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Sunday, October 27, 2013

1 Thessalonians - Sanctification: the "still more" of Paul. A Plan from the Beginning of the World


Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians while in Corinth on his second missionary journey. This letter is considered one of the earliest New Testament writings. We should understand a few things about the Thessalonians and Thessalonica. Thessalonica was a port city and was the biggest city in Macedonia. There were a few Romans who lived there, but the Romans did not rule its government; hence, it was Greek. When Paul arrived in the city, some scholars say there were enough Jews to need a synagogue and others say there was not. Whether there was or was not, Paul did not let this deter him. He adapted his presentation of the Gospel for whatever hearers were listening. From historical documents and from the Bible, we know that many people became Christians in Thessalonica. It seems Paul stayed there at least three weeks, but then had to flee to Berea. 

Chapter 1 has Paul’s standard opening to a letter, but it also introduces us to who the Thessalonians were to Paul. Paul felt like a father to the Thessalonians believers. He heard from others of the Thessalonians love, endurance, and faith, which was guiding their actions. 

In chapter 2, Paul reminded the Thessalonian believers of how he lived among them. He recalled for them his integrity and pure motives that came from not seeking to please men, but God. Paul did not speak to them with flattery to trick them to believe a false doctrine. He was gentle with them like a mother and loved them so much that he lived out the Gospel to them. He modeled for them what a Christian does and is. He stated that He lived holy, righteous, and blameless. Holy, righteous, and blameless are words used to define the “consecration” /“sanctification,” words that are used in chapter 4. This will become important. Paul brought to their attention how his being and actions modeled what he will later teach them to be – sanctified/consecrated. [Note: consecration and sanctification mean the same thing. I will use the word sanctification in this writing since it is used in the New American Standard Translation of the Bible to which I am referring.] 

Paul mentioned Timothy in chapter 3 because he sent Timothy to check on and encourage the Thessalonians. What Paul heard from Timothy was a credit to the Thessalonian believers. They were loving and encouraging each other in the faith. Paul desired to be back among them to supply what was lacking in their faith (vs. 10) and encourage their love to overflow to the brethren and others [actions] “so that He (Jesus) may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints” [being] (vv. 12-13). See this last part. He wanted them to be established as blameless and holy. Paul used these words of himself in chapter 2. Sanctification is being made pure, blameless, holy, and set apart for God.  

Chapter 4 is the point where Paul began to explain their next step of growth in their Christian faith. Paul told them to be sanctified, which is the will of God (vs. 3). He explained that sanctification means doing and being. Paul wrote that being sanctified means doing or not doing things: abstaining from sexual immorality [action - possess their body in sanctification and honor, vs. 4], not lusting [mental], not harming the body of another or defrauding a brother (a fellow Christian), being pure, loving one another (other Christians, vs. 9) as they are doing. Paul also told them to excel still more. What is this “more”? He is referring to what he said in 3:12, “to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people.” How can you increase in love? Macedonia knew the Thessalonians for having a faith as great as the churches in Judea. What more is it they needed to learn to fill up what they were lacking? The answer lies in 3:13 and 4:3. Their love for the brethren, others, and God must increase to the level of Paul’s whose example is Jesus. This comes only through sanctification. Read 3:13. Their lives needed to exhibit the love Jesus commanded the disciples, which only comes when Jesus establishes their hearts - “so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father.” Jesus wants them to be blameless and holy, which is sanctified. This comes from Him; sanctification becomes a new part of their being, but it must be worked out [action]. 

                    Paul was very explicit about being sanctified as Jesus is sanctified. He recognized it as a gift from Jesus, but he also modeled it for the Thessalonians. What does being sanctified mean though? For some people, this seems to be a “churchified” word. People see it as a grandiose religious word that other people pull out of their hat to show they are better than others are. That was not the intention of the word when God instituted it. Sanctified is not a new term, mentioned first in the New Testament. Yahweh God established the term and its meaning from the beginning, in Genesis 2:3, when the writer of Genesis said, “God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it.” What is this word “sanctified” which is used in Genesis? It is qadash. In Hebrew, it means to dedicate, separate, consecrate, be holy, or to set apart. The seventh day is to be set apart to be holy for God, to dedicate it solely for God. Sanctification means the separation of oneself from things that are unclean, especially anything that contaminates one’s relationship with the perfect God. Qadash is used 152 times in the Old Testament. Qadash is used most in Exodus and Leviticus when God told the Israelites what and who to set apart for Him and His service. God spoke of setting apart utensils, firstborn children and animals, the priests, and the temple, synagogue, and the tent of gathering. He also called Himself the sanctifier, qadash, in Exodus 31:13. God told the Israelites, “I am the Lord who sanctifies you.” In Leviticus 6:18 & 27, God told them that whoever of the priests touched the meat set apart for the Lord would be sanctified. Second Chronicles has the third largest number usages of qadash. These instances also talk about the priests sanctifying the temple and the utensils for the purposes of God and of God sanctifying the temple/house of God. Jeremiah and Ezekiel use qadash the fourth and fifth highest number of times. Jeremiah 51:27-28 shows that God will even sanctify a foreign nation for His service, like when He used them to discipline Israel. To sum up, humans sanctify things, themselves, and others for God’s service and God sanctifies people, places, things, and days to Himself. God established qadash, setting apart someone or thing as holy for God’s service. 

The idea of sanctification stays the same in the New Testament, but is given the supreme example of its meaning in the life and death of Jesus Christ. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 6:17, "Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you." In both the Old and New Testaments, then, sanctification means the same thing. What is different is the means of being sanctified. In the Old Testament, sanctification came by following God’s commands, precepts, and statutes. In the New Testament, sanctification comes when a person becomes a believer in Jesus Christ and follows Him. Jesus is the example/model of true sanctification for humans. It is a part of His being and He lived it out in His interactions by word and deed while on earth.  

Let us read Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians again. What was the word he used when he spoke of sanctification to the Thessalonians in 4:3? It is the Greek word hagiasmos, which means to sanctify or purify. It comes from the word hagiazo (to separate from profane things and dedicate to God) which comes from the root word hagios, a most holy thing or saint. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul used hagios four of the five times referring to holy God or the Holy Spirit. We can see that the word used in Greek, hagiasmos, which means to sanctify and set apart for God, has the same meaning for which the Hebrews used the word qadash. God’s intention from one covenant to another, Old Testament to New Testament, did not change. He still calls us to set aside the Sabbath day and ourselves as believers of Jesus Christ. He calls us to be sanctified.  

                    God gave us sanctification in the beginning and continues to give it now. In 1 Thessalonians 4:7, Paul told them that God called them for the state of sanctification, not impurity. Sanctification is hagiosmos,  purification of heart and life. It is something that resides in you which God gives and which you live out. It is being and acting your chosen-ness by God - your purification by God - in the world. Jesus’ acted/embodied this sanctification of God, which is given to His children upon their salvation. A person does not have sanctification apart from God because of the fall of Adam and Eve when human sin marred the perfection of God’s creation in humanity. Jesus provides and gives this to believers when they repent and follow Him as their Lord and Savior. First Peter 1:15 says, “Like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior.” Holy in this verse is hagios, a most holy thing, a saint. Hagios is the root word of hagiasmos. It is something we receive and do. We receive from God and act it out for God’s glory while we are here so that others can see and experience whom God is and what He can do for them. Being sanctified is not only being purified by God for His purposes, but is an enacting of what He put in/did within our lives so others can see and come to know Him. Paul gave specifics of what this acting out is with examples from his life in 1 Thessalonians 2 and with his charge in chapter 4:3-12. 

                     In becoming a believer of Jesus Christ, we are renewed so that the perfection of Christ changes the “old man” living in us to the “new man,” the perfect human God intended when He created the world. We become the person God created humanity to be and we can then fulfill humanity’s purpose, to give glory to God. Jesus gives us this perfected image when we believe in Him as our Lord and Savior. He makes us holy, sanctified, and set apart for His original purpose. Jesus is the embodiment of this perfection and gives it. He showed it while He lived on earth. We are to do as Jesus did on earth and as He does now in heaven, give glory to God with our being, actions, and words. This is the working out of our salvation of which Paul spoke in Philippians 2:12-13, “…Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” [NASB]. Living out sanctification shows the world the believer’s love of God, other believers, and other people. It shows the ultimate love, which is displayed in our sanctification, our choosing to be set apart for God’s purpose, to bring Him glory, and to obey His statutes, precepts, and commands. What were the three commandments Christ left His disciples? From Matthew 22:36-39, love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. The other commandment Christ gave His disciples when He said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35 [NASB]). What in the Old Testament did God say would show the Israelites chose to be His chosen people? When they walk in His statutes and keep His commandments (Leviticus 26:3) He will walk among them and be their God and they will be His people (Leviticus 26:12 [NASB]).  

                    The Israelites were God’s chosen people. God set them apart for Himself. He sanctified/consecrated them and made a covenant with them. The Israelites could never live up to the standard of being holy no matter what they did. They acted in ways to deny their chosen-ness and had to purify/consecrate themselves repeatedly. The Israelites could not keep their side of the covenant. Holiness is a characteristic of God, an attribute. Humankind lost the ability to be set apart as wholly clean for God at the fall of humanity by Adam and Eve. God provided the means for humankind to be sanctified/holy through of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, which restores people to the original image God created on the 6th day of creation. God provided this salvation because of His love.  

                    God, through Jesus, gave us the ability to be made new and set apart for Him. When we believe Jesus is the Son of God and accept His forgiveness, we give ourselves to God and He saves and sanctifies us. As we live each day, we can choose whether to continue to be set apart for God, His service and His glory, or not. If we choose to walk in God’s ways, our sanctification is displayed in our actions and words, which comes from the changed person into whom Jesus makes us. This changed person is a new being and brings with it new attitudes with which to face each day, person, and encounter. This is how we receive and act out sanctification. Sanctification is something we receive and be. If we are truly followers of Christ, our being in Him will result in actions that show our love for God, other Christians, and other people. We work out our salvation, as Paul says in Philippians 2:12-13 “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” [NASB]. Receiving and being consecrated/sanctified must be worked out in this world. Our living in Christ in this world means we work as He worked in this world, as servants. We become His disciples to whom He said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:19-20, [NASB]). We do the examples He showed us, caring, loving, touching, helping, healing, preaching, teaching, and being the shining light of God to all people.  

                         Paul closed the first letter to the Thessalonians with admonitions that reflected this understanding of sanctification. He told them to appreciate their leaders (brethren) and love them; live in peace; admonish the unruly; encourage the faint-hearted; help the weak; be patient with all; do only that which is good to all. These are actions or conduct. Next he spoke of their spiritual attitude/behavior - rejoice always; pray without ceasing; give thanks in all things; do not quench the Spirit. Additionally, Paul addressed their mental capacities/judgment by telling them to examine everything and determine what is good and to abstain from evil. Finally, Paul said a prayer over them, as he outlined what their whole selves were: “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23 [NASB]). 

                    Sanctification is not new to Christians. It is being holy and set apart for God and acting as He guides. Yahweh God established sanctification from the seventh day of creation. What is new for those who follow Christ is that we do not have to keep purifying ourselves, as the Old Testament Israelites did, hoping that we are clean enough to be in God’s presence. Jesus provided the purification that each of us needs. When we accept His forgiveness and His salvation, we become His children (His chosen ones) and are purified and made holy to be in God’s presence. With the acceptance of Jesus’ love gift of salvation and the resultant sanctification, our response is love (to God, believers, and other people), which shows our sanctification, being set apart for God’s purposes, glorifying Him. Our being is made new and we act from the perfectness that Christ has made us through His purity and perfectness. This is what Paul tells the Thessalonians, to excel still more, show the sanctification that Jesus put in you through your acts, words, and being. 

                    We come to our final thought. Are we acting out of the sanctification (the calling out of us by God) to show His love? Have accepted Jesus’ free gift of salvation and resultant sanctification? If not, take the time now to ask for His gift of love to you, His forgiveness and salvation. Ask Him to show you Himself and help you to believe. Upon your belief and acceptance of His forgiveness, you will have this new life. You will be set apart for God. You will be sanctified for Him. He will be your God and you will be His child as He promised in Leviticus 26:12.

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Heroine for the King


The book of Esther is the only book of the Bible that does not mention God’s name. It makes reference to Him and the Jews live lives that reflect His sovereignty and their faithfulness to Him. It is the story of God’s chosen people, the Israelites, in captivity in Persia under King Ahasuerus, the Hebrew name for King Xerxes (Greek name) or King Khshayarsha (Persian name), who lived from 520-465 BC. His son, King Artexerxes was king during Nehemiah’s time. King Ahasuerus reigned from 486-465BC. Esther, the story of a young woman of God, is set around the years 483-478BC.
Many of us have heard the story of Esther at some point in our lifetime. For women, Esther has become a hero. Esther was a young orphan Jewess who was adopted by her cousin, Mordecai while they lived in captivity in Babylon. The queen of king Ahasuerus was Vashti and her beauty was known throughout the kingdom. One night during a half-year feast, the king wanted to parade his queen and her beauty to his princes and noblemen and so summoned her to him. She refused to attend at the king’s request. Upon advice from his most esteemed nobles, the king dethroned Vashti and searched for a new queen. The king’s eunuchs were sent throughout his provinces to find the most beautiful virgins and bring them to the royal palace. Esther was one of these beautiful virgins. After twelve months being pampered and prepared for her introduction to the king, each girl was brought before the king and spent the night with him after which she would go to the harem of the concubines if she was not chosen to be the new queen. When Esther was presented to the king, the king loved her and she found favor with him more than all the other women who were taken to him. He chose Esther to be his queen.
Along with Esther, the daughter of a Levitical priest, Abahail, the king raised the stature of another person, Haman, the Amalekite, 16th generational descendent of King Agag. The history between the Israelites and Amalekites had been long by this point. The Amalekites, under king Agag, were the first people to fight against the Israelites at Rephadim after they crossed the Red Sea. This nation of people dogged the Israelites through time. From history we know the Amalekites to be the ancestor of Esau’s grandson, Amalek. Remember Esau from history; he was the one who sold his birthright to Jacob. Esau was famished after being in the field and agreed to give Jacob his birthright for the soup Jacob was cooking. From that point in time, there was animosity between Jacob and Esau and their descendants. The children of the promise, which God gave Abraham, came through Jacob’s line, not Esau’s. Enter the story of Esther and we see one of the reasons for Haman’s hatred of the Jews. The most immediate reason for his hatred was that Mordecai, Esther’s cousin, did not bow and prostrate himself at the feet of Haman as the king commanded and Haman demanded. Haman’s pride could not let that go unpunished.
The story in Esther is about the saving of the Jews from Haman’s treachery. It is also about two people, Esther and Haman, heroine and anti-hero. It is the story of God’s children and other people. What we can see in this book of the Old Testament is two extremes, ancestor of God’s priest versus ancestor of the nemesis of God’s children. If you were looking at it in modern terms, it is the heroine up against her nemesis. However, this is not ultimately the story of the heroine and anti-hero, but of God and the world. To get to this point, we must determine what attributes characterize a child of God and what characterizes a child of the world.
The attributes of God’s children we see through the history told in the Bible, in history books, like Foxe’s Book of Martyr’s, and historical documents are humility, obedience, love of God and other believers, faithfulness, wisdom, service, and charity and this is not an exhaustive list. The attributes of those who are not God’s children can include the list above, but it can also include self-love, hate and anger, hoarding, following worldly desires, drunkenness, debauchery, pride, and other things. With this in mind, let’s look at Esther and Haman.
The best way to characterize a person is by his or her actions, attitudes, and words. Esther entered the story after queen Vashti was removed from her position. Esther was collected by the king’s eunuchs. The first thing we read of Esther’s interactions with another person is Mordecai’s counsel to not tell them who her people and kindred are. Mordecai, being the male head of household for Esther, was heard and his instructions heeded. It is not until chapter 7 that Esther declared her background or her people. Esther was obedient to Mordecai. She is also intelligent and wise. She accepted the counsel of the king’s eunuch who was in charge of her and the other women. Why did this eunuch offer her his professional advice? He did it because she “pleased him and found favor with him” (2:9). Her demeanor and beauty pleased and he held her in esteem. In fact, all who saw her favored her (2:15). When she was presented to the king, she asked only that which the eunuch told her and she found favor and kindness with the king. Esther had won the favor of the people in the palace. She was a favored child of God. After she was made queen, she continued to obey Mordecai and did not reveal her people or kin. She was favored by Mordecai and the Jews, too. Before the anti-hero enters the picture, we read of Mordecai protecting the king by telling of the plot he heard two of the king’s eunuchs plotting at the king’s gate. Mordecai’s name was written down in the king’s book of records.
Next enters Haman. In chapter 3, the king raised the stature of Haman. He advanced Haman above all the princes and nobles in his kingdom. Everyone was commanded to bow down to Haman when he passed. Everyone did bow down and prostrate themselves except Mordecai. When two men at the king’s gate questioned him as to why he would not bow down and pay homage to Haman, Mordecai explained that he was a Jew and was prohibited by Yahweh from bowing before anyone but Him. These two men took this to Haman and asked if this was a viable excuse. Haman, a man after prestige and worldly acknowledgement, had finally been exalted. The king’s command to bow to him and the fact that Mordecai did not because of religious reasons infuriated Haman (3:5). From the Jewish Law, no one was to bow/prostrate him or herself to anyone except Yahweh. Not only was Haman a man and not Yahweh, he was an enemy of the Jews. Haman was smart, though. He knew he could not single out Mordecai for penalty/death; he had to target a whole people, the Jews. He hatched a plan just for that and he waited a whole year (3:6-7) for its fruition. Haman demanded the worship of man which God forbade. Haman was shown as the anti-hero. He is self-absorbed, self-serving, prideful, hateful, and driven by his own worldly desires. God’s ways versus the world’s ways was juxtaposed here.
We continue to read of Esther and Haman as the next year of their lives unfold in the rest of the book. Haman brought a serious charge to the king to allow him to have the Jews exterminated. He did not say it in exactly those words, though. He told the king there was a people who were not living by his laws, but by their own, and that they were decreasing his profits. Any king would not like to have a people in his kingdom who had contempt for his laws and him by association, as well as, were causing him to lose income. Appealing to the worldly side of the king, Haman, without specifying who these people were, received permission to write an edict to get rid of these people. The king gave him his ring, which, when applied to a seal on an edict, made the law irreversible. Notice how Haman approached the king. He appealed to the king’s worldly desires and then couched his request with these words “if it please the king.” He was not appealing to the king based upon his favor with the king and his personal honor; he was unlike Esther, as we will see later. The next time we encounter Haman is after the queen requested the king and Haman to attend a banquet in their honor in her residence in chapter 5. After the banquet, when Haman left the queen’s residence, he saw Mordecai and his anger filled him (5:9). He controlled himself and went home to brag to his wife and friends of his invitation to dine with the king and queen. He also regaled them by boasting of his great wealth, large number of sons, and stature with the king.  Haman was filled with pride, not humility. His last statement in chapter 5 summed up what occurs when we seek our own personal attainments. Yet all of this does not satisfy me every time I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king's gate" (5:13). Pride makes the possessor unhappy and the irony is that Haman wanted the honor and adoration of the man he despised most. Haman sought after more praise, more wealth, and higher stature/position in the kingdom. He would never be completely satisfied while he was searching for all the world could give him. Additionally, his self-interest blinded him to the facts and feelings of others, the queen, Mordecai, the king, and his own friends.
When we next read of Haman, he is puffed up with his own self-importance. He does not know what the king is thinking. Haman was in the palace on a mission to ask the king for permission to kill Mordecai when he was summoned by the king to advise on how to honor a person. Haman answered the king thinking of himself and how he would like to be honored by the king, assuming the king was thinking about him. Haman wanted ultimate recognition by the king and the people in his kingdom so requests to wear the kings cloak, wear his crown, and ride his horse being led around the city proclaiming this will be “done to the man whom the king desires to honor” (6:9) seemed paramount to getting the top honor by the king. Haman was only after his own interests. Little did he know the king would make him the man who led the horse proclaiming in front of the rider about the honor given to the man riding. Haman was forced to honor Mordecai, the man who would not acknowledge Haman’s stature. Haman had to eat crow. To make matters worse, when Haman arrived home, his wife told him that he will not overcome Mordecai, but would be overthrown by him (6:13).
Haman’s final act with the king and queen arrived. He was invited again to a banquet with the king at the queen’s residence. While there, the king offered to grant a petition for Esther and she made a case for her people which blew up in Haman’s face. The king saw who he really was, a man with no morals who was only after more power and honor. While the king walked outside the banqueting hall, Haman fell prostrate on the queen just as the king reentered. The king challenged him by asking is he already trying to begin his extermination by killing the queen while he is around? The king’s servants grasp Haman and cover his face. In Persian culture at the time, a criminal was so below the king that he could not even look at the king, hence the covering of Haman’s face. When the king found out Haman had a gallows made for Mordecai, he ordered Haman be hanged on it instead. In this story, we saw Haman’s pride, hatred, self-absorption, malevolent scheming, arrogance, abuse of power, and inhumanity in general. We have not seen him treat wisely the power and position which the king gave him. We have seen him scampering, scheming, and scraping to better himself each time we encounter him in the story. Now, let’s consider Esther.
Esther, by the end of chapter 2, had found favor with her people, cousin, eunuch, and king. The favor she found was due not only to her beauty, but to her submissiveness, humility, obedience, knowledge, and wisdom. As we continue to read the story of Esther, we see another action which she did repeatedly throughout the story. We see when she approached the king, she always approached him with humility and appealed to his honor, humanity, and stature. After her initial encounter with the king - finding favor with him, and being proclaimed queen - Esther spoke through servants to Mordecai after Haman’s edict went into all the provinces of the kingdom declaring that on the 15th of the month in twelve month’s time all Jews were to be killed and their possessions become booty for the killers. Mordecai in chapter 4 put on sackcloth and ashes and went to the king’s gate at which no one was to wear sackcloth. Esther talked to him through servants and sent clothes. Finally, Mordecai implored her to go to the king and plead the case for her people, from whom the king does not know she is comes. At that, Esther told Mordecai that no one could enter the king’s presence without being beckoned or without his staff being extended to them. If he did not extend his staff, the interrupter of the king will be put to death (4:11). She was afraid for her life. Mordecai reminded her who she was and from whose people she came. She was a Jew and represented the Jews. She must stand up for the Jews, God’s chosen people. He told her,
Do not imagine that you in the king's palace can escape any more than all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?" (4:13-14, [NASB])
If she did not speak, she would die because of the edict. If she went to the king, she could have died. Esther was reminded of who she was, a Jew, and who her God is. Remember, she was not only a queen, but one of God’s chosen people and the daughter of his royal priesthood. She may have been seen with favor by all the people, including her earthly king, for such a time as this, as Mordecai stated. Esther asked that Mordecai ask all the Jews to fast for three days and then she would petition the king. Esther was human, submissive to the male head of household and to the king. She was also submissive to Yahweh God, to walk the road on which He placed her.
            After the three days of fasting, and most probably praying, Esther walked to the chamber outside the throne room and the king extended his scepter. See how Esther phrases her request upon questioning by her loving king who promised to give her up to half his kingdom. She said, "If it pleases the king, may the king and Haman come this day to the banquet that I have prepared for him" (5: 4 [NASB])? Esther appealed to his person and position and then make her request, which seemed to be about serving him. She invited him and Haman to a banquet in her quarters. At the banquet, the king offered without her asking, what her request was and he would give it to her (5:6). Esther made another request, "My petition and my request is: if I have found favor in the sight of the king, and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and do what I request, may the king and Haman come to the banquet which I will prepare for them, and tomorrow I will do as the king says” (5:8). Esther once again appealed to his care for her along with his desire and stature. She appealed to him as her husband and king then honored him by banqueting with him again. (Some may call this womanly wiles. Whether it is or not, Esther used her gifts and abilities for the service of her King, Yahweh.)
            The next day arrived and the banquet time had come. While they were having wine, the king asked, "What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to half of the kingdom it shall be done" (7:2)? Esther replied,
If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me as my petition, and my people as my request; for we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed and to be annihilated. Now if we had only been sold as slaves , men and women, I would have remained silent, for the trouble would not be commensurate with the annoyance to the king. (7:3-4 [NASB])
Esther still appealed to the king’s favor with her, how he had been pleased by her beauty and her being. She had gained his trust. She was humbly subservient to him, his stature and knowledge, and to his desires/wants. Also, she had saved the life of the king with her message from Mordecai. The next part of her request shocked him. As far as we know, she had never appealed for anything personally before. He had to have noticed and taken this request seriously. The crime he heard shocked him. Esther used many words to describe what Haman did, his contemplated atrocity. She planned her words carefully to get empathy for her people. Her words showed the depth of her emotion and awakened a similar depth in the king. The king trusted her knowledge and advice and probably her discretion. She appealed to her king who then walked outside briefly. When the king walked back into the room after hearing about Haman’s treachery and abuse of power, he confronted Haman while his servants grabbed Haman and covered his face. Esther remained subservient and obedient to her heavenly King, her earthly king, and her head of family. She remained faithful to the three. She remained humble, respectful, wise, and a lover of Yahweh and her people, His chosen children.
            After Haman’s scheme unfolded and the king had him hanged, Mordecai was promoted to second behind the king and given Haman’s ring. Mordecai and Esther can be equated to the story of Joseph who was put in his position to provide food for the Egyptians and the Israelites during the severe drought. Each person remembered who they were and whose they were. They remembered not only how great Yahweh is but also how small they were in comparison. They each were humble and faithful. They each worked to serve the Lord and His interests. Mordecai’s words to Esther have been repeated down through the centuries, who knows that you were put in this position “for such a time as this.” Haman, on the other hand, only sought what he desired. He proved not to be devoted to his earthly king by abusing the king’s trust in him. He did not claim allegiance to any god. He was only interested in himself. He would take a life or many when he felt he was not honored. He killed. He slandered. He was a braggart and prideful. He is completely opposite to Esther.
            The story of Esther is a great reminder of who and whose we are. It is also a great reminder that God will take care of His children. Esther sought to be a help to her King (Yahweh) and also be pleasing to her earthly king, Ahasuerus. Esther’s relationship with God affected her attitude and actions toward king Ahasuerus. Her relationship to Ahasuerus reflected her honor to Yahweh. Her relationship to God affected her people. Through her, God saved His chosen people. We should come out of our study of Esther asking ourselves these questions:
1.    To whom am I faithful?

2.    Am I looking out only for myself and my desires or am I humble and obediently following God, the true King?

3.    What are my actions, words, and attitudes saying to others about my relationship with God and who He is?

 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Miracle of Faith - book

The book, Miracle of Faith, now available for purchase from Amazon.com. Beginning later in the week, Barnes and Noble and Crossbooks.com will also be selling the book. Currently only soft and hard cover books are being sold. In a couple of weeks, the ebooks will be available for purchase. For those people who do not live in North America, CrossBooks (the publisher) distributes their books worldwide through Ingram Book Distribution. They will print the books in the UK. For ease of purchase, the ISBN number for the soft cover book is 978-1-4627-3158-9.

This book is a compilation of 53 Bible studies written over 18 months. Originally these Bible studies were posted on a blog site. Over the 18 months of the blog site, almost 30 countries had people read the blogs. Currently there are now 35 countries represented as regular readers of the Bible studies. Since the start of the book making process, another 32 Bible studies have been posted to the blog site.
Copied below are the Preface from the book and a review of it, as well.

Preface:

WHEN I BEGAN ON THIS leg of my journey with God , He was preparing my family and me to become missionaries. Part of the preparation was making us feel comfortable with moving to another

continent and another hemisphere. When hearing about the cultural differences from that in which I was accustomed, nervousness ensued, as would be the case for most people embarking on similar adventures. During this part of preparing, God brought a Bible verse to my attention during one of my quiet times. This verse comes from John 14:2 . This verse records Jesus telling His disciples about His imminent departure from earth. He said, “In My Father ’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you” [NASB]. For me, at that time, it showed me that anywhere on earth to which God calls me to work is just one of the rooms or dwelling places in His house. God had already gone before us to prepare a place for us, a home in a

neighborhood that would be friendly with a church family who are loving and accepting and with a people who have the same heart as us because they are our brothers and sisters in Christ . This was so reassuring. It is also the reason for my blog title, Thoughts from Another Home.

God began a new path for my journey with Him while in this new dwelling place. In 2011, He told me to start a blog site. I had no idea what He wanted me to put on it, but after 18 months, I definitely know some of the things He wanted to put on there. This book is a collection of some of the articles I have posted on my blog site over the last 18 months. As I wrote and posted them, people would call or send me emails, telling me just how much the articles helped them, how much they learned, and
the ease with which they could understand the articles. Many people began to ask me to put them in a book. I put them off for quite a while, but after more requests, I decided to get information regarding the process of publishing and to determine if these writings were worthy of publishing. My initial conversation with the publishing representative said he had prayed about it the night before and on the way to work that morning. After talking with me, he felt the book should be published, so we discussed the process with CrossBooks. From that point in time, I did research for about a week along with much praying and seeking of God’s will. Some of the articles in this book come from this seeking. The long and short of it is that this book was published.
 
My prayer is that you would learn from them just as I did when God taught them to me, draw inspiration from them, and be encouraged to step out on this bold journey with God. He is always calling you to follow Him. Are you willing to follow Him?
 
Review:
"Making the decision to become a disciple of Christ can be difficult, especially if you are not sure what exactly it entails. And if you have already professed your faith in Christ, you may still want to grow in your faith without knowing how to achieve this greater understanding. Though these are different starting points, the needs of these two positions are similar.
Gail Davis' Miracle of Faith offers Bible studies for everyone. You can grow closer to God so you can be one with the Father, as Jesus and the Father are one. Miracle of Faith seeks to help you become more like Him. Davis explores various topics of faith and hope, advocating loving God and loving others. She also considers miracles, righteousness, ways to be certain in Christ, and to know the voice of God.
Each lesson uses profound questions to help you consider the depth of your faith in Jesus Christ. These lessons may be used at your own pace and are suitable for both daily and more protracted study.
Whether you have been on the Christian journey three days, three years, or thirty years, God can speak to you through His Word. Let Miracle of Faith help you find the way to hear and understand God."

Please tell all your friends who are growing Christians as well as those who are seeking for the Lord. No marketing is being done. Word of mouth is the means of getting the news out. God used His teachings to me, to reach others through the blog site. The blog site has developed into a book published by demand of the blog readers. My obedience was to study with Him and make the Bible studies available to others through the blog and book. Now, we must let people know God is real, loves everyone and wants a daily relationship with us. This book is a way to show them the reality of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - the One true God - when used in conjunction with the Bible. Use this book as a resource for your witnessing. Use it for your personal growth. Use it to teach others about Jesus and how to grow more Christlike.

May the name of the Lord be declared from all the corners of the world until every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus is Lord.

Grace and Peace,
Gail

 

 

 

 
 

 
 

 

 

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Crux of the Matter


Nehemiah 
What is it about humans that, when we do not have someone whom we acknowledge has an impassioned view of God in our midst watching over us, we start walking away from the path of God? That gift of free will leads us astray so very much of our lives.
            God knows the hearts of us humans; He created our hearts. The whole human race is blighted by sin since Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17). God had a plan in mind when He created humanity with free will. His plan was to redeem us because He knew then that we would choose to follow our own desires and be disobedient to Him. His plan from the beginning was to provide a savior to save us from the downfall of our wrong choices (sin). This Savior would be His Son, Jesus. His plan from before He created us was to be in a relationship with each of us. Of course, then, He would have a plan to save us from ourselves and our sin. Even when His chosen people, the Hebrews/Israelites sinned, He still had a covenant to them, He would be their God and they would be His people. God told them through Moses in Exodus (chap. 6 vs. 7) this covenant He would have with them. He repeated it in Leviticus 26:12 when they were establishing laws by which to live. He reminded the Israelites eleven times by the prophets (Jeremiah, Ezekial, Isaiah, and Zechariah). It was reiterated by Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:16 and the writer of Hebrews (chap 8 vs. 10). And finally, by John in his exile on Patmos in Revelation 21:3. God’s covenant relationship of love carries throughout the whole life of the Israelites then includes the believing Gentiles all the way to eternity. His covenant of love provided the redemption we humans needed to be in a relationship with the Holy God.
Since this is the case, we may ask, why did the Israelites forget so often? Why did God have to discipline them with conquering even though He sent so many prophets to remind them of their covenant with Him? The answer plain and simple is that we are sinners. He created us with free will and we have freely willed our own wants and desires from the day Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden tree.
Let us look at an example. Before Nehemiah came on the scene, Judah had been taken captive by Babylon in 597BC. Two other deportations of captive Jews from the southern kingdom occurred in 587BC and 582BC. In the twelfth year of King Artexerxes reign, 453BC (per Nehemiah 1), Nehemiah, the king’s cupbearer, received word from messengers from Jerusalem about the condition of Jerusalem. The city walls were falling down and all the gates were burned. As a Jew this meant two things: 1) they were defenseless and a laughing stock by other nations, and 2) their God who had been so strong to bring them out of Egypt and rout all the nations in the Promised Land was being ridiculed as a small God who could not protect His “chosen people.”  Nehemiah heard the news from the messenger with this in mind and he “sat down and wept and mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 1:4 [NASB]).
Nehemiah prayed. He did not pray an ordinary prayer thanking God for his food. Nehemiah prayed a prayer acknowledging God’s greatness and awesomeness (1:5). He prayed a prayer of contrition acknowledging the sins of his own people, the Israelites, asking for forgiveness for their hardening of heart and sinfulness (walking away from Yahweh God) (vv. 6-7). He was bold enough to remind God of His promises to the Israelites,
Remember the word which You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, 'If you are unfaithful I will scatter you among the peoples; but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though those of you who have been scattered were in the most remote part of the heavens, I will gather them from there and will bring them to the place where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell.’ (vv.8-9 [NASB])
He reminded God that the Israelites were “Your servants whom you redeemed (from Egypt) by Your strong hand” (vs. 10). Finally, Nehemiah pleaded with God to be attentive to his prayer, he who delights to revere Yahweh’s name. He begged God be with him as he took his case before King Artexerxes that day and make the King have compassion on him. Nehemiah prayed for all of Israel. What the writer of 2 Chronicles 7:14 stated, “If My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land” [NASB] is what Nehemiah prayed for all Israel. One other thing we need to consider is that Nehemiah was the King’s cupbearer. Nehemiah was close physically to the King every day. He has spoken to the king since the king’s reign began twelve years before. The King trusted him. His proximity to the man with power was similar to Esther’s proximity to King Ahasuerus (Xerxes, the father of Artexerxes).
As we continue to read Nehemiah, we see Artexerxes granted him permission to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls. In chapter 2, Nehemiah rode around the city walls at night not telling those with him what he was doing. After his inspection he gathered the city officials and tells them he sees the walls disrepair. He issues a command, “Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so we will not be a reproach” (2:17 [NASB]). He has appealed to their civic honor. More than that, he appealed to their religious honor. We know this because Nehemiah next spoke of God’s favor upon himself. What honorable man of religion would want to be seen as not caring whether his God is ridiculed? None. Nehemiah appealed to their religious dignity.
Nehemiah often spoke of the people’s religious life. This is only right as Israel was considered to be Zion for the Israelites and Jerusalem the place of God’s temple, His holy place. (Remember, through the prompting of Ezra, the temple was rebuilt before Nehemiah arrived.) The work to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem began in chapter 3. Chapter 4 starts with the leaders of the neighboring lands ridiculing the people of Jerusalem. They sneered at them and chided them. Sanballat, the leader of the Moabites in the city of Horonaim was furious with the rebuilding of the wall. He chided the Jews for trying to bring the wall back to life. (See chap. 2 vs. 10 and remember the Moabites and Ammonites are descended from Lot’s progeny with his two daughters. Their line was not a part of the chosen people.) Sanballat called the stones dusty rubble and burned/dead. He questioned how they could be of any use for their protection. (God delights in bringing life back to things once dead. Remember Elijah and the valley of dry bones. Remember also that with God’s gift of redemption, He gives new life to us.) Tobiah from Ammon also ridiculed the Jews. Sanballat and Tobiah ridiculed them twice at the start of chapter 4. Nehemiah kept the builders on task and the wall was half built when the ridiculers conspired to fight Jerusalem. Nehemiah heard of their plan and the people grew fearful, but he led the people to pray and to carry a weapon in one hand while the other hand built the wall. Nehemiah called upon their faith in Yahweh again. He appealed to their honor and faith as Jews. Nehemiah gave them a battle cry that has been used in recent years in the movie Braveheart. He said, "Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses" (Nehemiah 4:14 [NASB]). This is their rallying cry and truly is the crux of the matter; will they fight for God and for what He says is right?
 In chapter 5, we see Nehemiah called upon the Israelites faith in Yahweh again. To be able to have food to eat or keep their homes, the Israelites took loans at very high rates from their more wealthy brothers. They also sold their sons and daughters as slaves to pay their taxes and duties. When the common Jews confronted Nehemiah about this, he was outraged that one brother could do this to another. He appealed to their unity and brotherhood as chosen children of God. He told them, "The thing which you are doing is not good. Should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the nations, our enemies” (5 :9 [NASB])? Nehemiah urged the wealthy citizens to stop doing these things and to return the people’s land, homes, and family members, as well as to return the interest they charged their brothers. The people who did this promised with an oath to the priests and all the witnesses they would return these. Nehemiah became an example of how to live a simple lifestyle, not gouging the poor to live the life he was allowed by law because it would hurt his brothers.
The people of Jerusalem were appeased for a while, but when Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem  the Arab sent messengers to Nehemiah to meet. He knew they were trying to trick him. They did this four times, then Sanballat sent a personal message to Nehemiah using trickery by claiming that Nehemiah had political aspirations. He hoped to trick Nehemiah to defend himself. Nehemiah did not fall for this trick either. Sanballat went so far as to get one of the priests in on his scheme, but Nehemiah understood what was happening was not tricked. These men tried to make the people fearful. That did not work because of Nehemiah’s reminding them of God’s faithfulness. These three men then tried to appeal to Nehemiah’s honor.  That also did not work.
Next, Sanballat and Tobiah stirred up fear in the nations surrounding Jerusalem when the wall around Jerusalem was built in just 52 days. The faithfulness of the Lord to give the people of Jerusalem safety, strength, and endurance as well as the faithfulness of the people of Jerusalem to Yahweh was seen in the speed of its rebuilding  The response of the surrounding nations of people was fear. Nehemiah said in 6:16, “When all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations surrounding us saw it, they lost their confidence; for they recognized that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God [NASB]. Tobiah, however, had “spies in the camp.” He was the son-in-law of one of the Jews and the father-in-law of one of the Jewesses. These Jews had done the forbidden and inter-married with the unbelievers from the land, which God gave them as their Promised Land. These “spies” were pouring oil on the fire against Nehemiah and Tobiah sent letters to frighten him (6:19).
After the walls were rebuilt, Nehemiah took a census of the first returned exiles along with their offerings and gifts. Their city’s walls were strong. The people were saved by Yahweh. Ezra, the high priest began the rebuilt life of the citizens with a reading of the Law. People’s eyes were opened. They stood to hear the reading with their hands raised high, their heads bowed to the ground, and said “Amen, Amen” (8:6). The Levitical priests explained the law to the people so they understood the reading. Nehemiah declared the day holy, a great festival was called for, and the Feast of Booths was restored as a part of the people’s religious calendar. This revival among the Israelites continued into public confession of their sins and resulted with a new covenant being made with God and each other, which was written and signed by the leaders of the temple and tribes, including their governor, Nehemiah. The obligations of their covenant with God required returning to Him His portion in offerings of grain, animals, and sons. It also included keeping God’s commandments, statutes, and ordinances, and not marrying people from other nations. This latter was commanded by God before He gave them the Promised Land and was reiterated because the Amorites and Moabites tried to hire a prophet, Balaam, to curse God’s people as they were entering the Promised Land (see Exodus 34:16 and Deuteronomy 7:3).The people were in a good place. They had their safe walls back. They had their honor back. They had their homes back. They were strong in the faith. These things take us to chapter 12 where the wall was dedicated and hymns of thanksgiving were sung. The Levites were assigned their duties in the temple and for God’s service. The people seemed to be living up to their side of the covenant.
Knowing the Israelites as we do in hindsight, we know their faith and obedience will falter. We see the beginnings of it even before the worship and reading of the Law in chapter 8. The people have begun to inter-marry with people of other nations. We have seen in three places where Nehemiah had to bolster their faith to give them courage or conviction to step forward for the Lord. They are like all humanity, each of us make wrong choices and fail God and ourselves. What the people began to do with just Tobiah’s family became a big thing. Many people were intermarrying with unbelievers. The Jews who married into these unbelieving families were being persuaded to consider other gods and ways of life.
This all came to a head in chapter 13. Nehemiah, after 20 years as Governor in Jerusalem, returned to King Artexerxes for a time. We do not know the length of his stay with the king, but it appears not to have been long. Upon his return to Jerusalem, he found that Tobiah the Ammonite had been given a suite of rooms for a living abode within the temple of God in Jerusalem. Eliashib had become a family member of Tobiah’s through marriage. This was most grieving because Eliashib was a high priest and because a non-Israelite was living in God’s house a place in which only a few priests were allowed to live. Nehemiah’s righteous anger in this next part of chapter 13 reminds us of Jesus’ righteous anger when He cleansed the temple in John 2:13-22. The man after Yahweh’s heart, one who is not even a priest, was the one who became God’s beacon for the people of Jerusalem. As we read in 13:4-9, Tobiah and all his belongings were thrown out of the temple. Tobiah was sent packing. The rooms were cleansed and all the utensils of the house of God along with the grain offerings and frankincense were returned to the rooms. Previously Nehemiah appealed to them to honor God and stand up with faith in the face of fear. In this passage, Nehemiah showed them what honoring God meant. It meant not desecrating His house and His people with non-believers. Nehemiah’s fury was a small taste of God’s fury at His command being disobeyed. We read in the book of Ezra that during this time a very severe practice occurred to cleanse the Jewish line. As is said in Ezra 10:3, the people had to “put away all their wives and children according to the counsel of the Lord” [NASB]. All the people of Judah who had married from other nations had to report to Jerusalem within three days or lose all his possessions and the right to assemble with the exiles. Basically, the Jew, if he or she did not divorce their unbelieving spouse, was not given the benefit of being one of the chosen people of God any longer (Ezra 10:7-8). This, cleansing was severe.
Nehemiah returned to the task of getting the people and priests to set things right again in relation to God, His worship, and His house. The tithes were restored. The Sabbath day was restored. Mixed marriages were forbidden. Who was Nehemiah that he had this ability to know God’s heart, inspire man’s faith, know man’s heart, ignore ridicule and slander of his honor, and unite and harmonize a lost and scared people? He was not a priest. He was a faithful chosen child of Yahweh. He was cup bearer to the king, Artexerxes and Yahweh. He knew and was known by King Artexerxes. He also knew and was known by Yahweh. The Heavenly Father/Ruler inspired Nehemiah and gave him a heart for God and His ways. The earthly ruler, Artexerxes, trusted him and gave him from his own physical stores.
Nehemiah did not have some person with a large amount of faith inspiring him and spurring him on for Yahweh like he became for the Israelites in Jerusalem. Nehemiah had an active and committed faith. His faith and love of God made him act, speak, and have the attitude needed for the job to which God called him. His spirit knew God and obeyed in love and reverence for the One True God. Nehemiah was the man for God’s job at that time. The only one inspiring and leading him was God. He had a heart for God and was obedient. With his free will, he chose God.
We go back to our original question: What is it about humans that, when we do not have someone whom we acknowledge has an impassioned view of God in our midst watching over us, we start walking away from the path of God? Do you require someone to watch over you to keep you walking in obedience to God? Maybe it is time to take a walk down your history with God and down His history for you to remember just who He is, faithful and all-powerful God. He is our great and marvelous God who calls us to return and follow Him. Remember His promise, “I will be their God and they will be My people.” The implied promise is He will take care of you for now and forever. It is time to turn/return to our wondrous God. This is the crux of the matter for us.