”

Why Made New by Grace?

Often times I think circumstances and this broken world get the better of us. The oppositions’ voices can be so loud, even if they are just in our heads. Even if we know what they are feeding us is rotten fruit, or we know the sweetness of living an abundant life, an ugly seed plants itself in what God intended to be the beautiful garden of you and me and every one else.

“Made New by Grace” is a project that has been inspired by such seasons of life.

Over the past year and a half of my life, anxiety and depression clouded what “should have been” the sweetest seasons of my life so far. The man I’m madly in love with proposed to me. That same man took me to be his wife with my best friends standing by my side. I received a big promotion at work and  I began building a home.

Though there were moments, or even a span of a couple of days of cherished memories, there were also outbursts of uncontrollable sobbing or the crippling feeling of weakness.

In fact, one day the crushing feeling of being overwhelmed left me unable to even finish finding the groceries on my grocery list without my husband there to grab me by the hand and gently, patiently guide me through the store to get everything we needed. I’ve wept over my weakness multiple times and wondered where the strong, capable woman who once stared back at me in the mirror had gone, and why no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get her back.

I had believed lies that I was purposeless, secondary, talentless and scared to death by the idea of my worst nightmares coming true. I was paralyzed by all of the loss I experienced from picking up and moving across the country. I ate my feelings and isolated myself in many ways, but most the most devastating thing was when my heart grew cold against God. I began to believe the lie that He wasn’t who He said He was.

But the more I think about it, my husband in that grocery store was the perfect image of Christ I needed though I didn’t see it until now. Christ took me right through my biggest fear, and on the other side He handed me full grocery bags of everything I needed to flourish. He reminded me in gentleness the sweetness of His love, the bitterness of unforgiveness and fear, the savory taste of the fact that He has made me for a purpose, has gifted me through His Spirit to work towards that purpose, and has and will continue to grant me access to the Maker of Heaven and Earth to impact change.

I am so much more than my weaknesses because He said so and makes me that way.

And so are you.

You are wholly loved.

You are valuable.

You have a purpose.

You are gifted.

You are not alone.

This is a restart on the adventure to live the abundant life Christ has given me. It’s what the freedom of living in my original design that was drafted so carefully and intentionally by the Lover of my soul and Healer of my scars. And it’s a journey I want to share with you. Would you walk this road with me, together?

Questions to Ponder:

What have you been battling lately?

How has it affected the “real” you?

What makes your heart race with excitement and passion?

What are you naturally good at?

How can you use this to impact others to walk out in their original design?