Behind the Scenes: God in Esther & Nehemiah – by Pastor Greg

Just because you don’t see them, doesn’t mean they are not there. No, I’m not talking about spiders. I remember a trip years ago that I took with a family friend from Maine. We made the trek from northern Maine to Florida for a week. While in Florida we made the obligatory pilgrimage to Disney World. Now the part that really fascinated me was not the Small World exhibit nor Epcot, as cool as that is. What was fascinating was when we were given a tour by a friend of my friend’s dad who oversaw the mechanical workings of the park. We were privileged to go behind the scenes and see all that took place beyond the view of the general public. The systems and the myriad of people who worked to make the “magic” happen was stunning. For most people who visit these parks this world is hidden to them, yet they are the beneficiaries of the work and expertise of those behind the scenes. Of course, this concept can be applied to many areas of our life and experience. We notice the behind-the-scenes world most often when things don’t go as planned. A current example is the shortage of items at the stores we frequent. The supply chain is broken, the shipping container shortage, clogged ports and shortage of truck drivers all combine to limit what can be restocked at the local Meijer. When it works, we often don’t notice.

It’s the same with God. He is the One who is constantly caring for and directing the events of the universe moment by moment (Heb. 1:3, Psalm 121). There are many Psalms and other portions of scripture that speak to God’s sovereignty. But it is in the accounts of Esther and Nehemiah that one can see the quiet and hidden hand of God working. Ether is a familiar story to many. A Jewish queen in a foreign land, a plot by an evil man to wipe out the Jews and chance encounters throughout the narrative all make for a great story. Of course, as believers we know there is no such thing as chance and this is made clear from the statement Mordecai makes: “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?” Esther 4:14. Esther was in the right place at the right time. Mordecai helps the king at the right time. The king reads the account and desires to reward Mordecai at the right time. All of these events were under the guiding hand of our sovereign God, working quietly behind the scenes. The story ends well for Esther, Mordecai, and the Jews. Not so well for Haman. 

In the account of Nehemiah, we see a court official, a cup bearer, who was one of the exiled Jews. He has stayed behind to serve the king of Persia after the initial returns under Zerubbabel and Ezra. Though he has not made the journey to Jerusalem, he is deeply concerned about the situation of the city as it is being reported to him, particularly the broken walls. Nehemiah is not a priest or of royal stock, he is a secular court official and yet is exactly where God wants him to be. Nehemiah’s skills as an administrator and builder will be used greatly by God but it is God who is working behind the scenes to make things happen. Upon hearing of the terrible conditions of the wall at Jerusalem, Nehemiah prays that God would give him favor with the king. Nehemiah 2:4-5a says, “then the king said to me ‘What would you request?’ So I prayed to the God of heaven. I said to the king….”  Nehemiah makes his request and the God of heaven, working in the heart of the King, grants his request and is moved to help Nehemiah. The wall is built against all opposition and God is glorified. 

This is how God works much of the time, in the background, using ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary results Just because you don’t see Him doesn’t mean He isn’t there, working, caring and guiding the entire universe and your life.

And Then, What? – by Pastor John

What is your greatest ambition?

Success in business? Certainly, work is a noble thing, lauded in Scripture (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). Authority through leadership? That too is an upright ambition, when harnessed by personal accountability (Romans 12:8). Other “greater and lesser” ambitions abound, such as fame, amusements, leisure, sports or lifestyles.

Paul cuts through the fog of greater/lesser ambitions, showing the main thing for him, and the redeemed:

Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.  2 Corinthians 5:9-10

Over my 35 years in ministry, I have seen countless slow fades of individuals or families. Another ambition—work, athletics, education, “good times,” affluence—replaced the First Love. One thing never contemplated was the question, “And then, what?”

A very popular ball player averaged half-a-million dollars per game, just in salary. That’s a lot of money to live large with. The player suddenly died. And then, what?

A rising star and supporting family poured everything into the career. There was “pro potential.” A routine doctor’s visit revealed that life would instead be short. And then, what?

A couple burned 24/7, raggedly providing endless activity for their children. Now the kids are more distant to the things of Christ than even the parents are. And then, what?

I offer two portions of Scripture to meditate upon:

Luke 10:38-42   Don’t miss Jesus in the room.

Luke 12:13-21   There is reward or loss in the reveal of our greatest priority; God determines the when.

I pray you are resolute to live out the true great ambition. God has revealed the “And then, what” answer for those who desire to please Him. That recompense is eternally rewarding, and will not fade away.

A Little Cheese With That Whine? – by Pastor Greg

Ever wonder why the tone of a child’s voice when they are whining just seems to find that last nerve? Have you ever met a “Debbie downer”?  Both statements conjure up images that are not pleasant. Complaining is a part of our experience, we all have engaged in it from time to time. It seems so natural that when things don’t go as we wish, we express our dissatisfaction verbally. Complaining is described as expressing discontentment or dissatisfaction. Most of us complain much more than we realize or are willing to admit. We verbalize our discontent or dissatisfaction almost daily and we usually involve others. I ran across an interesting study on complaining from a psychology article.

 “Research from Stanford University has also found that complaining reduces the size of our hippocampus, which is responsible for memory and problem solving. The study found that engaging in complaining or simply hearing someone complain for more than 30 minutes could physically damage our brains.”  (www.m1psychology.com/complaining-is-bad-for-your-brain)

Seems that complaining is bad for you and others, yet we still do it. In fact, we seem to be drawn to it. Entire industries are dedicated to expressing dissatisfaction or discontentment. Much of what is broadcast on the “news” channels are complaints of various kinds and the in-depth analysis as to why. I wonder if all the negative commentary that is broadcast on news channels were removed, how much news would be left? I would be willing to bet not very much. Complaining has been turned into a spectator sport and business is good! So much time is spent on verbizing why we are discontent or dissatisfied, that there never seems to be time to think about anything else. 

In Philippians 2:14, Paul writes, “Do all things without grumbling (complaining) or disputing (arguing).” The context is Paul’s admonition to be like Christ. To live as He lived, think as He thought, have the attitudes He did. When one looks at the life of Christ, we see a Man who did not grumble, complain, dispute or argue. He lived a life of humility and contentment, dependent on the Father. He was above reproach in all He did.  We too are to live like that. When I live life without the complaining, murmuring, grumbling and arguing, my life will be clean and innocent according to Paul. Now that doesn’t mean not speaking the truth or speaking against that which is wrong or evil, but it does mean I live a contented life regardless of my circumstances. In verse 13, Paul states “for it is God working in you giving you the desire and power to do what pleases Him.” My focus is to please God rather than myself. My complaints often are related to my own desires and wants that are unfulfilled and show a discontentment with God’s work in my life. Paul later in the letter states that he had to learn how to be content with his circumstances, whether he had an abundance or didn’t have enough. The lesson learned for him was, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”  (Phil. 4:13). His circumstances were not the key – it was the life of Christ in him that changed his attitude. Paul took his own advice at the end of 2:14 and didn’t argue with God. He simply accepted what God had provided even as he made his needs known. Instead of arguing with God that he deserved better, Paul trusted Him who had his best interest at heart.

So instead of complaining and getting brain damage, why don’t I trust and live contentedly? Why not shine brightly amongst a crooked generation by living a clean and innocent life without the stain of grumbling, complaining and arguing.