Thursday, October 18, 2018

Book Review ~ Famous In Heaven and at Home

The Proverbs 31 Woman. We either love her or hate her depending upon how we feel about ourselves at any given moment. She's either a hero or a villain that cheers us on in the great cloud of witnesses or the condemning voice that sounds suspiciously like our own. But like it or not, she's in Scripture for a reason.

I could list more ways than you have time to wade through on why you should read this book. I could give you example after example of how the words of wisdom borne from experience in this book have changed my life and the life of my family for the better. But I won't. I'll encourage you to buy this book for yourself and maybe a friend or two or ten and go through it together for accountability.

What I do want to do is highlight the set up of the book and one way it opened my eyes to something I did not know about my own walk with God. Something that was so transformative, that on the off chance you don't get this book, you still need to know and do this. Trust me.

Each day is set up in 5 sections. #P31Goal, #P31Authority, #P31Encouragement, #P31Prayer, and #P31Practice. Nothing in this book is condemning. It's encouragement from start to finish in all the ways you would want a dear friend to spur you on to good works and not grow weary. It's a desire from the heart of the author to build women up into their God-given purpose which overflows every aspect of our lives and every title we will ever hold. 

And once you start, you will want to continue. You will see the small changes in perspective that are having a hundredfold return. And then you will get to day 8. And on day 8, the 'practice' is to read an article on When I read this article, I thought, oh, that's easy. Umm, no.

I will be honest. I took the 'easy' way out. I didn't write a prayer like the article or Michelle suggested, I wrote down the statements in each of the seven areas outlined. It seemed easy and simple. It appeared to be non-threatening. Until I wrote the first one. I wrote sixteen total words. Sixteen. That's less than two dozen. And I felt like I just put a gun in someone else's hand and pointed it straight at my heart. Because those sixteen words opened my eyes to exactly how I viewed God.

When Jesus taught us how to pray, He used the words thy will be done. Those aren't easy words to say when we really, desperately want a particular outcome. But the phrase in these prayers, well, let's just say it opens up every possibility because nothing is being withheld to achieve the goal. And as I wrote them each time, I was forced to accept that it wasn't just me it could have an impact on, but every person I loved. And I realized that my view of God was severely distorted.

Jesus tells us that if our father's who are evil know how to give us good gifts, then how much more our Father in heaven. But in writing those prayers, I realized I didn't accept that as truth. I believed that what I was writing was, in fact, an invitation to bring punishment, and severe punishment at that, to get me to learn the lessons I was stubbornly refusing. Was it a call to obedience? Sure. But was it God's grace to help me see that His intentions were not my worst nightmares? Absolutely.

Each day in this book was important. I've gone through it three times and I know I'll go through it at least a dozen more. It's an absolute treasure if it's used for the purpose for which it was intended: to keep us chasing after Christ as hard as we can.

This book is available on Amazon and is well worth the investment of time and money. Michelle's heart is evident in everything she's written and everything she does. Do yourself a favor and order it. Not only will you notice a difference in your life, but you'll see one in the lives of those you are called to influence. 

You can find out more at SheWorksHisWay

Michelle's other book can be found here

You can also find inspiration from SheWorksHisWay on Facebook and Instagram

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Book Review ~ A Simplified Life

When I bought this book I had no idea, no idea whatsoever, how such simple, obvious suggestions (that had never crossed my mind) could so drastically change and improve my life.

Emily Ley's book, A Simplified Life: tactical tools for intentional living, revolutionized the way I saw my day. The amount of time I would spend trying to make decisions about basic things, things that really shouldn't take up as much mental space and energy as they did, was unbelievable. And with just a couple of small tweaks to my thought process, my headspace was freed to handle other things with significantly more peace and grace.

The book is broken down into 10 areas with suggestions on how to pare them down to their most basic forms and then create a system that lets you decided how best to maintain what you and your family actually need. The way I saw what was this.....what is the bare bottom minimum that is both practical and functional.......what do I want it to look like........what am I currently doing that's extra that just needs to go? I mean seriously.

Because I think it's important for you to read the book yourself and let it inspire you as it did me, I will tell you one thing, one tiny little thing that has made such an enormous impact it's almost ridiculous. 

Every week I write my grocery list on Tuesday because I get groceries on Wednesday. That said, I would always take my husband's schedule and see how many days he would be home for dinner, what nights would be 'off' because of practice or other commitments, and go from there. But trying to figure out what I would make, deciding what to cook, always took forever. She suggested writing some 'go to' meals. I took it one step further and created categories of all the things I make. The pastas, soups, Mexican dishes, chicken dishes, etc all on one paper. Now, I look at the paper, pick however many I need, and build my list around that. Seriously. Plus, seeing them all and having a rough estimate of the time it will take to make them lets me know what's realistic for each night. So simple, but never once thought to do it.

Like her book Grace, Not Perfection, this book is filled with wisdom. Wisdom from a wife, mom, and entrepreneur who figured out some things that she now wants all of us to benefit from. This book isn't rocket science, it's real life, easy to follow suggestions, given with love and logic. And I can tell you that I have benefitted from it tremendously. I know you will, too.

You can find out more about Emily Ley here.

You can find A Simplified Life wherever books are sold, including Target

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Book Review ~ Grace, Not Perfection

Grace, Not Perfection is Emily Ley's first book. I got this book for myself a couple of Christmas's ago when it was relatively new but hadn't read it until recently. To say it's a game changer is an understatement.

A couple of weeks ago I was having a conversation with my mom. While I don't remember our exact words, I shared that I didn't fully understand how much of a perfectionist I am until a sermon at church. Apparently, this was amusing to her because it had been evident for most of my life. When I asked for specific examples she didn't have any one thing to point out, nor did she see it as a negative trait. In fact, her words were actually encouraging saying that I know what I like.

And yes, I do know what I like. The problem lies in the fact that not everyone else agrees with my standard which causes a great deal of tension. And so as I read this book I had to start asking the tough questions. Questions like Is it really better for me to do it all and do it my way and run myself into the ground OR Is it better for me to accept help and accept that help graciously in the way it is given? Not easy questions to answer because there are those things that are cringe-worthy if they aren't done right, or at least what I would view as right.

But what about the things that aren't cringe-worthy? What about the things that matter that I'm actually not a perfectionist about? Am I willing to accept help with those? Am I willing to accept a standard of grace, not perfection in the way someone else lovingly helped instead of doing it all myself? If someone folds the towels differently, does the laundry in a different order, or creatively loads the dishwasher? (Scratch that last one, that is on my cringe-worthy list.)

Honestly, the jury is still out. Old habits die hard and it would appear that I have a terrible habit of resurrecting the flesh that Jesus is trying to crucify. 

But this book! Not only did it help me to see a lot of these things in myself, but it's also helped me identify their roots and most importantly the harm it is doing in the relationships that matter most by remaining stubborn.

I can't recommend this book enough simply for the awareness it brings. Knowledge is God's grace given to help us make better choices in the way we show His love and become His hands and feet to those whom we live in close proximity.

FYI, I underlined a lot in this book. Truth bombs that I knew I needed to think about and pray through. And the one that probably blew my perspective wide open was this: If you run yourself ragged caring for everyone but yourself while expecting perfection from your hands, body, and mind, you're in for a rough collision with reality. True story.

Maybe it's time to step off the roller coaster and realize that the specific and special way God is using us isn't so much in doing grand things of epic proportions measured on a worldly scale, but in doing grand things of epic proportions measured in the way we impact the hearts of those we love the most. And this book helped me see a lot of that. My guess is that it will help you, too.

You can find more about Emily Ley here

You can find Grace, Not Perfection wherever books are sold, including Target

Monday, October 15, 2018

Book Review ~ 30 Days to Understanding the Bible

In 1988 Max Anders first wrote 30 Days to Understanding the Bible. So why rewrite and re-release it? Because we need it.

It saddens me to think of the number of people I personally know that do not read the Bible. And I will grant you that until late in 2005, I had not personally read the only one I ever owned and got from my 8th-grade confirmation. Yes, I went to church. But I hadn't thought about reading the Bible for myself by myself, ever.

But why? Why do so many people avoid it? 

I guess that people avoid it for the same reasons I always did.

First, the assumption that God is going to condemn through His Word.

Second, the belief that it will be like reading Shakespeare.

Third, the expectation that it won't be understandable. 

None of which are true. 

This book gives bite-size chunks, meant to be read and reviewed in 15 minutes a day that will give a solid foundation of Scripture. That basis not only increases the understanding of the over-arching story but increases confidence to dive further in without hesitation. 

The book releases on October 23 and would be a great addition to a personal library or as a gift to someone who wants to read the Bible but feels overwhelmed on how and where to start. As an added bonus, there is a free 5 chapter download available through Thomas Nelson that will allow you to preview and see what an incredible resource this book is. 

To learn more about Max Anders, click to visit his webpage

To learn more about the book and available resources, visit Thomas Nelson's webpage. 

To order, shop online at Target, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Walmart, or your favorite book retailer.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Observations From Esther ~ 10

We have finally reached the end of the book. We pick up and finish today with Esther Chapter 10.

Three short verses make up chapter 10. In them we learn that Xeres is imposing taxes, his accomplishments and the detailed account of Mordecai's rank are recorded for all time, that Mordecai was second in command to Xeres, highly esteemed, and he didn't stop working for the good of his people. I find that thrilling.

So many of us get that one big win and lose our taste to pursue more. We either think we can't do something equally as important or that doing something less significant is not worth it. Neither could be further from the truth. Why? Because we don't know what our continued work will produce over the long haul.

The best illustration is one most of us have probably heard and has to do with apples and their seeds. If we take one apple seed and plant it, a tree will grow and we will get more apples. If we take a seed from one of those, we will get more. If we keep on planting trees, how many trees and apples will that first seed have created? More than our lifetime will ever know. The same is true of the work we do.

Our own, single, solitary colossal act might create an enormous initial impact, but the little, subsequent ripples can undoubtedly lead to someone else's single, solitary colossal impact, and so on and so forth. There is no action we can ever do that ends with us.

Our pursuit of Jesus and doing the works God prepared in advance for us to do have far more results than we can imagine. And just because it's not big, grand, or famous does not make it any less than miraculous. Our obedience in something that appears ridiculously small can have outcomes we never knew possible.

Perfect example ~ We plant a community garden. Not a big deal. Someone comes to learn gardening from us and we teach them everything we know. (Don't ask me. My hands are the equivalent of certain death when it comes to a plant.) We say one thing that clicks and connects the dots of something they read that morning which leads to a conversation with their pastor, a sermon series at their church, and someone hearing said sermon that ultimately becomes a missionary reaching 20 people with the hope of the Gospel because we planted carrots. We have no idea how far our obedience goes.

This book has challenged me in how I see myself, the world, the people around me, relationships, my actions, thoughts, and beliefs. I hope it has done the same for you. As we close I only have one, two-part reflection question but it's one I hope we will seriously consider answering. 

Reflection Question

What one thing that we learned over the last ten days do we feel most passionate about and what are we going to do with it that impacts our sphere of influence?

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Observations From Esther ~ 9

The Jews have just been given the opportunity to defend themselves against the impending attack by their enemies. We pick up in Esther Chapter 9.

As we begin this chapter we see that the Jews' enemies who had hoped to overpower them were overpowered themselves. We also learn that many have joined with the Jews because they feared Mordecai. They are granted another day to assemble and declare victory over the ones who wanted to bring them harm. 

And this is good.

And they are saved. 

And I am uncomfortable. Because the cost was still high.

Why? Esther 9:5 The Jews struck down all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying them, and they did what they pleased to those who hated them.

I will grant you that there are people who plot evil in this world. And until my dying breath I will believe that somewhere, someway along the timeline of their life, someone taught them to hate. I also believe that all of us, even those who plot evil, were created in the image of God. That does not mean they are bearing His image, accurately representing His image, or have any desire to reflect His image. It just means that when He knit them together in their mother's womb, they were created with the same amount of love, attention, and care I was given.

To devalue a life, whether it is someone who has done evil or promotes it, is to devalue the fact that God created that life, has the power to redeem that life, and the desire to restore that life. His desire is ultimately for ALL to come to repentance. 

I don't know what would have happened if the enemies of the Jews had been met with compassion and grace and a desire to talk things out. What I do know is that the text says, they did what they pleased to those who hated them. And knowing the darkness that resides in my own heart when someone does or says something that I disagree with that has a platform and shouts it loudly to cheers with great disregard to value ALL life, I know that I am thankful that I do not have carte blanche to do what I would please. And I will willingly admit that those are the times I need to remind myself of Paul's words to get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 

Because my response is an indication of what is in my heart. Something God wants to have at and fix. Because my response is based on my experience of past pain, hurt, misunderstandings, and any number of other things that I have blatantly refused, or forgotten, to deal with.

We must stop looking at people as our enemy. Regardless of what side of the street, fence, or bridge we are standing. What divides us will ultimately kill us unless we start to come together to understand why the division exists in the first place. Our minds might not change and our positions might stand firm, but if we can learn to disagree without the hatred, violence, and threats, maybe the rage that is inside will dissipate and we can move forward in compromise.

You need to know these questions are as much for me as they are for anyone else who takes the time to read them. I have a HUGE wooden beam in my own eye right now because I have yelled at social media posts, comments, live streams, and everything else in the past couple of weeks. (I might not engage in it publicly, but I can honestly say my husband and my children have definitely heard my opinions.) But regardless of where I am standing, the people I am looking at are God's children, and therefore, loved and made in His image. There is nothing I can do or say that changes that. I can only repent of my bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander and every form of malice in the hope that praying for them will cause more significant change than my limited perspective and two cents worth of opinion ever could.

Reflection Questions

1. Who do we view as our enemy? Why?

2. Are we willing to acknowledge the fact that the person we label as our enemy is a child of God?

3. Are we willing to take to heart the words of Jesus when He said we are to pray for our enemies, believing that in the process of praying for them we will begin to see them from God's perspective? Are we willing to do this EVEN IF they aren't praying for us in the same way?

4. What could happen if we spent more time praying for people we wish did things differently instead of shouting from the rooftops all the things we think they are doing wrong?

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Observations From Esther ~ 8

Yesterday we left with Haman out of the picture but a problem still on the horizon. We pick up in Esther Chapter 8

Talk about a turn of events. Mordecai now owns Haman's estate and is wearing Xeres' signet ring after it was retrieved from Haman. However, because the edict cannot be revoked, nothing has really changed. The Jewish people are still in danger unless something happens.

After reading we know that the Jews are given the right to assemble and defend themselves, to destroy, kill, and annihilate every ethnic and provincial army hostile to them. And this is a good thing. They are now able to stand up for themselves to protect their very lives. As a result, the people shouted, rejoiced, and celebrated.

As I read this, I kept thinking about Jesus' words that the thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy. And we know, like the Jews in Esther, we have a right to defend ourselves. The question is, do we?

Do we stand up to the lies we hear about who we are?

Do we silence the enemy when he whispers and plants seeds of doubt?

Do we even recognize it is happening?

I know I don't. But that's because a lot of the time the voice is probably more of my own than someone else's. Because I've heard the lies enough they've become my own negative reinforcement statements. The enemy doesn't have to continue the job when I've taken over for him.

Which leads me to the hard question.

Esther threw herself at the feet of Xeres weeping because the problem still existed and he extended the scepter to her so that she could approach him again with her problem. And because of Jesus' finished work on the cross, we can approach God's throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16) The question again is, do we?

Do we go to get help?

Can we even admit we need it?

Here's the thing. We like to think we are way more competent and able than we are. We like to think we've done something previously and therefore our experience qualifies us to handle it on our own. But on our own is the idol of self. And on our own was never the original plan. God created us to be in communion with Him and Jesus reinforced this when He said apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

So, if doing it alone says we don't need God, and Jesus told us we need Him to do anything at all, what stops us from going?

I can't speak for you, but I can tell you my hangups.

1. I don't think I deserve help. (In reality, this is right, I don't deserve it. But that's what's so amazing about grace.)

2. I believe I got myself into the mess so I have to get myself out. (While I am a product of my decisions and consequences naturally follow, God's love for me supersedes my own foolishness.)

3. I think I've done it before, I can handle it this time on my own. (For a God who is super creative, I am willing to bet there is something unique about each situation that allows Him to display His ability and therefore what was done before isn't the solution now.)

Other than to say we are human, which sounds more and more like a copout, this will likely be our default mode. It's going to take time and intentionality to break free from this kind of faulty thought pattern. But the best part is that part of God's specialty is intervention. While we were still sinners, He intervened with Jesus. And because of that, we can be like Esther and throw ourselves at His feet and ask for help.

Reflection Questions

1. What is happening right now that we have been trying to handle on our own? How's that working out?

2. What is the worst thing that could possibly happen if we went to God with it? Does our answer to that question line up with what we know is correct about His character?

3. If we were to throw ourselves at His feet and stop trying to handle it ourselves, what benefits would result?

4. Are we willing to try things His way and accept that we can't do it alone?

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Observations From Esther ~ 7

Yesterday we ended with Haman being rushed off to the second banquet with the King and Queen. We pick up in Esther Chapter 7.

Arriving at the banquet, Xeres asks Esther what it is she wants and again promises up to half the kingdom. She finally responds asking for her life and the life of her people to be spared. Subsequently, Haman is revealed as the perpetrator and punished severely for his plot.

While this chapter is concise and to the point, Esther says something I think reveals a gap in how we see God. Or at least how I see Him.

In the second part of verse 4 Esther starts with, If we had merely been sold as male and female slaves, I would have kept quiet.

Why? Why is that something better? Why would that not be worth bringing to the attention of the only earthly one who could change the circumstance?

Those questions led me to some tough questions about my prayer life and the way I view God. And while I haven't completely worked through them all, I can say that I have learned one precious lesson.

When I wrote my prayers in my prayer journal in late May/early June, I kept adding to them. One of the things I added was a little blurb of truth that I remind myself of every day.

Don't focus on how it will all work out. Just believe that there is a God in
heaven who loves you wants the best for you and died only to live 
again so that you would know NOTHING is impossible for Him.

Why do I share that? Because there are lots of possibilities that are significantly less than worst-case scenarios that I have a tendency to grip with everything I have rather than giving them to God. But if I genuinely believe what I say I believe, then His best for me has to include a life lived not defined by stress, worry, and anxiety over the things that are less than but still have an effect on me. 

We spend so much time telling ourselves that things aren't that bad that we are self-medicating with platitudes that aren't doing anything for the health of our mind, soul, or heart. We are hearting and pretending at the same time because we don't want to be seen as needy, high-maintenance, or incapable.

Now, I am not talking about moving to the point of whining and complaining, I am merely saying we need to be honest about where we are. And sometimes that means calling something like it is. Unfair, unwelcomed, and uninvited. It's not wallowing in self-pity; it's saying God, I don't like this and I want you to change it, or at the very least, give me a different perspective on it because I am not grateful right now for what You know that I don't.

And here's the thing. He is very well aware of when we are faking it, attempting to control it, or self-medicating instead of dealing with it. And I am reasonably sure He would much rather we come to Him with it.

Reflection Questions

1. Do we tend to approach God only with extremes and if it's not that bad to accept it and move on?

2. What does that say about how we think He sees us?

3. If we were to be really honest with God about the things in our lives that we don't like, what would they be and what would we ask Him to do?

Monday, October 8, 2018

Observations From Esther ~ 6

On Friday Haman had just been advised to have Mordecai hanged on the gallows before his second dinner with the King and Queen. We pick up today in Esther Chapter 6.

Due to a case of divine insomnia, Xeres is reminded of the plot that Mordecai uncovered regarding the plot against him by the two eunuchs. He asks the question What honor and special recognition have been given to Mordecai for this act? He finds out nothing and then asks who is in the courts.

We know that Haman has arrived seeking permission to hang the man the king just realized he never repaid. And before Haman gets a chance to ask his question, Xeres hits him with one that strokes his ego just the right way. What should be done for the man the king wants to honor? Unfortunately for him, the king is not talking about him, but his enemy.

At this point, Haman answers based on what he would want to be done for himself. And then, he finds out he has to do his exact suggestion, down to the last detail, for Mordecai. And so he does. It almost makes you wonder how enthusiastic he was or if he was choking on the words coming out of his mouth, and if secretly he wanted to put himself on the gallows he'd just built.

I don't know about you, but I do not like to be the center of attention. As a matter of fact, I would rather be against the wall in a crowd or in the kitchen at someone's house while everyone else is congregated someplace else. And so if someone were to have any desire to honor me, the last thing I would want is to be paraded around with someone shouting how good I am. I wouldn't even want a small gathering in public or private. If truly necessary, I'd take words of encouragement that came in a card over anything else. But not Haman. He wants pomp and circumstance.

Ego is such a funny thing. Whether we think too little or too much of ourselves, either is a problem. One we discredit God for creating us the way He did, the other we inflate our value beyond recognition. And trying to find the subtle line between humility, false humility, and arrogance is tight sometimes.

What we can be sure of is that the moment we esteem ourselves above someone else, anyone else, we've crossed over it with a mother may I take a giant leap kind of step.

This is a tough pill to swallow. Why? Because there are people we know privately or through the lens of the public eye that we think are getting things they either don't deserve or aren't getting the things we think they do. I know. Ouch. It hurts. And believe me, my own toes are really bruised from that one.

Ironically, we have the solution. It's found in Hebrews 12:1-2 And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer, and perfecter of faith.

Because here's the thing, if we are running our own race, and we are keeping our eyes on Jesus, we don't know what's going on that might tempt us to pass judgment. Easy to say, hard to do. Because we aren't blind and we have to function aware of the state of the world.

So what do we do? Follow Jesus. We follow Him when He says do unto others, love your neighbor, and pray for your enemies. Why? Because whether we like to admit it or not, we were once considered enemies of God ourselves and He came to intervene for us.

The book of Esther is not just a story about a girl who was in the right place at the right time. It is in the most profound ways a study of human nature and character. It is a charge to remind us that while we have some things that are noble in us, we also have flesh and a human nature that can show more of the world that we want to admit remains.

Painful, yes. But not hopeless. Never, ever hopeless. Especially when we can own it, repent of it, and move towards going and sinning no more.

Reflection Questions

1. If someone were to honor us for something you did, what would we want?

2. If someone we considered unworthy were to get that same honor, would it cheapen it or lessen the desire for us?

3. What do we think makes someone worthy or unworthy of honor?

4. Do we realize that all we've been given from God through the blood of Jesus is not something we could have ever earned or deserved?

5. How can we pray for ourselves that our hearts would be made right towards those we deem as less than worthy?

Friday, October 5, 2018

Observations From Esther ~ 5

Yesterday we ended with Mordecai telling Esther that her attaining the title of the queen was not happenstance but a deliberate placement to save her people. We pick up in Esther Chapter 5

Esther has just finished her time of fasting and has dressed in her royal clothing to see the king. As soon as he saw her, she gained favor in his eyes, he extended the scepter, and she approaches to touch it. 

Realizing that this is an unusual situation, approaching without being summoned, Xeres asks her, "What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be given you."

Does this shock me? Not really. Why? Because based on his response to Haman when he came about a problem with people not following the king's laws, it seems to me that he might have a small people pleasing problem. He's willing to give up an awful lot to make people happy by giving them what they want. 

What fascinates me is that either she kept trouble off her face or he was utterly oblivious to the fact that something must be wrong. Either way, an invitation is extended and accepted and dinner ensues. 

During dinner Xeres again makes a rather considerable promise when he asks Esther what she wants. For whatever reason, rather than saying it this night, she extends another invitation and promises to tell the king at that time.

At this point, true to character, Haman leaves probably more full of himself than food, sees Mordecai, becomes enraged, and is more focused on what is wrong in his life (that Mordecai won't bow to him) than he is what's right with his life (his glorious wealth, the honor he has received from the king, and his promotion).

Unfortunately, because he is surrounded by people who add flame to his fire, he gladly accepts the suggestion to up the date of Mordecai's execution.

Haman is a character that genuinely intrigues me. His hatred of a single person sparks something in him that is tremendous and powerful. It controls his emotions beyond anything else that is good or right in his life. And it can take him from the best feeling in the world to devastated beyond belief in the blink of an eye.

I don't have anyone in my life that can spark that kind of reaction in me. But some circumstances certainly can.

It's troubling to recognize and acknowledge what can take me from grateful to entirely dissatisfied. It's even more disturbing to realize that like Haman's hatred, it is rooted in idolatry.

The idol of self is one that is often difficult to recognize because it's so easy to dismiss or label as something else.

For example, we can say that we want our kids to learn to be respectful and obedient to our directions but when we become a tyrant when they make a poor decision that is a problem. Why? Because we are ultimately saying we don't care about shepherding their heart to make good decisions we want them to do it when we said and why. 

Another prime example is the unexpected interruption. We can say that what we need to do is massively important but when a person truly needs our compassion and empathy and we are more outraged by the inconvenience to our personal agenda, we have elevated our needs above theirs because we are more critical.

Last week I read a quote about idolatry in the new book by Andi Andrew titled Fake or Follower. In talking about the Exodus and Aaron making the golden calf for those questioning what happened to Moses, she said, "When it comes to idol worship in our own lives, some of us need to go cow tipping."

As much as I wish it weren't true, the biggest idol in my life up to this point has been me. What is best for me? How will this affect me? How can I make this better for me? I am not saying I live a self-centered narcissistic life by any stretch. What I am saying is that when things throw me off kilter, my first response is most often one of self-preservation. Which has more to do with trusting in myself to get my needs met than God which oh, by the way, is idolatry.

We could say that's a natural tendency of the human condition, or we could own it, and remind ourselves that if we keep trying to save our lives we will ultimately lose them. 

I know. Tough. Thankfully we have a God that loves us enough to be patient with our learning curves. 

I don't want us to feel beat up about this. I want us to be cognizant of the subtle ways culture is teaching us to elevate ourselves. Maybe in becoming more aware of the messages that are creeping in that we haven't before recognized, we can begin to combat them and humbly put ourselves back in proper perspective. At the feet of Jesus.

Reflection Questions

1.  In what ways to do we elevate ourselves and our needs above others? 

2.  Do we fill justified in doing it? Why? 

3.  What does Scripture actually have to say about it.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Observations From Esther ~ 4

Chapter 3 of Esther ends with Xeres and Haman sitting down for a drink while everyone else has been thrown into a state of confusion. We pick up in Esther Chapter 4. 

I will grant you that I am not up on Old Testament fashion, but the notion that Mordecai learns about what has been decreed and tears his clothes to put on sackcloth and ashes amazes me. Why? Because when I am emotional, it's as if all the physical strength to fight has left my body. The fact that he was able to tear his clothes says something about both his strength and determination.

Now, the Jews in all the provinces are fasting, weeping, and lamenting. This makes sense to me. They are upset and can't eat, they are crying because they are upset, and they are taking all of it straight to God. And while God remains silent in this book, He doesn't make an exception, in this case, to say stop your whining, dry your tears, or get over it. They get to feel all the feels. As a master suppresser, I could learn a lot from their response to the devastating news.

As one might expect, Esther finds out Mordecai is in sackcloth and ashes, learns why, and is told by her cousin that she is the only one that can help. Oh, and the only way, see the king, uninvited, and explain the situation. For the girl replacing the queen who refused to come when called, the thought of going when not called had to be equally disturbing, knowing full well the consequences if it did not go well.  And Mordecai, not to be dissuaded by her logical and reasonable concern, delivers one of the most incredible lines: perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this.

If I were Esther that would cause me to pause. To see all of the events of my life played chronologically in my mind, seeing how I got to where I am, would be surreal. To see it all as an addition statement, coming up with only one logical answer, would be frightening.

And so Esther agrees to do as Mordecai suggests resolute that if she perishes, she perishes.

What fascinates me the most about her response is that she's okay with it. It's almost as if she understands that all she can do is really all she can do and that's enough.

In a world of striving, hustling, and multitasking at unhealthy levels for our hearts and souls, are we capable of taking a step back and really honestly determining what is enough? Without guilt, without shame, and without condemning ourselves. My personal experience says no. I always think I can do one more thing or that I should be doing ten more things. Enough is never enough. It's always just shy.

With the weekend coming, I want to issue a challenge after the reflection questions. It won't be easy, it will likely be uncomfortable. But I want to give it today to give us time to think about and make the best possible decisions. I have a feeling if we can take this baby step successfully, we might be able to make more changes that stop us from trying to be more than enough.

Reflection Questions

1.  How often do we honestly go before God with all of our emotions? How often do we sugarcoat or downplay them as if what we are feeling is not valid?

2. Are we willing to entertain the possibility that if our emotions are unsettled that it just might be God trying to point out an area of our heart, mind, or soul that is desperate for His healing touch if we would just come to Him about it?

3.  In what areas of our lives do we honestly believe our best is not good enough and therefore continually push ourselves over the edge?

Weekend Challenge

Looking at your calendar, planner, or to do list, how much of what you have scheduled for Friday evening, any time on Saturday, or any time on Sunday is life-giving?

Of the things that are not life-giving, what can you eliminate?

Note, I am not talking about things that are life-giving only to us. There are things we do that are life-giving to others and their joy, in turn, ends up being life-giving to us. I am also not talking about forgoing cleaning the bathroom floor. If it makes you a little bit cray-cray like it does me when the bathroom needs doing, it's almost impossible to be life-giving to anyone else when your biggest trigger is staring at you everytime you need to go.

What I do mean is this ~ where can we substitute something that is fun in place of something that is tedious? Because we know that what was is tedious will likely spark our mind to something else and that something else will land us someplace else, and the whole vicious cycle will end with us tearing everything apart and out of control over all the things we have to do and never have the time to do. Might have had that happen once or twice.

And, for those of us that feel we really can not afford to take anything off the list, can we honestly just stick to it and NOT add anything else?

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Observations From Esther ~ 3

The last thing we saw happen in Esther yesterday, was that Xeres had been made aware of a plot to kill him, and rather than react hastily, he had it investigated and verified first. Today we pick up in Esther Chapter 3.

While we are never explicitly told who investigated the claim against two of the king's eunuchs, the fact that after these events Xeres honored Haman makes it reasonable to conclude he at least had something to do with revealing the conspiracy. We are also never told why Xeres commanded people to bow for Haman, but I don't think it's a far stretch to wonder if that was Haman's own suggestion. Not for any other reason than the fact that Xeres seems to seek advice continually on what he should do. I also don't think it's unrealistic to think that Haman would not jump at the chance to be able to reinforce his status and thus stroke his own ego by watching others acknowledge his position.

What I find most interesting though is that the one who refuses to bow, Mordecai, explains why he won't to members of the royal staff when questioned. The one who told Esther not to reveal her heritage reveals his own. And once his refusal is brought to the attention of Haman, and verified with his own eyes, he is filled with rage.

Unfortunately aside from being filled with rage, Haman is also filled with hatred. Once he realizes Mordecai's reasons (being a God-fearing and God-honoring Jew), there is no way he's going to just attack him. Why? I guess he realized other Jews would probably respond the same way. Maybe not all, but some.

Sadly because Xeres blindly trusts Haman, and because he is presumably the one who verified the plot of the eunuchs when he goes to Xeres with a suggestion to maintain his own honor, the king not only approves an order for their destruction but gives Haman carte blanche on how to do it.

An order is issued, it's sent out to everyone, and he and Xeres sit down to drink while everyone else is thrown into mass confusion.

Now, I'm not big on conspiracy theories by any stretch. I do however take time to pray about a lot of decisions because I don't want to assume I have all the facts that I need to make the best possible choice. And yes, there are definitely a few people I blindly trust. But it's also because I feel that I know them well enough and have enough history with them to believe they would not intentionally do something harmful. I'm not sure I believe Xeres and Haman had that kind of deep bond.

What I think is most devastating though is Haman's disposition was so affected by Mordecai's refusal to bow that I have no problem concluding that those closest to him knew about it. The text doesn't say so, but I would have a difficult time believing he wasn't a walk in, slam the door, moody with everyone kind of guy after a bad day at work. And he didn't have anyone in his life that could calm him down from his out of control emotions. Based on what we see later of those he is close with, we can only assume his peers were the affirming and encouraging kind that motivate movement towards sin whether in thought or deed.

This short chapter has made me grateful for those I have in my life that can talk me off a ledge when something throws me for a loop. However, it's also forced me to ask some hard questions about what propels me there in the first place. As we think about today's questions, let's keep in mind that we can choose our response. And while our knee-jerk reactions might still show the occasional outburst, we can sit down and figure out the patterns we notice that elicits the response and come up with a plan to combat it.

Reflection Questions

1. How often are we filled with rage? Be honest. Sugar coating and explaining away behavior as 'not that bad' isn't helpful. And if we're having a hard time with this one, when was the last time we saw a devastated look on someone's face by our reaction? And did we think we were justified in doing it?

2. How much does it take to really get us there? While it might feel like 0-60 in a matter of seconds, let's think about all the things we don't deal with or shove deep down until it implodes over everyone around us.

3. What's really boiling beneath the surface that it bubbles up like this? This one is tough. This is a gut check of what we are ignoring and hoping will go away rather than dealing it with it through prayer.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Observations From Esther ~ 2

When we left Esther yesterday, Xeres had just passed a decree that removed Vashti from her position as queen.  Today we pick up in Esther Chapter 2.

Once Xeres rage had subsided he remembered what he had done and why he had done it. We aren't given any indication that he felt regret or remorse, just the fact that once his fury had subsided he remembered her.

I don't know about you, but anything I do in anger never ever seems to go well. If I'm rushing around bustling trying to get fifteen things done before I have to leave, and am scurrying about each of them, it is almost guaranteed that something will break, spill, or be forgotten. Why? Because all of my mental resources are focused on my anger rather than what I am doing.

Recently I had this conversation with my husband and kids at dinner because I realized how much I do this. Again, not proud, just being honest.

The reality is if I am serving my family by the task I am doing (packing lunches, making breakfast, getting in the laundry) but putting things down on the countertop or closing the door with more force than necessary, none of it will be received as love. Unwelcomed, intrusive tasks? Sure. But love through serving? Not a chance.

But that's it. I see Xeres in me in my haste. In my, I need to be right and prove my point and to heck with anything that falls as collateral damage ways.

Truth be told, over the summer I was actually pleased this happened one day. Not because I like looking like a tyrant, but because even in my ornery behavior, I still sat down to pray with my husband and kids before he left for work. Typically my husband will start the praying and I will finish it. Once he squeezed my hand to signal go-time for me, I reluctantly started with repentance (see above-italicized statement) and asked for help to calm down. Now, I know what it says about praying so that peace can come, but in this instance, for the first time in my life, I physically felt it.

Of course, I would love nothing more than to tell you an incident like that has never repeated, but that would be a lie. What I can say is that I think they are happening with less frequency and the Spirit in me is getting louder about when I need to be put back in check.

But back to Esther.

A search is suggested to find a replacement for Vashti, and Xeres agrees. In the quest to find a new queen Esther winds up in the palace under the care of Hegai, the keeper of women. Now if Vashti had the power to influence behavior with her choices, it would seem that Esther had the power to elicit behavior based on her appearance and demeanor. Because of this, she is shown favor and advanced through the ranks. Interestingly, despite her unfamiliar surroundings and posh-like treatment, she seems to remain grounded in who she is and still follows through with the directions given by her cousin which fascinates me.

Most of us, maybe not all, typically adapt what we show of ourselves depending on our surroundings and company. This isn't necessarily a bad thing if you consider your audience. For example, you wouldn't sit down to dinner at a nice restaurant with people you know are all vegans and order veal. It would just be inconsiderate and probably a huge turnoff.

That said, Esther is outside of her comfort zone and not consumed with wanting to fit in by sharing details of her life. Details that probably would give her company the a-ha information that explained her thoughts and actions. (I'm sorry, it might not say it, but there is no way all of these girls are put together and none of them are talking. Call it stereotyping if you wish, but you know it's true.) Granted we know the whole story and why this is key, but to keep quiet, especially in this situation, shows something significant about her level of respect for Mordecai, her character, and her integrity.

Eventually, Esther is selected (aka given the final rose ~ sorry, couldn't resist) because the king was attracted to Esther more than any of the other he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. Can you even imagine? She knows that Vashti was removed, likely knows why, and is now being selected to replace her. The thoughts and questions that must have been running through her head!

And then it happens, the fateful incident that Mordecai uncovers and Esther reveals. We don't know why she was in the presence of Xeres to be able to tell him, we just know she does. And for the first time, we see Xeres act with logic and reasoning. Rather than hastily move forward on the report, it is investigated and verified before action is taken.

There are so many things that swirl around in my head regarding the people in this story and their behavior. It certainly makes looking in the mirror a lot more interesting, too. I pray that the questions that follow will help us all see the specks that perhaps we've missed and ask God to help us do better. And maybe through the process have our lights shine a little brighter that leads to a conversation where we don't hold back who we are.

Reflection Questions

1. When have you acted in haste and ended up with permanent consequences? What do you wish you could change about the result and why?

2. When do you hold back the truth about who you are? Why? Be brutally honest with yourself about this one; you might be surprised at what your answer reveals is a lie that you believe.

3. One thing we didn't touch on was the result of Xeres' love for Esther found in verse 18. As a child of God, do you realize that your positive influence can impact more than you realize just by being you? Why or why not? How can you pray for yourself to understand how God sees you and uses you more?


Monday, October 1, 2018

Observations From Esther ~ 1

It feels like it's been forever since I last posted. Reality says 116 days. I say a lifetime. I don't think I realized how desperately I needed a break until I actually took one. I mean I love doing this. But the pressure I was putting on myself was pretty unhealthy and I felt like I was slipping. Half the time it seemed to me that I was scrambling to put two thoughts together and then attempting to put a bunch of other words around it so that it at least looked like a decent post. Hopefully, the things that I've learned and reflected on during my hiatus will show up here.

I've mentioned before that I have been doing the She Works His Way Bible reading plan for 2018. Yesterday was the last day in the Old Testament. Let me just say, if you have not done a chronological reading of the Bible, I really believe you should. To see the story unfold with all the ups and downs, good and bad choices, deliverances and captivities are astonishing. It's also pretty sobering when you realize how much of your own life ebbs and flows the same way with your faithfulness and commitment to God and His ways.

But for now, as I return, I want to spend the next 10 days in Esther. One chapter a day. It's not an overwhelming book, it's one most of us are probably pretty familiar with, and it feels right to share the things I have seen. I've seen so much of myself in these people; yes, even Haman.

If you don't have your Bible handy, here is a link for Esther Chapter 1. I'm pretty sure once you are there, you can just change the translation if you would prefer something other than the NIV.

The things I noticed aren't novel. Xeres was feeling good on wine, wanted to show off his wife, and she refused to meet his wishes. We don't know her motive in saying no. She could have been sick of his drunken exploits or she could have been half asleep. Maybe she was feeling bloated from too much food and felt like she was going to be sick. Whatever the reason, it caused a problem, and as a result, anger burned in Xeres.

When I read that, I sat back and wondered how much the choices of others cause anger to burn in me. All it takes is a quick scroll of Facebook these days for me to tell my husband I shouldn't be on there because I start all kinds of judging. I'm not proud of this fact, I'm just being honest. But it also makes me wonder why I give others that kind of control over my emotions in response to their actions. I have no ability to dictate their choices, nor do I want that kind of power or responsibility. But it doesn't stop it from happening. And I really have to wonder why.

In our sermon series at church, I started to get a glimpse of the answer to that question. I don't like it when others make choices that end up having a negative effect on their life which ultimately impacts mine. I want a peaceful existence, and when that is threatened, I react. I didn't even realize how strong my self-preservation instincts were until this sermon series started. And all I can say is that I must have some serious trust issues going on that I have not previously been aware.

However, something is intriguing to note in this chapter. Xeres asks what should be done about Vashti's refusal according to the law. Hello? Does the one in charge of it all not know what the rules are? That seems a bit disturbing to me. And if that's the case, what does this say about his leadership in his own home? Did he communicate his expectations of her when they married? Granted this may be a very first worldview, but if she was the queen, I would imagine she should have been given some idea of what her duties were, at the very least in the area of hospitality.

But what's so striking, is that apparently, she was a woman of influence. There was a concern on the part of Xeres' officials that if word got out about her actions, it would cause an uproar in more than just the palace. That says something. As a result, she is removed from her royal position with the issuing of a decree suggested by the king's officials.

As I read this familiar passage, I was forced to ask myself some tough questions. My prayer is that you will look at them and answer them as well. They aren't pleasant, but they are meant to help us grow in Christlikeness. And if that's the ultimate goal, the hard questions are the ones where we need to focus our attention.

You don't need to share the answers, and I'd welcome your comments on whether or not you find these questions helpful. I just know that as I got really honest with myself I became more and more aware of my need for repentance, God's grace, and His redemption. I know I'll never get this all done correctly, but I also know that with Christ's strength in me, I can overcome and do better.

Reflection Questions

1. When have my motives for doing something been far from pure? Why?

2. When have I let burning anger get the best of me?

3. What should I be aware of to lead well? What steps do I need to take to do better?

4. When have I acted in haste rather than humility to save my own reputation?

5. Do I realize the influence I have on others who are watching me, believers and non-believers alike, and do I take that responsibility seriously with my words, actions, and thoughts?

Photo: Instagram filter with title page found in the She Reads Truth Bible.