Archive for August, 2019
“For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).
These are the words of Gabriel, an angel of the Lord, spoken in regard to the pregnancies of two women—one a virgin; the other an aged relative beyond the years of child-bearing. Yet, both gave birth to a miracle. Before you counter God’s leading with “I’m too old for that” or “I’ve never done anything like that before” remember that faith calls us out into virgin territories and opportunities we have never given consideration.
“As for every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king consulted them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and conjurers who were in his realm” (Daniel 1:20).
While foundational to how they approached the entirety of their lives, it wasn’t the faith of Daniel and his three friends that captured the attention of Nebuchadnezzar but, rather, their performance. Whether it’s the workplace, the classroom, or even at home, what may well catch the attention of someone is your commitment to doing all things with excellence. In a world that settles for the least common denominator; using its best energy to find the path of least resistance, we must be committed to not just getting things done but doing it better…ten times better.
“Please test your servants for ten days, and let us be given some vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance be observed in your presence and the appearance of the youths who are eating the king’s choice food; and deal with your servants according to what you see” (Daniel 1:13).
While the media portrays only the extremist opinions spewed forth by angry bombastic reactionaries, it is the wise consensus builders, like Daniel, to whom we should lend our ear. The conflict is real: because of biblical principle, Daniel refuses to eat from the King’s table, while Nebuchadnezzar’s commander will lose his head if Daniel does not partake (v.10). With a spirit of kindness (please) and humility (your servants), Daniel offers an alternative plan that allows both to fulfill their task while being true to their convictions. No anger, vitriol, shouting down, or name-calling. By the fruit of the Spirit an agreeable solution was reached. How refreshing!
“Then the commander of the officials assigned new names to them; and to Daniel he assigned the name Belteshazzar, to Hananiah Shadrach, to Mishael Meshach and to Azariah Abed-nego. But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank” (Daniel 1:7-8a).
Though their Hebrew names were changed to representations from the vast panorama of Babylonian gods, Daniel and his three companions offered no protest. They knew these were false gods and that their identity rested in the one true God. Where they would not compromise, however, was in biblical principle and the clear dictates of scripture regarding dietary laws; what was then a vital part of how God’s faithful distinguished themselves as a uniquely called out people. It’s a lesson for those who would allow their understanding and practice of the life of faith to be hijacked by those watchdog fringe elements that demonize and concern themselves with such things as corporate logos, certain politicians, holidays, and children’s books. What a tragedy; to take a rich, vibrant, robust, historical faith and to reduce it down to something silly and superstitious. Like Daniel, a wise faith understands the difference between religious superstition and biblical principle.
“youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court; and he ordered him to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans” (Daniel 1:4).
For three years, Daniel and his companions received the equivalent of a full academic scholarship (v.5). Instead of demonizing this non-Hebrew educational opportunity, they embraced it with vigor and great success (v.17). Like Moses before them, “instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians” (Acts 7:22), and Paul after them, “educated at the feel of Gamaliel” (Acts 22:3), they had the wisdom to see how this knowledge would be of strategic benefit in the active engagement of their respective cultures and to more effectively live on mission. With his question, “What has Athens (Academics) to do with Jerusalem (Faith)?” the early Church Father, Tertullian, established an unnecessary dichotomy between faith and reason. Instead of either/or, it is more fitting to think both/and.
“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope’” (Jeremiah 29:11).
After 598 B.C. there existed a significant tension between those Jews deported to Babylon and those who remained in Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Jews thought themselves favored by God and the future of Judaism when, in fact, it is those who would embrace and practice their faith while in exile that became the bearers of Judah’s hope for the future and the object of God’s attention. God’s purposes are fulfilled not through a religious people who seek to cocoon themselves in “holy buildings” and “holy places” but, rather, through a church of exiled faithful that disperse and immerse themselves into their cultural Babylon.
“Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness'” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9).
Like the Apostle Paul, and though our afflictions are crippling, we must look beyond our seemingly unanswered prayers to the yet unrealized possibilities of what God is doing. Those who would remain faithful, and live with hope, become inspiring and trustworthy testimonies of God’s prevailing grace to those currently being shaken.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
The Father has designed our heart to serve as the sanctuary our soul. It is a place of solitude where we dwell in peace with Him. Here, He whispers words of life not death, victory not defeat, love not hate, acceptance not rejection, value not diminishment. While the enemy seeks to speak destruction in our ear, we must abide prayerfully in the sanctuary of our heart; guarded by the Father’s peace.
“For thus says the Lord, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place’” (Jeremiah 29:10).
False prophets were telling the people what they wanted to hear; giving them a false sense of hope. In contrast, regardless of how hard and disappointing his message might have been, the pastoral care offered by Jeremiah is based upon truth and facts. The reality of life is things are going to happen that will irrevocably disrupt and redirect your path in ways never imagined. When these occur, we must seek not only to survive, but flourish. Regardless of circumstances, faith calls us to be victors and not victims. Singing the exile blues is not an option.
“‘Do not let your prophets who are in your midst and your diviners deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams of which they dream. For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them,’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 29:8-9).
The false prophets of whom Jeremiah writes were popular because they said what the people wanted to hear. There is a popular brand of spirituality, promoted under the guise of Christianity, that appeals to the senses, feels good in the moment, has no boundaries, and leaves you self-satisfied as the master of your own fate. In contrast, because they speak truth instead of romantic escapism and feel good religion, the true prophets of God, like Jeremiah, are not popular during their days of ministry. They become highly regarded only in death; when their fateful words have proven true. Sadly, when it’s too late.