October 31, 2015

Puzzles and warnings

Daniel 11:1–12:12; 2 Thessalonians 3:1–18; Job 42:10–17

Years ago someone instructed me to read the Bible until God impressed me with something, then write what I noticed in the passage. This year’s devotional book is called “Connect the Testaments.” Many days I’ve seen how they old and the new relate to one another. Today, these three readings may have connections that I do not see, but God impresses me with these truths.

Why godly people fail
Christians and the general public are shocked when a prominent Christian leader falls into sin. I’m shocked when it happens to me, a rather ordinary person. Jesus is our Savior so why does He not save us from our sinful selves? Today a verse stands out from in the midst of Daniel’s prophesies about the future. He says this: “ . . . and some of the wise shall stumble, so that they may be refined, purified, and made white, until the time of the end, for it still awaits the appointed time.” (Daniel 11:35)

Some of the characteristics of my sinful nature are forgiven and cleansed by a simple confession. Others are so deeply ingrained that only a gross failure will persuade me to let go of them. From this verse, I see that stumbling into a particular sin is part of the salvation process. When it happens, it is the beginning of God’s refinement for He will use the failure to change my attitude toward that particular “I will rule my own life” attitude. This becomes a painful but necessary ‘stumble’ to show me that I cannot rule anything.

Increased knowledge does not mean we know everything
The Bible says that in the last days, there will be “a time of trouble . . . .” but God’s people “will be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.” (Daniel 12:1–4)

Certainly knowledge is increasing. Certainly God’s people are actively turning others to Christ. But the prophecies of Daniel are a puzzle and exactly what will happen at the end of things is hidden from us all. Only those who know the Lord even realize that God has declared truth, but that is about all we understand about the future.  It is as God said to Daniel: “For the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end. Many shall purify themselves and make themselves white and be refined, but the wicked shall act wickedly. And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand.” (Daniel 12:9–10)

Job’s disaster turned to blessing
The remaining child of the Alberta family who lost all three daughters in a farm accident said, “If God can make good out of bad, then something awfully good must be coming.” This faith is a gift from God, something that shone through even while Job struggled to understand what was happening to him. He was never told that his faith was being tested, but I suspect he knew as soon as, “The Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him . . . .” (Job 42:10–12)

I can relate. When God tests my faith, I’m oblivious to the why of the trying events, but when blessings come afterwards, I know God is using all things for my good. He is wise; His ways are higher than mine.

Warning to the lazy
In all of this, I could sit and do nothing, but God gives another message that is for every generation. Paul heard that some Christians were walking in idleness and was inspired by the Lord to say they were, “not busy at work, but busybodies.” He commanded and encouraged them in the Lord Jesus Christ to “do their work quietly and to earn their own living” and to “not grow weary in doing good.” This was so important that, “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” (2 Thessalonians 3:11–15)

God isn’t talking only about earning a living. I’m not supposed to sponge off the generosity of others, but this also hints at my responsibilities as His servant who is supposed to obey His commands. While I cannot do all of them all the time, I need to pay attention to the Holy Spirit, gladly and energetically never letting my laziness rule instead of Him.

October 30, 2015

Disobedience, punishment, and amazing grace

Daniel 9:1–10:21, 2 Thessalonians 2:1–17, Job 42:1–9

Most parents want their children to obey them. When the child rebels, those parents warn them of the consequences. If disobedience continues, the wise parent may even use those consequences to build an attitude of willing submission. This is not tyranny, abuse, or because the child is annoying them, but a wise decision made by a loving parent.

Why then do many people resist and are even angry about the idea that God is a heavenly Father who wants obedience from His children? He also might use the consequences of disobedience to train His children. This is for our good and not because He is riled.

Daniel was one of the few heroes of the Old Testament who understood that discipline is not a mean retaliation but a mercy.

In Daniel’s prayer of confession, he says: “To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him. He has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us and against our rulers who ruled us, by bringing upon us a great calamity. For under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what has been done against Jerusalem. As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us; yet we have not entreated the favor of the Lord our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth. Therefore the Lord has kept ready the calamity and has brought it upon us, for the Lord our God is righteous in all the works that he has done, and we have not obeyed his voice.” (Daniel 9:9–14)

Repeated disobedience brought a calamity. After seventy years in captivity, Israel did learn one thing; they abandoned idolatry and obediently worshiped God only.

Job was not rebellious but he did challenge the wisdom of God. After the Lord spoke to him about what He alone can do, Job answered and said: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1–6)

Then the Lord turned to Eliphaz, one of Job’s ‘friends’ who accused him of sin. He said, “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42:7–8)

It is God’s prerogative to judge and punish sin. He tells parents to bring up their children in that same “nurture and admonition” but does warn the rest of us to be careful about making judgments. If what we say is not true, then we are in league with “the accuser” of God’s people, the lawless one.

Paul warned about unrighteous judgment also. He said, “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” (2 Thessalonians 2:7–12)

There are people who love their sin more than God, and don’t care about the consequences. Daniel and Job were not in that group. Neither are those who have yielded their lives to Jesus Christ. Of them, Paul writes, “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.” (2 Thessalonians 2:16–17)

The well-known song, Amazing Grace, says, “Once I was lost, but now am found, blind but now I see . . . .” the way to this blessing is to follow Daniel and Job in their prayers of repentance and submission, knowing and believing the truth and desiring to be obedient to our Heavenly Father, yet the only reason we are able to think or act this way is because of the amazing grace of our God.

October 29, 2015

The power of God

Daniel 7:1–8:27, 2 Thessalonians 1:1–12, Job 41:21–34

God makes His power known in many ways. One is in creation. In the book of Job, He describes a great beast that He formed. Part of this description says: “His belly is armor-plated, inexorable — unstoppable as a barge. He roils deep ocean the way you’d boil water, he whips the sea like you’d whip an egg into batter. With a luminous trail stretching out behind him, you might think Ocean had grown a gray beard! There’s nothing on this earth quite like him, not an ounce of fear in that creature! He surveys all the high and mighty— king of the ocean, king of the deep!” (Job 41:30–34, The Message)

Job stopped questioning God after this description. Since God can create a beast like that, is there anything He cannot do? However, many people have decided that there is no Creator and the worlds around us happened by chance or some other means than the power described in the Bible. They miss seeing the power of God.

Governing the affairs of the world is also included in God’s to-do list. While this power is described in many ways, prophetic declarations and their fulfillment are most amazing. This week, a radio preacher said that at least 100 prophecies from the book of Daniel have already been fulfilled. Imagine God writing a to-do list and over the decades and centuries of time, as those events happen He checks them off.

Yet the list has more events that are yet to happen, like this one: “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13–14) This points to Jesus Christ whose kingdom is “already but not yet” among us.

God’s unlimited power goes by the theological word ‘omnipotent.” He displays it in a general way like the creation of our planet, and in specific events like prophecy and its fulfillment. But God’s power is also seen in the lives of His people. He has the power to build my faith, to increase my love for others, to protect me from anyone who wants to hurt me, and to even use me to show the world that judgment is coming. His Word puts it this way:

“We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.” (2 Thessalonians 1:3–10)

God takes care of me, but He does not ignore those who do not know or obey Him. Some of this passage is not very popular for even Christians struggle with the idea of eternal punishment. Yet God says those who reject His offer of forgiveness and eternal salvation will not enjoy those gifts. How can they when they have made it clear that they are not interested in being with the Lord forever?

My understanding of eternal condemnation is being separated from God without all the good He is and does. There is nothing but emptiness, no beauty or light but darkness and ugliness, no sense of consistent care or a solid rock on which to stand. Instead, there is fear and unsteadiness, no love but alone and abandoned.

My short description makes me feel both horror and gratitude. I am glad to be a child of God who enjoys His power, but there is a great burden in my heart for those who don’t know Almighty God because they have ignored or rejected Him. His power is evident. His love is not far away. All that He is is best displayed in His Son who gave His life that we can know and enjoy our powerful Creator.

October 28, 2015

Pride bows to the incredible power of God

Daniel 5:1–6:28, 1 Thessalonians 5:12–28, Job 41:10–20

The human heart so easily slides into a ‘works-righteousness’ attitude that thinks I can give/do/perform so that God will be pleased. But I have nothing to give God. It is as God said to Job, “Who has given me anything that I need to pay back? Everything under heaven is mine.” (Job 41:11 NLT)

In the days of Daniel, four kings ruled Babylon. None of them started out thinking God had anything to do with their lives, particularly their success, but God confronted their pride with varying results.

The second king was Belshazzar. God came uninvited to a big party where this man called for the vessels of gold and of silver that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem. Then he and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them and “praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.” At that, the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace. The king saw the writing on the wall, and his “color changed, and his thoughts alarmed him; his limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together.” (Daniel 5:2–6)

None of his wise men could interpret the writing, so Belshazzar called for Daniel. Daniel reminded him of what happened to his father when his heart was lifted up and his spirit hardened, and how his pride was brought down by a long period of having a mind like a beast. He lived with wild donkeys and he ate grass like an ox until he knew “that the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will.”

Then Daniel said, “And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this.” (Daniel 5:20–22). The writing on the wall was translated and spelled out the end of this man’s rule, and “That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed.”
Darius the Mede became the next king. He liked Daniel and planned to set him over the whole kingdom. However, his officials were jealous and concocted a plot, resulting in Daniel being thrown into a den of lions. (Daniel 6:3–4) Darius was sleepless. The next day, he went to the den where Daniel was and cried out in anguish, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?”

Daniel answered, “O king, live forever! My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no harm.” (Daniel 6:20–22) And lest anyone think the lions were not hungry, Darius tossed the people who betrayed Daniel into that same den and they were immediately gobbled up.

Darius realized the power of God over the plans of men. He made a decree: “In all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end. He delivers and rescues; he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, he who has saved Daniel from the power of the lions.” (Daniel 6:26–27)

God owns everything under heaven and also rules it all. He has the power to write on a wall the fate of a proud man’s life, and the power to control the actions of hungry lions.
Because of this power, some say things like “Let go and let God” as if He will zap us with whatever we need or will solve our problems. Others say we have to at least do something. As for me, when God steps in, I so easily pat myself on the back instead of giving Him the glory, yet He is my Savior. I cannot save myself, nor could Nebuchadnezzar, or Belshazzar, nor Darius, nor even Daniel. I’m helpless without God.

Because that is the case, I’m so thankful that His Word says, “Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23–24)

The song says Jesus loves me, and that we are weak but He is strong. This is true. Kings cannot build kingdoms without Him, and no one can be holy or blameless apart from His faithful and keeping power! 

October 27, 2015

Some lessons need to be repeated

Daniel 4:1–37, 1 Thessalonians 4:13–5:11, Job 41:1–9

Yesterday God spoke to me about human pride. Compared to Him, I know nothing. I’m hearing this again, and know that pride is still a part of my thinking.

In Job, God repeats yesterday’s questions, this time concerning a sea creature. He asks Job, “Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook or press down his tongue with a cord?” Of course Job cannot, nor can I. God ends His reminders with, “Behold, the hope of a man is false; he is laid low even at the sight of him” (the sea creature), implying that no one can stand before God in pride. (Job 41:1, 9)

In the book of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar has another dream. He is troubled by this one for it is about a tree torn down. He calls his magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and astrologers, but they could not make known its interpretation. Then he calls Daniel, saying, “O Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, because I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you and that no mystery is too difficult for you, tell me the visions of my dream that I saw and their interpretation.” (Daniel 4:7–9)

This proud king is still thinking he does not need God, but Daniel tells him that as in his dream, “you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and you shall be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” (Daniel 4:24–25)

The dream came true. A year later, Nebuchadnezzar was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon. He said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” While the words were still in his mouth, a voice from heaven said, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.”

Immediately Nebuchadnezzar was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws. (Daniel 4:28–33)

But he was humbled and finally realized that he needed God. In the end, he lifted his eyes to heaven, and said, “I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.” (Daniel 4:34–37)

What does it take? For Job, it was deep perplexity and a better look at the power of God. For this pagan king, it was seven years of mental illness before he bowed to admit God was everything and he was nothing.

In the NT reading, Paul writes to a church that is afraid they missed the Second Coming and that the dead in Christ were lost. He says to them, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. . . .” (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18)

Then he added, “You are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness . . . . Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:4–5, 11)

In this case, their pride figured out the answer, making death the end of their hope. They needed to listen to the Word of the Lord and be reminded that He has even death under His control.

I’m going to a funeral today. This is a good word for me, and perhaps I can share it with those who grieve as if they have no hope.