The Real Revelation in Biblical Prophecy: DANIEL 10-11

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DANIEL 10 – 11:35

The “magic” of Christmas with twinkling lights and quiet nights, carols that arouse an almost melancholy wanting within our hearts, while at the same time stirring a joyful anticipation of what this season, what this year may hold.

The “magic” of Christmas is but a glimpse of what’s in store for the believer.

We long to be with God, to join him in the incorruptible, to leave behind the pain and sorrow that lurks around every bend.

We long for his return, for our transformation, for the perfection that calls to the very depths of our souls.

We long to see Jesus.  This is the real revelation of prophecy.

The last three chapters of Daniel are complex and challenging and charged. There’s an intense energy surrounds the reality of a God who is always near, a God who will one day appear, and a God who will one day make everything right. The deep longing in my soul will one day be satisfied in full. In the next two lessons we will cover Daniel’s last recorded vision.

BROKEN AT THE FEET OF GOD  

Our text today in chapter 10 begins with a broken hearted man. Haven’t we all hit that point at least once, probably more, where we beg Jesus to come for us? We want to call it quits and go home. Confused and weary and broken, we search for understanding to make sense of it all. We know this feeling. Maybe we feel it right now. With the news of senseless shootings and murder this week, I’m not far off. This is where we find Daniel.

The text doesn’t tell us exactly why he’s so broken, but he writes that he’s been mourning for three weeks. In his anguish he has abstained from rich food and drink, and from the creature comforts that were afforded him, to fall at the feet of God in prayer and petition.

Then, beginning in verse four, an almost avalanche of revelation comes pouring out when Daniel is visited by a heavenly being who reveals a detailed vision. There’s quite a bit packed into the final vision, but I’d like to pull on three themes which are consistent with virtually every other chapter in Daniel: God’s swift response in difficult circumstances, the reality of spiritual warfare that surrounds, and the prophecy of full restoration.

DANIEL’S RESPONSE

Daniel was deeply troubled, but because he doesn’t specify the reason, we are left to only guess, and his response to his trouble is significant. We know that two years earlier a group of exiles returned to Jerusalem to begin the work of rebuilding the Temple. (Ezra 1:1) Daniel did not return with them, in all likelihood because his advanced age, but we don’t know for sure. Could remaining in Babylon have troubled him?

We know that the building of the Temple stopped because of external as well as internal opposition. (Ezra 4:24) Israel’s neighbors had no desire to see the rebirth of a strong Israel and their Temple was indeed connected to their strength, so they caused trouble endlessly. The footprint of the new Temple was much smaller than that of Solomon’s and caused friction within the rank and file, because the older generation remembered the way it was. Rebuilding stopped for as much as 20 years until the prophets Haggai and Zechariah spoke boldly to Zerubabbel, the governor. Could Daniel have received word of this conflict over the Temple and been brought to tears?

Based on the vision Daniel received, it’s probable that his petitions were related to his understanding of God’s plan for Israel.

Now I am here to explain what will happen to your people in the future, for this vision concerns a time yet to come. (Daniel 10:14 NLT)

He was deeply saddened for sure and probably confused. His response? Go to the Lord in prayer. In fact, he humbled himself in prayer with fasting.

It’s interesting that we see no evidence of Daniel trying to pull strings on Israel’s behalf, or attempting to control whatever was bothering him. It’s entirely possible he still held a reasonable amount of governmental influence, and he could have sought the resources to resolve whatever issue plagued him, but he didn’t. It’s convicting really, because this isn’t usually my first response when I’m troubled, especially if I have resources and influence at my disposal. Daniel’s response is incredibly important.

GOD’S RESPONSE

In both chapter 9 and 10 we see that God swiftly responds to Daniel’s prayers as soon as he begins praying.

Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your request has been heard in heaven. I have come in answer to your prayer. (Daniel 10:12b NLT)

Daniel said the heavenly being looked like a man, and described him as dressed in linen, with a belt of pure gold, a body like a gem, a face flashing like lightning, eyes flaming like torches, arms like polished bronze, and a roaring voice. This description of Daniel’s is strikingly similar to John’s description of someone like the Son of Man in Revelation:

And standing in the middle of the lampstands was someone like the Son of Man. He was wearing a long robe with a gold sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white like wool, as white as snow. And his eyes were like flames of fire. His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and his voice thundered like mighty ocean waves. (Rev 1:13-15 NLT)

Could Daniel have seen a pre-incarnate manifestation of God the Son? It certainly isn’t out of the question. So it’s interesting that this man follows his response in verse 12 with this:

But for twenty-one days the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia blocked my way. Then Michael, one of the archangels, came to help me, and I left him there with the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia. (Daniel 10:13 NLT)

Puzzling, isn’t it? Does God really need help from the angels? Don’t they get their power from God? Can we assume that God was then bested by evil for 21 days? To understand the situation better it’s important to compare God’s relationship to all other beings, including the evil spirits. He is sovereign over all. ALL.

For those of you who saw the Superman movie way back when, you may recall the scene where Lex Luthor wields powerful Kryptonite to disable Superman’s powers. By exploiting this weakness, Lex Luthor became his evil, equal counterpart.

This is NOT the relationship between Satan and God. Satan is NOT God’s evil, equal counterpart. We can be sure this heavenly messenger was not delayed because he was overpowered or exploited for 21 days. The delay was allowed by God.

Daniel had mourned and fasted for three weeks when this messenger arrived; the exact same amount of time the messenger was blocked. It could have appeared to Daniel that his prayers were going unanswered, when in reality God responded the very same day. I believe there is a correlation between the period of mourning and the spiritual battle, but as to the exact nature of the correlation, I would be purely speculating.

When I think on my own life however, typically I am more receptive to God’s word as time extends from an upsetting event. In the emotion of the moment, God’s voice is often deadened, and I’m not receptive. That’s the spiritual battle that is waging all around us. Satan wants nothing more than to block our connection to God. I’m not saying this was Daniel’s battle, but it could have been.

The ground that our enemy gains in our lives is ground that we allow. And we have all authority in Christ to reclaim that ground. Something to consider when we find ourselves asking why our prayers seem to go unanswered. This is why it’s so important to see that Daniel steadfastly turned to God in prayer for those three weeks, as opposed to any other tactic. Prayer is the single-most effective strategy we have to battle the spirits that mean to destroy and discourage.

THE VISION

The messenger then reveals a detailed prophecy of the coming kings affecting the land of Israel. It almost resembles a tennis match as the king of the North and the king of the South go back and forth over multiple generations attacking each other. The messenger clearly states at the beginning of the vision that the Persian government will fall to the kingdom of Greece. This is a reiteration of the claim in the visions from chapter seven and eight, that the ruler of Greece will fall at the height of his power and the kingdom will be divided into four inferior kingdoms.

From there the vision describes what most scholars believe to be the Seleucid kingdom which fought the Ptolemaic kingdom over the course of a couple hundred years. The Torah Class website has an interesting, point-by-point historical account of how each prophetic clue corresponds to the historical event. Please note that no one can say for sure how God intended or intends to fulfill his prophecies with complete accuracy, so continue to humbly seek God’s guidance here.

At some point in chapter 11 of Daniel, this vision transitions from what has already been fulfilled in history to what yet remains for our future. Many scholars believe that Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who rose up from the Seleucid kingdom, fulfilled the description of the king in Daniel 11:21, and that the king described beginning in Daniel 11:36 is the Antichrist that is still yet to come. I’ll talk more about the remainder of the vision in the lesson next week.

WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM GOD?

So often when we come to scripture like this, we approach it in terms of trying to determine how these things will play out, like God gave us these prophecies so that we could and should figure it out, then chart our course accordingly. Maybe we can plan our 401K investments better, however this approach stands in stark contradiction to the character of God, who once spoke to my heart when I was desperately searching his plans for my future,

I don’t give you all the details of the future so that you won’t miss being with me now.

God is the revealer of all mysteries and the donor of all wisdom. When searching and studying scripture as complicated and confusing as the last three chapters of Daniel, we should fall at the feet of our Lord for understanding. When Daniel was hurting and confused, he turned to God, and the prophetic vision was but one aspect of God’s response to Daniel’s petition. What can we expect from our God when we fall at his feet?

Expect him to address your fears

The men who were with Daniel were terrified and ran away and left him alone. Daniel’s strength left him, he grew deathly pale, and finally fainted. Fear is a legitimate feeling and one that cannot be completely eliminated, but it is also an irrational tool used by a conniving enemy to cloud our judgment and block our connection to God.

God knows this, and he wants to reassure us that we do not need to be afraid. Twice he told Daniel not to be afraid. (Daniel 10:12,19) Expect him to address the voice of fear with his voice of love.

Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. (1 John 4:18 NLT)

Expect him to affirm his love

God is love, and every other character quality ascribed to God is congruent with and pours forth from love. Twice Daniel is affirmed in love.

Daniel, you are very precious to God…(Daniel 10:11 NLT)

Expect to hear those words spoken to your heart on a regular basis. I pray you hear them today.

Expect him to provide strength and encouragement

When thoughts of giving up, feeling too weak to continue, and considerations of an easier, less-formidable path present themselves, expect God to lift you up and have you stand. Expect him to tell you to be strong and to trust him.

This man in the vision touched Daniel three times. First he touched him and lifted him up, then he touched his lips so that he could speak, and he touched Daniel again so he could feel his strength returning. (Daniel 10:10,16,18)

‘Don’t be afraid,’ he said, ‘for you are very precious to God. Peace! Be encouraged! Be strong!’

As he spoke these words to me, I suddenly felt stronger and said to him, ‘Please speak to me, my lord, for you have strengthened me.’ (Daniel 10:19 NLT)

Expect him to reveal truth

After your fears have subsided, his love affirmed, and your strength begins to return, expect a word of truth. When God reveals himself and any aspect of truth, it will be for the purpose of growth. Truth opens the door for greater intimacy with God, which will ultimately brighten his light within you so that the world might also know him. Truth and its effects are multi-faceted and far-reaching, and know that when you ask for understanding, God wishes to bestow it.

Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your request has been heard in heaven. I have come in answer to your prayer. (Daniel 10:12b NLT)

WE LONG TO BE WITH GOD

God’s initiative with Daniel in chapter 10, and also with us, is so that we will draw close to him in all things. In his letter to the Romans, Paul talks about this deep craving we have for the promise of a new creation.

And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. (Romans 8:23 NLT)

Prophecy stirs within me “groans,” and like the anticipation that comes with Christmas, I anxiously anticipate the coming of my Savior. This is the real revelation of prophecy. It reveals my longing for Jesus himself.  Prophecy should lead us into righteous and effective prayer for understanding. It should lead each of us to seek his presence in the present, rather than leave us obsessed with an ambiguous future. It should lead us to experience a foretaste of that future glory through the Holy Spirit today.

Trigger A Command From Heaven: DANIEL 9

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“We simply don’t have the luxury of playing nice with prayer. Not if we want things to change. Not if we want to be free – from whatever’s keeping us held down and held back.” (Shirer, Priscilla. Fervent. p 3)

How many of us can say with confidence that we know, understand, AND practice fervent prayer?  I’ve learned  a lot about prayer in recent years. I understand it because I’ve experienced deep, committed prayer with wise and dedicated women who have crossed my path. I’ve seen the results first-hand.  But even now I still struggle to maintain a consistent practice of it.

I know…really know…the power of prayer and its ability to usher in God’s powerful presence, so why in the world would I let it drop? Satan. I don’t like giving his name much airtime, but let’s call a spade a spade. Prayer is the single most effective offensive weapon we have in our arsenal, and he knows it. Divide and conquer. Separate the believer from her power source. Stop her from praying.

DANIEL 9

We find Daniel in chapter nine reading God’s word as spoken to Jeremiah, meditating on it, when the Spirit of conviction and revelation comes upon him and drives him to his knees. The revelation: Judah’s captivity in Babylon would last a numbered 70 years, and they were very close to completing that timeline. The conviction: Judah abandoned God, refused to listen to any of the prophets, and deserved every part of their punishment. A man dedicated to prayer already, it’s not surprising that he would pray again. And not just pray, but he fasted with burlap and ashes.

You don’t even get the sense that Daniel has really finished praying, that he’s been going at it all day, when Gabriel shows up at the time of the evening sacrifice. He’s there because a command was given in heaven. Wow. That’s powerful.

Daniel, I have come here to give you insight and understanding. The moment you began praying a command was given. And now I am here to tell you what it was, for you are very precious to God. Listen carefully so that you can understand the meaning of your vision. (Daniel 9:23 NLT)

Gabriel then lays out a timeline of sorts for all the events described in his visions earlier. These 70 weeks, as described in many of the Bible translations and versions, or 70 sets of 7 in others, seems to equate to years. In other words, there will be 70 sets of seven years for the time of rebellion to come to an end. These specifications have been useful for many spirited debates among scholars and theologians throughout the years, but we can be assured arguments between believers are not what God intended here. Seek what God wants you to see.

FERVENT PRAYER

Here’s what I see in this text. I see the bulk of it focused on prayer, and I see Daniel’s prayer as not only a prayer of repentance, but one of restoration. He wants to see Israel return to the Promised Land and be fully restored as a nation. His prayer that day resulted in an immediate command from heaven, releasing a revelation. God revealed many more details of his plan for the Jews. Israel would return, rebuild, and prepare the way for Messiah.

A period of seventy sets of seven has been decreed for your people and your holy city to finish their rebellion, to put an end to their sin, to atone for their guilt, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to confirm the prophetic vision, and to anoint the Most Holy Place. (Daniel 9:24 NLT)

Could Daniel have fully appreciated how expansive God’s plan for redemption really was? Daniel’s prayer claimed the very fiber of God’s heart and will for redemption, and God acted upon it immediately. God’s answer to that prayer went well beyond restoration for Israel and offered redemption for the entire world.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. (Ephesians 3:20 NLT)

When we pray in God’s will, when we boldly claim the Word of God and allow it to penetrate the deep recesses of our heart, heaven responds. Let’s begin to unpack this with a question: What does it really mean to pray in God’s will?

JUST DO IT

First, I believe there is no inherently wrong way to pray. I don’t think God is sitting up in heaven, judging our prayers by how we talk to him, or in what order we present things to him, did we include our thanks and praise before our petitions?  He just wants us to come to him. He wants us to enjoy his presence. Biblical instruction that talks about prayer and thanksgiving are not rules so that we might appease God, but rather guidance to prepare us to be with him.

For all three of my children I began a practice of prayer after every round of discipline and correction when they were little. As they got a little older, I would require each of them to pray it on their own. Of course I could tell when they were insincere just so they could be released from “time out,” but I didn’t mind. My hope was that the discipline of prayer itself would eventually spark sincerity in the future.

If you really don’t believe you’re actually talking to God, or that he even hears you, and your words become rote, insincere, hung in the atmosphere until all that’s left is the spittle from your breath, then start here, because one could argue that even these aren’t worthless and could lead to sincerity in the future. Just do it.

For many of us however, we’ve done the repetitive (and can I be honest? boring) prayers. We’ve saved them for our bedtime routine because they put us to sleep faster than anything else. Right? But I believe we’re ready for a change, to really step into game changing prayers like those of Daniel. We want to understand how to make his realities our realities. We want to move mountains into oceans and trigger commands in heaven.

WHAT IS NOT PRAYING IN GOD’S WILL

It is NOT giving up on the prayer before it’s even uttered…

So there’s this little section of scripture in the Apostle James’ letter that talks about the dangers of self-confidence.

How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog- it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:14-15 NLT)

In this text James is warning about self-confidence and arrogance, not spirit confidence. There is a difference. Praying in God’s will is NOT praying from self, it’s praying in the Spirit. Have we unknowingly written-off our prayer as unanswerable, not going to happen, even before it’s fully left our lips?  Our heart leaves the prayer if we do, and then our heart then leaves God’s presence.  Kind of defeats the purpose of prayer.

Like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh, “He’s probably not going to answer that one anyway. Probably not in his will.” James would not want us to pray like that, tagging on a hopeless, “if it’s your will, Lord,” to our prayers. He says later in chapter five to pray earnestly, lay hands, and anoint with oil. That’s not a hopeless sounding prayer to me.

The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. (James 5:16b NLT)

 (Add Righteousness to your prayers!)

It is NOT tagging God’s name to a list of prayers that look like good prayers for God’s will…

There are a lot of great, and lofty, and noble things that we can pray for and pursue. Much of which can be equally selfish if we haven’t received confirmation from God to pursue them. So much of the good things we’d like to see happen may not actually be in our best interest. I have been known to pray against a prayer request, because I sensed what they were asking was not what God had for them at that stage in life.

Much to my surprise, I had to learn this too when none of my dreams, plans, and prayer approvals were working out early on. I learned that God really doesn’t need me working out all the details to my plans and getting his prayer approval. He’s already got those details worked out. His big picture didn’t need my well-planned flow charts after all.

He is not impressed by the strength of a horse; he does not value the power of a man. The Lord values those who fear Him, those who put their hope in His faithful love. (Psalms 147:10-11 HCSB)

(Add fearing Him and hope in his faithful love to your prayers!)

WHAT IS PRAYING IN GOD’S WILL

It IS searching for, and understanding God’s will for your life…

During the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, learned from reading the word of the Lord, as revealed to Jeremiah the prophet, that Jerusalem must lie desolate for seventy years. (Daniel 9:2 NLT)

Daniel was studying the scriptures, deep in God’s word, and dare I say deep in worship. During this time in God’s word, he saw the promise of 70 years of captivity for Israel. Imagine the excitement to understand it was almost over and to claim God’s will.

The vast majority of God’s will and promises will be found in scripture. Meditating on the word of God in an effort to know him will reveal his will, and this is where bold prayers begin!

(Add reading God’s word to your prayers!)

It IS claiming God’s promises and the inherent authority therein for our lives and for others…

Daniel saw the promise and straightaway claims it fervently. He’s certainly not remiss in confessing the sins that brought about their captivity in the first place. And he includes himself.  Much of his prayer reflects it. Neglecting these opportunities to repent, weakens our stance and claims of promise.  Imagine if Daniel prayed for the promise of returning to Jerusalem, but minimized the wrongdoing.  When I see my kids do that, I see the need to extend their punishment.

But we have sinned and done wrong. We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. (Daniel 9:5 NLT)

Yet Daniel remains bold.

O our God, hear your servant’s prayer! Listen as I plead. For your own sake, Lord, smile again on your desolate sanctuary. (Daniel 9:15 NLT)

When we find a promise in God’s word, Paul refers to as our sword for battling Satan. (Eph 6:17) It cuts through all the lies he tells to keep us down and feeling defeated. Paul also tells us we’re already seated in the heavenlies (Eph 2:6) and that we are already strong in God’s mighty power (Eph 6:10). It means we can claim the authority of God’s power when praying his word. When we pray his will, God acts.

(Add promises and faithful confession and repentance to your prayers!)

It IS searching for an understanding of God’s bigger picture of redemption …

There are certainly nuances to God’s will that he may or may not make available. Our lack of knowledge shouldn’t resign us to pitiful prayers; we continue to boldly pray with what we know. That’s why we have the Holy Spirit.

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Sprit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. (Romans 8:26-27 NLT emphasis added)

When Gabriel came to Daniel to reveal the timeline for Messiah and the final rebellion, that was awesome and I’m thankful for that. Unfortunately, I end up with about 1,000 more questions than if I hadn’t read it in the first place. It’s really only a fragment of the full plan, and a rather confusing one at that.  Understanding how our prayers fit into God’s overall picture is admittedly overwhelming. Knowing this, God typically only reveals snippets of his big picture, because like Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, we can’t always handle the truth.

So, like the CIA, God fills us in on a need-to-know basis. But not knowing everything still shouldn’t change our bold prayers. We’ve got big issues in our world. Murder, violence, people fleeing for their lives, terror threatening our way of life all over the world. We need to be bold in our prayers.

Based on the prophecies we read the last two weeks, it seems as though the world could get worse until the time of rebellion if finished. If that’s where we are right now, in a place where it will get worse before it gets better, how do we pray bold prayers in God’s will?  That’s a tough one. Ultimately only we can answer that for ourselves through the Holy Spirit, because he very likely has a unique prayer plan for each of us, as a Body working together.

(ask God to reveal your portion of the Big Picture so that you might effectively pray!)

PRAYERS THAT AREN’T NECESSARILY PROMISES

We’ve said that praying in God’s will means, in part, claiming God’s promises as Daniel did. We’ve also talked at length throughout the course of this study in Daniel, that we aren’t promised physical safety. We aren’t promised an easy life without persecution, in fact Jesus points out that the world will hate us for identifying with Him. Should we not then pray for safety and protection?

Even though these things are likely or maybe even guaranteed, it doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t pray against them. And it doesn’t mean that we aren’t praying in God’s will if we do. They are burdens, like any other, and Jesus wants to carry them. So pray, hand them over, and trust God, and God knows, it just might be his will.

There was a man named Jabez …. He was the one who prayed to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and expand my territory! Please be with me in all that I do, and keep me from all trouble and pain!” And God granted him his request. (1 Chronicles 4:9-10 NLT)

Abide in Christ, stand firm in his Word, pray fervently with authority and boldness, trigger commands in Heaven!

SCRIPTURES TO CONSIDER

Prayers boldly focused on the Kingdom.

Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. (Matthew 6:33 HCSB)

Prayers for his presence.

Being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

Prayers for shelter and safety, however God may define that for us.

From the end of the earth I will cry to You, when my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For You have been a shelter for me, a strong tower from the enemy. I will abide in Your tabernacle forever; I will trust in the shelter of Your wings. (Psalms 61:2-4 NKJV)

Prayers for firmness and a steady faith.

I am at rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I will never be shaken. (Psalms 62:1-2 HCSB)

Moments of Truth: Daniel 2:1-23

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DANIEL 2:1-23

A good friend of mine, an elementary teacher in Las Vegas, NV, posted his story on Facebook this week. He granted me permission to share it today.

“Last Monday, right after the students were dismissed, a Kindergarten teacher ran up to me and asked if I had seen one of her students. When I told her that I hadn’t, she ran back towards the office. This kind of thing happens quite often, a student does not go where they are supposed to and he pops up a few minutes later (because he had to go the bathroom, etc.).

I went back to my room, got cleaned up, and went to church for my internship. I was tempted to take a different route but went my usual way. God was urging me to keep my eyes open for this student. In my heart, I just KNEW that I was going to find him.

Well, once I turned onto Sunset Road, I saw a little boy running and crying. I quickly stopped and yelled his name. He came running towards me and I gave him a hug. I called the school and his mom came to the church a few minutes later to pick him up.

I have received praise for this, somewhat of a “hero’s welcome,” but I do not want to take the credit. If his teacher did not run over to me and tell me that he was missing, I would not have known to look for him or even to call his name. If my intimacy with God was not what it is on a daily basis, I would not have been able to discern His voice in my busy life. God “told” me that I would find this student…and it happened. Let that sink in for a second.

We cannot expect to hear from God if we are not listening to Him. The closer we are to Him, the easier it is to hear His voice.” – Matthew Pfeil

Today, in the first half of Daniel chapter two, we see how Daniel leans when faced with an incredibly high stress, anxiety-producing, life and death situation. Because it’s not everyday we find ourselves in the midst of life threatening events, it’s important to note that how we lean is not just critical for the obvious, in your face, do-this-or-you-die scenarios, like Daniel’s story. Our everyday conversations with our everyday relationships, like my friend Matt’s story, always hold the potential to be life-giving, life-preserving, and life-saving.

A MOMENT OF TRUTH

Continuing the story of Daniel in Babylon, chapter two begins with King Nebuchadnezzar waking from a terrifying and disturbing dream. It wasn’t the normal, “I was standing there in my underwear” dream, but the kind where you feel terribly connected to another world, and you can hardly go back to sleep. He knew this dream held significance, so much so that he wasn’t willing to risk his staff placating his ego this time. He refused to share the dream, and instead demanded that they first tell him the dream, and then he could probably trust the interpretation that went with it. Everyone failed. And the king sentenced the whole lot of magicians to execution, including Daniel and his three friends who weren’t even there.

When Arioch, the commander of the king’s guard, came to kill them, Daniel handled the situation with wisdom and discretion. He asked Arioch, “Why has the king issued such a harsh decree?” (Daniel 2:14-15 NLT)

Daniel immediately went before the king, requested more time, which was granted, then returned to his friends to pray. They probably cried desperate pleas for God’s divine intervention, and intervene He did. That night the dream and its interpretation were delivered to Daniel. Thrilled, and awed by the immensity of our God that we serve, he praised God before he did anything else.

A moment of truth for Daniel, made possible through preparation. In the first lesson I talked about the pattern of God’s will, and that by recognizing where we are in the pattern, we have the opportunity to partner with God in the process.

Basic Pattern

In the second lesson I talked about how we partner with God by how we respond to Him.

  • Seek to know Him
  • Seek His presence
  • Seek His vision
  • Seek His confirmation

We will all inevitably find ourselves in a moment of truth, revealing how ready we are to walk into our purpose.  And scripture says that we will rely on the understanding we have to guide us through our decision-making. The real question is, whose understanding is it? Our own or God’s?

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6 NASB)

Only God’s voice, His direct revelation and guidance, will help us in wisdom and discretion. The challenge we all face is discerning His voice above all the others. Don’t worry, it’s as easy for us as it was for Daniel. His world was just as noisy as ours, he had doubts and insecurities as we do, and he faced the same spiritual enemy we face. These moments of truth are part of our preparation. They indicate our readiness to move into God’s purpose.

VOICES

You’ve probably heard people say things like, “Just listen to your heart. Go with your gut. Listen to that still, small voice.” For as long as I can remember, I have always had an internal dialogue going on inside my head every day, all day. That internal voice is louder for some people than it is for others, but it’s usually there. From my perspective I see three basic categories of voices:

Conscience

Aside from attachment disorders and other behavioral complications that deaden the voice of the conscience, the vast majority of us are born with some degree of conscience, also commonly known as our “heart.” It’s the voice most often associated with self.  Our voice.  Even without the help of the Bible, there are some things we just know are right and some things we just know are wrong.

However, the problem arises when we allow and encourage our conscience to be the dominant voice, because our conscience is largely shaped by the values and morals of the surrounding culture, as well as personal experience. What is considered “wrong” by one group, in one setting, and in one period of time, may not be considered “wrong” by another. It can then lead to the conclusion that nothing is inherently wrong, allowing culture and experience to dominate that definition.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV)

The heart reproduces what’s been instilled in it, good and bad.  The conscience is ultimately an unreliable voice unless it’s been saturated with holiness.

The Enemy

Then there’s the nefarious voice of the devil, also known as the “father of lies” (Jn 8:44) and his demons. Around for millennia, they’ve nearly perfected the art of manipulation. Masters of saying just the right thing and pushing just the right buttons, they work toward one goal: destroy humanity.

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (I Peter 5:8 ESV)

For those of us who have committed our lives to Christ, the devil cannot snatch us from his fingers (Jn 10:28), however it does not make us immune to his schemes either. This is why we must be watchful and aware. We need to recognize the sound of the enemy’s voice, so that we can reject it outright. Below is a quick guide to recognize the devil’s most common tactics.

Adapted from Choosing God’s Best, Dr. Don Raunikar
Adapted from Choosing God’s Best, Dr. Don Raunikar
The Spirit

And finally the most important, most sacred voice of all: the Spirit of God. I often call it that still, small voice. But why is it so small if it’s so important?   I believe it’s because we allow it to be reduced by the choices we make when we choose the world over Christ. If we were to truly understand the implications of not fostering an intimacy with Christ on a daily basis, we would never choose the busyness of this world over Christ. But we don’t, so we do, and then we can’t hear God, and we wonder why.

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (John 16:13 ESV)

This is the voice we should want to dominate our lives. This is the voice that represents heaven.

INTIMACY

The voice that grows is the voice we feed, so we need to talk about how to nourish the voice of the Spirit. It’s called intimacy. Intimacy with Christ is really the whole point of…I don’t know…everything! It’s another word for what I’ve already described: knowing Him and being with Him. God introduces us to the wilderness of preparation so that we can understand how to know him and be with him. We go into the wilderness so that we can grow in intimacy with Christ.

God asked Hosea to marry a prostitute knowing full well that he would suffer through her rejection and unfaithfulness, all so that we might have a picture not only of Israel’s rejection and unfaithfulness to God, but also ours.  But then…

But then I will win her back once again. I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to here there. (Hosea 2:14 NLT)

There are times when I get thirsty and one sip of water will do. But then there are times when one sip of water seems to trigger an insatiable thirst, causing me to guzzle glass after glass after glass. This is the kind of thirst for God that intimacy causes. You get a sip, and you want more and more of God. As you pursue this living water, over time you will notice the voice of His Spirit growing inside you. Like any relationship, you come to know the in’s and out’s of this voice by spending quality time together. Intimacy with Christ makes you one with heaven.

Have you heard the term “Jacob’s Ladder?” It comes from Genesis, the story of Jacob’s life, when he dreamt of a stairway that reached from heaven to earth. “He saw the angels of God going up and down the stairway.” (Gen 28:12) Years later, the Apostle John records Jesus at the beginning of his ministry.

Then he said, “I tell you the truth, you will all see heaven open and the angels of God going up and down on the Son of Man, the one who is the stairway between heaven and earth. (John 1:51 NLT)

I believe Jesus was foretelling, in part, the intimacy that would soon be freely available to the disciples and each of us. An intimacy only made possible by his death on the cross. We can see the heavens opened up for us.

LEANING WHICH WAY

Getting back to Daniel, he was a smart guy. If anyone would be tempted to rely on his own logic and intellect, it would be Daniel. But we see him, in this moment of truth, going straight back to God. We know he prayed, but we don’t know exactly how he prayed or any other form of worship he may have employed that evening.  However, I’m pretty confident he sought God’s presence as much, if not more, than he sought God’s insight. And Daniel was floored by how much more God revealed about Himself in the process.  Daniel asked for the dream and an interpretation, and in addition walked away with (maybe for the first time) a much grander appreciation for God’s expansiveness and sovereignty over the world and its future.

While we have all been equipped with varying degrees of education, intellect, and talent, without the insight that comes from the Spirit of God, then it’s merely our own understanding. Our understanding can be logical, rational, and flat out astounding, but without Christ and his confirmation, we could end up on a path that only looks right, but turns out to be terribly wrong.

There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death. (Proverbs 14:12 NLT)

Recognizing the truth of this proverb, and our dependency upon God daily, keeps us humble and attuned to His voice. And it’s His voice that leads us into life-giving, life-preserving, and life-saving decisions. It’s imperative that we make knowing Him and being with Him the priority every day. Partner with God in your wilderness so that when these moments of truth arrive, and they will, your character will shine in how you lean.

When Does Compromise Become a Bad Word: Daniel 1

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DANIEL 1

We’ve seen it, we’ve heard it, and it’s inundated our newsfeeds. The Christian baker refuses to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding and the bakery is then forced to close. The county clerk refuses to issue same-sex marriage licenses and a storm of anger erupts around her employment status. The culture of the U.S. has rapidly changed and Christians aren’t entirely sure how to respond to these changes, and when they do, it tends to evoke deep, emotional responses on both sides.

But this isn’t simply a battle between Christians and non-Christians. Even among Christian believers the opinions span the spectrum.  Despite the fact that Christians might offer up scripture here and there to support their position on these matters, the truth is, scripture isn’t terribly specific when the context of the quoted passage is taken into consideration.   How then, are we supposed to apply scripture and make these types of decisions? When do we compromise and choose a response for the sake of love and relationship, and when do we draw the line and make a stand?

Unlike many bloggers and writers, today I’m not offering my opinion on these newsworthy topics. I’ve been hesitant to do so because I don’t believe there’s a one-size-fits-all solution. I believe it takes thoughtful discernment to understand all the factors that play into each situation, including our own sinful pride and potentially clouded judgment. This discernment is quite honestly what seems to be missing from so many equations.

Equipped with Discernment

In the previous lesson, I discussed the pattern of God’s will for our lives as it has been revealed multiple times throughout the Bible. I said that the Wilderness stage of that pattern is intended to be a time of preparation; a stage in life where God equips us to live out our future purpose. If we have a hope of ever using effective discernment, we must first be equipped with it.

While Judah was in the stage of captivity in Babylon, Daniel and his friends were in a personal stage of Preparation. They were quite literally being trained in every sort of education and discipline. The Wilderness of Preparation is designed to teach us about God’s faithfulness so as to build in us faithfulness toward him. His favor in response is not merely a reward for our faithfulness, but a confirmation of his.

We see these four young men remain faithful to the Lord through diet an attitude. They build relationships the entire time. God confirms his faithfulness with good health and an unusual aptitude for learning and discernment. King Nebuchadnezzar liked them the best. Let’s go further though, and look at how discernment is developed in this stage of preparation.

Scratching the Surface of Discernment with Love

In Daniel chapter one we see Daniel and his contemporaries being whisked off into Babylon to undergo intense pagan indoctrination. They study the literature, learn the language, change their names, and train for royal positions within the Babylonian kingdom. They draw the line, however, on the food they eat. Most scholars agree that Daniel considered the food defiled because of the Hebrew dietary laws and restrictions, or the idol practice the food underwent, or both. Does this mean that in so doing, he’s established a universal “line” for all God-fearing believers?

If we look forward to Acts chapter 15 we see a similar outcome. In this chapter of Acts a rift has developed between long-times Jews and new Gentile Christians. These Judaizers (as they were referred to) insisted that the new Gentile converts needed to follow the Law of Moses and get circumcised. This mandate threatened the very spirit of grace, and the Apostle Paul fought vehemently against it. He traveled to Jerusalem to make his case and persuade the believers to stay true to grace. In the end they all agreed with Paul, but compromised with the following requirements in a letter from James to Antioch:

“For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater burden on you than these few requirements: you must abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. If you do this, you will do well. Farewell.” (Acts 15:28-29 NLT)

Some believe James was primarily concerned with these practices because they directly related to pagan idol worship. Is it possible James thought about this exact scenario in Daniel as the basis of his recommendation? Who knows? I believe Paul compromised and agreed to this letter for the sake of unity, love, and relationship. I’m sure he agreed with James on ridding the emerging Church of any pagan practices, but I doubt he wanted any “requirements” associated with Jesus.

Why do I think Paul compromised on this subject?  In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul spends a good portion in chapter eight answering their question as to whether or not eating meat offered to idols is wrong.

So what about eating meat that has been offered to idols? Well, we all know that an idol is not really a god and that there is only one God. (I Corinthians 8:4 NLT)

However, not all believers know this. Some are accustomed to thinking of idols as being real, so when they eat food that has been offered to idols, they think of it as the worship of real gods, and their weak consciences are violated. It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat. We don’t lose anything if we don’t eat it, and we don’t gain anything if we do. (I Corinthians 8:7-8 NLT)

So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live – for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble. (I Corinthians 8:13 NLT)

If Paul truly believed there was nothing lost nor gained by the decision to eat meat offered to idols, then he must have endorsed the letter forbidding the consumption of meat offered to idols because of his love for the Church, and his desire to see them wholeheartedly pursue Christ, which outweighed this technicality. He’s even willing to never eat meat again for the sake of love and relationship. He goes on to say that liberty and freedom in Christ will always be consistent with love for others.

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. Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others. (I Corinthians 10:23 NLT)

Interestingly, Daniel had the same freedom to eat from the king’s table, just as he had the freedom to accept the Babylonian names and educational training. Why did Daniel feel compelled to draw the line at the food when it’s clear God really cares about the condition of your heart? We don’t know for sure. Either Daniel didn’t understand this or he held another motive. My best guess is that these young men wanted to preserve some form of worship (when all other forms had been stripped away) and God’s Spirit directed them in this way. The way in which they proposed their suggestion was obviously done in love, and their relationship with the eunuch was established on mutual respect.

Any sticky decision begs a foundation upon which to rest. You must ask yourself, “Whom am I loving on either side of the decision?”

Seeking Equipment

I’m not going to tell you whether or not you should bake a cake, or whether or not to quit your job, but I will outline a set of responsive moves based on the equipment we see God utilize during Israel’s wilderness.

Seek To Know God

The Law – God gave Israel the law as soon as they crossed to the other side of the Red Sea. We know the law is not the means to salvation, but rather a means to KNOW HIM. And knowing him is indeed the means to salvation.

Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:3 NIV)

God gave them the law so that they might know him. We can take advantage of the time in the wilderness, and seek to know him. There are a number of ways to do this and they should always end up in his Word, whether it’s Bible study, church attendance, or fellowship with other believers.

Seek God’s Presence

The Tabernacle – God gave Israel the tabernacle, also known as the place of his presence. While in the wilderness, Israel saw his presence and followed his guidance with the manifestation of a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night.

Enjoy yourselves in the presence of the Lord your God along with your sons, daughters, male and female slaves, the Levites who live in your cities, the foreigners, orphans, and widows who live among you. Enjoy yourselves at the place the Lord your God will choose for his name to live. (Deut 16:11 GW)

With the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, we have become his holy tabernacle, his holy temple. His presence provides the direct connection to God that we need for discernment to know our path as well as the power to obey it. Practice his abiding presence through worship and prayer, and give yourself wholly to him.

Seek God’s Vision

A Prophet – God provided Israel with a prophet in Moses. Moses articulated a vision of God’s community in the Promised Land; a vision to encourage them to step forward in faith and obedience when things looked daunting or exhausting.

When you cross the Jordan River and enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, … a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord the God of your ancestors, promised you. (Deut 27:2-3 NLT)

Moses provided the Israelites with warnings and admonishment to obey God’s law, and he gave them God’s vision of a fruitful community through obedience. God’s ultimate vision for Israel was to bring salvation to the world through them and Moses shared this too.

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. (Deut 18:15 NLT)

When God directs us, if we are listening and watching closely, he will frequently accompany this with a glimpse of his vision. This vision is often not a detailed picture, so don’t expect to receive GPS map with exact coordinates. It’s typically a glimpse to encourage us another step forward.

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. (Psalm 119:105 KJV)

The lamp that we carry only illuminates a step or two ahead, requiring additional insight and guidance from God to keep walking. We need him with us daily, moving the lamp forward so that we can wisely navigate the path until we reach the light. Seek his vision by asking God to give you gift of sight. Lord, show me what you want me to see, so that I might move forward boldly.

Seek God’s Confirmation

Manna – God provided manna from heaven for Israel to eat as a sign of his faithfulness. He was indeed in this wilderness with them.

But in your great mercy you did not abandon them to die in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud still led them forward by day, and the pillar of fire showed them the way through the night. You sent your good Spirit to instruct them, and you did not stop giving them manna from heaven or water for their thirst. For forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out, and their feet did not swell! (Nehemiah 9:19-21 NLT)

The Jews reflect on all the positive things God provided for their ancestors hundreds of years before, but no doubt there were plenty of those exact ancestors who did not view the wilderness in this way. They saw only the hardship. And don’t misunderstand; the wilderness is not without its hardship. But as you seek God’s direction to remain faithful to him, seek confirmation of his faithfulness toward you. Seek confirmation on his direction for every step in your life. He’s pleased to provide it.

APPLYING IT

When Daniel chose to draw the line at the food from the king’s table, he used discernment to do so. His request was proposed in love and respect. I believe he made the request for the purpose of maintaining an element of worship so that they might know God more and remain in God’s presence. Daniel comes awfully close to implying he held a vision of better health by suggesting a comparison of him and his friends after 10 days. And sure enough, God confirmed their decision with favor in the form of better health and an unusual aptitude for wisdom.

Daniel’s story isn’t necessarily a story to inspire us all to boldly rebel against any and all cultural deviations. This was Daniel’s journey, not ours. However, like all scripture, there are underlying values and principals to be applied. I pray that we will allow love-of-others to take preeminence in our decision-making and that our choices would be guided after we’ve make a practice of seeking to know God, seeking his presence, seeking his vision, and seeking his confirmation.

God’s Favor: Smack Dab In The Middle: Lesson 29

ACTS 28

The book of Acts ends rather abruptly in chapter 28, almost like a high-five that goes unnoticed, leaving the high-fiver hanging. A little awkward. Generally speaking I’m not happy with an unfinished story. I don’t like unanswered questions and mysteries that go unsolved. I’m the kind of person that will read the third book of a trilogy, even if I hate it, just to complete it. True story. I’ll keep the unused bag that matches the suitcase, just so I don’t break up the set. The ending of Acts has bothered me for years because it felt fractured, begging to have the remaining pieces of the story added. However, I saw something beautiful develop in chapter 28 this week that made me realize it was the perfect ending.

At the beginning of this study, we anticipated a few banner themes to emerge this year: evangelism, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, unity, persecution, hardship, and grace. Chapter 28 seems to wrap them up nicely into a picture of the compounding effect of God’s favor through each of these themes. God’s favor for the faithful is clearly demonstrated in this final chapter.

Luke says they were immediately welcomed onto the island of Malta where they landed after the shipwreck. The chief official for the island was kind and hospitable. Paul healed this man’s ailing father as well as many others on the island. They were showered with honors and were supplied with all their needs when they set sail for Rome after three months. They had several additional stops from there, and it was in Puteoli, The Forum and The Three Taverns on the outskirts of Rome, where believers came to meet Paul and offer their hospitality. As Paul was moving closer to Rome, it wouldn’t be shocking if he was slightly apprehensive, and Luke says these believers encouraged him.

When Paul saw them, he was encouraged and thanked God. (Acts 28:15b)

When Paul finally arrived in Rome he was given private lodging, lived at his own expense, had many visitors, and continued boldly preaching the Kingdom. No one tried to stop him. Paul is still a prisoner, yet the favor of God compounds in his life. If we can see God’s favor growing for Paul, can we see it in our own lives? What can we learn from this?

WHAT IS FAVOR?

As defined by Merriam Webster favor is a kind or helpful act that you do for someone. It’s gaining approval, support, or popularity. It’s maintaining a preference for a person or group over another. Bill Johnson, senior pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, CA, in an article entitled The Real Meaning of Favor says this,

While the Greek and Hebrew words translated favor in Scripture include these definitions, there is a deeper dimension to the Greek word for favor: charis. Almost everywhere in the New Testament, this word is translated ‘grace.’ Grace (and favor) is essentially a gift. (Johnson, Bill. The Real Meaning of Favor. charismamag.org, 2013)

Seeing the favor of God on Paul through the lens of grace puts a slightly different spin on this passage.

WHERE DOES FAVOR BEGIN?

Our first experience with the Father’s unmerited gift of grace occurs at the point of our salvation. His favor is poured upon us through his son’s shed blood, when we believe.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Paul’s first experience with God’s favor was on the road to Damascus when he met Jesus. He certainly didn’t earn this favor because Jesus said to him in that moment, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4) But we see Paul do something. He responds. He humbles and surrenders himself. He releases his grip on his will and his life.

Who remembers the 20-year-old commercials for Nestea? These commercials famously depicted delighted consumers, drinking a glass of tea, and then freefalling backwards into a pool of water. The Nestea Plunge is exactly how I picture God’s grace when we humble ourselves and surrender to him. We freefall and become immersed in his favor. We Let Go and Let God. Interestingly it’s also pictured in immersion baptism.

HOW DOES FAVOR GROW?

As amazing and wonderful as his favor of salvation is, it doesn’t end there.   Bill Johnson goes on to say,

“This unmerited favor includes not only being forgiven of sin but also receiving access to the very presence of God in the same way Jesus has access to Him.”(Johnson, Bill. The Real Meaning of Favor. charismamag.org, 2013)

So it begins with salvation and it then grows in his abiding presence. This is what you call a responsive relationship. When we abide and produce fruit from the Holy Spirit, that is the additional favor and grace.

In Luke 19:11 we find the Parable of the Ten Servants. The story goes like this: A nobleman goes on a journey to be crowned king in a far away land, and before he leaves he calls his servants together and splits ten pounds of silver between them. He instructs them to invest it while he’s away. When he returns, they provide him with an update. The first was invested and earned ten times the amount. The next was invested and earned five times the amount. To them both, the king responds positively and provides them with more.

“Well done!” the king exclaimed, “You are a good servant. You have been faithful with the little I entrusted to you, so you will be governor of ten cities as your reward.” (Luke 19:17)

The third says,

“Master, I hid your money and kept it safe. I was afraid because you are a hard man to deal with, taking what isn’t yours and harvesting crops you didn’t plant.” To which the king replied, “You wicked servant!…Your own words condemn you…Why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.” (Luke 19:20-23)

Each of us has been given a measure of favor and grace at the point of conversion. Like the parable, we can invest it or hide it. While we are positioned in his abiding presence, the Spirit will compel us to move, i.e. to make an investment. Each time we faithfully respond and follow, his favor grows.

What we see in Acts 28 is this cycle of growth. Paul has faithfully responded to the Spirit’s prompting for at least 20 years and this favor has grown. In Malta, God’s favor flows through Paul to the people on the island who are in a position to receive that grace. God’s grace and favor then flows through the people back to Paul in honor, hospitality, and supplies for the remainder of their trip. God’s grace and favor didn’t eliminate or prevent his unlawful imprisonment, but rather flowed through those around Paul, people who had received Paul’s investment, like the believers in Puteoli, The Forum, and The Three Taverns. The grace that flowed from God through Paul, touching the lives of the Roman soldiers, flowed back through them to Paul as the Roman government assigned him to private living quarters, allowing him to live peaceably.

WHERE IS MY FAVOR?

Each of us is smack dab in the middle of God’s grace. Do you have eyes to see it? Because you can’t respond to God’s gift if you don’t have eyes to see it and ears to hear Him. These too, eyes to see and ears to hear, are gifts that he wants to bestow. Simply ask.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there were the-glass-is-half-empty curmudgeons in the traveling party with Paul. There’s a curmudgeon almost everywhere. If this was indeed true, I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t fully see God’s gifts on this journey. They wouldn’t have seen the generosity of the Maltans, only a three-month delay. When they boarded another ship, fully supplied, they would have seen a small ship, fearing the supplies would never last. When they arrived on land in Puteoli, they wouldn’t have seen the blessing of hospitality from the locals, but only a dreaded voyage over land to Rome.

Do you feel like you’ve missed out on his favor? Do you look at others around you and think God favors them more? You are still smack dab in the middle of God’s favor. Respond. Bill Johnson also says in his article,

“While God loves everyone the same, not everyone has the same measure of favor. Yet everyone is positioned to increase in favor if each one of us effectively stewards what we have. In other words, when we seek His face with the favor we have, we increase in favor itself.” (Johnson, Bill. The Real Meaning of Favor. charismamag.org, 2013)

Sink deep into God’s grace, allowing the cycle of favor to spring into motion. Note: pursuing God’s favor isn’t the answer. Pursing God’s presence is. Engaging in a responsive relationship is what builds favor, grace, and deep meaning in your life. Most of us want our lives to count for something. We want to leave a legacy. Paul’s favor grew because he responded to the Holy Spirit and the legacy that remained is still working thousands of years later.

We stand in awe of the early church, amazed at their unity and resilient suffering, boldly sharing the gospel in the face of danger. How did they do it? We wonder. I wish we could have some of that power now, we say. The cycle of favor that was available to them is available now. Everything we’ve discussed this year in the book of Acts lies waiting in God’s favor/grace. Engage in a responsive relationship and watch it grow.

The Power of Submission: ACTS 23

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ACTS 23

My dear Aunt Doris passed away and entered Glory on Easter morning 2015. I am sure she was thrilled to go on such a magnificent day.  She was 94 years old and lived the vast majority of those years with her every waking and sleeping moment fixed on Jesus. She was all about the work of the Lord with nary a hesitation in her mind’s eye. If she ever doubted, questioned, or wondered about her purpose, we would have never known it. That was kept between her and her Creator.

So there I was with my family at church for the Easter service on Sunday, reminiscing on my Aunt Doris and her sisters, Sue and Jane (my grandmother). I began thinking about death and resurrection in a very personal way. Easter is the single most significant holiday we celebrate. It’s the crux of our faith. Without the power of the resurrection, we are simply wasting our time as Christians, and we’re merely defined by the good works we set about and fail to keep. Without the resurrection we are reduced to bunch who keep our fingers crossed.

I don’t know about you, but as a child raised in a Christian home, I’ve heard the Easter service message at least 40 times in mostly the same way, with the exception of a few remarkable messages. I have often left the service thinking, “so where exactly is this power in the resurrection? I don’t really see it.” It’s not that I didn’t believe it was true or that there wasn’t power in raising Jesus from the dead, I just never really saw it applied. There are many families who choose not to attend church services on a regular basis, and if they do maybe only for Christmas and Easter. Are they asking the same question? Those of you who fall into this category, what did you think of your Easter service this year? Did it move you to change? Did you feel called to alter the constructs of the life you’ve been living? If you did, did you have any idea what to do next? Or does the power of the resurrection seem like some nebulous churchy word we use?

I am compelled to discuss the resurrection today. There are too many reasons not too, one of them jumping out at us from our passage in Acts 23.

Paul realized that some members of the high council were Sadducees and some were Pharisees, so he shouted, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, as were my ancestors! And I am on trial because my hope is in the resurrection of the dead!” (Acts 23:6 NLT emphasis mine)

POWER OF THE RESURRECTION

On the Monday after Easter, I anxiously awaited the funeral plans for my Aunt Doris, since I knew I’d have to work around a busy schedule to attend. I missed my Aunt Sue’s funeral three years earlier and it’s been nearly ten years since my grandmother passed away. I was determined to make this funeral. So when I began to feel God nudging me to stay home instead, I maneuvered into negotiation mode. “Lord,” I said. “Maybe I wasn’t clear in my first prayer.  Let’s try this again. Please let me know your will, but work out my circumstances so that I can go.” After three attempts and an outside confirmation of his word, I resorted to tears for the rest of the day.  BUT my eyes were opened to what needed to be seen.

My tears and my loss go back to my grandmother whom I loved with my whole heart. When I was with her as a very young girl, I felt like the most important person in the world. Considering the five other grandchildren in competition with me, I can honestly say, we ALL felt like the most important person to her. Even my bitter battles with my brother seemed to cease at her home, and I felt a kind of freedom. It was like heaven.   So if I’m honest, my desire to be at these funerals and to be with the people who loved and knew her, was to grasp a final thread of connection to my grandmother and that feeling of heaven.

Jesus spoke to my heart that afternoon when he reassured me that my final thread to heaven was through HIM, not a funeral, not an aunt, not my grandmother, nor anything else I could hope to find. This, my friends, is the true essence of the power of the resurrection. Because of the resurrection, we have access to all of Jesus and all his glory right now. When Jesus prays for us before his arrest he says,

Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. (John17:24 NLT emphasis mine)

Christ is my thread to heaven and he wants me to be with him where he is. While I would adore the comfort of my extended family and to provide comfort for them, I’m pretty sure my Aunt Doris would encourage me to stay put and write this weekly Bible study.

THE POWER OF SUBMISSION

The real power of the resurrection comes from and through submission to his will. Ugh, submission is for sure a loaded word for this girl here, an admitted product of the feminist movement and proponent of its many accomplishments.  And without digressing into another subject, I’ve resisted the idea of submission over the years because of the historical, gross misuse and abuse of its power.  And let’s admit it, there is power in submission.  We usually think of in the context of giving away our power, but it doesn’t always work like that.

If you want the power of the resurrection in your life you must submit to the cross. That’s exactly why we have the picture of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine. (Luke 22:42 NLT)

Luke goes on to say that an angel came down to strengthen Jesus. Because of his submission to his Father’s will, he is not only greeted and filled with strength and power in that moment to move forward, he is catapulted to release power for the whole world. While we might think we are free from submission in this life if we choose, we are not. The truth is that we all submit to something and glean what comes from it.

Now let’s look at Peter.  I like Peter.  He’s only one of the few greats whose humanity is completely splayed for everyone to see. He’s one of those people who has a good heart who can’t help but jump ahead of God with his great plans only to be reigned in, that is…when he’s not lagging at a distance denying he even knows God.  He makes me feel normal.  Today we’ll look at three things Peter submitted to before he finally submitted to the cross.

PETER SUBMITS TO FEAR

During the Last Supper Jesus foretells of Peter’s denial.

Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers. (Luke 22:31-32 NLT)

Jesus tells Peter he will deny him three times, signaled by the crow of a rooster.  When Peter denies Christ for the third time, hears the cock crow, and meets eyes with Jesus, he knows he’s failed. He submitted to fear of the cost to following Jesus.  So he flees and weeps bitterly. I’m going to go out on a limb and postulate that this is when Satan began the serious sifting. Tormenting him with thoughts like, “You’ll never be good enough. How could God love you? You don’t even want to admit you know him. You said you wouldn’t deny him, but you did. And three times at that. You’re such a failure. You’re not good enough to be his disciple. You can’t walk this path. You just need to go back to fishing, it’s easier.”

PETER SUBMITS TO DEFEAT AND FAILURE

In John 21 we see Jesus appearing to seven of the disciples by the Sea of Galilee. John records this as the third time he’s made an appearance and Peter is back out fishing. Three years earlier, when they met, Jesus asked Peter to leave behind fishing and follow him. But now we see him fishing again.

When he realizes the man on the shore is Jesus he jumps in and swims to shore. Jesus cooks them all breakfast and then pulls aside to ask Peter,

“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15 NLT)

Notice he uses the name Simon this time. Peter means rock, but his original name means shifty, like sand. Jesus is addressing the Old Man still lurking in Peter. He asks him this same question, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” three times. By the third time, Peter’s feelings are hurt.  He’s face to face with his deep-seated thoughts. Superficial answers won’t cut it.

Is it possible he’s still tormenting himself over his thrice denial of Jesus and that’s really the source of the pain? Could it be that he’s only hearing roosters in his ears by this point? Could it be that he is so focused on the first part of Jesus’ prediction in Luke 22 that he is not at all considering the second half to be true, “So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers?”

After the third query, Jesus says to Peter,

“I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hand, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.” (John 21:18-19 NLT)

The very next verse we see Peter’s response.

PETER SUBMITS TO COMPARISON AND COMPETITION

Peter turned around and saw behind them the disciple Jesus loved – the one who had leaned over to Jesus during supper and asked, “Lord, who will betray you?” Peter asked Jesus, “What about him, Lord?”

Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me.” (John 21:20-23 NLT)

Peter, quite frankly, is in a struggle that we all go through. Are we going to let our fear of what the cross looks like overrule our lives? Are we going to remain stuck in our past and allow Satan to sift us with tormenting thoughts of our failures and inadequacies, keeping us frozen in place? Are we going to focus on building a life based on everyone around us and allow comparison and competition to dominate our decisions? Or are we going to look at the cross, see the power and grace it beholds, embrace it, submit to it, carry it, and follow him?

There is a power that comes through submission, and that power will wield according to the object of our submission. When we die to self, we are then buried in His will for our lives, and we are then raised to new life with all of his power and glory.

FOLLOW ME

We know the outcome for Peter. He chose to follow Jesus and to submit to the “cross,” and was used by God for great glory, with thousands coming to Christ as a result. We see Paul in Acts 23 submitting to the “cross.” He’s imprisoned for God’s great glory and some of his best writings come from prison.

I was sharing Paul’s story with my son this week, and he asked me if we are all going to have to endure that kind of persecution. How did he know what I, myself, was asking? My Aunt Doris and her entire generation was spared largely from the kind of persecution the early church endured and that of Christians in other parts of the world. I, too, have been spared from this. That’s not to say I haven’t suffered in life, nor have I escaped ridicule as a witness for Christ, but it certainly isn’t martyrdom.

I responded by simply saying that I didn’t know. However, what I do know is that I can trust his will and my submission transforms into His glory and people in turn know Him. It’s none of my business how others play into the plan.  Jesus simply says, “Follow me.”

Israel’s Burden: ACTS 21

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ACTS 21

We are nearing the end of our study in Acts as we head into chapter 21. In this chapter we see the Apostle Paul wrap up his travels as he approaches Jerusalem. Over and over his friends beg him not to go to Jerusalem, because the Holy Spirit had imparted in every city, knowledge of Paul’s future imprisonment. However, their pleadings did not waver Paul’s confidence in the will of God.   Imprisonment would fulfill his assignment.

When he arrives in Jerusalem, he quickly joins James and the elders of the Jerusalem church. The elders make him aware that there’s quite a controversy over him and his teachings. These Jewish Christians are very zealous for the law and believe Paul has been encouraging Jews throughout the region to abandon Moses and the law. To arrest any further controversy they suggest that Paul join a few other brothers in a purification ritual to prepare for sacrifices in the Temple. Paul does not seem to hesitate, and it’s during these activities that Paul is arrested.

We’ve seen a pattern in Paul’s ministry as we’ve studied Acts this year. In every town he visits, he goes first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles. And he himself admits to this intentional strategy when he writes his letter to the Romans.

We also see him adamantly oppose Judaizers in Antioch, who follow his trail, attempting to persuade Gentile believers to adopt circumcision and other Mosaic practices. He vehemently argues, before the Jerusalem Council, his wishes not to burden the Gentile believers with these customs. He admits the Jews, likewise, couldn’t carry the burden, but yet he doesn’t ever make a case for the Jewish believers to be unburdened.

When he writes his letters to the Romans and Galatians, he’s quite clear that there’s no difference between the Jew and the Greek (Gal 3:28) and that even the Gentiles have been grafted into the branches of Abraham, receiving the full inheritance promised to Abraham. (Rom 11:17)

So why does Paul seem to make a distinction between Israel and the rest of the world on one hand, and on the other say there’s no difference? I’m sorry there’s no super simple answer, but it relates directly to how God manages his heavenly household and how he manages his earthly household. Seemingly disparate, but wholly congruent. Let’s start with understanding Israel.

ISRAEL FROM PERSON TO NATION

Israel is a man, Jacob, one of the patriarchs of the Hebrews. Jacob’s name was changed to Israel during his life’s journey, and his 12 sons would become the leaders of the 12 tribes of Israel. When Jacob moved down to Egypt to survive the intense regional famine, it was with his family of 70, which grew into a nation during their time in Egypt. The actual number of people during the exodus from Egypt is of some debate with some scholars estimating it to be as much at 2 million and some as little as 50,000. (More info here at The Prophecy Society)

God made a covenant with Israel, before Israel the nation ever officially existed, when he promised Abraham descendants that would outnumber the stars in the sky and the sands in the sea. He set Israel apart as a nation when he brought them out of Egypt. He gave them laws and practices that were drastically different from the surrounding nations and he resided WITH them to show the world his abiding presence. So while he set Israel apart as holy, it was never merely about Israel; it has always been about the world. I’ve nursed the idea most of my life that Israel was something quite special and therefore on a level above me. But that’s not true; God pulled Israel aside to show me a picture of himself so that I might know him. Every detail from Israel’s history to her social structure was to be a picture of the heart of God and his purpose for those who love him. The pictures we see in Israel are almost countless, so I will only elaborate on a few today.

THE PICTURES THROUGH ISRAEL

POWER TO SAVE

God demonstrated his power through Israel from crippling plagues in Egypt, to the parting of the Red Sea, to his provisions for Israel in the desert. God told Pharaoh that he could have wiped Egypt off the face of the earth in an instant, but chose to spare them.

“But I have spared you for a purpose – to show you my power and to spread my fame throughout the earth.” (Ex 9:16 NLT)

And indeed his fame spread. By the time Israel arrived at Jericho, the nations of Canaan were shaking in their boots.   Rahab said,

“We are all afraid of you…For we have heard how the Lord made a dry path for you through the Red Sea when you left Egypt…For the Lord your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below.” (Josh 2:9b-11 NLT)

I believe the Lord became Rahab’s God in that moment. Not only did God have the power to save Israel, he had the power to save the rest of the world by working through Israel.

The ultimate demonstration of his power to save, through Israel, was when he sent his son, born a Jew, to die and save the world.

PURE AND PERFECT HOLINESS

God’s perfection and sinless nature is both comforting and confusing at the same time. I love that God is perfect because I know I can trust him completely. Yet at the same time I have struggled to understand him over the years, because, honestly, so much of scripture seems to contradict itself.   The lack of reconciliation in my mind subtly built a silent bias within my heart.

First he makes a covenant with Israel (which he promises not to break), but then he burns with anger over their sin and threatens to destroy them on a regular basis while they wander the desert, and seems to only calm down when Moses pleads with him “to come off the ledge.” If he’s a God of love, why so much anger, and judgment through death? Why does he tell Israel to have absolutely nothing to do with the other nations around them if he loves the rest of the world so much?

You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them.  Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, no shall you take their daughters for your sons… But thus you shall do to them: you shall tear down their altars, and smash their sacred pillars, and hew down their Asherim, and burn their graven images with fire. (Deuteronomy 7:2b-5 NLT)

The fact is that God uses every one of these stories and every instruction to provide a very clear picture of holiness.  There can be no sin in or with God.

For you are a holy people to the Lord your God (Deuteronomy 7:6a NLT)

Holiness is not a standard that is of human derivation, nor is it something we can ever hope to attain within ourselves. All throughout the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers we see God establish a crazy amount of rules and regulations around life and worship to give us a glimpse of the impossible standard. Did the priests actually achieve perfection by wearing the holy garments and cleansing in the baths? No, of course not. But we needed a picture of the priests so that we would one day recognize the perfect High Priest in Christ.

I have three children, seven years old and under. A couple of years ago I thought I’d try to teach grace more effectively, so as to spare them from the pain and agony of coming out from under all the rules and regulations of Christianity. You see, I spent a lot of years “working” for God’s approval and I didn’t want my kids to go through that. But you know what? They just cannot understand it. They lack the maturity to understand. When they’re little, they need to simply be taught the rules of living; rewarded for following the rules and punished when they don’t. Paul puts it this way in Galatians,

“The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith.  And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian.” (Gal 3:24b-25 NLT)

Maturity comes through the discipline of the law, and each and every one of us needs to understand holiness before we can truly understand God’s grace. There’s really no way around it.

GOD’S DESIRE FOR OUR HEART

It’s easy to see the law of the Old Testament and think that God’s primary concern was that Israel keep the letter of the law. After all, Moses tells them over and over and over to keep the law. But really, God has always been interested in our heart first and foremost. That’s confirmed by the fact that he saved Rahab in Jericho before she ever kept a single Hebrew law. And also by the fact that he befriended Abraham centuries ahead of the law.

There’s a beautiful exchange between Moses and God in Exodus 33. It shows God’s heart for Moses himself, and additionally for each of us whose heart is humble like Moses.

One day Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Take these people up to the Promised Land.’ But you haven’t told me whom you will send with me. You have told me, ‘I know you by name and I look favorably on you.’ If it is true that you look favorably on me, let me know your ways so that I may understand you more fully and continue to enjoy your favor. And remember that this nation is your very own people.”

The Lord replied, “I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest – everything will be fine for you.”

Then Moses said, “If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place. How will anyone know that you look favorably on me – on me and on your people – if you don’t go with us? For your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on the earth.”

The Lord replied to Moses, “I will indeed do what you have asked, for I look favorably on you, and know you by name.”

Moses responded, “Then show me your glorious presence.”

The Lord replied, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will call out my name, Yahweh, before you. For I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose.” (Exodus 33:12-19 NLT)

Now read that section of scripture again and replace Moses’ name with your own. This is the character of our God. This was our God in the Old Testament and this is our God today.

BACK TO PAUL

When the Apostle Paul told the Galatians, “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus,” he is representing God’s view, and how God has always viewed humanity. (Gal 3:28) His purpose for separating Israel was to provide a picture of his power, holiness, and desire for us.

Paul understood God’s Old Testament pictures. He also understood God was introducing grace through a new picture of Jesus on the cross. For a while, Paul maintained a distinction between Israel and the Gentiles by going to the Jew first in every city, and by undergoing the purification rituals in Jerusalem to validate, fulfill, and complete these pictures even as they faded into the background.  Paul didn’t request that Israel be unburdened immediately, because Israel shouldered the burden to prove Christ to the world.

As for all the pictures God has provided through Paul’s life…well, that’s for another day.

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!”