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Nov 2017

Loving Kindness

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Loving Kindness

I’ve been spending time with my nephews lately. It’s been a struggle to find the time to sit down and write this. I’m actually supposed to be on the road driving home now but I’m sitting at my parent’s house writing this blog because I’ve been looking forwarding to writing this post for a while now.

I want to talk to you about Esther. Yeah, I know you’ve heard the story before but we’re not going to actually talk about the story. We’re going to talk about the book itself.

Esther is considered a great work even in secular circles. Many literary scholars have written about and studied the text because it is so well written. Esther includes all the different literary devices. It has motifs, chiasms, allusions, foreshadowing, metaphors, etc. You name it; it’s in there. There is very little about the book that is obvious or as it seems. The writer, someone that remains a mystery to us, was egregiously talented. There is so much that is hidden in the complexity of the text that I could easily write my next 10 posts about this book and only start to scratch the surface.

What you may not know is that it was actually a controversial book for its time. In fact, it almost wasn’t accepted into the biblical canon. It turns out that there is a list of criteria that had to be met in order for the priests to accept a new addition to the Old Testament canon. Some of the criteria included things like:

1.     It needed to agree with the Torah,

2.     It needed widespread acceptance

3.     It needed to be an inspired work

4.     It needed to be written a certain time period

5.     It needed to mention the name of God

If it didn’t include all these criteria it couldn’t even be considered for being added to the Bible. This means the book of Esther had a problem because it doesn’t mention the name of God in any form. According to the rules, it couldn’t even be considered for addition to the canon. To add insult to injury the book’s main character was a woman, which was also highly irregular.  There’s so much working against this little book, so how did it get to be in our Bibles? What changed the minds of the priests and convinced them to consider it?

It comes down to one word.

חֶסֶד

Transliterated that’s spelled “checed”. The book of Esther is littered with this word. It’s everywhere. You could actually call it a keyword in the text.

Now I need to tell you something about this word and I promise not to go into a whole word study (even though I would love to). This word cannot be translated into English because there is no English equivalency. Some texts translate it as “loving kindness” others as “favor”.

Regardless of how you want to translate the word, you have to recognize that the word comes from God. All love, all kindness, all favor comes from God. The priests knew this too but this was because they were intimately familiar with the Torah (first five books of the Bible). When they read in the text of Esther about how she was shown favor (חֶסֶד) everywhere she went that made them think of another story.

You might remember that there was another character from the Bible that was shown favor (חֵן or chen) everywhere he went, Joseph. In Genesis chapter 39, Joseph found favor in the eyes of Potiphar and the text tells us this is because the Lord was with Joseph.

This means that as the priests read this story they were thinking about the favor shown on Joseph and then knew that it came from God. The writer of Esther knew this too. It’s what’s called an allusion. And while I wasn’t there while they argued about whether or not to include it, I’m sure that the favor of God played a role.

What is favor to you? Did you know all the love and kindness in your life comes from God? The blessings shown to Esther testified of God’s presences in her life and changed the hearts and minds of those around her. The favor of God preserved a book of the Bible but has it changed you lately?

There are so many hidden blessings from God all around us. May you find favor everywhere you go and may you remember that it is a blessing from God.   

 

Johnathan Coker is one of the founders of Enspire Productions. He is currently a teacher at Chisholm Trail Academy. 

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Good, Not Grape.

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Good, Not Grape.

Since moving to the strange land of Michigan, my wife Stephanie and I have discovered the wonderful pastime of fruit picking. If you’ve never gone to what’s called a “U-pick,” let me lay down some context for you.

It’s basically what it sounds like. Families or companies plant a vineyard, some fruit trees, and they invite the public to come and pick the fruit themselves.

It’s cheaper and more fun for the people picking, and it’s free labor for the planters. Win-win.

One day Steph and I went to our local U-pick, and the worker told us that they had concord grapes available for picking. Not expecting too much, we went and picked some concord grapes. As we were picking, I decided to taste one.

Friends. I’ve absolutely had grapes before in my life — but nothing like this. All of those crazy delicious grape flavored drinks and candies are based on a real flavor. It was as if my tastebuds went to Heaven for a fraction of a second.

These delights are what I imagine God was looking for when He planted His vineyard. Let’s jump into the story in Isaiah chapter 5.

1 Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. 2 He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines (or Vine of Sorekh — literally, the vine of choicest grapes); he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.
Isaiah 5:1–2

After all of the preparation that the gardener undertook, how disappointing it must have been to grow some measly wild grapes! Check it out, here’s a visual comparison between the two.

Grape Comparison

To alleviate any confusion, the dense and delicious concord grapes are on the top, and the small and sour wild grapes are on the bottom.

Look, I’m not set out to destroy wild grapes. They are a wonderful addition to nature, but not when delicious concord grapes were planted. If you were a U-pick owner and wild grapes grew where you planted your vaunted concord grapes, wouldn’t you be upset?

I think more often than not, we act a lot more like the wild grapes than the heavenly concord grapes. Notice that all of the nutrients that the gardener supplied were absorbed. The walls and tower were taken advantage of, since no travelers or wild animals ate the fruit. Perhaps something more is at play here. What if the vineyard was planted not for the purpose of growing fruits, but for the purpose of displaying the gardener’s character?

Hmm. If that’s the case, then wild grapes are a pretty good, but not great representation of God’s character. But really, when truly applied, how useful is pretty good? Let’s say you’re looking for a job. You add a friend on your resume as a character reference. Your potential employer calls him up and your buddy says, “Oh, yeah! He’s pretty good.” Pretty good? He might as well just say average. Average. Is this what the vineyard is saying about the gardener’s character? My boy C. S. Lewis states it this way:

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

God wants so much more for us than pretty good. God wants us to be more than pretty good.

But what if I’m producing wild grapes where God intended concord grapes?

Fortunately, our gardener himself is the antidote. We have hope. Rather than giving up on his failed vineyard, the gardener did something crazy. This beloved Gardener saw that His vineyard wasn’t producing correctly, so He chose to plant Himself. He became the vine, the source of strength for us. He promises that if we are attached to Him, then it is impossible to bear only pretty good fruit.

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. (Jn 15:1–2, 5)

 

 

Jonny has been involved with Enspire Productions since 2009. He is currently enrolled in the MDiv. program at the Andrews University Theological Seminary.


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Why you should love those selfish, destructive, unreliable STUDENTS (From the mind of a discouraged English Teacher)

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Why you should love those selfish, destructive, unreliable STUDENTS (From the mind of a discouraged English Teacher)

As I sat in my room today, fed up with the world, as my study hall kids left in a bustling herd of destruction and chaos, full of gossip, malice, and deceit- unmotivated to do anything beneficial to their situations, I wanted to collapse beneath my desk. 

How often will this carousel keep turning? Will I ever be able to get off? The faces keep changing, but the ride is the same. All I want for them is to be passionate about something! Where has the passion gone? It’s not there in this generation known as generation Z.  

As a Millennial, I can recall fond moments of passion and intrigue when it came to learning with my fellow students. I would get EXCITED about things. The apathy found within the students that roam these halls disgusts me and sometimes straight up discourages me. What can I do to feed them PASSION? What can I do to LOVE them? What can I do? 

I must admit, there are days when I don’t have the answers. I find that is true of most days. It’s easier to roll my eyes when I see the “disturbed” girl once again bursting through the doors of the office in tears, flinging herself upon the secretary. It’s easier to say some snarky remark to that annoying sophomore with glasses who asks one too many STUPID questions. It’s easier to yell SHUT UP when you overhear students ONCE AGAIN gossiping terribly about one another. It’s easier to ignore the annoying ones. To ridicule the ridiculous ones. To favor the easier ones. IT’S EASIER. 

But if you really stop. If you really stop and take a look. If you strip away the noise and the chaos . . . if you take down the masks they pull on, and tear down the walls they build up, you will find one interesting thing- THEY ARE ALL THE SAME. 

Yes, some are handsome, and some are pretty . . . some are fat and others are thin . . . some grasp math equations and others can produce a beautiful essay . . . but at the end of the day . ..  in the darkness of their bedrooms and beneath the covers . . . lie vessels of confusion, fear, and insecurity. 

Why love them? Why smile when it’s easier to frown? Why answer that annoying question just one more time? 

Because if you don’t . . . perhaps . . . no one else will… 

You see . . . they need you to love them. It may seem like they don’t . . . it may seem as if they have enough self esteem . . . and Lord knows, perhaps some have enough . . . but the reality is . . . each one is just a voice lost amongst a tempest . . . trying to shout the loudest, run the fastest, be the smartest, sing the best, act with the most quality . . . how can they have passion . . . if they don’t have love?  

I imagine that the Lord sits at his desk, looking at us unruly teachers as his pupils. How many times do we discourage him? Annoy him? Glare at him? Ridicule him? Disrespect Him? The truth is, we are the same to Him as they are to us- yet what is his response?  

Perfect, undeserving, unrelenting, unrequited in some cases- LOVE. 

So . . .  

The next time a student sneezes on you, steals from you, lies to you, cheats on you, fights in front of you, cusses near you, annoys you, screams at you, pushes you, or just stares at you when you want to be alone . . . or won’t leave your side when you’re absolutely sick of their pudgy faces-  

Praise the Lord. 

Praise the Lord because of how He deals with you.  

Why should we love them? 

Because we need HIM to love us.  

And after all, 

Isn’t that why we were placed here? 

So be of good cheer and good courage. Today won’t last forever. Neither will the month, or the school year . . . and before you know it, they will be marching down an aisle with a diploma in their hands, and you’ll be asking yourselves- WHERE DID THE TIME GO?

And perhaps, you may miss the little monsters . . .  

Just perhaps. 

Praise the Lord every day for them- every day I am reminded just how badly I need the Lord’s grace and love.

So today, I will choose to love them- 

Lord knows . . . I need that kind of love too. 

 

Devin Anavitarte is one of the founders of Enspire Productions. He is currently a teacher at Burton Adventist Academy. 


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