Daniel: Unraveling the Mystery‏

Daniel 2:14-49

I had been in the king’s service for quite some time when it was heard that the king had a dream.  He called for all of the magicians and sorcerers to interpret the dream for him, but no one could manage to provide the king with a satisfactory response.  As a result, the king ordered that all of the wise men in the kingdom should be put to death.

Instantly, I knew that my life and the lives of my three friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah were in danger.  I felt an unexplainable urgency to intervene in the situation, but I knew that I must proceed with caution.  Humbly, I approached the commander of the king’s guard and asked about the harshness of this decree.  Without hesitation, the commander explained everything to me.  I then asked permission to go in to the king and request extra time, that I might interpret his dream before he could carry out this death sentence. 

Instead of reacting in anger as I assumed he might, the king granted my request and sent me away from his presence.  Without delay, I went to the house to gather my three friends around me.  All night long, the four of us prayed and begged the Lord for mercy.  We asked that we might be saved from the threat of execution and that He might enlighten us as to the meaning of the king’s dream.

Late in the night, I awakened suddenly with the knowledge that everything was clear and the mystery of the king’s dream was explained.  I fell to my knees beside my sleeping mat and cried out in thankfulness to the God who had been so faithful.

The next morning, I arose early and sought out the commander once more.  I asked that I be granted permission to go before the king and interpret the mysterious dream.  Moments later, I stood before the king as he held court.  I had thought I would tremble in his presence, but I was surprised to find myself confident in the protection of the Lord. 

“Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?” the king asked, his eyes intent on my face.  He looked as if he hadn’t slept in days; no doubt, the dream had troubled him a great deal.

I bowed before the king and offered this reply: “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come. Your dream and the visions that passed through your mind as you lay on your bed are these…”  I then proceeded to tell the king exactly what he had seen in his dreams. 

My explanation lasted several moments, and when I finally paused for breath, I knew my time with the king had come to an end.  I concluded: “The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and the interpretation is trustworthy.”

Suddenly, the king fell to his knees before me and offered me gratitude for the service I had provided.  “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries,” he said.  “For you were able to reveal this mystery.”

From that moment forward, my life was forever changed.  The king honored me over everyone in Babylon and made me ruler over the entire province.  I was also placed in authority over all of the wise men in the kingdom, but I could not forget about my three friends.  I spoke to the king about them, and they were soon appointed administrators over the province of Babylon. 

So you see, God was faithful to protect His servants and bring His people to a prominent place in the kingdom so that we might share His mysteries with everyone— even the king.  To God be the glory!

Ruth: A Kinsman Redeemer‏

Ruth 3:1-4:8

It had all come to this.  Last night, my whole world changed, and it all started with the encouragement from my mother-in-law, Naomi: “My daughter, should I not try to find a home for you, where you will be well provided for? Is not Boaz, with whose servant girls you have been, a kinsman of ours? Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. Wash and perfume yourself, and put on your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.”

Although I had witnessed Boaz’s fine character and his kindness toward me and the workers in his field, I was the slightest bit reluctant.  I had loved my deceased husband, and it was difficult to imagine myself wedded to another.  But I trusted Naomi and loved her dearly, so I found myself consenting.

So I went down to the threshing floor that night, following her instructions.  I lay awake at his feet, trembling in the face of the unknown.  What would he say?  What would he do when he awakened and saw me there?  But I had no reason to fear, for when he startled in the middle of the night, he turned to me with a whisper, seeking to know my identity.

I told him I was his servant Ruth, and I asked him to spread the corner of his garment over me, as was the Hebrew custom.  His response was more than I could have ever hoped to dream: “The LORD bless you, my daughter,” he replied. “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All my fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of noble character. Although it is true that I am near of kin, there is a kinsman-redeemer nearer than I. Stay here for the night, and in the morning if he wants to redeem, good; let him redeem. But if he is not willing, as surely as the LORD lives I will do it. Lie here until morning.”

To stay with him that night would risk my reputation, but I was willing to lie at the feet of this kinsman-redeemer.  I had committed to keeping my word to Naomi, and in potentially marrying Boaz, I would be able to provide for her needs.  So upon waking the next morning, I returned to Naomi with a smile on my face and a shawl brimming with grain.  Now it was time for Boaz to do his part.

At the town gate, Naomi and I waited in eagerness for the outcome of our future.  There was another kinsman-redeemer who was nearer than Boaz, and I grew nervous as we awaited the legal transaction. 

Boaz said to the kinsman-redeemer: “Naomi, who has come back from Moab, is selling the piece of land that belonged to our brother Elimelech. I thought I should bring the matter to your attention and suggest that you buy it in the presence of these seated here and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, do so. But if you will not, tell me, so I will know. For no one has the right to do it except you, and I am next in line.”

My heart skipped a beat when I heard the reply: “I will redeem it,” the other man said.  Could this be God’s will?  I didn’t understand.  I was certain Boaz would act as kinsman-redeemer.  But before I could lose hope, Boaz spoke again.

“On the day you buy the land from Naomi and from Ruth the Moabitess, you acquire the dead man’s widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property.”

At this, the kinsman-redeemer said, “Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.”

Tears filled my eyes as the kinsman-redeemer took off his sandal and handed it to Boaz, making the transaction final.  “Buy it yourself,” he said, and rose to go on his way.  The deed was done, and Boaz had come through for us!

He had sacrificed his own estate and future in order to redeem the lives of his widowed relatives.  His kindness was more than I could fathom in that he chose to provide for me, a foreigner, in addition to my mother-in-law.  With gratitude in my heart, I looked to the man who would soon be my husband.  What would the future hold for us?  Only God could make that clear.  But for now, I simply knew what it felt like to be blessed.

Abraham: The Lord will Provide

Genesis 22:1-19

The voice of the Lord came to me in the stillness of the day: “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” I replied.

It was then that I heard the most devastating words: “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”

I began to tremble.  How could this be?  Isaac had been the promised child and had been a blessing to Sarah and me in our old age.  God had promised He would make my descendants as numerous as the stars and this would take place through Isaac’s legacy.  How could such a thing take place if I were to sacrifice my son as an offering?  Oh, how I loved my only son!  Why would God ask this of His servant?  I had done my best to be faithful.  Where had I gone astray to warrant a circumstance of this magnitude?

Fears and doubts assailed me, but I knew I had to obey the commands of the Lord or risk His anger and disappointment.  So the next morning, I gathered supplies, sought out two of my servants, and then went to find my son.  We set out for the place that God had told me about.

The journey was long, and all the while, I endured questions from my son: Where were we going?  Were we going to worship the Lord here so far from home?  I think he recognized that I didn’t feel like talking a great deal.  I did my best to revel in these last moments with my son.  Oh, if only I could tell Him of the Lord’s command!  But my lips would not form the words, and I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that our time together was limited.

Three days later, I knew we had reached our destination.  I said to my servants: “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”  I said this even as I felt tears burning at the back of my eyes.  I was fully aware that I would be returning to them alone.

I took my son’s hand and we started off together.  I was lost in my thoughts as we walked, so I was startled when Isaac spoke to me.

“Father?”

“Yes, my son,” I replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” he said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

I looked to my son with tears brimming in my eyes.  “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”  It was all I could think to say when my soul was in such turmoil.  How could I begin to explain the ways of the Lord and the task I must soon complete?

We walked on together, and soon we reached the place the Lord had told me about.  I set about building an altar, seeking to hide the brimming tears from my ever-curious son.  With trembling hands, I arranged the wood on the altar and turned to my son.  He gazed back at me with trusting eyes, and it was almost my undoing.  The tears came in earnest now as I bound him and laid him on top of the altar.

“Father?” the boy whispered, fear leaping into his eyes.  “What about the lamb for the sacrifice?  Why have you put me on the altar?”

But I couldn’t answer.  I let out a loud cry of despair as I lifted the knife, prepared to complete this inconceivable act. 

“Abraham!  Abraham!”  The voice was deep and commanding, and I knew it to be an angel of the Lord.

I dropped the knife as I startled at the sound.  “Here I am!” I replied, my voice cracking with raw emotion.

“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

It was then that my eyes caught a glimpse of a ram, caught by its horns in a nearby thicket.  With overwhelming thankfulness welling within me, I retrieved the animal and quickly prepared the sacrifice to the Lord.  Just in time, the Lord had provided the sacrificial lamb, and I trembled with the incredible mercy he had bestowed upon me and my family that day.  The Lord had provided, and to this day, I refer to that place upon the mountain by that name: The Lord will Provide. 

Esther: For Such a Time as This‏

Esther 4:4-16

The decree had gone out into all the land: the Jews in the kingdom would be destroyed on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month.  There was such great mourning and wailing all around me, yet, although I witnessed the grief of my people, I was set apart; for you see, I am Esther, Queen of Persia, wife of King Xerxes. 

I cried for my people, especially my cousin Mordecai who had raised me.  When this edict was carried out, I would be cut off from my people forever.  I would never see them again.  And then there was the question if even I would survive.  I had not told anyone of my nationality, but there was always the chance that my family background would become common knowledge.  I was the wife of King Xerxes, but even so, I wondered if I was truly safe.

One day, some of my maids ran into my chamber, rambling about my cousin Mordecai.  They said he had been sitting out at the gate for some time, dressed in sackcloth and ashes.  Instantly, I knew something was very wrong; perhaps someone from among our people had died, or was this in response to the king’s edict?

“Here,” I said, instructing my maids.  “Take these to him.”  I held out a bundle of clothes and told them to offer the garments for him to wear in order that he might banish the sackcloth. 

But moments later, my maids returned to me with an unexpected response: “He will not accept the clothes, Queen Esther.”

“But why?” I exclaimed.  “What is it that troubles him so?”

I couldn’t shake the thought that something was dreadfully wrong, so I sent for Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs, to see if he could learn more.

I waited for what seemed like an eternity before Hathach returned to me.  His eyes reflected great turmoil as he sat to deliver Mordecai’s message.  He told me of Haman’s plan to destroy the Jews and the amount of money that he had promised to pay into the treasury to make this act a reality.  It was then that Hathach read me the edict and explained it to me thoroughly until I grasped its meaning.  Indeed, the circumstances were very dire and I could understand Mordecai’s urgency.

“He has asked a great thing of you, Queen Esther,” Hathach recounted.  “He instructed me to make it clear that you must come to the aid of your people.  Go before the king— beg for mercy, plead for the lives of your people.”

“But I cannot do this!” I protested, my heart racing and my hands trembling with fear.  “All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that he be put to death. The only exception to this is for the king to extend the gold scepter to him and spare his life. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.”

My mind raced.  How could I go before the king in this way when I did not have a firm understanding of our relationship?  It was true; the king had not called me to his chamber in the span of a month.  If I came before him uninvited, I would be risking my very life!  I understood the gravity of the situation, but Mordecai must know the sacrifice I would be making in order to do this.

Hathach went out to the gate and reported my words to Mordecai.  It wasn’t long before the eunuch returned with a reply from Mordecai: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”

His words carried a great deal of truth, and even though I was trembling in fear, I knew what I must do.  I turned to Hathach and delivered my response: “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”

I could not say what would be in store for me or my people at that time.  I only knew that I must pray like I never had before.  I was comforted by the knowledge that my maids, Mordecai, and my people would be fasting and praying as well.  Although great uncertainty awaited me on the horizon, I had faith that God would deliver me and my people.  Perhaps I would play a greater role in this deliverance by giving my life on behalf of my people, but there was no doubt that I had been placed in this position for such a time as this.  I would go forth in confidence, knowing I had God’s favor above all else. 

Ordinary People

“God absolutely loves to take ordinary people and do extraordinary things in them, through them, and with them” (Lysa Terkheurst).

In the fall of 2010, I was required to give a sermon at my home church in order to fulfill an assignment for a Biblical preaching class.  Naturally, I was nervous about standing in front of the congregation and sharing the Word of God with an audience for the first time.  But even more, I was nervous about choosing a Scripture that I could use for the message.  I wanted something that could speak to my heart and could easily identify with the congregation as well.

I spent one morning in Pastor Tim’s office, vacillating between topic and Scripture ideas, and I felt like I was getting nowhere.  Pastor asked me questions like: “What passage has been speaking to you lately?  What has God been teaching you in your personal walk with Him?  Is there any topic that strikes you and makes you want to dig deeper?”  Numerous thoughts and concepts swirled through my mind, but I couldn’t pick just one focus. 

Finally, Pastor said something that sparked interest.  “Is there a person in the Bible— someone that you can identify with or view highly?”  I thought about that for a moment, and that’s when I started to contemplate that idea.  For so long, I have been drawn to the art of storytelling.  After writing four novels and working on some personal memoirs, it has become clear to me that I love a good story, and even more, I love writing or telling it.

As I walked home from my meeting with Pastor that morning, I was no closer to finding a sermon topic, but my mind was spinning nonetheless.  I thought about the many characters in the Bible— most of them ordinary people that God chose to use in extraordinary ways. 

It was then that I compared myself to many of these Biblical people.  Although I did not consider myself to be worthy of God’s calling, He had called me out nonetheless to serve Him through my music and writing.  I was about midway through my time in the Masters’ program, and it was clear to me that God was using me in capacities that I could only dream of if I were to pursue such activities on my own.  I had waited for Him to direct me in His time, and He had been faithful. 

I couldn’t help but think of the story from Esther 4 and Mordecai’s realization that God may have brought her into position in the kingdom for such a time as this.  It was like a light bulb went off in my head and I knew this was the text I must share with the congregation.  But this idea was only the beginning for me.  I thought of the many others in the Bible that stepped up and took action when it mattered the most— when they knew the call of God on their lives.  What if I could create a series based on ordinary Biblical people and the moments that defined their service to Him?

So today begins a blog series in “Cassie Contemplates…”  I call it: “Ordinary People: Defining Moments.”  Stay tuned to read the stories of well-loved Biblical characters and catch a glimpse into their personal struggles and victories.  I will share these moments from their lives through first person narrative so you can see what each person must have felt like as he or she witnessed this defining moment.  I can’t wait to share with you!  Be looking for the first installment next week!