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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Authority of the Bible

"It takes God to understand man. And He has written a book to go along with us--an instruction book to accompany the machinery He has designed. If you buy a new television set, refrigerator, or automobile, along with it you get an instruction book compiled by the manufacturer, who understands the machine best. It tells you what to do when things go wrong. That is exactly what the Bible does. It is the greatest book on human psychology in the world."

Ray Stedman, "The Need for a Priest," Sermon on Lev. 8:1-9

Monday, September 29, 2008

Doctrine and Doing

"Doctrine and doing are like the two parts of salt: salt is composed to 2 poisons, sodium and chlorine. If you should take either of the two poisons, you would die. But if you combine them properly, you have sodium chloride, and that is common table salt, without which there is no savor for our food, and indeed, no life and health to our bodies."

Donald Gray Barnhouse, "Romans."

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Future Things, Past Things.

One once observed the difference between a learned and an unlearned person is that one says, “I don’t know,” while the other says, “I don’t remember.” This led me to reflect on the kind of person I was in school? I was a completely different person in College and Seminary than I was in High School or Junior High. I don’t know who that person was in Junior or High School.
Were you a fast learner? Legend has it that Daniel Webster was not a tidy child growing up.

One day in the district school the teacher told him if he appeared in school again with such dirty hands, she would thrash him. But the next day Daniel appeared with his hands in the same condition. “Daniel,” the teacher said in desperation, “hold out your hand!”

Daniel spat on his palm, rubbed it on the seat of his trousers, and held it out. The teacher surveyed it in disgust. “Daniel,” she exclaimed, “if you can find me a hand in this school that is dirtier than this one here, I will let you off.” Daniel promptly held out his other hand and the teacher had to keep her word.

Perhaps you were a ready learner (and if you “were” then, you probably still are now). Mortimer Adler, former professor at the University of Chicago once observed, “If when I entered a classroom and said, ‘Good morning,’ my students responded ‘Good morning,’ I knew they were undergraduates. But if they took out their notebooks and wrote down my greetings, I knew they were graduate students.”[1]

I had a deep respect for my math teacher. A deep respect. Not the teacher I had in Elementary, Junior or High School—those teachers (especially, my parents) deserve medals for all they expended to help me get by, but I never understood what I was learning in math. The teacher that held my deep respect was the one I had in College. I was in my Junior year, married, with three kids and was taking the most basic college math known to man. The reason why I respected her is because she understood people: those good in English or History may not be good in math. Guess where my strengths were? She was able to explain what I needed to know in a way that I could understand and she did such an excellent job that when I lost my math book just before the Final, I still passed with grades that I never knew could exist within that field of study.

I don’t know what kind of history student you were, but I was on the edge of my seat when it came to history. My Texas history book was, at that time, perhaps the largest book I had ever seen (no pun intended)—but I was fascinated by it. Church History was exciting, especially as we followed the development of thought and theology across the ages. Ancient History led me to study of Biblical Archaeology and that nearly sent me packing my bags to move dirt on some Tel in the occidental. Archeology is like a time machine. I suppose that if I could go anywhere in time and visit any culture, I would love to see Egypt at it’s peak.

Daniel 8 could perhaps be thought of a time machine because in these visions we skim many cultures across many ages. In the previous chapters we’ve considered Daniel’s background, as a Hebrew captive exalted in Babylonian courts. We’ve also taken note of how the God of nations moves to the consummate dominion of His Kingdom. Now we will be considering the more immediate destiny of the people of God from Daniel’s context.

Two years following the dream of Daniel 7 (and still before Chapter 5) Daniel has another dream. In the first dream he saw a lion with eagle’s wings, a bear, a four-headed and four-winged leopard and a nearly indescribable beast with a horn problem. In this dream Daniel is careful to tell us he is in Shushan (called “Susa” by the Greeks), a chief city of the Medo-Persian Empire, located about 250 miles east of Babylon. This is important because Daniel has in this explanation already told us the end of the story.

“Chapter 8 reveals Daniel’s vision of a ram and a goat. The ram is a picture of the Medo-Persian Empire, the two horns standing for the two entities (the Medes and the Persians) that merged into one. The goat represents Macedonian Greece with its great horn, Alexander, who with his army of thirty-five thousand men moved with such speed that he is pictured as not even touching the ground. His death (in 323 b.c.), and the division of his world empire among his four generals are prefigured.

The chapter also prophetically outlines the career of Antiochus Epiphanes (175–164 b.c.), called the “little horn,” who, in his idolatry and desecration of the temple, would foreshadow the little horn of chapter 7, that is, the Antichrist (see Revelation 13).”[2]

What Daniel saw could easily be described as the political cartoon of his day, only a newspaper depiction needs almost no interpretation. What Daniel saw was the rise and fall of world empires. The rulers themselves are almost non-identifiable, only their kingdoms are seen to wax and wane in these visions. When a ruler is described, he is identified by his arrogance, his inflated self-importance, his pride—all receiving the condemnation of God.

Compare a few highlights Daniel 7 and 8 with Paul’s description of what will happen before Christ returns (2 Thessalonians 2):

Jesus will come again.
Saints will be gathered to Him.
Men will be deceived.
The man of sin is revealed who will oppose and exalt himself above all that is called God or is worshipped.
This man of sin will be powered by the working of Satan.

Daniel seeks to understand what he is seeing in the vision and as if there was not enough to disturb an individual, he hears voices telling Gabriel, an identifiable person (an angel) to minister to Daniel. We often are bothered by our dreams or nightmares, so imagine if suddenly an unseen voice tells a person in your dream to address you, and touch you. So far, Daniel has been a passive observer. Now he is an active participant in the dream. Perhaps I would fall on my face and pass out as well. Daniel says later he was sick for days and astonished. Daniel has certainly been through an ordeal: time travel (so to speak), across many cultures and kingdoms; strange beasts; disembodied voices; the glory of God . . .

The point of the vision concerns contrast between the incarnation of righteousness (in the Son of Man, Jesus Christ) and the incarnation of evil. In this chapter the incarnation of evil is called an insolent king skilled in intrigue, among other things. Paul calls him the man of lawlessness (for sin is lawlessness) and the son of destruction in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. John calls him the beast. Yet, God will still be God and His kingdom will be of His Lord and of His Christ and He shall reign forever.

General eschatology (“macro-eschatology”) in prophetic scripture emphasizes the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. His return is a theme found in all scripture, is part of gospel proclamation and sets the tone for Christian living. While we may find cases of double-fulfillment in prophecy, the details of history are not the focus but serve as the tell-tale and confirming signs of what is to come. Eschatology is vital to biblical study because:

1) The so-called sacred books of non-Christian religions lack predictive prophecy. Not only do wrong guesses stain the credibility of those religions, at bottom, they have nothing to predict concerning their founder or their movement. Non-Christian religions all meet at the same “dead end.”

2) Non-Christian religions only share a vague concept of any future state (micro-, or “personal” eschatology).

3) Scripture includes a divine revelation of the future in the same proportion as its’ revelation of past events. “Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; {I am} God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, 'My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure'.” (Isaiah 46:9-10)

4) The Christian depends on the Bible as the reliable source for information on future events; therefore, eschatology is not incidental, but a vital theme.

The study of prophetic scripture has in recent times become mishandled in such a way that attempting to comprehend details of the events have become the goal of study and the return of Christ has been relegated to being just one feature of those future events. For example, the practice of identifying a specific date and/or time of the rapture and/or Lord’s return has been strongly discouraged—some groups have done this to their discredit; on the other hand, there seems to be no hesitation to point to a notable individual or organization and say, “there is the anti-Christ.” This inconsistency wreaks havoc on apologetics and further eschatological study and we find ourselves merely “religious.” If the purpose of religion is “happiness,” then:

1) Jesus was mistaken when He taught that a soon and sudden appearance of the Kingdom of God would end the present order; or,
2) All prophetic passages are symbolic because happiness is found in the present life, trans-history; or,
3) Prophetic events occur concurrently with history; or,
4) We are now in the eschatological kingdom. There is nothing to come (we now live in heaven or hell).

We can trust the prophetic view of scripture, because many events have indeed already proven to be correct—prophecy has been affirmed. We could dust off our history books and find the rise and fall of the great empires as described already in Daniel. Once reminded, we should be alarmed as there are yet many other great cosmic events of scripture yet to be fulfilled, culminating in the final revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. At His Name every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

We can learn from the past that what the Bible says will happen in the future will happen.

Let’s return to one more observation in closing. Angelic visitations are always associated with major acts of God. Gabriel was interactive in this heavenly vision with Daniel. Modern society not only has a low view of angels, but an even lower view of God, as angels seem to be everywhere but there is no connection of them with God. Should an angel appear to any man or woman, they will not walk away from the experience with such passivity.

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[1]Tan, Paul Lee. Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: [A Treasury of Illustrations, Anecdotes, Facts and Quotations for Pastors, Teachers and Christian Workers]. Garland TX: Bible Communications, 1996, c1979.
[2]MacArthur, John. Daniel : God's Control Over Rulers and Nations. MacArthur Bible studies, Page 78. Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2000.

Friday, September 26, 2008

“I want a ‘heart of gold’! I wanna go to heaven!”

Wednesday night we didn’t make it to church, so we had it on the front porch. Sort of.

Our youngest son plays with twin girls from next door after school just about every day. They are the same age and they get along quite nicely, despite the fact that many of the girls’ family members don’t like us (besides the fact we’re the wrong color, we don’t fit in with their drunken parties or their crack and pot smoking conferences that go on in the woods behind our houses) the kids get along great.

This was the first night I’ve ever gotten to really talk with them beyond a quick “hello” before the kids disappear into the bushes. They get in trouble if they talk to anyone but our son. But tonight, everybody was gone, so the girls and William played in the front yard.

After dinner, I went outside and sat on the step and did a few magic tricks. Their attention was undivided as they pulled up chairs from the front of our house and watched my every move. One of my tricks involves “mind reading.” In this specific trick, I tell my charge that I will give them a choice between three objects, but I already have their answer on a card in my pocket. They are to choose between a circle, triangle or square. The girls both chose “circle.”

I produce from my shirt pocket a green card with a gold circle on it. “What do you think of when you think of ‘gold?’” I ask. We talk about French fries, the sun, flowers, jewelry, etc. “Have you ever heard of someone having a ‘heart of gold?” I asked.

The girls are too young to have heard that, so I explain that we usually think of a person with a heart of gold as a good person. Holding up the card I asked, “Do you have a heart of gold? Are you a ‘good person?’” Of course they are! Certainly they have a heart of gold!

Holding the card in front of their faces I said, “Let’s take a test to see how ‘golden’ your heart is. Have you heard of the ‘Ten Commandments’?”

They had not. So we went through them, one by one. After teaching the list, they came up with a few of their own: treat people nice; don’t interrupt people when they are talking, etc. I was interested to know if they keep their own rules. They admitted they don’t.

“Have you ever told a lie?” I asked. They had. “What do you call people who tell lies?” I asked. “Liars.” Came the quick reply.

“Have you always obeyed your mommy and daddy? Do you always do what they tell you?” No, they don’t always obey. I reviewed the 5th Commandment with them.

Had they ever stolen anything? Yes, in various forms—even from each other. “But that’s ok. We’re sisters.” They argued. I doesn’t matter. In the eyes of a policeman, if you steal, even if you give back what you’ve stolen, you are still a thief. What happens to thieves?

They go to jail.

I held up the card with the gold circle again. “Remember when I asked if you had a heart of gold? You said you did.” I unfolded the card to reveal a black heart underneath.

“This is how God sees your heart because you have broken His Ten Commandments. You have broken His laws by lying, stealing and disobeying your parents . . .”

Before I could say anymore, one of the 10-year old girls looked at me and quietly asked, “does that mean we won’t go to heaven?” I froze. She got it. So did her sister. “Well, does a thief get to go free if he’s caught by police?” They shook their heads, no. “Would you like to know what God did so you could go to heaven?” I asked. They nodded excitedly.

I unfolded the card again to reveal a red cross underneath. “Do you know what this is?” I asked.

“It’s a church symbol!” They jumped up and down. “The ‘t’ means ‘church’!” They talked over each other telling me how they go to church.

I told them that God became a man and lived a perfect life on this earth and people hated Him because He was perfect. “Sort of like a goodie two-shoes,” the girls explained, “nobody likes a ‘goodie two-shoes.’”

“Why?” I wanted to know.

“Because people like to do bad things, and a ‘goodie two-shoes’ likes to do what is good so nobody likes them.” The girls explained. They got it.

I held up the card with the red cross on it and told them that a cross was two pieces of wood nailed together. Jesus was nailed to a cross and died there because 1) He was perfect; and 2) He loved us so much that He did not want us to die in our sin (the black heart) so He shed His blood, died, and came back to life again three days later.

I had hardly finished when one of the girls said, “I wanna go to heaven.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I want a heart of gold,” one sister said. The other said, “Me too! I want a heart of gold. I want to go to heaven!”

I was not prepared for what I was hearing, but oh, the joy was welling up in my heart!

“We need to pray!” I said. “Would you like to pray and ask the Lord Jesus Christ to clean the sin from your heart and ask Him to save you so you can go to heaven?” I walked them through 1 John 1:9 and John 3:16. They jumped up and down with excitement!

We bowed our heads in prayer, right there on our front step and each girl said her own prayer, telling Him they were sorry for their sin and how much they wanted not to have a heart black with sin. They both asked for a heart of gold and how much they wanted heaven.

When we finished praying, I held up the card showing the red cross once more. “Do you believe that because Jesus died to pay the price for your sins that your sins are washed away and you are clean?” They nodded. I folded the card once more and their jaws dropped when they saw the white heart. The girls had their own little party, “We’re clean! We’re clean!” They danced around.

I gave them two different gospel tract/comic books each and a curved illusion (one more magic trick) that they could show their family. The girls ran home with squeals of delight while William and I took a minute to thank God for letting us stay and have church at home.

I wish it could always be that easy.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Beasts of Daniels' Vision

The subject and study of future things (eschatology) is more than just a casual interest for most people. Interestingly, individuals with comparable backgrounds may have different ideas about what is to come. One Christian woman once remarked to another, “I have taken a single ticket to Glory, and do not intend to come back.” Her sister in Christ replied: “You are going to miss a lot. I have taken a return ticket, for I am not only going to meet Christ in Glory, but I am coming back with him in power and great glory to the earth.” Were they talking about the same future, or something different? There is no inconsistency in what they were saying, but a differing emphasis on details.

A former US Secretary of State once spoke of future events, but a future that would never happen. John Foster Dulles once remarked: “Peace is often identified with the imposition by strong nations of their benevolent rule upon the weaker. Most of these efforts collapsed in war. The best known effort of this kind was the Pax Romana. And a Pax Britannica for a century kept relative peace and a world order which promoted worldwide economic development. But the world of today is very different from the world of past centuries. It cannot be ruled.”[1] He had forgotten the millennial reign of Christ.

Reality, objective reality, has a way of subverting our subjective ideals. If we were on track with our visions of the future as present in the World’s Fair and Epcott displays of even 30 years ago, we are supposed to be living in an Jetsons-friendly environment today. Where are the hover cars? Where are the moving sidewalks and sterile mechanized homes of the jet-age? Perhaps it is best we did not get our way because either Orwell or Huxley would be right.

Daniel 7, the record of visions, actually begins with “a flashback to 553 b.c., fourteen years before the feast of 5:1–3; chapters 7 and 8 occur after chapter 4 but before chapter 5.”[2] Daniel see four beasts: the first like a lion with eagle’s wings (representing a king of the earth); the second like a bear raised up on one side with three ribs in his mouth (representing another king of the earth); the third like a four-headed leopard with four bird-like wings (representing yet another king of the earth). The fourth beast is only described as dreadful, strong, having devouring iron teeth, bronze nails, trampling feet and ten horns plus one very unusual horn (representing a kingdom, a dominion). It’s horns represents kings.

We know what a lion looks like and are able to picture eagle’s wings, so it is not too difficult to depict the griffin-like creature. We also know what a bear looks like and it is not hard to imagine one eating. Imagination is stretched as we construct a four-headed, four-winged leopard. The fourth beast is almost without comprehension. We have no point of comparison.

There is another personality in Daniel’s vision. “And the Ancient of Days was seated; His garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head was like pure wool. His throne was a fiery flame, its wheels a burning fire; a fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him. A thousand thousands ministered to Him; Ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.” (Daniel 7:9-10)

In previous chapters we have been introduced to national leaders who were not only troubled with dreams and visions of their own, but called upon Daniel to describe and explain the visions. Now, here Daniel, a national leader, is disturbed by a vision of his own. Where does he turn for comfort and explanation? Within the vision itself, Daniel turns to one who is standing by for ministry. Where have we seen this before in Daniel’s ministry, a spiritual being standing with the faithful? Despite the ministry of explanation, Daniel was troubled and it showed on his face, though he kept the matter to himself.

John’s vision of Revelation 13 shares more than passing similarities with Daniel’s vision. Here we find a beast that is not merely identical (out of the sea, many heads, horns, etc.) but has also taken on the attributes of the beasts it has consumed and trampled (lion, leopard, bear). The blasphemous horn made war and prevailed against the saints (Daniel 7:21; Revelation 13:7). This beast may have the horns of a lamb, but those that worship him will not worship the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

Eschatology often evokes anxious feelings because we like certainty. What is to come is out of our grasp—but so is the present. The past is gone. Remember that the first dream of Nebuchadnezzar was revealed to Daniel who prayed. While we may be tempted to worry about what is to come, specifically when it comes to the way the saints will be treated by those who despise the Lamb of God, we must be encouraged:

God is He who is blessed forever and ever;
God is He to whom wisdom and power belong;
God is He who changes the times and epochs;
God is He who removes and establishes kings;
God is He who gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding;
God is He who reveals the profound and hidden things;
God is He knows what is in the darkness;
God is He where light dwells.
God is He who receives thanks and praise,
God is He who gives wisdom and power;
God is He who makes known what is requested because He knows the matter of kings.[3]

The point of the passage is not to overwhelm with the intricacies of the vision nor exalt the blasphemous by being swept up in its mystery. What do we find here that helps us in walk in obedience and righteousness with our Lord? We find only one exalted throne to whom every knee bows. The point of the passage concerns “One like the Son of Man . . . to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, which all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.” (7:13-14) The beast rages against The Exalted One and His saints, the heirs to the kingdom as all dominions serve and obey the Ancient of Days.

Daniel 7 says, “God rules over all kingdoms.” That is troubling, for our personal kingdoms must submit. The dramatic symbolism should be disturbing as through mythological imagery and sanctified imagination depicts the passing of time, the movement of history into one great consummation. Presently, consider how since ancient time men and women of all cultures have been trying to cast off God’s rule and make a kingdom of their own—can it last? Obviously not. Read Psalm 2:1-6 and see what God’s response is. We don’t know what to think of the world that has become something we did not dream about.

The vision communicates The One who is to be feared, reverenced and awed in contrast against the beasts. We see God as judge, with open books before Him. Who is to be feared: beasts or judge? The beasts merely represent nations of the earth (whoever they may be—does the Eagle mean Babylon or America?) and God is the judge of the nations. He has existed from eternity past. The nations only rise and fall.

We don’t know what is written in the books. Of all that is explained in the vision, this is one feature that goes without explanation. Whatever is written therein is connected to the pronounced judgment against the dominions. The fourth beast is judged first. “They might tyrant who mocks and blasphemes against Almighty God and who crushes and kills God’s people will himself be consumed.”[4]

Since scripture is inspired to teach, what principle is here but that God is the Sovereign Lord?
Since scripture is inspired to also reprove, how do we fail to live under His rule?
Since scripture is inspired to correct, what must you do to live under His rule?
Because scripture is inspired to train, what do you need to do to live under His rule?

Once the beasts are removed from the scene the Son of Man comes with the clouds of heaven. To Him is given all dominion, glory and an everlasting kingdom, to be served by the nations. No wonder Daniel was perplexed (he had already experienced one invasion and deportation) as the dominions of the earth are swept aside, to see the one who stood in the fire with his friends reign in a universal, everlasting, God-authorized, glorified, earthly kingdom representing a new humanity. The vision depicts the fallen mighty before the Son of Man.

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[1]Tan, Paul Lee. Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: [A Treasury of Illustrations, Anecdotes, Facts and Quotations for Pastors, Teachers and Christian Workers]. Garland TX: Bible Communications, 1996, c1979.
[2]MacArthur, John. Daniel: God's Control Over Rulers and Nations. MacArthur Bible studies, Page 71. Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2000.
[3]New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Da 2:20-23. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.
[4] Russell, D. “Daniel.” Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1981.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Lionized

I am racking my brain trying to draw out an illustration of someone who stands out as an outstanding Christian example. I am distracted because as I am sitting here thinking, my oldest children are laughing and talking about things that happened in youth group (“student ministries”) or summer camps. The highlight of their entertainment of the moment involves recalling contests involving drinking gallons of milk or speed-eating Oreos, chasing them with entire cartons of eggnog—and the predictable outcome (no pun intended) of ingesting such large quantities all at once. Why is this funny? Why are Youth Pastors (Student Pastors) advocating this kind of sickening behavior? Worse still, what kind of Christian example is to be found in this kind of so-called leadership? How is one to respect them?

People who are respected are those found to be upright, with integrity. Respected people are those with good reputations; temperate; prudent; hospitable; able to teach and remain teachable; descent in character and behavior; exercise restraint, control and discernment; gentle; at peace, etc. Almost sounds like someone described in 2 Timothy or Titus. I pray that when we try to identify outstanding Christian examples, respectable individuals, that we find men who fit these descriptions. I am not saying that this is limited to Pastors, but Pastors should be these kinds of men.

This is sobering thought. Consider for a moment that your name randomly finds its way into a conversation of which you are not a part. What descriptors could be made of you? How do people think of you? How does your reputation precede you?

Before being transplanted into Babylon, Daniel and his friends were just kids. They’ve spent their lives growing up as strangers in a strange land—and they’ve been through some tough ordeals with their lives being threatened. They’ve been on the border of existence and not just once. What seems to be an irony is that with every threat came preservation and promotion. Their growing up years have not been wasted, but filled with exaltation within, even above their captors. Daniel specifically has bubbled to the top as the favorite of Nebuchadnezzar, the third ruler in the kingdom under Belshazzar, and (Daniel 6) one of three governors over all Babylon under Darius.

Daniel soared to the top not because of eloquence, management skills or because he seemed to be right all the time. Daniel was exalted because of His humble dependence on the Lord God. He and his friends had their hearts set not to be defiled and thus displease God. They sought the counsel of God in prayer and thus were able to reveal and interpret the most deepest secrets. They would not bow the knee to someone else’s idea of God, but walked with the true and living God. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and the fruit of their walk was evident. “It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom one hundred and twenty satraps, to be over the whole kingdom; and over these, three governors, of whom Daniel was one, that the satraps might give account to them, so that the king would suffer no loss. Then this Daniel distinguished himself above the governors and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king gave thought to setting him over the whole realm.” (Daniel 6:1-3)

For those of us who grew up under the influence of Stan Lee and other comic book myths, we know that for every good guy there lurks a bad guy. Daniel and his friends were the “League of Extraordinary Godly Men.” They were the superheroes of their day, and everybody knew it (and their secret power was really no secret). They could fight off the most cruel Babylonian guards on their knees with carrot sticks. It almost seemed they could read minds. Fire could not touch them. Wicked minds could only plot against them for their destruction, and plot they did. Mind you, these wicked men were the ones who invaded their land and took them as captives, but since that time, they could only look to them as their rulers and governors. The Chaldeans seemed to fail at every turn. Will their evil plot work?

So the governors and satraps sought to find some charge against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find no charge or fault, because he was faithful; nor was there any error or fault found in him. Then these men said, “We shall not find any charge against this Daniel unless we find it against him concerning the law of his God.” (Daniel 6:4-5)

Notice carefully: Daniel was lionized; that is, he became the object of great interest and importance to his enemies. Under all their scrutiny, they found that Daniel intensely loved his God—as if they did not know that already. Actually, Daniel is really not the object of their attack; instead, it is the object of his worship: the comfort and undoing of kings, the God of the nations. The Chaldeans convince Darius to pass an irreversible law that says if anyone petitions any god but Darius for thirty days is to be cast into a den of lions. Daniel goes home and prays about it. Three times a day. As was his custom. Did he fall for their trap? This is about God who prepares a table in the presence of enemies. This is about God who walks with His faithful in through the fire. This is about God who considers every person and weighs him or her in the balance. Do you suppose Daniel talked with God about the way the Chaldeans were responding to Him?

God saw to it that the law of the land was fulfilled. Because Daniel petitioned the true and living God and not Darius within the thirty days, he was cast into the lion’s den. God saw to it that nothing more came to Daniel. The fact that Daniel was in with the lions disturbed Darius and he could not rest. Note: the other rulers before Darius were troubled when God was stirring events around them.

God vindicates himself through Darius calling into the den first thing the next morning. “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?” (Daniel 6:20) Darius knows that God lives. If he had any doubt concerning Daniel’s condition, he never would have gone to the den the next morning. Daniel was alive. In the den, just as the law said. “So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no injury whatever was found on him, because he believed in his God.” (Daniel 6:23)

Daniel’s enemies (and their entire families) were gathered together and were destroyed by the lions in the den. See, God has a law, too. It says, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Daniel’s enemies basically said that if anyone commits idolatry, that person is to die. The enemies of Daniel received exactly what they requested in the law—death. The wages of sin is death.

Daniel was hated. “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (1 John 3:15)

Daniel’s enemies lied to get what they wanted. “A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who tells lies will not escape". (Proverbs 19:5)

Daniel’s enemies coveted what he had. That, too, broke God’s law. “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." (1 John 2:15)

Justice served.

God, in protecting His promise and His plan, had His man in the right place and the right time. As we meditate on this, let’s not forget Joseph, who was about to be killed by his brothers (he, too, was despised, etc.) and sold into slavery in a strange land. Joseph, because of his faithfulness to God was exalted in position to the place he not only ruled over his captors, but also was able to care for his people. Why didn’t the brothers die? Repentance. They confessed their sin and found restored fellowship.

Before we get too carried away concerning the behavior of the unbelievers, the wicked, let’s take a moment to look inward. Daniel, in his older age at this point—perhaps in his 70’s--had the habit of praying three times a day. Muslims pray 5 times each day. How about you? The earliest African converts to Christianity were earnest and regular in their private devotions. Each one reportedly had separate spots in the thicket where he poured out his heart to God. The several paths to these little Bethels became distinctly marked; and when any one began to decline in devotions, it was soon apparent to others. They would then kindly remind him, saying, “Brother, the grass grows on your path yonder.”[1]

Now, before to start feeling guilty, please remember that the Qur’an makes sets the order for the Muslim. Nowhere in the Bible does it say to pray 3 times per day. Even during Jesus’ ministry when the disciples received instruction concerning prayer, they learned method, not frequency. There is instruction that says we are to meditate on God’s law day and night, when we sit, rise, etc. Prayer, for the obedient Christian, is unceasing. So is rejoicing in the Lord!

For our own growth, perhaps some deeper investigation is needed to discover why Daniel was so committed to prayer. As you research the scripture, try to discover how much Daniel depended on God and yearned for His presence and power. It should not be long until we discover that Daniel’s business in the land of his captors was not governance of the land; rather, his business (and the business of his four friends) was prayer, communion with God in order that the nations would know that the Lord is God, the great King above all gods. Governance was what they did to fill the time. The practice of prayer reflects our personal dependence on God, He presence and power.

The preservation of life is not the goal of prayer. God’s glory is. Consider John the Baptist and Steven, men who now only walked with God and preached the Kingdom, but they lost their lives in His service. One lost his head and the other was stoned to death. Does this mean that God is cruel? Where was God but the same place He was with Daniel in the lion’s den and in the furnace—right beside His saints preserving His honor, His glory.

We forget that martyrdom is a witness.

************
[1]Tan, Paul Lee. Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: [A Treasury of Illustrations, Anecdotes, Facts and Quotations for Pastors, Teachers and Christian Workers]. Garland TX: Bible Communications, 1996, c1979.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Devotion, not Commotion

"Fix my thoughts, my hopes, and my desires upon heaven and heavenly things; teach me to despise the world, to repent deeply for my sins; give me the holy purposes of amdendment and ghostly strength, and assistance to perform faithfully whatsoever I shall intend piously. Enrich my understanding with an eternal treasure of Divine Truths, that I may know Thy will; and Thou, who workest in us to will and to do of Thy good pleasure, teach me to obey all Thy commandments, to believe all Thy revelations, and make me partker of all Thy gracious promises."

--Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667), "Holy Living."

Monday, September 22, 2008

Puritan Evangelism: A Biblical Approach

(click here for more information):





Sit or stand?

Then there was the one about the little boy who finally sat down after resisting his parent's command to do so. He said, "I'm sitting down on the outside, but I'm standing up on the inside!"

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Approved by the Master

A young man once studied violin under a world-renowned master. Eventually the time came for his first recital. Following each selection, despite the cheers of the crowd, the performer seemed dissastisfied. Even after the last number, with shouts louder than ever, the talented violinist stood watching an old man in the balcony. Finally the elderly one smiled, and nodded in approval. Immediately the young man relaxed and beamed with happiness. The applause of the crowd meant nothing to him until he had first won the hearty approval of his master.

"the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men." (Romans 14:17-18)

"Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2:15)

"Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him." (James 1:12)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Biting the Thumb

Abraham, servant to Montague: “Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?”
Sampson, servant to Capulet: “I do bite my thumb, sir.”
Abr: [asking again, as if in disbelief] “Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?”
Sam: [aside, to Gregory, another servant to Capulet]: “Is the law of our side if I say, ‘ay’?”
Gre: “No.”
Sam: “No, sir, I do not bite my thumb at you, sir, but I bite my thumb, sir.”
Gre: “Do you quarrel, sir?”
Abr: “Quarrel, sir! No, sir!”
Sam: “If you do, sir, I am for you: I serve as good as man as you.”
Abr: “No, better.”
Gre: “Say ‘better’: here comes one of my master’s kinsmen.” [Benvolio approaches]
Sam: “Yes, better, sir.”
Abr: “You lie.”
Sam: “Draw if you be men [drawing his sword]. Gregory, remember thy swashing blow.” [They fight]

(Act I, Scene 1, “Romeo and Juliet,” by William Shakespeare.) Watch the clip below if the text is too dry (it’s not the best clip, but it is the most concise):



One does not have to be fully inundated in many genres of literature to know Romeo and Juliet. Even the most unread are familiar with at least one element of this famous story. Above, I present a cutting conversation between the servants of the feuding families of Montague and Capulet. The pun is intentional (“cutting conversation”) because Shakespeare began even his most dark tragedies with light moments. In this case, we eavesdrop on a rude gesture and insults as the servants pass each other on the street. Biting the thumb in those days was as offensive as other obscene finger gestures used today.

Biting the thumb is still practiced more in principle than form even today. Getting right to the point, we are surrounded by people who consider themselves religious, yet they bite their thumb (thumb the nose, or whatever you want to call it) at God for one reason or another. Some make their insults quietly while others ring their bells, bang their gongs or drums, shouting on the sidewalks their disdain for God. What did God do to deserve such derision?

Stick with me a little while and I will show introduce you to people who bite their thumb at God. Would you like meet a man who has no qualms about killing anyone who gets in his way? He knows there is a God and is aware of how God sees his heart, but would rather continue to blaspheme The One who gave him life than repent. Or would you feel more comfortable meeting the young man who would like to convince you that he is the one who died for your sins and rose from the dead?

Here’s the setting for our present study: Israel has been under the judgment of God for idolatry (they bit their thumb at God) and the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar have been deporting the Jews from their homeland to Babylon. During his reign, Nebuchadnezzar built Babylon into something (he felt) worth boasting about. The king ate grass for seven years because he bit his thumb at God until he repented and remembered God. Behind all this was God at work, having placed His obedient servants in the Babylonian courts (Daniel and his three friends). Though Babylon should have fallen the Hebrews held things together because in the greater plan of God, Babylon had to be held in place until the nation could be punished for their treatment of Israel when the barbarians came sweeping down from the North.

Daniel 5 opens with Nebuchadnezzar already off the scene. Belshazzar is king in his place and he gives a feast wherein he calls for the precious gold and silver vessels taken from the Temple in Jerusalem. The feast became a huge thumb-biting festival in the face of the true and living God as concubines drank wine from the holy vessels.

A few years ago we moved into a neighborhood that seemed to be older, quieter and fitting for our family. It was not long until we realized that despite its age and it’s aesthetic, we learned how wicked the place really was. One day I went out to my car and noticed that, etched into the paint and marked on the widows was a symbol—my car had been marked by a gang, I was told by some local teens. I had better watch out. I looked at my car and tried to keep from laughing as I thanked God for letting them mark my car. The gang symbol (of all things) was the Star of David. I asked if they knew what that symbol was. The teens reaffirmed that was a gang symbol and I’d better watch out. I told them what the symbol really was and about the Christ of David. I never had any problems from any gang the rest of our stay. I guess they saw the handwriting on the wall . . . but I’m getting ahead of myself.

While Belshazzar and company were biting thumbs at God inside the palace, the Medes and the Persians were invading outside. Following in his father’s steps, Belshazzar was guilty of the same pride that got Nebuchadnezzar a seven-year salad bar, a mullet that wouldn’t quit and a horrendous manicure. As the pride party raged on, God got everyone’s attention by causing His hand to be seen writing His judgments against Belshazzar on the wall for everyone to see. Obvious to everyone was the true King and his sword was drawn (as it were) against the servant who failed.

J.R.R. Tolkien pictured this perfectly for us in the Two Towers of the Lord of the Rings through the Steward of Gondor. He was not the king, but was to occupy the throne in Gondor until the King returned. The problem was that the King had returned in the heir of Isuldur (Aragorn) and the Steward was not about to budge; that is, until the hosts of Mordor stood outside the city. The Steward (having gone quite mad) threw himself from the parapet during the invasion.

Following in his father’s steps, Belshazzar was troubled by what he saw on the wall (the declaration that he had been tried, weighed, counted, measured, and found to be woefully lacking) and sought consolation. Ultimately, Daniel was the one brought in to interpret what was happening (the declaration that he had been tried, weighed, counted, measured, and found to be woefully lacking). Why Daniel? Short version: the court magicians, astrologers and soothsayers had a reputation for being wrong and Daniel had a reputation for being right. Daniel also had a reputation for not serving someone else’s idea of God be they of gold, silver, wood or stone. His firefighting friends had the same reputation as well—and they were all rulers in the kingdom (over three waves of imported captives?). The Hebrew men in the Babylon court humbly sought first God’s kingdom and His righteousness and everything else was added to them.

It’s been observed that the greatest leaders are not the arrogant and greedy, but the servants. Did not our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ model this for us as He backed up His words (that He came not be served but to serve) with His works (to give His life as a ransom)? Andrew Murray said, “Humility is perfect quietness of heart. It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised. It is to have a blessed home in the Lord, where I can go in and shut the door, and kneel to my Father in secret, and am at peace as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and above is trouble.”

Ezekiel 28 contains this remarkable declaration:

The word of the Lord came to me again, saying, ‘Son of man, say to the prince of Tyre, “Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Because your heart is lifted up, And you say, “I am a god, I sit in the seat of gods, In the midst of the seas,” Yet you are a man, and not a god, Though you set your heart as the heart of a god . . . Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: “Because you have set your heart as the heart of a god, Behold, therefore, I will bring strangers against you, The most terrible of the nations; And they shall draw their swords against the beauty of your wisdom, and defile your splendor. They shall throw you down into the Pit, and you shall die the death of the slain In the midst of the seas. Will you still say before him who slays you, “I am a god”? But you shall be a man, and not a god, in the hand of him who slays you. You shall die the death of the uncircumcised by the hand of aliens; for I have spoken,” says the Lord GOD.’”

The prince of Tyre, the king of Babylon and my two downtown friends suffer from the same ailment of pride—as does anyone else who will not step off their throne and give God the place that is His. Humility bites no thumb, but holds it out.

I have no reason to believe Daniel was timid or apologetic when he told Belshazzar before all his guests, “And you have lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven. They have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your lords, your wives and your concubines, have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone, which do not see or hear or know; and the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified.” The contrast was against his own father, who lost his kingdom then repented. Belshazzar clearly would not repent, so his kingdom would be removed from his as well.

Isn’t that the way it is? “Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death. The righteousness of the blameless will smooth his way, but the wicked will fall by his own wickedness. The righteousness of the upright will deliver them, but the treacherous will be caught by their own greed.” (Proverbs 11:4-6)

So Daniel 5:29 should come as no surprise. Of course, neither should 5:30.

Think of it—even unbelievers respect the righteous. One may try to rationalize God away, or preserve himself in his own platitudes—one may even go so far as to excuse himself from any crime or wrongdoing on the basis of his own supposed goodness. Contrariwise, should a crime be committed against such a person, he will seek justice and will speak venom against the judge who lets the criminal go. Even unbelievers demand righteousness! Moreso, consider how much respect one gains among any people (pagan or otherwise) when he tells the truth.

But what happens when we have the privilege of speaking truth, especially to someone who does not want to hear it? The truth can be received with joy (in which case both message and messenger are generally embraced); or, the truth can be rejected (in which case the messenger is “shot” and the message is disregarded). Is it the task of the messenger to determine whether or not someone needs to hear it, especially when the message is “Thus saith the Lord?” There may be times when the truth must be delivered bluntly, while there are other times that require compassion. Those times may depend on the state of the person who needs to hear it. Pride cannot hear grace.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

"Thy Kingdom Come?" and "my kingdom go."

I double-clicked on the word “power” and my dictionary automatically opened to the word “control.” Oh, the irony--who is in control? The first definition under “control” includes “check, test” while the second definition elaborates the concept, “to exercise restraining or directing influence over; rule.” “Power” describes “ability” and “possession of control.” The two definitions do not describe two different ideas. “Power” and “control” are both related when one considers “conduct.”

We’ve all heard the saying, “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Is the principle so absolute? If power is kept in check, under control, power actually contributes and builds up. Electricity, for example, in its unchecked state can be quite dangerous; on the other hand, under the control of wires, insulation, circuits, etc. electricity can be quite good and useful. The same is true of water. Unless it is channeled, water can bring us to ruin. The problem is that absolutes (like power, love, beauty, etc) in the hands of the depraved, without control, then becomes debased. If this is what Lord Acton meant, then his principle would be correct.

This time of year we are in the uphill climb to discover a national leader. Who are the genuine public servants? When a judge lets a criminal go free, we consider him to be worse than the criminal, but most are looking for leaders who pander to their criminal desires. The nature of freedom has become confused (free to do what one wants vs. free to do what one should) and that confusion exercised without penalty, evidence of corrupt power. Lest we forget, the ability to rule is a God-given gift, and that is the problem. Depraved men have not given God His place in their rule. Control is superficial, shallow and without direction when God is forgotten.

Giving God His place is not an easy task for depraved man. We like our place at the top. We like to be in control. The ducks are our responsibility to keep in the row, right? That was Nebuchadnezzar’s problem. He had been introduced to the true and living God through Daniel, who not merely interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream but told him what it was!

Nebuchadnezzar confessed there was no other God, but on the heels of building a false idol, saw the true and living God at work in the preservation of those who worshipped Him in spirit and in truth by keeping them alive in the fire.

Daniel 4 takes on a different tone from the previous chapters as this account is delivered from the king himself. “Nebuchadnezzar the king, To all peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you. I thought it good to declare the signs and wonders that the Most High God has worked for me.” (Daniel 4:1-2) Nebuchadnezzar tells us he was once again troubled in a dream and he calls for an interpretation of it. While he asked for the men of his court to do this work, he specifically asked Daniel to interpret the dream because he knew Daniel had the Spirit of God (4:8-9). The king saw Daniel, a man trusted with power and control, as a man under the power of God’s Spirit, under the control of the true and living God.
Astonished at what he heard, Daniel seems not speak in haste concerning the dream. When he finally does, Daniel basically calms Nebuchadnezzar though plainly says “My lord, may the dream concern those who hate you, and its interpretation concern your enemies!” In other words, “you really don’t want this dream to come true.” He even tells him how to make certain it will NOT come true. “Therefore, O king, let my advice be acceptable to you; break off your sins by being righteous, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor. Perhaps there may be a lengthening of your prosperity.”

Repentance contains a blessing in that control is relinquished to God. Unrepentance means that not care for the Lordship of God and would live under his own. Daniel was calling the king repent of his pride and sin and to do righteousness before the Lord as evidence of a changed heart. As a man under the power of the Holy Spirit, Daniel already understood that obtaining the power of the Spirit is costly—it costs self-surrender, humiliation, giving up what is most precious out of love for God. Would Nebuchadnezzar do it? Nebuchadnezzar wandered through his kingdom for one year, until one moment, when in the palace the king said, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?” He was not repentant because he was out of control. The Lord God humbled him, and for seven years, the throne of Babylon was without its’ king. His lack of control was seen in his seven years living as a beast and eating grass.

This is what God thinks of pride from the book of Proverbs alone: “A high look and a proud heart ... are sin." (21:4); The Lord hates "a proud look." (6:17); “Every one who is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord." (16:5); "The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; pride, and arrogance ... do I hate." (8:13); "Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." (16:18); "A man's pride shall bring him low." (29:23); “When pride cometh, then cometh shame." (11:2)


Only the farmer knows that the stalk of wheat that holds their heads the highest are the empty ones. The full wheat is bowed.

Archeology has proven that, while empires are careful to record the exploits and victories of their kings, their weak moments and losses tend to be less public. In his article “Nebuchadnezzar, Gilgamesh, and the ‘Babylonian Job,’” Paul Ferguson explains that “historical records are available up to about the eleventh year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, after which the chronicles are practically silent.” [1] Of fifty two inscriptions belonging to Nebuchadnezzar, only four are dated to the last portion of his reign. Something happened.

“Modern research has shown that Nebuchadnezzar was the greatest monarch that Babylon, or perhaps the East generally, ever produced. He must have possessed an enormous command of human labour, nine-tenths of Babylon itself, and nineteen-twentieths of all the other ruins that in almost countless profusion cover the land, are composed of bricks stamped with his name. He appears to have built or restored almost every city and temple in the whole country. His inscriptions give an elaborate account of the immense works which he constructed in and about Babylon itself, abundantly illustrating the boast, ‘Is not this great Babylon which I have build?’ . . . After the incident of the “burning fiery furnace” (Dan. 3) into which the three Hebrew confessors were cast, Nebuchadnezzar was afflicted with some peculiar mental aberration as a punishment for his pride and vanity, probably the form of madness known as lycanthropy (i.e, “the change of a man into a wolf”). A remarkable confirmation of the Scripture narrative is afforded by the recent discovery of a bronze door-step, which bears an inscription to the effect that it was presented by Nebuchadnezzar to the great temple at Borsippa as a votive offering on account of his recovery from a terrible illness.”[2]

And at the end of the time I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me; and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever: For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom is from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven And among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand Or say to Him, “What have You done?” (Daniel 4:34-35)

Archeologists catalogued the following inscription in Building Number 15, from the latter portion of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign:

“Without you, my lord, what exists? . . . You begot me and entrusted me with the rule over all peoples . . . Make the fear of your godhead be in my heart. Prolong the days of the one who pleases you, for you truly are my life.”[3]

Acts 12:20-23 records a curious incident. King Herod put on his robe, took his seat on the rostrum and addressed the people, who replied, “the voice of god and not of a man!” Right there, on the spot, “an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died.”

Firecrackers are fun, until one goes off in your hand. Pride + power = blasted fingers.

1 Samuel 2:30, “Therefore the LORD God of Israel declares, 'I did indeed say that your house and the house of your father should walk before Me forever'; but now the LORD declares, 'Far be it from Me—for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me will be lightly esteemed.”

Proverbs 3:34, “Though He scoffs at the scoffers, yet He gives grace to the afflicted.”

Honor the Lord with the love that is rightfully His, submitting to His rule and represent Him properly in the world, being convinced in your own mind in a lifestyle worship. Depart from evil, do good. Seek peace and pursue it. The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous and His are open to their cry.

Daniel had no easy task. He had already interpreted one dream with the penalty of death hanging over his head. As many as a dozen years later, he had another opportunity to put the king at ease concerning that which troubled him—he had to take some time to pray and think about what he was going to say! And this on the heels of his three friends being tossed in a furnace! But which is easier to say, “King, you are going to wish that what I am about to tell you would fall on your enemies,” or “turn from your sin?” I think Daniel was more anxious about the first than the second. The risk of speaking truth to hard hearts is minimal if we have let go of all we hold dear, save the glory of God alone. Daniel could not preserve himself as that would be prideful.

Dr. H.A. Ironside once felt he was not as humble as he should have been. An elder friend made a suggestion, that he make a sandwich board with the plan of salvation and scripture on and wear it, walking through the business and shopping districts of downtown Chicago for one day. Ironside returned to his apartment at the end of the day thinking that no other person in Chicago would be willing to do that.

“Before we can say ‘Thy Kingdom Come,’ we must say, ‘my kingdom go.’” (Vance Havner)

************
[1] Ferguson, Paul. “Nebuchadnezzar, Gilgamesh, and the ‘Babylonian Job.’” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. Vol 37, No. 3, September 1994. 321-331
[2]Easton, M.G. Easton's Bible Dictionary. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996, c1897.
[3] Ferguson, ibid.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Standing in the Fire

The Bible is a miracle book and the fact that it exists is a miracle in itself. One particular aspect of the miracle is the Bible is known to be “The Good Book” because throughout its pages we see the wicked heart of man being addressed by the discontent of God to leave man in his depraved condition. God that he might rescue from the penalty, power and presence of sin seeks after man, in all his wickedness. That is a miracle.

What miracle of the Bible stands out as your favorite (leave a brief description in the “comments” section below)? We tend to think of the biblical records as “stories” but they are so much more than that as “story” has come to imply separation from reality. Miracles are called such because of what they are in reality, not separate from but rooted in reality. Miracles cannot be denied. Once I was talking with a young lady concerning her worldview, proudly proclaiming herself to be atheist. I asked her how she thought how the Universe came into existence (including the known and the unknown.). After a moment’s thought she said, “it was a miracle!” Funny she should use that word.

One miracle story is brought to the fore through my regular Bible study, in Daniel 3. We call it by different titles, though we are most familiar with its’ elements: three Hebrew children and a fiery furnace. This event takes place on the heels of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, beginning with a large image made of various materials and ends with God’s kingdom overtaking all the kingdoms of the world, including Nebuchadnezzar’s. Recall that the king was disturbed by the dream he had to the point that he deeply sought the truth concerning its’ meaning; however, he seemed to be strongly influenced by the imagery. In the end he proclaims that the God Daniel worships “’is the God of gods [and] the Lord of kings’ (2:47), he reverted to heinous idolatry, setting up a giant golden image and demanding that his subjects worship it alone.”[1]

Since it is declared the image is to be worshipped might suggest the image is not of Nebuchadnezzar (why not worship the “original?”) but of something else. Regardless, Daniels’ three friends refuse to worship any but the true and living God. That the image is to receive worship and not Nebuchadnezzar might indicate an attempt to make some portrayal of Daniel’s God to the people. Daniel’s friends make a distinction by refusing to worship this image: one will either worship the true and living God, or one will worship the figment of one’s imagination, a false substitute.

The declaration was that, at the right time, everyone is to bow down and worship. Imagine even a crowd of a few hundred people, a gong, and everyone bows . . . only 3 are still standing, maybe together, maybe one over there and another over there and another over there. Regardless, these exalted slaves stick out like a sore thumb. Rebellion against their conquering king? The audacity!

Consider for a moment the confusion of the situation: the Babylonians bring home captives who are exalted to positions of leadership, just under the king. The people must be ruled by captives. Also, worship as the Babylonians knew it, was being challenged—the God of the captives over against the god(s) of Babylon. Who is in control? Perhaps when Nebuchadnezzar commanded the image be worshipped and the Hebrew youths refused, he felt he was being mocked and made to be the fool in front of his people. No wonder he got angry and wanted them destroyed in the very furnace that was used in the production of the 90 foot golden image. No captive is going to humiliate the king because of a dream or an image.

Charles Spurgeon preached, “Let young Christians learn from their example, both in matters of faith in religion, and matters of uprightness in business, never to sacrifice their consciences. Lose all rather than lose your integrity, and when all else is gone, still hold fast a clear conscience as the rarest jewel which can adorn the bosom of a mortal. Be not guided by the will-o’-the-wisp of policy, but by the pole-star of divine authority . . . . An ounce of heart’s-ease is worth a ton of gold.” The Hebrew youths owed nobody an explanation, only uncompromised worship of the King of Kings. (3:13-18) They did not scream, kick, preach, demand an audience or fight for rights. They quietly stood under the faithfulness of God.

The outcome of the episode is intriguing. Not only were the Hebrew youths not destroyed in the fire, which incidentally burned so hot that guards were consumed, but the Lord manifested Himself standing alongside the faithful youths while Nebuchadnezzar confessed, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God! Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation, or language which speaks anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made an ash heap; because there is no other God who can deliver like this.”

While his declaration was principally true, his command concerning people who would not worship their God demonstrated he had much to learn.

Acts 4 reminds us that pressure to compromise our faith is ever upon us. Subjectively, the tendency to compromise is driven by fear, and that fear is selfish because we worry about what people think of us. Fear of God is what assures that compromise never occurs. Newspaper counselor Ann Landers reported that in the average of 10,000 letters she received from readers each month, the one problem that surfaced most was the problem of fear. People are afraid of losing their health, their wealth, their loved ones. People are afraid of life itself.[2]

The Hebrew youths understood fear: they were a conquered people, so they had no place to think, “Gee, I hope these Babylonians like me,” as they invaded the land. What was there to fear in not bowing down to an idol in the presence of their enemies?

Believers live free from the penalty of sin (hell), and in the tension of being free from the power of sin yet still in its presence. We find willing spirits in weak flesh. Objectively, the world is looking with engaged consciences for consistency, for uncompromised faith. Where are they going to find it?

We are able to call ourselves by the name of Christ (Christian), because He suffered, He died to pay the penalty of sin for us. Read Isaiah 53:3-9. If we maintain our stand for ourselves, aren’t we saying we love ourselves more than God? Second, if we call ourselves by the name of Christ and do not stand, have we taken His name in vain; that is, for the purpose of denying Him? Have you taken His name for nothing; that is, in vain?

I just watched a video of a boy singing at church (I wish I had a link for it). His singing was introduced as “singing that only a Savior could love.” His singing was not pretty. It was loud and out of tune and kids behind him were making faces. But the kid did not stop belting out the hymn:

“Living for Jesus a life that is true,
Striving to please Him in all that I do.
Yielding allegiance, glad-hearted and free.
This is the pathway of blessing for me.
Oh, Jesus, Lord and Savior, I give myself to Thee;
For Thou in Thine atonement didst give Thyself for me.
I own no other master.
My heart shall be Thy throne.
My life I give, henceforth to live, for Christ and Thee alone.”

Think of it: Wouldn’t we be standing up to ourselves (our own idol) for the sake of escaping the fire? We would rather save face than live out our love for Christ before others. Doesn’t God have a fiery punishment for idolaters? The difficulty is that we think ourselves "big" in our own eyes, but when it comes to our shifting motivations, our "bigness" seems threatened. Jonathan Swift captured this perfectly as Lemuel Gulliver, having just left Lilliput (where he was giant in a land of 6" people) and found himself in the land of giants (himself no more than 6" tall by their standard), says of himself as he wasnearly trampled:

"Being quite dispirited with Toil, and wholly overcome by Grief and Despair, I lay down between two Ridges, and heartily wished I might there end my Days. I bemoaned my desolate Widow, and Fatherless Children. I lamented my own Folly and Wilfulness in attempting a second Voyage against the Advice of all my Friends and Relations. In this terrible Agitation of Mind I could not forbear thinking of Lilliput, whose Inhabitants looked upon me as the greatest Prodigy that ever appeared in the World; Where I was able to draw an Imperial Fleet in my Hand, and perform those other Actions which will be recorded forever in the Chronicles of that Empire, while Posterity shall hardly believe them, although attested by Millions. I reflected what a Mortification it must prove to me to appear as inconsiderable in this Nation as one single Lilliputian would be among us. But this I conceived was to be the least of my Misfortunes: For as human Creatures are observed to be more savage and cruel in Proportion to their Bulk, what could I expect but to be a Morsel in the Mouth of the first among these enormous Barbarians that should happen to seize me?"

We may have certain size when it comes to the parts of our world we feel we can control, but when our faith is in ideas and not the person of the true and living God, we find ourselves nearly stepped upon by other threats that may be out of our control.

Another facet to consider why we find it difficult to stand in our faith is because we live under over-burdened schedules. To stand in our faith takes work and action. We don’t have time for anything else in our schedules, so for many, taking a stand seems like an extra burden—we have to stop and explain why our actions don’t match our words. All the Hebrew youths had was time, and the result of standing in their faith was promotion!

“If I die, I die.” Esther took a stand (4:16); Peter and the apostles took a stand (Acts 5:29); Paul took a stand (Philippians 1:20). We must remember there is a miracle here: the Lord was seen standing with those who took a stand. Their worship of the true and living God was their motivation. They stood in the fire, but they stood in their faith that God would take care of them, and the Lord preserved them. Spurgeon rightly said that when God puts His children in the furnace, He is found to be standing with them.

Pastor Zhang Rongliang, a prominent Chinese house-church leader, was arrested in a rented apartment at Xuzhai village the afternoon of December 1, 2004. Zhang already had spent 12 years in prison for his faith during five separate detentions. He experienced harsh torture, including electric shock, during his previous prison terms.

Nearly 1,800 Eritrean Christians are now believed to be under arrest because of their religious beliefs, held in police stations, military camps and prisons in 12 known locations across Eritrea.

What do we suffer in standing up for our faith? We suffer the loss of self-love and to many today, this is as painful as a fiery furnace, electric shock or prison camp. Beyond that, the thought of being the object of ridicule, mocking laughter, etc is as frightening to many of us as being thrown to the lions . . .

"Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28)

************
[1]MacArthur, John. Daniel : God's Control Over Rulers and Nations. MacArthur Bible studies, Page 28. Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2000.
[2]Tan, Paul Lee. Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations : [A Treasury of Illustrations, Anecdotes, Facts and Quotations for Pastors, Teachers and Christian Workers]. Garland TX: Bible Communications, 1996, c1979.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

True Religion

Thoughts on “Religious Affections”

“Religion” has been explained to be an attempt to explain or understand the Creator. The noun “religion” can be actually be traced to the French root “relier” which implies the idea of “connection”; that is, “to rely.” Is your life characterized by commitment, devotion and practice, service in worship of the Creator on whom you rely? In other words do you demonstrate a mastery of divinity, or are you mastered by divinity?

Human beings exist either in the state of action or the state of non-action. If we are not caused to move or act, then we will remain at “rest” until we choose to move. Jonathan Edwards, in his master-work “Religious Affections,” explains the nature of humanity is to be inactive unless influenced by our affections. “These affections are the ‘spring of action,’ the things that set us moving in our lives, that move us to engage in activities.” In other words, we are disinclined to act unless our own purposes are served. Edwards continues, “When we look at the world, we see that people are exceedingly busy. It is their affections that keep them busy. If we were to take away their affections, the world would be motionless and dead; there would by no such thing as activity.”

The implication of this is that we would not be religious if our affections were not somehow connected to the action of religion. It was this very concern that drove Edwards to write his controversial work because here he exposes the intertia that drives one’s religiosity as either true or false religious affection.

Now much greater and more qualified writers than this one have already plumbed the great depths of Jonathan Edwards’ bibline contribution, so this is not an attempt to add to the plethora of compositions that already exist on the subject; rather, the point is to explore a question in order to find an immediate application. This is why we began by finding an agreement as to what “religion” means.

If one says on any level, “I am religious,” then he must be prepared with an apologetic regarding his motions of religion; that is, is he dependent on the objective supernatural reality, or is the spiritual realm reliant on him? The same test must be given to the one who says, “I am not religious” with the implication that by his obvious non-dependence, he expects the spirit realm ignore him as he ignores the spiritual realm. What does it accomplish, to declare ourselves “religious,” “spiritual” (or non religious, for that matter) and to whom do we intend to impress with such a declaration?

We would like to think of ourselves as religious, but have confused the whole purpose of what it means to be spiritually dependent, reliant. Consider the act of prayer. Should prayerfulness be only for the sake of building up spirituality, then we are thinking more highly of ourselves and our religion is empty for the practice is inverted and frankly, quite exhausting as we attempt to support ourselves. “And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, ‘So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’” (Matthew 26:40-41)

Prayer is not powerful unless connected to the power source. We do not pray to see the spirituals move, but to align ourselves with God’s plan to glorify His name in Christ Jesus. If the prayer of the righteous man availeth much, be reminded that his prayer is not much availed because he is righteous, but because of Him who is righteousness.

Conversations with Muslims brought this to my attention: the reading of sacred texts does not exalt one’s spirituality; however, the failure to do so underscores his inclination to love self more than God, thus breaking the 1st Commandment, and drawing into question his ability to maintain faithful religion. To many, religiosity is measured by how much they immerse themselves in sacred writings, perhaps even dedicated portions to memory. My conversation with three individuals on two separate occasions made this clear. Though I’ve read the Qur’an, I’ve not dedicated any time to re-reading or to memorization (I find no need to), but when I tell a Muslim I have two questions from the text, and I open the Qur’an to those passages, each time I’ve been met with gushing apologies for personal failure to know the sacred text as well. They are astounded that an infidel has read or even knows where to turn in the text.

Before we find ourselves shaming someone else, consider what one’s devotion time may be like. How much time does one spend in reading the scripture? Admittedly, most would agree that we don’t spend enough time and we wish, desire, promise to dedicate more time to reading scripture. Tomorrow we will have forgotten our promise while cults and –isms spend more time dedicating portions to memory because the enemy knows he can undermine based on our ignorance of that we only call precious for the sake of religion. Our religious affection is false because we love ourselves and our time more than God, who deserves the attention of all heart, mind, soul and strength.

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” (Hebrews 4:12-13)

God knows why we want to be religious. Our conscience tells us something is wrong and that only God can correct the problem. Our problem is that we are not dependent, reliant on Him. Religious affection (we must be reminded by Edwards), is either self-serving, or it is God-serving. In other words, either our practice of worship is out of complete devotion and love for God, or it is out of love for self.

Consider the preachers who love to preach. They love the art and practice of preaching but have yet to hear the proclamation and application of God’s Word in their own lives. This kind of religious affection is no different than that seen by the Pope’s visit to Mexico in 1979. People spent months and money preparing for the visit and the streets became a mob when he arrived. When the Pope was there, all things pertaining to daily living came to a grinding halt. When the Pope left, people wept. Car horns honked and people flashed mirrors at the plane as it circled Mexico City. A great show of religiosity, but no change in people’s lives. Much religious affection, but no dependence on the Creator for life or godliness.

Consider further those who recreate for themselves the scenes of Christ’s crucifixion. People allow themselves to be flogged, wear crowns of thorns, be spit upon, etc. While some are nailed to crosses, some are tied on. Who is more religious? None of them because they are trying to merit God’s attention by reenactment and have separated themselves from what God already accomplished for them in Christ Jesus. “Religion is like a vaccination. People get enough of religion to get inoculated against the real disease.” (John MacArthur, “The Destruction of the Apostates.”)

“There are many religions which know no divine welcome to the sinner until he has ceased to be one. They would first make him righteous, and then bid him welcome to God. But God in Christ first welcomes him, and so makes him penitent and redeems him. The one demands newness of life, the other imparts it. The one demands human righteousness as the price of divine atonement; the other makes atonement in order to evoke righteousness.” (J.S. Whale).

Religion fails if it cannot speak to men as they are because the religions of the world care more for the religion than for humanity. Religion should be unique to the Christian so his religious affection, his spring of action, his motive for action is his uncompromised, obedient love. God has been at work to move men from where they are, separated from Him, to be reconciled to Him in Christ Jesus.

Monday, September 15, 2008

These Dreams

Of all that I’ve forgotten, I sometimes wish I could forget my first dream (the first I actually remember) as it truly was a nightmare. I must have been only 7 or 8 years old and for some reason, I was truly terrorized in my dream--I can still see the images vividly. Years later, 1986 came and went, sort of just slipped by as if a dream (more like a nightmare) and like most dreams I have presently, I certainly don’t remember most of it—and of course, the parts I do remember I wish I could forget. The Wilson Sisters and their band “Heart” gave many of us a sound-track for the year with their pop hit, “These Dreams” in which some were the princesses and others the prince (whatever that meant to our drug-induced, hormone-driven, sin-pattern behavior). As time passed we learned our sleepy thoughts, images and emotions had to become goals or purpose for living—for those that lived to tell.

Nebuchadnezzar had a dream, and I am not talking about the one he had to rule the world. His dream disturbed him to the point that when he sought consolation he did not want someone to merely tell what they thought about it, he wanted truth—he wanted clear thinking, wisdom and intelligent insight, starting with someone tell him what it was! To top it off, once told, this dream was one that would not merely “go away” easily, for everyone would remember it. For centuries. It was a God-given dream with a God-given interpretation with lasting significance.

Daniel 2 is the record in which Daniel tells the king his dream—an image with a gold head, arms and chest of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron and feet the mixture of iron and clay (concrete?). A stone cut without hands strikes the image at its feet and the whole image is smashed, ground together, and blown away as the stone grows to a mountain that fills the earth. This is the description of Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom and the kingdoms that will follow, specifically, the kingdom of God that will consume all kingdoms and stand forever.

Easy for us to get caught up in the imagery and forget the context. Daniel is a captive. His home is conquered and stripped. Daniel is in a time of personal and national crises. He’s already seen what Hurricane Nebuchadnezzar could do. But now Nebuchadnezzar is facing personal and national crises of his own and if someone does not intervene (and soon!) Nebuchadnezzar will make life, well, end for those who should be able to help. That includes Daniel and his three friends. Amazing how, in the midst of his own idolatry, he knew what was false and that truth was attainable.

There is a rule in art that says one should not depict a forest, woodland, or wilderness without some sort of path. A landscape must always have a “way out.” The reason for this is that the onlooker can be overwhelmed and dismayed, lost in the trackless spaces. The situation was looking very grim for Daniel and friends. Look at what happens.

Then Daniel went to his house, and made the decision known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions, that they might seek mercies from the God of heaven concerning this secret, so that Daniel and his companions might not perish with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. Then the secret was revealed to Daniel in a night vision. So Daniel blessed the God of heaven.” (Daniel 2:17-19)

These godly men get together, survey the situation and take the situation to God. God gave them the way out, and that way out is found in God Himself. In the midst of this crises, God shows: His mercy in revealing the secret (2:18); His unstained reputation, bound up in His name (2:20); His wisdom and strength; (2:20); His providence and decrees (2:21); His sovereignty (2:21); His non-communicable attribute of light (2:22); His communicable attributes of wisdom and knowledge (2:23); transcendence in being above all (2:28ff); God is the God of gods, the Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets (2:47). With that final admission, Nebuchadnezzar ends where Daniel begins: prostrating, submitting to God.

What is this all about: interpreting dreams? How to rule a nation? What to do when taken captive? Encouragement in captivity? We might find the timeless principle for our life by looking at another captive (Joseph) in another land (Egypt) with another set of dreams (lifting heads). Both are young, both woke up one morning minding their own business when the world came crashing down around their heads and they found themselves in a pit of uncontrollable circumstances. They both had every opportunity to give up—Joseph was in this particular prison for at least 8 years and spent the rest of his life in a place he never dreamed he would be—in Egypt; Daniel spent the rest of his life in Babylon. They both come into contact with people and have the chance to either become one of the crowd, or be God’s child and live a life of worship.

This is not about getting through crises. There are enough warm, fuzzy “sermons” out there to encourage you through the crises. If this is about getting through tough times, then we will live from crises to crises. What this is about is walking out a life of integrity, purity, and holiness in the face of evil.

Because Daniel and Joseph had a made up mind to live an uncompromised life of love to God, God exalted them in their situation, above the situation. Realistically, the problems did not go away but they had the tools to confront them—submission to the Lord God of heaven, the God of the nations. “Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts; and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief administrator over all the wise men of Babylon. Also Daniel petitioned the king, and he set Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego over the affairs of the province of Babylon; but Daniel sat in the gate of the king.” (Daniel 2:48-49)

God put Daniel and Joseph in a new place, a place of honor. But there is one thing that Daniel got that Joseph did not: Daniel was able to draw around himself godly men with whom he could fellowship and maintain godly counsel. He was able to protect himself from the praises of men. Why? Life is not about passing the time, but about walking in the way everlasting. Dr. Schofield once prayed “Lord, enable me to have to do with things that will last, and not fritter away my time on things that are only of transitory value.” This is a made-up mind that proves itself not in the instance, but in the long-haul. Thomas Edison said that work is not measured by hours, but by what is accomplished. We must be encouraged to work out our salvation by our persistent obedience. We need to be intentional about prayer and seeking biblical counsel not to “get through” a problem but to allow God to demonstrate Himself. We need to learn to use our position (in whatever circumstance) for kingdom purposes—remember, the Kingdom of God crushed and consumes all other kingdoms!

If we live our lives just to get through our “stuff” as carefully as possible, then the Kingdom of God is an impossible dream. No wonder we get frustrated.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Submitting selfishness

If this were not true, I'd feel ashamed to even think of sharing it. My car is showing signs of going "by the wayside" (so to speak) as it is chugging and needs some attention. This is not easy to do when you only have one car and a limited budget, but one does what one can when he is able to do it, yes?

The other day, the window on the driver's side made a funny noise and got stuck in the "down" position. My beautiful and very intelligent wife helped me get it up again. Later, dummy me forgot about the noise, and rolled it down--only to get it stuck--again. Once again, she helped me get it up. I told myself repeatedly to never even think about considering giving the thought of entertaining the idea of contemplating the remote possibility of bringing the window down again. So I didn't.

Still more recently, while trying to find a misplaced cell phone, I opened my car (hot from sitting in the sun), started it, and hit the down button to the rear window--only the rear window did not go down. The driver's side window went down about 3/4 and stopped and has remained there ever since. We can't it back up again. And it's been raining.

My wife got off a little late from work the other night (around midnight) and as she got in the car, she told me our daughter needed a ride home as well. I was not about to let my darling wife drive around Columbia in the middle of the night with rain coming down through a descended window of my own carelessness--so (though I turn into a pumpkin at 10:30) I volunteered to drive around town for the errand. I drove my chugging car in the rain, and I got wet (but not too much).

Less than one block from my daughter's house, I took a turn too sharply and destroyed our right rear tire. (Remember the context: pumpkin, driving chugging car, after midnight, in the rain). Some people sigh, some lose their sanctification. I lost my temper. And in all this, my darling wife is trying to encourage me.

I don't take encouragement well under those conditions and was not all that excited about the character-building exercise God was putting me through right then. While our oldest son (17, skateboarder) whizzed down the hill in the middle of the night in his grandmother's wheelchair, I changed the tire. Kept that tire iron busy, I did! Boy . . .

Of course, I've not said anything about the fact that I don't like making left turns (more on that later), or the budgetary strain we are already under. And I've not said anything about the stresses of so many teenagers in the house and the attention my mother needs in her care. I've not said anything about so many other things that demand our attention; yet, someone wants to know what all this reveals about my faith. What does it reveal? All this "stuff" I get frustrated over shows that God is not any less God and the goodness He wants to show is not any less good. I am reminded that one will always have His way: God's way. One way is always beyond my control: God's.

If I look at my situation and see that my DESTINY is God accomplishing His will to the praise of His glory, the response of submission should show itself in me;

If I look at my situation and see that He is powerful, then it is my RESPONSIBILITY is respond to the power that is all God's, and submission to His power should again be evident in my response;

If I look at my situation and and see that I don't know all there is to know about God or myself, then I am to LEARN what is lacking and respond to what is being taught with submission;

If I look at my situation and do not SUBMIT, then I act selfishly. Selfishness is accomplishing my own will to serve my interests and I am in rebellion against God. If I look at my situation and shun the responsibility to submit to His power, then I am selfish as I try to accomplish the impossible in my own strength. If I look at my situation and refuse to learn, then I assume omniscience and learn nothing. In short, if I do not submit, I am committing idolatry. There is no integrity, nor is there worship.

For some of us, this may be seen in the way we wake up in the morning. There are those that wake up and say, "Good morning, Lord." And there are those that wake up and say, "Good lord, it's morning."

Now my whining is minuscule compared to, oh say, Hurricane Ivan and the aftermath thereof (I spent alot of time in Galveston, so that event hits "home" with me a little) or the Babylonian besiegement of Judah, for example. What happened to Judah when it was besieged by the Babylonians? Daniel tell us that Jehoiakim, king of Judah, was taken along others captives and the vessels of the household of God were brought from Judah to the treasury of the gods of Babylon. Joel describes how the land was brought to waste. That's the short version.

Why did God allow this? In short, because the people were not submissive to God. Jeremiah 26-27 shows their rebellion through the people's response to Jeremiah's message in the house of the Lord--they plotted to murder Jeremiah. They were selfish. In God's message to the people, however, He was very clear to distinguish the true from the false; that is, the obedient from the disobedient. Among those who were taken captive were men faithful to God.

Interestingly, the enemy was looking for something. Daniel 1:3-4 describes that from among the captives, the Babylonians were looking for people with integrity: good looking (nobody wants an unappealing face representing them); intelligent; wise; endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge (in other words, men who could serve the king's court). Potential service required honesty, faithfulness, clear thinking and presentation. The Babylonians find among their overwhelmed and cowering captives four men: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.

Why did these men stand out? For no other reason than the fact that they had made up minds and this is reflected in a relatively small way through their dietary choice. Daniel made up his mind long before his situation went sour that he would submit to God, live a life of worship. Diet was a badge of a made-up mind that took the Babylonians by surprise. Think of it--of all that a captive could complain about it would have to be the food. Daniel and friends are given the BEST food--and they won't touch it! This communicated qualities the Babylonians were looking for--and those qualities hinged on a life of submission to God. The result of not folding under the circumstances was favoritism, not from the captors per se, but granted to the captors from God (Daniel 1:9)!

Contrast this with Jehoiakim, king of Judah (2 Kings 23:34-24:6). Jehoiakim became king not by God direct selection, but because Pharaoh Necho made him king. To show more power behind that move, it was the Pharaoh who changed named the king Jehoiakim--his real name was Eliakim! Jehoiakim gives silver and gold to Pharaoh, then taxes the land because of Pharaoh's command to do so. And we are plainly told "And he did evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done." (2 Kings 23:37).

What a contrast! Two kings (Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar). Two rulers (Jehoiakim and Daniel). Jehoiakim, king of Judah, looses the kingdom and everything in it because he does not submit to God; Daniel gains not merely a kingdom, but the whole middle east because he submits to God! Interestingly, God used the Babylonian captivity to get his godly people OUT of the land. Look at what they left behind in Judah--an evil king and the residue of his wickedness.

I do not like left turns. I like right turns because that's the way the traffic is going. If I have to make a left turn, I have to cross one lane of traffic (when there is a clearance) and merge into moving traffic going the opposite direction. I especially do not like left turns when I have to follow somebody because now I have to keep an eye on the one I am following AND what the traffic is doing. I've said nothing about 7 other people who may be in the car and each individual conversation they are having +/- any over broadcasting MP3 players muddling up the already stifling air of an air conditioner that does not want to work . . . I do not like left turns, but they get me where I need to go. I like to go straight, or turn right.

God likes left turns because they make me check my resolve--my obedience to follow. His purposes are accomplished, with me or without me--He prefers I join Him. And when I make His left turn, across the oncoming traffic and all the troubles that stifle the air, I have to submit--and He rewards with favor.

"Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life." Proverbs 4:23

The first step to have a made up mind is to have a mind renewed in the image of our Lord Jesus Christ. A transformed mind.

The second step is to let our trials bring us to maturity. That may involve God allowing the enemy to strip us of all our treasure in order for us to be moved to a different place so He can bless us when our made up minds are approved.

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