1 Samuel 1:21 The man Elkanah and all his household went up to offer to the Lord the yearly sacrifice, and to pay his vow. 22 But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, “As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, that he may appear in the presence of the Lord, and remain there forever; I will offer him as a nazirite for all time.” 23 Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Do what seems best to you, wait until you have weaned him; only—may the Lord establish his word.” So the woman remained and nursed her son, until she weaned him. 24 When she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine. She brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh; and the child was young. 25 Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli. 26 And she said, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. 27 For this child I prayed; and the Lord has granted me the petition that I made to him. 28 Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord.”
She left him there for the Lord.
Today’s scripture deals with commitment, sacrifice and letting go. Hannah was barren and in her culture other women ridiculed those who could not have children. So Hannah went before the Lord and prayed that she might have a son, and promised to dedicate that son to God’s service.
Now, for those of us who have had children, we have prayed similar prayers upon their births, thanking God and promising to raise our children according to His truths. But for Hannah, this prayer was more than a commitment; it was a sacrifice. After Hannah weaned her child she took him and left him with the priest, Eli. Hannah kept her commitment, then she made a sacrifice, and then she let go.
Each of our lives have included measures of commitment, sacrifice and even letting go. We have made commitments to spouses, to employers, and to churches. We have made sacrifices so that our children could have more than we had and so that they could be educated and able to live on their own. And we have each had much practice in letting go. Hannah let her child go at around age three, which to me is unimaginable.
I recall when I took my son, Jonathan, to kindergarten orientation. As they separated the parents from the children, my son ran to me, holding on to my leg and begging me not to leave him. Hard as it was, I had to let him go, but I knew I would get him back. When we drove Jonathan to college, his dad and I drove away, crying the whole three hours home. I had to let him go, but I knew I would get him back.
At this stage in our lives we have become masters of letting go, yet each time we give something else up the pain of letting go resurfaces. A few years ago there was a saying, “Let go and let God.” It was a catchy saying, and certainly expressed an age-old truth. Instead of allowing God to be our co-pilot as the name in a popular book from a number of years ago expressed, we need to switch seats and ask Him to be our pilot. We have to let go of the controls and let God fly the plane.
As a pilot we have procedures for transferring control of a plane. I would say, “You have the plane,” and as I let go of the controls, the other pilot would respond, “I have the plane,” taking the controls and the responsibility of the plane, and then one last time I would affirm, “You have the plane.” If only letting go of anxieties and difficulties were as easy as saying, “God, you have my life,” and then just let go.
I read about a parachute factory whose Quality Control Dept could not get the success rate of the parachutes above 98%. The employees were proud of reaching 98% and so regardless of what management did, the accuracy rate did not go up. So a meeting was called and 100 parachutes were handed out to employees and they were told to board the busses outside for a drive to the airport. They were going to jump out of a plane to do a real life test.
The employees were horrified and one blurted out, “but two of these parachutes will probably fail! The manager responded, “Now you see why 98% is not good enough.”
We are too often guilty of giving 98% to God, but holding something back.
Hannah did something few of us could ever do. She gave over her son, seeing him only one time per year as they brought their annual sacrifices and she brought him another robe. Can we learn from Hannah’s story at this point in our lives? Perhaps we can make a fresh commitment to ask God to pilot us through the storms and difficulties of our lives, and then let go of the controls.
Hear now this blessing: God is more than willing and able to care for you and your needs. Let go, and let God take control. Take the name of Jesus with you, and share Him with all you meet. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“This World Is Not My Home”
This world is not my home
I’m just a-passing through
My treasures are laid up
Somewhere beyond the blue.
The angels beckon me
From heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home
In this world anymore.
Oh Lord, you know
I have no friend like you
If heaven’s not my home
Then Lord what will I do.
The angels beckon me
From heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home
In this world anymore.
Hear now the reading of God’s Holy Word.
9. Romans 12:1-2 Therefore, I urge you brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
This is the Word of God for the people of God.
Thanks be to God.
Let us pray: Father God, each day that you give us is unique, special in its own way. So we pray that today we may not waste the time you have given us, but help us to make the hours count for you and for others. Increase in us our love for you and for others and help us to realize that our home awaits us in heaven.
Have you ever heard the expression, “Proving ground?” According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a proving ground is a place for testing or a place where something is developed or tried out. I have known for much of my life that our very existence here on this earth is a proving ground, and that you and I are developing, hopefully, into the people of God.
Paul said in Romans that we are to offer our very bodies as living sacrifices to God, for that is WORSHIP. And, he goes on to state that we are not to conform (or fit in, or follow the crowd) to the pattern, (or model or design) of this world. Instead, we are to become transformed by the renewing of our minds. What in the world is Paul saying?
Well, brothers and sisters, what Paul is saying is NOT in this world. At least, our destination is not in this world, because Paul understood that this world is not our home. Does Paul’s admonition mean we are supposed to hate the world in which we live? No, but neither are we to cling to it so tightly that we lose sight of heaven.
I love the beauty of this world. I often tell Larry we are so blessed to have had so many good friends in our lives. We have children and grandchildren whom we adore, and our home is filled with the clickety-clack and barking of our four-legged family as we go through each day. We have the Word of God to sustain and grow us (to renew our minds daily) and we have reached the age where we can finally rest.
But let me encourage you that resting is not passive, but instead it is active when you do it the right way. Jesus says to “come to me and I will give you rest.” We are told to “be anxious in nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Phil 4:6-8.
As I was writing this, my husband interrupted me to come hold a ladder for Him, putting to test the very words of this scripture. But as I held the ladder, I repeated the words of the scripture in my mind. Be anxious in nothing!
Hear now this blessing. God loves each of us so much. Allow Him to show you how to rest in Him. Take the name of Jesus with you, and share Him with all you meet.
Hear now the reading of God’s holy word
Esther 4:13-17 (NRSV) “Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. 14 For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” 15 Then Esther said in reply to Mordecai, 16 “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. After that 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.
Esther 9:18-19 (NRSV) 18 But the Jews who were in Susa gathered on the thirteenth day and on the fourteenth, and rested on the fifteenth day, making that a day of feasting and gladness. 19 Therefore the Jews of the villages, who live in the open towns, hold the fourteenth day of the month of Adar as a day for gladness and feasting, a holiday on which they send gifts of food to one another.
This is the word of God for the people of God.
Thanks be to God.
VASHTI (Heb. washti, beautiful woman, from the Persian). Xerxes’ queen whom he divorced because of her refusal to show herself to the king’s guests at a feast. Her place was taken by Esther (Esth 1:11).
Vashti was the daughter of Belshazzar and the grand-daughter of Nebuchadnezzar. Her father, Belshazzar, had a drunken feast, and during this feast he used the utensils they had stolen from the temple, thereby defiling them and his kingdom was destroyed that very night. His daughter, Vashti was captured by Darius and she later married Artexerxes, also known as Ahasuerus, who ruled over 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia.
Xerxes had a feast which lasted for 6 months and the people attending were the nobility that stretched across the Persian Empire. During the last week of the feast, Xerxes extended the feast to include everyone, both great and small, and at the end of 7 days of drinking he ordered Vashti to appear before himself and the others wearing only her crown. Vashti refused and was deposed that very night. Some say she was beheaded, others say she was divorced. Before you begin feeling too sorry for Vashti it is important to remember she made her Jewish servants do their household duties on Shabbat( pronounced Chabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, and means to cease) in the nude, so this was almost a case of what goes around comes around.
The king was not just angry because Vashti had refused his order and embarrassed him. His advisors said this is going to be awful if the other women hear of Vashti’s insubordination—all of our wives will refuse our orders. So they persuaded the king to issue a royal decree that Vashti would be replaced and when the women hear of that, all women will give honor to their husbands.
Enter Esther. Esther was a Jew, the cousin of Mordecai but taken in by him as his goddaughter. Esther was her Persian name, for like others during the Diaspora, or dispersement, she was renamed. Her Jewish name was Hadassah. If you remember we witnessed the same thing with Daniel, and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
So Xerxes has banished or killed his wife, and a search begins for a new queen. Esther is one of the young women rounded up, and she finds favor in Hegai, the person in charge of the harem, and after one year of cosmetic treatments she is taken into the king.
Mordecai, the uncle or cousin, was clearly Jewish, he did not hide his heritage, but Esther did not make her heritage known. In fact, the book of Esther was almost not included in the Bible because there is not one mention of God in the entire book. Nor is there any mention of Jewish rites—there is a mention of fasting, but again, God is not referenced. Some people even consider the whole story made up, but I will tell you later why I do not think that is the case. One of the King’s top men was Haman and he was infuriated when Mordecai, a known Jew, would not bow down before. So he issued a decree in the king’s name to have all of the Jews killed.
Notice in the scripture that Mordecai did not mourn in private. He tore his clothing, covered himself with ashes and paraded up and down the street, just stopping short of entering the king’s gates. The scripture mentions fasting. It could be that many of the Jews had forsaken their worship of God, but once they were faced, yet again, with the threat of extinction, they began fasting and weeping. I will be honest that until I studied Esther in Disciple One it had never occurred to me that God was not mentioned in this book. When I hear of someone fasting and weeping, I immediately think they are communicating with God both in contrition and intercession.
As we read the book of Esther, we find she had really become quite sheltered from Mordecai and her people. She had heard nothing of the decree to kill the Jews, nor that Haman was the perpetrator of this scheme. But now Mordecai was asking Esther to do the impossible. What did he ask that she do? And why was it so dangerous?
She would be exposing herself as a Jew. She would have to go before the king without being summoned by him, which was punishable by death.
For such a time as this—I love that. Mordecai says if you do not do this, deliverance will come from another place. Now, I think the reference here has to mean God. And who knows, you might be in this position for such a time as this. Throughout the Jewish history, God always put people into place to save the Jews from extinction. Many times these people are the least and the last you would expect God to choose. Esther was in the precarious position of being a Jew, married to a Gentile, and one who was irrational and accustomed to getting what he wanted.
Where once Esther was separated from her people and her identity, she now takes the initiative and tells Mordecai to have all of the people fast for 3 days and she vows to go before the King, and if she perishes, she perishes. She is now a part of the Jewish community and willing to die so that they might live.
Esther prepares a banquet for the king and Haman. It is revealed that Mordecai, on more than one occasion, has saved the king’s life, and it is also revealed that Haman plans to execute Mordecai along with the other Jews. Instead, the king has Haman hanged on the very gallows Haman had built for Mordecai, and instead of the Jews being executed they were victorious and the Festival of Purim was instituted by Esther and Mordecai to commemorate the deliverance of the Jews from the plot of Haman (Est 9:20-32).
I said earlier I was going to tell you why I believe this story is true, and not fictional.
There was a Vashti and she was the daughter of Belshazzar.
There was a Xerxes
There is a Feast of Purim, still celebrated annually. A feast would not be established based upon a fictional story.
Esther was right where God wanted her to be. How do you know you are where God wants you to be?
YOU WILL NOT HAVE TO FIGHT YOUR BATTLES ALONE.
YOU WILL BE CONTENT WHATEVER YOUR SITUATION.
YOU CAN SLEEP IN THE MIDST OF THE STORM.
(JESUS, PAUL & SILAS, DANIEL)
YOU ARE MAKING A DIFFERENCE.
(JOSEPH, NEHEMIAH, ESTHER, JONAH)
GOD’S GRACE IS SUFFICIENT.
(JONAH, ELIJAH, PAUL, SHADRACH, MESCHACH, AND ABEDNEGO)
YOUR FAITH IS STRENGTHENED DESPITE ADVERSITY.
(ABRAHAM/ISAAC, PETER [WALKING ON WATER])
I wrote this piece many years ago, but today, 2020, the world is in chaos. Listen to the voice of God. Perhaps you have been chosen for such a time as this.
Receive now this blessing: God never changes. Rely on Him to make straight your paths, to keep the boat from sinking, and if He calls, answer with a resounding, “Here am I, Lord.” Take the name of Jesus with you, and share Him with all you meet. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The Circuit Riding Preacher
The Circuit Riding Preacher used to ride across the land
With a rifle in his saddle and the Bible in his hand,
He told the prairie people all about the promised land
As he went riding, singing down the trail.
Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarm,
Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.
The Circuit Riding Preacher traveled through the mire and mud
Told about the fiery furnace and of Noah and the flood.
He preached the way to heaven was by water and the blood
As he went riding, singing down the trail.
There is power, power, wonder-working power
In the blood, of the lamb,
There is power, power, wonder-working power
In the precious blood of the lamb.
You know, a circuit riding preacher said these words one day,
Lord, I’d rather see a sermon, than hear one any day,
And I’d rather one walk with me, than merely show the way
For the best of all the preachers are the men who live their creed
And to see their good in action, is what everybody needs.
I can learn to do it, if you let me see it done
I can watch their hands in action, but their tongues too fast may run.
And the sermons they deliver may be very wise and true
But I’d rather get my sermon in watching what they do.
For I may misunderstand them and the high advice they give,
But I’d rather get my lesson in watching how they live.
16 “For hGod so loved ithe world,9 jthat he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not kperish but have eternal life. 17 For lGod did not send his Son into the world mto condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 nWhoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not obelieved in the name of the only Son of God. 19
I have often joked that I was a circuit riding preacher. When I served the older congregation at Lakewood UMC, I went from Benton to Conway to Beebe and all over North Little Rock to take God’s word and share Holy Communion.
When I was appointed to the Sixteenth Section/Ward UMC churches, I traveled several days a week from Little Rock to Austin and Ward, riding in my trusty Subaru (the preacher-mobile) instead of on horseback as the circuit riders of old.
I counted it as great joy to be able to minister to and serve with the people in these congregations, and I am so thankful to have made life-long friends, many of whom watch these devotionals on Facebook.
Today my ministry has certainly changed. I cannot visit nursing homes or senior living centers due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Although I am still asked to fill the pulpit of the few churches that remain open, I usually decline because I am no longer strong enough to deliver the word in person. Many churches are offering services online, one of which is my home church, Asbury UMC, for which I am supremely grateful, but I miss being with the people of God.
I am sure that you, too, miss being in your church building. But remember, you are the church, I am the church, we are all the church,and therefore you are always with God and His people. Glory, glory hallelujah, His truth is marching on.
Receive now this blessing. God gave His only son for you and for me, and for all who will call on His name. Take the name of Jesus with you and share Him with all you meet.