A Modern-Day Esther

“The person I want to be more like this year is ___________.”

This was the statement we were asked to complete as part of a group sharing activity at a recent MOPS meeting. (In case you’re not familiar with MOPS, it stands for “Mothers of Preschoolers. No, I am NOT a MOP. I guess I’m a MOT: “Mother of Teenager.” But I do serve this local MOPS group as a “Mentor Mom.”)

Ok. Back to the fill-in-the-blank. Because my mind went blank. I couldn’t think of anyone. So I opted for the standard Sunday School answer:

Jesus.

(It’s the answer that’s always right, right?)

And while I DO desire to be more like Jesus, after the events of this past week I now have a new name I would fill in that blank:

Naghmeh Abedini.

Have you heard of her?

She is a modern-day “Esther.”

Naghmeh’s husband, Saeed, a pastor, has been wrongfully imprisoned in his native country of Iran for his Christian faith. Naghmeh has advocated tirelessly over the past two and a half years for his release, boldly approaching visiting diplomats, writing letters, giving television interviews, and speaking publicly about her husband’s plight. This month she organized three weeks of focused prayer and fasting, calling on fellow believers to join her in believing God for a breakthrough in Saeed’s situation.

When she heard that President Obama would be unexpectedly visiting her hometown of Boise, Idaho on January 21, she believed it was no coincidence, but a direct answer to those many prayers. So Naghmeh sent the president a respectful, impassioned letter requesting a meeting. She called on her people to pray that God would make the improbable, possible. Like Esther before she approached the king, Naghmeh fasted and prayed for three days. The day before the president’s scheduled visit, she received word that he had indeed agreed to meet with her and her two young children!

She posted this on her Facebook page last night:

I got to meet with President Obama today! The kids and I were in a small office room with him and he was gracious with his time (we met for over 10 minutes). I told him that I had refrained from food for 3 days and prayed and fasted and God had ordained this meeting. He shook his head and smiled. I told him that the kids and I prayed for him and loved him (that as Christians that is what we are to do). He said he needed prayer. He said that getting Saeed out is a top priority and he is working very hard to get Saeed home back to our family. Jacob then asked him “Mr. President, can you please bring my daddy home for my birthday?” President Obama asked Jacob when his birthday was and Jacob said March 17…President Obama said “I am going to try very hard to make that happen, Jacob. I am going to try very hard…” Praise God!

What an amazing story!

All because of her unfailing love for her husband. All because of her unrelenting faith in an Almighty God. All because she called people to fast and pray. All because she refuses to give up.

Yes. I want to be more like her.

More fierce in my love, more persistent in my prayers, more gutsy in my faith.

Unlike Esther, the end of Naghmeh’s story is still being written. We don’t yet know how it will end. (Whatever the outcome, we know it will be good. Because GOD is good.) But I’m thankful that, in the meantime, God is using her faith and boldness to challenge and inspire us, just like Esther, “for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14b, NIV)

Naghmeh

 

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Not a Fan

I didn’t make my high school cheer squad.  I blame that on the unfortunate fact that, try as I might, I never could quite get those darn splits. I did get a chance to fill in several times as the school mascot, a “sabercat.”  (Let’s just say that  jumping up and down while peering between two “saberteeth” in a sweaty, paper mache headpiece that flattened one’s hair into a matted mess was not as glamorous as one might think.)

Despite those traumatic experiences, I’m still a cheerleader at heart.  I love to root for my favorite teams, whether they be Central High School, the Denver Broncos, or the U.S. Olympic athletes.  I am a loyal and enthusiastic fan.

So it should come as no surprise that as a Christian, I also like to cheer for the “home team.”  I love me a good testimony.  I applaud at baptisms.  I tear up at missionary stories.  Gimme a J!  J!  Gimme an E!  E!  (I’ll stop now.  You get the idea.)

I recently finished a book, however, that is really messing with my cheerleader mentality.  It’s called Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman, pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky.  Pastor Kyle’s basic premise is that Jesus was more interested in gathering followers than attracting fans.  He came to this conclusion after studying the gospels:  “It wasn’t the size of the crowd Jesus cared about; it was their level of commitment.”

The dictionary defines fan as “an enthusiastic admirer.”  Idleman relates this term to our modern-day approach to Christianity:

“…I think Jesus has a lot of fans these days.  Fans who cheer for him when things are going well, but who walk away when it’s a difficult season.  Fans who sit safely in the stands cheering, but they know nothing of the sacrifice and pain of the field.  Fans of Jesus who know all about him, but they don’t know him.”

Jesus isn’t looking to fill a stadium with fans or a sideline with cheerleaders.  He is recruiting participants who will get in the game.  And leave everything on the field.

“Most of us don’t mind Jesus making some minor change in our lives but Jesus wants to turn our lives upside down.  Fans don’t mind him doing a little touch-up work, but Jesus wants complete renovation.  Fans come to Jesus thinking tune-up, but Jesus is thinking overhaul.  Fans think a little makeup is fine, but Jesus is thinking makeover.  Fans think a little decorating is required, but Jesus wants a complete remodel.  Fans want Jesus to inspire them, but Jesus wants to interfere with their lives.”

Whoa.  I’m such a wimp.  If I whined when the Sabercat Hat messed with my hair, how do you think I might react when Jesus wants to mess with my life?

“There is no way to follow Jesus without him interfering with your life.  Following Jesus will cost you something.  Following Jesus always costs something.”

I’ve been challenged along these lines lately by the example of another pastor, Saeed Abedini.  If you’re unfamiliar with his story, Saeed is an Iranian born American citizen who has been imprisoned in Iran’s notoriously deadly Evin Prison since this past September.  His crime?  Being a follower of Jesus, in a country where following Jesus can literally cost you everything.

Last month a letter from Saeed was successfully smuggled out of prison.  In it, he relays some of what holding on to his faith is costing him.  But he also shares how his imprisonment and suffering have afforded him “golden opportunities” to point others to “The Shining Morning Star.”  The letter reads a lot like other letters written to the early church from ancient prison cells.  I think the church today could use more letters like these.

So I’m compelled to ask myself:  When was the last time my faith cost me something?  Messed with my plans?  Interfered with my life?

Am I a fan or a follower?  That is the question Jesus asks each of us.

I’m still pretty “rah rah” when it comes to my relationship with Jesus.  I’m passionate about His church and loyal to His cause.  But I’m laying down my pom poms and lacing up my cleats instead.  Because there’s work to be done.

And I am not a fan.

“He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.” (Mark 2:14b, NLT)

*The quotes shared above are from the introduction and the first twenty or so pages of Not a Fan.  The rest of the book is good too!  Kyle offers helpful insights into what it really means to be a follower of Jesus.

**Please take three minutes to listen to Saeed’s letter here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfBeRICdCcU.  Trust me, it will do your faith good.

 

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