Divine Platforms – Daniel

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Daniel 1

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it.And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.

But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, 10 and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king.” 11 Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, 12 “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.” 14 So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. 15 At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food. 16 So the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.

17 As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. 18 At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. 19 And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king. 20 And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom. 21 And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus.

Esther: “Heroes” by Ellen Parr

Read Esther 5, 7-8

As for you, you follow me (John 21:22).

Four days of agony passed. Sleepless nights, a rehearsed request, and now the king sat dining with her, as well as the enemy of the Jews, Haman. Esther could feel her heart pounding throughout her body. Her face pale and mouth dry, she knew she had to speak: “If I have found favor with the king, and if it pleases the king to grant my request, I ask that my life and the lives of my people will be spared…”

“Who would do such a thing?” This was the stunned statement of the king when he heard Esther explain her people’s situation. Previously, when Esther had approached the king’s throne not knowing if she would be killed or not, he had welcomed her. Inviting him and Haman to dinner, she explained the Jews’ future to the king. Outraged that Haman would have the gall to kill the queen’s people, the king immediately had Haman impaled on the pole Haman had intended for Mordecai’s death. Haman’s signet ring was given to Mordecai, and Mordecai became second-in-command. (Talk about irony.) Because the king’s edict could not be revoked, Mordecai created a new one that allowed the Jews to defend themselves on the day that was planned for their slaughter. God used the boldness of Esther and Mordecai to save His people.

We all want a hero—someone to look up to, to admire, to deliver us when life gets uncomfortable. Batman, Thor, Captain America, the Incredibles, Jason Bourne, Catwoman, Superman, the list goes on of the familiar heroes. Who doesn’t have a few problems they wish a masked man with a cape could swoop in and solve?

But these heroes don’t exist. (Sorry, kids.) So how do we handle obstacles? Sometimes we pray and fast, seek wise counsel, and do the best we can at finding an answer for speedy deliverance, but there’s no quick solution. How should we view painful circumstances that plead for a hero? Remember what Mordecai told Esther: “Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14). Mordecai’s heroine was Esther. But Esther’s? I think all of us can relate to Esther’s desperation for help in that moment in the palace. Similarly, we analyze the angles and possible solutions that cause us the least discomfort in tough spots. Many times, there is no easy out, and instead what we discover is a call for our faithfulness through pain and uncertainty.

The heroes of today aren’t wearing capes and masks. They are those who demonstrate faithfulness in adversity. It’s the guy who chooses kindness over a response in anger to the rude family member. It’s the busy mom who makes her home into a welcoming haven for friends and strangers alike. It’s the computer whiz who volunteers with local non-profits. Our decisions of how we live today have tremendous power to bring life or pain to those around us. When we stick to the definition of a hero as one who receives popular recognition and fame, we miss the impactful stories of many faithful people.

Part of the beauty of God is that He’s chosen each of His children to have a different background, personality, and story. He’s woven our stories together, each a stretch of thread in the tapestry of history, joined together with those before and after us. We each receive the gift of a different platform, a unique part of the same big story. And maybe, just maybe, being a hero is measured by faithfulness on that platform. It’s showing up day after day, willing to serve, love, give, and seek the needs of others. If your eyes are fixed on earthly awards and trophies, the fancy title and biggest office, on more social media followers, or on doing anything to distance yourself from the pain of the present, ask the LORD to help shift your focus.

In the last chapter of John, Jesus predicts how Peter will die. Immediately after this prediction, Peter becomes curious about what will happen to John. Jesus’ response to Peter is one we can all learn from: “If I want [John] to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me” (John 21:22). The lesson: You are called to remain faithful in following Christ, regardless of God’s path for someone else. Christ’s directive “You follow me” is simple, but it’s certainly not easy. But we can be assured it is possible since Jesus asks it of all of us. Take insight from Peter’s lesson. Where does our focus need to shift from “What about him?” to “You follow me”? Our Lord does not demand impossible tasks of us. He empowers us with His strength and places us each on unique platforms with the desire for us to experience the joy of desperate dependence on Him. Just as God gave Esther courage to take a difficult step to speak up, He can use and equip you in unexpected ways. What conversational steps is He leading you to have?

 

 

Esther: “No Risk, No Reward” by Ellen Parr

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Read Esther 3-4, 7:1-4

Don’t think for a moment that because you’re in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed . . . Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this? (Esther 4:13-14).

Mordecai had made an enemy. Because he repeatedly refused to bow before the pompous Haman, the king’s right-hand man, Haman’s pride persuaded the king to create an edict. This edict ordered the impending annihilation not only of Mordecai but of all his people, the Jews (see Esther 3). Mordecai knew that the only way this edict could be reversed would be through Esther, the king’s beloved wife. Esther was caught with a difficult decision to make. Her situation required tact and diplomacy. She needed her husband to rethink his decision without making him feel that she was showing him disrespect. The whole kingdom knew that the king had the authority to kill any person who entered his presence without being summoned first (see Esther 4:10-12). Esther hadn’t seen the king in thirty days, and she realized this next uninvited meeting could be their last. 

When Esther first heard of the plight of her people, she refused to go before the king. But Mordecai sent this message to her: “Don’t think for a moment that because you’re in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed. If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14). If she refused to go to the king, she would die. If she went, she and her people had a chance to live.

Esther’s bold response to her father figure sparks courage and strength in our hearts: “Go and gather together all the Jews of Susa and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will do the same. And then, though it is against the law, I will go in to see the king. If I must die, I must die” (Esther 4:16).

We have the benefit of hindsight, so it’s easy to look back on the pages of history and feel like Esther waved a magic wand and all was well. But if we walk through the scene with her, one step at a time, we feel a different story—one of fear, tears, doubt, anxiety, and confusion. Step into the palace. It was an ordinary day for Esther in the palace when she received a message that her cousin was weeping bitterly outside the gates of the palace in mourning clothes. What could be so terrible? She sent him clothes quickly to replace his burlap, but he refused them. She waited anxiously on her messenger to return. His message was one of terror and confusion: “Our family is going to be murdered on March 7 of next year” (see Esther 3:13). Stunned, she felt her chest tighten and stomach knot. But then tacked to the end of the message was this: “You alone must approach the king and beg for deliverance!” What? Me? Why? I can’t! I’ll be killed! Messages were sent back and forth between the two, ending in the agreement that Esther would approach the king. Three days of agony passed. Sleepless nights, no food or drink, a rehearsed request, she got dressed slowly in her royal robes. This could be my last day. Heart pounding, forced deep breaths, slow second-guessed steps, she approached the inner court. She saw him. She forced a smile, hoping to gain permission to move forward. Would the king let her?

Sometimes our lives feel a little like this. We know what we should do and what we have been called to do, but it feels risky, uncomfortable, and possibly even frightening. We weigh the outcomes, realizing that people may judge us or make us feel rejected and alone. Perhaps the outcome could involve financial or relational repercussions. As limited beings, we cannot know the outcome of situations. As much as we would jump at the chance of controlling our future, we can’t. Esther’s resolve inspires us to take that next step forward in faithfulness with the knowledge that the God of the past, present, and future walks with us. What step do you need to take?

 

Esther: “The Forgotten Man” by Ellen Parr

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Read Esther 2:19-4:14

So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last
(Matthew 20:16).

“Bless his heart.” For true Southerners, this phrase is lathered into our speech like butter on our biscuits. And it could be strung to the story of the man, Mordecai. Poor Mordecai is forgotten until the next church sermon or lesson on Esther. We name our babies David, Paul, Joseph, and even Moses or Joel. But Mordecai? Bless his heart. His story finds itself as a side note in a book named after his adopted daughter.

The forgotten are often cast into the lot of the unimportant and insignificant. However, while memorable is often linked to significance, it’s important to note that significance stems from and is often sourced in the insignificant. For example, Esther received a home and father figure in Mordecai when orphaned (see Esther 2:7, 20); and it’s from this humble home she moved to become Queen of Persia. Additionally, the life of King Xerxes was saved when the lowly gatekeeper, Mordecai, uncovered a murderous plot. While that threat was quickly dealt with, the rescuer was forgotten from memory (see Esther 2:21-23, 6:1-3). Royalty was established and spared because of a “nobody.”

Many around us feel overlooked and underappreciated, longing for that moment when they’ll hear the words, “Job well done,” or even the simple “You are valued and loved.” Perhaps you are the one who feels forgotten. How sad that the label of “less than” is often quietly attached to unrecognized roles. We have decided to pair visibility with value, and we’ve come to believe that value and worth are fleeting, not intrinsic. But for every Neil Tomba and Peyton Neill on stage, there are teams of crucial people behind the scenes designing bulletins, arranging stage lights, greeting at the doors, hosting a weekly small group, and serving in the nursery. Though Mordecai was a lowly exiled Jew from Judah and a gatekeeper at the palace, we would be quick to acknowledge his life as a valuable one. While the book is named after Esther, the last verse of it is given to Mordecai: “He was very great among the Jews, who held him in high esteem because he continued to work for the good of his people and to speak up for the welfare of all their descendants” (Esther 10:3). What a legacy!

Jesus came to shatter this world’s system of dispensing value by declaring that “The last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16). God favors the forgotten and “insignificant”—a baby born in a stable, a doorkeeper named Mordecai, the stay-at-home mom. Titles and trophies, status and stars, are forgotten in God’s Kingdom. And the disregarded of this world are His recognized sons and daughters. Value stems from our relation to the Creator, not the value that others create for us. And for those of us in Christ, we have received favored love, like the love the Father has for His own Son (see John 17:23-24)! The faithful Mordecai will be remembered as one who brought strength to those around him and who helped saved many lives. That’s how Mordecai chose to live on his platform in Persia. What can you bring to your platform of significance?

 

Esther: “Not All That Glitters Is Gold” by Ellen Parr

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Read Esther 1-2:18

And the king loved Esther more than any of the other young women (Esther 2:17).

Disney has built a billion-dollar industry on the dreams of cute little girls squealing to be princesses. (Well, they’ve built it thanks to the parents and grandparents willing to dig deep into their pockets.) With the twirl of a new sparkly dress, Cinderellas, Snow Whites, and Rapunzels are instantly made. Gold crowns and Mama’s wobbly high heels create chuckles and smiles as “Prince Daddy” rescues them. Is happiness really this easy to achieve?

The world watched with breathless anticipation as Kate Middleton married Prince William and Meghan Markle married Prince Harry. Commoners were transformed into princesses before our eyes. For a moment, anything felt possible for us “ordinaries.” Is the ideal life so easy to achieve?

This is Esther’s story. A Jewish orphan and a minority in a foreign country, she came from humble beginnings. Looking at Esther chapter 2, King Xerxes was single and ready to mingle. In a storyline that strikingly mirrors the popular TV show The Bachelor, beautiful young women were brought from every part of the Persian kingdom and given months of beauty treatments. One by one the potential queens came before Xerxes. Who would he desire to be his next wife? Esther “had a lovely figure and was beautiful” and was greatly esteemed by all around her. So it was probably no surprise when the king fell in love and married her (see Esther 2:7, 15-17). Though a king, Esther’s husband didn’t quite fit the dreamy prince single gals look for in a husband. A partier and heavy drinker, Xerxes had banished his last wife in a drunken rage when she refused to be paraded in front of other men (see Esther 1:10-20). And yet, this is the kingdom Esther joined. This is the platform on which God sovereignly placed Esther.

Our desire for an ideal life points to a Garden past (see Gen. 1-2) and a future kingdom (see Rev. 21-22). Yet, God has placed you in less-than-ideal circumstances with imperfect people, so that you will make a difference. Esther’s circumstances were less than ideal, yet God used her in a powerful way. Whether you’re an exhausted stay-at-home mom, a thriving businessman, a broke student, a successful writer, or someone who feels like a nobody, God is not blind to the details of your life. You might be enduring the most bitter of days or flourishing in your sweet spot. Regardless of your circumstances, seek to know Him where He has you, and allow Him to use your platform like He used the platform of an orphaned out-of-place Jewish girl.

Esther: “Beauty in the Flaw” by Ellen Parr

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Read Hebrews 11:31-12:1

All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith…
(Hebrews 11:39).

I have a friend who is doing “The Joy Project.” Heard of it? It’s okay that you haven’t. She made it up. It’s simple, really: She wants to be more joyful, so she looks for people who are joyful. But instead of placing them on the tiptop of the pedestal, admiring them from the distance below, she’s decided instead to learn from them. She asks them questions to implement the truths they share. And what she’s discovered is this: Greatness comes from ordinary imperfect people.

How easy to look at heroes of the faith—King David, the Apostle Paul, Queen Esther, and Joseph, the second-in-command over Egypt—and put them in a “holy box”! I gaze at these esteemed models and then at my ordinary self. The lies are quick to follow: God can’t use people who struggle like I do. My testimony isn’t interesting enough to inspire others. I just don’t have the charisma or personality to make a big difference in others’ lives. I don’t have all the answers, so I shouldn’t speak up for fear of appearing dumb.

We quantify a holy Christian to a checklist of rights and wrongs, accomplishments and righteous recognitions, unqualifying ourselves from usefulness in God’s Kingdom. Do you remember receiving a checklist from God when you became a believer? God wants your heart and affections, not a pharisaical checked list. When Israel’s first king turned from God, God sent Prophet Samuel on a quest for a heart, and along the way He had to remind his prophet: “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). God saw the heart of a shepherd boy, who was perceived as a nobody, and desired him to become king of His people.

The stories recorded in Scripture show God using ordinary people in mighty ways. But dig a little deeper in the dirt, and we start to see cracks and flaws beneath these faith figures. David, the adulterer, was “the man after God’s own heart.” Paul, the murderer, was the apostle who wrote most of our New Testament. Esther, the despised exile, was the woman who saved her people from genocide. Rahab, who daily sold her body to men, saved Israel’s spies. The kidnapped Israeli servant girl of Commander Naaman was the unnamed child God used to point her master towards healing. The list goes on.

Over the next seven weeks, we’ll look at some of these people. And we might find them quite similar to us. They, too, dealt with difficult people. They experienced loss. Their government failed to deliver consistent justice. They had rebellious kids and days they wished they could do over. But God used these ordinary people on ordinary Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays to change history. How did they do it?

Divine Platforms – Esther

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Esther 4

1 When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and he cried out with a loud and bitter cry. 2 He went up to the entrance of the king’s gate, for no one was allowed to enter the king’s gate clothed in sackcloth. 3 And in every province, wherever the king’s command and his decree reached, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and many of them lay in sackcloth and ashes. 

4 When Esther’s young women and her eunuchs came and told her, the queen was deeply distressed. She sent garments to clothe Mordecai, so that he might take off his sackcloth, but he would not accept them. 5 Then Esther called for Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs, who had been appointed to attend her, and ordered him to go to Mordecai to learn what this was and why it was. 6 Hathach went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate, 7 and Mordecai told him all that had happened to him, and the exact sum of money that Haman had promised to pay into the king’s treasuries for the destruction of the Jews. 8 Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decree issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show it to Esther and explain it to her and command her to go to the king to beg his favor and plead with him on behalf of her people. 9 And Hathach went and told Esther what Mordecai had said. 10 Then Esther spoke to Hathach and commanded him to go to Mordecai and say, 11 “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law–to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter so that he may live. But as for me, I have not been called to come in to the king these thirty days.”

12 And they told Mordecai what Esther had said. 13 Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. 14 For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” 15 Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, 16 “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” 17 Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.