Perfect Realism

Listen to Matthew Chapter 3 & 4 or read "Perfect Realism"
The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert. There the devil tempted him.
... Jesus said to him, "Get away from me, Satan!
... Then the devil left Jesus. (New International Reader's Version)
Temptation is real. Temptation is strong. Temptation is a daily battle.

Am I a realist? In this passage we see Jesus as the perfect realist. A realist is a person who sees things as they truly are. They are not living in the land of make believe. A temptation is something that attracts or lures us with the promise of pleasure or reward but ultimately is bad for us. Temptation plays on our emotions, feelings, and weaknesses and can distort reality.

At Valley View Community Church we are in a great teaching series right now called The End of Evil. In one of the messages Bruce Carter said "We are meant to be a blessing to this world. And part of being a blessing is pushing hard against evil." In another he said "the line of good evil runs right down the center of each one of us and because of that our hearts are often divided as well. We want to serve God. We want to be light in the darkness, but all too often we find ourselves overcome by the darkness and our light flickers at best."

I have been thinking about all of this and trying to really understand what this may look like in my life? Something clicked when I read this passage about Jesus face to face with Satan, pushing back hard against evil.

Temptation is our very own personal battle with evil. Sometimes these battles are so private and personal that they are not even visible to those around us. Temptation teaches us the reality of evil on a very personal level. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis no one knows how bad they are until they have tried very hard to be good. Lewis writes "Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is." Through temptation and the resistance of it we learn more about the reality of evil in this world than by reading the newspaper or watching the local NEWS broadcast. Yes we see evil all around, but what about us? To a limited extent we have the ability to put up a wall between the evil out there in the world and our own world, but if we don't resist the tempting of the Evil One in our own personal lives then we risk not understanding its true and very real power. If we don't fight temptation then we are not "a realist". C.S. Lewis puts it much better than I can. He writes about all of this in a chapter titled Faith in his book Mere Christianity.

...you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means -the only complete realist."
In looking at this passage in the Gospel of Matthew I clearly see who is tempting Jesus. It is not God the Father, it is the Devil. The Evil one is the source of our temptations. When we resist temptation we are pushing back against the Evil One himself.

Every moment of resistance to temptation is a victory." (Frederick W. Faber)

Room for Doubt

Listen to Luke Chapter 3 or read "Prepares the Way"
The people were waiting. They were expecting something. They were all wondering in their hearts if John might be the Christ. ...John answered them all, "I baptize you with water. But One who is more powerful than I am will come. I'm not good enough to untie the straps of his sandals. ... But John found fault with Herod, the ruler of Galilee ... Herod locked him up in prison. (New International Reader's Version)
We know from the other written accounts about Jesus (Matthew, Mark, & John) that before John the Baptist is put in prison he has an encounter with Jesus and Jesus asks him to baptize him. We will read about that tomorrow in the next passage reading. Today I find myself reading a little ahead in the Word to learn about John the Baptist.

Sometime after John baptizes Jesus the following takes place:
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him. John said, "Look! The Lamb of God! He takes away the sin of the world! This is the One I was talking about. ... (Part of John 1:29-30, New International Reader's Version)

Then John told them, "... I give witness that this is the Son of God." (Part of John 1:32-34, New International Reader's Version)
Later John the Baptist is put in prison. His disciples were keeping him informed about all the incredible things Jesus was doing and how many people were recognizing him as a great prophet from God. John sent two of his disciples to Jesus to ask him a question.
The men came to Jesus. They said, "John the Baptist sent us to ask you, 'Are you the one who was supposed to come? Or should we look for someone else?' "

At that very time Jesus healed many people. They had illnesses, sicknesses and evil spirits. He also gave sight to many who were blind. So Jesus replied to the messengers, "Go back to John. Tell him what you have seen and heard. Blind people receive sight. Disabled people walk. Those who have skin diseases are healed. Deaf people hear. Those who are dead are raised to life. And the good news is preached to those who are poor. Blessed are those who do not give up their faith because of me."

So John's messengers left. Then Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John. He said, ... "I tell you, no one more important than John has ever been born. But the least important person in God's kingdom is more important than he is." (Part of Luke 7:20-28, New International Reader's Version)
It is recorded that John believed Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah. After this public confession a little while later when he was in prison it appears that John was wrestling with some questions about who Jesus was and whether he was in fact the one. Is Jesus the Messiah? He even sends a couple of guys to ask Jesus himself. Jesus doesn't reject his question or mock him for not believing, but encourages him with news of more remarkable miracles and changed lives.

In a chapter titled Room for Doubt Philip Yancey in his book Reaching for the Invisible God writes ... (I know yes, again this book, but it is a great book. He just has a way with words.)

I must exercise faith simply to believe that God exists, a basic requirement for any relationship. And yet when I wish to explore how faith works, I usually sneak in by the back door of doubt, for I best learn about my own need for faith during its absence. God's invisibility guarantees I will experience times of doubt.

... Over time, I have grown more comfortable with mystery rather than certainty. God does not twist arms and never forces us into a corner with faith in himself as the only exit. We can never present the Final Proof, to ourselves or to anyone else. We will always, with Pascal, see "too much to deny and too little to be sure ...

I look to Jesus, God laid bare to human view, for proof of God's refusal to twist arms. Jesus often made it harder, not easier, for people to believe. He never violated an individual's freedom to decide, even to decide against him. I marvel at how gently Jesus handled the reports of John the Baptist's doubts in prison, and how tenderly he restored Peter after his brusque betrayal."

God Came Near

Listen to Luke Chapter 2 or read "God Came Near"

In his book titled God Came Near Max Lucado used his vivid imagination to bring to life the account and surrounding circumstance of God coming to earth. I have not read this book yet but would like to. Amazon lets you read the first chapter online. Here is Chapter 1 called the Arrival.

The noise and bustle began earlier than usual in the village. As night gave way to dawn, people were already on the streets. Vendors were positioning themselves on the corners of the most heavily traveled avenues. Store owners were unlocking the doors to their shops. Children were awakened by the excited barking of the street dogs and the complaints of donkeys pulling carts.

The owner of the inn had awakened earlier than most in the town. After all, the inn was full, all the beds taken. Every available mat or blanket had been put to use. Soon all the customers would be stirring and there would be a lot of work to do.

One's imagination is kindled thinking about the conversation of the innkeeper and his family at the breakfast table. Did anyone mention the arrival of the young couple the night before? Did anyone ask about their welfare? Did anyone comment on the pregnancy of the girl on the donkey? Perhaps. Perhaps someone raised the subject. But, at best, it was raised, not discussed. There was nothing that novel about them. They were, possibly, one of several families turned away that night.

Besides, who had time to talk about them when there was so much excitement in the air? Augustus did the economy a favor when he decreed that a census should be taken. Who could remember when such commerce had hit the village?

No, it is doubtful that anyone mentioned the couple's arrival or wondered about the condition of the girl. They were too busy. The day was upon them. The day's bread had to be made. The morning's chores had to be done. There was too much to do to imagine that the impossible had occurred.

God entered the world as a baby.

Yet, were someone to chance upon the sheep stable on the outskirts of Bethlehem that morning, what a peculiar scene they would behold.

The stable stinks like all stables do. The stench of urine, dung, and sheep reeks pungently in the air. The ground is hard, the hay scarce. Cobwebs cling to the ceiling and a mouse scurries across the dirt floor.

A more lowly place of birth could not exist.

Off to one side sit a group of shepherds. They sit silently on the floor, perhaps perplexed, perhaps in awe, no doubt in amazement. Their night watch had been interrupted ... "
more

With God

Listen to Luke Chapter 1 or read "With God"
The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you. ...For nothing is impossible with God."
Sometimes I find it encouraging to dwell on a verse and really think about the actual words used. Sometimes it can be interesting and informative to think of other ways the sentence could be formulated. Here the question came to my mind why doesn't this sentence read "For God nothing is impossible." Certainly that is true. God has no limitations and as Creator of everything he could make anything happen. Perhaps there is more here than just that fact. Yes nothing is impossible "for God", but also, as it is written here, nothing is impossible "with God". "With God" includes us. God will include us in the unbelievable things he will do. We also know from the Word that "God is with us."
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" (which means "God with us"). (Matthew 1:22-23)

The Word

Listen to John Chapter 1 or read "The Word"
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

... The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only [Son], who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

... to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.

... For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
This is one of those passages that shows the big picture of God's plan. The mystery of the Trinity is made known, in part, with the first verse of this Gospel account of Jesus. This passage connects everything together, both Testaments, from the creation of the world in the first chapter, the law and Moses, and right into the message of grace found in Christ.

The Law came to man through Moses and is recorded in the Old Testament. It established God's standard for all people. Israel failed to keep it and if we are honest we all fall short of God's standard. God sent his Son Jesus, as recorded in the New Testament, to pay the price for all of our failings so we can come near to God and enjoy his presence forever. Paul puts it this way in his letter to the Romans.

Quotable

God loves each of us
as if there were only one of us."

This was written by a man named Aurelius Augustine who was born on November 13, 354 AD in a Roman city of North Africa.

Perhaps you have noticed the "Quotable" section on the website. I have included some of my favorite quotes about God and faith. I have been adding to this collection as I come across new ones. Every time you go to the website it randomly displays one of the quotes. If you hit refresh you will see another one. Email me if you have any I can add.

It is interesting to note that these quotes span centuries from St Aurelius Augustine, the bishop of the North African city of Hippo Regius to Max Lucado a writer and pastor living today in Texas.

Here are some of the other people whose quotes I have included:
Charles Spurgeon - 1800s British preacher.
Ron Hansen - American novelist, essayist, and professor born in 1947.
Teresa of Avila - born in 1515; Spanish mystic, Carmelite nun, and writer of the Counter Reformation.
Emily Dickinson - 1800s American Poet.
C.S. Lewis - (1898-1963) Irish/British writer and scholar.
Mother Teresa - (1910-1997) Roman Catholic nun who founded the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India in 1950.
A. W. Tozer - (1897-1963) American Protestant pastor, preacher, & author.
John Piper - (born in 1946) Reformed Baptist theologian, preacher, and author, living in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Philip Yancey - (born in 1948) American Christian author. He now lives in Colorado, working as a columnist and editor-at-large for the magizine Christianity Today.

A. W. Tozer, living in Chicago, IL, in 1948, wrote a great little book titled The Pursuit of God. It is not an easy read but it relatively short book and definitely makes you think. You can read it online for free if you are interested. In Chapter 8, titled Restoring the Creator-Creature Relation he wrote ...

Much of our difficulty as seeking Christians stems from our unwillingness to take God as He is and adjust our lives accordingly. We insist upon trying to modify Him and to bring Him nearer to our own image."
I am greatly encouraged in my faith to read and learn about others, all through time, who have read the Bible, struggled with their faith, tried to put it into perspective, and shared their thoughts.

God's Loving Pursuit

Ok here is my thought today. In attempting to put the bible into perspective what subtitle could I give the Bible?

The Holy Bible: Words from God or maybe The Holy Bible: Sound of a Soft Breath
or
The Holy Bible: God's Plan
The Holy Bible: Promise of God
The Holy Bible: The Word of God
The Holy Bible: God's Truth
The Holy Bible: Pursuit of God


I really like The Holy Bible: God's Loving Pursuit.
"The LORD is my shepherd ... Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life" (Psalm 23:1 & 6, TNIV)
Max Lucado in his book Traveling Light has a chapter titled "God's Loving Pursuit". In this chapter he provides an overview of the Bible through the theme of God pursuing us humans. Here is an excerpt from that chapter.

Dare we envision a God who follows us? Who pursues us? Who chases us? Who tracks us down and wins us over? Who follows us with "goodness and mercy" all the days of our lives?

Isn't this the kind of God described in the Bible? A God who follows us? There are many in the Scriptures who would say so. You have to go no farther than the third chapter of the first book before you find God in the role of a seeker. Adam and Eve are hiding in the bushes, partly to cover their bodies, partly to cover their sin. But does God wait for them to come to him? No, the words ring in the garden: "Where are you? (Gen. 3:9) With those words God began a quest for the heart of humanity that continues up to and through the moment you read these words.

Moses can tell you about it. He was forty years in the desert when he looked over his shoulder and saw a bush blazing. God had followed him into the wilderness.

Jonah can tell you about it. He was a fugitive on a boat when he looked over his shoulder and saw clouds brewing. God had followed him onto the ocean.

The disciples of Jesus knew the feeling of being followed by God. They were rain soaked and shivering when they looked over their shoulders and saw Jesus walking toward them. God had followed them into the storm.

An unnamed Samaritan woman knew the same. She was alone in life and alone at the well when she looked over her shoulder and heard a Messiah speaking. God had followed her through her pain.

John the Apostle was banished on Patmos when he looked over his shoulder and saw the skies begin to open. God had followed him into his exile.

Lazarus was three days dead in a sealed tomb when he heard a voice, lifted his head, and looked over his shoulder and saw Jesus standing. God had followed him into death.

Peter had denied his Lord and gone back to fishing when he heard his name and looked over his shoulder and saw Jesus cooking breakfast. God had followed him in spite of his failure.

God is the God who follows. I wonder … have you sensed him following you? We often miss him.

... Through the kindness of a stranger. The majesty of a sunset. The mystery of romance. Through the question of a child or the commitment of a spouse. Through a word well spoken or a touch well timed, have you sensed his presence?

... His goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives."

Realistic

When I read the Old Testament I feel like I am reading about another world in many ways. The culture and values are a little strange to me. It is a world where idol worship, immediate judgment, and domination are common. Politically I see nations mostly ruled by kings. However, some things are not different. Evil and hate. Love and kindness.

I have written before about how much I am enjoying a book by Philip Yancey called Searching for the Invisible God. In one of his older books titled The Bible Jesus Read Yancey helps to put things into a little more perspective for me.

... I find the Old Testament to be, above all, realistic. When I view a play like Macbeth or King Lear, or a movie like The Godfather or Saving Private Ryan, I encounter a world of evil, violence, and revenge. I feel moved by those experiences because I recognize my world, violet in the playgrounds of Chicago as well as on the battlefields of Europe and Asia. Kids shoot each other at school, terrorists blow up airplanes and buildings, cops pound on handcuffed prisoners.

The Old Testament portrays the world as it is, no holds bared. In its pages you will find passionate stories of love and hate, blood-chilling stories of rape and dismemberment, matter-of-fact accounts of trafficking in slaves, honest tales of the high honor and cruel treachery of war, Nothing is neat and orderly. Spoiled brats like Solomon and Samson get supernatural gifts; a truly good man like Job gets catastrophe. As you encounter these disturbances, you may recoil against them or turn away from a God who had any part in them. The wonderful quality of the Old Testament is that it contains those very responses as well! God anticipates our objections and includes them in his sacred writing.

Persistent Grace

I am going to take a short break from the E100 passage readings. Stopping here between the Testaments to take a little time to contemplate the Old Testament as a whole. Perhaps putting it into perspective a little and relating it to what I understand about my faith and the New Testament. The Old Testament is difficult for me to relate to and as a result, in the past, I have tended to ignore it. However, I am discovering that the more I examine it, test it, and put it into the context of God's love the more I can relate to it and understand it. I really like how Tim Goodfellow puts the Old Testament into perspective in an article titled "A Persistent Grace".

The Old Testament easily overwhelms us as readers. Its writings often seem foreign to us; its violence disturbs us; and sometimes we simply don’t understand what God is trying to accomplish through all of it. Yet the Old Testament becomes less foreboding if we peel away some of the layers and take a look at its underlying core. Here the Old Testament frames three significant events in Israel’s history: the Exodus, the monarchy, and the Exile. Each of these three events marked turning points in Israel’s faith and their self-awareness as a people called by God to “be a blessing” to the nations. In it all, Israel leaves us with a treasure trove of accounts of ordinary human beings (and the occasional extraordinary ones) struggling to be faithful to the calling of God in uncertain and tumultuous times. What one finds in these accounts is the story of a God unwilling to part from the world he loves regardless of how stubborn, wayward, or incompetent it is."

... When we finish the story found in the Old Testament we are left bewildered. At once, nothing has changed; yet everything has changed. God is still left with a world and a people that haven’t figured out which way is up. But the world (and Israel in particular) is left with the indelible impression of a God whose grace extends beyond the boundless reality of human failure. Perhaps what we find in the Old Testament is not so much the story of Israel but the story of God’s grace as can only be told by people who have searched for its limits and have come back unsuccessful."

... The New Testament picks up the story of Israel’s history and traces it through the life of a man named Jesus and then into the wonder and perplexity of figuring out what his life meant. Still driving the whole story is the continued message of God’s stubborn love for humanity."

Praise Him

I missed day 43 in the E100 so here it is ...

Listen to Psalm 103 or read this poem written by King David.
I will praise the Lord. Deep down inside me, I will praise him. I will praise him, because his name is holy.

... The Lord does what is right and fair for all who are beaten down. He told Moses all about his plans. He let the people of Israel see his mighty acts. The Lord is tender and kind. He is gracious. He is slow to get angry. He is full of love. He won't keep bringing charges against us. He won't stay angry with us forever.

... Let everything the Lord has made praise him everywhere in his kingdom. I will praise the Lord.
David speaks from experience here. He knew the righteous anger of God, but he also knew God's love, mercy, and grace. He understood this for his people, Israel, and he understood this personally. Israel turned away from God many times and lived many years without the presence of God as a result of their sin and inability to keep his laws. But God has established a way through his mercy, grace, and love for all to come near, for all to live in his presence forever without the fear of being separated from God ever again.

Everything that has Breath ...

Disappointment

Listen to Malachi Chapter 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 or read Disappointment
"Israel, I have loved you," says the Lord.
"But you ask, 'How have you loved us?'

... "You have worn the Lord out by what you keep saying.
"How have we worn him out?" you ask.
You have done it by saying, "All those who do evil things are good in the Lord's sight. And he is pleased with them." Or you ask, "Is God really fair?"

... "You have turned away from my rules. You have not obeyed them. ... Return to me. Then I will return to you," says the Lord who rules over all."
"But you ask, 'How can we return?'"
"Will a man dare to steal from me? But you rob me!"
"You ask, 'How do we rob you?'"
"By holding back your offerings."

... "You have spoken bad things against me," says the Lord.
"But you ask, 'What have we spoken against you?'"
"You have said, 'It is useless to serve God. What did we gain by obeying his laws? And what did we get by pretending to be sad in front of the Lord? But now we call proud people blessed. Things go well with those who do what is evil. And God doesn't even punish those who argue with him.' "

... "But here is what will happen for you who have respect for me. The sun that brings life will rise. Its rays will bring healing to my people. You will go out and leap like calves that have just been let out of the barn."
(New International Reader's Version)
This is a book about the Judgment of God but also hope for those who turn to God. This is a tough book for me and I am struggling to have a clear thought about it but I like very much what Philip Yancy writes about this book.

Malachi is the last Old Testament voice, and his book serves as a good prelude to the next four hundred years of biblical silence. From the Israelites' point of view, those four centuries could be termed "the era of lowered expectations." They have returned to the land, but that land remains a backwater province under the domination of several imperial armies. The grand future of triumph and the world peace described by the prophets seems a distant pipe dream. Even the restored temple causes stabs of nostalgic pain: it hardly rivals Solomon's majestic building, and no one has seen God's glory descend on this new temple as it did in Solomon's day.

A general malaise sets in among the Jews, a low-grade disappointment with God that shows in their complaints and also in their actions. They are not "big" sinners like the people before the Exile, who practiced child sacrifice and brought idols into the temple. They go through the motions of their religion but have lost contact with the God whom the religion is all about.

Malachi is written in the form of a dialog, with the "children" of Israel bringing their grievances to God, the Father. They are questioning God's love and his fairness. One gripe bothers them more than any: following God has not brought the anticipated reward.

In reply, Malachi calls his people to rise above their selfishness and to trust the God of the covenant; he has not abandoned his treasured possession. "Test me in this" says God, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it" (3:10).

At lease some of Malachi's message will take hold. During the next four hundred years, reform movements like the Pharisees become increasingly devoted to keeping the law. Unfortunately, many of them will cling fiercely to that law even when Jesus, the "messenger of the covenant" prophesied by Malachi, bring a new message of forgiveness and grace."

Slow to Anger

Listen to Jonah Chapter 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 or read "Slow to Anger"
The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”

...But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the Lord by sailing to Tarshish.

...“Throw me into the sea,” Jonah said, “and it will become calm again. I know that this terrible storm is all my fault.”

...This time Jonah obeyed the Lord’s command and went to Nineveh, a city so large that it took three days to see it all. On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds: “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!” The people of Nineveh believed God’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they declared a fast and put on burlap to show their sorrow.

...When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened. This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. So he complained to the Lord about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.” (New Living Translation)
Let's put the account of Jonah in a little context. From the historical view we again must back up in time a little. Jonah lived about 200 years before the Babylonian exile and just before Isaiah lived. The Assyrian empire is at the peak of it's power in the Middle East and Israel's great enemy. Nineveh is the capital of the Assyrian Empire. Geographically, Nineveh was "on the eastern bank of the Tigris near the modern-day major city of Mosul, Iraq which lies across the river."

So God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh the capital city of Israel's enemy. He probably hated these people and wanted nothing to do with them. God wanted him to warn the people of Nineveh that they would be destroyed because of the evil that was rampant among them. Jonah had no problem with these people being destroyed, but he was concerned that God's compassion and love would save them not destroy them. That's why he didn't want to warn them. He didn't want to give them a chance to be saved.

God is Holy. Once again we see a Holy God who does not want to destroy people for their sin, but God must destroy evil. His holiness and justice demands it. God is Love. Because of his love his desire is that people will turn away from sin and towards him. Later from this point in history God proves his love in an a remarkable way.

Effect of Faith

Listen to Daniel Chapter 6 or read "Effect of Faith"
Then King Darius wrote to the people from every nation and language in the whole world. He said, "May you have great success! I order people in every part of my kingdom to respect and honor Daniel's God. He is the living God. He will live forever. His kingdom will not be destroyed. His rule will never end. He sets people free and saves them. He does miraculous signs and wonders. He does them in the heavens and on the earth. He has saved Daniel from the power of the lions."

So Daniel had success while Darius was king. Things went well with him during the rule of Cyrus, the Persian. (New International Reader's Version)
At this point in history God's people are living in exile in Babylon and will spend about 70 years there before they can return to Jerusalem. The center of their faith, the Temple, had been destroyed and now they are about 800 miles away from Jerusalem living in a foreign land among foreign people and customs. This was a culture based on idols. God had taken everything away and given them what they were going after. Their collective identity in their God was gone. It is during this time in exile that this account of Daniel takes place.

For the Jews living in exile now the law of God conflicted many times with the law of the land. For Daniel after about 60 years of service much of his Jewish heritage was gone, he had even taken on a Babylonian name, but his devotion to God was still with him. He couldn't worship God in the way he wanted to at the temple in Jerusalem but he could point himself towards Jerusalem three times each day in prayer. Now in this account there is a new law that would not let him worship and pray to anyone other than the current King, Darius.

Obviously, an incredible miracle is witnessed in this account of Daniel in the Lions' den, but perhaps the greater miracle is what happens in the people around him. Daniel's act of faith and the resulting miracle have a great effect on those around him. King Darius issues a proclamation that everyone must fear and respect "the God of Daniel." This was just the beginning in changes in the laws the Jews were living under that restricted their worship of God. Eventually King Cyrus in 536 BC decreed the Jews were permitted to return to Jerusalem.
It was the first year of the rule of Cyrus. He was king of Persia. The Lord stirred him up to send a message all through his kingdom. It happened so that what the Lord had spoken through Jeremiah would come true. The message was written down. It said, "Cyrus, the king of Persia, says, 'The Lord is the God of heaven. He has given me all of the kingdoms on earth. He has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any one of his people among you can go up to Jerusalem. And may your God be with you. You can build the Lord's temple. He is the God of Israel. He is the God who is in Jerusalem.'" (Ezra 1:1-3, New International Reader's Version)
Acts of faith have ripple effects in our lives and those around us. We may see the effects or we might not but they are there. Perhaps some of those ripples will travel into the next generation and beyond.

Jealous God

Listen to Jeremiah Chapter 1 & 2 & 3 or read "Jealous God"

As we discovered earlier after the Israelites escape from Egypt God made a covenant with his people. In part he told them
"Do not put any other gods in place of me. "Do not make statues of gods that look like anything in the sky or on the earth or in the waters. Do not bow down to them or worship them. I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God. (Exodus 20:3-4, New International Reader's Version)
God refers to himself as a jealous God. At first I found the choice of this word difficult to understand. I view the word jealous as a negative word not fitting for our Creator. Overtime I have come to more fully understand this word in the proper context of the whole story of God presented in the Bible. I now find the word jealous used here as a beautiful expression of God's deep and passionate love for his people.

We read God's message to his people through Jeremiah.
A message came to me from the Lord. He said, "Go. Announce my message to the people in Jerusalem. I want everyone to hear it. Tell them, "'I remember how faithful you were to me when you were young. You loved me as if you were my bride.

..."What did your people find wrong with me? Why did they wander so far away from me? They worshiped worthless statues of gods.

...People of Israel, you have lived like a prostitute. You have loved many other gods. So do you think you can return to me now?" (New International Reader's Version)
God is using the context of a marriage to communicate clearly what has taken place. God's people, the Israelites, (his bride) have worshiped (loved) many other gods. They have broken the bonds of the covenant they made with God just as a spouse who has cheated and loved another breaks the bonds of marriage. Not just another, but many others. Jealously in the context of a marriage where a spouse has the sole right to the other's love is not negative but part of the commitment of love between two people. I don't know if I am making any sense here. God will not share his love with any other god just as a husband or wife would not share their love with another.

God doesn't end his relationship with his people here forever. Later through Isaiah he tells his people of a coming day when...
"People will not call you Deserted anymore. They will no longer name your land Empty. Instead, you will be called The One the Lord Delights In. Your land will be named The Married One. I will take delight in you. And your land will be like a bride. As a young man gets married to a young woman, your people will marry you. As a groom is happy with his bride, I will be full of joy over you." (Isaiah 62:4-5, New International Reader's Version)

God's Plan

Listen to Isaiah Chapter 51 & 52 & 53 or read "God's Plan"
Ok, back to a little more world history. As I pointed out before, at the end of the second book of Kings the second of the two kingdoms (in the south) had fallen and the exile of Israel had begun. We are actually going to take a couple steps back from this point in history to a time after the northern kingdom had fallen and before the southern kingdom falls to Babylon. Remember there was about 130 years between the fall of the kingdoms. We are at a point of about 700 years before Christ.

During this stormy period marked by the expansion of the Assyrian empire and the decline of Israel, a man named Isaiah wrote about a servant of God who would come and rescue his people. Through Isaiah at this point in history God reveals to his people a little more of his long range plan.
Suffering Servant mixed media collage by Marcella PaliekaraWho believes what we've heard and seen? Who would have thought God's saving power would look like this?

The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling, a scrubby plant in a parched field. There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look. He was looked down on and passed over, a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand. One look at him and people turned away. We looked down on him, thought he was scum. But the fact is, it was our pains he carried— our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us. We thought he brought it on himself, that God was punishing him for his own failures. But it was our sins that did that to him, that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins! He took the punishment, and that made us whole. Through his bruises we get healed. We're all like sheep who've wandered off and gotten lost. We've all done our own thing, gone our own way. And God has piled all our sins, everything we've done wrong, on him, on him.

He was beaten, he was tortured, but he didn't say a word. Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered and like a sheep being sheared, he took it all in silence. Justice miscarried, and he was led off—and did anyone really know what was happening? He died without a thought for his own welfare, beaten bloody for the sins of my people. They buried him with the wicked, threw him in a grave with a rich man, Even though he'd never hurt a soul or said one word that wasn't true.

Still, it's what God had in mind all along, to crush him with pain. The plan was that he give himself as an offering for sin so that he'd see life come from it— life, life, and more life. And God's plan will deeply prosper through him.

Out of that terrible travail of soul, he'll see that it's worth it and be glad he did it. Through what he experienced, my righteous one, my servant, will make many "righteous ones," as he himself carries the burden of their sins. Therefore I'll reward him extravagantly— the best of everything, the highest honors— Because he looked death in the face and didn't flinch, because he embraced the company of the lowest. He took on his own shoulders the sin of the many, he took up the cause of all the black sheep. (Isaiah 53, The Message)
Like a rose trampled on the ground ...

go to website to listen to music

Character

Listen to Proverbs Chapter 16 & 17 & 18 or read "Character"
Some characteristics of those who are wise according to the book of Proverbs:

Humility
When pride comes, shame follows.
But wisdom comes to those who are not proud. (11:2)
Know & Respect God
If you really want to become wise, you must begin by having respect for the Lord. To know the Holy One is to gain understanding. (9:10)
Delight in wisdom
A foolish person finds pleasure in doing evil things.
But a man who has understanding takes delight in wisdom. (10:23)
Seeks wisdom
It is much better to get wisdom than gold.
It is much better to choose understanding than silver. (16:16)
Say to wisdom, "You are my sister.
Call understanding a member of your family. (7:4)
Choose companions carefully
Anyone who walks with wise people grows wise.
But a companion of foolish people suffers harm. (13:20)
Blessing to others
My child, if your heart is wise,
my heart will be glad. (23:15)
Careful with words
Thoughtless words cut like a sword.
But the tongue of wise people brings healing. (12:18)
The hearts of wise people guide their mouths.
Their words make people want to learn more. (16:23)
Self-control
The best food and olive oil are stored up in the houses of wise people.
But a foolish man eats up everything he has. (21:20)
A foolish person lets his anger run wild.
But a wise person keeps himself under control. (29:11)
Seek wise counsel
Wisdom is too high for anyone who is foolish.
He has nothing to say when people meet at the city gate to conduct business. (24:6)
Listen and learn
Let wise people listen and add to what they have learned.
Let those who understand what is right get guidance. (1:5)
The way of a foolish person seems right to him.
But a wise person listens to advice. (12:15)
Conciliatory
Those who make fun of others stir up a city.
But wise people turn anger away. (29:8)
Hard worker
A child who gathers crops in summer is wise.
But a child who sleeps at harvest time brings shame. (10:5)
You people who don't want to work, think about the ant!
Consider its ways and be wise! (6:6)
Low view of wealth
Don't wear yourself out to get rich.
Be wise enough to say no.
When you take even a quick look at riches, they are gone.
They grow wings and fly away into the sky like an eagle. (23:4-5)
Kindness
Anyone who crushes poor people makes fun of their Maker.
But anyone who is kind to those in need honors God. (14:31)
A friend loves at all times.
He is there to help when trouble comes. (17:17)
Honesty
An honest answer
is like a kiss on the lips. (24:26)
An honest witness tells the truth.
But a dishonest witness tells lies. (12:17)
Teachable
Anyone who loves to be trained loves knowledge.
Anyone who hates to be corrected is stupid. (12:1)
Kind to animals
Those who do what is right take good care of their animals.
But the kindest acts of those who do wrong are mean. (12:10)
Slow to anger
Anyone who is patient has great understanding.
But anyone who gets angry quickly shows how foolish he is. (14:29)

Wisdom

Listen to Proverbs Chapter 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 or read "Wisdom"
"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. ... For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. ... Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight."
James the brother of Jesus contrasts two kinds of wisdom writing:
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. (James 3:13-17, Today's New International Version)
Have you ever thought about what wisdom is?

Wisdom is defined in American Heritage Dictionary as "The ability to discern or judge what is true, right, or lasting," and further defines it as "The sum of learning through the ages" or "knowledge". The Merriam-Webster dictionary starts off the definition of wisdom as "accumulated philosophic or scientific learning: knowledge".

Maurice Meredith writes this in trying to define wisdom. "Wisdom ... enables one to turn every good thing in life to its rightful purpose. It is something more than wit, shrewd common-sense, or even worldly prudence. It is something more than intellectual excellence, in that it implies a spiritual and moral quality of heart, will and life; and is the practical application of knowledge to its best ends."

A. W. Tozer says "wisdom, when used of God and good men, always carries a strong moral connotation. It is conceived as being pure, loving, and good.… Wisdom, among other things, is the ability to devise perfect ends and to achieve those ends by the most perfect means. It sees the end from the beginning, so there can be no need to guess or conjecture. Wisdom sees everything in focus, each in proper relation to all, and is thus able to work toward predestined goals with flawless precision."

Rubel Shelly writes "Wisdom is the right use of one's knowledge, insight and skill to the glory of God."

"Wisdom is the power to see, and the inclination to choose, the best and highest goal, together with the surest means of attaining it" writes J. I. Packer. He continues his thought writing "wisdom is, in fact, the practical side of moral goodness. As such, it is found in its fullness only in God. He alone is naturally and entirely and invariable wise."

Popular Posts