by Phil Shahbaz
Nearly every day, shortly after I step into my worn and weathered 2005, Chevy Tahoe, I begin to reflect. I can hear the constant ticking of the old engine. I know it needs to be serviced, but my mind wanders. It goes backward.
I sometimes think about my parents. My dad grew up in in a Christian family but accepted Christ while translating for a Southern Baptist Missionary as he attended university in Istanbul, Turkey. He knew almost immediately that his calling was to be a preacher. He then attended the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut, Lebanon. While preaching on the radio, he met my mother, the receptionist at the time for the radio station. She was born in a small Catholic Village in Lebanon before her family moved to Beirut to support the seminary and help build a Southern Baptist church. They married in 1970, and moved to Chicago, IL to be missionaries for the Southern Baptist Convention.
What are the odds?
I sometimes think about growing up in Chicago. I remember my dad doing donuts in the snow, while behind the wheel of our baby-blue Oldsmobile station wagon. He would pick me up from school, switch the siren on (I have no clue why it had a siren), and proceed to spin the family sedan in circles; right there in front of kids, parents, and teachers. I remember the many houses with Menorah’s in the window of my neighborhood during Christmas time. I was always confused why they didn’t have a tree like we did. I remember visiting my mom on the fifth floor of the bank she worked at. It was always a treat to go to the cafeteria with her for an oversized burger and Jell-O cup. I remember attending baseball and soccer games at old Comiskey Park on the South side. I remember Lake Shore Baptist Church. A small red-brick church with a white steeple. It’s the place I accepted Christ, and the place I was baptized. I remember it well because the water-heater had broke and the water was freezing. I remember the day we moved to Turlock, CA.
What are the odds?
I often think about my years in high school and college. These years are filled with memories of triumphs, failures, barriers broken, or broken hopes. These years are very much marked by choices I made; choices that lead to life-long relationships, or betrayal, choices that were made in service of myself or others, choices that lead to failure or victory, and choices to follow Christ or give in to sin.
All these memories dance in my mind. They dart back and forth as I drive East on the 210 Freeway, with no warning as to what recollection will code my day to come. A lifetimes experiences, good and bad, that have lead to being a Pastor at LBF Church with a wife and four 10-year olds at my side.
What are the odds?
Some folks may look at their lives and see coincidence and irony.
Sometimes I’m tempted to see life that way. But I believe in a Creator whose hand is on every moment of my life, guiding my path.
We just finished a study of the book of Esther at our Men’s Wednesday Night Bible Study. The book of Esther is a story about a young Jewish Woman who is elevated to Queen of Persia, and how she and her cousin Mordecai save the Jews from annihilation at the hands of the Haman the Agagite.
It’s an interesting book because God is never mentioned throughout the text. Yet the book stands as an invitation to read the story looking for God’s activity, God’s purpose at work, and the signs that He is involved.
As we studied the book of Esther, I was surprised at how much I saw my life mirrored in the narrative. I realized that in my own life, when I made decisions that took me away from God, when I behaved selfishly, or sinfully; there were still signs of God’s activity, and God’s purpose at work.
There is evidence today, that He was always involved.
I am not special, but I am special in God’s eyes.
Just like you. And despite your past failures or sin, your belief in Jesus Christ sets you free from a past that may be set with failure and sin.
The book of Esther reminded me that God has a plan for my life, and that despite the moral ambiguity of much of my life, God was present. I was reminded that accidents and coincidence are not part of my story. I may not have seen them as divine moments at the time, yet God’s timing was always providential, and remains as such. And I was reminded to stand with courage, even when it’s not popular to do so.
When God seems absent, when you feel like you are in exile, when you feel like your decisions have separated you from God; do not be deceived by the enemy. God is not done with you and will not abandon His promises.
God CAN and WILL work in the mess and moral ambiguity of our lives, and use our faithfulness, even amidst a compromised world to accomplish His purpose.
The book of Esther challenged me to trust in God’s providence, even when I can’t see it working, and remember that no matter how things get, my Savior is committed to redeeming me and redeeming this world.