We are in a series called underdogs and in different ways we are all underdogs and we love a good underdog story. We often hear these stories in sports when the team that no one thought could win the game, whose chances were slim, pulls off the upset. Maybe you remember this… USA Hockey.
A true underdog story known as the miracle on ice. The USA had no shot at winning, their chances were slim to none. The Soviet Union had won 5 of the last 6 gold medals in Ice Hockey. They were the heavy favorites to win again because they were a team of experienced professional hockey players going up against an American team of young amateurs. The odds were against them, but they won the game and went on to win the gold medal. It remains a feel good story to this day.
We love underdog stories and the Bible is full of them because God loves the underdog, but I’m not sure God ever really sees an underdog. Last week we heard that while David’s father didn’t see much potential in his youngest son, God saw in him a king. When God looks at us he doesn’t see an underdog, he sees potential, he sees a purpose and a plan, and God sees in all of us a winner.
In 2004, Rory McIlroy was 15 years old, and a budding golfer in the junior ranks. When his dad looked at him however, he didn’t see an ordinary player, he saw a winner. Specifically, he saw in his son the winner of the British Open within the next ten years, so he made the bet. A bookmaker was willing to give Rory’s dad 500 to1 odds that his son would win the British Open before 2014, and so he took it. He placed $350 on his 15 year old son.
This was far from a sure thing. Even as Rory’s career and golf game improved and he started winning big tournaments, the odds were against him because golf is a very fickle game. One day you can be on top, the next day on the bottom. For example, in 2011, Rory was now 22 years old and he was at the top of his game. He had won a few tournaments that year and he was leading at the Masters for the first 3days. He went into the final round 4 strokes ahead, but by the end of the day he was 10 strokes back of the leader and finished tied for 15. In golf, there is no sure thing.
The 2014 British Open was Rory’s dad’s final chance to win the bet he had placed 10 years earlier. In true storybook fashion, Rory won the tournament and his father got $171,000. Now I am not advocating gambling, and I am not saying we should bet on our children’s future, but here is a wonderful example of how God looks at our lives.
When God looks at us, he doesn’t see a failure but a victor. God doesn’t see someone with no potential, but someone who can do all things through Christ Jesus who gives us strength. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God says, I know the plans I have for you. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and future. When God looks at us he doesn’t see an underdog but a top dog and it is that vision, that confidence and assurance, that needs to shape how we think about ourselves.
Think about how different our lives might be if we said, God is for me. God has placed me in this moment for his purpose and plan and so I am going to live for him. Too often what we say is, my chances are slim so I’m not going to step out in faith, but if we could see ourselves the way God sees us, our lives might be different and our world might be changed for the good. We need to stop seeing ourselves as the underdog and trust that God has a purpose and a plan for our lives. God sees a top dog in all of our futures so we need to live with boldness and confidence.
Today we are going to look at a woman who could have chosen the underdog path through her life because everything was against her. Her chances were slim, but instead of giving in to that vision, she trusted God and stepped up and out and became the literal top dog. Our underdog today is Esther and her story is found in the OT. Esther began her life as a true underdog. Not only were her people, the people of Israel, living in exile in Persia, but she was also an orphan. The odds were against her, but we are going to see that Esther goes from underdog to top dog because of some very crucial choices. Esther 2:3-18 (selected)
The first choice that began to turn Esther’s life around was the choice her uncle made when he reached out and took her into his home. (2:7) Mordecai doesn’t know the future for Esther when she is just a young girl, and it would have been crazy for him to think that she could end up being the queen. Mordecai reached out to her because she was part of his family and she needed help. He wants to do the right thing and care for her. He wants to serve her, and it was that simple choice to serve that changed everything. The lesson for us to learn here is that serving others is never a little thing.
Mordecai doesn’t see the path that Esther’s life will take when he offered to help, he doesn’t serve her because she is going to be the queen, he serves her because she is family and she needs a home. He reaches out to help and serve one person and serving one person in any way is never a little thing. Simple acts of service can change a person’s life. Simple acts of service can save a person’s life.
Serving others in love is the core of God’s Kingdom. Serving others, serving the one in need, is the foundation of our faith, and it is the secret to healthy and strong relationships of all kinds. Serving others is the secret to a long and solid marriage. Marriage is not about falling in love, it is not about emotions and feelings but serving. A successful marriage is not about getting along and getting our own way, it is about serving the other person. No marriage will last if serving is not at the core of our thinking and actions.
Serving others is also the core of the church and by that I mean both our willingness to serve one another in the church AND our commitment to serving the one who is not here, the one who needs God, and the one who is simply in need. When churches turn from serving ourselves to serving others – things change. When the church reaches out to serve, God’s blessings flow.
If we are not thinking about how we can serve others in and through the church, then we are missing a big part of what our faith is all about. If we are only coming to worship for what we can get out of it, we will not grow and God’s blessings will not flow into us or through us. Serving others is the foundation of God’s Kingdom, and it needs to be the focus of our faith. We need to be shaped by a commitment to service.
I am thankful for some of the early jobs I had that taught me the value of service. I started as a paperboy and it was instilled in me that I had to serve my customers. The paper not only had to be at people’s homes by 6:00 AM, but it had to be between the doors or under a mat. It couldn’t be thrown from my bike, or placed in a box at the street, it had to be delivered to the door. I learned early on how to serve others.
I was then a dishwasher for a small family run Italian restaurant where the parents who cooked wanted very clean pots and pans. They taught be how to get the copper bottoms to shine, and they didn’t want me to stand around when business was slow, so I cleaned the racks and the walls. I swept up inside and outside, and I helped clean the small grocery store that the family ran as well. I learned to keep busy because I didn’t want Mama and Papa Fatone to scream at me in Italian, but in the process I learned the value of service.
I was then an aide in a nursing home where serving those who are often forgotten and truly in need really hit home. I was serving people that had no one come to visit them, those who couldn’t say or do anything for themselves, and those who were 100% dependent upon me for their care. It was a hard job, physically one of the hardest I’ve had, but it taught me the importance and value of serving others.
I’m thankful for all those times of serving because they helped me see that the church is all about serving God, serving our brothers and sisters, and serving that one person who needs God, and the one person who is simply in need. Serving shapes us and our service to others is what can help them become more than an underdog.
Mordecai served Esther and it was that choice that began to turn things around in Esther’s life. In time she won the favor of many people and then she won the favor of King Xerxes and became the queen. She went from being an underdog to literally the top dog, and so we might think that her story is over and everyone lived happily ever after, but it is not over. There are still lessons to learn from this underdog. During the time that Esther had become queen, a man named Haman had risen in power in King Xerxes court. Haman asked the King to send out an edict that everyone had to bow down to him, and the king did, but Mordecai would not do this.
Time and time again, Mordecai refused to bow down to Haman and when Haman found out that Mordecai was Jewish he decided to go to the King and ask for all the Jewish people to be killed. Esther 3:8-9. King Xerxes agrees to this not knowing that his own queen, Esther, is Jewish. The decrees are sent out and the Jewish people are in danger of being completely destroyed. Mordecai tells Esther of the decree and says that she should use her position to intercede on behalf of her people, and this was Esther’s reply. Esther 4:11.
It was going to be risky for Esther to go unannounced before the King. If he chose to, he could have her killed for that simple act. In fact, we see that the odds were against her because the king hadn’t called on her in 30 days. Maybe she had fallen out of favor with the king and so her showing up unannounced would be an offense that would cost her life. It was a risky and uncertain situation, and Mordecai leaves Esther with these words. Who knows, maybe you have come to your royal position for such a time as this? Maybe you became queen so you could intercede on behalf of all your people and save the nation.
Esther now is the one who has a choice to make. She can go before the king and try to help her people, or she can play it safe and stay home. If she goes before the king there is no guarantee that he will receive her, he might reject her and have her killed. There is also no guarantee that he will change his mind and spare her people. If she stays home however, if she stays safe, she will have to watch as her people are killed. Esther is given a choice:
Uncertainty but Serving or Certainty but Selfish.
This is a choice that at times we also have to make. Serving others comes with some uncertainty. Reaching out to care for people is messy, and it often calls for risk and sacrifice, but God is clear that life is only found in risk, and sacrifice, and service. Jesus set an example for his disciples when he washed their feet. He said, if you want to be one of my disciples you have to serve. Jesus then gave his life for us when he carried a cross and once again said, if anyone follows me, let him deny himself and take up a cross. Jesus made clear that God’s way is a way of service and sacrifice, but if it is done for God it brings victory. If it is done for God it helps bring God’s kingdom to earth. Jesus’ service and sacrifice ended not in death but in resurrection. Service and sacrifice is often risky and uncertain but it leads to the fullness of life.
Every time we are willing to move from Selfish to Serving, we find life, but every time we move from Serving to Selfish, we die. Marriages thrive when people move from selfish to serving. Businesses flourish, churches grow, and governments reform when they move from selfish to serving, and every time we make that choice, our lives improve. Things won’t be easy because with serving comes uncertainty and risk, but it is in serving that we are blessed and it is in serving that we find life. It’s in serving we lift up the underdog and it is in serving that we learn to become the top dog.
Esther chose uncertainty and service, but she did it with confidence and she allowed God to be her strength and peace. Esther 4:16.
Esther asked everyone to fast and pray because in the midst of her uncertainty she was certain that God was with her and that God was for her. No matter what was going to happen, she had confidence in God. In the midst of our uncertainty, there is one thing we can be certain of, God is for us. When God looks at us he doesn’t see an underdog but a person who has a God given purpose and plan.
So here’s the rest of the story. Esther went before the King and she wasn’t killed but asked for and received what she wanted. King Xerxes did not destroy the Jewish people but instead destroyed the one who had him make that decree – Haman. Not only had Esther saved her own life, but she saved her people and their enemy was destroyed – all because she was willing to serve. All because Mordecai was willing to serve. All because Esther was willing to serve
Who are we serving today? Who is the one in need, the one far from God that we are working for? God has placed us where we are for a purpose and a plan, and it might be for just this moment that we need to step up and act. The odds may be against us and our chances might seem slim, but our simple step of serving others begins to turn underdogs into top dogs. Serving lifts up our lives, and it lifts up the lives of others.
Underdogs – Our Chances Are Slim
1. Read the Book of Esther.
- Identify the ways that Mordecai served.
- Identify the ways that Esther served.
- What uncertainty and risks did they face?
2. Never call serving others a little thing.
- Where in your life is God calling you to serve?
- Church – the Blessing of the Backpacks is a great way to serve both in the church and in the community. You can sign up today.
3. What uncertainty are you facing in life right now?
- How might serving change your circumstance?
- Consider prayer and fasting as a means of finding God’s peace in the storm.
- How might your service help someone else during their uncertain time in life?
4. In the midst of our uncertainty – God is certain.
- Read Romans 8:28-39
- Give thanks for God’s certain love, grace and strength
5. What unique position has God given you and how can you use it for God’s purpose?