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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Help has arrived...it's been here all along actually


When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?”  He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 2 Kings 6:15-17

I believe with all my heart that one of the activities in Heaven is going to be for God to show us “behind the scenes” what was going on throughout our life. And then we will get to see how God protected us, guided us, and provided for us through His Heavenly messengers. That is going to be so very exciting! I sort of imagine that I might sit down with Jesus with a Heavenly bowl of popcorn in front of a screen stretched out across Eternity and watch with Heavenly eyes how the events of my life played out. And I’ll not only be able to see things I’ve never seen before but I also will view them through the lens of Eternity…I’ll be able to see what God was up to, how He was accomplishing His plan for me and through me. What a truly incredible showing that is going to be!

When I think about that, about what is going on around me that I cannot see, I find encouragement. Instead of feeling defeated by the battle I am in or discouraged by the attack I am under, I am strengthened by the assurance that God is fighting for me. And His warriors are stronger than those of the enemy.

Is there a battle going on in your life that has you scared, or at least worried? Maybe you feel panicked or even hopeless as a result of the attack. Maybe the enemy seems not only to outnumber you but also to be racking up victories at your expense. But the truth is, there is more that’s for you than against you. You just can’t see it when you’re in the midst of the attack unless God opens your eyes.

Like Elisha, we just need to ask. And then God will open our eyes to see that He is at work on our behalf in a thousand different ways. He is preserving us, He is unfolding His plan…He is not absent nor unwilling or unable to help. His warriors are all around us…ask Him to let you see with spiritual eyes what He is doing…how He is fighting for you…and the help He has provided.

And like the young servant, let that assuage your fear. Do not dismay. Do not give up. Help is here!

 

 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Image building and idol worship

King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its breadth six cubits. He set it up on the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon.  Then King Nebuchadnezzar sent to gather the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces to come to the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Then the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces gathered for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. And they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up.  And the herald proclaimed aloud, “You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages,  that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.  And whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace.”  Therefore, as soon as all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, all the peoples, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.  Daniel 3:1-7


This is the beginning of a story familiar to any of us who grew up in Sunday School.  The king demanded idol worship; three courageous Hebrews refused; he threw them into a fiery furnace; God miraculously protected them.  Definitely one of the most favorite stories from the Old Testament.


Today we're going to look at a different angle of it - that of the king and his idol, or as Scripture calls it, "an image".


This is not the only time in God's Word that we read about idols.  But in most every other mention, the word "idol" is used, not "image".  The idol is often described as the real thing it represents - a calf or other animal, for example.  But here, the word "image" is used. It is made of gold and ninety feet tall... And Scripture repeats the phrase "that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up" over and over.  The impression is given that this "image" is the likeness of the king himself!  Sure sounds like a major ego trip, doesn't it?


Before we write this off as something we are not,  never have been, and will never be guilty of, let's ask ourselves some questions....


Do we ever try to appear as something better than we are?  Are there things we do or say in an attempt  to make us look better, more important, more whatever than is really true?  Do we project an image to others that is not really who we are? In hopes that others will worship us,too?


Now don't think I am saying it's idol worship to color our hair or belong to a certain club, but maybe we all need to take a peek inside our hearts to see what is driving some of our decisions.  I think it's quite likely that this king's statue building and subsequent demands of worship were rooted in a deep insecurity of feeling that he wasn't good enough.  And he felt a need to appear bigger and better than he really was in order to merit the approval of others.


God designed each of us with a need to be valued, to feel significant, to receive approval.  Those feelings that drive us aren't the problem.  The problem comes when we seek to satisfy those needs with things that can never suffice.  When we think that presenting an "image" or making an impression that is different than our reality will make us feel valued, significant, approved. 


Just like the people surrounding the Babylonian King, our culture seems to applaud the setting up of our images.  We are encouraged (expected?) to strive for physical beauty (the standards of which are ever-changing and elusive), financial success (or at least the trappings of such - even if it requires indebtedness to acquire!), and popularity (currently measured, at least in part, by FB likes and followers on Instagram).  Even the church is not immune.  We consider large attendance "success" and hyper-involvement as "spiritual maturity".  And,  voicing a different opinion than the "important" people often results in  being labeled and marginalized!


All for the sake of "image".  "Image" that promises the security of approval, the esteem of being significant, and the pleasure of being valued.  It seems to work - all around us we see the likes of the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces - the important people of our world - bowing down to these images.  Arranging their lives around the worship of this image. Preferring to fall on the floor before these false ideals rather than risk the repercussions of rejecting the lies that images are built on.


Maybe you and I are more like the "officials" listed here and not like the king.  Maybe we haven't built an image of ourselves that we expect others to admire, trying to make others seem small so that we can feel tall.  Instead of that, we are controlled by a sense of never measuring up.  We compare ourselves to those around us  - and decide we are inferior.  Humility is one thing - a fragile self-esteem is another.  Being plagued by feelings of inferiority (and the resulting behavior of worshipping those we decide are more worthy) is just another form of pride.  It's no different than King Nebuchadnezzar's golden image -- both are manifestations of self-absorption! Just like image-building, idol worship is self-focused.  Whether fearful of reprisal or hopeful of attaining personal advantage, bowing down (or "kissing up"!!) to someone or something is rooted in pride.


No one and no image is worthy of our adoration.
Except for the King of Kings.


And He says  Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you I Peter 5:6


Lord. help us not respond to our insecurity by either building an image that looks better than reality nor by falling on our face before those we think are in control of our well-being.  Help us see that You and You alone are worthy of our devotion...and under Your mighty hand is the highest position our hearts long for!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

What is it about Daniel.....


And behold, a hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees.  And he said to me, “O Daniel, man greatly loved(some translations say "highly esteemed"), understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for now I have been sent to you.” And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling.  Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words.  The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.” Daniel 10:10-14



This passage describes a time in the life of Daniel when he was fervently praying for answers and help…and none came.  Yet he persevered, trusting that God would respond.  And, oh, how He did! God sent an angel to deliver a message to his servant Daniel.  In the chapters that follow this encounter, God gave to Daniel a vision that reveals His plan for history.  After all, it is HISstory! J  We aren’t looking at that vision but I urge you to examine it for yourself.  It is so very exciting, especially since we are in the opportune place to be able to look back and see the precise fulfillment of His revelation…and we can look forward in anticipation of His fulfilling the rest – hopefully in our very near future!

For today, let’s just look at these few verses from Daniel 10 and marvel at the wonders of our mighty God!  He sent a messenger – an angel to Daniel. What are angels?  They are created beings, spiritual beings without physical bodies that you and I can see…unless God chooses to put them in visible form to accomplish a mission or unless He opens our spiritual eyes for us to view them.  Whichever He choose in this case, we know that Daniel saw this angel!  One moment he was praying his knees off and the next, he saw this messenger. And received an explanation of what took so long.  He was engaged in spiritual combat with another messenger – one that was also created and has missions…but is opposed to the King of Kings.  And, based on this passage, seeks to detain the messengers of God from fulfilling their missions.
Let’s ponder that for a moment. Right now, at this very moment, an unseen war is being waged all around you and me.  Just because we cannot see it does not make it any less true.  (You cannot see electricity, can you?  Or wind?  But you can definitely see their effects! And if you are confident of their existence, you can harness their power for your benefit) 

There are indeed wars going on all around us.  Wars that we cannot see, where the forces of God are wrestling with the forces of the Enemy.  Just like the angels of God are on a mission, so are these other messengers.  Once, in Eternity past, these beings were created to fulfill God’s purposes and plans.  Satan himself was one of these.  Ezekiel 28:12-19 describes his past place of prominence before God…and his subsequent fall into eternal damnation.  When Satan (Lucifer)’s pride corrupted him out of Heaven, Scripture reveals to us that 1/3 of God’s angels – his “stars of heaven” – followed him in blind arrogance.

These are the spiritual beings that seek to prevent humans from coming to Christ, to frustrate the transformation into Christlikeness of those that do, and to actually rob the saints not only of unity and joy but literally of life.  For this reason, Ephesians 6 tells us that “our struggle(battle)is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the power, and the world forces of darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness”.  It’s easy to forget that, isn’t it?  In our daily living, we can often get the enemy confused.  We can think instead that it is our job or our church or our family.  Sometimes we even think that God is our enemy!  And when we get the enemy confused, we fight the wrong one.  Just like Satan wants us to. We wrestle against our circumstances or political parties or our spouse, hoping to make them change, hoping to “win” our way.

But we see from Daniel that’s the wrong war to wage, the wrong place to be.

Where was Daniel waging the war?  On his hands and knees.

And that’s where the answer came to him. 


What was it about Daniel that caused God to grant favor to him, to have an angel deem him "highly esteemed"?  What is it about Daniel that we should want to emulate?

 Here is what I see:

1.  Humility   While it is true that we cannot earn God’s favor, it is also true that He commits Himself to pour out His grace on the humble and to set Himself in opposition to the proud.  Daniel is humble.  Humble enough to pray.  On his face.  (He had to be brought UP to be on his hands and knees!) Before God.  Crying out, asking for answers and help and strength.  If we want what Daniel had (and we should), we have to know that being a person that God shows Himself to mightily begins with our recognition of our place before Him, our need of Him, and our faith in Him.  Humility

2. Perseverance   If we are tempted to think that humility sounds like weakness, this trait will underscore that it is definitely not.  This passage shows us that, yes, Daniel humbled himself to pray but he did more than that.  He persevered when the answers didn’t come. He didn’t quit.  He didn’t claim “well I tried but it didn’t work” and then give up.  He pressed on, apparently in the midst of an intense struggle.  He might not have been able to see the battle being fought around him but he knew that his part was to keep praying and not give up.

3.  Resolve  I love this about Daniel.  He had resolve.  Scripture puts it this way – “set your heart to understand”.  This is not the first mention of Daniel’s resolve; in the very first chapter of the same book, we read that “Daniel made up his mind” about his conduct and acted accordingly.  Yes, God will accomplish His plan through whomever He chooses and yes, it’s all grace working through those He chooses but when we set our mind to obey Him, to seek to understand, to humble ourselves before Him in desperate need of His grace, well, that’s when He moves in response.

May we dare to be a Daniel today.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Lives Matter

I don't often go public with posts that I think will offend or upset a particular segment of the population.  While I'd like to think I am being wise and loving, it is more likely that I am just chicken.


But today I will step out.  And what I am posting will probably offend every segment of the US population.


Here's what I want to say:


ALL LIVES MATTER


Our country continues to experience heartbreaking violence that appears to be targeted at certain populations:  black, LGBT, law enforcement, non-Muslims to name just a few of the more recent.  Each time, we recoil in horror and kneejerk to all sorts of options as solutions.


Let me quote Ben Watson here - after the tragedy in Missouri, he said it best: We don't have a SKIN problem, we have a SIN problem.


As long as we attempt to segregate the problem according to ethnicity or religion or sexual orientation, we cannot solve it.  As long as we condone actions as "reactions to hate or discrimination" we cannot stop the violence or the hate.  As long as we pin our hopes on things like politically correct speech or gun control, we will end up hopeless.  As long as we stick our heads in the sand and say "I'm not the problem - someone else is", we will make the problem worse.  As long as we distance ourselves from the issues, blame "the other side" and figure they will have to change first, change will never come.


 I am as angry as anybody that these things are happening. Against whoever is perpetrating them - radical Muslims, prejudiced police officers,  misguided young African-Americans, or abortionists.  ALL lives matter.  Every single one.  We Americans have come to a tragic place in our history where we value our own political views, or convenience or religion or preference more than a person's life.


And this is abhorrently, categorically wrong.


ALL LIVES MATTER


We cannot solve the problem by abdicating personal responsibility.
We cannot undo the wrongs of the past by exacting vengeance on those in the present.
We cannot erase prejudice by continuing to prejudge others and punish those we see as enemies.
We cannot stop violence by taking away tools of violence.
We cannot erase hatred by reacting with our own anger towards some we hold responsible.
We cannot demand that others spread love when we insist on retaining our own selfish views.


ALL LIVES MATTER


We are in this place of hatred and violence because we do not hold fast to the truth that all lives matter regardless of political views or occupation.  Regardless of skin color or religious beliefs.  Regardless of sexual preferences or age.  All lives matter because God gives life.  And every single person to whom He gives life  matters.  Every single one.


Because every single person is created in His image.  It doesn't matter the circumstances or actions of that life - every single person should be treated with dignity and compassion and respect .And every life should be valued.  No, I am not saying wrong-doing should not be punished.  Nor am I clamoring for "tolerance" or universal agreement on controversial issues.  But I am saying that every single person should be viewed as valuable.  Regardless of the sacrifice of our own convenience, political ideals or religious convictions. 


ALL LIVES MATTER


I do not have a three step solution.  I do not know how to fix this.  Honestly, it feels like we are in a state of anarchy.  Hopelessness.  Tragic and terrifying tumult.

All I can offer is that we each one examine our own hearts.  Is there prejudice there?  Of any kind? Do we dislike, distrust, dis-value any group of people?
If we find any wrong there, then let us each one address our own issues.  Let us each one confess that sin and realize that we all are capable of the most egregious of sins.  Apart from the grace of God, every single one of us could be pulling the trigger in any one of these situations.


And after searching our own souls for hatred towards any one, let us resolve to reject it completely.  Let us refuse to harbor resentment and distrust.  We do not have to agree with someone on how to vote or how to live our lives but we do need to agree that


ALL LIVES MATTER


and then resolve to protect ALL LIVES.


And then we have to throw ourselves on the mercy of God, praying : May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope (Romans 15:13)