What do you pray for?
Are you getting what you pray for?
I found a key to effective praying tucked into the middle of the book of Daniel. In chapter 9, Daniel confessed his sins and the sins of Israel. He pleaded with God to restore the people as a nation and to restore Jerusalem as a city. Nebuchadnezzar had razed the city and exiled the people a generation earlier.
We don't know how long he prayed but we know that he put all his energy into it. This wasn't a wimpy little prayer spoken hastily as Daniel was hurrying to get to something else. He was spent.
The angel Gabriel appeared to him and told him that God had answered his prayer at the moment Daniel had begun to pray. But God allowed Daniel to keep praying. He allowed Daniel to spend all his energy making the confession and requests.
Here are three keys to prayer that we all need to put into practice. First, pray earnestly. Daniel put his whole being into the prayer. We have lots of room for improvement in this area. Our prayers are quick. Our prayers are shallow. Our heart just isn't in it very much.
Second, pray believing God will answer. We all are familiar with a song Garth Brooks sang that says he thanks God for unanswered prayers. I understand the sentiment but disagree with the theology. God always answers prayers. He either says YES, NO, or WAIT. We just don't like the last two options and blame God of not answering. We ought to pray believing God is going to answer. And then embrace the answer he gives even when it's not what we asked for or expected.
Third, pray trusting God's answer. God is all-powerful so he can do anything he wants to do. God is all-knowing so he knows what the right thing to do is. God is all-loving so he cares so much about us that he wants to do what is best for us. Put that all together and we must conclude that what God does is best. If anything was better he would know about it, want to do, and be able to do it. So trust that what he does is best.
In the financial world, EBT stands for Electronic Benefits Transfer. Sounds like a good illustration of prayer to me. Except in prayer the EBT stands for earnest, believing, and trusting.
The outside of the building looks the same...like any other Hampton Inn. But inside...Wow! We found out that the hotel was remodeled about three years ago at the cost of almost $3M. I have no idea what it looked like four years ago, but the difference between our first visit and this visit is unbelievable. Time and money can fix just about anything.
Your life may need a makeover...the kind time and money can't bring. Let me guess, you've spent lots of time and lots of money and nothing is better. And it won't get better.
But there is a resource I can suggest that will make all the difference in the world. I've found Jesus Christ to be a life-changer. And all he really wants from you is for you to give up control of your life and let him take over. Too costly, you say? Not really. Think of what it's been costing you to maintain control? And to fix things when life gets out of control?
Here's what you get. First, you receive unconditional love. God loves you so much that he gave his son Jesus to take the punishment for your sins. The greatest act of love is dying for a friend and Jesus did exactly that for you, friend.
Second,you get forgiveness for your sins. That's why Jesus died. He had to because we are all sinners and sin separates us from God. But in his death, Jesus took care of our sins and you can be forgiven. The guilt will be gone.
Third, you will be redeemed. Redemption is the act of being restored to a right relationship with God. Your sin breaks the relationship. Nothing you do can fix it. But what Jesus did by dying on the cross can fix it. Sinners are redeemed by the blood of Jesus.
Time and money won't remake your life. Only Jesus.
Seems like I learned at one point that an inch of rain is equivalent to seven inches of snow in total precipitation. If that's true, we would have at least seven inches of snow today, maybe a foot. And I would be thrilled!
So the form of the precipitation makes a difference.
Does the form of a church's ministry or outreach make a difference? Is one kind of ministry just as effective as another? Does one type of outreach impact lostness as much as another?
I think form makes a difference. The popular defense of new methods is that the message cannot change but the methods must. I agree. But not change just for the sake of change. Form or method must change as is necessary to reach people for Christ.
So much has changed just in the 30 years that I've been involved in ministry.Technology today is the stuff of science fiction in the early '80s. Changing almost as rapidly is our culture. People don't view themselves, the world, and God like we did just a generation ago. Some of what has worked will still work. The task of church leadership is to discern what still works and implement new strategies to complement the other. And then to motivate everyone to get involved.
I am praying that I can discern God's will, learn the forms and methods we should employ, and motivate others to get onboard.
On second thought, they'll put them down and pick up another toy any minute. The attention span of 10 year old boys is...wait, what was I talking about?
Have you ever noticed how short the average Christian's attention span is when it comes to really focusing on Jesus? We really get focused for about a month between Thanksgiving and Christmas then again for a week or so around leading up to Easter. Other than that you may well get a "Jesus who?" response from a lot of people when you ask them about their Savior.
What distracts so many Christians away from Jesus? You'd probably get a lot of different answers if you passed through the church pews on any given Sunday. Job. Family. School. Money. Relationship. Uncertainty. Complacency. Indifference.
It's a shame that Christmastime gets all the attention because Jesus really wants to your Lord all year long. And he can do some amazing things in addition to the virgin birth and resurrection.
Christmas is this weekend. Then New Years is here. Would you resolve to keep Jesus in the center of your life all year long? Will you choose to focus upon him rather than the circumstances around you that have been a distraction? Jesus is good for any season. Start with this one and keep it going all...wait, what was I talking about?
I'll admit it: I work to get paid, too. Most of us are that way. A few people don't need the money. I do.
The question I ask today is not whether a person should be paid or not. Every worker should be paid and should earn that pay. Professional sports stars generate more revenue for their teams than most of us do for our employers. That's why they get paid so much more than I do. Is Albert Pujols more valuable to the Angels than I am to Cross Road? Please don't answer that! But you get my point, don't you?
This afternoon, Arkansas State University will introduce Gus Malzahn as head coach of their football program. Coach Malzahn is coming from Auburn University where he helped the team win the NCAA National Championship last year as the offensive coordinator. He has won Arkansas high school football championships on two levels. He's been successful everywhere he's been. Up until today he has always taken a pretty big pay increase when he's moved from school to school.
But not today. I've read that he will take as much as a $500K cut to come to ASU. That's not a commentary on AU or ASU but it say a lot about Gus Malzahn. There could be more to the story, maybe much more, but based on what I know now I will say that Malzahn cares more about being the head coach of his own program than a highly paid coordinator somewhere else.
I'll guess that within five years he will make another move that will pay him the big bucks. I'm OK with that. I wish him well.
Malzahn is a committed Christian. I hope he is able to impact the lives of the students and athletes in Jonesboro. His predecessor Hugh Freeze did. A consistent Christian witness will do more for the futures of the young men and women at ASU than a winning football program will. What excites me is that they will get both.
Since Christmas is celebrating God coming to earth and since Sunday is the day of the week set aside for corporate worship, it just makes sense that we'll worship together on December 25. Every other day of the week is OK for Christmas, but Sunday is best.
So we are having services on Christmas morning. One service at 10:30. I jokingly told the congregation we'd be done by 1:30! We will but they let me know we better be done WAY before 1:30! I understand.
Why the backlash against having church on Christmas day? Christians gripe when businesses try to say, "Happy Holidays!" in order to not offend anyone. Christians fuss when someone abbreviates the holiday Xmas. To quote a conservative radio talk show host, "That's just symbolism over substance."
People who call themselves "Christian" rail against taking Christ out of the holiday but many refuse to allow Christ prominence in their lives. They want to be called "Christian" but don't really want to be Christ-like.
Which is more important - calling the holiday "Christmas" or having the public call you "Christian" as the people of Antioch did the believers there?
Which is more important - celebrating a secularized version of the December holiday or worshiping with your faith family on the day we celebrate our Savior's birth?
Now, don't think I'm being dogmatic or pushing a point too far. I would like to see Christians gather for a time of corporate worship every Christmas, no matter what day of the week it is. Worshiping with my faith family on Christmas day just makes a lot of sense to me. Christmas is a holy day before it is any other kind of day.
I pastor a church with about 150 resident members, about 60 active members, and a budget of about $90,000. Some people would say we are a small church. In fact, I've heard people in our church say we are just a small church. I may have said it myself. Shame on us!
And shame on anyone who would choose to classify a church based on numbers in attendance or the size of the budget.
If a church should not be judged as large or small based on numbers and money, what is an acceptable way to measure the size of a church? I think vision is a good way to determine if a church is large or small. No vision or small vision and the church is a small church. Good vision and the church is big. I'm not saying that vision translates into numbers and dollars. I'm saying that a church no vision is not much of a church and a church with vision is exactly what God intends them to be.
Our church and yours are probably not alike. In some ways, yes. In all ways, no. But one thing we must have to make big impact is big vision. It's the impact a church makes upon lostness in its community and around the world that is important. And a church like ours can make a big impact if our vision is big.
If you pay a lot of attention to numbers and dollars you need a culture shift. We do. Rather than seeing ourselves as a small church, we need to see ourselves as a global missions outpost that trains and sends missionaries into the world. I want every member of Cross Road Baptist Church to be on mission. Some will go far. Some will stay close. But everyone can and should see themselves as missionaries to their community and to the world.
That's big no matter how you look at it.
We also have fellowship nights where we get together in our Activities Building for singing, missions studies, Bible studies, and other things. Seems like the folks enjoy hanging out, especially since we moved into the Activities Building.
We have tried to schedule at least two events each month. Only one person has told me that they miss Sunday night church.
Our decision was based on the participation in our evening services. Almost nothing. With only one or two exceptions, the participation in this new format is better. Most people who attended before still attend. But more people are taking part now who rarely came on Sunday evening before. I understand those who miss the other way but if we want to involve more people and disciple more believers we've done the right thing.
What I really want is to have more than one location for Bible studies on Sunday night. Our membership is spread out geographically. I can envision a location in Ferndale, another in Avilla, and maybe another fairly close to the church. We could have the groups meeting two or three weeks during the month and meet all together in the Activities Building once a month.
Not sure what this will look like down the road. We may even change away from this to something that looks like the old pattern. That really doesn't matter. What matters is getting the most people involved in disciple-making Bible study. These are good days at CRBC because we are willing to do things that can impact our effectiveness.
When I talk with them I ask how we can pray for them through the holiday season. Here are some of the responses.
"My health." This person is dealing with infection from a recent surgery.
"My kids." This grandparent is keeping seven of the grandchildren on a temporary basis.
"That people will come to Christ." This person forsakes the assembling of himself with other believers and gets his "church" on TV. (He's not a shut-in.)
So I'm praying for their requests and for other issues the Spirit has impressed me with about them. I want the helping ministry to reach beyond the physical need and touch them spiritually, too.
If we claim to be doing missions ministry, we better be focused on the spiritual needs. If we just offer a cup of cold water it's not missions nor ministry. If we offer it in Jesus' name it's ministry. If we offer it in Jesus' name with the intent of sharing our faith it's missions.
Lots of folks will be helping others over the next few weeks. I hope you'll be involved. And I hope you'll think bigger than just delivering a bag of groceries. Look for opportunities to meet spiritual needs, too.
The music is not very loud right now but about three minutes ago it was really loud. I have a theory why the volume fluctuates in places like this. When the volume was loud the crowd was loud. I believe the crowd got loud first then the music bumped up to cover the crowd. Anytime I'm in a place like this you can hear the other conversations but you can't really understand what they are saying. As the crowd noise gets louder, I think the music gets a little louder to maintain that "cover."
It was blaring a while ago! And that seemed to push the crowd noise up. Then about half the people left, the crowd noise diminished, and the music quietened.
People want to stick out. They get louder so everyone can hear them. They act out so everyone will notice them. They attempt what no one else is attempting so they can say they've done what nobody else has done. They want to beat the record and get mentioned in the media.
Nothing much wrong with sticking out. Just make sure you draw attention to Jesus. While Christians are called to fit into God's plan and his will, we are called out to be a witness for him.
So many issues come out of this mess. One is that we must always do what is right even if it is embarrassing or painful.
So what is right? If you meet the requirements of the law are you right? In some cases you are. If the law says the speed limit is 45 mph and you are driving 45 mph you are right. But if the rules say you must report wrong-doing and you do but you don't do anything else that might prevent or protect, are you still right?
I say, no. "Legal" is one step along the way to "right." Ethical action is often a greater action that simply taking the legally required steps. A legalist would say that a coach must report suspected wrong-doing. An ethicist would say that the coach should do more to prevent the wrong-doing from continuing or repeating and to protect those who may have been injured or harmed in some other way by the act.
A pastor is legally required to report cases of abuse that he might learn about through his ministerial position. If I learn about a case of sexual child abuse I have to report it - I've legally met the requirements when I do. Do I have a moral obligation to help the child? I think so.
It seems from what I know about the Penn State situation is that the legal steps were met but no further steps were taken.
Are we such a legalistic culture that we will accept this? You might not think that such a permissive culture as ours could also be legalistic, but that's a fitting description if we are satisfied with simply meeting the legal requirements.
We'll see if there are any moral absolutes left. Or if we care about them.
The two jobs are different in two ways. The new metal roof on the church is going over the existing shingles. The workmen are putting the sheets of metal in place and screwing them down through the layer of shingles already there. No problem with that. Seems to be a good way to do it. The old surface is completely covered and the new surface is to be water-tight. I imagine that will last a good long time.
But the parsonage is getting a new layer of shingles where a layer already exists. Not the whole roof, just one section. If the whole roof was being shingled then I imagine they would just put a new layer of shingles over the old. But since only part of the roof is getting a new layer, the old layer in the area being worked has to be removed. Otherwise one section would be thicker than the other. I'm trying to think why that would be a bad thing. Not sure you could see the difference from the ground. But the difference would likely cause a problem sealing out water. The roofing material needs to be level so it can join together to do the job.
That gets me to thinking about the church. Sometimes we just apply something new over something old and it works fine. New instrumentation or arrangements of old songs freshens them up and most of the time we enjoy them more. A modern translation of the Bible can be more accurate to the original - but be careful which translation you choose. A new teacher in a class may spark a little more interest and help the learners to, well, learn.
But sometimes we just need to tear off the old and come back with something new. A long-held belief that people new to the community won't like your church needs to be thrown away and replaced with a fresh perspective and willingness to reach out to them. A dogmatic view of the schedule of services can keep a church from making adjustments that may well be the key to growth. Since doing what you've always done will get you what you've alway gotten, maybe it's time to replace the old ways with something fresh, innovative, effective. And the renovation doesn't have to be across the board. Maybe just one or two things need changed. Or maybe everything but one or two things need changed.
Churches ought to assess their effectiveness on a regular basis. Be honest. When something no longer helps you reach your community, it's time to let it go. Put it out to pasture. Pull the plug. Or at least revise it. Irrelevance might be the biggest sin a church commits. A church that is irrelevant to its community is living in a community that is drowning in the high waters of spiritual complacency. Let's do what we must do to stir those waters and rescue the perishing.
The real world can be pretty scary, too. Criminals kicked in our front door last week. Several central Arkansas banks have been robbed in the last few days. National news stories tell of a woman who gave birth to twins then killed the infants.
What's even more scary is the vision Daniel had of future (to him) kingdoms that would devour each other ultimately leading to a future (to us) kingdom led by Antichrist - the most devious and powerful and vicious of any earthly leader. That won't be a good time. But it will end swiftly and decisively at the coronation of Jesus Christ, King of kings. He will defeat Antichrist, establish a thousand years of peace on earth, then send Satan to his everlasting punishment.
It's appointed to man once to die, then to face judgment. When I die I want to spend eternity in heaven with Jesus. Is it possible to know that I will? I talked with a man in the VA hospital a few weeks ago about this. He said there is no way to know. A person's only hope is that Jesus chooses to let him in, according to this man. He thinks his eternity is left up to an arbitrary decision. He will die not knowing for sure.
When I pastored a church in north central Arkansas, we took a survey of our community to determine ways we might minister to the people. One of the survey questions asked if they knew for sure they would spend eternity in heaven when they died. The overwhelming response from this heavily Catholic area was, "Oh, I hope so." They didn't know whether they would be in heaven or hell. Their only hope was to do as much good in this life as they could in hopes that the good would outweigh the bad when they faced judgment. A person with this belief will die not knowing for sure.
I know for sure! The Bible says it is possible to know. It's not an arbitrary decision that God makes for us while standing at the pearly gates. It's not a judgment of whether or not good outweighs bad. Instead, Jesus died for my sins so I can be forgiven. If I trust Jesus for my forgiveness and salvation then my name is on the reservation list for heaven. No doubts. No questions. No problems.
You can know for sure, too. But you have to believe the right things about God and salvation. Re-read the previous paragraph to get to the truth. And send me a message if you have questions.
I know. Do you?
I'm not scared. Are you?
My husband and I took our two-ear-old daughter to the home improvement store.Madison got tired of walking, so my husband let her ride on his shoulders. As he walked, Madison began pulling his hair. Although he asked her to stop several times, she kept on.Getting annoyed, he scolded, "Madison! Stop that!"But, Daddy," she replied, "I'm just trying to get my gum back."
The message on the wall was that the King's days were numbered, he did not measure up to God's expectations, and his kingdom would be smashed into unrecognizable pieces. God's judgment was immediate, complete, and decisive.
That's not a very pleasant message to have to deliver to a king! Daniel had once been in charge of those a Babylonian king would call to interpret dreams and mysteries. That probably ended twenty years earlier when Nebuchadnezzar died. Belshazzar either didn't know Daniel, couldn't remember Daniel, or just dismissed him from relevance.
Those two decades must have been difficult times for Daniel. It's one thing to be an exile in good standing with the king; it's another to be an exile without close ties to the king. But Daniel's courage and boldness before the arrogant and blasphemous Belshazzar indicates that he had remained true to God all those years. And close to him.
An intimate walk with the Lord empowers and encourages us to take a stand. A loosey-goosey walk with the Lord won't result in courage and boldness. (My Bible study group laughed at me when I called it that last night.) God wants to empower and encourage and embolden you. But that happens when you are walking with him. When you stray or just simply lag behind, the power and courage and boldness are absent.
I believe God wants us to be powerful, courageous, and bold witnesses. So you'll have to walk closely with him in order to be what he wants you to be. To get the greatest joy in this life - the greatest sense of fulfillment - be a maturing disciple of Jesus Christ. Here are a few simple things you can do to mature.
1. Read your Bible every day. At least a few verses, a paragraph, a story.
2. Pray each day. God is the only resource for what you need. And he'd like to hear from you. Praise him. Thank him.
3. Be with God's people. Go to church. Get in a Bible study group.
4. Serve others. When you help someone else you are acting a lot like Jesus.
5. Tell someone about your relationship with Christ. If it matters to you it will likely matter to them.
Side note: Historians tell us that the Babylonian Kingdom came to an end on October 12, 539 BC (on our calendars). We studied this chapter on October 12, 2011. Two thousand five hundred fifty years to the day after this happened. I am amazed at how God directs our study of scripture so that "coincidences" like this happen.
King Nebuchadnezzar had conquered all enemies. He reigned successfully. He had everything. But he rejected the truth that God is the one true God. He held to his pagan beliefs. And he thought highly of himself.
The King was not unlike many people today. Successful careers lead to bountiful stores of stuff. Contentment and self-indulgence are commonplace. The goal then and now seems to be to get as much as you can with little regard for those around you. Don't get me wrong, Nebuchadnezzar provided adequately for those in his kingdom but only if they benefited him or were no threat to him. That sounds familiar, too.
Some call it a dog eat dog world. It's survival of the fittest. It's a rat race to keep up with the Joneses. The end goal is to come out on top.
Nebuchadnezzar built the "hanging gardens" of Babylon for his wife. She was from the mountains of Media and living in the plains of Babylon...well, she must have been a little homesick. The ancient Greeks considered the "hanging gardens" to be one of the seven wonders of the world. The King was possibly standing there looking out over his kingdom when gaudy pride flowed out. Immediately, he was banished from the royal compound to live with the animals. The Bible's description of all this tells us that he became more like the animals than a human being (Daniel 4).
Not until he lifted his eyes toward heaven and praised God was he restored.
God still acts in ways to replace pride with humility. He was sovereign over all earthly powers and still is. No business, government, family, or individual can continue in pride before the Lord. When and how he will deal with such arrogance is up to him but we can know he will deal with it.
The answer today is the same as it was 2,500 years ago. Lift up your eyes to the God of heaven and praise him. God gave Nebuchadnezzar a greater kingdom after his restoration than before. God wants to bless you and he will when you acknowledge who he is and surrender your life to him.
In fact, we will. We will be polite or we will be jerks. Either way, the true color will come out. I guess what I'm hoping is that what we claim on the outside is really what's on the inside. Our actions must validate our claims.
Not too many years ago I acted pretty ugly to a waitress. Then I realized I was wearing a Christian t-shirt with our church's logo on it. I felt ashamed. I should have felt ashamed even without the visual prompting of a t-shirt.
Christians should act like Christians even if we wouldn't get caught acting otherwise. Our normal behavior and first response should honor God. When the heat is turned up or nobody's watching, we should display godly character.
I'm getting better at it but still have a way to go. But God is working on my. He uses lots of tools to make me what I ought to be. Like embarrassment and shame and guilt. He also uses good friends and his Word.
My true colors will show. I want my true colors to be true to God.
Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory. (Ephesians 3:8-13 NIV)
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego could count on each other. When the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar ordered all the government officials (a group to which they belonged) to fall down and worship the statue he built, they were the only three who did not. They were the Hebrew Holdouts who would not bow to a pagan god. I wonder if they would have been so bold one-on-one. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of others fell to the ground as soon as the band began to play its version of "Just As I Am." Was there an urge to get prostrate before the idol? Maybe but when Meshach checked to his left and saw Shadrach looking back at him, and when he looked right and saw Abednego looking back at him, they all knew they could do what they had to do. They wouldn't bow.
The king gave them a second chance but their resolve was strong. He became more angry and had them bound and thrown into a blazing furnace. That was the end of the defiance, he must have thought.
It wasn't. In a little while the king looked into the furnace and saw four men - not three - in the fire. They weren't burning. They weren't in agony. They weren't tied up. And the three Hebrew Holdouts weren't alone. Nebuchadnezzar's description of the fourth man indicates that a deity was in the furnace. The king knew the fourth man was a god. The Hebrew Holdouts knew the fourth man was God - the one true God.
Nebuchadnezzar didn't understand that. He was willing to give credit to God but only included him among his pantheon. To him, God was just one of many gods. Yes, God could do this thing or that thing better than any other god, but he was still just a god.
But God is not a god, he is the one true God.
That means he is there for you when life heats up and the pressure becomes unbearable. He loves you and cares for you just as he did the Hebrew Holdouts so stand up for him.
And stand with one another. God stands with us and also stands through us. I hope you can look to your right and left and see Christians standing with you. And I hope when Christians look to their right or left they see you along with and representing the one true God.
I really don't hear many preachers talking about the hangover from a rough Sunday. That's a standard preacher joke propagated by famous preachers, I guess. The guys I know keep on plugging knowing another Sunday is just around the corner and Wednesday night is even closer. My thoughts of quitting never wait until Monday anyway. About 12:15 on Sunday afternoon is my whining time if I'm going to have one.
My high school friend Jim Freeman posted several months ago that Mondays make up one-seventh of the week. You'll spend 15% of your life on Mondays so why waste it with a bad attitude? Great point, Jim.
Not sure why some people have great attitudes and others don't. Proclaiming to be a Christian must not be the difference because some of my brothers and sisters in Christ are as bad or worse than those who do not profess Christ. You'd think Jesus would make a difference. He probably does; our attitudes aren't his fault.
I think Jesus could change a bad attitude, brighten a ho-hum day, and put you on a better path for a Monday. Or any other day. So today I'm looking up. Will you join me?
At first, our talks were brainstorming sessions but soon became vision meetings and prayer meetings. One way CRBC and other churches are connecting is in the Argenta area of North Little Rock. Several years ago the community developed plans to reclaim and restore the area. It is now a vibrant place where culture, business, and life blend. We believe a Baptist church would be welcomed, useful, and successful there. But it probably won't look like my church.
And that's a good thing. The people in my community are unique and our church must be uniquely fitted to reach them. Likewise, a church in Argenta must be able to reach its community. What my church and the Argenta church will have in common is that both are places where people can meet Jesus, experience Christian community, and express Christian faithfulness. I want to be part of that!
CRBC will be in Argenta Saturday morning (9/24) to prayer walk. We want to sense God at work there. We want to sense the spiritual needs there. And we want to ask God for great things. Join us if you can. Pray for us if you can't join us.
A running theme throughout the book of Daniel is the sovereignty of God. He is absolutely in charge. Nothing happens that he does not either cause or allow. Even choices we freely make fall within his sovereignty. If you think about that very much it could drive you crazy trying to figure it out. But it's true and the Hebrew boys believed.
King Nebuchadnezzar built an imposing statue and ordered all the government officials to bow down and worship it. It was a false god. No Hebrew serious about God would do it. Shadrach, Mechach, and Abednego didn't. Imagine a sea of people crowded around the ninety-foot high statue. When the first note of music begins they all fall to the ground. Except three Hebrew Holdouts.
If you have weeds in your yard like I do you may be able to picture the scene. Just a few days after I cut the grass the weeds begin to pop up. Weeds grow so much quicker and easier than grass. Sticking up from the neatly manicured lawn are sprigs at least a foot higher than the grass. You can't see them from the porch but you can't miss them as you walk through the yard.
The Hebrew Holdouts couldn't hide what they had done. They were busted. Nebuchadnezzar gave them another chance. I think he was shocked that three young men would go against his orders. "Don't you realize who I am and the power I have?' must have run through his mind. "Don't you remember how I added your God to my list of gods just a few days ago? Reciprocate?" was surely in his thoughts.
But they held their ground even when the king reminded them of the penalty for disobedience: the fiery furnace.
The Hebrew Holdouts believed God was able to save them although they realized he might not do it.
If God is not able and therefore does not act for you, then he is not really God.
If God is able and does act for you, then he is the God everybody loves.
If God is able but does not act for you, then he is still God. Sovereignty means that although he is able he may not choose to rescue you.
How does that make you feel? Don't give up on him. Not only is he sovereign, he is also all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving.
Here's what that means. God is able to do all things. God knows all things; past, present, and future. God loves you with an amazing love beyond imagination. God is free to act as he wishes and he wishes the best for you.
You may think God has abandoned you or mistreated you. In fact, that can never be the case. Instead, he is acting not based on who you are or what you need but based on who he is and what he knows is best.
If that doesn't describe the god you worship, I'd like to introduce you to him.
They were married a good long time. I guess I don't really know how long. Until the day he died, that's how long. What's so hard about that, you ask? Lots of couples do it. Well, fewer and fewer actually. Easy divorce has replaced the forever commitment of marriage.
I know. I'm divorced. It wasn't the easy kind. Actually, divorce isn't easy. Doing something that leads to divorce apparently is the easy part. Filing papers is apparently the easy part.
Mom and Dado probably had disagreements, arguments, or problems. But they valued marriage faithfulness so they stayed married and provided a wonderful family atmosphere for four daughters, four sons-in-law, ten grandchildren...
Dado was very sick for a decade before he died. He eventually had Alzheimer's the last several years. This week, a public religious figure condoned divorce when a spouse has this disease. Part of what makes my grandparents the greatest is that they stayed married. Credit Mom with that. Thank God for Mom for that.
All of that to say that we can apply some simple concepts to reach those who are not in church. This will work for the person who is lost and for someone who has become frustrated or uninterested in church.
First, pray for them. A person who is not actively involved in a church family cannot have a close walk with the Lord. The person may not be a Christian so praying is a great idea. At best the person is a Christian who is living away from the Lord. Prayer is the answer for this problem, too.
Second, we have to invest our time in their lives. Stay in touch with them. Be a friend. Share life with them. This may be the hardest step because it takes more commitment. But if you are serious about reaching them you will make the investment.
Third, invite them to everything. Let them know what's going on at the church. You must be consistent - don't invite them only to a worship service; invite them to Bible study, class parties, special events. And you must be persistent. Invite, invite, invite. You'll have to invite them several times before they'll give real consideration to attend. So if you just invite them a few times you aren't really doing much.
Remember that the goal is not just to get them into your church. Really that's not even the first thing we want. If we bypass the importance of reaching people for Christ (and his church, not MY church) we lose sight of the significant while trying to build our kingdom instead of his. Stay kingdom-focused and you'll reach more people for the kingdom.
Some of us yearn for the praise of men and others of us feel very uncomfortable when it comes. How do you think a Christian ought to respond when they receive praise from others?
The Bible tells us about a young man named Daniel who God had given the ability to interpret dreams. He put his skill to use one day after King Nebuchadnezzar had a troubling dream. Daniel was able to tell the king what the dream was and what it meant. While the interpretation was not the best case scenario for the king, is wasn't the worst either. So the relieved king heaped praise upon Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar actually worshiped the young man.
As you read the last few verses of the second chapter of the book of Daniel you won't find anything that describes Daniel's response. But earlier in the chapter and in chapter 1 Daniel shows a characteristic that ought to be common among all Christians. He credits God with any ability to do great things. Reading through the book we clearly see his character so we can rightly predict what actions he would take in this situation.
Our character drives our actions. And our actions expose our character. Although the author did not include specifics about Daniel's reaction to Nebuchadnezzar's response, I believe something must have happened between 2:46 and 2:47. In the first verse the king is heaping praise on Daniel. In the next verse the king is giving praise to God. I'm not sure what Daniel may have said or done but I think something happened. Maybe Daniel reminded the king that only God could have given the interpretation to the dream. Maybe Daniel didn't say anything but just raised an eyebrow when he eyes met the king's.
Something caused Nebuchadnezzar to shift from praising Daniel to praising God. Does your character seek to draw praise or to redirect it toward God? Like Daniel, we can do nothing outside God's power and anointing. If I accomplish anything, it is only because God did it through me.
If I am a Christian I should want God to get the praise and I will make sure everyone around me knows it.
I've been wrong when I tried to apply the template of my desires onto the situation. I wanted the new job. I wanted to go there. I wanted something for my family. When the focus is on me, I am usually wrong.
I've been right when I eagerly awaited God's will to unfold. Along the way I've had to understand that some undesirable situation could come my way but that in God's grand plan this would be OK. I can learn from those times. And I appreciate the mountaintop experiences even better.
So you can look into God's Word for a peek at the future. I'm not talking about a prophetic word but a view of God that will set you on his course.
You can also look at your current setting. God is working in the lives of people around you. Maybe you should join him. That opportunity to serve someone else may be the immediate future God has planned for you. And doors may open to plans that will take you farther down the road.
We get a glimpse of the future by seeking God and joining in his work.
Faith got Peter out of the boat and walking on water. Faith led Abraham up the mountain to sacrifice his son. Faith caused Moses to raise his arms while standing at the Red Sea with an army chasing him.
Daniel ran to King Nebuchadnezzar with the interpretation of the dream because he had confidence God had given him the right answer. If he was wrong, Nebuchadnezzar would have him executed. But Daniel didn't consider that he may have been wrong. Daniel knew God better than that!
So did Peter and Abraham and Moses.
Bob? Not so sure. Sometimes I'm more like Gideon who received God's answer but needed confirmation, twice.
I wonder how often Jesus says to me, "Bob, why do you have such little faith? Don't you trust me? Don't you know me?"
My response should be, "Forgive me. I want to trust you more. I want to know you more. Draw me closer to you, Lord."
And he will. He will for you, too.
Two prayers are mentioned in Daniel 2:17-23. The first is mentioned but the words are not recorded. The second is recorded word-for-word and is a response to God's answer to the first prayer. The second prayer was praise and thanksgiving. The first prayer was earnest petition. Both kinds of prayer are necessary. I wonder what I would find if I monitored my prayers. Would I find a balance between the praise/thanksgiving prayers and the petition prayers. I'm afraid I'd find that I pray more about my needs, wants, and petitions than I praise and thank him. Maybe you are like me. Why don't we be more intentional about praise and thanksgiving so we can balance out our prayers?
The first prayer is a corporate prayer - Daniel called his friends together to pray for an answer to Nebuchadnezzar's request. Corporate prayer is important because it shows our belief that God is in control of all things, our commitment to the church as community, and our obedience to scripture (James 5:14, for example, is not a suggestion!). But some people avoid or neglect corporate prayer. Why is that?
One reason Christians have for not making their requests known to the church is pride. Have you ever heard someone say, "I just couldn't let others know I am dealing this or that problem" or "What would people think if they knew this was going on"? Pride is too often the deterrent to making your requests and needs known to the church.
Another reason for avoiding corporate prayer is that people think too highly of themselves. "I can handle this problem myself. I don't need to bother the church with this." What a misunderstanding of prayer, self, and community! We were not created to face our problems alone. We do not live in a vacuum. And we certainly cannot handle it ourselves. Arrogance keeps people from availing the power of corporate prayer.
A third reason that came out of our Bible study last night is that some people neglect corporate prayer because of a low view of prayer. By this, I mean that they don't really believe prayer works. They may say they do but their actions speak so loudly we can't hear their words! "There's no use praying, this situation is too far gone." I wonder what the Prodigal's father would say to that? "There's no use praying, his health is declining so fast." I wonder what Mary and Martha would say about that? "There's no use praying, it never works anyway." I wonder what the persistent widow would say about that? Sometimes a person doesn't share a prayer concern with the church because they really don't believe prayer works.
Corporate prayer is one way the Holy Spirit builds unity in the church. Neglecting corporate prayer is one way we hinder unity - "I don't need you."
Corporate prayer is one way we show our love for one another. Neglecting corporate prayer shows little concern for one another - "I don't love you."
Corporate prayer indicates our trust and dependence upon God. Neglecting corporate prayer shows a selfish, self-sufficient attitude - "I don't need God."
Christianity begins with a decision to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It continues as expressed in the corporate setting of a community of believers - the church. We are to pray for one another, on behalf of one another, and with one another.
The king not only wanted the interpretation, but to ensure that the interpreters were really sharing the message from the gods, he demanded that they also tell him the dream. King Neb wouldn't tell them the dream! They needed details so they could go to their charts and formulas and come up with a sterile, clinical, irrelevant interpretation. The king had probably already experienced such shenanigans and wanted something with substance.
Three words come to my mind when I think about the life of a person who worships a false god. Hopeless. Unsure. Impossible. But when you worship the one true living God you have hope and assurance because all things are possible with God.
Which way describes your life? Most people would say that they worship the one true living God. But what would your way of life say if asked on a Thursday afternoon? Do you live a hopeless, unsure, impossible life? Or do you live with hope and assurance because all things are possible with God?
When Daniel realized that the King had ordered them to eat food that would likely be unclean according to God's standards and that probably had been used in a worship sacrifice to a pagan god, he and his friends knew what they had to do. So he approached Ashpenaz, the man the King had put in charge of them, and asked to be served a different diet. He risked making the King mad. He risked losing opportunities for advancement. But doing the right thing was worth the risk.
Has there been a time when you knew what you ought to do but you just didn't want to take the risk to stand up for what the Bible says? Today in America the debates go on about homosexual marriage and abortion. The Bible has a clear message about these issues and Christians are supposed to stand for what the Bible stands for, right? Have you taken a stand? Or has the risk of doing so kept you quietly in your seat? Other debates need an infusion of Christian thinking, too. Our relationships at home, school, and work often include disagreement.
We can learn from Daniel and his friends something about how to voice our disagreement by looking at three words. One is RESOLVE. They were determined to adhere to God's word. We must know God's word, seek his will, and commit to following him in any and every situation. That decision must come now, before we are actually faced head-on with the debate or opportunity. If we have no resolve we will most likely make the wrong decision when pressed.
Another word is BOLD. Our deep commitment to God's word must motivate us to act. We must make a stand and speak the truth. Boldness will not be as difficult as you might think. Remember, the truth in God's word is THE truth and it is right. If you believe that - really believe it - then you won't be able to shy away from action.
The last word is RESPECT. Daniel approached Ashpenaz in a way that showed respect for the one in authority. He made no loud demands. He didn't write a rude article on his blog. He was respectful as he expressed his disagreement. Respect is missing in much of the debate going on in America. Respect is missing in many homes and workplaces. Respect won't always get you what you want but it is always the right attitude to have toward others. Think of the change in American culture if respect characterized the disagreements.
Sweeping change takes place one person at a time. I will be one who will remember and apply this lesson. Will you?
RESOLVE - Cling with determination to your commitments of faith.
BOLD - Act boldly upon your commitments of faith.
RESPECT - Treat others with respect even in disagreement.
We decided that since God created everything he must have created the weather processes that result in storms, although we shouldn't say that God send a tornado or hurricane or bolt of lightning to destroy something. Sometimes, but not always. Sometimes the storms are just simply the result of the process he created. When Adam and Eve sinned, all of creation was cursed. The result is a stormy life in many ways. This mornings stormy skies are the result of the Fall. Eden had no skies like those prior to sin.
We also decided that above the clouds the sun is always shining. Riley laughed and joked, "Do you think the sun is even there?" That is a picture of the reality in our lives - God is always there even when life's circumstances cloud our perception. Sometimes we rise above the clouds and experience the warmth of his presence much like we burst through the clouds while climbing to cruising altitude in an airplane. You may know what it's like to look through the small window next to seat 14A as the pilot takes the plane upward. You can only see the clouds as they block the view of the tips of the wings. You have no idea where you are or where you are headed or what awaits you. Then after a few seconds the clouds are beneath you and the sky above is perfectly clear. And the sun is shining.
We also decided that the Bible is correct when it says that all creation will one day be redeemed. Redemption for the sinner is being made right with God as he restores our relationship to what it is intended to be. The redeeming of creation will clear the storm clouds out of the skies. A new heaven and a new earth await us!
Some of the most well-known Bible stories come from this book of the Bible. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego survive in the fiery furnace. Daniel spends the night safely in the lions' den. Belshazzar sees the hand writing on the wall. We'll look at these stories and learn about God's sovereignty and his love and care for those who follow him. That will be encouraging to all of us who attend the study sessions.
Even the opening verses illustrate a couple of key points. The four Hebrew teenagers taken into exile to Babylon were given Babylonian names - replacing their Hebrew names. Hebrew mothers and fathers gave names to their children that express the hope of a godly characteristic being displayed in the children's lives. In Nebuchadnezzar's efforts to "Babylonize" the boys, he gave them names that spoke of a pagan god. In spite of their new names they continued to display character of Yahweh.
Our names may not carry the same kind of meaning as Hebrew names did, but Christians should live in ways that display the character of God. Do you try to be righteous? Do you love everyone without placing conditions upon them? Do you forgive when someone wrongs you? Do you face difficulties with peace and confidence in God? Do you turn to the Lord for help in all situations?
The other key point illustrates the sovereignty of God. While we often think that the powerful Babylonian army under the leadership of Nebuchadnezzar came into Jerusalem and did as they pleased, the truth is that God delivered the Hebrew people to them. Read the second verse of the book. Judah, the southern kingdom, had disregarded God's desire for the treatment of humanity. They exploited people. They abused them. They cheated them. The Hebrew nation was also guilty of a disregard of worship. God was a genie in a bottle. Worship was a joke. Holiness wasn't even on the radar. So God gave the leaders over to Nebuchadnezzar. They would now be treated as they had treated others. And God gave the articles used in temple worship to the Babylonians so that even if they wanted to the Hebrews could no longer worship.
God is in control. Even when it seems like life is spiraling dangerously. Even when it seems like you have it all together yourself. God is in control. How do you sense the presence and power of God in your life? Don't dismiss him. Don't struggle against him. Why? You won't win. You may have temporary success - like the leaders in Jerusalem had. In the end God will intervene and do as he wishes. He loves you and wants the best for you so you can (and should) trust him to do as he wishes. It's always better to let him have his way along the way rather than fighting it off as long as you can.
I'm excited to get deeper into this study. Dive in yourself or join us at CRBC on Wednesdays at 7:00.