Monday, October 5, 2015

There’s a party going on right here

You have to read Esther chapter 8 to understand the jubilation that took place in the Persian kingdom when a new decree went out that would give the Jews permission to defend themselves against their aggressors. The first decree had set a date for their annihilation, and only 8 months were left until they would all be destroyed. But all of that changed in one stroke of the king’s pen. That’s when the party broke out. If Kool and the Gang had been on the scene, everyone in the streets of Susa would have joined them in singing, “Celebrate good times, come on!”

What a day that was. They had gone from sadness and fear, from sackcloth and ashes just a few months earlier, to “light and gladness and joy and honor.” I couldn’t help but think it might have been similar to Nov. 9, 1989, in Berlin, when the wall came down and there was celebration all night and into the next day. This celebration in Susa was like — on a much larger scale, of course — the Fox’s house two Saturday nights ago, starting at 6:25 p.m., when Mr. and Mrs. Isaiah Maher walked down the aisle as husband and wife for the first time. Applause and laughter led to singing and celebration and dancing into the night.

That was one of the things that struck me that day, as 300 of us gathered to witness the joyous occasion and celebrate it together: God’s people know how to celebrate something good and godly better than anyone else on earth. And it’s because we have that which makes for celebration better than anything else on earth. Here’s what I mean.

The joy that we shared at the wedding was not just for the couple, that God had brought a husband for Hannah, a man who chose Hannah to be his bride with the promise that they will walk together as husband and wife until death. On a much deeper level, we were celebrating the Gospel: God sent a Savior in the person of Jesus Christ for His people. He chose us to be His bride, with the promise that we will walk together with Him in this life, through trials and troubles and joys and celebrations. But that’s not all. The promise of God, almost too good to be true (but it’s not), is that we will also walk with Him through death into the next life, where there will be endless celebration. That’s why Jesus said to His followers, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

One more thought occurred to me at the wedding. His presence is magnified and on display when His people are together, as we were at the wedding and as we are every Sunday morning. We celebrated Hannah and Isaiah’s wedding with people we love but rarely see because they live in other states or they are involved with other churches. But that gathering in our backyard reminded me of the truth of Scripture, that all of us who belong to Jesus will one day sit down at the wedding feast of the Lamb. We will be reunited with our friends and brothers and sisters we knew in this life. But just as glorious, we will be sitting down together for the very first time with the brothers and sisters we never had the pleasure to meet on this side of heaven.

That’s a celebration that you don’t want to miss.

Monday, September 28, 2015

This is why we love justice

We have all been behind that person in the grocery store express lane whose cart is loaded to overflowing. You stand there with your one jar of peanut butter and debate with yourself whether to tap him on the shoulder and point at the sign. Or whether to say something subtle like, “Excuse me, but what part of ‘12 items only’ do you not understand?” Most of us who were raised in the South, however, will remember the time you were standing in the aisle of the plane, waiting to find your seat while someone, as Brian Regan likes to say, is trying to shove a dead yak into the overhead compartment? If you have flown even once, you know what I am talking about.

How many times have you wished you could be a police officer for just 15 minutes so you could pull over the guy who just cut across six lanes of traffic on the interstate, nearly causing a ten-car pileup?

Or how about the time you were standing in line for hours to get into an event that is festival seating. Right before the doors opened, a hoard of people who just arrived on the scene broke in line ahead of you, and laughed about all the suckers behind them. Why did that grind your gears?

It’s because God is just, and we are made in His image. Every one of us is equipped by our creator with a well-developed sense of justice, which means the slightest injustice can cause us to ball up our fists and clench our teeth. Or at the very least, shake our heads and sigh.

If you have been following along as I write about the story of Esther, you know that Haman plotted to have every Jew in the Persian kingdom destroyed. The king signed off on it, and the days were ticking by until it would be done. But Haman could not wait that long to remove his nemesis, Mordecai the Jew. So Haman built a gallows, 75 feet high, with the intention of hanging Mordecai on it the next morning. When the king discovered that the decree to annihilate the Jews would include his own wife, Esther, and when it was revealed that Haman had also schemed to hang the man who had saved the king from an assassination plot, he exploded. The king ordered Haman to be hanged on the gallows he had prepared. You cannot read the story without despising Haman and wanting him to get what he deserved. And that’s because you cannot rid your soul of a desire to see justice done, and to live justly, without hardening your heart like Haman did. Want to be free of that nagging sense of right and wrong? Here’s what you should do. Live completely for yourself. Ignore any pleas for help. Learn to laugh at victims of injustice, especially those who cannot possibly defend themselves. Then, take the next step and begin to act on your convictions. Treat others with disdain. Plot to harm the weak and eliminate the burdensome. In no time at all, you will look and be just like Haman.

But be forewarned. The Bible says, “Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling.” You see, that sense of justice that you crushed through hatred and selfishness was given to you by a just and righteous God. He will always do what is right. Always.

Haman found that out the hard way.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Where did the years go?

I am going to try my best today to not be one of those sappy dads who cries all the way through my daughter’s wedding. Especially since I am performing the ceremony. But there are no guarantees, because she’s my baby girl.

Where did the years go? Where is the baby with bouncing curls who giggled in the backpack carrier and grabbed my ears and hair? Where is the toddler who looked up at me with big brown eyes and said, “When I get big, I’m going to marry you, Daddy”? Where is the 7-year-old who waded out with me into Beck Pool to be baptized as a follower of Jesus Christ? I can still see the 10-year-old in a pink tutu, smiling happily as she danced on the Paramount Stage with dozens of other little girls, while we fathers jockeyed for position with our cameras. I remember many drives in the country to a place where she could ride horses, and learn to groom and care for them. I can see her as a teenager in Kenya, surrounded by children in the Kibera slum, all of them attracted to her smile and her kindness. I remember her tearful testimony of how God impacted her life on that trip, how He opened her eyes to the world and gave her a love for her brothers and sisters far away.

There’s also the Hannah who asked, when she first heard about “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” if the Democrats had a song as well. And her brothers love to tease her about the time at Holden Beach when she came in from swimming in the rough surf and headed up the wrong steps, walking with confidence toward a house that was not ours.

I remember many phone calls from Hannah who called on the way to the church where she worked as my secretary, offering to stop and buy me a cup of coffee. She was a great assistant for many years and could be counted on to keep up with the details of running the church office like she had done it her whole life.

Four years ago Hannah adapted Francine Rivers’ book, “The Last Sin Eater,” and got permission to produce it for the first time ever on stage. The whole family was involved in the show, and I thank God for the way He used Hannah’s creative talent to bring us all together for a message we wanted to share with the community.

I remember several trips to Bocachica, Colombia, with Hannah. Never one to be afraid of hard work, she shoveled sand and rocks to make concrete, carried buckets of water, painted walls, and did whatever was needed. But when the work was done, Hannah could always be found playing with the children, learning their names, and speaking whatever Spanish she could remember.

Last fall, a trip to Kansas changed her life. She was asked by a friend who had just given birth to her second child to come and help her for a week. Kate knew that Hannah has a big heart and is always ready to help whenever there is a need, especially when that involves children. But Kate had another motive; she wanted to have Hannah spend some time with her husband’s brother, just to see if they would hit it off. They did.

Today, I will walk down the aisle with my baby girl, and a Kansas firefighter will walk back down the aisle with his new bride.

How great are your works, O Lord!

Monday, September 14, 2015

God has a sense of humor

If you don’t think God likes to laugh, you just need read the book of Esther. Pay special attention to the character named Haman in the story, because he’s the one that really cracks God up. Haman was promoted to No. 2 in the Persian Kingdom, and he definitely thought he was all that and a bag of doughnuts. It is clear all through the story, but you can see it best in Chapter 6. That’s when the king can’t sleep, so he calls for his servants to bring him the chronicles. This was the book in which everything that happened in the kingdom was recorded, and the king figured hearing that read to him would knock him out quickly.

Meanwhile, back at No. 2’s ranch, gallows are being built 75 feet high, upon which Haman plans to hang his arch-enemy Mordecai the next morning. See, Mordecai is the only man in the kingdom who will not bow and scrape whenever Haman passes by, so the big H is planning the little M’s demise. This is where God starts to chuckle, because there is one problem with Haman’s plan.

You see, the servant who opens the chronicles to read so the king can sleep just happens to turn to an event that happened five years prior. That was the time when two of the king’s servants plotted his assassination, but Mordecai overheard them. Little M reported the plot to the queen, and the king’s life was spared. Fast-forward five years to the king with insomnia. When the king heard this story of the assassination plot, he shot up in bed, his stocking cap all askew, and asked what had been done to reward this man Mordecai for saving his life. Nothing. Nothing? The king was incredulous that the man had not even received a thank-you note or a T-shirt that said “I saved the king.” He wanted to reward him that day, so he asked who was in the court that could help him with this.

By this time, God is bent double with laughter, because Haman himself had just arrived in the outer court, intent on asking the king if he could go ahead and hang Mordecai on the brand-new gallows. When he was asked to come in because the king wanted to see him, he thought to himself that this was going to be easier than he had imagined. The king asked Haman breathlessly, “What should be done to the man whom the king delights to honor?” Haman assumed the king was being coy and was asking how Haman could best be honored. It just gets better and better, doesn’t it?

Haman lays it on thick, suggesting the king’s horse for the honoree, and a royal robe and a royal crown. He said that a noble servant should walk ahead of the horse and cry out that this is the way the king honors those in whom he delights. He beamed as he said this to the king, and waited for his due reward.

By this time, God is on the floor trying to catch his breath. Because then the king says that Haman’s plan sounds perfect. Yes, my lord? And that Haman should hurry to take the robes and the horse. Yes, my lord? And do all that you have said to Mordecai the Jew.

I wish I could have seen Haman’s face at that time, and his expression as he went and told Mordecai what the king had said.

God laughs at the plans of the wicked, and he blesses the humble.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

We are raising adults, not children

Many years ago, my older daughter walked into the bedroom to ask an honest question about meal preparation. “Mom,” she said, “What should I use to serenade the chicken?”

I couldn’t resist.

I suggested, “Hey, good lookin’ whatcha got cookin’?” I know, I’m a wise guy. After we had pointed out that the word is “marinade,” I sang a few tunes to the bird anyway. I think I softened it up a little, and had fun laughing with my daughter, one arm around her as we chuckled about her mistake. She since has cooked many a delicious meal for the family, and loves to sing as she works.

I remember the time when our oldest son was having some attitude problems when it came to doing work around the house. Micah was probably 4 years old at the time, and Cindy suggested that he sing while he worked. “It will make the work go by faster, and you might even enjoy it,” she said. Micah took that seriously, and started singing with every job. I have heard that the carpenters he used to work with in the summer asked him to take singing lessons, but that’s another story.

Then there was the time I looked out the window and saw Micah teach his brother, Caleb, how to mow the yard. A few years later, Caleb was teaching his brother Luke. Luke taught Jesse and Jesse taught Judah. The good news is I haven’t had to mow the yard since 1993. The bad news is Judah will be going to college next year.

One final example: I came home from work one day many years ago and my then 4-year-old ran to meet me at the door, beaming with pride as she announced, “Dad, I asked Mom a question today about a million times!” I smiled and said, “Susanna, please don’t ask Mom the same question more than once.” One of the other kids chimed in, “No, Dad, she asked Mom if she could help her with anything.”

Each of these examples is meant to illustrate a desire of my heart to raise adults, not children. Don’t get me wrong, it has not been without its struggles and they have failed, as we have, many times. But Cindy and I decided early on that we wanted our sons and daughters to grow up to work hard, and to have a heart for serving others. It has been established clearly that young adults who excel in the workplace are the ones who were trained at home by loving parents who teach a healthy work ethic. Those who stand out in business are most likely those who learned at home how to tackle any task with immediate and cheerful obedience. Those who have an “excellent spirit,” like Daniel of old, will rise to the top. But the most important reason we are training our children to serve is because want them to follow the lead of the Lord Jesus who said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

David Gergen tells the story of his first year in the Navy, right out of Harvard Law School. He was given the job of walking the Admiral’s dog, complete with pooper-scooper. And it was President Harry Truman who said, “It is not important that you have the best job — but that you do the best with the job that you have.”

Even if that job is just to sing to the chicken.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Let patience have its perfect work

It’s hard to see a problem and not rush right in to try and fix it. Especially, when that problem packs a promise to take hundreds, even thousands of lives. Don’t get me wrong: sometimes waiting is the absolute worst thing you could do. Like last week when three young Americans thwarted a potential terrorist attack on a high-speed train in France.

There are other times when waiting for just the right time to act is clearly prudent. The Normandy Invasion on D-Day took months to plan, but the delay was worth it, as it hastened the end of the war and the Holocaust. When a plan is being put in place that will stop the wholesale slaughter of millions of innocent lives, patience is a virtue.

Queen Esther faced a future holocaust, as the King had decreed that in 11 months the Persians were to strap on swords and slaughter every Jew in the empire. Instead of rushing into the throne room and protesting or pleading for mercy for her people, Esther was patient.

We see patience in her decision to wait for three days before she went in to see the king. She fasted and prayed, as did all the Jews in Susa. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, and Esther was no fool. I can relate to the fool, though, as do some of you. We get an idea and immediately act on it. Or we see a problem and rush to fix it, often making the problem worse because we go in half-cocked and unprepared in our minds or our spirits. There’s much in the Bible about waiting on the Lord and letting “patience have its perfect work.”

Notice, however, that Esther didn’t wait three months, as that would have illustrated procrastination. She knew she needed to act with deliberateness but not with haste or with sloth. She understood the importance of timing.

After three days of praying and fasting and planning, Esther went in to see the king. Again we see her patience, because she did not point her manicured finger at the king and tell him that his top advisor Haman was a snake and a liar and the king must be a fool not to see that. No, she simply invited the king and Haman to come to a feast that she had prepared. Get that? Esther did not come asking for something, but with something she wanted to give. This powerful play won the king’s heart and put Haman off his guard, setting him up for his big collapse.

We also see the patience of Esther in the second request she made of the king. Sometimes, half the battle is won by waiting for the right time. Wise wives learn that the moment a tired and hungry husband walks in the door after a long day is not the time to ask him to do something, or think about something or fix something or make an important decision. That’s just bad timing. Esther waited until the seven-course meal was done and the king’s belly was full, and he was enjoying a glass of wine. He asked her again what she wanted. Esther knew that the only thing a man liked more than a big feast was another one (that may not be completely true), and just to make sure she had the king’s full attention, she asked if he and Haman would be the guests of honor at another banquet the following evening.

The patience of Esther’s plan required one more day. Read the book to find out why.