Archive for the “Faith” Category

Living God's HeartLiving Gods HeartWe’ve been studying about a thankful heart over the past few weeks. It has helped me through some tough weeks. In the midst of a bad case of stomach flu (or food poisoning, we’re not actually sure which it was) while travelling, I laid on my bed in the hotel room restless and nauseous. I was not a happy camper. Needless to say, my mind wasn’t working any better than other parts of my body. I asked Phil to read Scripture to me. His voice was either too loud or too soft. There seemed to be no perfect volume. His voice, a sound that usually has a very calming effect on me, somehow added to my nausea. Finally, I put my hand up to quiet him and I tried to quote Psalm 92:1-2.

1It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to the Most High.
2It is good to proclaim your unfailing love in the morning, your faithfulness in the evening.
Psalm 92:1-2 (NLT)

I botched the verse pretty badly. As I recall, it took me quite a while to come up with the first three words. But those three words have become a stronghold for me: “It is good.” When my brain is fried from illness, emotional upheaval or just plain exhaustion, I can remember those three words. And then they start the memory ball rolling and I can come up with the next three words: “It is good to give thanks.” And then the next three words: “It is good to give thanks to the Lord.” That’s my stronghold. “Lord, I give You thanks.”

I don’t think I ever got the words right that night, but in my jumbled mind, I was able to recall the overall theme and it began to bring peace. Healing didn’t come for another day or so, but that peace was followed by faith. As I gave thanks for God’s protection and healing, a confidence began to replace the defeat that my body and spirit was experiencing.

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled.” Jesus said. “Trust in God, and trust also in me.” (John 14:1, NLT)

Giving thanks changes the environment. It brings peace in the midst of chaos. It brings calm in the midst of the storm. That peace and calm are the precursor to a slowly building confidence. That confidence – well, it’s just another word for faith.

Phil was sick the few days before I was. One of the things he said to me describes the “before thanksgiving environment.” “When I’m this sick, it’s hard for me to believe I’ll ever be healthy again.” He had it much worse than me. I understood what he meant. When we look at the circumstances, it can be very hard to believe anything will change. And when we’re physically sick, it can be very hard to see past our circumstances. It can be very hard to believe that God will win.

Thanksgiving changes the environment. It reminds us of what God has done in the past. It reminds us of where our hope lies. It reminds us that with God, all things are possible. And that changes the environment. Peace and calm replace chaos and anxiety. Confidence replaces doubt. Faith grows.

The thankful heart creates the environment needed for the faith-filled heart to grow. Let me encourage you once again – be intentional about giving thanks. Even when (or perhaps especially when) everything around you is in chaos. Giving thanks grows your faith. And faith is a good thing.

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Those of you who are following our Resting at the River’s Edge reading schedule just finished reading the book of Exodus. I enjoyed it so much that after reading the entire book, I went back and outlined it. The process revealed many themes that I might have otherwise missed. As I reviewed the book, I saw the tender and attentive care the Lord took leading His people. I saw how God controlled the timing of things, even when the events seemed to be happening too slow or too fast. (That’s a lesson I need to hear frequently.) The overriding lesson, however, was how I need to live my life totally dependent on God. It’s such a large part of what God was teaching the Israelites as he brought them out of Egypt.

And it’s so much a part of what I need to learn. Without the Holy Spirit’s prompting, I tend to rely on myself instead of God. If I don’t somewhat regularly run into problems that are bigger than me, I tend to rely on myself instead of God. Note to self: Taking on more God-sized challenges will teach me to depend on Him more. (And watching Him work in those challenges will teach me more about God and will be a ton of fun.)

Let’s step into the Exodus story with a quick review. Over a period of about six weeks, the Israelites had seen the Lord perform twenty miracles – there were 10 plagues and each of those plagues were stopped. They also experienced the Lord give them favor with the Egyptians as they left, enabling the Israelites to plunder Egypt simply by asking their neighbors for their jewelry. Then, of course, they walked across the Red Sea on dry land! That’s a lot of miracles in a short period of time.

Let’s pick up the story in chapter 16:

1Then the whole community of Israel set out from Elim and journeyed into the wilderness of Sin, between Elim and Mount Sinai. They arrived there … one month after leaving the land of Egypt. 2There, too, the whole community of Israel complained about Moses and Aaron.
3“If only the LORD had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.”
Exodus 16:1-3 (NLT)

After ten or twelve weeks jam packed with miracles, the Israelites were not happy campers as they journeyed through the wilderness. Faced with the challenges of the wilderness, the Israelites begin their complaint against Moses and Aaron with the words “if only.” It’s a phrase that is a clear indication that you are looking backwards instead of forwards. It’s a clear indication that in looking back, you’re not looking at the miracles God has done in your life. It’s a clear indication that you are not looking toward what God is about to do.

The Israelites could have said “God has brought us out of Egypt and protected us with His mighty right hand. He held the water at bay as we walked through on dry ground. He turned the bitter water sweet just last week. We can trust Him to provide for our needs today.” They could have gone even a step further and said “Let’s look forward to God’s miracle! Let’s let our actions reflect the faith we have that He will provide.”

But they made the choice to look backwards and complain. What a strike in God’s face that complaint was! Their complaint reveals that they are fully convinced they will die in the wilderness. Their complaint reveals that they do not believe that God can and will save them.

Lord, help me to walk in faith, not in fear and doubt. I don’t mean this blog to be an indictment of the Israelites. Rather, it is a challenge to me to see how easily I can become like them! I do not want to live my life in fear and doubt.

As I re-read this passage while reviewing the book of Exodus, God impressed upon me that it’s necessary to leave home to get to the promised land…and leaving home brings with it lots of discomfort, fear and doubt. No matter how wonderful or horrible home is (or how wonderful you remember it as being), you have to leave the familiar to step into the new things that God has for you. You have to experience “different” and “change” – and that typically means you have to experience “discomfort” – to enjoy the full salvation of God. That’s what faith is – it’s leaving what you know with your physical senses to follow what you have come to know with your spiritual senses.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Hebrews 11:1 (NASB)

If we flash forward a couple of millennia, we see Peter leaving the security and safety of his boat to trust Jesus and join Him walking on the water. What a miracle those first steps were! But just as the Israelites saw the wilderness and were afraid, Peter saw the waves and was afraid.

28Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”

29“Yes, come,” Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus.

30But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.

31Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?”
Matthew 14:28-31 (NLT)

Experiencing all that God has for us in this great salvation means leaving the safety and security of home and stepping into the discomfort of the unknown. It means learning to trust Him in the wilderness and on the water. It means leaving the baggage of fear and doubt at home because that baggage will be too much of a burden – it’s the baggage that causes us to sink.

Some of you say “I don’t want to walk on water, I just want to make it through the day.” Yeah, I get that. But I’m here to tell you that getting through the day is a whole lot easier (and more fun) when you can walk on water. When the storms come, and they will come, being able to walk on water is like living in a houseboat – you face the storm, but you’re riding the waves and you’re protected by the strength of His right hand.

And that brings us to what has impressed me the most as I read through Exodus – the Israelites utter dependence on God. They had no water…until God provided it. They had no food in the desert…until God provided it. Joshua went into battle against the Amalekites and the only reason he won was because God provided the victory. When Moses raised his arms, the Israelites were winning. When his arms grew tired and he lowered them, the Amalekites were winning. What in the world did Moses’ upraised arms have to do with the battle? Absolutely nothing! But Moses and the Israelites were learning to be totally dependent on God.

The more self-sufficient we are, the less God-sufficient we are. And we’re way more self-sufficient when we’re at home. Home has most of what we need. Home lulls us into a satisfaction with the status quo. But God wants us to leave home and head for the promised land. God wants us to step away from the comfortable into the journey – the exciting journey He has for us.

He wants us to step away from self-sufficiency into God-sufficiency.

4The one thing I ask of the LORD— the thing I seek most— is to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, delighting in the LORD’s perfections and meditating in his Temple. 5For he will conceal me there when troubles come; he will hide me in his sanctuary. He will place me out of reach on a high rock.
Psalm 27:4-5 (NLT)

Let’s do it! Let’s trust that God is leading us into wonderful things He has for us, not to our death in the wilderness or the storm. Let’s have a mindset that says “I’ll follow you, Lord” and be willing to leave home to follow Him and don’t look back. Place your full dependence on Him and leave the baggage of fear and doubt at home.Fully

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods Heart

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:9 (RSV)

Our part in the equation of this verse is that we confess our sins to God. In our first blog about a repentant heart, we learned that repent means to “think differently” about our sin. The word translated confess in the above verse is very similar – it means “come into agreement with” God about our sin. When we confess our sins, we are no longer thinking about them in a positive light, but rather coming to God saying “Lord, I agree with you that what I’ve done is wrong. Forgive me.”

After we’ve done that, the heavy lifting is all up to God. This verse promises us that if (when) we confess our sins:

God is faithful – He will do what He says He will do. He does not change His mind about it. He doesn’t look at our sin to determine whether or not it is forgivable. Instead, when we confess our sins, God is faithful – to His character, His Word, and to the promises He’s made to us.

God is just – It would not seem to me that a just God should forgive all my sins, but He does. He forgives all my sins because the required punishment has already been given and received. He forgives my sins because the required price has already been paid. To not forgive the sin would be requiring more than what God has already said is required. Romans 6:23 states clearly that the penalty for sin is death. It goes on just as clearly to explain that the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:23 (NLT)

Christ died as payment in full for my sin. Paid in Full! Punishment has been already been given and received. God is faithful to His Word and God is just. To require more of me today than God has already defined as the set penalty or punishment would be unjust.

God will forgive our sins – With the penalty already paid, God fully – fully – forgives our sins. Any residual guilt we may feel is one of two things (or both): A lie from the enemy that we are believing or a refusal to believe God. You may wonder “why would anyone ever refuse to believe God – especially about something so wonderful?” It’s a fair question. But I suspect that if you think carefully you can identify times in your own life when you chose to hold on to guilt instead of receive God’s forgiveness. Perhaps you felt that you didn’t deserve forgiveness; perhaps you were enjoying wallowing in your guilt; perhaps you were just being rebellious or stubborn. In the light of day that sounds horrible, but we do it. At some point (or at many points in our lives), we must choose to believe God in this area – believe God that if we have confessed our sins, He will and has forgiven us.

God will cleanse us from all unrighteousness – I am so glad that God added this last phrase! It says that not only will He forgive the sin that I’ve confessed, but that He will cleanse me from all unrighteousness. We don’t have to worry that we may have forgotten to confess some sin and therefore have not been fully forgiven. God cleanses us from all unrighteousness. And as I suspect you’ve heard many preachers say – all means ALL! When we live with a repentant heart, we confess our sins as God brings them to our attention. He then immediately forgives us and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.

As I’ve meditated on this aspect of God’s faithfulness and justice over the past few days I’ve had two thoughts:

  • First, what an awesome, mind boggling thing it is that Jesus did for us. He took all the sin we have committed and ever would commit upon Himself as He hung on the cross. In that moment when God looked away, in that moment when Jesus and God were separated by the blackness of my sin, Jesus didn’t condemn me, He forgave me and He cleansed me. He made it possible for me to exchange the blackness of my sin for a pure heart.
  • Second, sometimes we feel unclean because of sins against us. When we confess our sins, we are cleansed from all unrighteousness. When we have been sinned against, even if our response has been pure, we feel unclean, just as we might feel unclean when we visit a garbage dump. It’s not our fault and we are not condemned for having visited the dump, but upon leaving we feel unclean. When we come to the Lord, He cleanses us of all unrighteousness. If you are struggling with feelings of unrighteousness – feeling that you have been sinned against and will never be clean – go to God. Confess your sins (read that carefully – confess your sins, not those sins others committed against you) and know that God will cleans you from all unrighteousness. Believe it! Live it! Holding on to feelings of unrighteousness are unnecessary.

When we confess our sins, God is faithful to His Word and His promises to us. When we confess our sins, God is just – not requiring a greater penalty than His Word says is required. When we confess our sins, God forgives them – we can live in freedom. When we confess our sins, God cleanses us from all unrighteousness – he exchanges the blackness of our sin for a pure heart.

A repentant heart leads to a pure heart. And living from a pure heart is living in freedom and joy.

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One would have to be in a pretty bad place for prison to be considered a promotion…at least as we view things. Perhaps, however, we’re not seeing with God’s eyes.

The story of Joseph is an interesting one. Sold by his brothers to traveling merchants, he ended up in the household of the Pharaoh’s (King’s) Chief of Security, Potiphar. He was quickly promoted to being Potiphar’s personal assistant and placed in charge of his entire household. Potiphar’s wife found Joseph quite attractive and begged him (repeatedly) to have sex with her. When Joseph refused, she accused him of trying to rape her. Without any investigation or even listening to Joseph’s side of the story, Potiphar had Joseph thrown into prison. For the second time in his life, Joseph was dealt a tremendous injustice.

I don’t think there are any of us who would consider Joseph’s change in position a promotion. Yet when we see the whole of the story, we can see that it was.

Before long, the warden put Joseph in charge of all the other prisoners and over everything that happened in the prison.
Genesis 39:22 (NLT)

In Potiphar’s home, Joseph learned how to run a home. In prison, Joseph learned how to run a prison. He got practical experience in how to manage the prison for the Pharaoh of Egypt. Yes, he was a slave in both cases, but running a prison is a much larger responsibility than running a home.

Being in prison also put Joseph in the place he needed to be to receive his next promotion. It was in prison that he met the Pharaoh’s chief cup-bearer and baker. It would be the cup-bearer who would introduce the Pharaoh to Joseph. It would then be Pharaoh who promoted Joseph to Prime Minister of Egypt. It is this promotion that put Joseph in a position to save his brothers (yes, the very brothers who had sold him into slavery) and his father from dying of hunger during the severe famine. He learned and refined the skills he needed during his time as Potiphar’s assistant and head of the Pharaoh’s prison.

In each situation, God was preparing Joseph for his next assignment.

I can’t imagine that Joseph was happy about being sold to Potiphar or being thrown in jail. Nevertheless, he was faithful to God – which means more than praying – he was faithful to do his best in the situation God had placed him.

It’s painful to realize that it is God who has placed us where we are when we’re not where we want to be or where we think we deserve to be. I remember an exceedingly painful time in my life when thinking that God had allowed what had transpired to happen only magnified my pain. Joseph’s situation was worse than mine. I may have been betrayed, but I wasn’t sold to others and I wasn’t thrown into prison for staying faithful to God.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
Romans 8:28 (NKJV)

But “working things together for good” is a process. The start of a project – whether it’s a painting or a building or cleaning the house – is often messy. And those involved in a project from the start can get pretty messy before they receive accolades for the finished product.

Our role in all this is to remain both faithful and full of faith – faithful to be obedient to One who knows the end before we even see the beginning and full of faith that He is good and is working for our good.

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.
Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT)

Are you being challenged to be faithful or full of faith today? Don’t give up. God is working – in you, in those around you, in the situation and in your future. In the meantime…

  • Focus on God, not on your situation.
  • Remember His goodness and His faithfulness.
  • Know that His ways bring blessing even if your current circumstances seem to prove otherwise.
  • Remain thankful. Look for opportunities to be thankful.
  • Practice the sacrifice of praise – praising God in the midst of challenging times.
  • Find a church family whose love will help you through to the other side.
  • Seek His presence regularly.

These things sound like platitudes, but they are foundational actions that will help you remain steadfast during the challenging times in your life. They will help you remain both faithful and full of faith.

By the way…did you notice that all the words first words in the above list are verbs – action words. Be proactive when you’re in challenging situations. Work at staying close to God. Work at staying faithful and full of faith.

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The LORD says, “I was ready to respond, but no one asked for help. I was ready to be found, but no one was looking for me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am!’ to a nation that did not call on my name
Isaiah 65:1 (NLT)

This verse was a portion of our final Resting at the River’s Edge reading in 2012, and it seems a perfect verse to step us into 2013. God stands ready to help each of us if we will only cry out to Him.

What image comes to your mind when you read God’s exclamation “Here I am, here I am!” The first image that came to my mind was that of a little boy jumping up and down waving his arms in excitement as his grandparents get off the plane for a visit. He so wants them to find him.

Upon further reflection, though, I see parents reaching for their distraught child to protect and comfort her. The parents bend down to a level where the child can see them and are reaching out their arms to pull her in close saying “Here I am. It’s me. I’ve got you. You’re safe.” The child’s trauma begins to fade as the parents enclose her in the safety of their arms. Mom soothes her hair and kisses her forehead. Then Dad stands and turns his back to mom and child, facing outward to protect them from whomever and whatever would step forward to harm them. Those parents – both mom and dad together – provide an illustration of what God wants to be for us and do for us – save, comfort and protect. Later in the day mom and dad will talk with the child and explain how the child got herself into danger and how to protect herself in the future. God does that, too.

It is the story of the Old Testament and the New –

  • God gives us life – true life
    • He loves us
      • He teaches us how to live
        • He rescues us when we stray from that teaching
          • He loves us some more(!)
            • He protects us
              • He reminds us how to live
                • He loves us
                  • The process continues until our time on this earth is over, and then it starts all over with our life in eternity

That’s the God I want to serve in 2013. That’s the God I want to call out to in 2013. If you want that, too, pray with me. Here’s the simple prayer I prayed after reading this verse.

Lord, You are so good. Thank You for loving me. Thank You for seeking me – for crying out to me to follow you. Lord, keep me from my pride and sin in 2013. I am asking for your help now! Remind me to always cry out to you for help – when I am in great need and when my need is small. Lord, I want to find You in 2013. Help me to keep my eyes on You.

Friends, that is a prayer He will answer. I so look forward to what He has in store for me in 2013. Yes, I woke up this morning with the usual aches and pains. In fact, when I first woke this morning, the enemy tempted me to go down a long dark hallway with him. I fell into the trap for a short time until I realized how foolish I had been to not stop the thoughts immediately. We face choices many times every day – to look forward to what God has for us and call out to Him to bring that about (“Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”, Matthew 6:10, NASB), or we can let the forces of the enemy and this world trap us into living by its forces. God’s way is life! Let’s choose life.

Lord, we cry out to You for help! You are mighty to save. Save us now!

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Looking toward 2013 – Fear isn’t Part of God’s Plan, Don’t Make it Part of Yours

24Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, “Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. 25I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.”
Matthew 25:24-25 (NLT)

In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30 and Luke 19:11-27), the third servant did not use the talent given to him because he was afraid (Matthew 25:25, Luke 19:21). I wonder how often we let fear cripple or hinder us? Or how often is it an excuse for laziness? The master responded to the servant by calling him lazy (Matthew 25:26, Luke 19:22).

As we look toward 2013, I don’t want us to lose out on God’s tremendous plans for our lives because we are afraid. Afraid of success, afraid of failure or afraid of plain old hard work. I want to approach the new year with an attitude that says “Yes!” to whatever God has in mind. I suspect that will mean looking fear square in the face sometimes…

If that’s the case, perhaps it will help to remind myself what else Scripture has to say about fear. Here are a couple of verses:

God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, love and sound mind.
2 Timothy 1:7 (KJV)

For the Spirit that God has given us does not make you a slave and cause you to be afraid; instead, the Spirit makes you God=s sons and by the Spirit=s power we cry to God, “Father! My Father!”
Romans 8:15 (TEV) (or “Abba! Father!”)

What a picture of God’s love! Think of the small child who is frightened – he runs to his papa, throws his arms up and cries “Father! Father! Protect me!”

And He will! We’re also told in John 16:33 “These things I [Jesus] have spoken to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

There are 2 parts to this verse:

Part 1: Jesus promises us peace
Philippians 4:7 says that His peace, which passes all understanding, keeps our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. When will this happen? Philippians 4:6 says it will happen when we reach up to Jesus, crying “Father, Father! Protect me!”

Part 2: Jesus tells us to take courage – He has overcome the world.
1 John 5:4 says “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.” (See Romans 8:14, 1 John 5:6 for more.)

If fear is not of God, what is its source. Its source is satan. Satan has a very poor substitute for everything God has – his substitute for faith is fear! Fear is really faith that satan will win instead of God! But God tells us that the victory that has overcome the world is our faith – our faith in Jesus Christ and God the Father to do what He promises to do:

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
1 John 4:4

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:37-39

I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
Philippians 4:13

In light of all this:

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:57-58

Whew! Lots of Scripture in this blog! Meditate on them if you feel yourself being pulled toward fear. Don’t go there and don’t let satan take you there!

Friends, let’s look toward 2013 with a “yes” in our heart to the things of God. Don’t let fear cause you to lose the tremendous blessings He has for you.

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About a week ago I blogged from Psalm 123:2

We keep looking to the LORD our God for his mercy, just as servants keep their eyes on their master, as a slave girl watches her mistress for the slightest signal.
Psalm 123:2 (NLT)

In looking through some old notes, I found a link to this Chris Tomlin song with a note to add it to the end of the blog. Didn’t happen. But it’s worth adding even if it is a week late.

We’re to watch our Lord intense focus that catches His slightest move. The words to Tomlin’s song give us the purpose for our watching:

“Where You go, I’ll go. Where You stay I’ll stay. Where You move, I’ll move. Who You love I’ll love. How You serve I’ll serve.”

Lord, help me to watch You so that I can follow You. More today than yesterday, more tomorrow than today.
.

Sit back and take a four minute worship break. Or make it eight minutes and commit again to follow Him.

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Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin…
Zechariah 4:10 (NLT)

I have been delaying starting several things for the Lord. In one case it’s simply a matter of not wanting to add something to my calendar. In another case, I’m not sure what the first step should be. In yet another case, I just haven’t blocked time into my schedule for it. In all cases, they are projects I believe the Lord initiated. (Do I really want to admit to you that I’m pausing at taking steps on projects the Lord initiated? I’m guessing you’ve done that too – sometimes we all need a bit of encouragement to follow the Lord’s promptings!)

Zechariah has been providing that encouragement to me. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book over the last couple of weeks.

I have been asking the Lord a question in my special holiday getaways with Him“Lord, what in my life brings you joy?” Here’s one of the answers to my questions: “The Lord rejoices to see the work begin.” (Zechariah 4:10) My goal is to please the Lord – to bring Him joy because He gives such joy to me. Beginning these tasks is one way to bring Him joy.

I’m not climbing on a merry-go-round of beginnings (because we’ll see in future posts that the Lord is also pleased with continuing the effort begun). Nor am I overloading my schedule with things God is not calling me to. I am being encouraged, however, to begin those things that He’s prompted me to. And I don’t have to have a grand plan for the full accomplishment of them. Yes, I need a plan because without one, the projects are likely to die on the vine. But the full Scripture is this: “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin.” God doesn’t diss small beginnings. Rather, He rejoices that the project has begun.

I love that about God – He is such an encourager! I think I’ll go add something to my calendar and block some time into my schedule! But first…I get to finish decorating a Christmas tree that’s half covered in lights. Let the Christmas season begin!

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See, God has come to save me. I will trust in him and not be afraid. The LORD GOD is my strength and my song; he has given me victory.”
Isaiah 12:2 (NLT)

God has come to save me! How can we not grab the hand of the One who has come to save us? How can we not?

I am afraid of heights. I remember sitting on the roof of my garage once crying for half an hour because I was too afraid to move to the edge, take my foot off the secure (?) surface of the roof and put it on a rung of the ladder. Then there was the whole issue of turning around. That was about twenty years ago. (Why was I on the roof? I would have to chalk that one up to curiosity and foolish pride…but that’s another blog.)

I love water slides. I remember getting three-quarters of the way up the highest slide at Cedar Point’s Soak City and having a melt down. I sat on the platform breathing deeply (trying very hard not to cry) while deciding if I had the courage to go to the top and slide down or walk down the stairs hanging on to the railings for dear life. Both required courage I didn’t have. This was about six years ago! (I opted to walk down the steps instead of climb up and slide down. I love the slides but hate the trip to the top of them.)

In neither case was I facing certain death. I wonder if someone had come in to rescue me – someone offering a hand to save me – would I have grabbed onto it for dear life and let them? Or would I have hung onto the seemingly secure roof or platform frozen in fear?

The point is GOD has come to save me! In the case of someone saving me, they might lose their grip on my hand. The rope from the helicopter they’re hanging out of might break. The fire engine bucket they want me to step into might collapse and spill its contents (i.e., me) onto the ground. But GOD – His grip cannot be loosened and He’s not using equipment that might fail.

God has saved me! I will choose to trust in Him and not be afraid.

What is trying to paralyze you with fear? Is it the economy? The safety of a son or daughter in the military? Health issues? Facing the holiday season alone? Choose to trust in the One who has saved you.

God has saved me! I will choose to trust in him and not be afraid. The LORD GOD is my strength and my song; He has given me victory.

Holding onto the knowledge that I have been saved, living in that choice of trusting God and not being afraid, knowing that He has given me victory – that is where my strength comes from; that is what enables me to sing.

Let Him be your strength and your song. Focus on the victory He has given you and trust in Him.

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But Daniel was determined not to defile himself by eating the food and wine given to them by the king. He asked the chief of staff for permission not to eat these unacceptable foods.
Daniel 1:8 (NLT)

In 605 BC King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon conquered Judah. Most citizens of Judah were forcibly taken to Babylon. Soon thereafter, Nebuchadnezzar decided to bring some of the Israelites into his service:

3Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, his chief of staff, to bring to the palace some of the young men of Judah’s royal family and other noble families, who had been brought to Babylon as captives.

4“Select only strong, healthy, and good-looking young men,” he said. “Make sure they are well versed in every branch of learning, are gifted with knowledge and good judgment, and are suited to serve in the royal palace. Train these young men in the language and literature of Babylon.”

5  The king assigned them a daily ration of food and wine from his own kitchens. They were to be trained for three years, and then they would enter the royal service.
Daniel 1:3-5 (NLT)

Daniel and three others from the family of Judah were taken. (You’ve probably heard of the three others. They were renamed by King Nebuchadnezzar and you mostly likely know them as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. But that’s another story.)

Put yourself in Daniel’s place. You are part of Judah’s royal family. You are conquered. Your enemy captures you and takes you to his country. Things are looking pretty bad for you. Then the king selects you to be part of his elite counsel of advisors. You’re to be fed the same menu cooked by the same chef as the king and you’re to receive the best training. It’s a lot better than living out your life in a dungeon. But it means serving the king who conquered your land and brought you to his.

Would you be angry or thankful? Would you oppose the king who conquered you or serve him? Would you pretend to be a friend of the king while secretly working against him?

Let’s look at how Daniel responded:

But Daniel was determined not to defile himself by eating the food and wine given to them by the king. He asked the chief of staff for permission not to eat these unacceptable foods.
Daniel 1:8 (NLT)

Daniel made a firm decision. Various translations make this clear:

“Daniel was determined…” (NLT)
“Daniel made up his mind…” (NASB)
“Daniel purposed in his heart…” (NKJV)
“Daniel resolved…” (NRSV)

Daniel made a firm decision, not a wishy-washy, wishful-thinking decision. He didn’t think “well, maybe it would be best if…” He didn’t think “I’m going to try …” His approach wasn’t “if I can, I’m going to…” He made a take-a-stand, Joshua-like decision – “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

Often the first step we need to take is simply to make a firm decision. I have been working toward a healthy weight for more than a year now. I am only successful when I make a firm decision to work toward my goals. When I approach them half-heartedly I fail. Consistently. When I approach them with resolve, with purpose in my heart, with a made-up mind, I am successful.

Daniel decided to honor God by remaining as pure as possible in a pagan culture. Daniel’s first recorded challenge to his decision came when he began receiving meals prepared by the King’s chef. There is little detail here about why Daniel might consider it inappropriate to eat the food, but it’s not unreasonable to conclude from the use of the word “defile” that Daniel had concerns about the type of meat he would be served, how it was prepared, and/or whether it may have been offered to Babylonian idols. Without knowing the details, however, we can identify with Daniel because we live in a culture that is increasingly unfriendly toward Christians. We live in a culture that encourages and celebrates lifestyle choices that are not consistent with serving God.

Every decision we make throughout the day involves a choice between honoring God or living life according to our own rules and wants and wishes. Every decision? Yes, every decision – every piece of food we eat, every television program we watch, every word we say to our coworkers, every assignment we complete for our boss, every look we give our spouses, every traffic law we obey or disobey, and every thought we nurture or kill. Regardless of the situation we face, we can choose to honor God or not honor God. But it’s not just the decisions we make, it’s also how we implement those decisions.

Daniel honored God by living respectfully in a pagan culture. When I read the words of verse 8 – that Daniel was determined and resolved, that he had made up his mind – an image begins to take shape in my mind of a man who is going to stand up boldly to authority and resist it if necessary to accomplish his goals. That image is inconsistent with the second half of the verse: “He [Daniel] asked the chief of staff for permission not to eat these unacceptable foods.”

Daniel didn’t approach the chief of staff with a demand or refusal – he asked for permission. This caught me by surprise. Having made a firm decision to remain pure, Daniel then seemingly puts his ability to keep that commitment in the hands of his captors. There is an expression that I truly hate: “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than to get permission.” That statement doesn’t honor God in any way. Daniel didn’t subscribe to that statement. Daniel’s approach showed respect for those in authority. It actually went much further than that.

Daniel trusted God to make a way for him to fulfill his commitment. Choosing to ask permission instead of taking matters into his own hands, defying authority and then asking forgiveness, Daniel demonstrated trust in God. Daniel may have made the commitment to honor God, but he also recognized that it would only be by God’s grace that he could keep the commitment.

I realize that Daniel’s humility takes me by surprise in light of his determination because I view determination as strength and deep down inside I view humility as weakness. That would be because I have a flawed view of humility. In God’s economy humility is king:

God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.
Matthew 5:5 (NLT)

But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
James 4:6 (NRSV)

And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
1 Peter 5:5b (NRSV)

Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.
James 4:10 (NKJV)

It certainly proved true in Daniel’s case. What was the result of Daniel’s actions? Read it for yourself:

18When the training period ordered by the king was completed, the chief of staff brought all the young men to King Nebuchadnezzar. 19The king talked with them, and no one impressed him as much as Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. So they entered the royal service. 20Whenever the king consulted them in any matter requiring wisdom and balanced judgment, he found them ten times more capable than any of the magicians and enchanters in his entire kingdom.
Daniel 1:18-20 (NLT)

Determination and humility – two great qualities that work great together. Who knew?

Do you need to make a firm decision to honor God in a greater way in some area of your life? How’s your humility quotient?

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