(The following is a transcript of Steve Carter’s message For Such a Time as This, part three of the series Where’s God in All of This? The video is also available to you.)
You know, what’s fascinating is, when you go across the country, there are these different accents, you know. And it comes out in certain words. So my mom’s from the East Coast, she’s from New York, and so whenever the word “quarter” comes, you know, you hear “quota.” She’ll talk straight, and then it goes, “quota,” and it changes. You get up to the U.P., and you hear the word, “pop,” and it gets all nasally, you know, “Just pass me some ‘pap.’”
But then you get to California. My home state, the bear-flag state. And there’s something about surfing that brings people to talk in very bizarre ways. It’s like, “Heeeey, bra.” And it’s always talking about, like, “I took the fifty-seven to the five to the four-o-five, got off on Harbor, it was just amazing.” We’ll get back to this.
But I was out there recently, and I decided to go paddle boarding. And standing on basically like a front door with a paddle, and you’re just going out into the ocean. There’s people on the shore, and I’m just paddling. I’m looking out, and, I mean, you can see the horizon line of the Pacific. No clouds in the sky. I mean, it’s just stunning. It’s blue and green. It’s bright. It’s unbelievable. There’s people just sitting on the shore, and I start paddling. And it’s a great workout. When, all of a sudden, I look down, and a school of dolphins begin to swim next to me. And they’re just swimming. And I’m like, “Oh. My. Goodness.”
And there’s this little baby dolphin. And the way that they teach dolphins—that sounds funny—the way that the moms will teach the dolphins is they flop their fins down. And so, all of a sudden, you just see them communicating, and they’re making their little noises coming up. And you’re seeing this little one, just going. And for about fifteen minutes, I’m paddling. And I have this moment where I’m standing, like paddling with a friend of mine, and I look over, and I’m like, “We are tourists in their world.”
Have you ever been in a situation or a circumstance where, above the surface, you can see a ton of stuff, but you forget that there’s a whole world underneath? A whole sense of life. And when you get to the ocean, when you get to the Lake Michigan, you kind of look out, you see the vastness of God. The power. The beauty. The majesty of a great God, a great creator. And that’s just above the surface.
But underneath the surface... is all this life. Is all this beauty. There’s all this power.
What I want to do tonight is I want to walk through the book of Esther. I want to walk through ten chapters in ten minutes. And I want you to just see this book above the surface. I’m gonna walk through and tell you about this story, cause it’s incredible. Some of it we’ve already gone through in the past couple weeks, but you know that King Xerxes rises to power. He throws this big party. A lot of drinking. He calls for his queen. He says, “Hey, wear your crown.”
The queen says, “No.”
He gathers some men together, and they say, “Well, what should we do with this queen?”
And all of his friends say, “Dismiss her. Dismiss her. Reject her. She can’t be the queen.”
So the king goes, “Fine.” He does that.
And we get into chapter two. And in chapter two, the king decides, because some personal attendants come to him and go, “You should have a queen. I see that you’re down. You need to maybe do a competition. Go throughout your entire empire. And every virgin, well, I mean, you take them. Snatch them. Put them in a competition. And then you can choose which one you want to be your queen.”
And so we learn about a woman whose parents have been killed. Her name is Esther. And she’s Jewish, but she kinda hides her identity. And she’s taken. Brought into this empire, brought into this competition—against her will. Just feel that for a second.
But she seems to find favor. She finds favor with the eunuch. She finds favor with the king. And of all of the women that the king could choose to be his bride, the new queen, he looks at Esther. And he gives her a crown.
And then we learn about Esther’s uncle, his name is Mordecai. And he just finds himself following Esther around. He’s outside the king’s gates. And he just is listening and waiting. He always wants to make sure that Esther’s okay. But he hears that there’s this assassination, this conspiracy, this plot to kill Xerxes. And so, Mordecai tells Esther. And Esther tells the king, and it comes to be true. And he, Mordecai, saves the king’s life.
We get to chapter three, and everyone’s bowing down to the new right hand of the king. His name is Haman. And everyone bows down wherever he goes, except for Mordecai. Mordecai will not kneel in his honor. And Haman gets so enraged that he says, “You know what? I’m going to exterminate all of the Jews. Genocide. That’s what I want.” He fabricates a story. He even is willing to pay his own money to make this happen. And the king signs off on it. And the decree is set. And Mordecai hears of this. Esther doesn’t really know about this. But Mordecai hears, because all of the city is bewildered. Couriers are going to every providence in the empire, and they’re bringing this new reality—that in twelve months, every Jew will be killed.
And so Mordecai meets with the queen, Esther, and he begins to tell her, “Do you know what’s gonna happen?” He shows her what has been written. And look what it says in verse fourteen of chapter four: “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place,”—Mordecai says—“but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”
Esther reads this. And look what it says, “Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: ‘Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa,”—the capital city—“and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants 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.’”
See, in those days, a queen could not show up to see the king unless she was summoned. And if she’s not summoned, she shows up, he could actually put her in jail and kill her. And Mordecai is saying, “Man, just for such a time as this.” For thirty days, the king has not summoned Esther. But Esther decides to show up. And you see that Xerxes has like this heart, this desire, to see her. And he says, “What do you need? What do you want?”
And she says, “I’d like to meet with you. I’d like to have a banquet with you.” Well, Haman has his own side of the story. Haman’s this guy who is so excited because he has the king in his pocket. He’s got this plan to exterminate all the Jews. And he just keeps rising and rising in influence. And one day, verse nine, chapter five, it says that “Haman went out that day happy and in high spirits. But when he saw Mordecai at the king’s gate and observed that he neither rose nor showed fear in his presence, he was filled with rage against Mordecai.” Everyone else rises, shows fear, kneels. And Haman is angry.
Haman goes home to his wife and his friends and he’s going, “Do you know what is going on? Only one person does not show me respect.” And then “his wife”—verse fourteen—“and all his friends said to him, ‘Have a pole set up, reaching to a height of fifty cubits,”—which is seventy-five feet—“and ask the king in the morning to have Mordecai impaled on it. Then go with the king to the banquet and enjoy yourself.’ This suggestion delighted Haman, and he had the pole set up.”
Chapter five, we learn that, after this, Haman goes, “Ah, I can’t wait. I just gotta go tell the king.” At night. But we see that, in chapter six, the king just can’t sleep. Look what it says in verse one of chapter six, “That night the king could not sleep; so he ordered the book of the chronicles, the record of his reign, to be brought in and read to him.” He can’t sleep, and he just said, “Hey, read my biography to me. Tell me all the great things that I’ve done.” Well, when they open it up, it comes to the exact moment where it says that there was a conspiracy plot to kill Xerxes, but Mordecai uncovered it.
And the king goes, “Well, did we ever pay actual honor to Mordecai?” And he begins to think about it, and he goes, “I don’t think we ever did.” And at this moment, the Scriptures say, he sees Haman walking up to the garden. And he goes, “Hey, hey, who is that? Oh, it’s Haman.” And he brings Haman in to have a conversation. And I want you to hear this, cause this is some of the best, most unbelievable writing in all of the Scripture.
Look what it says in verse seven: “So...” There was this question in verse six, actually, it says that “Haman thought to himself, ‘Who is there that the king would rather honor than me?’” The king goes, “I want to actually honor someone. I want to bring honor to someone. And Haman’s standing there going, “It’s gotta be me. It’s gotta be me.” And, all of a sudden, you begin to start to see that Haman begins to throw like this narcissistic party in his brain. Like, “If the king asks me what the party should be, I’ve got some ideas. I’ve got some ideas for how the king can honor me.”
And look what it says: “So he answered the king,”—this is how you can honor—“For the man the king delights to honor,”—That’s me! That’s me!—“have them bring a royal robe the king has worn and a horse the king has ridden, one with a royal crest placed on its head. Then let the robe and horse be entrusted to one of the king’s most noble princes. Let them robe the man the king delights to honor, and lead him on the horse through the city streets, proclaiming before him, ‘This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!’”
And then the king responds, “‘Go at once,’” the king commanded Haman. ‘Get the robe and the horse and do just as you have suggested for Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king’s gate. Do not neglect anything you have recommended.’”
Can you imagine being in that moment? Like, “I’m gonna get honored! I’m gonna get honored! I’m gonna get the king’s robe. I’m gonna get the king’s horse... What!? Mordecai!? I did not see that coming.” And now... Haman has to go and lead the Mordecai parade. Walking in front of Mordecai, pulling his horse, and look what it says, “So Haman got the robe and the horse. He robed Mordecai, and led him on horseback through the city streets, proclaiming before him, “This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!” “This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor.”
And Mordecai’s just riding. Can you imagine what Haman must’ve felt? He gets done leading this parade through the capital city. He runs home, and he is just filled with anger and frustration and shame. And he’s about to kind of unload in front of his wife and his friends, when all of the eunuchs from the king say, “No, no, you’re requested for a banquet. Come back and meet with the king and the queen.”
And, all of a sudden, as the three of them are sitting there, the king says, “Oh, Esther, what is it that you want?”
And Esther says, “Let me tell you what I want. I want you to know that my people have been sold. My people are about to be annihilated.”
And the king’s like, “What are you talking about? Who could’ve ever done this?”
And, at this moment, Esther says, “That decree that you made? It’s for my people, the Jewish people. And it’s all because of that vile man, Haman.”
And, all of a sudden, the king realizes he’s been tricked. And he gets enraged. The Scripture says he walks outside, and as he’s outside, Haman goes to Esther, begins to plead for his life, like, “Please, please, please.”
But then he trips. And he falls on top of Esther. At this exact same moment, the king is walking in. and the Scriptures basically say, “Oh, now what? You’re trying to assault my wife?”
And one of the eunuchs goes, “What’s that thing out there? That’s a huge pole to impale someone? Who are they going to impale?”
And the king goes, “No. Not Mordecai. That’s Haman.” And then Xerxes says, “I’m gonna fill a brand-new decree. What was decreed for all the Jews to be annihilated? No. that’s not gonna happen.”
And he writes one. All the couriers go throughout the land. And they say, “This isn’t going to happen.” And what’s amazing is, to the Jewish people, this story of Esther became one of their central holidays. It’s called Purim. Because there was a day in which they were going to be annihilated, exterminated. But someone had the courage to rise up for such a time as this and speak to the king, and it changed everything.
And Mordecai went from someone who just sat outside the gates of the king to King Xerxes’ right-hand man, with his horse and his robe. And that is how Esther ends.
Just on the surface, it’s a great story. But when you flip through the pages, God’s not mentioned anywhere on the surface of this book. But, let me ask you this. If you ask me, “Where’s God in all of this? Where’s God in the story of Esther?” I want to tell you, under the surface, He’s everywhere.
I was reading this book by Brian Gregory, and he had this one line that I’ve just taken and kind of expanded on. It really began to help me see how God is working and orchestrating under the surface all the time. Where’s God in all of this? Let me walk through the book of Esther real quick and show you.
Where’s God in all of this? It just so happens that King Xerxes rises to power. It just so happens the king throws a wild party. It just so happens queen Vashti says no. It just so happens that King Xerxes’ inner circle advises him to dismiss Vashti. Where’s God in all of this? It just so happens that King Xerxes opens up a competition for a new queen. It just so happens that Esther is taken for this competition. It just so happens Esther wins the favor of the eunuchs. It just so happens Esther wins the favor of the king. It just so happens Mordecai learns about an assassination plot. It just so happens that Mordecai’s name is added to the book of records for King Xerxes’ reign. Where’s God in all of this?
It just so happens Mordecai doesn’t bow down to Haman. It just so happens that Haman casts lots, and it falls a year away for the Jews to be exterminated. It just so happens that King Xerxes hadn’t called for Esther in thirty days. It just so happens that Esther finds favor with the king again. It just so happens that Esther defers the meeting. It just so happens that Mordecai doesn’t bow down to Haman again. Where’s God in all of this?
It just so happens that Haman decides not to wait eleven months to kill Mordecai. It just so happens that Haman goes to visit the king. It just so happens that the king can’t sleep. It just so happens that the book of memorable deeds opens to the exact spot where Mordecai’s name is recorded. It just so happens that Haman shows up then. It just so happens that Haman doesn’t get to speak about the pole he’s build for Mordecai. It just so happens the king wants to honor Mordecai and not Haman. It just so happens that when Haman returns home from honoring his enemy Mordecai, he is quickly hurried away to dinner with the king and queen. Where’s God in all of this?
It just so happens... that the king returns when it looks as if Haman is assaulting his queen. It just so happens that a eunuch sees the seventy-five-foot pole being built for Mordecai. It just so happens that Haman dies on the gallows meant for Mordecai. It just so happens that the king issues a new decree so that the Jews can be delivered. It just so happens that Mordecai takes Haman’s spot as the king’s right-hand man. Where’s God in all of this?
He’s under the surface. There’s this beautiful word called “providence.” Where it’s as if God almost is working and orchestrating and creating these waves and movement that, above the surface, you can easily miss. Above the surface, the story of Esther is incredible. But under the surface, when you reflect on what God is doing, all you can honestly say is, “Only God.”
And that’s true for me. That’s true for Willow. That’s true for you.
I mean, I grew up in Southern California. My parents weren’t believers of Jesus. But it just so happens my parents put me in a Christian school that had a church connected to it. And it just so happens that two juniors in high school took me under their wing. And it just so happens, a few years later, I got to baptize my mom. And it just so happens, two years later, as a sophomore in college, I got to baptize my dad. And it just so happens that as my dad was coming out of the water, he said, “I need to sell everything.” He felt this prompting and whisper from God to sell everything and move to Michigan—not sure why you do that—but to move to Michigan to restore a relationship with his folks. And it just so happens that he did.
It just so happens that this girl breaks up with me in college, and I’m like, “I just gotta get out of California and seeing white Honda Civics.” And it just so happens that I go. And it just so happens that a church is beginning at this exact same time. And it just so happens that my college roommate knows the pastor of this new church. And it just so happens that, because of that relationship, I get in at the beginning of this church. And it just so happens, as a film major, God uses this church to say, “You gotta go and begin to be a preacher and a pastor. And it just so happens that I go back to California. To school, to study for ministry. And it just so happens that that same pastor gets called out one day, saying, “Who are you discipling?” And it just so happens that my name comes to the forefront. And it just so happens that he calls me. And it just so happens that someone else that I was trying to get an internship with said no. And it just so happens... that I say yes. And it just so happens that I lived in this basement in Michigan. And it just so happens that during this season, I meet Bill. And it just so happens that he becomes this mentor. And it just so happens that I walk along the beach and I ask him questions. And it just so happens that I get kind of opportunities to teach and to grow and to learn. And it just so happens I get this chance to go back to California and to preach. And it just so happens, four years later, that he calls. And it just so happens that this opportunity is there. And when I look back at my life, all I can say is “Only God.”
It’s all I can say.
Last year, I drove out to Dr. B’s house. We sat down. He wouldn’t even let me go inside for a few moments, and he goes, “Look at this bench. This is the bench Bill came to tell me that we were going to start a church.” And then, he looks at me, and he goes, “I should’ve never met Bill.”
I was like, “What do you mean?”
It just so happens that Dr. B was a teacher at Wheaton. Professor, scholar. Overseeing New Testament. And it just so happens that there was a president at Trinity International University. And it just so happens that this president just kept bugging Dr. B. And it just so happens that, one day, he finally gave up and said, “Yes, I will leave Wheaton for a couple of years, and I will go to Trinity.” And it just so happens that there was a student that was transferring from a college in Iowa to TIU. And it just so happens that that student gets put in Dr. B’s class. And it just so happens that that class is on Acts chapter two. And it just so happens that, in that class, the vision for the church and what it could be began.
That was Bill. And Dr. B. And, all of a sudden, you being to think about this like, it just so happens. It just so happens. It just so happens. And all you can say is “Only God. Only God.”
I look at our regionals. I look at North Shore and Huntley. Crystal Lake. Wheaton and South Lake and Chicago and Casa. It has all of these it just so happens. It just so happens. It just so happens. That you get to this moment that you go, “This isn’t coincidence. This is God’s providence. This is only God, God orchestrating.”
And the same is true for you.
I know some of you are sitting here going, “Steve, your story right there that you just rattled off, and Willow’s story, that’s just too nice. It’s not my story. I guarantee you I could back up a truck that has more pain and brokenness that would just probably compete well. Sadness and trauma and distractions and pain and death and brokenness. And that’s why I love the book of Esther. Cause maybe you’re sitting here going, “I don’t think God could use me. I don’t think I could have an Only-God story.” Cause maybe, maybe for you, you’ve kind of suppressed your faith. Maybe nobody in your family knows that you are a believer. Or nobody in your workplace knows.
You know what? You’re in good company, cause Esther held her identity for a while.
Maybe for some of you, you’re like, I don’t think God could use me. I married someone who’s not a follower of Jesus. I’m here, and they’re still at home. You’re in good company, cause that’s the story of Esther. And yet God can still orchestrate good, like these waves can build underneath the surface, that you can be a part of.
Maybe for some of you, you’re saying, “You don’t understand. I was just given this decree. It feels like a death sentence. The medical report just came in. It doesn’t look good.”
You know, yesterday, I found myself in the living room of a Willow legend, in my opinion. I met Randy right away when I joined the staff. He was coming on the weekend, and he just had the biggest smile. And I didn’t know, in the early 2000s, he was diagnosed with cancer. And the cancer, actually, kind of went away. He was a part of Easter 2007, they like showed his video, and he told his story of a new life and redemption and this opportunity to be healed. A few years later... he got four different types of cancer. Not just one, four—and he beat three of them. And you would never know it. And he bought all of the CDs from Easter 2007. He became a part of the cancer ministry here at Willow. And every doctor’s appointment, he would bring a CD and just go to encourage someone.
And he gave a CD—I sat in his living room, and he handed me a CD. He said, “Watch this. It’ll change you.”
I’m like, “Awesome!”
And I began just to see this man. And he was home from hospice. And he might be watching right now. But I’ll tell you what, in the midst of a difficult season, as I sat there with the Hospice Chaplain, that chaplain looked at Randy and said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a disciple like you.”
And he teared up and said, “All I’ve ever wanted was to be fully devoted to Jesus Christ.”
And I look at all of his story: And it just so happened, this. It just so happened, this. It just so happened, this. It just so happened, this. And yet, even in the most painful, difficult season of this man’s life—“I just wanna be a fully devoted... and I’m gonna hand out CDs, and I’m gonna pray, and I’m gonna encourage.”
And I left... just tears coming down my face, going, “I hope I’m as brave and as bold as that man is.”
But it’s amazing for us. Cause when we look in hindsight, it’s always 20/20, isn’t it? I mean, we can look back, and we say, “Oh, man, just so happened that, just so happened that, that’s gotta be God at work.”
But when Mordecai sees Esther, he comes up to her, and he goes, “You know what? God has put you in this position for such a time as this.” And I think you are where you are for such a time as this—and that is true for you and I. With your one and only life, everything in your story has been building up to this season, right here, and right now.
And I’m tired of just looking back in the past and seeing Only God. I want to see God in the present. I want to know “How is God working around me?” And I want to join Him in that... willfully. Bringing honor and glory to Him.
So how do we do that?
Gonna take you to surfing. Cause I think that this has taught me about how God works.
And the truth is many of you sit on the shore. You got your chair and your towel and your like Mai Tai and your nice book, and you’re just reading. And you’re missing it. For such a time as this. It’s gonna require that every one of us understands that we weren’t meant for the shore, we were meant for more, and it’s gonna cause us to get out there and start to paddle.
Now, there is something about paddling. And you’ve gotta be in the water, and you’re like, “Oh my goodness.” And waves are breaking all around you, and you’re going under the water, and you’re paddling and you’re paddling. And some of you... some of you are going through this life, and you’re like, “I have no purpose. I have no vision. I have no understanding what my specific gifts from God are.”
And you know what you are? You’re just in the water. And you’re paddling, and you’re paddling. But the current and the waves, they’re knocking you off, and you’re falling and I just get back. But I’m on my board. And I just want to tell you, at least you’re not on the shore. You’re in the water. But the thing about surfing, and the thing about God’s providence—the thing about Only-God stories... is it starts with the paddle. But you’ve gotta be in the right position.
If you’ve ever seen surfers, they stand outside, and they kind of watch where the water is breaking. And they want to get to place where they can actually get out to the water, get out to the waves, get out to the right spot, so that when those waves break, they have the best chance to ride it. And you can’t just be all over here and all over here and all over here—you gotta find the right position, where you can utilize your gifts. Where you can put your purpose, the way God wired you, on display.
But once you find yourself in position, something happens. It requires a level of patience. And you will sit on your board for a moment. Maybe two. A set of waves will come, and they’ll break. And another set of waves will come, and they’ll break. And, all of a sudden, you are just waiting. Every surfer knows, you’re not just waiting for this wave, you’re always peeking—is that a better wave behind it? Is there another set coming in?
The Scriptures talk about one of the central things that will form you as a disciple of Jesus is learning the art of waiting well. “Strength will rise,” the Scriptures say, “as you wait upon the Lord.” And many of us are just going here and here and here; we’re out of position. We’re just paddling in the water—we’re all over the place. We haven’t learned how to just be patient—watching and waiting. But then, all of a sudden, you see it. You see this wave, and it’s just coming, and you’re like, “That’s my wave.”
And you start to paddle. Oh, my goodness. And you start to go, and you start to go. And there’s something that happens. Every surfer knows this, that the wave comes from underneath, and it will start to push you, and as it pushes you, you’ll find yourself standing up and riding this wave. Yeah, yeah. That’s it, though. Yeah! And, all of a sudden, you’re like, “Oh my goodness, I’m surfing! It’s happening!” And you feel the thrill of your life.
But let me tell you, if your posture is off. Oh, it’s not gonna be good, man. You’re like, getting turned and turned... you’re just gonna fall. But it’s gonna require this. And it’s your posture. If your posture is off, you’re done. You’ve gotta paddle. You’ve gotta get in the right position. And, all of a sudden, all of this stuff is burning and churning underneath, this wave is forming. You’re patient. You begin to see what God is orchestrating—it just so happens, it just so happens, it just so happens, it just so happens. And your posture can’t be one of pride and ego. Your posture can’t be like Haman. Your posture has to be like Mordecai and Esther. Your posture has to be ready. So when you feel the push of God’s wave, you’re gonna get up, you’re gonna ride that, and you feel the thrill of God working in and through you.
So why would you wanna be on the shore? Get a good tan? Cause it’s safe? It’s comfortable?
For such a time as this, friends.
Would you get out on the water and you just start to paddle?
And I know that some of you have just hit some waves, and you’ve hit some moments, and you feel like you kind of getting knocked of the board, and this is just different. And it’s hard. I get it. I know. But God is strengthening you, God is teaching, God is working in and through you.
And you’re gonna get yourself in the right position, you’re gonna have the right patience, and God’s gonna be shaping this posture in you. And I know for some of you this sounds so difficult. But that’s why it’s Palm Sunday. And Jesus is paddling. Jesus is in the right position. He’s thirty-three years old, and he’s got this patience, but it’s all been building and leading and moving towards Jerusalem. And what’s His posture? Not to ride in power. Not to ride trying to gain accolades. And not trying to have all this stuff. What is His posture? That of riding in on a donkey. Riding. Humility. Meek. Strong. Guided by God. Leading. Riding this wave into Jerusalem.
And for some of you, I know you are in difficult season, but please take comfort, Jesus teaches us how to do this. Follow Him. Follow His posture.
Esther. Esther had the chance to stand up for such a time as this to save her people. And it was a bold, brave thing. Because women didn’t have the rights that they have today. And she put herself out there. And she goes, “Man, if I’m gonna perish, I’m gonna perish. But I’ve gotta do this.”
And Jesus, in Holy Week, did the same thing—not just for the Jews but for all of humanity. Every person who wants a relationship with Him, Jesus goes, “I’m coming there. And I’m gonna stand up. And I’m gonna be willing to enter into this story. And I’m gonna ride what God is orchestrating. And it just so happened that this was there. And it just so happened this. And it just so happened this. But I’m gonna create the greatest Only-God story ever told to rescue and redeem every person who wants that free gift of eternity and grace and peace through God.”
Are you on the shore? Are you just kinda scanning the horizon lines and looking at all the birds that are flying in the air? Or can you get under the surface, see how God is orchestrating all of this? So that your gifts, your story, your life can be an Only-God moment…
For such a time as this.