Dear Citylife – Letter to Congregation from Pastor Um (4/15/20)

Dear Citylife,

This week, as we continue to celebrate this season of Easter, I wanted to share with you some biblical texts that have been very encouraging and hopeful for me. 

1) Esther 4:12-17: “And they told Mordecai what Esther had said.  Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, ‘Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?’ Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, ‘Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.’ Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.” 

You are all aware that Esther was the Queen of Persia (5th Century BC). During the reign of her husband King Ahasuerus (Xerxes I), an enemy of the Jewish people whose name was Haman the Agagite (3:10) wanted to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews. The problem was the king was not even aware that his own wife was a Jew (2:20). So Mordecai, Esther’s cousin, pleads with the Queen to stand as a representative of her own people and to speak with the king and “to beg his favor and plead with him on behalf of her people” (4:8) so that they might be spared. 

This is the scene that we find here in the book of Esther. Queen Esther had no idea that she would be placed in a situation such as this but God had been preparing her for this moment even though she was not aware. Esther was surprised but God was not! It was his plan to use Esther as a representative of God to provide deliverance for his people. 

Therefore, Mordecai comes and exhorts Esther by saying “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (4:13-14). 

The takeaway for us is that no one could have anticipated this pandemic and the way it’s hitting all of us right now. But, rather than completely surrendering to the powerful effects of this virus, we should be asking ourselves, “has God put me in this situation, in this moment for a time such as this? In what ways am I being an ambassador for God in this moment? How am I cultivating spiritual care for my own heart, participating in pastoral care for other church members, and engaging in neighbor care for those in our city who are in great need?”

2) Psalm 139:16 “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. 

Here is another beautiful verse. The Psalmist is talking about the all-knowing, all-seeing God who knew us and “saw” our “unformed substance” (before we were even born)! Therefore, our days were written in God’s book, which means that under his divine, ordained decree, every one of our days was formed for us!

When trouble visits us and discouragement grips our hearts, it is important to remember that every single day of our lives was written into God’s book before we even lived any one of those days! He knew that we would be living in these days even before we were formed and even before the days were formed!

The reason why this verse is so encouraging to me is because God was not caught off guard with this pandemic. He knew this would come, he knew this would visit our lives, and he knew the days ahead of time even before they were lived out by us. He had ordained these days even before the days arrived, which shows me that God is not only all-knowing but also all-powerful. He has full sovereign rule over everything that transpires in our lives. 

Even in the fallenness of our experience, within his sovereign wisdom, he still allows and permits difficult days to confront us. But those days are not outside of his good, sovereign purview. Have confidence that God will guide you, uphold you, and lead you – even in the most difficult of times.

3) 1 Chronicles 12:32 “Of Issachar, men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do”. 

The reason why this verse is important for me is because it shows me that God will give us understanding and discernment for knowing what to do in difficult times. David was gathering all of his mighty men who helped him in war and was taking a census of the numbers of the divisions of the armed troops that he had. In the midst of giving us this account, the narrator tells us that there were men who had understanding of the times.

Because they had understanding and wisdom, they were able to know what Israel ought to do. That is to say, before we can make good decisions in life, and before we can execute or create a plan, we need to receive understanding and wisdom. Perception, knowledge, wisdom and understanding must inform our decision-making. 

To that end, would you please pray for our leadership – that God would equip us with an understanding of this moment and this crisis in order for us to know and determine what we are to do, to lead and guide our church and our people? Make it your own prayer that you will resolve not to make any decisions in life, moving forward from this day, whether big or small without first filling your heart and mind with the knowledge of God so that you will have wisdom and understanding to make good, informed decisions that will be rooted in eternal purposes (“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” – Proverbs 1:7).

4) Psalm 126 “When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, ‘The LORD has done great things for them’ The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad. Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negeb! Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” 

I’d like to end this letter with a reflection on Psalm 126. I know that in a moment such as this, not many of you are dreaming and not many of you are thinking about fortunes or are filled with laughter. The Psalmist is reminding us that every day is a day where our mouths may be filled with laughter. Our mouths should be filled with shouts of joy because the LORD has done great things for us! Therefore, we should be glad. The psalmist is hopeful for the future and we too should be hopeful because we are living with the belief in the power of the resurrection! In verse four, the Psalmist says, “restore our fortunes” and let them be as “streams in the Negeb,” which is a very dry and barren place. Let there be shouts of joy in the midst of tears and weeping because Easter is reminding us that we are living in a season of new beginnings of new creational life and hope where tears will be turned into joy.

Of course, even as I am writing this pastoral letter, this is hitting me personally because I will be burying my spiritual father this weekend. But I truly believe, because I believe in the gospel and the power of the resurrection, that, even though I am weeping for his death and my loss, there shall come a time when there will be shouts of joy – when I will be united with my Savior King and reunited with my spiritual father. 

Dear beloved Citylife saints, do not lose hope. 1 John 3:1-3 reminds us of these beautiful truths: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”

I look forward to seeing you tonight at 7:00pm for “Wednesdays with Pastor Um.” If you do not have the Zoom information from last time, you can get it by emailing jordan@citylifeboston.org

Because He lives,

Pastor Um