Mother’s Day

As we get started today I thought we’d start with a visual game here.  The game is called when you see it, you’ll freak.  So I will put a picture up on the screen that at first blush appears to be normal, but upon further review you’ll see something that will make you freak out!

  1. Dog in class
  2. Guys wearing Halloween costumes
  3. Girl on Beach
  4. Family Picture on couch
  5. Moms day out.

Why am I showing this?  Well, the book of Esther is all about God working behind the scenes.  You don’t always see him at work.  You might not even think he could be in the picture, so to speak – but upon further review – you see him and you freak out!

So let’s get after this – our last sermon on the book of Esther.  Now, as I review the story I thought we’d try something fun.  My friend Michael is a Jewish follower of Jesus and He tells me that in Judaism they commemorate the events that took place in Esther during the feast of Purim.  And Michael tells me they read the entire book and that whenever the evil villain Haman is mentioned, everybody boos.  And that whenever the name Mordecai is mentioned, everyone cheers.  So let’s give it a try.  Okay?  Get your Jewish on and let’s make this happen.

The events in the book of Esther is named after a young Jewish girl living in Persia (present day Iran) – about 475bc.  Esther, through a series of strange and even unseemly events, becomes the Queen of Persia during the reign of Xerxes.  The book describes how God saved the Jewish people living in Persia from a genocidal maniac – the evil villain named Haman. (Boo!)

The Evil villain Haman  (Boo) manipulates the king into signing a law giving anyone in the kingdom the right to kill and plunder from any Jew living in Persian on a certain upcoming date in the calendar.

Last week we read how God reversed all of the evil villain Haman’s plans.  One night as the King couldn’t sleep he asked one of the attendants to read the records of his reign – and Xerxes was reminded that there was a Jewish man named Mordecai, (Yay!!)  who once foiled an assassination plot.   The King discovered – to his chagrin – that he never properly rewarded Mordecai (Yay) for his courage.

At just that moment, it ‘just so happened’ that the evil villain Haman (Boo) was walking in to see the king, and the King tells the evil villain Haman (Boo) to reward Mordecai. (Yay) by parading him through the streets announcing that this is what happens to the man the King delights in.

It gets much worse for the evil villain Haman (boo) as the next night at a banquet the Queen reveals that her very life was in danger from the evil villain Haman. (boo)

The Evil villain I never said his name – you kind of jumped the gun) is executed by the king.  And the King elevates to the second in command, Mordecai.  (And thus ends our booing and cheering – no more booing the rest of the sermon.  I’ll take it personal)

That got us to the end of chapter 7, and we called Esther the book of great reversals. And last week we talked about the fact that the greatest reversal ever occurred on our behalf, when Jesus died on the cross.

We get to exchange our guilt for Jesus’ innocence.  We go from a kingdom of darkness to a kingdom of light.  From far from God to a child of God. The greatest reversals are ours for the taking through faith in Jesus, who died to bring us life.

Last week we read every word of three whole chapters of Esther.  Today we aren’t going to read any of it.  You can read the last three chapters of Esther today if you’d like. You’ll discover that Xerxes gives Mordecai the permission to alert the jews and to allow them to defend themselves.

And the day comes and certain evil doers go ahead and attack the Jews anyway and they are killed for their efforts.

Today, as we wrap up our series and reflect on what we’ve learned from Esther, I’d like to propose that the book of Esther teaches us that The presence and providence of God can lead us to a confident and courageous life.

The Presence of God – meaning that God is near.  And Providence of God means that God is always working, behind the scenes, to bring about his purposes.

He didn’t just wind up the world and is now sitting on his hands, watching how it will play out.  He is active in the lives of people like you and me.  And He is weaving a divine tapestry where all things come together and accomplish his purposes in our life and the lives of others.

God is near and he is good and he is working all things together for the good of his people.  Esther is the Old Testament story that illustrates the New Testament verse in Romans 8:28.

28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

Now sometimes it seems that people who are experiencing difficulty in their life – they say “Don’t tell me this verse.  I don’t want to hear that God is going to make something good come out of it.  The pain is just too much right now.”

But can I challenge us to make the decision right now that this verse is good news – and should be especially good news when we are in those times of stress and difficulty.  When else would this be good news?  It’s more than a theory.  This verse should always bring us to a place where we can stand up under whatever burden we are carrying with confidence and courage.

Esther teaches us that God can make sense of seemingly senseless acts in life.

So let’s start by talking about  how the The presence and providence of God leads to a confident and courageous life.  Then we will talk about the providence of God.

We live in a world saturated with the presence of God.  It is bathed in the presence of God.  This world is awash in the presence of a brilliant God who cherishes every person on earth.

Some people think of God as living far away.   Doesn’t God live in Heaven?  And isn’t heaven a place where people float on clouds and play the harp?    Isn’t heaven like, you know – an elevator and gates and Peter up there with a long line?

No – the deal is that when Jesus teaches us to pray to our Father in the Heaven –

But the word there is the heavens.  And to a first century person it meant the atmosphere, the sky, the stars.  God lives here.  It means he is everywhere.

Psalm 139 was a psalm (or song) written by Israel’s greatest King – a man named David.  Psalm 139 is all about the presence of God.

I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I go down to the grave, you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.
11 I could ask the darkness to hide me
and the light around me to become night—
12     but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.

13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.

How appropriate that on Mothers Day we read this psalm- celebrating the fact that it was God who made you, you know.  Even in your mothers womb, God was there.  Knitting you together to make you as you are.

You know – as an aside here very quickly, sometimes Mothers day can be a difficult day for a number of reasons.  Some people have mothers who were not exemplary mothers.  They might have even been bad mothers.  And you wonder – why did God give me the parents he gave me?  Why couldn’t I have had better parents?  And why would God want me to honor my parents?

For a variety of reasons, but the biggest is because your parents had the exact DNA that he wanted in order to create you exactly the way God wanted you to be.  You are not an accident.

Your parents might not have planned for you, but God did.  There might be parents who became parents by accident, but you are no accident, God wanted to create a you – a unique and beautiful work of art.  And God decided that your parents had what he wanted to make it happen.

There might be illegitimate parents – but there are no illegitimate children.  Not all parents are good parents.  Not all moms were skilled mothers.  But the deal is that God was more interested in creating you than in their parenting skills.

It’s God who created you, who has plans for you, who quite literally stitched your DNA together in order to make you, perfectly you.  He was present with you in the womb and he is as close to you right now as the breath on the back of your hand.

We live in world saturated with the presence of God.  But the real question is – is God WITH you?  I guess what I mean is there’s a difference between God’s presence and God being with me. He’s present in the room – and he’s mine and I am his.

In Matthew chapter 1 – the first chapter of the new Testament – Matthew writes that the birth of Jesus was a fulfillment of a prophecy made 700 years before Jesus was born that a virgin would be with child, and that his name would be Immanuel – meaning – “God is with us.”

Do you know how unusual it is to have a religion founded on the idea that God likes us and wants to be with us?

I mean, when you look at how mankind was created – like the greeks gods and roman Gods and Persian gods…. usually the story goes that the Gods create mankind because they want someone to do the work.  They create mankind as the help.  Go get the food and bring it to me.  And the gods look at humanity as playthings – entertainment.

But the God we read about in the Bible – he creates us to be with us.  He walks with Adam and Eve in the garden.  He creates us to be with him.  As friends, not servants or playthings.  It’s unique.

However, as the Bible goes on tells us – mankind wasn’t all that interested in walking with God.  The theme song of humanity was from early on – “I’ll do it my way!”  So we stiff armed God and rebelled against him, introducing sin into the world and that created a barrier between God and us; a barrier that a just God simply could not overlook.  He needed to do away with our sin in order that we might be able to be with him again.

So Jesus paid the price to get rid of the barrier of our sin.  In the great reversal – Jesus paid the debt for us.  And now offers an invitation to place our faith in Him.  Nothing stands in our way of walking with God this very day.

But the invitation goes both ways.  Jesus invites us to become his apprentice – to walk alongside him and learn from him how to live life in this kind of world.  But there also needs to be a point in our life where we invite Jesus to walk alongside us and we give him permission to govern our life.  Where we relinquish control – and it has to be total surrender – of our life and invite Jesus to take the reins of our life.

We call that crossing the line of faith.  When we think highly enough of Jesus to trust him with the governance of our lives, then something wonderful happens.  God is not just present, He is with us.

And everything changes.  We are promised that God will be with us.  Always.  TO the end of the age.  To the end of our age.  We will never walk alone.

You know, this Mothers Day is a different one for Jody and me.  Both of our Mothers have passed away since last Mothers Day.  And so I know that it will be hard for us and I’m sure we aren’t alone.  Many here have lost their moms as well.

Although our moms are gone, Thank God that we are never alone.  We have our heavenly parent looking after us.  Tending to us.  Caring for us with every bit as much love as our moms ever did.

Through faith in Jesus we are assured of God’s presence with us and in us.  He will never leave us.  We can live life confident that the Lord is my shepherd, leading and guiding me each day.

Now let’s talk about that second word, the providence of God.  What does that mean?

The providence of God means that even when we can’t figure out what’s happening, God is at work, ‘behind the seens’, working all things together for the good of his people.

As we read Esther, we don’t know God is at work until the last few chapters of the story.  In chapters 1-4 – it would appear God is completely absent from the scene, doesn’t it?  It appears the evil Xerxes is the one in charge.  Stealing Esther from a normal life, forcing her into his Harem.  It would appear the powerful ones are in charge, like prideful Haman.  Plotting death and destruction.

Where is God in chapters 1,2,3,4?  He appears completely absent from the scene.  It’s not until chapter 8 that we can see very clearly what God was up to all along.

It’s not until chapter 8 that we begin to see the series of ‘coincidences’ that – had they not occurred – would have led to a wholesale slaughter of the Jewish people in the Persian Kingdom.

We don’t know God is at work in chapter 1 until we come to chapter 8.   In Chapter 1 Xerxes got drunk – Had not Xerxes gotten drunk – he probably wouldn’t have issued a degrading command to his wife Vashti to come and entertain the boys with her beauty.  Vashti wouldn’t have embarrassed him.  He never would have had the game of finding a new wife.

Esther never would have ben placed in a position of authority and power.  And Jewish people across Persia would have been slaughtered.

It’s not until chapter 8 that we realize – God was providentially working all the way back in chapter 1.

Listen to this – some of you need to hear this today.  Some of you right now are in chapter 1,2,3.  You are in chapter 4 – where it feels like your world is collapsing.   Things are a mess and you aren’t sure God is even seeing you.  Because he appears to be absent from the scene.

Hang on!  Hold on!  Chapter 8 is coming.  Esther teaches us that the providence of God is at work even now!  God is at work in your situation.  He is at work.  God is always working, even when he’s hard to spot.  Nothing escapes his notice.  And if you have placed your faith in Him then we are assured that God is working all things together for good.

Nothing can thwart God’s plan or purpose.  You might be in chapter 4, but chapter 5 is coming.  Hang in there.  Because when you see what God was up to all along, you’ll freak!

Now let me say this as well – there might be a mom or two in this room who have kids who are just – bonkers right now.  They are making decisions that are breaking your heart.   And so mothers day is hard for you because you might be tempted to sit around and ask – where did we go wrong?  What if I had done this or that.

Can I just say – your kid – has many chapters in their life yet to be written too.  They might be in chapter 1.  And they have to get through a few more dark chapters before things start turning in chapter 5.

What can you do?  Trust God with your kids.  It’s one thing – and I love baby dedications – we dedicate them to God when they are babies.  Our intention is to release our children to God’s care.  And then do our level best to raise them the best way we know how.  But at the end of the day, we submit our efforts to God.  And we admit to him that we are trusting Him to write the chapters of our children’s lives.

But that’s faith.  We think highly enough of Jesus to say – you take them from here.  They were yours.  You were with them in the womb.  I trust that you will do all that is necessary to bring them safely home.

The providence of God means that God is always working behind the scenes, and is able to connect dots that often don’t appear to be connectable.

You know how you have a Maps application on your phone?  And you type in your destination and the phone gently suggests you “Make a left in 300 feet.”  What happens if you blow past the destination?  The phone recalibrates.  Make a u-turn.  And if you ignore it again?  In one mile make a left.  It recalibrates the route – but the destination remains the same.

All that to say, the providence of God makes God the great recalibrater.

You might have made a hundred wrong turns in your life, but God has you here today.  And he extends an invitation.  Let him walk with you, day to day.  Let him teach you a new way of living.  Not a religious way of living, but a loving way of living.

See, the presence of God and the providence of God?  They offer us a new way of living.  In a world filled with challenges – we get to live with confidences.  Because since we know that God is with us, we also know nothing can stand against us.

We live in the confident assurance that God, though not the creator of evil and sin, is powerful and loving enough to somehow use those things to accomplish his purposes.

We live in confidence and we live with courage.  We fear nothing.  Even when walking through the valley of the shadow of death, we fear nothing.  Because God is with us.  And he comforts us.  and guides us.  And provides for us.  And one day will welcome us home with him.

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