Now Get Up and Go: DANIEL 11-12

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DANIEL 11:35-12

As I write today I am battling grief, fear, anger and angst for our world.

I grieve over the loss of what once was our nation. There was a time when by and large the worst things I faced over Christmas was controlling the look on my face when I received Aunt Marge’s annual, awful fruit cake or perhaps learning to navigate the holiday missing a loved one. The weight of what our country faces today, feels more imminent now than ever before.

I fear what’s beginning to feel like a new normal. Radicalism consumed with hate and violence grows, and I watch it happen. And let’s not pretend this kind of radicalism is relegated to only one walk of life. In just a few weeks’ time we’ve seen Paris, Planned Parenthood, and an unsuspecting workplace party viciously attacked, among many more in war-ravaged, desperate nations in the Middle East and around the world.

I’m angry when I see our world leaders responding in fear and rhetoric, rather than turning to God. God wants nothing more than our hearts, but we stubbornly refuse him. We make our plans as if we know better. The higher we build our walls and the deeper we fill our cache of ammunition, we become more and more vulnerable. But this isn’t new.

Judah’s defenses have been stripped away.

You run to the armory for your weapons.

You inspect the breaks in the walls of Jerusalem.

You store up water in the lower pool.

You survey the houses and tear some down for stone to strengthen the wall.

Between the city walls, you build a reservoir for water from the old pool.

But you never ask for help from the One who did all this. You never considered the One who planned this long ago. (Isaiah 22:8-11 NLT)

And I’m anxious when I read the text we are studying today in Daniel, because I see our world mirrored in its words. Is this it? Have we arrived? What do I do with this?

THE TIME OF THE END

Daniel ends his writings with a final vision. In the previous lesson, we covered the first part of the vision that most scholars believe to be largely fulfilled already. The latter part of chapter 11 and chapter 12 seem to be talking about Antichrist and his rise to power, which still remain in the future.

The king will do as he pleases, exalting himself and claiming to be greater than every god, even blaspheming the God of gods. (Daniel 11:36a NLT)

We are told that this ruler will be a man of war and violence, and that he will conquer many lands and nations. We are also told that his days are numbered and he will succeed in everything he does for a predetermined period of time.

He will succeed, but only until the time of wrath is completed. For what has been determined will surely take place. (Daniel 11:36b NLT)

It will be a time of great anguish, but not devoid of grace and salvation.

But at that time every one of your people whose name is written in the book will be rescued. (Daniel 12:1b NLT)

The heavenly messenger tells Daniel that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and that some will rise to everlasting life and some to everlasting shame. (Daniel 12:2) He also tells Daniel how long these things will last, “for a time, times, and half a time,” (12:7) and later he says that from the time the daily sacrifices are stopped 1,290 days will pass (12:11). And yet despite all the detail, the vision is still shrouded in mystery.

I heard what he said, but I did not understand what he meant. So I asked, “How will all this finally end, my lord?” (Daniel 12:8 NLT)

So it’s with this question I want to settle today, “What if we hear what God says, but we still don’t understand what he means?” If you can identify, you are not alone!

WHAT DO WE UNDERSTAND?

From the outset of this study I have talked about the pattern of God’s will. It’s displayed multiple times throughout scripture, and if you look closely, you’ll see it displayed in your own life as well, probably more than once. The pattern is this:

Basic Pattern Israel’s purpose when they crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land was to make God’s name known among the nations, to be a light to the world.   God chose these people as his own, so that when he set them apart as holy, the entire world would begin to know God through the picture of Israel. He uses the Church in much the same way today. One dramatic difference: Christ lives in each of us today, and when we step into our purpose and calling, we individually and collectively make Christ visible to the world.

In conjunction with other prophetic texts, we know that when this time of wrath has completed, Christ will return, the dead in Christ will rise to be transformed and those who are still alive will also be transformed. Christ will then establish his Kingdom and rule with love. When Christ returns, all purpose will be completed in full. There will no longer be a need to make his name known to the world, because he will be known.

For the scriptures say, “’As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ’every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess and give praise to God.’” (Romans 14:11 NLT)

I go back to this pattern of Captivity -> Preparation -> Purpose, because even if we don’t understand all that God has planned and all that God has revealed, if we understand this much, we can still move actively into the story of God’s redemptive plan. When Daniel said he heard what the messenger said, but didn’t understand, the response to Daniel was telling.

But he said, “Go now…” (Daniel 12:9 NLT)

Daniel didn’t get a direct answer to his question. In fact, he was told the answers were going to be kept secret until the time of the end. The messenger then reiterates his command in verse 13.

“As for you, go your way until the end.” (Daniel 12:13a NLT)

He’s telling Daniel to keep walking the path designed for him, and leave the rest to God. So even if we don’t understand all that we hear God saying, we just need to keep on following what we do hear from him. Easy enough, right? Right…until the doubts creep in about the path we’re on and we start asking God, “what if?”

WHAT IF… I’M NOT EQUIPPED TO WALK THIS PATH?

If you’re asking this question, you are not the first. Moses asked it and so did Jeremiah.   God doesn’t often call the equipped, he typically equips the called. You can be sure, that if God has called you, he will supply you with all that you need to follow him.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. (Ephesians 1:3 NLT)

This is a great place to start, because it means each of us is the perfect candidate to be called by God. He has supplied with all spiritual blessings, ALL, which means they don’t come in installments. They are all there from the moment of faith. Blessings like forgiveness, grace, eternity, gifts and insight from the Holy Spirit, and most of all power to follow God. These blessings are a pretty good foundational start to any and all callings.

When I first heard the call to write, it surprised me, and my first reaction was, “surely not.” But now that I have pursued this for a couple of years, the Lord has brought to my memory writing classes that I took in college, and literature classes that I loved. I had all but forgotten that I entertained a desire to major in English and Literature for a short period of time, but quickly dismissed it because it just didn’t make sense. Even then, God was preparing me.

As you consider your life up to now, you might begin to see that God has worked in a similar way. All the threads will eventually weave your story. Follow the path faithfully, and your journey will provide you with the necessary experience and qualifications to keep moving forward.

WHAT IF… I’M NOT STRONG ENOUGH TO WALK THIS PATH

When Israel approached the Promised Land and was told of the incredible bounty within, they could only hear the reports of the giants. Fear told them they were not strong enough to defeat the giants, and how irresponsible it would be to cross over with little children in their care.

Let’s just get this one out of the way. You’re not strong enough to walk this path. None of us are. But God still calls us anyway.

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (II Corinthians 12: 9-10 NLT)

There were many, many times God told Israel to show up to a battle ill-equipped or he asked them to send the majority of their soldiers home. He told Gideon, he didn’t want Israel to think they won the battle in their own strength. He wanted them to understand it was through the power of God. To be clear, every success, every victory we claim, is ALL through the power of God.

WHAT IF…I SUFFER ON THIS PATH

Suffering is very possible, in fact very probable. However, trials and suffering are uniquely designed to equip, strengthen, and to ultimately create extreme effectiveness. By the way, this is also called worship, and worship is the only way to abide in Christ.

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. (James 1:2-4 NLT)

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. (Romans 5:3-4 NLT)

Daniel doesn’t mince words. Terrible suffering will mark the time of the end for God’s holy people. But what does God say about that?

Many will be purified, cleansed, and refined by these trials. (Daniel 12:10 NLT)

We can trust that any trial we walk will bring great glory to God and then that glory will be reflected back on us.

WHAT IF…I CHOOSE NOT TO WALK THIS PATH

There is certainly a great cost to following God, and many of us wonder if we can afford it. And we wonder if we can afford it, because we’re comparing the cost of following God to the lie that there is no cost if we choose not to follow. There is a cost, and it’s called opportunity cost.

Israel chose not to cross the Jordan River because they feared the cost of going into a land of giants. What they didn’t fully factor was the cost of missing the promise God held for them on the other side of the river.

The Apostle Paul also talks about opportunity cost in his first letter to the Corinthians. The context here is Paul’s concern for sin among the believers and their commitment to holiness.

Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? (I Corinthians 6:9a NLT)

While I want to be careful to maintain the context of this passage, I do believe we can find an application for God’s call on levels of our life. His call for our life will typically follow the pattern of his will as I mentioned earlier.

Captivity

When we are held captive by sin and death, outside of a relationship with Christ, his call on our life will be to place our faith in him. If we reject God’s call to salvation, then we will most definitely not inherit any form of the Kingdom of God.

Preparation

After we’ve placed our faith in him, he will lead us into a period of growth and renewal. His call on our life is to holiness. He will teach us and heal us, and will prepare trials and hardships to cleanse and purify our lives. If we reject this call, misusing the liberty we have in Christ to continue sinning, our sin will prevent the continual expression of the Kingdom in our lives today. The Kingdom is expressed through the blessings referenced in Ephesians that I mentioned earlier. Paul was very concerned for the Corinthians in this area.

Purpose

We are all being prepared for a purpose. His call on our life, our purpose, is as unique as our DNA. If we are earnestly pursuing Christ and his holiness, God will guide and direct our path into a purpose that will make his name known to the world. If we reject this call, it’s not so much a missed inheritance, but rather a missed opportunity to experience and realize the vast fullness of the Kingdom of God that is available right now. We might experience some of it, but not all of it. If you’ll follow me, that opportunity cost is essentially missing the inheritance that he has for us.

NOW GO

We don’t have to understand everything about the Bible, or everything about prophecy, or everything about evangelism to walk the path before us. That much is clear from Daniel. We have everything we need to begin, and will be supplied with what we lack to continue, and are continually empowered by the Holy Spirit to get up and go. Now go.

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)

Numbered, Measured, and Divided: DANIEL 5

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Have you ever walked through a building famed for being haunted? If you have, can you remember the sense of trepidation as you moved? One of the buildings on my college campus was heavily rumored to house the ghost of the Cherokee wife to Texas hero General Sam Houston. One night I was working with a group of students to clean up after an event, and two of us were instructed to carry tables up the elevator into storage. When we arrived at the elevator it dinged and opened, almost as though it was awaiting our arrival and didn’t want us to unhandle our load to push the button. The really weird part was when the elevator did it again to go down – ding, no button. Just the mere suggestion of the paranormal had me scared to death. I couldn’t hear any suggestion that the elevator might have had an electrical surge of some sort.

FAILURE OF MAN

I can hardly imagine the fear of seeing a disembodied hand, writing on a wall in front of me. If you’ve been spooked before, then you might understand the fear King Belshazzar is recorded to have had. He was scared sober. Setting the stage for that evening, it is helpful to note that the entire city of Babylon was also likely celebrating and feasting, carousing and drinking, as was the king. The Medes and Persians were outside the walls, probably known to the king, but he wasn’t worried. The city was impenetrable.

According to Herodotus, a Greek historian, the city was surrounded by at least two rows of formidable walls over 300 feet high and 80 feet thick and were anchored about 35 feet below ground. Archeological excavations dispute some of his exact findings, but nonetheless, these walls were huge. The people weren’t worried. In fact, if the enemy laid siege to the city, there was enough supply within the walls that the people could withstand it for at least 20 years.

So the party continued, and apparently the watchmen never noticed the enemy infiltrating the city through the water canals. Cyrus had diverted the flow of the Euphrates, lowering the water, allowing access inside the walls. The Persians mixed and mingled with the Babylonians until it was time to strike. This leads us into chapter five of Daniel.

The writing on the wall appeared shortly after Belshazzar brought up the holy articles from the Temple at Jerusalem to be used in praise to his pagan gods. A deliberate blow to the sanctity and sovereignty of God. This kind of mockery hardly ever turns out good, and Belshazzar was no exception. Yet again, Daniel was brought to interpret the message when the other magicians failed to do so. The inscription contained common Aramaic terms for currency, but terribly out of context, so know one understood. Daniel explained.

This is the message that was written: Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin. This is what these words mean:

Mene means “numbered” – God has numbered the days of your reign and has brought it to an end.

Tekel means “weighed” – you have been weighed on the balances and have not measured up.

Parsin means “divided” – your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians. (Daniel 5:25-28 NLT)

The enemy could have already been at the door of the palace by this point, because the king was killed that night and the city entirely overrun.

THE REAL MEANING

I could easily make this a message about the dangers of a life without the one, true God, and it would be worthy. I could make it about pride, but that might as well be a repeat from last week. I could also talk about what happens when nations and their leaders refuse to honor and follow God, and it would be timely. But I want to talk about something that’s not exactly obvious.

I see a picture of Christ embedded in this passage of scripture. In fact, Messiah is all through the book of Daniel. Not coincidence. As I mentioned in the very first lesson, Israel was taken into the pattern of captivity once again (reminiscent of Egypt), exiled into Babylon. This time it will lead them not only into the Wilderness of Preparation and then the Promised Land, but into the ultimate Promised Land made manifest in the promised Messiah. So why wouldn’t pictures of Christ be dropped continuously throughout their time of captivity? God is laying it out so that all will see and receive Messiah, the ultimate solution to captivity.

MENE

Starting with the first word in the mysterious inscription, I see foreshadowing. Mene – meaning “numbered” – referred to Belshazzar and the fact that the days of his reign were numbered. His days, our days, all the days are numbered. God is in control over everything in this world. Even the hairs on our head are numbered. (Mt 10:30) Nothing escapes God.

When Jesus ministered here on Earth he mentioned several times that his own days were numbered. One day Mary, one of the followers of Jesus, poured an expensive perfume on Jesus and she was criticized for the waste. Jesus responded.

Leave her alone. Why criticize her for doing such a good thing to me. You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them whenever you want to. But you will not always have me. (Mark 14:6-7 NLT emphasis added)

Jesus also talked about the days until his final return, that they were numbered as well. We don’t know the exact day and time of his return, but you can be sure it is numbered!

When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. This is the way it will be when the Son of man comes…You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected. (Matthew 24:37-44 NLT)

Doesn’t that description sound a lot like the last night of Belshazzar’s reign? There truly is nothing new under the sun.

TEKEL

Tekel – meaning “measured” – demonstrates God as judge and assessor. Only he can truly judge a man’s heart and he found Belshazzar to be wanting, incomplete. If we sneak a peek into chapter six where we find Daniel in the lion’s den, he says something very interesting. The next morning Daniel is found alive and he says,

My God sent his angel to shut the lions’ mouths’ so that they would not hurt me, for I have been found innocent in his sight. (Daniel 6:22 NLT)

Daniel was measured and found innocent, complete.   Even when his adversaries tried to find fault in him, he measured up. The contrast here between Daniel and Belshazzar is a picture and foreshadowing of Christ. Christ was also measured and found complete, perfect and blameless, despite his adversaries’ attempts to trap him.

Jesus says that when he returns, the world will be measured. To illustrate he tells the parable of the loaned money where a man gives money to each of his three servants according to their abilities. He leaves town and by the time he returns the first two servants are able to demonstrate the profits made from their investments. The third did nothing with the money and instead buried it with no profit. The man was angry and judged the servant.

You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it. (Matthew 25:26-27 NLT)

When Belshazzar is measured, it stands as a sign of Christ and the fate of the world. We will all be measured. Only those in Christ will be found complete.

PARSIN

Parsin – meaning “divided” – represents the outcome for Belshazzar’s judgment. His kingdom would be divided, taken from him, and given to another. As you might guess, there’s foreshadowing here too on a number of levels.

First, Christ, himself was physically broken and divided when he was crucified. He was divided from God, separated from the Father’s presence, in hell for three days. His clothes were also literally divided.

Second, like Belshazzar’s kingdom, Jesus tells the religious leaders that the Kingdom of God will be taken from them and given to another. He quotes the Psalms that they would have no doubt known intimately.

“The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is wonderful to see.”

I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit. Anyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone it falls on. (Matthew 21:42b-44 NLT)

Can you see the concept of division throughout this statement?

Third, we see holy divided from unholy. In the parable of the loaned money that I referenced earlier, once the three servants were measured they were then divided.

Then he ordered, “Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver. To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 25:28-30 NLT)

Divided. In the parable of the bridesmaids, five were ready with extra oil to fill their lamps, waiting for their master to return. Five were foolish and did not have enough. When the master arrived in the middle of the night, the five foolish maids had to go in search of oil and in that time the doors to the banquet were closed and they could not enter. Measured and divided. This illustrates what will happen when Jesus returns again. The nations will be judged and divided.

But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (Matthew 25:31-32 NLT)

SO WHAT, NOW WHAT?

If we were to end the story here, without the benefit of the rest of the Book of Daniel, as well as all the New Covenant writings, this could be a pretty bleak look at the future. Sure there will be a sizeable group of people who will reject Jesus and find themselves separated.  This is truth. There’s no way around it, and it certainly is upsetting. But God does not end his story with division. No way. It ends with reunion for all who follow him.

Beginning with the crucifixion, when Jesus was divided and separated from God, he didn’t remain in hell. It says that after three days, he took captivity captive and reunited with the Father. (Eph 4:8-9) Even though the Kingdom of God was taken from Israel and given to the Gentiles, doesn’t mean it will remain that way. The Kingdom will not be complete until Israel unites with the Church. (Rom 11:25-27) When Jesus said, “Anyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone if falls on,” (Mt 21:44), he is referring to himself, and is exactly like the rock in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream from chapter two when it crushes the statue. The image in the dream doesn’t end with the statue laying in pieces. It ends with the rock, growing into a mountain that covers the world. It’s a picture of reunification for all the redeemed.

The unity of which I speak comes from and through Christ. It is not man made. Why didn’t the statue come back together in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream to symbolize reunification? Because the statue symbolizes the period of Man, corruptible and temporal. The rock that turns into a mountain however, symbolizes the end of the age of man, (or the period of the Gentiles (Lk 21:24)) and the dawn of the Kingdom, the period of Christ, incorruptible and eternal.

BE ALERT BE READY

It’s easy to worry about the sin and general corrosion of the world around us. But I don’t see any scripture to validate worry. Why worry when it is exactly the brokenness and division that has always been displayed and prophesied throughout time? Jesus didn’t say be worried and scared, he said to be alert and ready.

I guarantee that was Daniel’s approach to life in Babylon. Although he may have thought a time or two, “I’m too old for this!” it wasn’t what defined his life. We will see soon enough in chapter six, that even as a spry 83 year old, Daniel was open to connecting to the new government, the new generation, the new ways of the Persians, all for the glory of God.

So don’t worry about the evil we see in the generation coming of age. Evil will surround us and grow. It’s the way of it. But this evil is not an equal counterpart to God. God wields evil for his purpose even as he uses holiness. Shortly before his crucifixion, Jesus said,

“Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But this is the very reason I came! Father, bring glory to your name.”

Then a voice spoke from heaven, saying “I have already brought glory to my name, and I will do so again.” (John 12:27-28 NLT)

God was glorified through an epic act of evil, the killing of God’s son, because Satan was cast out and reunification accomplished. Two pagan kings in Daniel sang praises to God multiple times. Even now, God will use us and all that surrounds to bring glory to his name.  God will do so again.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:9-11 NLT)

I hope you’re just as excited as I to keep moving forward into purpose!

 

Unsolved Mysteryies: DANIEL 2:24-49

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DANIEL 2:24-49

Praise the name of God forever and ever, for he has all wisdom and power.  He controls the course of world events:he removes kings and sets up other kings.  He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the scholars.  He reveals deep and mysterious things and knows what lies hidden in darkness, though he is surround by light.  (Daniel 2:20-22 NLT)

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

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

God is the keeper and revealer of secrets.

ABOUT THE INFAMOUS DREAM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OUR UNDERSTANDING

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

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

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

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

REVELATIONS OF THE HEART

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

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

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

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

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

REVELATIONS OF HEAVEN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REVELATIONS OF HIS PLAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHILDLIKE

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

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

 

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.

When It Goes From Bad To Worse: Lesson #28

Acts 27

Just when you think it can’t get any worse…it does. Who hasn’t felt that way at some point? Luke describes their journey from Caesarea to Rome in Acts 27, and it’s filled with emotion as what should have been a relatively simple trek turned into a life and death battle at sea when they head directly into the perfect storm. I inserted myself into the story while reading the text, and imagined the kind of fear that would come upon me as I observed the crew no longer trying to steer the ship.

The sailors couldn’t turn the ship into the wind, so they gave up and let it run before the gale. (Acts 27:15)

How scary to see them tying ropes around the hull, just to keep it from coming apart, and watching helplessly as all the cargo gets thrown overboard. The mission of this ship becomes less and less important as the hours drag into days that then turns into weeks. I’m feeling it with them, hopeless. Are you feeling it too?

The terrible storm raged for many days, blotting out the sun and the stars, until at last all hope was gone. (Acts 27:20 emphasis added)

Now imagine that those two weeks of absolute terror and loss could have all been avoided if those in charge had just listened to you. How would you feel? Paul could see all the warning signs of the storm season and had warned the ship’s captain and owner not to sail.   He said he could see a shipwreck, loss of cargo, and danger to life. But the traveling window for the season was closing and the ship’s commanders didn’t want to be stuck in Fair Havens for the entire winter, so they gambled and ignored Paul, to everyone’s detriment. Paul responds.

Finally, Paul called the crew together and said, “Men, you should have listened to me in the first place and not left Crete. You would have avoided all this damage and loss. But take courage! None of you will lose your lives, even though the ship will go down. For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me, and he said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar! What’s more, God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you.’ So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as he said. But we will be shipwrecked on an island.” (Acts 27:21b-26)

When things don’t go the way they should, like this example, where do you allow your attitude and outlook to drift? Do you let it “run the gale” or do you shift it into the best position? I see a theme developing in chapter 27 of trust and love. As I see it, when things don’t go the way they should, we have the option to hold a grudge and become disengaged or to trust and love.

OUR OPTIONS TO TRUST AND LOVE

Trust God’s PROMISE

Through the tumult of wherever we find ourselves, we have the option to trust God’s promises. Although Paul may have seized the opportunity for a little “I told you so” in his speech to the crew, I believe more that Paul was emphasizing his words could be trusted. His words were from a God that was beyond him. They had ignored him once already and he wanted the people to trust his words now. Paul said, “For I believe God. It will be just as he said.” (Acts 27:25)

We have a multitude of promises from scripture at our disposal. We can choose to trust those promises or try to take matters into our own hands. In this passage, we see that shortly after Paul shared God’s promise of survival, the sailors on the boat didn’t trust it. They were caught trying to abandon ship in the lifeboat as they neared land. But before judging these sailors, consider how often we do the exact same thing.

The kind of faith required for trusting God’s promises as Paul said he did, comes from God himself. God told Paul he would preach the Good News in Rome at least two years earlier when he was first arrested (Acts 23), and Paul understood that he would make it to Rome one way or another. But that didn’t keep the angel from reinforcing this word, “Don’t be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar!” We see evidence right here of God providing Paul with the faith necessary to continue trusting his promise. God is so faithful to do that for us.

Trust God’s PURPOSE

We have the option to trust God’s purpose regardless of the plan. At this point in Paul’s life he is all too accustomed to disruptions in the plan. He has learned to maintain a healthy flexibility required for the ebb and flow that is certain in God’s story. Scripture tells us that God weaves everything together to work toward his purpose, even if it doesn’t look like the plan we had in our mind. (I’ll talk about loving God’s plan in just a minute.)

A two-week storm, resulting in a completely smashed up ship and stranded on a relatively remote island, would certainly cause me to lose sight of the big picture. But here’s the thing – God’s big picture has as much to do with the journey itself than it does the destination. I am confident Paul understood this truth (even if he needed an angel to encourage him). This shipwreck was used to demonstrate God’s sovereign power to save lives as much, if not more, than would be demonstrated in Rome. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure I would have become a believer before that ship sunk.

Love God’s PERSPECTIVE

We have the option to love in all things. We don’t always have eyes to see, but we can always ask for those eyes and to love God’s perspective. Throughout my years I have found myself most frustrated when I felt strong conviction about something, but couldn’t garner a following. I have been known to allow my frustration to grow to the point where my obsession with the truth would overcome my love for it. There is a difference.

Ears to hear and eyes to see – both are gifts from the Lord (Prov 20:12)

God had given Paul the gift to see the future danger and damage that would occur if they continued sailing from Fair Havens. Paul’s love for God’s perspective moved him to share the warning, but he didn’t obsess over it by nagging them repeatedly and allowing it to overshadow their relationship. He allowed space for God to show himself.

The others didn’t have eyes to see because their eyes were clouded with various fears and worries. Can you remember a time in your life when you didn’t have eyes to see and ears to hear? To be sure, there has been a time in ALL our lives when we’ve been there, and we still are on some level. When God chooses to bless us with the gift of sight and hearing, we can love it, share it with those around us, and continue to love it even when it goes unheeded.

Love God’s PEOPLE

We have the option to love the people around us. I am struck with Paul’s ability to love and encourage everyone aboard the ship. Because he didn’t fall victim to obsession over his correctness, he didn’t open himself to the anger that often follows. Anger tends to isolate while building emotional walls of protection, but Paul prioritized those relationships over his correctness and offered great love.

Just as day was dawning, Paul urged everyone to eat. “You have been so worried that you haven’t touched food for two weeks,” he said. “Please eat something now for your own good. For not a hair of your heads will perish.” Then he took some bread, gave thanks to God before them all, and broke off a piece and ate it. Then everyone was encouraged and began to eat – all 276 of us who were on board. (Acts 27:33-37)

When I read this passage, I can totally feel the collective deep breath they all took as they ate. They were encouraged.

Love God’s PLAN

We always have the option to love God’s plan. Very recently I found myself in a situation that I did not like at all, and since I had not been given eyes to see God’s perspective, I was pushing for a plan that was not in line with God’s plan at all. One afternoon, God opened my ears to hear him. He said, “Love where I have placed you and serve.” My situation didn’t change much after that, but my attitude did. I chose the option to love his plan even though I wouldn’t have chosen it.

We see Paul doing the exact same thing here. God’s plan at this point included Paul, not only being shipwrecked on an island, but to be in chains and imprisoned. Paul chose to love where God had placed him and serve. Just before the ship was completely shredded off the coast of Malta, the soldiers wanted to kill all the prisoners so they wouldn’t escape. Julius, the commanding officer, disallowed this plan because he wanted to keep Paul safe. Paul wasn’t going to escape; he loved God’s plan more although I’m confident he wouldn’t have chosen it.

GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY

Let’s face it; the comfort of control and the feeling of “getting a handle on things” lures even the most seasoned of believers. So often have I said with my mouth, God is in control, but deep down I doubt as I mentally calculate my next move. Our control is an illusion. God really is in control.

Recognizing his sovereignty is all about our internal attitude adjustment. And please pardon the cliché, attitude affects everything. It’s not that we won’t make a next move, it’s that we are willing to wait for God to tell us the next move. A life like Paul’s, which was a life filled with power, purpose, and promise, requires the right attitude.

Things may not be going the way they should because someone didn’t listen to you. Things may not be going the way they should because you didn’t listen to someone else. If you find yourself in this place right now, ask God to give you eyes to see and ears to hear. Ask him to help you trust his promise and his purpose. Ask him to help you love his perspective, his people, and his plan. Because, you see, it’s going to all work out.   It will, whether or not we choose these options. Choosing these options is less about the choice itself and more about positioning yourself. If you steer into the wind (the Holy Spirit is described like wind in Acts 2), you are positioned to then enter His presence, to be IN HIM. And that’s really what this is all about.

So take courage. For I believe God. It will be just as he said. (Acts 27:25)