As Esther debates with herself just what to do about the king’s decree to destroy all the Jews, her uncle Mordecai gives her (and us) some very important news.  “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape.  For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish.  And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

First, Mordecai assures Esther that privileged does not guarantee freedom from persecution.  When people rise up against God’s family, history has shown that nothing but God can protect them.  This is important for we in privileged positions to remember.

Second, Mordecai assures Esther that God will save His people, with or without her.  If she does not rise up to the challenge of being God’s instrument, He will simply raise another and we will miss out on all that God has in store.  This is important for us to remember when we think God’s plan depends on us.

Finally, Mordecai assures Esther that God’s plan to save His people began long before the danger arose in the first place.  Before Haman even conceived of his plan for Jewish genocide, God had put the objects of His salvation in the right places.

Once again, we are reminded that it is God’s plan, God’s battle, and God’s power that saves us and those around us, not our ability or success.  These are important lessons, ones that I hope we will remember in the days ahead.

Have you ever lied when you really didn’t have to?  Exaggerated a good story to make it better?  Increased the number of something to make yourself more of a hero?  We call these “little white lies” and consider them normal in conversation.  But God doesn’t consider them normal.  In fact, He considers them an abnormality to the way things are supposed to be, which is another name for sin.

Ananias and Sapphira owned some land, and as new believers, they sold it, kept some of the proceeds and gave the rest to the apostles.  But upon their giving of the gift, they proclaimed that they gave all that the land was worth.  Why do such a thing?  There was no obligation, legal or theological or personal, even to sell the land in the first place.  They could have kept the land and been fine.  Or they could have sold the land and brought half to the church and been honored for their generosity.

But instead, they tried to play the heroes and lied about the amount they brought.  And in so doing, they not only lied to the apostles, but they lied to God.  And that was not to be tolerated in this fledgling Church.  While the church was facing attacks from outside its ranks, attacks from the Jewish leadership and the Romans alike, they also are here facing attacks from within their own ranks.

Trust and faith are the same word in the bible, and lies break both.  To allow a lie to linger is to actively destroy faith.  This is why lies are so dangerous – they burrow like termites, eating away at the foundation of the building until it collapses.  Was this a drastic punishment for a little white lie?  You bet.  Was it unjustified?  No way.

Beware of lies, big and small ones.  They will destroy the foundation of anything you’ve built and bring judgement upon your head.

Have you ever lied when you really didn’t have to?  Exaggerated a good story to make it better?  Increased the number of something to make yourself more of a hero?  We call these “little white lies” and consider them normal in conversation.  But God doesn’t consider them normal.  In fact, He considers them an abnormality to the way things are supposed to be, which is another name for sin.

Ananias and Sapphira owned some land, and as new believers, they sold it, kept some of the proceeds and gave the rest to the apostles.  But upon their giving of the gift, they proclaimed that they gave all that the land was worth.  Why do such a thing?  There was no obligation, legal or theological or personal, even to sell the land in the first place.  They could have kept the land and been fine.  Or they could have sold the land and brought half to the church and been honored for their generosity.

But instead, they tried to play the heroes and lied about the amount they brought.  And in so doing, they not only lied to the apostles, but they lied to God.  And that was not to be tolerated in this fledgling Church.  While the church was facing attacks from outside its ranks, attacks from the Jewish leadership and the Romans alike, they also are here facing attacks from within their own ranks.

Trust and faith are the same word in the bible, and lies break both.  To allow a lie to linger is to actively destroy faith.  This is why lies are so dangerous – they burrow like termites, eating away at the foundation of the building until it collapses.  Was this a drastic punishment for a little white lie?  You bet.  Was it unjustified?  No way.

Beware of lies, big and small ones.  They will destroy the foundation of anything you’ve built and bring judgement upon your head.

One of my favorite Greek words found in scripture is “homothymadon”.  While it sounds like my 3 year old’s favorite dinosaur, in reality the word means “of one mind” or “like minded”.  It’s a word that I wish we could use of our modern church but unfortunately, it’s not a very good descriptor.

Today’s text contains that word as a description of the early church.  “All the believers were one in heart and mind” – homothymadon at its best.  They were the ultimate community, where everyone shared everything, from missional priorities to finances.  If one was in need, someone with more would help them out.  And this was the norm rather than the exception.  Being a Christian community, there was no fear of someone “milking the system” by not working and just relying on others.  Anyone who didn’t contribute did so because they couldn’t and earned the mercy of the group.  One in heart and mind – that kind of unity would confuse, impress, and cause the world around us to envy us.  What a witness we would have, live, and be with a simple attitude of homothymadon.

Sadly, instead we have adopted the “every one for themselves” attitude of our capitalist society.  “We have because we’ve earned it,” the belief goes, “so I shouldn’t have to give away what I worked hard for.”  This goes directly against the biblical reality that all we have is a gift from God, given to help others.  No, when the world looks at the church, they see their own ideas and attitudes reflected back with an extra dose of self-righteousness and judgmentalism.  Our witness is weakened to the point of impotence because we are simply not homothymadon.

Can we change?  Can we decide to live “like mindedly”?  Can we be unified in our hearts?  Can we share what we have, and let go of our societal addiction to ownership?  I don’t know, but if we don’t then our witness is doomed.

When God shows His power in the world, the unfortunate side effect is that the “powers” of this world have their impotence revealed.

Peter and John innocently heal a lame man, and all hell breaks loose.  They are arrested, jailed over night, brought before the High Priest, reprimanded, and finally released.  But not before we see the power of the Jewish leadership for what it is – assumed, not proven.  They question Peter and John, two “unschooled men”, only to find their answers unassailable.  They meet in private to decide their fate, and in the end the only thing they can do with their human, positional power is to command them not to preach any more.

Yet even in that, Peter stands tall before them.  Rather than agreeing to their face and then turning around and preaching again anyway, defying their authority passive-aggressively, he uses this moment to teach the teachers.  He tells them to their face that he must obey God’s will, which is to continue preaching, rather than theirs, which is to stop.  And they have no choice but to let them go regardless.

What powers in this world do you face that will be proven impotent when God’s power is revealed?

I wish we had the spiritual fervor of the people of Nehemiah’s day.  Perhaps exile is required for us to remember the passion and excitement our faith can bring us.  I know that hardship draws us closer to God, and that God can use any difficulty and pain in our lives to draw us nearer to Him.  Perhaps an exile, spiritual or physical, is necessary to generate the kind of pain and fear that leads us truly into the arms of God.

These people gathered as one and Ezra the priest read aloud the Book of the Law, the Pentateuch, what we know as Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  He read to them from sunup to noon, 6 hours, and they listened with such intensity that they wept at the power of God’s Word.  Then he did it again the next day.  And the next…

If we have a full chapter of scripture to read aloud on a Sunday morning, I get complaints that it is too long.

What will it take for us to reengage with scripture with a passion that drives us to tears in its reading, that causes us to stand in rapt attention for 6 hours as someone reads the Old Testament, that draws us to the Word like a moth to flame?  I hope not too much, for the pain necessary to snap us out of our complacency may just be more than we can bear, even with God’s help.  Lord, save us and draw us to You and Your Word.

Do you consider God’s will something that happens easily?  Or maybe a better questions is this: do you begin to doubt that you are truly doing God’s will when things get tough?  Is opposition, either by others or by circumstances, a cause of doubt for you, causing you to doubt whether you are following God correctly?

Nehemiah faced opposition throughout his entire ministry of rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem.  The surrounding kingdoms attacked him in a number of different ways, all in an attempt to stop him from doing God’s will, from rebuilding the City of God.

First, they tried a legal attack, sending a letter to Nehemiah’s “boss” telling him that Nehemiah shouldn’t be allowed to do what he was doing.  Nehemiah foiled this plan with facts, pointing out that he had permission from a previous king.  Second, they tried an emotional attack, ridiculing the Jews, mocking them and discouraging them publicly.  Nehemiah foiled this plan with prayer, asking God to take care of his enemies.  Third, they tried a physical attack, making them stop by force.  Nehemiah foiled this attack with military strategy, keeping a guard on duty day and night.  Fourth, they tried a political attack, inviting him to the bargaining table in order to capture and kill him.  This Nehemiah foiled with wisdom and political savvy.  Fifth, they tried a religious attack, hiring a prophet to bring fake news to Nehemiah about an attempt on his life.  But Nehemiah saw right through this one, too, and refused to hide away from attack and leave his people defenseless: he called doing so a sin.  With all of their different attacks foiled, Nehemiah’s enemies finally lost hope and went home.

When you next face opposition to what you believe to be God’s plan for you, think of Nehemiah and be comforted.  If you are truly in God’s will, you will face opposition, and with truth, hope, wisdom, and most of all prayer on your side, you can stand against anything.  Lean on God, and He will hold you up.

One of the most fascinating facets of the Pentecost story, with which we are pretty familiar, is it’s link to the story of the Tower of Babel.  In fact, the story of Pentecost is almost the exact opposite of the Babel story.

In the beginning, God had given one command over and over again to His people:  Be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth.  His call was to scatter themselves all over the earth and in so doing, make a name for God throughout the earth.  One group, however, decided against this plan and so they joined together in a metropolis and stopped their work of scattering across the earth.  They grew prosperous and proud, and in their pride, they decided to build a tower, what we today would know as a ziggurat.  This tower had a temple at it’s very top, closest to God.  This temple would act as a gateway, a place where they could access God.  Their control of this gateway also meant control of God, and if they so chose they could storm the very gates of heaven itself.  Seeing this, God knew the sin it would lead to, but in His mercy, rather than simply destroying them, He instead changed their language so they  could not understand one another, and so they disbanded, and spread across the face of the earth – God’s original plan for them.

At Pentecost, we find a gathering of people of different languages celebrating God and seeking to make a name for Him.  When the Spirit comes upon them, it does to unite their language so they might be drawn together as a community, and sure enough, they do.

God’s plans may change depending on the group of people, the time period, or His own will.  But while God’s plans may change, God’s Plan never does.  God’s plan is that all humankind might know and follow Him.  Whether this is by separating them or uniting them through language, God’s plan remains – to share the message of His love and mercy with all humankind.

What part might you play in this grand plan?  How might God be calling you to live it out in your particular sphere of influence?

Yesterday I had a conversation about the intersection of theology and physics, asking how we blend these two disciplines in our beliefs.  For example, a former colleague once asked me this:  if God is truly outside of time and experiences all of time constantly, then could we pray for his intervention in things that have already happened?  Our prayers would reach God who would be experiencing those very moments which for us are in the past.  Might we have prayed for past events and seen God change them without knowing it?

Today I want to ask a different question.  If God is truly all-powerful and in control of the events going on around us, then what is the most efficient and quick way to discern His will?  With verbal communication from God rare these days, how might we discern God’s will in large decisions quickly?  The answer is: Urim and Thummim!

The Urim and Thummim are found throughout the Old Testament. These were two small, flat objects, probably stones, one black and one white presumably.  These were used to determine courses of action, guilt and innocence, and practically any matter where a “yes – no” answer would work.  The priest wore these things in his breastplate worn for worship.  They were used, probably by drawing one out of a small bag, to determine God’s will.  In the case of civil courts, drawing the white stone would indicate innocence, while drawing the black one would indicate guilt.  And if God were truly all-powerful, and truly wanted to give us His will, He would make us choose the right stone.

Elsewhere, the same concept is used without the stones and we call it “drawing lots”.  We see this with Jonah, with Jesus’ garments on the cross, and now here in the choosing of a disciple to replace Judas.  In modern parlance, these hugely significant decisions, sometimes with life or death consequences, were chosen by a coin toss.

Did God speak through these seemingly random short-straw methods?  What is the modern day implication of this for the church?  What happens when we have to put our theological beliefs in practice with physical consequences?

John’s last chapter, as we noted yesterday, is probably a late addition to the gospel, but is notably John’s writing.  It is also terribly important to the early church, for without it, we leave Peter in disgrace.  But with it, we find in Peter a leader who truly understands leadership.

No leader can be truly effective in leading others until they have failed deeply.  Without that, either pride or ignorance of the pain others feel at their own failures will make a leader ineffective.  Peter is such an effective leader primarily because he learns the lessons that only failure, repentance, and reinstatement can teach.

If we think about Peter before his betrayal of Jesus, we think of a loud, impulsive, brash, enthusiastic but naive follower.  We find him with his foot in his mouth more often than not.  We find Jesus scolding him for his wrong impulses which drive his behavior.  In short, we find a pretty ineffective leader.  In fact, while Peter sticks with Jesus longer than any disciple besides John, he cannot hold the band together once Jesus is taken.

If we think about Peter after his betrayal of Jesus, we think of a pillar of the Jerusalem church, author of 2 New Testament letters, a preacher sharing his story to great effect, and a man who can sit patiently in jail awaiting God’s plan.  Miracle maker, public speaker, patient leader.

The difference between these two Peter’s is both his and Jesus’ reaction to his betrayal.  There is no greater failure than to deny Jesus publicly and Peter does so three times.  But unlike Judas, he doesn’t give in to despair.  Instead he returns to the community and leads it.  And when Jesus appears, he goes to him as fast as possible.  And in so doing, his repentance is complete, his failure forgiven, and his status as leader reinstated.

Do you have a story of failure in your life that God used to make you a better leader?  Are you facing a failure right now and need to trust that God can use even this to make you a better follower?