Archives for : July2019

This Is a Test

GUEST BLOGGER Joyce K. Ellis puts a delightful contemporary spin on the ancient biblical story of Queen Esther . . .

THIS IS A TEST… By Joyce K. Ellis 

A Hebrew beauty queen in ancient Persia models how to ace the tests we’re facing in today’s world. 

Tests in school used to set my stomach on fire. And when I began college at age 39, my synapses weren’t firing as quickly as they once had. So I feared exams even more. But in time I came to view tests as gauges of whether I had learned what I was supposed to know or not, rather than as sadistic inventions of deranged educators. 

In our personal lives we may sometimes view tests and trials as ordeals to be endured by gritting our teeth and calling the prayer chain, rather than as opportunities to measure our spiritual growth and our understanding of who God is. 

Reality: Tests are painful! We don’t like pain.

Preparation, Not Cramming

Esther, that Old-Testament paragon of beauty, on the other hand, seems to have sailed through her tests like a Bermuda sloop, designed for upwind sailing. But did this young woman in fifth-century-B.C. Persia score an A+ easily?  

Orphaned at an early age, Esther grew up under the tutelage of her uncle* Mordecai—no indication of any Mrs. Mordecai nor any other female influence. Esther and her uncle lived in captivity—first to Babylon, then Persia (present-day Iran). 

Apparently, by God’s grace, Mordecai taught Esther well, and she developed a beautiful spirit, enhancing her pretty face and great figure. But Esther’s looming tests would measure what she had learned about how far she could trust God and what she was willing to risk in order to stand up for what’s right.  (Though God’s name is never mentioned, Esther’s faith in Him shines through.) 

King of Showoffs

Here’s the setup: In the lush palace gardens in Susa, Persia’s King Xerxes throws lavish “marathon banquets” to show off his incredible opulence and power. Queen Vashti invites all area women to a girls-night-out-with-the-queen banquet of their own inside the elegant palace.                     

Xerxes—more than a little tipsy—decides to show off his trophy-wife queen and demands that she leave her banquet to “walk a catwalk” before the guests at his.   

Fast forward: Vashti refuses. He’s furious. Advisors say, “You can’t let Vashti get away with this! We’ll all lose control of our women.” Vashti loses her crown. Xerxes gets depressed without his queen. His young male attendants’ solution? Let’s get some girls in here. Have a beauty pageant. Get a new queen. 

So the call goes out for the most beautiful virgins in the land to participate in a beauty contest. And Esther gets carted off to the king’s winter palace in Susa.

SPAcation?

Most of us would gladly suffer through this test of Esther’s: a one-year all-expense-paid SPAcation, complete with fragrant oil massages and makeup makeover. But imagine her apprehension as time ticked down to her queen audition—sleeping with the wine-loving, anger-prone, demanding, superpowerful, King Xerxes! What kind of faith in God did it take for Esther to cross the threshold of his bedchamber that night? 

Most of us would also gladly endure another test of Esther’s: watching Xerxes place the queen’s crown on her head because she pleased him the most. But had she recognized God’s hand in the preferential treatment she received in the harem and in the king’s losing his heart to her?  

And most of us would gladly tolerate this other test of Esther’s: the luxurious palace lifestyle with a plethora of servants to peel our grapes and polish our toenails. But then she learned that Xerxes’ right-hand man, Haman, planned to kill her people, all the Jews, because Uncle Mordecai refused to bow before him (a la Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego). Would God give her the strength to give up all this lavish treatment to do what was right? Remember, she had seen what happened when Vashti defied the king!

Esther knew that initiating an audience with the king could mean death. She knew that admitting her heritage—in the light of Haman’s planned holocaust—would certainly invite her own assassination. But Mordecai told her, “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 [including her beloved Mordecai] will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (4:14 NIV, bracketed addition mine). 

She may have thought of that, too.

Esther needed wisdom and courage beyond herself. So she asked Mordecai to gather together all her people in Susa for a three-day fast before she approached the king. 

Final Exam

Since the Persians loved banquets so much, with fear and trembling, she takes that tack: Feed the king—and his sidekick, Haman—and when they’re happily full, plead for the lives of her people. 

Fear is a natural emotion, and we either fight or run when we face fear-inducing tests: Relationships fall apart. We get frightening lab results. Our financial situation gets scary. Depression grips us in its vice. Or we find ourselves squirming under tests of character—challenges to stand up for what’s right and confront what’s wrong—in our families, jobs, churches, government, and world. “Speak up…,” God says, “defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Prov. 31:9).

So we can relate to Esther— her passion to do what’s right, her fears, her need for God’s wisdom, and her cry for others to stand with her. After much wrestling within herself and God, she could say, essentially, “I will do what needs to be done—stand up for what’s right—regardless of the consequences.”

Esther courageously risked her life and saved her people. She had learned what she needed to know. And Haman hung from the gallows he’d built for Mordecai—an irony bearing the fingerprints of our Invisible God. 

Esther passed her tests. Will we?

First appeared in Kyria.com

Joyce K. Ellis, award-winning author of more than a dozen books, including The 500 Hats of a Modern-Day Woman and the picture book, The Fabulous World That God Made, writes from her home in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and speaks for women’s groups across the country and internationally. Contact her through her website: www.joycekellis.com.

July Is the Month for…

July is the month we dust off the grill, wave the flag, and give a perfunctory nod to Freedom and Independence . . .   ~ By Sharon Sheppard

Ask an American third-grader (or maybe even a high-schooler) to define freedom, and she might say, “Freedom is the right to do whatever I want.”

The definition of Independence? “That’s when I’m on my own and don’t have to be under the thumb of my parents anymore,” a cocky sophomore might reply.

But neither Freedom nor Independence was a given in the early days of our country. They were to die for, you might say.

 Thomas Jefferson’s profound document that finally severed ties with Britain, the mother country, included some radical ideas about rights: “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” he confidently proclaimed, “that all men are created equal (an amazing admission!); that they are endowed by their Creator (Separation of Church and State, you might be thinking, Call the ACLU!) with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

This elegantly written document listed some 28 offenses against the British Crown and declared the rebel nation to be independent from the mother country.

Writers and statesmen have weighed in on the brashness of the fledgling union and the topic of freedom over the years. Essayist Henry David Thoreau, of Walden Pond fame, said, “The English did not come to America from a mere love of adventure, nor to truck with or convert the savages, nor to hold offices under the Crown, as the French to a great extent did, but to live in earnest and with freedom.”

Many have justifiably raised cautions against taking our freedoms for granted, as we Americans are inclined to do, fearing that we might become careless and neglect to preserve this remarkable democracy that separates us from most of the nations of the earth. Novelist Somerset Maugham said, “If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.”

President Ronald Reagan expressed a similar concern: “The price of freedom is high, but never so costly as the loss of freedom. One day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”   

Many gave their lives in the deadly American Revolutionary War that eventually sealed our freedom and independence. Patrick Henry, one of the country’s Founding Fathers, famously said, “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

Hugh Downs aptly summed it up this way: “The price of freedom is high, but never so costly as the loss of freedom.” So let’s savor our freedoms. They were purchased at great cost.