Tag Archives: authentic

AUTHENTIC: MARTHA

How did I get into this mess?

I’m sure this questions has wandered through your mind on more than one occasion, depending on your situation what preceded it could have been anything—after all one of our specialties as humans is getting in over our heads and trying to back out only to find ourselves sinking faster and farther.

For me, these are the words I utter when all the things I have said yes to come raining down on my head all at once and threaten to drown me in a sea of responsibilities. Because once I commit to something…I commit to it. Sometimes too much. The curse of perfectionism (yeah, I know it’s not healthy and somewhat sinful…that’s why I called it a curse) is the constant struggle of trying to do everything and trying to do everything right.

I like to be busy, but the downside to that is sometimes I get too busy and forget the things that really should matter.

Can you relate? Even if you don’t overextend yourself as much as I do, I feel as though we can all allow our busy-ness to get in the way of our healthy-ness.

Martha sure can.

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She was the epitome of allowing all that she was doing get in the way of her being. Because God isn’t a God of doing. He is a God of being. That’s why his name is I Am not I Do.

Family Responsibilities

We are first introduced to Martha in Luke 10. She lives in a little town of Bethany (about 2 miles from Jerusalem) with her sister, Mary, and her brother, Lazarus. This trio is, if not inseparable, at least incredibly close. Never is any mention of any other family made, so I can’t help but wonder, did Martha have a husband? If not, why? The text, Luke 10:38 tells us that Martha welcomed Jesus into her house. Does this house belong only to her, or is simply a reference to her hospitality? I don’t know. I like to think that she was a strong, single woman, but I know how unlikely that would be given the cultural context, but what I do know is that husband her not, she is recognized as an important part of Jesus’ story.

The whole account is recorded in Luke 10:38-42, and aside from the family relationships, we are told two things 1) Martha welcomed Jesus into her home and 2) she was distracted with much serving.

Because God isn’t a God of doing. He is a God of being. That’s why his name is I AM not I DO

Whoa.

I don’t know about you, but if Jesus came to my house in the flesh, I’d be a little distracted too! Not only would I worry about the smells and cleanliness, but I’d be super busy trying to keep him—and his entourage—fed and happy! Because let’s face it, Jesus didn’t travel alone and any time he went anywhere a crowd was sure to follow. Not only was she responsible for the comfort of 13 men (Jesus +disciples) I am certain others kept showing up. It is her home! As a southern woman, I can relate to the pressure she must have felt to make sure everyone was feeling comfortable and served.

But then, there is Mary.

Martha is working herself to a frenzy…and where is her sister? Sitting! Sitting and listening!

In Martha’s mind, she sees her sister sitting at the feet of Jesus and is burned up with anger. How dare her sister come into her home and act so selfishly?

Boy can I relate to that—Most of the time I love the busy life. I love serving. I love making sure that jobs get done that other people find unpleasant.

But every once in a while, I see someone else sitting…and typically it’s someone who hasn’t seemed to do anything at all to be helpful with whatever it is I am working on.

And there they are, sitting and chatting while I am running around doing, doing, doing.

I can imagine what was going through Martha’s mind—no servant’s heart, but anger and jealousy as she watches her sister do nothing. I know, because I have experienced the same—what started out as a selfless act turned into a need for recognition.

Becoming so distracted with serving that you literally forget why and who you are serving in the first place.

Well finally Martha has had enough and she orders Jesus to send her sister in to help. Yep, you heard that right, she gives Jesus an order.

I actually see this scene in my mind quite clearly as Jesus cocks his head to one side and studies Martha. He hasn’t even touched the plate she sat in front of him—because he’s been talking and teaching the whole time. He looks around the room and sees all the faces—these humans who are so hungry for him they also haven’t touched any of the food. In this moment of quiet they might nibble something, but most of them are eagerly leaning forward to see what he might say—after all it is this moment that might define the gender roles forever—are men the only ones who can enjoy and benefit from teaching while the women serve? Are women subservient? Second class?

And then he responds.

Stop doing so much, Martha. Stop all those action verbs—serving, working, troubling—stop doing and be with me more.

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Listen then Serve, Not Serve then Listen

Jesus didn’t tell her that serving was bad. He just told her that she was worrying too much about things that don’t matter! That she needed to recenter her focus—less on what she was doing and more on who she was with!

In all her serving she had forgotten that she stood in the presence of Jesus.

She was so busy she almost missed it.

It doesn’t tell us how Martha responded. But given her actions the next time we meet up with her, I like to think she went a little slack jawed, then looked around the room and saw what Jesus saw.

And then she stopped to listen.

Why do I think this? Because Martha was also the sister who lost her brother, Lazarus. She sent for Jesus to come heal him, because she knew that he could, and then she waited. And watched. And nursed. And witnessed her brother die.

I have a sister. And a brother. I feel Martha’s struggles. I feel her pain. And while I don’t know if she is the oldest, I want to believe she is the middle kid given all her striving for perfection and acceptance. But it’s hard to say. Regardless, I feel this story on a deep and spiritual level. Watching someone you are close to—your brother—die and not being able to fix it is something akin to falling into a deep, deep well.

Down, down, down…

And then..

SMACK.

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From that well, you hear Jesus. And you call out to him, as Martha did in John 11: 20-21, Lord, if only. If only you had come sooner! I know your power. I know your love. If only.

And then she could have stopped, but her next words are why I think she listened in her own home early—why I think she listened.

Even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you. John 11:22

Hope. Even at the bottom of that dark well, Martha found hope, not anger and righteous indignation we saw earlier in the story. She found light. The light. And she reached for it, and professed her faith loudly, firmly and with conviction of one who listened.

Yes, Lord; I believe that your re the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world. John 11:27

We don’t hear that profession of faith from a lot of people in the Bible, but Martha is one of them who states it firmly and without hesitation and it is recorded for all to hear and remember throughout history.

Yes, Martha listened, but her practical nature can never be denied (um, Jesus, she says when he wants to open the tomb, he’s been in there a while…it’s gonna, you know, smell pretty bad…)…and honestly, I find a lot of comfort in that. Jesus changes our hearts and our motivations, but each of us is unique and he doesn’t want to change that about us. He accepts our unique qualities and even encourages it.

It is, after all, Martha’s home Jesus returns to 6 days before the Passover, where she serves him—only days before he is to die. Jesus seeks those who seek to serve and honor him. Even if he does have to correct them from time to time. We are, after all, just humans.

AUTHENTIC :: LEAH

So, the title of this series is authentic, and I’m just going to get real here for a minute, so bear with me.

I have spent the vast majority of my life feeling as though I am second best—and compensating for that by trying to be perfect thereby proving that I am, actually, the best. But then when anyone praises me, or gives me a compliment, I have a hard time accepting it as true because I never actually feel like I am good enough.

And it is exhausting.

As this battle rages inside of me, I hear the simple truths of the father—you are enough, I love you through your flaws—and I know that perfectionism is its own sin, still the battle rages on.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I’m hopeless. I’m just saying that I am human and this is the battle I fight against my sin nature. Some days I trust in Him enough for it to quiet…and some days I don’t. Hey, I said I was going to be real here.

I get the feeling that Leah probably felt a lot of the same struggle, only she had some pretty tangible proof that the world really did see her as second best. At least when compared to her sister.

Behold, it was Leah

I have lots of feelings about Jacob (Leah’s future husband), but the strongest is that he was an incredibly flawed man—who God still made the forefather of his great nation. So my drive to be perfect, clearly isn’t the way to God’s heart. It might actually be more of a separate than some of these blatant sins, just because of the pride issues that accompany it—but let’s set that philosophy aside for the moment and focus in on Leah.

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At the start of the narrative, Jacob has run away from a pretty sticky situation at home. He and his mom had manipulated Jacob’s father into bestowing his deathbed blessing on him rather than on Esau, who traditionally should have been the recipient as the firstborn. Given that Jacob had already manipulated his older brother out of his birthright, this second backstabbing was a little too much for Esau—and so Jacob fled his brother’s wrath and made is way to his mon’s brother, Laban, who is not exactly the most honest of individuals either (go back and look at the Rebekah post if you want some more juicy details on that family dynamic). When he arrives, he’s asking around about his family when Rachel makes an appearance—seeming, in a lot of ways, similar to the way in which his mother appeared before the servant and became the wife of his father, as story I am sure that he grew up hearing being so close to his mother and everything. So it really isn’t much of a surprise when he waters her sheep, as his mother watered the camels so many decades before.

Jacob was a pretty emotional guy, so it’s also not super surprising that he was all like, I wanna marry that girl—after all, he’s remembering his mother’s own love story. The major difference here though lies in the fact that in the month that he stayed with his uncle Labon there is absolutely no mention of Jacob asking God to be a part of his decision making process! Jacob is not thinking with his head or his spirit. Genesis 29: 16-17 tells us that Labon had two daughters: Leah (the elder daughter, who had weak eyes) and Rachel (who was lovely in form and beautiful). I do not believe this means that Leah was ugly, just that her eyes were not bright, maybe she would even have, in modern times, had needed corrective lenses so maybe she squinted a lot. What it does mean, is that Jacob saw her as second best. He fell in love (boy how I hate that terminology…still it works here) with Rachel’s outward appearance. I have a hard time believing he really got to know her. That’s just not how ancient cultures typically worked. He saw her. He wanted her. He struck a deal. Not having anything to offer his uncle for Rachel’s hand, he says he’ll work for 7 years—enough time to really put together some of his own property so he will be able to care for her.

Unfortunately, Laban was just as manipulative as Jacob and after the 7 years was up, he saw an opportunity. Not only to ‘get rid’ of his cumbersome older daughter, but to trap Jacob into working for him (cheap labor) for another 7 years. So, he sent Leah to the wedding bed (which isn’t so weird since she would have been heavily veiled and similar in form to her sister).

The next morning: there was Leah.

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Always Second Best

Now, Leah had to know and been privy to the plan of her father, but I sincerely doubt she had much choice. I do wonder what she felt in that moment when she consummated a marriage that was built on a lie. Was she in love with Jacob? Was she doing her duty to her father? What went through her mind as she slept with this man who was so clearly in love with her sister? While we will never know, but we do know that in Genesis 29:31, the Lord saw that Leah was not loved. He enabled a quick pregnancy for Leah and kept Rachel barren, which also makes me question Rachel’s heart and character. Yes, Leah was a part of the deception—and the situation was complicated and terrible, but we have a choice in how we treat others in spite of the circumstances. I suspect that Rachel had always treated her sister with a kind of contempt, and so here she is taught a lesson through.

Leah truly believe that her husband would come to love her as son after son is born. First Reuben, then Simeon and Levi…always hoping for that kind of love she has always craved. And then something happened in Leah’s heart. It’s hard to say exactly what—but when she had Judah, she stopped caring about her husband’s love and embraced the love of the Lord, the one—she realized—who had always loved her unconditonally! The only one whose love she really ever needed.

I love that verse, Genesis 29: 35, when she says she will stop seeking approval of man and start praising the Lord. Sometimes the world is cruel and unfair. We seek approval. We seek love. We seek acceptance. We seek companionship. All these things we chase after every day…are found when we stop and praise the Lord. And that is beautiful, if we are willing to embrace it.

Embracing Truth

Lean and Rachel engage in quite the baby-making competition, which is only appropriate given the life that Jacob carved out for himself. His own sibiling rivalry landed him in the position where he would always have to deal with sibling rilvary, first in his wives, then with his sons. Oddly, though, through it all Jacob does not rely on the wisdom of God. Or, I guess, that’s not odd at all. When we don’t make God the center of our decision making and we rely on our own judgments, competitions, and desires, we’re bound to enter into conflicts that become complicated and sometimes very painful.

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What is most striking is that even though Jacob never sees her value, God does. In 1 Samuel 16:7, we are told that mann looks at outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. That is never more true than in the case of Rachel and Leah—Rachel is the pretty one, the loved one, but she is also the petty and the devious one. Ergo, God chooses Leah’s child, Judah, to be the line to the greatest kings… David…Solomon…and Jesus.

We seek approval. We seek love. We seek acceptance. We seek companionship. All these things we chase after every day…are found when we stop and praise the Lord.

And in that, I feel hope.

Authentic :: Tamar part 1

A Tale of Two Tamars

Two women of the same name are perhaps among the most tragic stories in the Bible. Well, there are a lot of tragic stories, but these really do make a person sit up and go ‘what now?!’

So let’s set the scene for part 1:

Tamar the Canaanite (Genesis 38)

Once upon a time, in a land far away from his brothers, a man named Judah settled down with a Canaanite woman. Together this delightful couple had three sons: Er, Onan, and Shelah. They were a perfect family. The three boys grew older and Judah realized his eldest son, Er, was just incomplete. So he found him a wife. Her name was Tamar.  


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Now, like most little girls, Tamar dreamed of the day she would marry and have children. She would be the perfect wife and mother because she’d been dreaming and preparing for this day her whole life. Unfortunately, about 3.5 seconds into the marriage, it was clear that her husband was not the Prince Charming she’d been dreaming of. In fact, the LORD found him to be so evil, that he struck Er down. Er died, and just like that Tamar became a widow.

Now, Jewish tradition dictates that if your husband dies before you are able to conceive a child to carry on the family name, then the closest male relative must perform his Levirate duties and produce offspring for the dead relative and the widow. Sooooo, Onan was required by law (and his father) to lay with Tamar. As it turns out, Onan was about as delightful as his brother and while he did sleep with Tamar, he made sure that his, well you see he spilled his…well, let’s just say he made sure Tamar would not get pregnant. So, seeing his wickedness, God struck down Onan too (seriously, I mean really you’d think he’d learn from his brother’s mistakes, but no.)

Tamar was still a widow with no children so Leviate law dictated that Shelah (the third son) sleep with her next. However, Shelah was kinda still a kid so Judah sent Tamar back to live with her father until Shelah was grown…or so he said. However, like most stupid fathers, Judah didn’t see any fault with his own sons, but rather blamed Tamar for his sons’ deaths. So he had no intention of allowing her to sleep with Shelah—thus condemning her to a life of solitude and shame.

The Jerkface.

Sometimes things happen that are just completely out of our control. What do we do when life seems unfair, unjust, or just plain wrong? If we are wise, we trust in the Lord and let him direct our decisions and our plans.

Right or wrong, Tamar devises a plan, and personally given the cultural context, I can get behind her extreme actions, and evidently, God directed them given the ultimate outcome. According to Jewish tradition, Tamar was most likely a Canaanite woman who converted to Judaism either before or after she married Judah’s son. When she devises the plan, the narrative takes on a positive tone, not condemning her, but confirming that she is doing what is righteous because Judah was being unrighteousness. Rather than living in the shame her father-in-law saddles her with, Tamar decides to take the future into her own hands, but trusts God will ultimately vindicate her.


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Genesis 38:20-23 we see that Judah has never been very good at the whole ‘personal responsibility’ thing. This is actually an echo of Genesis 37:26-27, where he wants to do the right thing, makes a comment or a suggestion or a half-baked action, but doesn’t really follow through. What it boils down to is Judah takes the path of least resistance–knowing what is right, but refusing to stand up for it. He sleeps with a woman who he believes is a ‘cult prostitute’ (or a prostitute for a religious sect), which is pretty heavily frowned upon in God’s law. He gives this prostitute some pretty personal items (kind of like giving her his driver’s license and social security card) as collateral and then, rather than tracking her down, he just shrugs off the items as stolen and goes about his business, never recognizing the sins he himself has committed.

Judah is quick to judge Tamar when it comes out that she is pregnant “immorally”. She’s been living in her father’s home, ignored and forgotten by him until he believes she’s made a mistake and then suddenly he’s all fired up–to burn her at the stake. Nevermind his own sins which he thinks has been forgotten and hidden. But yet again, God proves that he is just and righteous and not only will our sins be found out, but there is also always a consequence to those sins.

This story is not as tragic as it could have been. While it is not exactly a happily ever after kind of situation, it is a beautiful picture of conviction and grace, on the part of Judah, who when he does realize that he was wrong actually admits it and does his best to make it right. After all, Tamar’s life was literally in his hands. He could have ignored the message she sent him and had her burned at the stake–his honor forever in tact. But he didn’t.


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On the surface, this appears to be condoning Tamar’s deceptive acts, but I think it’s actually highlighting her determination to follow God’s law no matter the consequences to herself. Let me explain.

  1. Despite the fact that her two previous husbands were jerks, she never curses God, the men, or even Judah. She had every opportunity to be bitter and surly, but instead she is obedient and compliant. She bides her time and takes action only when she sees that there is no other choice.
  2. When she devises her plan she is careful to still bring honor to bother herself and Judah. She targets him specifically, and strategically placing herself in his path. She covers herself with a veil, which shows an unusual amount of modesty for the ‘prostitute’ role she is playing.
  3. Tamar is thoughtful and cunning, making sure that she can prove who the father of her child is–securing identification tags rather than money, or other forms of payment that might have been tempting.
  4. When the scheme is found out, she does not go public. She doesn’t shame Judah (or herself), she trusts Judah and God to do the right thing, by privately addressing the issue (unlike Judah who rants to anyone who will listen about burning her at the stake).
  5. She is gracious to forgive, only grateful to be vindicated and justified in her own moral character.

All of these elements prove that Tamar was not just acting out of selfish ambition, but with a desire to honor the Lord, Judah and herself.

And we can learn a valuable lesson from her example in how to deal with those who have wronged us–a lesson that is hard to apply but valuable to remember, because at some point we will all feel taken advantage of, lost, or forgotten by the world. So, what do we do?

  1. Be thankful for what we do have, not bitter over what we have lost or think we deserve. After all, if we truly got what we deserved, we wouldn’t be any happier (death, we all deserve death and punishment because we are all sinners)
  2. Check your motivation. Always ask yourself if the actions you are taking will bring honor to God, and if the answer is ever no…take a step back and think about another plan, or just wait to hear from God. Jealousy, revenge, and bitterness do not bring honor to God, but obedience, justice, and thankfulness do.
  3. Think things through. All actions, even rightly motivated, have consequences so it is highly advisable that you consider all the possible outcomes before acting.
  4. Keep things private. I know posting your business and beef with others on social media feels good in the moment, but it causes way more damage to you and the other person when you go public with any kind of conflict. If you truly want to bring honor and justice to a situation, keep it private. Don’t “vent” about to others either. “Venting” is usually just a nice way of excusing your own gossip. Trust me, I know this from personal–heartbreaking–experience.
  5. Forgive. You’ll never truly bring honor, glory or peace if you don’t learn to forgive the wrongs. I’m not saying that it’s easy–I’m sure it was a struggle for Tamar, but forgiveness is the only way to move forward. They don’t call it ‘holding’ a grudge for no reason–it holds you back as much as it does anything else. Let go. Let God. Move on.

Photo by Darius Bashar on Unsplash

Tamar’s story might be weird to the 21st century mindset, but despite the differences, there is always a human connection to be made and if we are wise…we won’t just hear. We’ll learn.

Authentic :: Mary

I’ve been thinking a lot about Mary the last couple of weeks. For obvious reasons, given that it is the Christmas season and she gets a lot of press this time of year, but also for the fact that she absolutely astounds me. No, really. We are talking about a teenager who said yes to something that would radically alter her life without seemingly thinking twice about it. I’ve worked with a lot of teenagers over the years (let’s see roughly 25-30 per class, 6ish classes a year, 12 years…That’s like 1,800- 2,160 teens) and a good many of those teens do not accept authority, suggestion or direction; you tell them to do something at least 3 times with a personal anecdote about why they should and a good bit of the time (I don’t know the exact percentage), they do the opposite or at least not exactly what you advise and then come back and ask you what went wrong. Despite the permanent facepalm imprint on my forehead, all I know to tell them is: you didn’t listen.

Mary was one of those rare exceptions. The angel told her what to do and she did it. Now I’m not dogging teens, cause quite frankly it’s not just a teenage problem. It’s a faith problem and I’m not sure I have the kind of faith Mary had. Of course I hope I do, but let’s just say there are many reasons why God didn’t choose me to be the vessel that would birth his one and only son. 

Greatly Troubled

Luke has always been my favorite gospel. The man was a doctor and his logical approach to these happenings make everything seem less ‘fairytale’ and more real. He starts off the Gospel in chapter 1: 3 stating that he has “carefully investaged everything” and will write an “orderly account”. This makes my type one heart just soar with expectation—because Luke, well, he just gets me. His gospel starts from the beginning with John the Baptist before we ever hear about Mary, but then he is the only one who gives us an account of Mary’s experience. Starting in chapter 1: 26-38, he carefully documents the encounter. And clearly this is written by a man, because we are not given a lot of information about how Mary reacts other than upon hearing the news that she is “highly favored”, she is “greatly troubled.”

Her reaction to this greeting is curious, but let’s get real. No matter what this angel had said, Mary was probably freaking out. To put it in perspective: Mary couldn’t have been more than about sixteen (chances are she was younger since she was ‘pledged to be married’ and that could happen at a very young age in ancient cultures). This giagantice man-angel, who had to be pretty darn intimidating, appears to her—alone. The first thing you are going to wonder is if you had too much wine with the last meal, long before you ever register what the man is actually saying. However, the fact that the text tells us that she is reacting to the words and wondering what it might mean (vs. 29), reveals more about her character than anything else. 

When you are told you are ‘highly favored’, we can expect one of three reactions: 

  1. Blatant pride (‘Of course I am. I’m me and I’m the greatest. Who wouldn’t favor me’) 
  2. False humility (‘Oh stop it. I’m not that great, after all!’)
  3. True humility (‘Come again? What do you mean?’)

Mary wasn’t faking—she was truly humble in a moment that could have puffed her up, she wondered at what the greeting could mean. I would like to say that I’d respond in the same way to those words, but the truth is, I spend most of my life hungering after words of affirmation and when I get them I’m more on the #2 reaction where I say ‘Oh, stop’ but really I feel in my heart that I deserve every bit of that praise. I’m not saying that reactions one and two are always bad, but God certainly appreciates a truly humble heart and I don’t think he would have chosen Mary if he didn’t know that her humility was genuine. After all, we really don’t deserve any kind of acknowledgement for our ‘awesomeness’ because each and every one of us is a sinner and the only one who really deserves the praise is God. Not that we can’t appreciate others for what value they bring to our lives, but we can definitely lean more toward ‘greatly troubled’ and away from ‘proudly justified’ as we strive to be more like Jesus—or in this case, his mother. 

I am the Lord’s Servant

Again, in Mary’s response in vs. 38 I think perspective is colored by the gender of the author, but also because the author had no way of being inside Mary’s head. Yes, ultimately she said “I am the Lord’s servant” and that may have been the end of the story…but I wonder if she didn’t have a slightly longer conversation with the angel. Women—even in ancient cultures—tend to want a few more details than what is recorded in history. Times have changed, but the nature of a woman’s needs have not. I suspect there is a little more to that conversation, but Luke’s pragamtism and second hand account leaves us with the finality of Mary’s response, which, after all, is all we need to know. I’m not suggesting that she turned the angel down at first, but I am suggesting that she may have hesitated, or wept, or asked ‘why me?’ Not in a bitter, surly way, but in a humble—how could the Lord possibly think I’m worthy of this?—way. Like the first time a mother holds her first born child. She looks down at that infant in absolute wonder that not only did she help create that little human, but that God entrusted her with this little human’s life and she wonders, what have I done to deserve such a blessing? 

And the truth is, it’s not what you have done, Mary (or any of us), it’s the potential the Lord sees in us that showers us with his blessing and favor. God didn’t choose Mary because she got all A’s on her report card and swept the house the right way every day, or because she could make a perfect latke. No, he choose her because he saw her heart and he knew that she would say yes in the right way and be a conduit for the rest of his plan. Just like he sees in each of us the potential to fulfill his plan and entrusts us with what he knows each of us can be successful with. 

Each of us has a choice, like Mary, every day. We can say “I am the Lord’s servant” or we can say “I am my own servant” and that choice defines how and where our lives will run. As Joshua so elegantly puts it: “…choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euprhrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living..” or yourself and the gods of America, the money, power and narcisism that runs rampart in our world (Joshua 24:15). It is up to us to decide. Mary could have said ‘thanks, but I’d rather live the picket-fence life Jospeh and I had planned.’ She could have seen her pristine reputation as proof that she was still favored when she turned the Lord down, and he would have found another vessel. His plan is never derailed by our choices. But he knew she wouldn’t say no. Because she choose to serve the Lord—she chose a hard path, but the only one that would bless her in the long run: to serve the Lord no matter the consequences. 

And the truth is, it’s not what you have done, Mary (or any of us), it’s the potential the Lord sees in us that showers us with his blessing and favor. 

Community Support

The most realistic part of this account, to me, is not Mary’s response to the angel. It’s not her humility. It’s not the fact that it all came to pass. To me it’s that the second the angel left, and she ‘hurried’—ya’ll she RAN to Elizabeth, her girlfriend. Because all ladies know that when something is going to change your life, you go and find another lady who is older, wiser, and who has some experience with angel visits, and you spill your guts out to her. I love that not only did she run to her, she shared her heart. They laughed, they cried, and girls, you better believe, they sang together. Because let’s face it, 2000 years has not changed girl talk or slumber parties. There will always be secrets shared and songs sung. And boy did these two ladies share secrets: miracle babies and unimaginable blessings—promises through the pain that living in a broken world would inevitably bring. Because let’s face it: this was a happy moment that would soon be followed by heartache, judgement and hardship. Mary risked everything in saying yes to the Lord, and she knew she would need support and instead of wallowing in uncertainty she RAN to the support that God provided: Elizabeth. 

It’s hard sometimes to recognize that we need support outside ourselves. Our culture preaches independence and self reliance. But God did not intend for us to live life that way. In the very beginning he stated: “…It is not good for man to be alone…” (Genesis 2:18) and that rings true even today. Living a Christian life is not easy. In fact, it’s downright hard sometimes. Look at Mary: she had it all (reputation, favor, a fiancé)—and then she said yes to God and nearly lost it all. But God is faithful and the community he builds for us is meant to support us in all of the hardships that accompany saying yes to God and living counter-culturally. 

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Saying yes was risky, but saying no even more so. After all, it was that one simple act of obedience that quite literally saved the world. 

Authentic :: Esther


When I was in middle school I had a crush on this boy and so a friend of mine decided she would play matchmaker and asked him what he thought of me. I was sitting within hearing distance, and I’ll never forget his response. If pretty were a scale, he said holding up his hands so that she could see the invented spectrum, then Ashley is right here. And he pointed to the far end of the scale, which if translated into numbers would have put me around a 2 or 3.


Photo by Maria Molinero on Unsplash

Ouch.

I remember feeling a little stunned because it was the first time I had ever been made to feel less than, unacceptable, or unworthy. Up to that point I had a lot of confidence for a middle school girl. I made good grades. I had good friends. I was nerdy, but still accepted by most of my peers because I was so nice. But that moment something shifted inside me and I began to see the world a lot differently. 

I don’t share that story often because, honestly, I feel a little embarrassed that I let a jerkface boy create so much of my identity for so long. But the fact is, this happens all. the. time.  

As a woman, I’ve been made very aware that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, sure, but the beholder is quite often influenced by the onslaught of cultural imaging and stereotyping. I think most women can agree that these expectations can be a little overwhelming at the best of times and absolutely crushing at the worst. Because, quite frankly, it’s tough being a woman. 

It’s Tough being a Woman

Let’s face it, being a woman is not easy and when you have the weight of the world, at least your world, on your shoulders, things get evenmore complicated even faster. That’s Esther. Tough stuff.

So Esther is an orphan. When she was quite young her parents died. We don’t know how they died, just that both her mother and her father died and she is raised by a cousin—Mordecai (Esther 2: 5-7). A male cousin, no less. If that wasn’t enough trauma for one little girl when she wasn’t much more than a teenager she was taken into the Citadel at Susa as a candidate for “future queen” (Esther 2: 8). 

Sounds great, right? Queen? What little girl doesn’t want that? It’s not quite that simple. Don’t you know what happened to the previous queen, Vashti? After a lot of feasting and wine the King, Xerxes, summoned her to his presence. He wanted to show her off—like a real trophy wife. She refused—maybe cause she didn’t want to be groped and fondled by a bunch of rich drunk guys. Or maybe because she was spoiled and drunk herself. Regardless, when she refused the king, she was banished and never heard of again. Killed? Who knows? Maybe (Esther 1:19-20).

Also, let’snot forget that word candidate. She’snot guaranteed the title of queen, but once she is in the harem…well, she’s not coming out again. And well, pleasing the King doesn’t just mean looking pretty. That’s only part of it. I think you can follow my drift. Once you’re in that Harem, you are the king’s—so there goes Esther’s dream of any kind of normalfamily life.

Beauty Treatments for the Beautiful

After being ripped from her adoptive father’s home, in Esther 2: 8-18, we see this young protagonist spend 12 months in beauty treatments. Well, that seems odd considering the palace officials only brought the most beautiful young, virginal women to the harem to be considered as candidates in the first place. But if our culture has taught us anything, even the most beautiful women are often made to feel as if they are not doing enough to be as beautiful as they could be. This is why beauty pageants, though not inherently wrong, do often create more insecurities in women than they do promote positive body image. I have no real feelings for or against pageants, but I do have a lot of feelings about the way a focus on beauty affects the way women interact with each other and view themselves. As a result, we see a lot of problems in a culture which validates women based on beauty, and Esther experienced these problems first hand. 


Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

To make matters worse, this atmosphere bred competition, and a brutal one at that. Esther wasn’t just competing against the other women either. She also had to contend with Vashti’s memory and even the cultural expectations as she hid her linage for fear of persecution. So, I can’t’ even imagine how the atmosphere of the harem inflamed her insecurities before and after being chosen as queen. 

Competition Never Ends

Later in the narrative, we find Mordecai, Esther’s adoptive father, entering the narrative as a bigger player than a conduit for the new queen’s upbringing. In chapter 2, he had even saved the king’s life by discovering an assassination plot. Unfortunately, this camaraderie and favoritism with the king is short-lived as jealousy expands not only in the harem but throughout the king’s men as well. Because let’s face it, when you build your whole kingdom on competition for favor, you are just asking for conflict among your people. Haman, an official of the king’s, wants o be top dog and he sees Mordecai as a threat (and he doesn’t even know the half of it! Since Esther remained silent about her lineage, no one even knows she is related to the Mordecai). Then, in Esther 3 Haman’s jealousy is just too much and we see it spinning out of control.

Haman devises a plot, not only to rid the country of Mordecai but of all Jews. His genocidal plan is received with indifference by the king. Which begs the question of what is actually worse—theactive hatred of Haman, or the passive indifference and allowance of the king?

Either way, Mordecai sees the danger, but alos the home and he pleas with Esther to go to the King about the edict. After all, Esther has the King’s ear and may be the Jews only hope. However, as we read Esther 4: 4-14, her response is heartbreaking. In verse 11 she reveals that thirty days have passed since she has been called to the King’s side. Her time is gone. She no longer has the King’s interest. Her husband has grown tired and bored with her and though he saw her high on the scale before, she is now feeling like she’s fallen to that 2 or 3. And she allows this to control her self-esteem, thoughts, actions and reactions. She let a jerkface man validate her identity, like so many women before her and so many women after her will do. And it crushed her. 

But Mordecai doesn’t accept this.

He reminds her that the King, her husband, this jerkface man does NOT control or validate her identity. You are a Jew! He reminds her. You are one of God’s chosen people, and He chose you for this moment! 

Xerxes may have chosen Esther as his queen, but God chose her as his daughter. And that reminder is all she needs to find the courage to act, because after all–despite what our culture tells us–men and women do not control our identities. Only God can do that and when we rest firmly in the knowledge that he has chosen us for a purpose and for his glory, then the way others percieve us no longer matters. 

Siezing your God-given Destiny

Esther 5 is so interesting because we see Esther taking charge and seizing her destiny and then at the last moment she seems almost to chicken out, but I’m not sure she hesitates for fear. Maybe, but I think it was the Lord guiding her words and steps. She fasted for 3 days and she’s hungry, tired, and scared, but it is in those vulnerable moments that we hear God speak with the  most clairty, because we stop trying to control our own destiny and we step into what he has planned for us. 

So, in Esther 6 we feel the increase of tension in a seemingly insignificant as we are waiting for Esther to reveal the plot to Xerxes.  Without the pause, we would have missed the most vital part of the whole story! GOD causes XERXES to have a sleepless night revealing an important hero—Mordecai. This downplays Esther, Mordecai’s, and even Haman’s role in the story and brings the TRUE protagonist to the forefront—GOD. Even though His name isn’t mentioned anywhere in the text, evidence that HE is still in control simply leaps off the page!

It is in those vulnerable moments that we hear God speak with the most clairty,
 because we stop trying to control our own destiny and we step into what he has planned for us. 

Esther 7:1-10 Finally shows us justice for Haman’s plot. In the remaining chapters, vindication for all the Jews comes through another edict where the Jews are allowed to defend themselves, but here ends Esther’s involvement in the story. Her words are straight from the Lord and she uses every moment to her advantage, thinking before she acted, and waiting for the Lord to move. 


Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash

Waiting on the Lord is never easy, especially when justice and revenge are more appealing options, but the older I become the more I understand that our happiness doesn’t depend on other people, what they think or what they tell us, our happiness depends on stepping into who the Lord created us to be–not what some jerkface says we are.