Thursday, March 31, 2011

In the End, God Still Reigns!

Daniel Chapter 8 NLT (excerpted) 
   1 During the third year of King Belshazzar’s reign, I, Daniel, saw another vision, following the one that had already appeared to me. . . .
    21 The shaggy male goat represents the king of Greece, and the large horn between his eyes represents the first king of the Greek Empire. 22 The four prominent horns that replaced the one large horn show that the Greek Empire will break into four kingdoms, but none as great as the first. 
   23 “At the end of their rule, when their sin is at its height, a fierce king, a master of intrigue, will rise to power. 24 He will become very strong, but not by his own power. He will cause a shocking amount of destruction and succeed in everything he does. He will destroy powerful leaders and devastate the holy people. 25 He will be a master of deception and will become arrogant; he will destroy many without warning. He will even take on the Prince of princes in battle, but he will be broken, though not by human power. 
   26  This vision about the 2,300 evenings and mornings is true. But none of these things will happen for a long time, so keep this vision a secret.” 
27  Then I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for several days. Afterward I got up and performed my duties for the king, but I was greatly troubled by the vision and could not understand it.

Daniel's visions in this book are not in chronological order. If put in order then chapter eight and seven would precede chapter 5. This dream occurred most likely in 551 BC when Daniel was about seventy years of age. The vision in chapter 9 takes place along with the vision in chapter 6 as well.

In Chapter 8, the vision of the Goat is revealed to Daniel to be Greece under the leadership of Alexander the Great. The Two horns of the other Goat are the Medo-Persian Empire overtaking Babylon. All were conquered by Greece. Later the Antiochus Epiphanies (the small horn) in the second century BC overtook Israel and replaced worship of God with Greek Idol worship.  These visions continued to disturb Daniel because he was seeing God's people fail to BE God's people and them losing out to empires of the World because they would not obey or Trust in God.

The time of the end, mentioned by Gabriel to Daniel refers to the entire time from the return from Exile, through the time of Christ in the first century, across the mellinia until the final coming of Christ or the 'second coming of Christ, that we all await today. The 2,300 days represent the time from the end of Captivity until the time Jesus was born. The events that characterized the destruction by Antiochus will be repeated on a wider and more perverse scale against 'the holy people' by the demon-possessed ruler of the final kingdom. He will defeat all the world's opposition and will dare to stand against God. Verse 25 calls this evil super-ruler a  master of deception, so we know he is  empowered by God's enemy, the Devil. He will be so deluded that he will attempt to stand against God Himself, but of course will instantly fail at that point.

The visions of Daniel feed into the visions of John the Apostle from the book of Revelation. We do not know how long until they are completed. We do know this, however without doubt. The evil one will take on "the Prince of Princes," God,  but will be broken. Daniel is being reminded of his previous vision that in the end God wins and God's people rule forever. We are being reminded as well, that no matter how awful the world's affairs turn, no matter how bad the judgments of God against the people of the world get, in the end, and forever, God reigns and we with Him.
Your servant

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Sovereignty, Power, and Greatness of all the Kingdoms will be Given to. . . .

Dan. 7:15-28 NLT  
   1 I, Daniel, was troubled by all I had seen, and my visions terrified me. 16 So I approached one of those standing beside the throne and asked him what it all meant. He explained it to me like this: 17 “These four huge beasts represent four kingdoms that will arise from the earth. 18 But in the end, the holy people of the Most High will be given the kingdom, and they will rule forever and ever.” 
   19  Then I wanted to know the true meaning of the fourth beast, the one so different from the others and so terrifying. It had devoured and crushed its victims with iron teeth and bronze claws, trampling their remains beneath its feet. 20 I also asked about the ten horns on the fourth beast’s head and the little horn that came up afterward and destroyed three of the other horns. This horn had seemed greater than the others, and it had human eyes and a mouth that was boasting arrogantly. 21 As I watched, this horn was waging war against God’s holy people and was defeating them, 22 until the Ancient One—the Most High—came and judged in favor of his holy people. Then the time arrived for the holy people to take over the kingdom. 
   23  Then he said to me, “This fourth beast is the fourth world power that will rule the earth. It will be different from all the others. It will devour the whole world, trampling and crushing everything in its path. 24 Its ten horns are ten kings who will rule that empire. Then another king will arise, different from the other ten, who will subdue three of them. 25 He will defy the Most High and oppress the holy people of the Most High. He will try to change their sacred festivals and laws, and they will be placed under his control for a time, times, and half a time. 
   26  “But then the court will pass judgment, and all his power will be taken away and completely destroyed. 27 Then the sovereignty, power, and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be given to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will last forever, and all rulers will serve and obey him.” 
   28  That was the end of the vision. I, Daniel, was terrified by my thoughts and my face was pale with fear, but I kept these things to myself.

Daniel's vision continues. Though he had seen millenia of human history in the first three beasts, a fourth came into his seeing that was far worse than any he had previously seen and across a short span of time. The kingdoms of this world work evil, generation after generation. They have laws that are supposed to be for general good but evil arises out of them all. They keep order, instead of chaos, but even evil can be orderly!

In the time of The End-- the time of the fourth kingdom-- one of ten kings overpowers and usurps the resources the others. It exceeds all the power of the previous ten to become the actual first global kingdom of this world. It is a kingdom driven by God's enemy, Satan. The leader, inspired by the author of evil, even seeks to destroy God's people wherever they are found. According to verse 26, even the special days and times of God's people become controlled by the world-wide kingdom of evil-- until God steps in and turns it all around.

We have not yet seen the rise of this world-wide kingdom but we are witnessing the rise of world-wide evil and a stage being set with Chaos. According to another prophetic writer, John, this evil kingdom's ruler rises precisely because of world-wide chaos. He and that kingdom are welcomed because of the fear of disorder. And even this God permits.  We learn from the books of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible, that the affairs of nations are only seemingly controlled by the people who rule them. In reality, however, all the world stage is set for the last and final act. God permits Daniel to see this last act but he does not fully comprehend it. And so, he tells us that what he saw terrified his thoughts so he kept it all to himself and did not write more down. John, too, was terrified by the same vision but gives us details that were held from Daniel thousands of years earlier.

So you ask, we see world wide chaos. We see world-wide wars. We see world-wide earth quakes. We have seen disturbances in the atmosphere and in the oceans. Is this the time of the end?  I say, it might be or it might not be for yet some generations to come. However, how should you and I be living? I suspect we should be living as if it was the time of the end. I suspect we should be living according to God's priorities and not our own. I suspect we ought to be seeking God's purposes ahead of our preferences. I suspect that even today, we should live for Christ as we would if we knew for certain the end was coming tomorrow.

Your servant in Christ's Presence

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

His rule is eternal—it will never end

Dan. Chapter 7-14 NLT (Excerpted)  
   1 Earlier, during the first year of King Belshazzar’s reign in Babylon, Daniel had a dream . . . 2 In my vision that night, I, Daniel, saw a great storm churning the surface of a great sea, with strong winds blowing from every direction. 3 Then four huge beasts came up out of the water, each different from the others. . . . 
   7 Then in my vision that night, I saw a fourth beast—terrifying, dreadful, and very strong. It devoured and crushed its victims with huge iron teeth and trampled their remains beneath its feet. It was different from any of the other beasts, and it had ten horns. . . . suddenly another small horn appeared among them. Three of the first horns were torn out by the roots to make room for it. This little horn had eyes like human eyes and a mouth that was boasting arrogantly. 
   9 I watched as thrones were put in place and the Ancient One sat down to judge. His clothing was as white as snow,   his hair like purest wool. He sat on a fiery throne  with wheels of blazing fire, 10 and a river of fire was pouring out, flowing from his presence. Millions of angels ministered to him; many millions stood to attend him. Then the court began its session,  and the books were opened. 
   11  I continued to watch because I could hear the little horn’s boastful speech. I kept watching until the fourth beast was killed and its body was destroyed by fire. . . .  13 As my vision continued that night, I saw someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed.

In the book of Daniel, chapter 7 drops back to a few years before the time when Babylon was taken over by Darius the Mead. The previous King-- grandson of the great Nebuchadnezzar, was king still. God gives Daniel a vision of the end of history before the eternal kingdom commences. It must have been horrific for Daniel to see a fast forward pictograph movie of the entire coming four thousand years of human history at a macro level. There were endless conflicts and centuries of war among nations. Each nation exercised what it thought was its authority. However, all of it was part of God's great plan. The interepretation of the dream given to Daniel in vv 17-28 conveyed that God is in control at every turn of world events. The suffering, the conflict, they wars, the persecutions of righteous people-- they all play a part in God's great plan and prepare many for what we read about in verse 14 and verse 27-- the time when the 'holy people of the Most High' will be given God's kingdom and it "will last forever, and all rulers will serve and obey Him."

We can read the updated version of the dream in the vision given to John the Beloved in his book of Revelation. The interpretations match and convey a picture that many, today, are seeing as an approaching time in human history. Even in the past two weeks the news talk shows have been taking up the worried discussion about this being the approaching end. There is the great world disorder, that will precede the fourth world ruler, who attempts to set himself up as 'god.' We have seen in Daniel's writings that such an attempt does not work out so well for those who make it. That will be true of the fourth kingdom's world ruler as well. It all ends in fire, while the persecuted people of God receive the Kingdom from the Messiah the Prince.

Notice, beginning in verse 9, the awesome scene of the Judgment Seat of God. What Daniel saw was probably beyond his ability to describe and these were the best words he could come up with based on his life experiences. We notice that God is in the seat of power and the source of fire (a purifying substance). We notice that while millions of angels do his bidding, this one arrogant world ruler stands ignorantly defiant of the Creator exercising his boastful pride. Boasting and pride never end well. They always lead to a downfall. This usurping little horn (political power) build his kingdom on treachery of other rulers who gave him his start. And he thinks he can usurp the power of God Himself so he boasts and rebels, until fire consumes him.

With such an outcome to boastfulness, I think I want to ask that the Lord deliver me from any time of boasting about anything other than in the power of God alone. How about you?

Your servant,

Monday, March 28, 2011

He still prays to his God three times a day

Dan. 6:11-28 NLT
   11 Then the officials went together to Daniel’s house and found him praying and asking for God’s help. 12 So they went straight to the king and reminded him about his law. “Did you not sign a law that for the next thirty days any person who prays to anyone, divine or human—except to you, Your Majesty—will be thrown into the den of lions?” “Yes,” the king replied, “that decision stands; it is an official law of the Medes and Persians that cannot be revoked.” 
   13 Then they told the king, “That man Daniel, one of the captives from Judah, is ignoring you and your law. He still prays to his God three times a day.” 
 14  Hearing this, the king was deeply troubled, and he tried to think of a way to save Daniel. He spent the rest of the day looking for a way to get Daniel out of this predicament. 
  15 In the evening the men went together to the king and said, “Your Majesty, you know that according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, no law that the king signs can be changed.” 
   16  So at last the king gave orders for Daniel to be arrested and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to him, “May your God, whom you serve so faithfully, rescue you.” 
   17 A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den. The king sealed the stone with his own royal seal and the seals of his nobles, so that no one could rescue Daniel. 18 Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night fasting. He refused his usual entertainment and couldn’t sleep at all that night. 
   19  Very early the next morning, the king got up and hurried out to the lions’ den. 20 When he got there, he called out in anguish, “Daniel, servant of the living God! Was your God, whom you serve so faithfully, able to rescue you from the lions?” 
   21 Daniel answered, “Long live the king! 22 My God sent his angel to shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, for I have been found innocent in his sight. And I have not wronged you, Your Majesty.” 
   23 The king was overjoyed and ordered that Daniel be lifted from the den. Not a scratch was found on him, for he had trusted in his God. 
   24 Then the king gave orders to arrest the men who had maliciously accused Daniel. He had them thrown into the lions’ den, along with their wives and children. The lions leaped on them and tore them apart before they even hit the floor of the den. 
   25 Then King Darius sent this message to the people of every race and nation and language throughout the world:    “Peace and prosperity to you! 26 “I decree that everyone throughout my kingdom should tremble with fear before the God of Daniel.  For he is the living God,  and he will endure forever.  His kingdom will never be destroyed, and his rule will never end.  27 He rescues and saves his people;  he performs miraculous signs and wonders  in the heavens and on earth.  He has rescued Daniel  from the power of the lions.” 
   28  So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.

We last saw our faithful friend, Daniel, knowing he was being watched, deliberately praying to God before open windows. He knew the trap was set for him in the law his enemies had tricked the king into signing, but he also knew the power of God and trusted that power and the will that God held out for him. The enemies run to tell the king and note the King's response. He suddenly realized they had manipulated him into this situation but he felt trapped by his law. He realized he should have been wiser but it was too late. He delayed responding to their demands hoping to think of a way to deliver Daniel from this fate, but none was coming. It was, in fact, God's will for Daniel to endure this fate and glorify God's name. 

We see Daniel dropped into the lion's den and we see King Darius praying to God "May your God, whom. . . rescue you." We even see the king fasting and praying all night instead of sleeping. Daniel's life had already convinced the king that God was real and powerful. In the morning we see the king rushing to the lion's den expectantly, calling out to Daniel. He hears Daniel's response and glorifies God. Oh, and those enemies? They were fed to the lions. It is a dangerous thing to try to manipulate circumstances against the will of God. It will always bring worse harm to the perpetrators than the harm they intended. Check out verse 24 to see their fate.

Darius was a faster learner than the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. It only took him this one time to learn who God was and who he was in relationship to God. The King's decree was that everyone should tremble with fear before God.  Darius had discovered that God is a living God enduring forever, and re realized that the Kingdom of God could never be destroyed by anyone. Doubtless this was why the people of Israel were permitted to return to their homeland with help and rebuild their kingdom 70 years to the day after Daniel and his people had been taken into captivity.

How faithful to God are you ready to be in the face of public pressure? How ready are you to face death? How willing are you to trust the unseen hand of God to deliver you according to His will and plan even when you don't know what those plans include before they happen? How often did you pray to God today-- at least three?

Your servant in Christ's love

Friday, March 25, 2011

He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done

Dan. 6: 1-10 NLT
   1 Darius the Mede decided to divide the kingdom into 120 provinces, and he appointed a high officer to rule over each province. 2 The king also chose Daniel and two others as administrators to supervise the high officers and protect the king’s interests. 3 Daniel soon proved himself more capable than all the other administrators and high officers. Because of Daniel’s great ability, the king made plans to place him over the entire empire. 
   4  Then the other administrators and high officers began searching for some fault in the way Daniel was handling government affairs, but they couldn’t find anything to criticize or condemn. He was faithful, always responsible, and completely trustworthy. 5 So they concluded, “Our only chance of finding grounds for accusing Daniel will be in connection with the rules of his religion.” 
   6  So the administrators and high officers went to the king and said, “Long live King Darius! 7 We are all in agreement—we administrators, officials, high officers, advisers, and governors—that the king should make a law that will be strictly enforced. Give orders that for the next thirty days any person who prays to anyone, divine or human—except to you, Your Majesty—will be thrown into the den of lions. 8 And now, Your Majesty, issue and sign this law so it cannot be changed, an official law of the Medes and Persians that cannot be revoked.” 9 So King Darius signed the law. 
   10 But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God. 11 Then the officials went together to Daniel’s house and found him praying and asking for God’s help. (continued next time)

Faithful Daniel, having served generations of kings, next became a senior official in the reign of the very king that had, at God's planned time, defeated Babylon's silly latest king who dared to challenge God. The messages about the miracles performed by God where kings were concerned was, no doubt, circulating around the empires so the stories of the fiery furnace, and of Nebuchadnezzar's seven years in the wild outback, surely were widely told. Now a new king, Darius, over the Meado Persian empire, who had just defeated and assumed rule over the Babylonian empire was to learn the lesson of humility and of the power of God.

It is always the case that people in high power positions are surrounded by others who want to manipulate them for personal gain. Darius had appointed Daniel to be one of three to rule the kingdom and was about to become prime minister-- a position he had fulled well under Nebuchadnezzar for decades. The other leaders and their supporters probably Meado-Persians and not all that familiar with the events in Babylon, where Daniel and the Hebrews were concerned, began the same old scene. Let's trick the king into making a harsh law that will only serve to single out and remove Daniel-- his favorite-- from being over us. Foolish arrogance, to be sure!

Their proposal may have made sense as this was a time when Darius should be consolidating his leadership control over the newly gained part of his empire. Flattery and deception go hand in hand where politics are concerned. Others in the political tree also joined into the plot so that many top officials proposed the idea. Darius should sign a law (irrevocable under their culture) saying that only the Emperor might be worshiped, prayed to, or otherwise adulated for the following 30 days.

For sure Darius was smarter than it might seem, but in such a culture, a top leader is often susceptible to the influence of flattery and can be turned in a direction that he or she will eventually regret. This is a reason to make our leadership founded deeply on humility in fully surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ. We ought to make our daily prayers, as leaders, asking that we do only that which is aligned with the will of God, rather than our own.  We will be more effective as leaders and we will be more helpful to clients, constituents, and colleagues.

Next time we shall 'the rest of the story.'  For now, the great lesson is in Daniel's response to the obvious plot. It was not new to Daniel, he had experienced it all before. His response was to be very deliberate about his praise and worship of God first. Regardless of what others said, thought, or did, Daniel had always worshipped God and would continue to do so. Oh that we can be as faithful under pressure as was this great leader whom God had prepared across the years.

Your servant,

Thursday, March 24, 2011

"you have been weighed on the balances and have not measured up"

Dan. 5:17-31 NLT (Excerpted )
   17 Daniel answered the king, . . . but I will tell you what the writing means. 18 Your Majesty, the Most High God gave sovereignty, majesty, glory, and honor to your predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar. 19 He made him so great that people of all races and nations and languages trembled before him in fear. . . . 20 But when his heart and mind were puffed up with arrogance, he was brought down from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. 21 He was driven from human society. He was given the mind of a wild animal, and he lived among the wild donkeys. He ate grass like a cow, and he was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he learned that the Most High God rules over the kingdoms of the world and appoints anyone he desires to rule over them. 
   22 You are his successor, O Belshazzar, and you knew all this, yet you have not humbled yourself. 23 For you have proudly defied the Lord of heaven and have had these cups from his Temple brought before you. You and your nobles and your wives and concubines have been drinking wine from them while praising gods of silver, gold, bronze, iron, wood, and stone. . .. But you have not honored the God who gives you the breath of life and controls your destiny! 24 So God has sent this hand to write this message. 
   25 This is the message that was written: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, and PARSIN. 26 This is what these words mean: Mene means ‘numbered’ —God has numbered the days of your reign and has brought it to an end.  27 Tekel means ‘weighed’ —you have been weighed on the balances and have not measured up. 28 Parsin means ‘divided’ —your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” 
   29 Then at Belshazzar’s command, Daniel was dressed in purple robes, a gold chain was hung around his neck, and he was proclaimed the third highest ruler in the kingdom. 
   30  That very night Belshazzar, the Babylonian king, was killed. 31 And Darius the Mede took over the kingdom at the age of sixty-two.

Nebuchadnezzar may have learned his lesson for the remainder of his reign but his royal successor did not. Even though the reformed king proclaimed that everyone should worship God, his next in line (probably a grandson) Belshazzar lived in his own pride and arrogance. The first half of the chapter describes how the king had a party with wives and concubines and nobles-- probably an orgy. To show his supremacy over all the world, he called for the captured sacred articles taken from the Jewish temple 60 years earlier and proceeding to use them as party plates and cups. By calling for the sacred articles and treating them as common dinner ware, he was demonstrating that he thought himself to be greater than God, to whom those articles had been dedicated before being captured. He, in effect, challenged God to a duel. And God took up the challenge!

Daniel was still around advising kings. He was now an old man but just as sharp and tuned in to God's word of prophesy. The young king's mother remembered what her father, the former king had experienced and had her son call for the one man left in the kingdom who had proven knowledge and relationship with God. Daniel informed the young king of the sentence that was placed upon him by the Hand of God Himself because he so reveled in his pride and arrogance and forgot the lessons learned by his predecessors in relationship with God who orders all things across all time. He paid the price as did his kingdom and those who identified with him.

We experience this in the church, the body of Christ, today. When younger generations grow up in their local congregation hearing reports of the faith of their elders they often ignore the lessons that are being rehearsed for their benefit. They fail to make their own relationship with the Holy Spirit of God, through a vital faith in Christ. Because of that, trials and the pull of the world's sin separates them from their family's faith and some never make it back into the fold of faith. There are churches that tell them they can never be lost, but the scriptures disagree. Rather than argue that point it is much better that we all ensure our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ is a tight bond of our personal submission and surrender to His will and daily leadership. We do better pursuing the will of God with every fiber of our being, at all times of every day. There is nothing to be gained by withdrawing from the Kingdom of God and everything to be gained by pressing on into it with our full attention upon God through our faith in Christ and trust in, and obedience to the Holy Spirit.
Your servant

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The King of Heaven. . .All His Acts are Just and True

Dan. 4:1-37 excerpted NLT
  1 King Nebuchadnezzar sent this message to the people of every race and nation and language throughout the world: . . .2   “I want you all to know about the miraculous signs and wonders the Most High God has performed for me. 
   3   How great are his signs, how powerful his wonders! His kingdom will last forever, his rule through all generations. . . . .
   29 Twelve months later. . .. 30 As he looked out across the city, he said, ‘Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor.’ 
   31 While these words were still in his mouth, a voice called down from heaven, ‘O King Nebuchadnezzar, this message is for you! You are no longer ruler of this kingdom. 32 You will be driven from human society. You will live in the fields with the wild animals, and you will eat grass like a cow. Seven periods of time will pass while you live this way, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses.’ 33 That same hour the judgment was fulfilled, and Nebuchadnezzar was driven from human society.. . .
   34 "After this time had passed, I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up to heaven. My sanity returned, and I praised and worshiped the Most High and honored the one who lives forever. His rule is everlasting, and his kingdom is eternal. 35 All the people of the earth are nothing compared to him. He does as he pleases among the angels of heaven and among the people of the earth. No one can stop him or say to him, ‘What do you mean by doing these things?’ 
   36 When my sanity returned to me, so did my honor and glory and kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored as head of my kingdom, with even greater honor than before. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and glorify and honor the King of heaven. All his acts are just and true, and he is able to humble the proud.”

King Nebuchadnezzar was a hard learner. He got the message the first time with the golden statue image but only partially. He got it the second time with the three Hebrews in the furnace, but still with limitations. He got it a little more again when he threw his friend and advisor Daniel to the Lions but yet with memory lapses. Even after his grand pronunciation to the people of Babylon three times about how Great God was, he would yet slip into his pride in just a year, even though God warned him in a dream that Daniel explained. The vision of living like a wild beast in the fields came upon him for seven years. Then he was restored to sanity and seemed to have finally learned the full scope of truth that he testified to beginning with his own words in verses 34 and following. Finally he fully understood the absolute supremacy of God and the absolute fallibility and unworthiness of humanity, even the best and most privileged of them.

We risk this same consequence. We walk in the riches of God's grace yet we dabble with our pride and self-will from time to time. We know we have been forgiven yet we place ourselves where we know we can be enticed back into what we know is sin. Will it take Nebuchadnezzar's consequence. Will we have to fall into insanity and darkness for another period of time before we realize that we must make Christ Lord over every aspect, King over our every purpose, Master over our entire life? Nebuchadnezzar had a chance to avoid catastrophe. So do we. Let's walk in complete surrender and live for Christ alone.
Your servant,

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

God Whom We Serve is Able to Save Us

Dan. 3:16-30 NLT
   16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. 
   18 But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”
   19 Nebuchadnezzar was so furious with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face became distorted with rage. He commanded that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual. 20 Then he ordered some of the strongest men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. 21 So they tied them up and threw them into the furnace, fully dressed in their pants, turbans, robes, and other garments. 22 And because the king, in his anger, had demanded such a hot fire in the furnace, the flames killed the soldiers as they threw the three men in. 23 So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, securely tied, fell into the roaring flames. 
   24 But suddenly, Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in amazement and exclaimed to his advisers, “Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into the furnace?” “Yes, Your Majesty, we certainly did,” they replied. 
   25 “Look!” Nebuchadnezzar shouted. “I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed! And the fourth looks like a god!” 26 Then Nebuchadnezzar came as close as he could to the door of the flaming furnace and shouted: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stepped out of the fire. 27 Then the high officers, officials, governors, and advisers crowded around them and saw that the fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke! 
   28 Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent his angel to rescue his servants who trusted in him. They defied the king’s command and were willing to die rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore, I make this decree: If any people, whatever their race or nation or language, speak a word against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they will be torn limb from limb, and their houses will be turned into heaps of rubble. There is no other god who can rescue like this!” 
 30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to even higher positions in the province of Babylon.

In the back story, verses 1-18 of Daniel, chapter 3, we see the second close encounter of the eternal kind that Nebuchadnezzar had with the infinite and eternal God of all that is. Close on the heels of their rapid promotion along with Daniel to overseeing the nation of Babylon, these three other teen captives-turned-rulers were treated treacherously by the wicked Babylonian magicians whose very lives Daniel had just saved. They created the scenario, playing up to the king's insufferable ego, that the king should be worshiped vis-a-vis his golden statue whenever a signal sounded. This was not done out of respect for the king but simply because they knew the Hebrews would refuse to bow to a statue.

The inevitable happened and the plotters could hardly wait to turn in their Hebrew supervisors for refusing to bow. Daniel must have been out of town or he would have been there with them as well in this deftly laid trap. When they presented the men to the king the evil ones stoked and stroked his ego presenting their failure as unfaithfulness after all the kindness he had shown them by allowing them to be elevated in the first place. The trick worked and the king unleashed his anger ordering they be thrown in a fire seven times hotter than was normally used.

In the fire pit, there could be seen a fourth figure dancing around. That was the pre-incarnate Christ-- the Lord of the Universe. The three men knew, and had prophesied that God would deliver them from the fire, and He did. He was witnessed in their presence deflecting the heat from them and comforting them in joy. The King recognized that this fourth figure was supernatural. He then gave praise to 'the God of Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego. His respect for their faithfulness to God caused the king to pause and realize how much more powerful God was than the false gods he gave lip-service to. He even made it a law that no one could 'speak a word against the God of these men under penalty of an horrendous death for themselves and their families. He rewarded the men with higher positions in government service. But the king was still short of where he needed to be. It will take several more encounters before he understands God and humanity in proper relationship.

People of great power and privilege most usually do not recognize that all they have comes from God. If they once knew it, they soon forget it. Riches and authority can blind us to our faith if we are not careful. God will not usually entrust us to be tempted beyond our capacity to withstand temptation (1 Cor 4;13) and that most likely includes riches and power. We who are not rich can praise God for that protection. We who are powerless can praise God for his shielding us from that burden.


Monday, March 21, 2011

"Truly, your God is the greatest . . . a revealer of mysteries"

Dan. 2:37-48 NLT 
37 Your Majesty, you are the greatest of kings. The God of heaven has given you sovereignty, power, strength, and honor. 38 He has made you the ruler over all the inhabited world and has put even the wild animals and birds under your control. You are the head of gold. 
   39 But after your kingdom comes to an end, another kingdom, inferior to yours, will rise to take your place. After that kingdom has fallen, yet a third kingdom, represented by bronze, will rise to rule the world. 40 Following that kingdom, there will be a fourth one, as strong as iron. That kingdom will smash and crush all previous empires, just as iron smashes and crushes everything it strikes. 41 The feet and toes you saw were a combination of iron and baked clay, showing that this kingdom will be divided. Like iron mixed with clay, it will have some of the strength of iron. 42 But while some parts of it will be as strong as iron, other parts will be as weak as clay. 43 This mixture of iron and clay also shows that these kingdoms will try to strengthen themselves by forming alliances with each other through intermarriage. But they will not hold together, just as iron and clay do not mix. 
   44 “During the reigns of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed or conquered. It will crush all these kingdoms into nothingness, and it will stand forever.  45 That is the meaning of the rock cut from the mountain, though not by human hands, that crushed to pieces the statue of iron, bronze, clay, silver, and gold. The great God was showing the king what will happen in the future. The dream is true, and its meaning is certain.” 
   46 Then King Nebuchadnezzar threw himself down before Daniel and worshiped him, and he commanded his people to offer sacrifices and burn sweet incense before him. 47 The king said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is the greatest of gods, the Lord over kings, a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this secret.” 
   48 Then the king appointed Daniel to a high position and gave him many valuable gifts. He made Daniel ruler over the whole province of Babylon, as well as chief over all his wise men.

The king had asked an impossible task. Young Daniel, just barely out of the academy had volunteered to face the task on behalf of all those whom the king had raised up for his service called 'wise men.'  The task was not only to interpret the dream but to first tell the court what the dream was, without the king saying a word. Any human would fail but God would not fail Daniel and he knew it. In vv 24-35 Daniel tells the court about the king's dream of a huge gold statue, but with a gold head, silver chest, bronze belly and thighs,  iron legs, and feet of marbled clay and iron. An immense rock supernaturally cut from a mountain flew down and crushed the frightening figure.

Next Daniel explained how the dream informed the king of the coming two millennia of history with successive kingdoms with decreasing status and unity in the world. Daniel explained what God had taught him, that the rock was the future Kingdom of God that would ultimately crush all the political kingdoms and nations of the world order and this will be a supernaturally established kingdom that cannot end. It was a prophesy of the coming Messiah and the eternal Kingdom of God that will be established for Christ to rule forever.

The revelation released the king from the fear caused by his dream and lead him into a discovery of God. It was but an initial discovery for God would have to intervene in Nebuchadnezzar's life again in the near future to humble him. For now, the king gave praise and recognition to God as 'the greatest of gods.'  We see the king had yet some more to learn. In gratitude the King placed Daniel, about a 20 year-old- college graduate to be a sub-ruler over the home province and other gifts beside. We later learn that Daniel becomes the chief advisor to the king, over all the so-called 'wise men.' Some of those men were servants of lesser powers but Daniel was made superior to them and they had to submit to his authority or die.

When we let God use us, and we act in God's time, with God's words, according to God's will, we can know that we will be placed and allowed to be a blessing. If we always remember that any authority or responsibility we might receive along the way has nothing to do with our own abilities and everything to do with God's plan and will, then we can be blessed and become a blessing.

Your servant in Christ

Friday, March 18, 2011

Praise the Name of God Forever and Ever

Dan. 2:19-28 NLT

19 That night the secret was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven. 20 He said, “Praise the name of God forever and ever, for he has all wisdom and power. 21 He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the scholars. 22 He reveals deep and mysterious things and knows what lies hidden in darkness, though he is surrounded by light. 23 I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors, for you have given me wisdom and strength. You have told me what we asked of you and revealed to us what the king demanded.”

24 Then Daniel went in to see Arioch, whom the king had ordered to execute the wise men of Babylon. Daniel said to him, “Don’t kill the wise men. Take me to the king, and I will tell him the meaning of his dream.”
25 Arioch quickly took Daniel to the king and said, “I have found one of the captives from Judah who will tell the king the meaning of his dream!”
26 The king said to Daniel (also known as Belteshazzar), “Is this true? Can you tell me what my dream was and what it means?”
27 Daniel replied, “There are no wise men, enchanters, magicians, or fortune-tellers who can reveal the king’s secret. 28 But there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and he has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in the future. Now I will tell you your dream and the visions you saw as you lay on your bed.

This story from the Book of Daniel is widely known but little understood among the societies of the world where it is told. The focus seems always to be on the King's dream. And, true, the dream was an important one for it tells the coming history of the world up through the Roman Empire. But that was not the intent. The vision was to establish the world order to the time when the God of the Universe would send the Redeemer and initiate the forgiveness of sin. Daniel understood and tells so in his praise psalm from verses 20-23. God, indeed "has all wisdom and power."  In spite of what the leaders of the world think, God controls the nations and the events making up our history. The players on the world stage move in relation to one another, not knowing that they are heading toward the ends planned by God. They try to write their own scripts for the events of days but the Author of Days simply smiles as they move toward His planned ends.

God reveals mysteries to His servants who live in obedience and trust Him. He reveals these when He wants His servants to use the information to bless others. It has nothing to do with the servant who provides the prophesy and everything to do with Him who gives the knowledge. God had a plan to reveal to Nebuchadnezzar so that the King would play his part on the world stage and not harm others unnecessarily. In fact it took several more years and more prophesy for the King to get it, but he eventually did. We face more catastrophes around the world these days and wonder how to 'fix it' all. We should rather wonder WHO can fix it and what we are to learn from the circumstances He is permitting. There is an outcome and those who trust in God through faith in Christ know it.

Your servant in HIM

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Trusting God for the Outcome

Dan. 1:8-19 NLT
    8 But Daniel was determined not to defile himself by eating the food and wine given to them by the king. He asked the chief of staff for permission not to eat these unacceptable foods. 9 Now God had given the chief of staff both respect and affection for Daniel. 10 But he responded, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has ordered that you eat this food and wine. If you become pale and thin compared to the other youths your age, I am afraid the king will have me beheaded.” 
   11 Daniel spoke with the attendant who had been appointed by the chief of staff to look after Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. 12 “Please test us for ten days on a diet of vegetables and water,” Daniel said. 13 “At the end of the ten days, see how we look compared to the other young men who are eating the king’s food. Then make your decision in light of what you see.” 14 The attendant agreed to Daniel’s suggestion and tested them for ten days. 
   15 At the end of the ten days, Daniel and his three friends looked healthier and better nourished than the young men who had been eating the food assigned by the king. 16 So after that, the attendant fed them only vegetables instead of the food and wine provided for the others. 
   17 God gave these four young men an unusual aptitude for understanding every aspect of literature and wisdom. And God gave Daniel the special ability to interpret the meanings of visions and dreams.
   18  When the training period ordered by the king was completed, the chief of staff brought all the young men to King Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king talked with them, and no one impressed him as much as Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. So they entered the royal service. 20 Whenever the king consulted them in any matter requiring wisdom and balanced judgment, he found them ten times more capable than any of the magicians and enchanters in his entire kingdom.

Imagine the circumstance of these young men, most likely in their late teens or early 20's. They had been taken captive by a foreign army and forced to walk thousands of miles back to the enemy's capital city. Then they were enrolled in a training school, having to speak and learn in a language that was not their native tongue. Further more, even their dietary preferences, chosen out of fidelity to their religion and to God, was being replaced. How strong would you or I have been in their situation? Yet they respectfully spoke up and drew a line when it came to disobeying their practice of devotion to God first. While all the other trainees were feasting on rich foods and alcohol, these brave young men declined in favor of vegetables and water in stead. They even proposed a 'test' to their overseer. Since this was an academic institution, tests were always appropriate. They were not putting God to the test but to the Babylonian leaders it was an opportunity to test these foreigner's religious diet-- a direct comparison. This would be good research so they agreed. They fully expected, I'm sure, that the null hypothesis would be true-- that is, that the young men's requested diet would not prove to be healthier than that of the others.  Daniel and his companions, however, knew what God would do. They believed and trusted in God's protection-- even in this time of captivity.

Of course God won the test. Scripture tells us that in just 10 days, Daniel and his three friends would be obviously healthier than all the rest of the trainees who had eaten the other diet. And, in fact, by the time of graduation from the academy, these four were so superior to all the rest that the emperor selected them to join his personal team of advisers. Scripture records that this king found these faithful God-followers, to be "ten times more capable" than all the rest of those in his service.

When we trust God and remain faithful to His will, even under opposition and in strange circumstances, we can know, for certain, that the outcome for us will be the best it could be and we will be a blessing to others as well.
Your servant in Christ

Friday, March 11, 2011

Then All Who Belong to Christ Will Be Raised

1Cor. 15:13-23 NLT 
   13  For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. 15 And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. 16 And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. 18 In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! 19 And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. 
   20 But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. 
   21 So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. 22 Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. 23 But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back.

In a few weeks we will be celebrating Easter again this year. Praise God that we still can celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Praise God that in spite of the atheists and economic promotions about bunnies, candy, baskets, and hidden eggs to hunt, we have a large number of folks in the world who worship a risen Lord and Savior, if only this one weekend. Some may not realize what they worship but the participate anyway. We who do realize whom we worship should pray for and encourage others who don't have full understanding of their fledgling faith as yet.

Paul's logic is flawless in this passage particularly. To deny the truth of Christ's resurrection would be to deny the truth of Christ as Messiah and Savior. To deny the truth of Christ the Savior would be to deny the truth of human frailty, sin and fallenness. To deny human sin would be to deny the truth of God. To deny God would be pure foolishness and carry the most horrific of eternal consequences.

The Resurrection is true. Christ the Lord and Savior, ruler of all creation for eternity is true. Eternal life with God through faith in Christ is true-- the greatest of all truths. Verse 23 raises the promise that you and I who believe in Christ will be resurrected with new created bodies upon Christ's return.  Next unfolds a brief introduction to the rebirth of creation under God's fulfilled plan. I encourage you to take it all in by faith and rest in God's peace for your eternal future.

Your servant

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Better Way

1Cor. 12:31b NLT . . .  But now let me show you a way of life that is best of all.
    13:1  If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. 
   4  Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. 
   8 Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! 9 Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! 10 But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless. 
    11 When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. 12 Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. 
   13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

I never tire of hearing God's description of Godly love as taught through the Apostle Paul to the church at Corinth and to the Body of Christ across the centuries ever since. Even though we are both  busy this morning, it warrants a few moments of our time to reflect about it's impact upon our lives. It is, as Paul said at the close of chapter 12 "a better way."  It is better than all the gifts and talents that Christian servants have ever exercised. The power to love our enemies, to love those who are harming us-- even while they do so-- and to love the most unlovely is beyond all other powers in the universe. We can make more change in the world through love than with wealth or military might. It is more powerful than all supernatural powers ever applied to or against humanity or imagined in fantasy literature. I don't want to compete with these powerful words so I will stop here and suggest that you simply read verses 1-13 out loud wherever you are just now. Then I suggest you humbly ask God to make that love a characteristic of your daily life. He wants to do it you know.

Your servant in Christ's love

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Earnestly Desire the Most Helpful Gifts.

1Cor. 12:24b-31a NLT 
   24b So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. 25 This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. 26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. 
   27 All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. 28 Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church: first are apostles, second are prophets,  third are teachers, then those who do miracles, those who have the gift of healing, those who can help others, those who have the gift of leadership, those who speak in unknown languages.
    29 Are we all apostles? Are we all prophets? Are we all teachers? Do we all have the power to do miracles? 30 Do we all have the gift of healing? Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown languages? Do we all have the ability to interpret unknown languages? Of course not! 31a  So you should earnestly desire the most helpful gifts. 

The verses just prior to our section today, describe the interrelationship of all parts of a human body and how all are necessary and none are more prominent than others. Paul was trying to tell the Corinthian church members about the necessity of unity before God in the church. There were problems in that church that rival today's churches challenges as well. We have to deal with pride and arrogance within our ranks. We are tempted to talk down another member as a means of upspeaking ourselves. We are tempted to criticize others as a way of promoting ourselves. We are often very subtle and cleaver about doing this so that others get sucked into the conversation without art first realizing the problem they are joining.

Paul's illustration of the human body makes it plain what Christ intends for His church. He intends interrelation and unity. He intends harmony and singleness of purpose. He intends HIS love to characterize the attitudes of every member within the church toward every other. And, He intends this for his WHOLE church not just our local congregation.

Notice how he organized the church categories of roles. These are categories rather than levels of authority and value or importance. They each simply have different roles and responsibilities according to personal gifting.
  1. first are apostles,
  2. second are prophets,
  3. third are teachers,
  4. then:
  • those who do miracles,
  • those who have the gift of healing,
  • those who can help others,
  • those who have the gift of leadership,
  •  those who speak in unknown languages.
 We have administrative leaders who can humble exercise high levels of authority and responsibility. We have those who are called upon to interpret the word of God and speak to others about it. We have those who are gifted in ways that help others to learn how to walk with Christ. Then we have various ministries of service to others: miracle workers, healers, helpers, task leaders, and speakers of things heretofore unknown as they are lead by God. These categories cover all of the tasks, jobs, functions for lay persons and professional ministry. In fact, in the early church there were no professional ministers. There were only those called by God to go outside their comfort zone and build faith in others traveling from place to place. They were church planters, evangelists, all moving about the face of the globe as the Spirit of God led them. The point is this is God's Church built upon Jesus Christ and we are all privileged to have roles within this 'body life' as God calls. What ministry is God calling you to do?
Your servant in Christ's Ministry

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord

1Cor. 12:1-11 NLT  
   1 Now, dear brothers and sisters, regarding your question about the special abilities the Spirit gives us. I don’t want you to misunderstand this. 2 You know that when you were still pagans, you were led astray and swept along in worshiping speechless idols. 3 So I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit. 
   4 There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. 5 There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. 6 God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us. 
   7 A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.  8 To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge.  9 The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing.  10 He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said.  11 It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.

Early on in the history of the Christian church the enemy attack at the junction of pride and arrogance was launched and that battle has been waging across the past two thousand years. Among churches there are disputes about non biblical or extra biblical traditions. At the base of it all the only existing reason for the tradition is that it will permit attention to be focused upon the individual promoting it. Instead of saying that living is all about Christ, the person promoting his or her own special gift is saying 'its all about me-- look at me, I have a great gift greater than yours.'  Now no one would ever admit this but that is the effect of the disputes over the gift of tongues for example.  That is the impact over the promotion of 'the word of prophesy.'  That is the result over the ongoing dispute by any group insisting its baptisms are the only ones among other christian baptisms that are valid.

Paul was very clear in his minimization of the phenomenon of glossolalia (speaking in unknown unintelligible speech, supposedly under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit). It was relegated to the backwater of anything spiritual yet for that past two centuries churches have promoted this one thing to distinguish themselves from other Christian groups and to promote every individual's unique speciality. No matter if they could not heal, they could utter unintelligible phrases and think they are being considered 'spiritual' by those who hear. Paul told them to keep it between themselves and God to avoid this very problem. But the divides yet exist.

Then there are the divides over a belief of whether it is possible to lose salvation. Instead of promoting full salvation and holiness with everyone, mentoring those who are weak, there are some who persist in beating up on others in their speaking and condemning them. It is not for us to condemn one another but to work together and serve Christ. God will take care of the condemnation of  others we don't need to worry about that. Verse seven said that the spiritual gifts were given so that we might help one another not demean others or promote ourselves as superior to them.  We all have different and unique gifts and they are for service not for self adulation or public recognition. Why don't we all who name the name of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior simply agree that we all are to just serve Him?  why not start today?

Your servant in Christ's love

Monday, March 7, 2011

The cup is the new covenant between God and his people

1Cor. 11:23-33 NLT  
   23 For I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself. On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread 24 and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.” 25 In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this to remember me as often as you drink it.” 26 For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again. 
   27 So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.  28 That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup. 29 For if you eat the bread or drink the cup without honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and sick and some have even died.  
   31 But if we would examine ourselves, we would not be judged by God in this way.  32 Yet when we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned along with the world. 
   33 So, my dear brothers and sisters, when you gather for the Lord’s Supper, wait for each other. 

The celebration of "The Lord's Supper" is some thing precious to all who are members of the Body of Christ's Believers. The more formalized church took to calling it communion and used it for evil purposes to exercise power and influence over nations and rulers, as well as the common people. Since the protestant reformation, even among some protestant groups the clergy has abused laity with restrictive practices about the celebration of the Lord's supper. However, the event we celebrate was set up by the Lord Jesus Christ, as recorded in the Gospels. Paul, here, reminds us that Jesus was the one who told us to 'do this in remembrance. . . '  No minister or priest has the authority before God to tell someone they can or cannot partake in the Lord's Supper (also called Communion.) Only God and that particular person himself or herself can make this determination. Christ invited us to His supper and the only condition is that we partake in His nature.

Have we examined ourselves and found that we have submitted all self-will to Him? Have we considered our choices to do the things that will glorify God rather than ourselves and chosen the former over the latter? Have we prayed and surrendered control to God and asked Him to live within our nature like He promised and remake us into His image? Then we can partake. I've enjoyed the Lord's Supper since I became a believer in 1959. However, I always pause a moment before I partake, whether I am leading it or sitting in a pew receiving it. I pause and ask myself if Jesus is yet Lord over all there is of me. I pause to ask Him to take charge of any part of my life that I have not submitted or that I may have picked up again to exercise my own will over. And then I partake.

Apparently, unworthy participation lead to sickness and death in the first century church. Now, I do not know if that happens today but there are a lot of people in the church taking part in this celebration with questionable behaviors in their lives. Are there some who take it as a sort of a magic spell to ward off evil? Are there some who just do it out of decades of habit? I can't say for sure. What I can say is that we must all be sure we 'examine ourselves' as Paul said in verse 31. If we are patient with each other in the celebration of the Lord's supper then we can be patient with each other in all the rest of our relationships because the Love of Christ can make it so with us.
Your servant in Christ's service

Friday, March 4, 2011

Don’t give offense to Jews or Gentiles or the church of God.

1Cor. 10:19-32NLT  
   19 What am I trying to say? Am I saying that food offered to idols has some significance, or that idols are real gods? 20 No, not at all. I am saying that these sacrifices are offered to demons, not to God. And I don’t want you to participate with demons. 21 You cannot drink from the cup of the Lord and from the cup of demons, too. You cannot eat at the Lord’s Table and at the table of demons, too. 22 What? Do we dare to rouse the Lord’s jealousy? Do you think we are stronger than he is? 
   23 You say, “I am allowed to do anything” —but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything” —but not everything is beneficial. 24 Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others. 
   25 So you may eat any meat that is sold in the marketplace without raising questions of conscience. 26 For “the earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it.” 
   27 If someone who isn’t a believer asks you home for dinner, accept the invitation if you want to. Eat whatever is offered to you without raising questions of conscience. 28 (But suppose someone tells you, “This meat was offered to an idol.” Don’t eat it, out of consideration for the conscience of the one who told you. 29 It might not be a matter of conscience for you, but it is for the other person.) For why should my freedom be limited by what someone else thinks? 30 If I can thank God for the food and enjoy it, why should I be condemned for eating it? 31 So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Don’t give offense to Jews or Gentiles or the church of God.

In the first century it was all about false idols and sacrifices. Today false gods are worshipped in other ways-- avarice, alcohol, drugs, sex, power etc. Just like Paul encouraged first century Christians not to knowingly consume food that was given in worship of a false god, so we should avoid embracing fruits of false worship as well. We should avoid materials that are produced by slave labor perhaps. We should not be the cause of another consuming alcohol and becoming injured by it. We should not drive dangerously just because we are in a hurry and risk another person's live. There are lots of false god-fruits that we should avoid. But there is a greater way to think of all this.

We are, indeed free because Christ has set us free. This freedom includes freedom from condemnation. It includes freedom from the power of self-serving sin over our decisions. We can enjoy what God gives us. But if we exercise our freedom in careless ways that put others at risk, then we are not showing the fruit of the Holy Spirit-- unconditional love.

I don't need to make an idol of the details of my religious worship either. I don't need to do investigations to show that I am being careful. I once knew a Rabbi who subscribed to the most rigid sect of Judaism. On a Sabbath day he would never walk more than seven steps without changing directions. We were in the military and in a war zone. That caused us both problems. It especially took extra time for us to go anywhere together on that particular day. I asked him why and he related that he had to be seen for keeping the smallest details of his holy day rules. Yet he missed the entire purpose of his relationship with a living God and was content to talk about his adherence to religious details.

Our Lord taught that to keep the Law of God is to love, serve and live to be a blessing to others at God's direction. Paul taught that to be a blessing to others one had to follow the Lord. Our Lord Jesus said that to be His followers, we must deny self, embrace our destiny in His will and go where ever He would lead us. Lots of us in the Church of Jesus Christ have done this across the two millenia since He commissioned us. Yet lots more of us are not doing this.

What about you today?
Your servant in obedience to Christ

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Bearing UP in the Temptations We Face

1Cor. 10:12-13 NLT 
   12 If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. 13 The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.

I have carried the joy of this passage ever since I came to Christ at age 14 in the Mountains of California at a teen camp. The year was 1959. No one in my family was a believer other than a saintly grandmother who had considerable influence upon me but with with whom I did not live consistently. I came from being a wild street kid, little supervision, poverty, raised by a single mom, sometimes having nothing to eat so I ate at friends houses. When we moved together with other family members into an apartment with our grandmother, she encouraged me to get into a church, as she had always done when I was a younger boy. Owners of the apartment complex were believers and they invited me to their church youth group. Their older teen age son offered to drive me in his cool 1950 customized ford. I was thrilled with that.

The first week, I was invited to go to the church camp later that month and someone from the church paid the way.  People were praying for me whom I did not even know. The time came and I went. It was fun-- church camps always are, of course. But I heard a message that caught my mind and heart attention each night. By Thursday night I could no longer sit through the message without gripping the back of the chair in front of me. I was supposed to do something but did not know what. Then the preacher explained how I needed to invite Christ into my heart, accept forgiveness of my sins and sin condition by faith, and surrender my will to God. That was a lot for at 14 year-old with no church background to grasp, but I reached out to it and to Jesus.

I prayed "if you are real Jesus and you really do love me, as the pastor said, I accept you. Please show me your way." The next morning we had a Bible class-- something I had half slept through the first three days. This time I was full of questions and pressed for answers. I must have frustrated our young preacher-evangelist who happened to be teaching my group. We were studying Chapter 10 of Corinthians. In those days Bible study done in the King James version of course,  and that was not a language I understood very well. It was this same passage that jumped off the page to me and fixated my mind upon it. It became the very first Bible verse I committed to memory, mostly because the Holy Spirit kept saying it to me in my mind for the next several days. "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to men: but God is faithful who will not suffer you be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape that ye may be able to bear it." (I just wrote that from memory after all these decades.)

I have faced lots and lots of temptations in my almost 67 years. Some I was able to overcome and others I was not so good at overcoming. But God has always reminded me of this verse. I still see that boys' bible class with pastor Gerald teaching us about this passage. I still see me blurting out a response to his question about what this meant. "It means that when I am tempted, whatever I am tempted about, I already have the power to resist it. 'Cause God would not permit me to be tempted with something that could beat me down."  In my 14-year-old new believer theology, this was a large life-raft in a very stormy ocean. I have repeated that blurted-out answer thousands of times to myself when facing a temptation to do something I know I should not do.  I have reminded myself to "look for the way of escape."  "You have been given power by God to say 'NO' to this, so just say 'NO!'"  I would say to myself.

Sorry to drag you down my little detour down memory lane but this passage was next on our schedule and I could not let it pass without telling you how important it has been in my life. Thanks for reading along. It can be an important help in your life as well. It is absolutely true. Nothing you are facing is unique to you. Others have faced it and God has enabled them to overcome, just as God will enable you to overcome as well. The ways of escape are always present, you just must be persistent in looking for them, and then in taking them when when you see the way. You can be strong in Christ but first you must choose to permit HIM to make you strong. Then you must simply and humbly follow him moment by moment, day by day.
Your servant

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Nor should we put Christ to the test. . .

1Cor. 10:1-9 NLT 
   1 I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground. 2 In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses. 3 All of them ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Yet God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. 
   6 These things happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did, 7 or worship idols as some of them did. As the Scriptures say, “The people celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry.” 8 And we must not engage in sexual immorality as some of them did, causing 23,000 of them to die in one day. 
   9  Nor should we put Christ to the test, as some of them did and then died from snakebites. 10 And don’t grumble as some of them did, and then were destroyed by the angel of death. 11 These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age.

There is value for Christians in the counsel of the Whole Word of God-- the inspired Old Testament and the inspired New Testament.  The New if the fulfillment of the old. But lessons for today's believers can be found in the pages of it all. Paul wanted the early Corinthian believers to read from the Jewish Bible about what happened to people whom God had chosen but who chose to rebel and deliberately embrace the things God called sin. That is a lesson that today's church members need to remember. Sexual sin, false worship, grumbling and griping, gossiping and character assassination seem to happen among members of every church congregation I know. People who claim they are Christian but whose behavior would shout loudly otherwise have a serious thing to face when they have to explain to our God why they persisted in disobedience after receiving His grace and love. Paul was warning them but he is also warning in the 21st century as well.

One of my students asked me to day if, given the worldwide violence and chaos, the rapid increase of sin and corruption in the highest levels of civilization, and the terrible natural events taking place, we are at the end of the age. I replied "most certainly yes." But it is not because of all these events I say this. It is because of scripture. Paul advised in verse 9 that these warnings were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age."  You see, Paul thought he was living at the end of the age and he was. We still are. The end of the age came after Jesus ascended and the church was initiated. The only thing yet to take place on God's time table is his return and judgment on the non-believing world. There is a new age to come-- two actually, a physical thousand years reign by Christ on earth, when Redeemed people rule with Christ and then a new Heaven and New Earth. But this last two thousand years has been 'the end of the age.' Humanity is simply spinning itself down and down, further and further away from God, in spite of the witness and teaching the church has given it. And members in The Church spin downward along with humanity, returning to their fallen state because they refuse tho embrace complete Lordship by Christ. Living for Christ means we shall never put Him to the test by claiming allegiance yet living otherwise, especially since He continually holds out to us the power to succeed
Your servant in Christ

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Become a Slave to All

1 Cor. 9:19-27 NLT
   19 Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. 20 When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. 21 When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. 
   22 When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. 23 I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings. 
   24 Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! 25 All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. 26 So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. 27 I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.

In our western, especially American, cultures we have built a society upon perceptions of rights. We have also built upon perceptions of might. There is the constant struggle for rights-- my rights, human rights, women's rights, children's rights, even animal rights. It seems that whatever source of power is in place there is an advocacy group opposing it because of some perceptions or another about rights. People have such an obsession with rights.

Paul, here, makes the point that he has rights as well. His rights were being denied by political opponents in the Corinthian congregation, so Paul was clarifying. On the other hand, Paul was equally quick to point out that he had never demanded his 'rights.' Instead, he went to them to serve? Why? Because Christ, our Lord and Master, the King of all creation, came to serve and we are made over into His image, of course. Even though Paul was, by his station, education, and calling by God, entitled  to certain prerogatives, he declined to claim them when among the Corinthians. Instead he worked to meet their needs. The prize in the race Paul ran was not given by the Corinthians, it is given by God to the runners who are-- as was Jesus-- servants of all.

For this reason the message of Christ was spread across the face of the world throughout modern history. For this reason it has spread back to its originating continents and countries. The Christ followers in the Church--The Body of the Lord-- are responding to become His slave and the servants to the world. They are surrendering their personal rights and prerogatives, cashing in their personal hard-earned resources, and investing them into the work of the Kingdom of God. They live for God's will not for retirement benefits and the glories of renown. They are in the race straining toward the eternal prize. Are you?

Your servant in Christ's Calling
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