Doomsday Prepper & Everyone Else: DANIEL 7-8

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Daniel 7-8

Daniel saw things. Things that were so disturbing it made him sick to his stomach. Things of evil and terror that keeps one awake at night.

I, Daniel, was terrified by my thoughts and my face was pale with fear, but I kept these things to myself. (Daniel 7:28b NLT)

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 8:27 NLT)

This wasn’t the first glimpse into the future by Daniel, yet it dealt a heavier blow, leaving Daniel pale with terror. What made these visions so different? Well for one thing, they came with quite a bit more detail and explanation.  And another, they weren’t all rainbows and unicorns.  Chronologically these two visions came to Daniel in the first three years of Belshazzar’s reign, before chapter 5. It’s no wonder Daniel didn’t hesitate when reading the writing on the wall; these visions provided ample explanation… and then some.

What does one do with information like this? For Daniel, in that moment, he kept it to himself, not sharing until years later. Why did God reveal these future terrors to Daniel and then to the rest of us? What are we supposed to do with it? Are we doomed? Before we dive into the details of these two chapters, the question that must remain throughout all our study and discussion is this: how does this text fit into the puzzle of God’s redemptive story? Because, after all, his redemption is really the whole point.

WHAT DO THE SCHOLARS SAY?

Let’s begin with the vision in chapter seven. It begins with the winged lion coming out of the sea, followed by a devouring bear, followed by a 4-winged / 4-headed leopard, and finally followed by a fourth beast, more terrifying than the rest. This beast came with no physical description per se; except that it had huge, iron teeth, bronze claws, and ten horns. Then suddenly a small horn emerged, taking out three of the original ten horns to make room for it. This little horn claimed human eyes and a mouth and boasted arrogantly.

Now let’s jump to the vision in chapter eight. In this vision we see two animals portrayed: a two-horned ram and a one-horned goat. The goat fiercely attacks the ram, subduing it quickly. At the height of the goat’s power, its horn was broken and replaced by four horns pointing in all directions of the earth, until from one of those horns another small horn emerged with great power. This small horn challenged a heavenly authority, an angel or perhaps God himself, bringing desecration to the Temple of God.

By considering the vision from Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in conjunction with the explanation of these two visions in chapters seven and eight, plus the annals of recorded history as we know it, scholars have pieced together a plausible interpretation. But let’s be clear, no one can say for sure exactly what the prophecy entails for our world. There are literally thousands of possible pathways for these prophecies to complete. The only the things we know for sure are the limited explanations  provided directly in scripture.

Four Succession Kingdoms

The four beasts in chapter seven seem to correlate strongly with the four major divisions of the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, which Daniel explained at that time as representing dominant kingdoms. The angel speaking to Daniel in this week’s text confirmed the same meaning for these beasts.

These four huge beasts represent four kingdoms that will arise from the earth. (Daniel 7:17 NLT)

If the correlation between this vision and that of Nebuchadnezzar’s is indeed valid, then the winged lion would correlate to the head of gold in the statue, the devouring bear would correlate to the chest of silver, the four-headed leopard to the torso of bronze, and the fourth beast to the legs and feet of iron and iron/clay.

Daniel’s interpretation in chapter two confirms that the first earthly government is Babylon. The interpretation in chapter eight gives more clarity to the succeeding two governments. Gabriel explains that the two-horned ram represents the growing power of Media and Persia; a government ruled by two kings that eventually overthrew Babylon.

The 3rd Kingdom

Gabriel goes on to explain that Greece would follow, represented by the one horned goat coming out of the west. History tells us that Alexander the Great, the first king of the Greek Empire and infamous military leader, took the world by storm with incredible speed, subduing the Medes and the Persians and most of the known world.

The goat became very powerful. But at the height of his power, his large horn was broken off. In the large horn’s place grew four prominent horns pointing in the four directions of the earth. (Daniel 8:8 NLT)

Alexander soon died at 32 years of age (323 BC), the height of his success. His four generals (Cassander, Ptolemy, Antigonus, and Seleucus) assumed power by dividing the empire into four regions.

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. (Daniel 8:22 NLT)

Daniel’s vision in chapter eight continues with a smaller horn rising up from one of the four horns on the goat, and pouring out great terror on the land of Israel (Dan 8:9). Most scholars believe that Antiochus Epiphanes (meaning “God Manifest” in Greek), who arose as the king from the region of Seleucid less than 150 years after the death of Alexander, was the fulfillment of this piece. Speaking of the smaller horn:

It even challenged the Commander of heaven’s army by canceling the daily sacrifices offered to him and by destroying his Temple.   (Daniel 8:11 NLT)

Known also as Antiochus Epimanes (the Mad) by those who crossed him, he certainly desecrated the Temple by erecting an idol of Zeus and offering sacrifices at the feet of an idol in his own image. Tradition has it that he sacrificed a pig (considered to be most unclean by Jews) and sprinkled its blood all over the Temple, essentially destroying it and its holiness.  Worshiping Yahweh and all Jewish rites were punished by death.

The 4th Kingdom

Chapter eight only discusses the two dominant kingdoms represented by the ram and the goat. They correlate to the bear and the leopard in the seventh chapter as well as by the silver chest and bronze torso in Nebuchadnezzar’s statue. Chapter seven states there is a fourth kingdom prophesied to succeed the leopard (also the goat).

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. (Daniel 7:23 NLT)

The fourth beast is described as having ten horns, which represent ten kings who will rule this empire. The little horn that comes up is described as different from the other ten, and seems to solidify his power by subduing and eliminated three of those kings. (Dan 7:24) This king will also oppress the holy people by changing sacred festivals and laws, and placing them under his control.

There could be a possible correlation of these ten horns to the ten toes in Nebuchadnezzar’s statue, but almost certainly a correlation with the beast’s ten horns described in the Book of Revelation.

Then I saw a beast rising up out of the sea. It had seven heads and ten horns, with ten crowns on its horns. And written on each head were names that blasphemed God. (Revelation 13:1 NLT)

Interestingly, this beast that John describes in Revelation looks like a leopard, with feet like a bear and a mouth like a lion. All three of the other beasts mentioned in chapter seven of Daniel. Most scholars believe that this fourth kingdom in chapter seven is describing the final rebellion before the return of Christ, and that the little horn with eyes and a mouth is the Antichrist. While the fourth kingdom in Nebuchadnezzar’s statue is believed to be Rome, the parallels with this fourth kingdom in chapter seven to those described in Revelation are striking.

Some believe that the little horn in chapter eight is also describing the final Antichrist rather than Antiochus, due to the similar description, but because the little horn in chapter eight appears to arise out of the third kingdom, not the fourth, most tend to rule that out. Regardless, Antiochus at the very least is a picture of what is to still yet to come in the final rebellion. We know that Antiochus didn’t fulfill the prediction of the Antichrist in the 4th kingdom because Jesus refers to Daniel’s prediction as yet a future warning (Matthew 24:15), and the Apostle John wrote his revelation over 200 years after Antiochus.

We could go into a great more detail in these prophecies and the connections to Revelation, but there simply isn’t time here. Overall, these prophecies concern the immediate kingdoms that followed Babylon, including the world power and final rebellion before Christ’s return. Back to our original question, what do we do with this and how does it fit into redemption?

WHAT DO WE SEE IN OUR WORLD TODAY?

It’s quite possible that some of you signed up to study the Book of Daniel this fall, eagerly anticipating these two chapters. You were aware of the prophecies contained herein, and you’ve been wondering if we are living in those end-days right now. You’ve hoped to have that answered today.

It’s quite possible some of you have dreaded these two chapters all season. You were aware of the prophecies contained herein, and you’ve wondered if it would erupt into sensationalized discussion, bouts of tears, arguments, and the stockpiling of canned goods.

When it comes to end times prophecies, it’s critical to maintain an appropriate balance of wary concern to disregard. An extreme focus either way could result in confusion and distraction from our primary goal to know Him and to be with Him.

Looking for Christ

I believe God places within his holy people a longing and desire for the Kingdom. Scripture says that there was awareness and anticipation for Messiah at the time Jesus was born. The people who sought the Lord knew of Daniel’s timeline prophecy in chapter nine, and the time was drawing very close. They were looking for him.

At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. (Luke 2:25 NLT)

Anna, a prophet, was also there in the Temple…She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem. (Luke 2: 36,38b NLT)

Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph. He was a member of the Jewish high council, but he had not agreed with the decision and actions of the other religious leaders. He was from the town of Arimathea in Judea, and he was waiting for the Kingdom of God to come. (Luke 23:50-51 NLT)

It’s appropriate to eagerly expect our Lord. He wants us to want him.  It’s okay to look around and wait for him, despite our inability to explain the longing. Jesus also warns us to be watchful and alert, always ready for his return at any moment.

“The day is coming when you will see what Daniel the prophet spoke about – the sacrilegious object that causes desecration standing in the Holy Place.” Reader, pay attention! (Matthew 24:15 NLT)

Looking for Truth

Each believer in Jesus should honestly study prophecy for herself. Understand and consider what the scholars suggest, and then ask God what it is he wants you to see in the scripture. Look around your world, follow the news if you wish, and examine the signs if there are any. Then ask God what it is he wants you to see in the world.

In Daniel’s second vision he said “truth was overthrown” in those final days. In times of sinful rebellion, truth is always overthrown. It’s one of the reasons Jesus has handed down these prophecies, so that we night have a basis of truth for comparison. He tells us to be watchful and alert so that we aren’t deceived into ignoring the signs.

It isn’t wise to completely disregard any possibility for signs of the end times, but it probably isn’t appropriate to see end times prophecies in every news program, government official, or piece of burnt toast either. The danger of “seeing” end-times everywhere is a different kind of deception, which I’ll get back to.

WHAT ARE WE REALLY LOOKING FOR?

One critical part of this passage in that has yet to be discussed, is the piece that describes all that’s right in the world. Daniel sees the Ancient One who sits on his throne in a court that will pass judgment on evil. (Dan 7:9-10, 26) He tells of the authority of the Son of Man and his eternal rule.

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. (Daniel 7:27 NLT)

Yes, be watchful and alert for signs of the end times, but what we’re really looking for is the Kingdom. Like I mentioned last week in chapter six, keep your eye on the angel rather than the hungry lion.

Scripture points clearly to a physical manifestation of a coming kingdom when Jesus returns.  The stuff of dreams.  Use caution, however, when searching for signs in our world. They can easily distract from the very real spiritual manifestation of the Kingdom occurring as we speak. If we keep our eyes pressed only toward the future, we often miss what’s offered right here, right now.

One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?”

Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.” (Luke 17:20-21 NLT)

Wow. Digest that fully. Then put these prophecies into that perspective.

Unsolved Mysteryies: DANIEL 2:24-49

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DANIEL 2:24-49

Praise the name of God forever and ever, for he has all wisdom and power.  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.  He reveals deep and mysterious things and knows what lies hidden in darkness, though he is surround by light.  (Daniel 2:20-22 NLT)

An impossible task: tell the king what he dreamed or die(and by the way he won’t even give you a hint).

An accomplished task: revealed by God, Daniel saw the dream and understood the interpretation.

God is the keeper and revealer of secrets.

ABOUT THE INFAMOUS DREAM

This dream was a prophecy of things to come. And at first glance, it seems to be the whole point of the passage. The dream contained an ominous statue, comprised of various materials and metals ranging from gold to clay. Daniel told King Nebuchadnezzar that he and Babylon represented the head of gold. His was the strongest of kingdoms. It would however be overthrown and replaced with a subsequent, inferior kingdom represented by the arms and chest of silver. The pattern continues through the bronze torso, iron legs, and followed by feet and toes of iron mixed with clay. Daniel doesn’t say which kingdoms follow Babylon exactly, but he states that an eternal kingdom, established in heaven, will eventually crush them all. This was the meaning of the rock, cut from the mountain, which crushed the statue to bits and then grew into a mountain that covered the whole earth.

The vast majority of scholars agree the following kingdoms fulfilled this prophecy:

  • Babylonian Empire – Head of Gold
  • Medo-Persian Empire – Arms of Silver
  • Greek Empire – Torso of Bronze
  • Roman Empire – the Legs of Iron.

It was during the rule of the Roman Empire when Messiah arrived on the scene. He didn’t physically crush the “statue” at this time, but he did spiritually crush it by establishing the Kingdom of God through his crucifixion.

But if I am casting out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has arrived among you. (Matthew 12:28 NLT emphasis added)

We now have access to this Kingdom in our lives, and its dominion is far greater than any government ruling today. Everything we do will either contribute to things built in this world to eventually pass away, or contribute to things built in that world to stand forever.

Here’s where some scholars disagree on the prophecy. Some believe that this specific prophecy in Daniel has been fulfilled in total. Our commentary leans in that direction, suggesting that Rome constitutes both the legs of iron and the feet of iron and clay.

However, there are other scholars who believe the ten toes of iron and clay correspond to the ten horns described in Revelation 17:12-13. In Revelation, these horns are most commonly interpreted as the ten rulers who will rule with Antichrist for a brief period of time at the very end of days. This group of scholars also believes that the rock cut from the mountain, in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, not only spiritually destroyed the statue at the cross, but will also physically destroy the world kingdoms and establish Christ’s physical rule over the earth one day.

You can read the passages for yourself and pray for God to lead you in your convictions. Either of these interpretations could be true, although we can be sure only one is true. This is one of those things in prophecy that still remains mysterious.

It seems there is an ever-present apocalyptic spirit in the air today, with the massive number of post-apocalyptic movies and television shows, and Christian leaders who keep setting dates for the end. It’s always fascinating and intriguing to think about prophecy and how it might relate to the things we see in the world right now. And while there is most definitely a place for that, I want to be cautious how much energy we put into predicting the future, because the potential for spiritual distraction is great. Understanding what will unfold in the future is but one gleaning from this text in Daniel.

OUR UNDERSTANDING

I want to draw your attention to verse 30 where Daniel is telling the king that God had revealed the king’s secret.

And it is not because I am wiser than anyone else that I know the secret of your dream, but because God wants you to understand what was in your heart. (Daniel 2:30 NLT emphasis my own)

It’s strikes me that this text describes the interpretation of the dream, which is not insignificant, and that God does this because he wanted the king to understand what was in his heart as well as what would happen in the future. Anytime God reveals a mystery, it is for the purpose of our understanding. Why does God want any one of us to understand what is in our heart?

The pattern of God’s will for our lives always begins in our heart. The first week of this study I described the pattern of God’s will in our lives as: captivity -> preparation -> purpose. This week I want to discuss God’s revelations. He tends to reveal his secrets along the same pattern of his will. He reveals the secrets of our heart while we are in captivity, he reveals the secrets of heaven while we are in preparation, and he reveals the secrets of his plan while we are in our purpose.

REVELATIONS OF THE HEART

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9 NIV)

In the previous lesson, I mentioned this verse when I talked about the voice of our conscience/heart. The heart is deceitful because it is so easily influenced by the complexities of our surrounding culture and experience. What comes out of our heart depends wholly upon what goes into it. Whether in part, or in whole, if our heart is not given to Christ, we are in captivity.

I’ve been a Christian most of my life, and I’ve always taken pride on being introspective, looking at my own behavioral motivations, ensuring my heart was good. Then one day the Lord put a mirror in front of me. He revealed a few nasty things in my heart that I had NO IDEA existed. So what do we call it when we think our heart is fine, and it’s not? It’s still called captivity.

Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is! (Matthew 6:22-23 NLT)

Who can truly understand the heart? God completely understands our heart. He is in the business of healing our heart by providing the revelation of its darkness. He’ll show us the anger, the pain, and the fear nestled deep within the tissue, so that we might escape its bondage. God will show us, we then recognize it, confess it, so that he will carry the burden in our stead, thereby closing the door to the enemy. He then fills that darkness with light; no longer held captive.

REVELATIONS OF HEAVEN

Jesus almost always spoke in parables when he was teaching the masses. When his disciples would get confused, he would explain the symbolism. One day he said,

You are permitted to understand the secret of the Kingdom of God… (Mark 4:11a NLT emphasis mine)

These parables, like all the symbolic rituals in the Old Testament, held pictures that revealed the truth of heaven, secrets of the Kingdom of God. When we enter the often-grueling period of preparation in the “wilderness,” if we respond to God’s plan by seeking to know Him, he will reveal great spiritual truths. Things that were once hidden will suddenly jump off the page. Until we exit captivity however, the truths of heaven are hidden.

But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means. (I Corinthians 2:14 NLT)

For those of you who tend to dread the periods of life spent in the “wilderness,” I want to share the most exciting part about it:

For everything that is hidden will eventually be brought into the open, and every secret will be brought to light. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand…Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given – and you will receive even more. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them. (Mark 4:22-25 NLT emphasis mine)

Listen closely and your understanding will multiply! That means we’ve got to stop getting sucked into the distractions that stow away with us on our journey into the wilderness. We’ve got to slow down enough to listen. We can’t worry ourselves as non-believers do. (Mt 6:31) Trust God and His plan for you. Partner with Him and know Him.

REVELATIONS OF HIS PLAN

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him. (Isaiah 64:4 NLT)

And then we walk into our purpose, which is scary and intimidating and exhilarating all at the same time! At the beginning of our journey, we can’t even conceive what God plans to do, and that may be where you are right now. But know that he plans to equip you with revelations of your heart, revelations of heaven, all culminating into revelations of his movements. You’ll begin to see his hand in your community and around the world. You’ll start to see the role he has for you as he boldly asks you to step forward into his plan.

It’s exactly what we see at the end of this chapter when Daniel steps into the role God prepared for him in the king’s court. When I read Daniel’s praise in this chapter, I got the feeling that he’s almost breathless, because the Lord had just revealed his movements. Daniel could see his plans, his purpose, and he was participating in His awesome story.

And from the time John the Baptist began preaching until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people are attacking it. (Matthew 11:12 NLT emphasis mine)

I just love the imagery of the Kingdom of Heaven forcefully advancing. Y’all, Jesus is coming back!  God’s movements are sure and definite. Like the rock cut from a mountain that grows into a mountain, covering the whole earth, he will continue to reveal his movements so that we might walk in step with His Spirit. Living out our purpose means that all our work will have eternal value and will stand forever.

I am confident that God has you here, because His plans include you. You are being prepared as you hear this to participate in the building of his eternal Kingdom, the great harvest, the preparation for His second coming.

CHILDLIKE

At that time Jesus prayed this prayer: “O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike. Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way!” (Matthew 11:25 NLT)

Sadly, revelation doesn’t occur for everyone. Those who are predisposed against anything God might have to say, those who’ve already decided they’ve figured it out, they have closed their ears to the voice of God. But like a child is a sponge for knowledge and learning, if we too are open to learning, we are positioned to hear his voice.

 

Fear Will Come and Faith Will Falter, But WHAT IF? ACTS 18

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ACTS 18:1-17

“Oh, yes! We looked and saw that the land was good. Very good! BUT there are giants! We can’t go.” They were afraid. They were a people who’d been beaten and abused…just yesterday…or so it seemed. You’ve heard the psychology of an abused wife. She discounts every quality she has, doesn’t believe she can move on, believes she needs her abuser. They wanted to go back to Egypt, back into slavery. I’m confident that although Israel had been physically rescued from Egypt, they were still very much chained and steeped in unbelief. They refused the promise and missed out on their purpose. (Deuteronomy 1)

A NEW THING

I had been ruminating on Deuteronomy chapter one and Joshua chapter one for days now. It was the focus of  IF:Gathering 2015, and I couldn’t miss the parallels to our study this week in Acts. Christine Caine (listen to this woman if you can) taught the first chapter of Joshua, and the scene is set for Israel to brave the Promised Land and claim it. The first thing God told Joshua was that Moses was dead.

“Moses my servant is dead. Therefore the time has come for you to lead these people, the Israelites, across the Jordan River into the land I am giving them.” (Joshua 1:2 NLT)

God is doing away with the old and bringing in the new, and it’s an obvious pattern he uses to help us grow. When he introduced manna to the Israelites (translated “What is it?”), it was so new they didn’t even know what to call it. The Law was a new thing. The Promised Land was a new thing. Jesus was a new thing. Grace was a new thing. These new things were scary because they were little understood, but when embraced, they nourished the soul completely.

I’ve been wrestling with a new thing myself for almost a year, and while I am not at liberty to reveal the details, I can say that I have asked God, more than once, to retreat. I have spent an inordinate amount of energy, seeking justification so that I could go my own direction with a clean conscience. I was so determined, that I refused to see this direction as the Promised Land. It couldn’t be, because I didn’t like the way it looked. Surely God wouldn’t ask this of me. It doesn’t look like what he’d already shown me. I found myself becoming bitter as I sat this side of the Jordan River, and then I heard God speak to me during IF:Gathering.

“The reason why you are bitter is because of your memories. In the past you felt empty, but you are no longer empty. I have filled you. In the past you have felt hurt, but you are no longer being hurt. I have healed you. Love where I have placed you. Serve.”

I’m not so different from Israel and her memories. How long will I stay on this side of the Jordan River? You see, I thought I had already crossed the Jordan River. And in some ways I had. It took some guts for me step out in faith and assume the responsibility for The Well @ Santa Fe. I had to work through my fears to put my thoughts online for the world. But I now realize that with each layer of growth I have to cross the Jordan River again and again to claim His promise for me. If I refuse, I miss out, and maybe that promise will pass to the next generation. I’m telling you, I don’t want to miss out.

FEAR FOR THE CHRISTIAN?

In the first part of Acts 18 we see God speaking to Paul while he’s in Corinth.

“Don’t be afraid! Speak out! Don’t be silent! For I am with you, and no one will attack and harm you, for many people in this city belong to me.” (Acts 18:9-10 NLT)

I am confident God said these things because Paul was frustrated, tired, and scared. He’d been going from synagogue, to synagogue, to synagogue, preaching, pleading, and running for his life. What a tiresome process. I have no doubt that if I were in his shoes, I would come to a point of questioning my purpose. Earlier in chapter 13, I said that when Paul embarked upon his first missionary journey, he symbolically crossed the Jordan River into his Promised Land. He began living out the purpose God had set before him, to make God’s name known among the nations. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Paul was at the Jordan River again. Could he really face all those giants and continue this pattern city after city? They were looming and legitimately dangerous.

Paul was a man who surrendered everything to God. He was filled with the Holy Spirit who gifted him with discernment, wisdom, and power. Surely he looked fear in the face and refused him. How could this man I revere have fear? Let’s go back to Joshua, before he crossed the Jordan River. In the first chapter of Joshua, God said no less than FIVE times, “Be strong and courageous!” Repetition in the Bible is not insignificant. Could it be that Joshua was a tiny bit afraid? Say it ain’t so!

Of course he was. Fear is not a sinful quality, something for which to be ashamed. As someone who’s been overwhelmed by fear most of my life, I had not fully considered this truth. Historically, my fear had most definitely turned into a sin, an obvious sign that I did not, and would not trust God.  And as a result, when I finally confessed, I resolved to never let fear cross my borders again. How frustrating to assign yourself an impossible task. Can you relate? It does not lessen Paul’s apostleship or authority to realize he wrestled with fear, it only demonstrates the validity of God’s call on our life.

God had called Paul to a new thing.

“Paul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles….” (Acts 9:15 NLT)

And Paul had just said to the Jews in Corinth, as he dramatically shook the dust from his clothes,

“Your blood is upon our own heads – I am innocent. From now on I will go preach to the Gentiles.” (Acts 18:6 NLT)

I can hear the tone of frustration and anger, which no doubt led to uncertainty and fear. God was faithful to encourage him with his words. I admire Paul. It takes much less to send me reeling down a path of fear and worst-case scenarios, when things don’t go like I’d envisioned.

Why exactly did God tell Joshua to be strong and courageous? So Israel could possess the land that he had promised. Do you see the parallel in Acts? “Do not be afraid!…for many people in this city belong to me,” a symbolic land for Paul to claim. These are no small tasks. Who wouldn’t be afraid? “For I am with you,” God promises to them both. We all have a Promised Land before us. A hope and a purpose. A land to stake claim. Eventually God did establish a kingdom for Israel in that land, and while the Promised Land symbolizes his purpose for our life, the Kingdom symbolizes his presence and authority in our life.  There can be no purpose without his presence!  The effect of his presence is quite simply a taste of heaven.

THE PARADOX

However there’s a paradox in our faith, when it comes to eternal life, which results from the intersection of heaven and earth. The realities that exist in both are true yet disparate because they lie in two different spheres. It’s the cost for entry into eternal life. In the heavenly realm that cost was paid by Jesus when he died on the cross. A perfect and sinless God-man, who didn’t need to die, but did so anyway because he loved us. We cannot purchase entry ourselves; he’s given it away freely. Much like the manna he provided for Israel in the desert. He gave it freely and generously. While in this corrupt world, we eagerly anticipate the day we can enter this eternal life that we otherwise know as heaven!

BUT WAIT there’s more! Yes, there is a heaven awaiting us, in this earthly realm, while we are still alive. This heaven/eternal life, is knowing Him! (John 17:3) It’s an intimacy with God resulting from an active relationship with Him, which is nothing less than supernatural. And there is a cost for this heaven too. The cost requires us to forge ahead in faith, despite the fear that looms. In Joshua, the manna, a symbol of God’s free gift, was evolving. There would be no manna in the Promised Land, and the cost to entering the Promised Land was a humbling faith, requiring them to step into the riverbed. Forging ahead when fear loomed. God wasn’t going to do it for them as he had while they were in the desert, but he was most assuredly with them.

Fear will come and faith will falter, but the cost to a deep and fulfilling relationship with God, is a determined trust. WHAT IF GOD IS REAL? Will you trust him? Will you listen and claim his words when he speaks?

When God says,

“Trust me. I will be with you.”

Will you say,

“Yes, Lord. I believe. Help me with my unbelief!”

The Apostle Paul, a Hypocrite? ACTS 16

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ACTS 16

Not long ago our entire family enjoyed a rare bowl of ice cream before bed. Typically I don’t worry about what they eat, however I do try to limit sugar intake, especially at night. My kids were elated, and it was good.  So good in fact, we all craved another the following night. Sadly, it couldn’t be. As I was serving the night before, I realized that only a single serving remained. I couldn’t easily split it between three kids and I wanted to avoid an entitlement of ice cream every night, so I told them none of us needed the ice cream. Slumped in disappointment they walked away. After they went to bed, alone, I quietly ate the last, teeny, tiny serving. Can you imagine the accusations and looks of betrayal if I’d been discovered?   The hypocrisy of it all!   It’s probably not worth telling you that when my husband asked for some ice cream the following day, I shrugged and nonchalantly said, “It’s all gone, honey.” Utterly disappointed, “You mean the kids ate it all the other night?” I simply smiled a sheepish smile.

As I read Acts 16, I feel like I’ve uncovered Paul’s hypocrisy. Paul had just vehemently opposed saddling Gentiles with the requirement of circumcision in chapter 15.

So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? (Acts 15:10 NLT)

And in chapter 16, here he is circumcising sweet Timothy whose father was a Gentile.  The text says that Paul didn’t want to offend the Jews during their missionary journey. But, honestly, that just doesn’t satisfy me.  He made an incredible case for grace in Jerusalem. He had me convinced Christ plus nothing! I was hooked on his doctrine! Why’d ya do it, Paul?  Why’d ya go back to circumcision? I wasn’t prepared for that.

If you’ve been following this study, you know I’ve said over and over: our faith is NOT a formula. See? I had just developed a formula that said, “don’t circumcise. It’s a saddle and I cannot bear it.” I could easily go on to say, “don’t baptize, don’t join a church, and don’t take communion; it’s a saddle that you cannot bear.” Does that sound ridiculous to you or not?  So my question is, why did Paul make such a big fat deal about not circumcising with the Jerusalem Council if he was only going to turn around and insist upon it in Acts 16? Let’s break it down.

THE CASE FOR GRACE

The grace of God is a concept that is terribly difficult to appreciate. To receive something of value for absolutely nothing in return is outrageous in our current economy. In spiritual terms, it means we cannot control our destiny within our own means. It means grace is outside of our control and that’s frightening. While the law was not given to Israel as a formula for control, it turned into exactly that. Circumcision became a symbol of the law, a sign of a people who follow the one true God, and they manipulated that.   It’s true, God did ask them to be circumcised as a sign, and to follow the commandments he ordained, but for what purpose? Not to satisfy him as God, like many believed, but rather to know him. To enter into relationship.

So when the gospel message of salvation arrived in Jesus, many of the Christian Jews naturally concluded that circumcision and the law would be necessary for their new faith too. Not just beautiful worship, but necessary. Paul on the other hand wanted everyone to understand grace completely. Works, the law, circumcision, they were not required for salvation. When he went to the Jerusalem Council, he wanted the Gospel of Grace to be made clear. Regardless of what you do, it is impossible to please God without the blood of Christ.   Christ plus nothing!

Paul realized it was very risky passing along these Old Covenant practices to the Gentiles. Not necessarily risky for Paul and his reputation, but risky for the gospel itself.   We see him, more than once, express his fear of wasting his time with the Gentiles. Why?   If the Gentiles had adopted circumcision and the law, then this new Christian movement could easily have, and probably would have, been absorbed into another sect of Judaism, causing the message of grace to eventually grow mute.  The “burden of the law” was the misunderstanding that you can earn your way toward acceptance from a God who requires nothing!  If this was the resulting message, where would this leave the New Covenant?

WHERE’S GRACE?

If Paul was defending grace in chapter 15, did his regard for grace disappear in Chapter 16? The New Living Translation (NLT) in Acts 15, says that Paul vehemently opposed the Judaizer’s doctrine of circumcision. When he’s with Timothy, he doesn’t seem vehemently opposed to circumcision at all.   It’s odd. He’s not wringing his hands or painfully wrestling with the question, “ Do I have Tim do this? Or do I not?” The text implies confidence.

I come from a long line of believer’s who stand up for the truth. I was raised to be strong, and not be afraid of the consequences when standing up for true doctrine. So firmly grounded in this value, I must admit that there’s a big part of me that wants to see Paul travel this missionary journey with an uncircumcised man.  I want to see him telling those Jews the truth and not worry about the offended! I actually feel a teensy bit let down that he doesn’t.

Do you remember how Paul changed his message according to his audience in Acts 14? In every city, he first went to the Jews and used Holy Scripture as evidence to prove Jesus. Later, when dealing with pagan Gentiles he used creation and nature to prove the one true God.

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. (I Corinthians 9:22 NLT)

Paul dearly loved his Jewish brothers and sisters, and wanted to make every attempt to reach them.   Because Timothy’s heritage came from his Jewish mother, it made him Jewish, therefore Paul wisely anticipated that the Jews along their journey would likely refuse them, because an uncircumcised Jew would represent rebellion, and consequently could not be trusted. Everything out of their mouths would have been futile. Paul prioritized the gospel over doctrinal correctness. In so doing, he actually lived out God’s grace for them. Grace was ironically all through chapter 16!

PAUL AND THE LAW

We can be confident that Paul knew it was spiritually unnecessary for Timothy to be circumcised, and he was emphatic that he didn’t want the practice forced onto the Gentiles. But did you know that Paul never actually advised the Jews against circumcision or the law? He says over and over that he loved the law. The law helped him to see between right and wrong, and it aided him in knowing God. In fact, right before he was arrested in Acts 21, he and the Council had agreed that he would undergo all the purification rites in the Temple to prove he was a law abiding Jew. They wanted to set the record straight and dispel the rumors that he was attacking the law.   It must have been confusing, and even appalling to outside observers, to see Jews and Gentiles worshipping together, practicing various things. While Paul encouraged everyone to follow the Holy Spirit on such matters, he was always clear that the law did nothing to save the participant. Such a departure from their understanding of the Old Covenant.

Today, in some circles, doctrine can sound like a bad word, something to be avoided. In other circles, doctrine is the entire basis for life. To be fair, doctrine indeed has its place and its significance is not lost on me.   I suppose we will all understand the one true doctrine in time. But for now, we must follow Paul’s example. We must place an emphasis on the Gospel of Grace over doctrinal correctness when forced between the two. Relationship is not found in doctrine. It’s found in grace. Paul completely trusted the Holy Spirit to direct his decisions, and we too can completely trust the Holy Spirit in everything!   AND? We can completely trust the Holy Spirit to guide all believers into truth! It’s not necessarily our job to make sure everyone knows the truth. God is completely capable. Let’s unite as the Body of Christ to encourage and support the simple pursuit of God.

Entering the Kingdom: ACTS 14

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ACTS 14

IS GOD GOOD?

“Was God good to me? I couldn’t hold that question and at the same time believe in the full life he offered me. To be filled anew, I needed not just to acknowledge hunger, but to recognize how necessary that hunger was.” (Hagerty, Sara. Every Bitter Thing is Sweet. Zondervan, 2014. p. 54)

Do you really believe God is good? I’m not talking about what we know to be the right answer. I’m talking about your deeply held beliefs. Over the years I developed an understanding of God based on bits and pieces of scripture that I memorized from childhood. I measured my understanding of His goodness based on my understanding of my goodness. I really believed God to be an angry, punishing God more than I believed any other character quality.  I therefore spent an inordinate amount of time trying to determine which actions were most likely to please him. Obviously I never actually said these things out loud because I knew the right answer, and I honestly wasn’t completely aware of these beliefs myself at the time. As my understanding of God has broadened, I now know that deep down I used to see my God as one who wanted me to throw a virgin into the volcano to keep things status quo. I succeeded in my goodness many times AND I failed. When bad things happened I assumed it was because of my failures. Do you feel like you’re being punished for not living up to God’s expectations? Do you really believe God is good?

This is what you call living by the law. There’s more to come on the Law of Moses in the coming chapters of Acts, but for now I’ll suffice it to say that living a life measured by your positive or negative output for God, is a life of the law. I could be slaving away at good works, exhausted and frustrated, or relinquish myself to a life of self-satisfaction, addiction, and good works when it suits me. Either way, it’s a trap.

Is there a conflict, then, between God’s law and God’s promises?  Absolutely not!  If the law could give us new life, we could be made right with God by obeying it.  But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ.  (Galatians 3:21-22 NLT)

In last week’s study we looked at the path our journey takes into an intimate relationship with God. We discussed a life of purpose, filled with great works for God (a.k.a. The Promised Land), that comes only after you’ve been freed from captivity and prepared in the desert. Click here to see last week’s lesson. A life under the law, including all our white-knuckling efforts, is a life of captivity.   We must be released from the belief that we have to live up to an expectation; that we have to please God. When we are no longer captives to false beliefs, we can learn how to surrender to His ways. We can learn how to allow God to live through us. We can approach Him exactly where we are. And remaining where we are for very long is never an option in Christ. This is grace. Grace is proven through the difficult lessons of preparation, nudging us to approach the borders of our purpose.

CIRMCUMSTANCES ARE NOT AN INDICATOR OF HIS FAVOR

“They acted as if they believed God didn’t just tolerate them; He enjoyed them. And yet their messes were more visible than mine. I couldn’t understand this combination, but it intrigued me. They lived and walked as if they knew God was good to them, though their circumstances said otherwise. These people liked to pray, and they referenced their day-to-day experience with God as if it were an adventure.” (Hagerty, Sara. Every Bitter Thing is Sweet. Zondervan, 2014. p. 60)

Entering the Promised Land for the nation of Israel, unlike my naïve thoughts of the land of milk and honey, was a battle from the beginning. In order to see the fulfillment of God’s promises, they had to fight for it. The fulfillment of the Promised Land was ultimately not about the destination, but rather the purpose of Israel to bless the entire world. When Paul and Barnabas set out on the first missionary journey in chapter 13 we saw that they were entering the symbolic Promised Land of their lives. They were entering the season of their lives where they would live out their purpose by making God’s name known among the nations. And it was obviously not easy street.   God said he would use Paul to bring his message to the Gentiles. They battled everywhere they went as they fought to see that fulfillment. They could have easily thought God was punishing them since their lives were threatened virtually everywhere they went. In Lystra (Acts 14:20), Paul was stoned and left for dead. But Paul and Barnabas didn’t see God this way. They believed God was good. They understood grace in the context of their hardships.  Paul and Barnabas then re-visited the towns where they were persecuted.

They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22 NLT)

Now lest you be tempted to think this verse is saying you must pass a test to be accepted by God and enter his Kingdom, consider this: In the heavenly realm

The Promised Land symbolizes God’s purpose for your life.

The Kingdom symbolizes God’s presence and authority in your life.

Now read the verse again.

ENTERING THE KINGDOM

“I wanted to have the deep parts of me find the deep parts of Him. That night I saw that having taken small steps toward receiving more of Him wasn’t satisfying my hunger; it was creating more of it.” (Hagerty, Sara. Every Bitter Thing is Sweet. Zondervan, 2014. p. 72)

Like the Promised Land is not a destination, so the Kingdom is not a destination.

About three years ago my family was suffering a difficult hardship in our lives. It was the source of a lot of fights between my husband and me as we tried to navigate our circumstance. Our very livelihood was at stake and so the level of anxiety rose with each passing day. I groggily headed to the car one morning to meet a friend for an early morning run. On the way there I began talking out loud. My emotional concerns came flooding out of my mouth. To an onlooker they sounded exactly like prayers, and I guess they were, but here’s where my deeply rooted beliefs came to light. God actually answered my outspoken prayer that morning, and it shocked me. I looked around the car to ensure that I was alone, because surely I didn’t actually hear a response. It wasn’t an audible response, but it was so clear and definitely from outside of me, that it might as well have been. I followed this response with a trembling, “God, are you in the car with me?”

“Yes,” came another strikingly clear response.

Chills ran up my spine as I became very much aware of God’s presence in the car. I wasn’t scared at all; in fact I was very much at peace. It soon became clear to me that I was not at all alone in my car nor in my circumstance. I knew at that moment he would answer any question I had. So I asked and he answered. Tears fell from my face with the realization that He took the time to visit with me. Do you hear that? I just revealed my deepest held belief, that I knew in my head was terribly wrong, but I held it anyway. I believed in the deepest part of my heart, that God had better things to do than spend time with me. Seriously, there are far worse things going on in the world than my little problems, and he wanted me to work them out myself, right? Lies. All lies.

I got a taste of Him that morning. We shared an intimacy in that fleeting car ride and I wanted more. So what did I do? I relished in the memory of that Saturday morning every day the following week, until Saturday rolled around again. I quickly jumped in my car, headed for my sunrise run, all the way anticipating another heavenly moment with my God. But it didn’t happen. I did everything the exact same way. I prayed for it while I tied my shoes. As I turned the ignition in my car I said, “Ok, God! I’m ready to talk. Let’s do this!” Crickets. Crickets. Was that really going to be the only time I ever got to be with him?

So I literally spent the next 18 months pursuing His voice. Through my studies I began to know him better. I wasn’t reading out of obligation this time. My hunger for him begat more hunger. With each layer that unfolded, I saw many more layers before me. This was never going to end!

And instead of feeling frustrated that the thread I was pulling kept lengthening, I became more and more enthralled. I experienced his presence at each turn. I began hearing His voice on a fairly regular basis that was sometimes soft, sometimes bold, and always comforting. I felt drawn in a direction that was unknown, but oddly assuring in its promise. In hindsight I can see that I was moving toward my purpose although it was veiled in mystery at the time. On one particular night, as I was reading in the Book of Daniel, I came across this verse:

And the man said to me, ‘Daniel, you are very precious to God, so listen carefully to what I have to say to you…’ (Daniel 10:11 NLT)

I immediately prayed, Lord, how I would love to hear you say that to me. How I long to be as precious to you as Daniel. Immediately a thought so strong dropped in my mind, “You are very precious to me.” This God was becoming new to me every day. So I am as precious as these pillars of my faith? I am as precious as Peter, Paul and Mary? I know, bad joke. But seriously, how in the world can I be compared to some of these scriptural giants? Well that assumes God doles out a finite amount of love. Our unending search for God proves his infinite limits. Little by little, God was exposing all of my fallible beliefs

WE ARE PRECIOUS

My two daughters are wrapped tightly in a fierce competition for my attention about half the time they are awake. If I give one daughter a hug, the other immediately comes running. If one daughter takes a seat next to me, she will predictably move her legs over mine to prevent the other a seat on my lap. One evening we talked about this. My older daughter revealed that it hurts her feelings when I express my love for the other. She just couldn’t understand that when I share love for one, it doesn’t mean I’m taking love away from the other. I think we often apply this thinking to God too. When God tells Daniel he’s precious, it doesn’t mean I’m not. Take this home. When God tells me I am very precious, he’s telling you the exact same thing.

Try to wrap your brain around the truth that God is good all the time, and that all the time God is good. If you can really believe it, then you can begin to understand the truth in Acts, “that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” Where was the good in all that Paul and Barnabas suffered?

…they called the church together and reported everything God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. (Acts 14:27 NLT)

The good is found in His purpose and it inevitably leads to His presence. And that is very, very good.

Resolve or Not to Resolve, That is the Question!

 

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It’s that time of year again!  The annual brawl with my New Year’s resolutions. I make them with a measure of love and good intentions, and like a bad boyfriend, drop them at just a hint of my next desire. Why is that? And like many of you, I have spent the last several years resolving to not resolve. I mean really, what’s the point if my white-knuckling approach is not going to result in sustainable change? But then I toss and turn and bristle at the thought of abandoning resolve altogether. Isn’t resolve one of our core values as a country? Isn’t bettering ourselves woven into the very fabric of our culture? Of course it is, so how am I going to approach 2015?

I took a look back on my 2014. For the first time in my life I started taking bold, daring steps into an unknown direction. One step at a time with the intention of discovering the purpose for my life that God was revealing. I truly believe that we are all created for a higher purpose. I believe that our lives are not without meaning and impact. My grandfather died three years ago, and I was amazed to see the hundreds of people who poured out gratitude for the contribution he made into their lives. He didn’t tour the country speaking to millions, he didn’t write a book that would reach the world, he didn’t march on Capitol Hill to be heard by the nation.  He invested all of his love into his little community.  He was placed at a small church in a little farming community in Oklahoma and gave it everything he had.  He made a difference.  We are ALL positioned uniquely in our communities to make a difference.

For me 2014 was a year of obedience to God’s calling, and as I began to experience spiritual growth and the presence of God through obedience, it became a mantra of mine, and a primary focus. Good thing, right?  Not when I allow my obedience to become an obsessive obligation filled with pressure and stress. I tend to be obsessive with virtually anything to which I commit, so I knew I needed to approach 2015 differently, especially when other areas of my life and health were ailing. You see, I decided that I would stop exercising for the next year so that I could focus on my purpose. No joke, friends.  I need help. And like all good girls, I found my help in the span of about 15 minutes panning Facebook this morning. I saw three posts that spoke directly to my dilemma.  My good friend Paul Gotthardt taught me, when you see repeated patterns in your life, start listening because it could be God trying to get your attention.

Here’s what I found this morning:

 

IMG_65777060872939_resized1) This little dandy of a meme.  It struck me that my attitude toward God’s purpose in my life needed to be repositioned in my mind without lessening its importance. (To find more memes like these, click here)

God’s purpose should never take the place of His presence.

2) An interview with Jennie Allen, posted in July, that somehow showed up on my newsfeed in December. Jennie has been walking a path not only of higher purpose for her life, but one in which she is encouraging women all over the world to step up and live their purpose. Jennie said, “It’s a gift that we get to serve God and obey Him and love Him with these days that we have here. I think I’ve turned that into pressure at certain points. I told myself that I needed to do something big or great, but I’m learning that this isn’t about doing something for God. It’s about doing something with God.” (For the full article, click here)

God’s purpose should never take the place of His presence.

3) An article by Michael Hyatt entitled, “What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do.” In brief he gave three points of advice: 1. Forget about the ultimate outcome, 2. Instead, focus on the next right action, 3. And do something now.  (For the full article, click here) I know that the power I wield, enabling my resolve to create anything sustainable, comes from my God and his spirit within me when I am in his presence. Even if I can accomplish a multitude of things in my own strength, it won’t last long, and I won’t really be satisfied. I resolve to be with Him in 2015 and I’ll do it now.

God’s purpose should never take the place of His presence.

Aaaaaand I’m going to start exercising again!

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I Put Santa On The Naughty List

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Dear Santa,

I’ve been thinking about the naughty list and I’ve decided to put you on it this year.  It all started last weekend when I took the kids to the toy section of Target.  They’d been faithfully earning spending money for the last four months and a chance to do a little Christmas shopping.  My daughter picked out a seemingly innocent Doc McStuffins toy and gleefully brought it home.  Of course, I’ve opened enough toys over the years to anticipate the fight that would be upon me from the packaging.  But I had no idea.  You think the Elf on the Shelf is up to shenanigans; the little elves who packed this toy were all full of naughty!  For those who are well-versed in toy packaging, they wouldn’t be surprised if I told you this toy was secured by a myriad of strings, twisty ties, plastic hooks, and tons of tape.  But would you believe me when I told you this was literally screwed to the package?  And not with ordinary screws.  Little, tiny, miniature screws that require a specialty screwdriver.  It took me more than thirty minutes to get at least two screws loosened without stripping them.  A few of those minutes were spent contemplating whether my children could play with the toy while continuing to be affixed to the cardboard package.

I stewed about that for a few days and eventually moved on…until I got a phone call yesterday that you wanted to deliver a package for my husband a little early.  My husband had been talking about wanting a commercial-grade, Cajun deep-fryer.  I am not philosophically opposed to enjoying deep-fried delights every now and then, but I just couldn’t see the financial return for such a spend.  It would mean we would have to deep-fry our meals every night for years to make it financially reasonable, and trust me, my derrière can’t handle that.  Plus, I didn’t like the idea of our back yard looking and smelling like McDonald’s.  So I’ve been pushing back and crushing these dreams for months now.  Until yesterday…You undermined me and went behind my back.  Now we have a huge deep fryer awaiting grease and Twinkies.

But don’t worry Santa, I’m not really all that mad.   I still love Christmas and it seems that dreams do come true during this season of magic.  I’ve even realized by these complaints alone, I have yet again made this season about me.  And it’s not.  And I’m the naughty one.  My family is thrilled with their toys and it fills me with joy to see them smile.  Santa, isn’t it funny that we all manage to be naughty?  We just can’t help it.  It occurs to me that this list has truly disappeared.  So no need to worry, Jesus died for every name on that list.  Now that’s the real magic of the season!

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As Brittany Maynard’s Date of Departure Approaches

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photo credit: Brittany Maynard / CNN

“It is nothing to die; it is horrible not to live.”   Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

If I had just seen the stage and film production of Les Miserables without having read the book, I would not have been as immersed in the awful, tragic circumstances that seemed to mount with each turn of the page.  It couldn’t get any worse, and then it would.  And despite the fact the story actually ended with a sense of redemption, I still felt utterly stricken by the losses.  I felt the same when I first heard Brittany Maynard’s story two weeks ago.

Like Fantine in Hugo’s tale, they are both beautiful and young with a vibrant future cut short by desperate circumstances.  It just isn’t fair, is it?  Brittany Maynard was 29 years old when she received the news of her brain tumor.  It was aggressive and after careful deliberation she and her family relocated to Oregon where they have the Death with Dignity law.  They decided that she would end her life on Nov 1, 2014.  Even writing this makes my heart ache.  To see her full story click here. 

What makes her story so poignant is the fact that she is so young, and her beautiful wedding images immediately place pictures in your mind of their future family, future vacations, future sleepless nights with spit-up and night feedings that will likely never come to pass.  I say likely, because there’s always the chance of a miraculous healing.  It’s happened before.  But let’s face it; we’ve seen cancer.  We’ve all been touched by it in some form or fashion and to quote Jen Hatmaker last week, “Cancer is an a**hole.”   I used to manage Radiation Oncology departments, and I’ve seen life expectancy ranges that were completely blown out of the water.  Patients that have lived years longer than anyone expected.  I’ve also seen the ranges turn out to be spot on.  Her prognosis is probably not far from accurate.  Although my mind wants to focus on this healing possibility, I don’t think this is the issue at heart.

I’m thankful Brittany’s had the opportunity to make this a national discussion.  With her platform and agenda to support Death with Dignity legislation across the country, we all need to wrestle with this because there are implications. My purpose here is not to make a case for any position.  I certainly have leanings, but until I’m in Brittany’s shoes, it’s hard for me to say.  I want to contribute to the discussion and continue wrestling toward some kind of answer.  There may not be a good one.  Two articles were written a couple of weeks ago when the story first broke.  The first was written by Kara Tippets as a host blog on Ann Voskamp’s site aholyexperience.com.  “Dear Brittany, Why We Don’t Have To Be So Afraid Of Dying That We Choose Suicide.” The second was written by Jessica Kelley on her blog, Jess in Process, in response. “Can Christians Support Brittany Maynard’s Decision?”  A couple things they said stirred me.

Is there beauty in death?

Kara Tippets says, “yes” and Jessica Kelley says, “no.”  Kara is currently dying from breast cancer and Jessica watched her young son die from a malignant brain tumor, so they both have first hand experience with a painful death process.  Their conclusions about beauty in death are not flippant, and they both have looked to God’s Word.   So I too went to scripture to see how I might navigate these murky waters.  And I think scripture supports them both, but they must be placed in light of one another.

When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, the curse of death was immediately placed upon them.  And it was indeed NOT beautiful.  Satan’s goal from the beginning has been to kill.  When Jesus died an undeserved death, it was about as gruesome and painful as it could be.  While praying before he was arrested, Jesus asked if this “cup” of suffering could be passed from him, and then he submitted to it despite his foreknowledge.  He did not enter his death with curiosity.  He knew exactly how it would go down.   Much like Brittany has researched everything about her disease. His death was for the purpose of carrying the burden of the world’s sin.  And here’s where it goes from terrible to beautiful.  His resurrection conquered death once and for all.

Romans 6:9 “We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again.  Death no longer has any power over him.”

So the beauty is in God’s greater purpose not in the death process itself.  And folks, as much as we would like to understand God’s purpose for our life, we may not.  It may unfold after our death.  Stephen was stoned by the Jews for his faith in Christ.  It was in no way pleasant.  Yet there was a greater purpose, for we know the Apostle Paul (A.K.A. Saul) was holding the coats of the stoners, condoning their actions.  I don’t believe for a second that event wasn’t significant for him and didn’t factor into his conversion and eventual testimony.  I sometimes wonder if the Apostle Paul had any idea his life and death would have the effect it did.   As Christians, we should want to see God’s purpose lived out in our life and our death.  That requires the Holy Spirit living through us, prompting and supporting our obedience.  If you want to dig into that more, I write a weekly bible study that is currently focused on how to live an empowered life.   Click here.

So Is it Wrong to Avoid the Suffering in Death?

Years ago, my grandfather was confirmed to have Congestive Heart Failure.  He was otherwise healthy and lived many years with it.  As it worsened, it pained me to see him continually hospitalized, watching his quality of life deteriorating right before my eyes.  It’s a disease where you basically suffocate very, very slowly.  He loved the Lord and dedicated himself with every fiber in his body.  I fervently prayed and asked God to spare him the suffering.  As it would happen, when he entered the hospital for a second open-heart surgery to improve his quality of life, he developed an infection and never made it to surgery.  He died within two days.  I felt like God was answering those prayers.  No sane person wants to endure suffering and watch that of a loved one.  I honestly think we would be lying if we said it didn’t or wouldn’t ever cross our minds to wish for life to end early and avoid the suffering.   Because we might wish it, doesn’t mean we will take action, but it should mean that we can identify in a meaningful way.

Let’s flip the argument and consider life extension.  Jessica Kelley argues that “we certainly don’t live without assistance…must we die without assistance?”  Consider the cases where patients are only alive with artificial support.   All clinical authorities have determined that nothing can be done to save the infirmed person, and that a decision must be made on whether or not to remove life support.  I would venture to say it’s mostly the same set of people who disagree with Brittany’s decision who would also argue in favor of pulling life support and allowing the patient to die with dignity.  I tend to lean in this direction myself if for no other reason than consistency.  In both cases there is no assistance, and while there is a distinction between the two examples, it is slim. I recognize it’s a slippery slope, because where do you draw the line on life or death without assistance?  It could mean that I won’t use any assistance to extend my life.  Should I not pursue cancer treatment at all and allow nature to take its course?  Some people do make that choice, but it’s not for everyone.  I think we would all agree it’s an intensely personal decision.  Both sides of the argument boil down to weighing the quality of life now and what you expect in the future.   Murky, murky waters because we just don’t know what the future holds in full.

Can I Trust God to Lead Me in Every Way?

While we are not all suffering from terminal cancer, we all have circumstances in life that are painful.  I raised this issue on my Facebook page to generate some discussion and the comments were very insightful.  One in particular stood out.

“I read the initial interview with the young lady who will be ending her life on November 1. One of the most interesting takeaways for me was that she said she was not committing suicide – that she wanted to live, but she didn’t want to suffer and that her case was terminal, and she was going to die anyway. I’m not going to argue her decision. I will say that’s pretty much what I’ve heard from numerous people with mental health disorders – most suicidal people don’t want to die. They just don’t want to suffer. And they see no value in prolonging their suffering.

“For people suffering from bipolar, for example, who have been through multiple treatment protocols that just make them feel sick and ineffective and not themselves – they see no hope of a “normal” life ever. How is their choice to end their suffering different from someone ending their life because of a cancer diagnosis?

“To use the most well known recent example of Robin Williams, so many people talked about what a horrible tragedy it was that he ended his life. I agree. But it’s likely his reasoning was not all that different from Brittany’s. So, how do we reconcile wanting mentally ill people to live with their suffering with wanting to have “compassion” on those with other terminal illnesses. Ultimately, we’re all terminal.” Jill Manty

Some of our finest moments, our greatest testimonies, and our significant impact on others come through the suffering.  That’s why Paul says in Philippians 3:10, “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead.  I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!”  It may be difficult, even terrible, yet it is not relieved of meaning.   Can I trust Christ in everything…even death?

I aim to keep the discussion going so as to learn from all who have thoughtfully considered it.  As in everything, even the complicated things, the depths of God’s grace are unfathomable and He will meet us where we are.   Do you want to put in your two cents worth?

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