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1Cor11:17-34

The Corinthains are a handful. So far, they have: had troubles with unity, sexual immorality, marriage and divorce, civil law cases, gender blurring, yielding in love to others, and submission to authority.

Paul now has no praise for them because of the abuses of the "churche's" communal meals, and it spills over into the Lord's Supper (Communion).
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AGAPE OR LOVE FEAST

The early church had a tradition of coming together and having a communal (covered-dish type thing) meal. Followed by communion.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agape_feast

Before Paul had talked about theological disunity - now he addresses a practical problem.

"..the Corinthian Christians were coming from a culture where the pagans would commonly have wild, riotous banquets given in honor of a pagan god. This is how it might not seem so strange to the Corinthian Christians to even get drunk and a church common meal....In that day, at common meals, it was expected that the “upper class” would receive better and more food than the “lower class.” This cultural custom was being carried over into the church, and the Christians weren’t really sharing with one another. At the agape feast, the rich brought more food and the poor brought less food; but in Corinth they were not sharing the food fairly...Ancient culture, much more than modern American culture, was extremely class concious. It was respect of these class divisions which so grieved Paul." - David Guzik

Don't pig out, Don't get drunk, share equally with those that have less, not only out of Christian Brotherhood - but out of respect for the Lord's Supper (Communion).
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LORD'S SUPPER
(Notes)
1) Paul received instruction directly from Christ regarding the words of the Last Supper.

2) I believe Communion is done out of remembrance and to proclaim the sacrifice that was done for us. Christ died once for our sins, and the idea that communion is a re-enactment of his death over and over seems to denigrate that idea. I will just leave it at that.

3) We are "unworthy", but we are not to partake of Commuinon in an unworthy manner. We should be reverant, submissive, reflective of Christ and His sacrifice for us, acknowledging His love for us, and certainly not drunk.

4)Examine yourself and make sure you are in the right frame of mind. If you partake of Communion in a careless, thoughtless manner that turns it into a ritual rather than an honest moment between you and Christ - "eats and drinks judgment on himself."

[Note: Not "the" judgment, but a judgment of an action. God can assess this and not necessarily punish immediately or even here on earth, but HE does not forget. Apparently for Corinthians, chastening was meted out. The early church often got this to make sure wrong actions early on were corrected, as an example to others.]

5) Paul does say that because of this act of irreverance, the Corinthains have been punished here on earth - with sickness and even death.
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SOLUTION

If we judged (diakrino)ourselves, we would not come under judgment (krino).

If we decide for ourselves by self-examination and receive communion in a worthy manner, then we would not receive God's judgment - it would not be necessary.

If not there will be chastening so that the "body of Christ" does not live as the world (in condemnation).

In Summary - Act rightly at the common meal and Lord's supper, so that you do not sin and incur judgment and chastening.

19 Better to live in a desert
than with a quarrelsome and ill-tempered wife.

I think that King Xerxes felt that he had a quarrelsome and ill-tempered wife in Vashti, and that's why he banished her. Interesting parallel.

Also, as a wife I hope I am not generally ill-tempered or quarrelsome, and I keep in mind that my words can overwhelm my husband. Psychologists have observed that women speak many more words per day than men, and women are typically more skilled at articulating their feelings and thoughts. If I vent my feelings at my husband about him when I am upset with him for example, I can overwhelm him to the point that he just shuts down. I need to think about what I am trying to accomplish. Do I want him to actually be able to hear me, or do I just want to let loose everything that I am feeling at once? I try to save my ranting (about my hubby) for God and instead share my concerns with my husband rationally and calmly so that he can hear me. (My husband, by the way, is a wonderful guy, who hardly ever makes me angry.)

Esther

1) Look at the map of Xerxes' empire above. I always thought we were talking about a localized extinction of the Jewish people. The decree went out to all provinces. If carried out, this would essentially wipe out the dispersed Jewish nation.

Let's see. Earth was totally corrupted at Noah's time causing God to step in. Pharoah ordered all Jewish male babies killed. Queen in one of the book of Kings tried to wipe out David's line. Herod ordered babies killed in Bethlehem. Hitler killed 6 million Jews. Iranian president wants Israel wiped off the map. See a PATTERN? Not sure you can find another ethnic group that over thousands of years has been the object of such "bad luck". I believe it is part of Satan's plan to either wipe out the "chosen people" or destroy the Messiah (or the Messiah's line). If successful, the Bible is a lie, and maybe Satan has a chance to win his rebellion against God.

2) Keep this thought in mind for future reference. Haman was referred to as an Agagite. Most commentators mention that this would make Haman a survivor of the Amalekites. Since Mordecai is a Benjamite it would make hime from the tribe of King Saul. Chickens are coming home to roost from Saul showing mercy on the Amalekites contrary to God's will.

But there is more. It may be true, and I believe it is, that the Amalekites were descended from Esau. As an Edomite, from a biblical perspective, the whole dynamic of Esau vs. Jacob (Israel) is playing out. We will follow this thread of thought more as readings in Old Testament proceed this year.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amalek

3) Vance: you can't be very hard on your friend. Historians are split on the issue of "Esther" being an actual Historical event.

There are valid arguments on both sides. I am in the Historical camp for reasons that will be revealed at end of Esther. However, I can understand those that will not admit to a Historical view of Esther.

Esther 1:3:15

(2 Timothy 2:15 AMP) Study and be eager and do your utmost to present yourself to God approved (tested by trial), a workman who has no cause to be ashamed, correctly analyzing and accurately dividing [rightly handling and skillfully teaching] the Word of Truth.

Paul’s directive to Timothy is what I need to hear to remind myself that this book of Esther is a book within the Official Cannon, and as Mike so wonderfully reminded us two days ago, we must look at everything in the Word in context to the verses and chapters before and after, and look at how the book fits into the entire Bible. I don’t know how many times I’ve read through the Book of Esther, I know that I have read it more than 20 times, and probably studied it about five. However never before has this book hit me as it did this morning.

All of us going through this Bible Reading Plan for the year have approached the task for many different reasons. Even atheists read through and study the Bible to prove that it is contradictory and that God doesn’t exist, and some know the Bible better than Believers, though they cannot understand it. When a passage in the bible hits you and disturbs you then it is time to take note. For me it has been the first three chapters. Although at times, extremely painful memories are released, or the Word, like a mirror is reflecting back ugliness of sin, I’ve learned that I am either able to handle what is being stirred up, thus I’m going through a period of growth, or a hardened shell around my heart has been cracked and something painful and cancerous has been pierced and the poison has been released.

I grew up in households and churches where people went to church, quoted scripture yet did despicable things. They never took to heart Jesus’ reprimand to his disciples about children,

And whoever receives and accepts and welcomes one little child like this for My sake and in My name receives and accepts and welcomes Me. But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in and acknowledge and cleave to Me to stumble and sin [that is, who entices him or hinders him in right conduct or thought], it would be better (more expedient and profitable or advantageous) for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be sunk in the depth of the sea.
(Matthew 18:5-6 AMP)

The two households were loaded with abusive people. Since like attracts like, the churches attended were also abusive and used scripture to justify that abuse, thus the reference to 2 Timothy 2:15. One of the Books misused was the Book of Esther. The account of the pageant, Esther’s uncle placing her in the pageant, with the talent portion being how good you were in bad, was used by the “good” brothers in the church, with the consent of parents, single and otherwise, to prey on children.

This abusive policy was not an anomaly happening in a corner or a specifice place or time. Years latter, in my last year of school ,‘89/90, the head of Campus Ministry asked me to attend a bible study/group that had been given sanction to be one of the Student Organizations on Campus. She wanted me to evaluate what was going on within that group because, “Something didn’t seem right to her,” and she was right.

The same Book of Esther was being used in the same way in this supposed Bible Study. They were teaching that women were to be submissive to men, any man who was in this particular church/group. The men had a right to “try out” the women in bed because after all it was in the Bible. The organization was politely asked to cease and desist and their campus privileges were removed as well as their funding. The reason this craziness and deception worked is that most believers do not read the Word, thank you Mike for encouraging us to feed at God’s table.

I’m not sure if what I’ve written is off-topic, however I pray that my experience may be helpful to someone, anyone who has walked away from God, or declared Him dead because of people wrongly dividing the Word of Truth purposely.

I have a good friend who was raised in Turkey; he is Muslim. He lived with me at my house for a time while he was in college obtaining his doctorate degree.

We would talk freely with one another about many things. It is a wonderful honor. We would talk faith, and about the difference between Islam and Christianity.

One day he and I got into a discussion about the book of Esther. Though normally a quiet spoken and gracious person, he became very angry when I told him the story of Esther—a Jewish woman made queen of Persia who God used to save the Jewish people from extinction.

It seems that Muslims do not believe this account ever happened. He informed me that the story was made up by people in the West.
~~~

Esther 3 (Amplified Bible)
10
And the king took HIS SIGNET RING FROM HIS HAND [WITH WHICH TO SEAL HIS LETTERS BY THE KING'S AUTHORITY] and gave it to Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the Jews' enemy.

12
Then the king's secretaries were called in on the thirteenth day of the first month, and all that Haman had commanded was written to the king's chief rulers and to the governors who were over all the provinces and to the princes of each people, to every province in its own script and to each people in their own language; it was written in the name of King Ahasuerus AND IT WAS SEALED WITH THE KING'S [SIGNET] RING.

I Corinthians 11 (Amplified Bible)
24
And when He had given thanks, He broke [it] and said, Take, eat. This is My body, which is broken for you. Do this to call Me [affectionately] to remembrance.
25
Similarly when supper was ended, He took the cup also, saying, THIS CUP IS THE NEW COVENANT [RATIFIED AND ESTABLISHED] IN MY BLOOD. Do this, as often as you drink [it], to call Me [affectionately] to remembrance.

29
For anyone who eats and drinks without discriminating and recognizing with due appreciation that [it is Christ's] body, eats and drinks a sentence (a verdict of judgment) upon himself.

32
But when we [fall short and] are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined and chastened, so that we may not [finally] be condemned [to eternal punishment along] with the world.

NOTE:
Blood covenant. “Jesus paid it all—all to Him I owe” as the wonderful hymn goes.

Elements of blood covenant in the ancient world:
a.
God in Genesis 15 was saying to Abraham, “Even as the animals have died, I will stand with you and My promises. May what happened to these animals happen to Me if I do not keep My promise.
b.
Jesus, as the Son Who ratifies God’s Promises, now dies in our place as our Representative. He, as the Perfect Man, and as the Son of God says in the act of blood covenant: “I give Myself to you. I give you My strength. Your enemies are My enemies. I take your sins and weaknesses, and I give you My righteousness.”
c.
Seal of the covenant: Cutting of the flesh—life blood is being shed. The blood flows out of cut with promise of Jesus, “It is finished! Paid in full!”
d.
Jesus has become one with us and we with Him through blood covenant: The scar from the cutting of the flesh will never go away. It is the sign that we are one with Jesus and He is one with us.
e.
Our names change—from rebellious sinner to saved by Grace. When we sin now, it is a child of God who is redeemed. As such, as children, we need to thoroughly repent because we belong to Jesus and He lives inside of us. What an honor and privilege!
f.
Covenant meal of blood covenant in ancient times:

1.
Cup of wine:

* They drank wine, representing blood: “Drink my life’s blood
as I drink your life’s blood”.

* This means, “I see you fulfilling all the terms of the covenant
as I fulfill your life”.
2.
Piece of bread:

* The participants would feed each other as final statement: “Take me—all that I am. Eat of me, I am yours.”
~~~

We can see the blood covenant is how Jesus confirmed the covenant of the Father God with us. Jesus, the Father, and the Spirit are one in Trinity—three in one and one in three in perfect unity and agreement.

Jesus gave Himself as the Bread of Life. He confirmed it with blood covenant. Thus, as the Amplified Bible reads of I Corinthians 11:25: “THIS CUP IS THE NEW COVENANT [RATIFIED AND ESTABLISHED] IN MY BLOOD.”
~~~

Note that King Xerxes gave Haman his signet ring. In ancient times, when letters were signed, they would be sealed and closed with a small portion of melted wax. Then, the king would press the pattern of his signet ring onto the wax signifying that the letter was from him.

Whoever sealed a letter with the king’s ring was granted the same authority as the king!

There is a lot of symbolism here, but it is very practical for us today: Jesus—as the Son of God—ratified the covenant given by the Father for us. He took on our sins so we can become His righteousness. We are forever bonded with Jesus and the Father by blood covenant.

Jesus literally shares His own righteousness, strength, and authority with us. But—as I Corinthians 11 shows—we can only live and act in the Lord’s authority if we are living UNDER HIS AUTHORITY!

May we truly judge ourselves wearing the glasses of God's Word. May we purge out the vile from the pure in our lives, so we can live up to the potential. We are made new creations in Christ. We are sons and daughters of the King.

If we properly judge ourselves and receive the discipline of the Lord, then we can become strong in our areas of weakness and we can glorify God!
~~~

The Corinthians were not eating and drinking the Lord's supper in a worthy manner. Why is this? They did not treat the Lord's supper in serious manner for what it is. As the Amplified Bible reads in I Corinthians 11:29:

"For anyone who eats and drinks without discriminating and recognizing with due appreciation that [it is Christ's] body, eats and drinks a sentence (a verdict of judgment) upon himself."
~~~

We are not—thank God—gods unto ourselves (though the devil would like us to believe that so we can enter judgment with him).

We are called to bear the image of Christ, and that only happens as we fulfill our part of the blood covenant: Jesus already shed His blood. Thank God there is no more blood to be shed.

Yet, we are called to give up our lives. “If Jesus be God and died for me, then nothing less than my life is fitting for Him.”

May we give our lives as living sacrifices unto God. When we sin and fail, may we quickly confess and become thoroughly cleansed from every stain of sin through Christ and His wonderful sacrifice.

Then, may we “walk in the Spirit so we do not fulfill the lusts of the flesh” (Galatians 5). More than that, we can only fulfill God’s will so others can hear about and see Jesus through us as we yield to the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is the God’s seal—the seal that Jesus is the down payment guaranteeing God’s promise of salvation to us.

May we be sealed in our life and behavior through surrender to the Holy Spirit so we Christ can truly be “our life” as He in actuality is.

Colossians 3 (NKJV)
1
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.
2
Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.
3
For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
4
When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
5
Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

Vance

I ran across an article the other day "Sex in the City" by Mark Buchanan that focuses on Jonah, Esther & Daniel:

How do we respond to a corrupted culture? Two faulty examples and a better one.

In God's Kingdom, judgement entwines with invitation, and is usually uttered with deep heartache. It's God's kindness that leads to repentance.

Jonah is my favorite prophet, and for no better reason than our uncanny resemblance. I'm bald and I figure him bald—why else his emotional tumult over how shade-dappled or sun-scorched his head? I'm short and I imagine him short: a stumpy, wiry guy, all that peevishness compacted tight as a nail bomb. He loved comfort and resented interruption, and that runs pretty close to my own bias. He was possessive, evasive, defensive, obsessive. Things not unknown to me.

Jonah is my least favorite prophet, and for exactly the same reason. He reminds me too much of me. I long to be Daniel-like in wisdom, Isaiah-like in righteousness, Ezekiel-like in faithfulness. I want the courage of Elijah, the endurance of Jeremiah, the long-view of Zechariah. I dream of standing down kings and outrunning horses, commanding drought and deluge with a word, calling down woe like thunderbolts and blessing like manna.

But I'm plagued with Jonah-likeness.

And here's a deeper worry: so is the church. Not just my church, but the church—especially the church in North America. We're evasive with God, resentful toward outsiders, smug about our own goodness. Prudish, hawkish, lovers of comfort, and nursing a giant grudge against anyone and anything that threatens it.

Just like Jonah.

That's half the story, anyhow.

The other half is that the church is Esther, Esther prior to her awakening: assuming an insider status and willing to disguise her true identity for the sake of it, fearful of confronting her culture. We want to be like everyone else, only more so. We're a people terrified of being peculiar. We'll do almost anything to win a pagan king's affections.

Jonah wants just to be left alone, and would happily let everyone else go to hell. Esther wants just to fit in, and willingly forsakes her distinctiveness to achieve that.

Between these two impulses, the kingdom always goes begging.

But this is about sex
And that's exactly where I find these two stories so compelling, and so disturbing. Jonah and, implicitly, his community are threatened by Assyrian exile. Jonah is called as a missionary to the very people who bear that threat. Esther and, explicitly, her community are in the clutches of Persian exile. Esther is called to take a stand against the very people in whose land she and her people dwell but who now threaten to destroy them.

Neither story is about sex per se (though that's a subtext in Esther: the things we do for love), but both are about God's people living amidst pagan culture—a culture that is pervasive, seductive, potentially coercive, and often at deep odds with what God thinks. Both are about the ways God's people try to negotiate their place toward or within that culture. And so both help us think through spiritual and ethical issues, including sexual ethics, for such a time as this.

How then shall we live?

Jonah chooses the way of condemnation. He hates the culture that threatens his own. His attitude is leave-us-alone and damn if you don't. He is prideful of his distinctiveness ("I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land," he smugly tells the sailors whose ship he's boarded, even though he's using these men to escape this God), but he's not the least bit inclined to invite others to share in it.

So when God calls him to confront the people of Nineveh, Assyria's capital, for their wickedness, Jonah flees. He simply doesn't want to get involved. When God forces the issue, Jonah goes—grudgingly—and trumpets the doom of Nineveh, and then waits to behold it, and relish it. When the Ninevites repent and God shows mercy, Jonah throws a full-scale tantrum. This is what he long suspected God would do, and he turns surly and self-pitying about it.

Jonah's attitude toward pagan culture is an old standby for the church. Avoid outsiders, and when you can't, protest against them. Lament the sorry state of things. Call God's judgment down. Imagine, with pleasure, the punishment to be visited on the disobedient. Meanwhile, make yourself as comfortable as possible. And if the threatened divine judgment fails to materialize? Sulk. Mightily.

It's hard not to think here of some conservative churches' reaction to the homosexual community. I live in Canada, where recently our government, against the wishes of most Canadians, pushed through legislation that legalized same-sex marriage. A few months prior to that, I attended a citywide prayer meeting where this issue was at the forefront.

Emotions were strong. I expected that, but what caught me by surprise was the tone of the meeting. It had a Jonah-like ring: jingoistic, gloating, self-righteous. People warmed quickly to themes of divine vengeance. They evoked it in vivid imagery.

The problem here is tactical as well as spiritual. Spiritually, we should be careful what we eat. Bloodthirst causes heartburn, severely. But tactically, this is hardly a way to start a kingdom revolution. The church on this issue should be begging God to help us to be Mark 2 communities: when people find out Jesus is in the house, they're willing to break the roof open if that's what it takes to get themselves and their sick friends inside.

I have talked with gay people about how they see Christians. Generally they see us as, well, you know the drill: bigoted, angry, narrow, hateful, afraid …

It's a caricature, I know. Only, everything about that citywide prayer meeting supported it.

What if God's larger desire is to invite people, all people, into the wideness of his mercy? Somehow the Ninevites were able to respond to God despite Jonah's rancor and belligerence. After all, judgment is real, not to be trifled with. God's wrath is being revealed against all godlessness and wickedness.

Only, Jonah doesn't know anything but judgment. He is a Johnny-one-note. In God's kingdom, judgment entwines with invitation, and is usually uttered with deep heartache (Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem …). It's God's kindness that leads to repentance. That kindness needs to be visible in the church. The consummation of the church's missionary role will be that day when ten people from every tribe and tongue—Nineveh included—take hold of the hem of the robe of one believer and say, "Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you" (Zech. 8:23).

But Jonah is not interested. He doesn't want his enemy's repentance. He doesn't want them in church, singing the songs of Zion. He certainly doesn't want them coming to his church and bringing their own strange music with them. He wants them to pay, to suffer. He wants judgment, not mercy.

Jonah's moral dogmatism, I think, hides his theological ambivalence. That's usually what dogmatism does. Jonah is wary and begrudging, not just toward Ninevites, but toward God. He's boastful of his knowledge of God but cagey in his relationship with him. He finds God both too hard and too soft—hard toward his chosen ones, soft toward the enemy. God, in his view, lacks an appropriate sense of favoritism.

I wonder if this isn't the hidden motive of churches that take up Jonah's style. Maybe the angry, accusatory stance is mostly a mask for our own misgivings about God.

"Fanaticism," Carl Jung said, "is overcompensation for doubt." We can trace this theological trajectory in the Pharisees. They disapproved of whatever they did not initiate. But Jesus identified their problem as a broken relationship with God. They overcompensated for doubt.

Jonah wants to condemn the culture. He would love to see it destroyed. The idea that it could be reclaimed, redeemed, invited to share in the goodness of God—such thinking is anathema to him. After all, he can hardly invite anyone, friend or foe, to taste and see that the Lord is good when he has not tasted and seen such things himself.

That's only half our problem
The other half is being Esther, prior to her moment of reckoning. When it comes to pagan culture, Esther moves in precisely the opposite direction.

Jonah avoids it, caricatures it, condemns it. Esther accepts it, embraces it, extols it.

Many early interpreters and Bible commentators viewed Esther (and/or the Jewish community depicted in the book) as a type of the church in compromised, semi-pagan form. Modern interpreters generally dismiss typological readings of Scripture (with good reason), but as one who adjusts to a hostile culture, her example can be instructive.

She conforms to whatever standards the culture sets—dress like the reigning pop queen, subscribe to whatever attitudes are au courant—in order to look like everyone else, only better.

And here, it's hard not to think of many mainline churches. In the recent controversy over same-sex marriage in Canada, entire denominations have aligned themselves with the spirit of the age. They want to be deemed beautiful in the eyes of the pagan king. The Anglican Church in Canada is even ostracizing dissenting churches and defrocking their ministers. The idea that the church should do anything other than endorse the culture's current thinking on sexual matters is, in the minds of these denominational leaders, a throwback to medievalism. We're in a new millennium now, is the rallying cry. We must move with the times.

If Jonah's theological ilk were the Pharisees, Esther's were the Sadducees. They valued expedience above faithfulness (or, more to the point, equated the two). The worst sin was to be out of kilter with the culture's dominant values. Their highest goal was to reduce the lag time between the latest trends and their blessing thereof.

Of course, Esther eventually awakens from this. She realizes, in the nick of time, that the culture whose acceptance she craves is laying ambush for her and her people. And then, with savvy and courage, she finds a new way of living in exile.

But before that happens, Esther immerses herself in pagan culture. The idea that she should confront it, or refuse its wares, is unthinkable. She wants to be left alone, too—not by the culture, but by any sense that her primary loyalty lies elsewhere.

Both Jonah and Esther define two of the church's reactions to today's sexual values.

Shun and denounce.

Embrace and extol.

In my own church, I see both attitudes. Recently, I made a comment from the pulpit that the starting place for Christians to uphold the "sanctity of marriage" is not the courts but our own households. I cited statistics on divorce rates among evangelical Christians that put us pretty much in a dead heat with society at large. I talked about the high incidence of spousal abuse within conservative churches. I spoke about the widespread estrangement that prevails among many church-going couples. I mentioned the hidden plague of internet porn that is withering intimacy between husbands and wives.

Some people came out swinging: stop meddling with matters in here, they told me. Start condemning what's happening out there.

Jonah.

On the other side, the statistics on premarital sex among evangelicals hardly distinguish us from all the other people on the face of the earth. And yet whenever I address this, a few folks take me aside and say, in effect, what's the big deal? Aren't there more important issues? A few kids are mixing it up between the sheets—well, so? Why fuss over that when we have a crisis of global warming, when the Amazonian rainforests are disappearing, when the sperm whale faces extinction? Recently, the Christian parents of a girl from our church tried to convince her to go on the pill. She sat them down and told them in no uncertain terms that she had no intention of having sex until she was married. They told her that was unrealistic, and she should go on it anyhow.

Esther.

What's the alternative?
I think Daniel is our best guide for such a time as this. He stands between the extremes of Esther and Jonah. He, like Esther, lived in a time of Exile—Babylonian, then Persian. He lived among people mostly indifferent to his own convictions but who, when put off by those convictions, grew swiftly and menacingly hostile. He had to sort out his place within that culture: what could he, without violating conscience, say "yes" to? What must he, regardless of the personal risk, say "no" to?

Daniel had neither Jonah's surly, haughty ways, nor Esther's coy, accommodating manner. He had simple clarity and quiet integrity. Some things about the pagan culture—their education system, the political structure, their habit of naming you after one of their gods—no problem. Go to their schools. Work in their government. Bear their god's name.

But one thing especially was taboo: king's food. Of that Daniel would not partake. The food wasn't wrong in and of itself. But it had been dedicated to pagan deities. To partake was to submit. To eat was to worship. So better to subsist on a diet of raw vegetables than eat the king's rich meats and richer sauces, his wines and confections.

But Daniel and his companions did not merely subsist on vegetables: they thrived. They ended up more healthy and bright-eyed than all the other young men being trained with them.

We can sit under the teaching of our culture, and emerge shrewder in our own convictions. We can participate in the government of our culture, and bring glory to God by our diligence and integrity. We can be named after our culture's deities (Mark—god of war!), and not suffer diminishment to our faith.

What we can't do is eat king's food.

But what is king's food now? What is that element within our culture that, if the people of God participate in it, will ruin us?

I think it's our culture's sexual ethics.

What this culture lacks is purity. The church—especially Jonah—has not helped here much, because always we want to impose morality. Purity is to morality what intimacy is to acquaintance, what love is to tolerance, what oneness is to equality. Purity is not just a higher thing: it is a category unto itself.

I think we should stop preaching morality and start preaching purity. After all, no one wants to drink merely sterilized water, chlorinated water, water with a drop of iodine.

What awakens and then slakes thirst is pure water.

Daniel embraces the way of purity. He will not taint his body with what has been dedicated to another god. And if there's a clear lesson from his story, it's this: that is the one true way to win a pagan king's heart. Everywhere Daniel goes, the king ends up acknowledging that God alone is God.

At our church, we call young people to the way of purity, not morality. We call them to be Daniels. Far from languishing, they thrive.

Not long ago, I was invited by an Esther-like church to do a one-day seminar on worship. I was surprised by the invitation—I don't get many like it. The pastor who invited me told me that most of his colleagues were deeply wary of me, some openly hostile. He told me of one fellow pastor who phoned him to denounce me. He denounced evangelicals as a breed. "What has this man in common with us?" he demanded to know.

"Why don't you come and see?" the host pastor said.

I came with a team of worship leaders and dancers, men and women in their late teens or early 20s. Only a handful of people had registered. Even in the church's tiny sanctuary, they seemed thinly scattered. I kept watching for the man who hated me. Though I never met him, I knew him the moment he entered. He walked in like he was hunting vermin. He sat down, his arms locked across his chest. When we started singing and asked the people to stand, he remained seated. He scrutinized the words on the overhead.

After lunch, we led seminars. The dancers taught basic choreography. The musicians taught basic song writing. And I taught a basic theology of worship. The man came to mine. He sat beside me, spoiling for a fight.

Ten minutes into it, he erupted. A woman commented how the mainline church had compromised the gospel, and he started trading blows with her. He had a litany of evangelical crimes against humanity. The argument escalated, and the host pastor jumped in.

"Well," he said, mild-mannered. "I think the mainline tradition is perhaps somewhat narrow in its ecclesiology and broadly tolerant in its theology. Whereas the evangelical tradition is rigidly narrow in its theology, and somewhat loosey-goosey in its ecclesiology."

A brief moment of silence followed. I seized my opportunity. "Who here are pastors?" I asked. A few put up their hands, including the angry man.

"Let me ask you this," I said. "The young people I brought today, do you like them?"

Everyone did, including the angry man.

"Are there many young people like that in your own churches, who are that passionate, that in love with God, that committed to the church and her mission?"

No, they all said.

"Do you want young people like these in your churches?"

Yes, they all said.

"With all due respect," I said. "I think you don't have them exactly because of your broadly tolerant theology. That theology helped abort a third of their peers. With all due respect, it assisted in a creating a sexual ethic that robbed this generation of intimacy and hope. It has driven most of them out of the church.

"My opinion? If you're really serious about seeing this kind of young people in your churches—not just warming the pews but leading—you might consider being less broadly tolerant."

I went on to speak about how we don't teach our young people to be moral. We teach them to be pure. We call them to be Daniels.

"You can see for yourself," I said, "the difference that makes."

I looked over at the man who hated me. He was stricken. I thought he hated me even more. I thought he would walk out. But to my surprise, he came back for the last session.

To my delight, he stood when we sang. To my amazement, he opened his arms and held them like he was catching rain.

And he sang with gusto. "Great is they faithfulness," he declared. I think he meant it.

Daniel tends to have that effect on people.

I just picked up daily reading again after falling behind a couple of weeks... and here we are with the story of Esther. It's funny because it seems this year I can't get away from this story! It's been sent to me in devotionals. I have repeatedly stumbled acrosss it in various readings I subscribe to. People constantly quote in emails... So I give up. I guess I need to pay attention.
What struck me in today's reading was how God used Queen Vashti's refusal to come to the King to open the door for Esther. Before it even entered the King's heart God's providence made way for Esther to get to the crown. One commentary on this ends with "Let us rejoice that the Lord reigns, and will overrule the madness or folly of mankind to promote his own glory, and the safety and happiness of his people." I find GREAT comfort in this!

I just want to point out to MG (2nd comment) that the proverb was written by Solomon. And according to the proverb, it should be the King himself that went to the desert (went into exile of some sort?), not the other way around by firing the queen >D

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