OK, here's the plan (if God is willing):

1) Every day will be a new devotional. I have enough devotionals for every day for three years

2) Also as I can, I'll be posting on my new political blog (see bottom of page).

Some other housecleaning:

A) If you'd like to just get new postings sent to your email, just submit your address in the box on the left just below. There's just one possible downside, though. Occasionally I'll add a music video at the end that's relevant to the devotional, and you won't get them in the email sent to you. If I add a video though, I'll make sure to mention in the posting, so you'll know to come to the site to see it if you'd like.

B) I actually finished writing new blog posting for the TAWG at the end of 2016. So what I'm doing now is at the beginning of every month, I'll move the earliest month from 3 years ago ahead so that a "new" posting appears every day. That's why you won't find any postings for January 2014, for example.

C) When I started this Blog, I was using the 1984 edition of the NIV, and that’s what I linked to on the Biblegateway site. However, in 2011 Zondervan updated its edition and thus reworded a lot of the NIV translation. Therefore, all the links which went to the 1984 edition now redirect to the 2011 edition, which often has slightly different wording. Thus, part of my editing process has been to update my Scripture quotes in my postings. But I might have missed some, in which case you might see my quote in the posting as a little different from what comes up when you click on my citation link, since that redirects to the 2011 edition on the Biblegateway site. It's a good thing that we realize that the work of translation never ends, but it can be a kind of a pain on a site like this. If you see any difference in verbiage between my quote and what shows up as a link on the Biblegateway site, or if you hover over a link and it has "NIV1984" at the end of it, please notify me and I'll correct it.

D) I can't believe I have to say this, but here goes. At the end of every posting is a suggested short prayer that has to do with what we discussed. This is actually what I've prayed when I finished writing it. In no way am I asking you to pray the exact verbiage of my suggested prayer. It's just a springboard for your own prayer, nothing more. Quite frankly, I've never been a fan of praying rote prayers written by someone else. As with everything else I do here, to the degree it helps, great; to the degree it doesn't, chunk it.

As always, thank you so much for reading, even if it's to read one post. God bless.

[April 22]--The Best News They’ve Never Heard! Part Five: How To Open?

John 4:1-26

            Most of us are not natural salesmen and thus not the greatest conversationalists. The very thought of just coming up to someone and starting a conversation about Jesus is one of the most daunting obstacles to being witnesses for Christ. So how do we do it?
            Let me start off my answer to that with a disclaimer. In no way do I propose that what I’ve about to submit is the only way to start a conversation about the Savior. I don’t even necessarily claim that it’s the best way; I’m certainly open to suggestions on how to “break the ice” and move from an insipid dialogue about the weather and football to more eternal issues. Jesus didn’t use this method with every person he met. But it has this going for it: It's a way to do it, and the Master used it at least once.
            Jesus was sitting at the well, it was the heat of the day, and he saw a woman heading towards him. I suspect it was more than mere physical thirst that prompted his opening question: He was there to lead her to faith in himself.
            She responded with the well-known fact that Jews and Samaritans have nothing to do with each other, and then comes the statement I’m actually referring to.
            “If you knew who it was who was talking to you, you’d ask him and he’d give you living water.” This perked up her ears. They were at a well, and he apparently didn’t even have a bucket, much less access to some other well. And what did he mean by “living” water? And what’s this “gift of God” he’s talking about?
            When she points out what was obvious to her eyes and asked him about the “living water,” he tells her something about this water which he offers: In stark contrast with ordinary water, it quenches thirst forever. Once you drink it, you'll never thirst again. Ever.
            Now, Christians have drawn deep theological insight from Jesus’ statement about the water he offers. But let’s not lose the main focus here: Our Lord’s main purpose here is to lead this young woman into a saving knowledge of himself, not provide fodder for theologians. Everything he’s saying is towards that purpose. As is typical of characters in John’s Gospel, she misunderstands a statement about spiritual reality and interprets it physically. But we’ve covered enough for me to make my point.
            Here’s the method as exemplified here. You start a conversation by referring to something right in front of you or something they’re familiar with or in which they’re interested. Then you use that as a segue into an opener to the Message.
            Let me give a personal example. Every year I used to go on Beach Reach down in South Padre. We offered free van rides anywhere on the island, a free pancake breakfast, and free suntan oil on the beach. Also a sand sculptor came out and made massive sand sculptures of something biblical (like Christ on the cross, or the Ten Commandments) and surrounded them with little signs in the sand with provocative verses, such as Romans 3:23 or 6:23 or John 3:16.
            I came up to people on the beach who were standing next to the sculptures, introduced myself, and asked them questions like “So did you know about our free van rides?” “Yeah, I was on one last night. It’s great what you guys are doing.” “And did you hear about our free pancake breakfast?” “Yeah, we’re going to that tomorrow.” “And did you know about the free gift we’re offering?” “What?! A free gift?!” “Absolutely! Let me tell you about it. . .”
            Someone once asked Spurgeon how he came up with sermon ideas. He answered thus: He picked a verse or passage out of the Bible, and went over the country, through the woods, and over rivers to bring it back to Jesus Christ.
            That’s what we do here. You pick something out in front of you, something that interests the person in front of you, and you—with the Spirit’s leading—lead it back to the Good News.
            Again, if you’re already using something that works for you, more power to you. If not, then you have at least one ice-breaker.

Lord Jesus, how often do I talk about everything except the Person who means the most to me? Please forgive me, and help me bring you into more conversations, to the point where your presence is felt every time I open my mouth. 

Behind the Scenes

Yes, I know very well this is Easter. This is my favorite holiday of the year. Yes, I love Christmas and New Year's Day, but quite frankly, I don't really have all that much to say about Easter that I haven't already said. So what I'm going to do is re-post what I said about it last year. Here's what I said about it two years ago, if you're interested.

Isaiah 53:10-12; Rom. 1:1-4; Rev. 1:12-20

So what can I say about the Resurrection that I didn’t say before? Last year we went over what a difference this one event made—and continues to make--in our lives. So this year I thought I might look at it from a different angle. What was going on “behind the scenes”? Scripture only sparingly parts the curtain into the spiritual realm, but it does give us some hints.

First, I noticed this a couple of days ago when we looked at Isaiah 53 concerning the Passion. Look carefully at the first phrase of vs. 11, and ponder that for a moment. Let me open a window into our Savior’s mind as he rose up from the tomb. I don’t know what else was going through his thoughts, but this one thing I know that he was thinking: “It was worth it.” Stepping out of Heaven and away from the worship of angels. Squeezing himself down into a human body. Living in poverty. Having to look upon the suffering and sin around him. Tiredness. Hunger. Thirst. Temptation. Frustration. Arrest. Betrayal. Mockery. Slander. Torture. Agony. Forsaken by the Father. Death. All of it was worth it: “After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied.”

And what else? The Romans passage tells us something else about this event that you might not have considered. According to vs. 4, Jesus “was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.” Now obviously he was God’s Son before then. There never was a time in which he wasn’t. But the Resurrection proclaimed who he was. The Father placed the stamp of approval, so to speak, on the Son through this. That’s why when Jesus saw his apostles, he could say that “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Even before the Ascension, the proclamation had already been made official in the spiritual realm. To the human eye, nothing had changed. But to the assembled powers in Heaven and in Hell, everything had changed.

And finally we turn to the passage in Revelation. What picture of Jesus do you have in your mind? I grew up with a picture of a “meek and mild” Jesus who was as gentle as a lamb. In fact we had a literal picture of him like this at the church where I grew up, as a mural on the wall. I don’t know exactly what he looked like while he was walking around Galilee. I do know this, however: He certainly doesn’t look like that now. Read again the description of what John saw on the Island of Patmos.

On a side note, this is a great source of comfort to me, believe it or not. Quite frankly, I fear for the future of the church, especially in America. There are so many things that are wrong with her, sometimes I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. But then I read this, and it reminds me of something. The churches are being held in the hand of the Living One, the One who was dead and who’s now alive. Again, to human eyes, the situation is grim, and nothing has changed. But behind the scenes, everything has changed.

So what’s my main point here? What’s the word that runs through all these different passages? Victory. Over the grave. Over the Enemy of our souls. Over your sin and mine.

And the wonderful corollary to this? His victory is yours and mine. Today in part, and tomorrow in full. Someday--perhaps sooner rather than later--what’s been going on “behind the scenes” will spill out into the world in which we live. And I can’t wait. Can you?

Lord Jesus, all authority in heaven and on earth has been placed under your feet, which is right where it belongs. And that includes me.

[April 21]--The Best News They’ve Never Heard! Part Four: Who’s To Blame?

Ezekiel 3:16-19

            Today I’m going to do two things to you: Place a burden on you and take another one away at the same time.

            What’s the one thing that holds back most Christians from telling others about Jesus? I’d submit one likely candidate: Fear. They’re afraid that what they say will be rejected, and no one likes that.

            I understand that, I really do. I remember one of the best pieces of advice my former pastor said: “If you want to get into ministry, it’d be good for you to get some experience in sales.” He sold copiers for a living, and I sold pest service. I’m not a salesman, nor do I ever intend to make my living that way again, but it taught me a couple of really valuable lessons which are pertinent to today’s passage and the point I’m trying to make.

1)      You're responsible for telling others what they need to hear.
This is the burden the Lord laid on his servants the prophets. They were under the direct command of God to tell people about upcoming judgments and to call them back to faithfulness. And guess what? You’ve joined their ranks. No, you’re not a prophet in the sense that Ezekiel or Amos were. But you are God's "mouth" in a very real sense. He's gifted you with his Message. It’s the infallible message about his Son Jesus: How we all need him, who he is, what he did for us, and what he offers us.

            This might not be too popular. Scratch that—It won’t be popular. No one likes to be told they're wrong, and the Message about Jesus in particular is offensive to our self-righteousness, pride, and love for sin. That’s why Paul talked about the “offense of the cross.” Let me reiterate and clarify: The Message of Jesus, faithfully presented, will offend the nonbeliever. You can present it as best and attractively as you can, but we have to face this truth and prepare ourselves.

            Can I just be brutally frank here? This (understandable) desire to keep people thinking well of us is just something we’re going to have to get over. There’s no nice way to say it. Ezekiel was a messenger sent from the Lord, and was told to tell a sinful people that they were heading for judgment. And the One who sent him also gave the warning recorded in today’s passage: If he (Ezekiel) refused to go and tell the truth, then the Lord would hold him (Ezekiel) accountable for that person’s blood. He would have that person’s blood on his hands. The implication for us is pretty obvious, you think?

            But here comes the removal of another burden, which is the good news here:

2)      You're not responsible for the response of others. 
If you faithfully present the Good News about Jesus as attractively as you can, pray for the Spirit to open their eyes and draw them to the Truth and do your best so that your lifestyle and beliefs are consistent, then you’ve done all you can do. Again, let me reiterate and clarify: You're not responsible for anyone’s response to the Message.

            Christians of different backgrounds can argue over what happens once you share the message with them. Some say it’s all up to God, while others say it’s up to that individual. I think it’s both. But what we’re all agreed on is that once you share the Good News with someone, you’re no longer responsible for that person’s response.

            This should come as a relief for you. It's not your job to convince anyone to receive Christ as Savior. Some of us might be called to “defend” the faith, to be experts in apologetics. But I think that Jesus desires more witnesses than defenders. It’s not the job of a witness in a courtroom to convince anyone of anything. All a witness is there to do is relate—factually and honestly—what he’s experienced.

            Just present the truth as best as you can, led and empowered by his Spirit, and your Father will be plenty pleased with you. See, I told you I’d lighten your load.

Father God, it's so easy to care too much about what people think of me. I give in to fear way too often. I don’t want to offend anyone. But that’s not obedient to you or loving to them. Please, when you’re calling me to speak, give me the courage and wisdom to do it.

[April 20]--The Best News They’ve Never Heard! Part Three: How Tough?

Mark 10:17-24

            If you’ve been a faithful reader of this blog, you might've noticed that I’ve discussed this story back when we were studying the book of Mark. I made some points that will overlap what I’m going to say here, but there’s enough new material that I feel it justifies spending another posting on it in a mini-series on evangelism. I'd recommend that you read it if you haven’t already, since there are some sticky issues with this passage which I address there and not here.
            The problem I want to address with this story is a tendency I see in a lot of evangelism. I don’t have any softer way to put it: We make it too easy for people to come to Christ.
            What?! Keith, are you crazy? I thought that we’re supposed to want as many people to come to Christ as possible!! In fact, I thought that God wants as many people to come to him as possible. Well, there’s a case to be made for that. If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you know my litany: He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked but rather that they turn from their ways and live. He’s not willing that anyone perish but that all come to repentance. He wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
            All of this is absolutely true. So what do I mean? I mean that in our eagerness to see someone “accept Jesus,” we fly through our explanation and end up leaving them with false assurance.
            We can do this with two ways: Someone might not really understand that they’re a sinner in desperate need of a Savior. I think this was the rich young ruler’s problem in today’s reading. Why did Jesus not start out with the Roman Road of salvation with him or something similar? True, the cross was still in the future, but when the seeker asks him “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” he didn't tell him “Realize that you’re a sinner and place your faith in me.” He led the young man right back to the Law, to the commandments. If the young man was ready, as Spurgeon quipped, instead of saying “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he should've said “All these I have broken since I was a boy.”
            That would've shown he was ready for the next step: Actually placing his faith in Jesus to save and forgive him. But his self-righteous response showed he didn’t know this. As someone once said, “You have to get someone lost before you get them saved.” If they don’t know and realize that they’re lost and in desperate need of a Savior, there’s little point in telling them about what Jesus did for them.
            The second problem with some evangelism is illustrated by the young man’s second answer. Jesus told him “One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” The young man gave an answer to this when he walked away "sad." He was sad, but he walked away, which meant he was telling Jesus “No,” or “Not yet,” (which of course also means “No”).
            This highlights the second aspect that I think is missing from much modern evangelism: A call to repentance. That’s a three dollar word meaning that you resolve to stop doing things your way and to start doing things God’s way (with his help). It’s a change of heart that will express itself in a change of behavior.
            Now, I need to reemphasize something I said in the earlier posting on this: This story is not the end-all and be-all of biblical evangelism. From the rest of the Bible, we know that Jesus doesn't require every prospective follower to sell everything he has and give it to the poor, and the rest of Scripture is crystal clear that we're saved by grace through faith in Christ plus nothing. This was a requirement that Christ placed on this young man because he (Jesus) saw that the young man wasn’t ready to surrender his life, which was demonstrated by his walking away. He had no self-awareness of his sin, and thus wasn't ready at all to do what it takes to become a follower.
            This is a word of warning to all of us who are sooooo anxious to see someone “walking down the aisle” and signing a card and joining a church and being baptized that we fail to present how much we all need a Savior--and the claims of Christ on a believer--in full.  And if someone did all these things (e.g., walking the aisle) and never is truly saved, I’d submit that they’re probably worse off than before. False assurance is a deadly enemy to the soul, and I think we’re going to be held accountable someday for that.
Father God, I want to please people, and I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. That’s natural. But the last thing I want to be is responsible for someone not making it into your Kingdom. Please set a guard over my mouth so that I say nothing that doesn’t come straight from you. 

[April 19]--The Best News They’ve Never Heard! Part Two: What?

Well, today's Good Friday. I don't have a posting of original material on Good Friday as such, but today's devotional is sort of relevant, since it talks about what exactly the Good News is. If you'd like a posting that talks about the subject of what we're commemorating today, I have one here.

1 Cor. 15:3-8

            So we talked about why we should the Good News about Jesus with others. But what should we share? What exactly is the Good News?
            Before we get to that, perhaps I should explain some terminology I’ve been using. You’ll notice I don’t use the term gospel in referring to what we tell lost people in order to lead them to Christ, as in "We need to share the gospel of Jesus Christ." There’s a reason for that. The term gospel literally means “good news,” and so I thought it’d be clearer to use “good news” or “message.” When I do use the term “Gospel,” I use it to refer to the four inspired biographies of Jesus which we have: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I use the term “good news” or “message” about Jesus because that’s what it is: good news. It's telling people about a series of events and asking them to take part in it, to appropriate this news for themselves. Is this terminology something I’d fight and die for? Of course not. I just thought you might be wondering why I don’t use the same words that others use.
            So what is the message that we should be proclaiming? I’d submit that today’s passage provides a good start for us. Paul told the Corinthians that the most important thing he proclaimed to them, what he considered “of first importance,” was pretty simple: Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures. He was buried, and he rose again three days later, according to the Scriptures. I think if you don’t have these things down, you’ve missed it.
            Of course, in order for us to appropriate the good news, we have to take in the bad news first. A doctor can’t prescribe a good treatment unless and until he’s come up with a good diagnosis. I’ve talked about this before: Paul spends the 1st three chapters of Romans telling us the bad news. In a nutshell, we’re sinners before a holy and righteous God. All of us. And he must punish sin. And ultimately there’s only one punishment he has available. You can put it in different ways, but we can’t sugarcoat the truth.
            As to the solution, that’s listed in today’s passage, as we noted before. Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again.
            As to how exactly to appropriate this good news, I’ve spoken about that before as well. Simply put, you put your trust in Christ and submit to his leadership in your life.
            Now, what about the fine particulars of theology? Does someone need to believe in, say, the Trinity? Well, John wrote a letter to Christians so that they could test themselves to see if they were truly saved. Among the tests he submitted was whether or not one believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God who came in the flesh. Now, does someone need to really know and believe these things in order to be saved? Heck, I don’t fully understand the ins and outs of the Incarnation and the Trinity. So I wouldn’t say that someone necessarily needs to know about those things in order to come to Christ, to come in through “the front door,” so to speak. But over time, a true child of God will come to a deeper and more meaningful understanding of the Savior who rescued them, and if they don’t, something’s wrong. John’s point seems to be that especially if someone denies these things, their salvation is suspect at best.
            My overall point here is this. When Paul was talking about what was “of first importance,” he didn’t talk about the End Times or baptism or Gifts of the Spirit. In his mind, the main things were 1) Christ died for our sins, 2) was buried, and 3) rose again.  That’s the main thing. When talking to someone who doesn’t know Christ, it’s best to stick to what’s essential. What will bring them into Heaven, and what will keep them out?

Father God, so often I let myself get distracted by things which are NOT important when it comes to the Good News. When I present the Message of Jesus, let it be simply that, not my opinions or thoughts or anything else. By your grace. 

[April 18]—The Best News They’ve Never Heard! Part One: Why?

Rev. 20:11-14; Matt 28:18-20; Eph. 1:11-14

Yesterday we ended the book of Daniel with a reference to evangelism. Daniel said that those who “lead many to righteousness [will shine] like the stars for ever and ever.” I think that’s a great segue into a subject I’ve been wanting to bring up for some time, namely evangelism. Of course, this isn’t a full course like Evangelism Explosion or anything like that. But I think I’m qualified to teach a short primer on it.

Today we’re going to talk about the need. Now, before you check out and say “Thanks Keith, but I know that people are going to Hell. What I need is to be able to witness to them,” you might be surprised by what I have to say on it.

Before we get to the surprising part, let’s get to the stuff you’re expecting me to say. Yes, there is a Hell. Please read the passage from Revelation again.

It's real. It's eternal. Once you get in, you’re never leaving. Is it literal fire? Here’s my answer to the question: If it isn’t literal fire like we understand fire, it’s worse. God has a tendency to use human terms that we can understand in order to convey spiritual reality that we haven’t experienced.

And everyone who doesn't have faith in Jesus Christ is going there. Any family that you have who’s not a believer. That really nice Jewish doctor who treats your mother. The kind Buddhist who’s polite to you in the grocery checkout line. This is what the Bible unambiguously teaches. You might disbelieve it or dispute it, but that's what it teaches.

Another reason? Please forgive me for stating the obvious, but I think we tend to forget it: Our Lord commanded it. The passage from Matthew is one of the most famous in the Bible, at least for those who take commands from the Lord seriously. The same God who told us “Don’t steal,” “Don’t commit adultery,” and “No other gods besides me,” also told us to go and make disciples of all nations. This is not an option.

The third reason is one you might not have thought before. In a man-centered culture, this escapes a lot of Bible-believing Christians. I heard it from John Piper, but I’m sure he’s not the one who originated it. Here it is: The glory and honor of God. Every person who's not believing in--and submitting to--Christ is depriving the Lord of the rightful glory and honor that belongs to him.

That’s the conclusion I draw from the Ephesian passage. Why were you saved? Was it mainly for your sake? Was it out of compassion for you? Yes, he has compassion for you. Yes, you’re a beneficiary of all this. But you were not saved for your own sake. You were saved in order to bring glory to the One who saved you. See how many times Paul mentions this here: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. . .” “for the praise of his glory,” “to the praise of his glory.” This is why you were saved. Not to be too crude about it, but in a sense your purpose of existence and in salvation is to be. . . a living trophy. Forever and forever and forever my every being and action will be to praise and honor and magnify and worship and give credit to my Savior.

And he deserves it. Every bit of it. Every moment of it.

And the flip side of this, obviously, is that every person who’s out there who’s not part of this is depriving God of what belongs to him. That person is a thief.

That’s what I’d like to have as my main motivation, by the way. Compassion for the lost is a wonderful thing. If a believer is fervently witnessing because he doesn’t want anyone to go to Hell, I certainly don’t want to do anything to discourage him. And it is an issue of obedience to Christ’s explicit command. But most importantly, above all, I want my Savior to get what he deserves.

Lord Jesus, you deserve it. Every part of me, and every part of everyone else. You deserve the honor and praise and worship and thanksgiving. What can I do to help that along?

[April 17]—Shining Like Stars

Daniel 12

            Probably you’ve noticed that we’ve skipped quite a bit of Daniel. There are multiple reasons for this. Please keep in mind that this is a devotional, not a verse-by-verse commentary. On top of this, there’s a lot in Daniel that’s obscure or difficult to understand and open to different interpretations. And although I do have my interpretations of his future prophecies, those interpretations aren’t immediately relevant to a Christian’s daily walk with the Savior, so they're beyond the purview of this blog.
            All that’s to say this is the last reading we have in Daniel. He’s likely an old man now, near the end of his time on earth. He’s seen a lot in his years: the fall of his beloved nation, exile into Babylon, training as a civil servant, and his adventures both with his three friends and alone. He’s seen an angel shut the mouths of starving lions, and he’s seen mysterious and mind-blowing visions of what’s to come. And now he’s coming to the end of the journey. No, scratch that—he’s coming to the beginning of the next stage. He’s coming into his appointed rest, awaiting the day when his Lord calls his name and bids him come out of his grave.
            Before we say farewell to Daniel, there are two main points I’d like to take from the last chapter of the book bearing his name. They’re sort of out of order. First, I’d like to point out something from vss. 8-10. We need to remind ourselves of the true purpose of prophecy. Daniel asked the angel guiding him for further details about what he saw. Understandably he wanted fuller understanding of these visions. The angel’s response basically translates into “Don’t worry about it, Daniel. You already know everything you need to know for now.”
And then the angel provides a mysterious statement about the righteous and the wicked: “Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand.” You know what this says to me? The purpose of prophecy is not to tickle the ears--or even lead to repentance--of those who are lost. It’s there to “purify” believers. It’s there to spur us on to action. It’s there to comfort us. It’s there to strengthen our faith. But I would not get into a discussion about the End Times with a nonbeliever. In the vast majority of cases, it’s not going to do any good. But just to be clear, I’m not referring to talking about general topics such as the Judgment to come or how to get into Heaven. But the specifics, like Pre-Trib versus Post-Trib? Save that for conversations among believers.
The second point I’d like to make is based on vs. 3. The first phrase in the verse could be translated as “those who are wise,” but I prefer the alternative in the footnote: “who impart wisdom,” since it fits much better with the second half of the verse: It praises those who lead people to righteousness as shining like stars forever and ever.
Let this be either an encouragement or an admonishment, whichever fits. It’s not just referring to evangelists (those who lead others to faith in Christ), although that’s certainly included. No, it says that those who lead others to righteousness. If you admonish a sibling in Christ to be more obedient, I think this includes you. If you provide a good example which serves as a rebuke, this is talking about you. But especially if you have the glorious privilege of actually leading someone to faith in Christ, you’re going to shine, reflecting your Lord's glory for all eternity.
And my friend, if you’re leading others towards Christ, then you’re shining right now. In the spiritual realm you’re like diamonds on felt. You’re a candle in a very very dark place. Take heart, and try to brighten your corner as much as you can. In this world, we need all the light we can get.

Lord Jesus, for all those in my life who have led me towards righteousness--in other words, towards you—I thank you. Please, by your grace, let me shine. In this world, and in the next. 

[April 16]—Integrity Check

Daniel 6:1-5

            You know, with all the scandals of famous preachers over the last few decades, there’s one preacher who's stood out as a beacon of integrity. You might've guessed I’m talking about Billy Graham. He preached the Good News for 60 plus years, and he was committed to continuing as long as his health allowed. Apparently the only One who could cause him to retire was the Lord Jesus himself. Earth is certainly poorer due to his passing.  And in all those years, there’s never been even a whiff of a scandal. Journalists who are instinctively skeptical and even hostile towards Bible-believing preachers have investigated his finances with a fine-tooth comb, looking for anything that would make their careers, and they’ve come up with bubkes.
Why is that? What separated Billy Graham from all the other preachers who’ve made headlines in a bad way? I don’t think it’s just one thing. He certainly believed in accountability. His financial books were open for anyone to look at. He made it a strict policy never ever ever to be alone with a woman who’s not his wife or relative. But most importantly he lived with a strong sense of accountability before his Lord and Savior. I’m sure the very thought that he’d bring shame to the Name before the world was his greatest fear, but he also knows that there’s One he’ll have to give an account to someday, and that’s the only one who ultimately counts.
I thought of him as I read this story. Now of course we need to be careful in our wording here. All of us are sinners before God, and in an ultimate sense none of us deserve anything from him except judgment. But before people, it’s entirely possible to be classified as a “good” man or a “bad” man.
That brings up another question: How much should we value the moral evaluations of our enemies? Supposedly they’re not motivated by compassion towards us; by definition they’re not looking after our best interests. And naturally—as I mentioned before—ultimately the only One whose opinion of me matters is my Lord's. But I think it’s good to listen to what “the other side” is saying about us. Remember—as if I could let you forget for long!---that we’re all masters of self-deception. And the Holy Spirit might just be using someone who even hates us in order to identify a point of weakness for us.
But now we get to the main point I’d like to draw from this. This stands as a firm rebuke for me. Fortunately, most of us don’t have too many (human) enemies who really wish us ill or dead. But if I did. . . if I really had someone or a group of someones who wanted to bring me down, I really hope and pray that we’d see a repeat of today’s passage.
            Think about it. These men were insanely threatened and jealous by Daniel’s rise. They held nothing back in their hatred of him and in their willingness to do anything to bring him down. They examined his work, his personal life, his loyalties, friendships, etc. No doubt they spared no expense in digging up any “dirt” they could on him. If there was something that even could've been possibly misconstrued and exaggerated into a scandal, they would've latched onto it like a drowning man with a life preserver. If they could've just made something up with any credibility at all, they would have.
            And with all their efforts, they came up with. . . bubkes. “They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.”
            After all that effort, they came to the conclusion that “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.”
            My friend, I want to live such a life before men so that if I had enemies like Daniel did, they’d have to come to the same conclusion as these men.
            To me, this is a great matter for prayer. A lost world is watching, a world that’s looking for any excuse to dismiss the Message of Jesus. Let’s not give them one, shall we?

Lord Jesus, I remember that on a much greater scale, your enemies at your trial couldn’t come up with anything either. Seriously, I want to be more like you. By your grace.

[April 15]—A Change In Diet That Worked Wonders!

Daniel 4:4-32

            First off, I apologize for the length of today’s reading. I usually try to keep it down to 10-15 verses, but in this case it was unavoidable. I couldn’t find any small set of verses that summarized the story well enough.
            I have a confession to make besides the apology: Another reason I didn’t have the heart to abridge it was because this is one of my favorite stories in all of Scripture. It’s not as famous as Daniel in the lions’ den or the young men in the blazing furnace, but that’s actually a plus for me. If you’re not as familiar with it, then there’s a slightly better chance I’ll say something you haven’t heard before.
            Remember when both Jack Dawson and James Cameron loudly proclaimed that they were “The King of the World”? Well, Nebuchadnezzar actually could make a case that he was, in fact, King of the World. Nobody stood up to his armies and won. He was the proverbial 900 lb gorilla, going wherever he pleased.
            Then he had a dream, probably near the end of his life. He saw a tree, strong, proud, providing shelter to all sorts of animals. A holy messenger from the Heavens proclaimed that this great tree was about to have its limbs lopped off, sending all the animals fleeing. Then, dispensing with all pretence of symbolism, the messenger proclaimed that “[he would] be drenched with the dew of heaven; [he would] live with the wild animals, until seven times pass by for him."
            What exactly was the time period the angel was referring to? We’re not sure, and the language isn’t clear. It might mean days, seasons, or years. And to add to the confusion, seven was the number of completion, so “seven periods of time” could just mean “until the time is completed,” or “until God determines that he’s had enough.” Seven days would probably not cause a man's fingernails to grow as long as described, but the exact length of time isn't all that important. The king went to his most trusted servant, and that servant had to deliver the bad news.
Apparently the monarch was too foolish to really listen to what Daniel said, because a year later, he was walking on the roof of his palace, seemingly the master of all he surveyed. Just for fun, count the number of times he used “I” and “me” and “my.” This was all for his glory, all that he had built.
Um, no. The Lord came down and said, “Maybe a change in your diet will change that attitude.” Yeah, a diet of grass and dew. For a long period of time, he literally lost his mind and it was replaced with that of an animal. His hair grew to be like “the feathers of an eagle,” and his fingernails became like a bird’s claws.
And then finally he quite literally came to his senses. He realized how foolish he had been, and he actually composed a hymn of praise to the Almighty. He saw that in the eyes of the Lord God, all the might and glory and honor that he (the king) had accrued was absolutely worthless and could be removed in an instant at a whim. He learned the hard way that

His dominion is an eternal dominion;
   his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
All the peoples of the earth
   are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases
   with the powers of heaven
   and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
   or say to him: “What have you done?”

            This is a great corrective to both our pride and to our fear. To any of us who start spouting off “I” and “me” and “my” statements, this stands as a warning. To those of us who fear where the world is heading, it reminds us that our Father is in charge.
And finally it offers a word of hope and reconciliation. One of the wickedest and proudest and ungodly men in history was brought to his knees (literally and spiritually) and acknowledged who really is in charge. When he did, he was given back everything he had lost, and then some. I might be wrong, but I sincerely think that I’ll meet Nebuchadnezzar some day in Glory. I hope so.

Father, you are God. I’m not. You’re in charge of everything, I’m not. How humbling, how refreshing, how comforting, how. . .wonderful. 

[April 14]—The Fourth Man

Daniel 3:19-30

            Wise Solomon warned against angering a king: “A king’s wrath strikes terror like the roar of a lion; those who anger him forfeit their lives.” For exhibit “A” we can turn to today’s passage. Nebuchadnezzar was trying to give them another chance, which he probably wouldn’t have offered someone who didn’t already have his favor. They respectfully but flatly turned down his gracious offer. And he got so angry he didn’t even think. Think about it—the furnace was (I’m sure) plenty hot to burn a man to death, but that wasn’t good enough for him. He wanted the furnace so hot that it wouldn’t just burn them, it would disintegrate them. It was so hot that the soldiers who threw them in died from the heat. In they went into the furnace.
            Unless you’re completely new to the stories in the Bible, you know how this ends. I mean, this is one of the famous narratives in the whole Bible. It was told to me multiple times to me as a child. So for most of my readers, I’m not going to tell you much that you’re completely unfamiliar with.
            I’d like to say first of all that this would make an awesome movie. I love the drama here—it looks like it was tailor-made for it. The king sees the figures walking around in the flames, not screaming in agony, and he notices something. He asks his advisers, “Didn’t we throw three men into the furnace?”
            Once they respond in the affirmative, we come to a little bit of a controversy. The first question to ask is, “What did the king actually say?” Different translations render it as either “like a son of the gods” or “like the son of God.” OK, being a follower of Christ means I have to be honest. The most likely explanation is that he said it was “a son of the gods,” both for translation and other reasons. It’s highly unlikely that this one incident in front of him revealed the truth of monotheism to him.
            Also, the well-meaning people who take Nebuchadnezzar’s exclamation as a proclamation of the Trinity need to stop doing so. It might have been Jesus who was with them in the furnace. But the king's words aren’t giving us insight into who exactly that was. All he’s saying is that the “man” walking around with them had something different about him, and was obviously not human.
            Then we come to the second intriguing question raised: “Who was the fourth man?” Well, it seems to me that it’s either 1) An angel, or 2) Jesus himself. Quite frankly, I’d like to think that it was Jesus himself, but it certainly isn’t a “hill to die on.” The Scripture tells us that he uses his servants to guard us, and that could be the case here.
            And ultimately it doesn’t really matter and doesn’t affect my theology either way. Whether it was an angel or the Son of God that the king actually saw, the Lord was with them.
            The lesson here seems obvious to me. When you stand up for what’s right, when you defy the spirit of the age and the powers of this world in order to obey your King, you never stand alone. Even if no other human stands with you, you still are never alone.
            He is with you. He stands with you.
            Even if he doesn’t physically rescue you like he did these three men, he is still with you, and either in this world or in the next one, he'll vindicate that trust. He’s never failed anyone who trusted in him, and he’s not about to start with you.

Lord Jesus, whenever I’m in the fire, you are there. You’re never going to leave me or forsake me, and I trust in you. Oh for grace, to trust you more!

[April 13]—The Ultimate Nonconformists

Daniel 3:1-18

            I do have to admit, I’m pretty reluctant to talk about today’s passage. Not that I dislike the story—On the contrary, it’s one of my favorites. My main issue is that the story is one of the most famous in the Bible, so if you know anything about the Bible at all, it’s going to be difficult to say anything you haven’t heard before.
            I frequently have a good laugh at alleged nonconformists. They rail against “sheeple,” by which they usually mean the population at large which disagrees with them. If most people believe X, then they go out of their way to believe and proclaim (usually very obnoxiously) that they believe in non-X, and they completely disparage anyone who doesn’t agree with them. The ironic thing is that they usually congregate with people who agree with them, who dress like them, and who have the same tastes in movies, TV, music, etc. They want to be nonconformists, and in their efforts they end up looking exactly like their peers.
            Take Hollywood for example. Every year or so there’s a new movie that’s supposed to be controversial and “brave” and “daring,” usually by advancing what the vast majority of people in Hollywood support. So if a movie sanctions and promotes abortion, then to them that’s laudable. But of course it’s not brave or particularly courageous. The movie’s producers and directors and actors are presenting a worldview which is completely in sync with their peers. They’re going to get nothing but applause from the people they care about. Now, what if an actor came out as a Pro-Life Christian in Hollywood? What do you think would happen to their career? What do you think would be the reaction of their fellows in the entertainment industry?
            That brings us to today’s narrative. The king decided to build a statue, and in true kingly fashion proclaimed a law that everyone, small and great, must bow down before his statue. Did most people really believe that the statue was a god to be worshipped? Of course not. But if he knew this, he didn’t care.
            Notice the tolerant spirit he displayed. He didn’t really care what you believed or worshipped, as long as you bowed down when the music played.
            How easy it would be to go along to get along! A believer in the true God could easily rationalize it to himself: “As long as I worship the Lord in my heart, what does it matter, really? I’ll just give in on this one minor point, and let God have everything else in my life.”
            But that wasn’t good enough for the Holy One of Israel, and the One who was the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. He'd made it clear: His people are to bow to no other gods. Ever.
            On a side note, we do have to ask: Where was Daniel in this story? Was he exempt because of his high position? Was he traveling? In a moment of weakness, did he bow? We don’t know. We do know in his later years he was perfectly willing to lay down his life as a matter of principle of worship. I hope there’s a legitimate reason why he’s not mentioned here among his friends. I also know quite well that if he did bow, I'm certainly not his judge, and I can’t claim I would've done any better in his shoes.
            It’s quite a poignant and dramatic scene, isn’t it? The whole kingdom is bowing before this statue under threat of death, except for three lonely young men. They stand tall. They’re respectful, yet ultimately defy the king, all because they love their Lord better than life itself. I especially love the way they answer the king’s demands: The God we worship is certainly able to rescue us, your Majesty. “But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” It gives me chills just picturing it.
            Wow, do we ever need this spirit today! I understand that it’s possible to fall off in the other direction, becoming a monk in fact if not in name. Some sincere believers give so much emphasis on nonconformity that they still let the world control them. If the world tells them to do X, they’ll do non-X just because X is popular. That’s still letting the world control what you do.
            But I think it’s much more common among Christians in America to conform to the world waaaaay too much. We watch the same TV shows, we go to the same movies, we adhere to the same politics, and generally lead the same lifestyle as those around us who aren't followers of Jesus. I think we could all stand to catch a little more of the spirit of these young men.
             I know I do.

Father God, how often do I let the world determine my direction! How easy it is to go along with what everyone else is doing! Please give me the courage and wisdom to do what’s right, to make a stand when everyone around me is bowing down to a false god. Please be with me. 

[April 12]—A Diet That Works!

Daniel 1:1-21

            You hear about it every day: Someone’s come up with a new diet, and—we’re serious this time, no, really we mean it—it’s a miracle! Eat no bread or starches, only meat. Only drink prune juice. Only eat things that are naturally grown.
            If you’ve read the Scripture reading from above, my segue was painfully obvious. King Nebuchadnezzar finally captured Jerusalem as the final jewel in his crown, and he set about making changes. He took the best of the best, the crème de la crème, and claimed them for his own court. No one who wasn’t handsome, bright, educated, and quick-thinking need apply. Of course, these young men didn’t apply for this job. They were forced into it at the point of a sword.
            But even in these darkest of days, the Lord is working behind the scenes to accomplish his purposes. His choice servants, at least the ones who prominently enter this story, are four young godly men: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. You already see his sovereignty at work a few verses into the book: He gave his servants favor in the eyes of the chief official in charge of them. In other words, the Lord—working in perfect sync with human will—made the official more positively disposed towards them.
            Now we come to the diet part. What exactly was Daniel and co.’s problem with the food and wine? Does God expect all of us to become vegetarians? Of course not. Our Savior had no problem eating meat while on earth. But the problem mainly was the food itself. I promise you, the restaurants in Babylon didn’t have a kosher section. What exactly was the problem with the wine isn’t as clear, but apparently Daniel and co. had an issue with that as well.
            So he made a proposal to their guard: Give us vegetables and water for ten days, and let the other boys eat the rich food and wine from the king’s table, and we’ll see which group is better.
            But now we have a need for clarity. The diet I’m talking about is not a nutritional plan. It’s a spiritual one. Eating vegetables and drinking water wasn't Daniel’s formula for success.
            What was Daniel’s formula for success? What was his priority? Doing things God’s way. There’s nothing wrong with eating meat, and the Bible itself doesn’t command teetotalism. And as N.T. believers we don’t have any food taboos. No, the first and only priority on their mind was pleasing and obeying God. And that should be ours as well.
            That also means sacrifices for the sake of God’s kingdom. It means that your Father might call upon you to give up something that as a believer you normally wouldn’t be forbidden. Let’s take money for example. There’s nothing wrong with making money in and of itself. Just because a believer’s wealthy doesn’t mean he's disobedient. But our Savior, when he called people to follow him, commanded some of them to give up everything they owned, while others he didn’t, like Mary, Martha and Lazarus.
            But the point here is that he has the right to do so. Please get it into your head: You don’t belong to yourself. You belong to your Lord, twice over—once because he made you, and twice because he bought you. And part of that package deal is that he reserves the right to ask that you give up whatever needs to be sacrificed for the Kingdom.
            Something else we need to notice here: Our Lord doesn’t call upon us to make sacrifices because he hates to see us prosperous or happy or fell-fed. He calls for them because they fit into his plan to glorify his Name among the nations. In Daniel and co.’s case, this was to put them to the head of the pack. The Lord used their sacrifice to advance his Kingdom purposes, and of course they made out pretty well out of the deal.
            If the Lord asks you to give something up, trust him and do it. He’ll take that small thing you give up, and in the end you’ll be glad you did. Remember, no one in the history of mankind has ever done things God’s way who ended up regretting it.
            What are you waiting for? Try it out.

Father whatever you ask of me, the answer’s “Yes.” What else could it be? 

[April 11]—Putting Yourself Under The Knife

Heb 4:12

            We’ve spent the last few days talking about being accountable and examined by the Lord and fellow believers. Before we get to Daniel, I’d like to share some thoughts about being accountable to his word.
            Now, this next statement might surprise you: There’s no command in Scripture to read the Bible every day. It’s not there. There’s plenty of encouragement and example, but no command. Of course, part of this could be because the vast majority of people in history have been illiterate. I don’t think God could hold people accountable for something they were incapable of doing.
            But if you can read—and since this is a blog, I’d assume you can—then you don’t have an excuse in that department. And if you love the Lord, don’t you want to hear what he has to say to you? Yes, he speaks to us through the Holy Spirit, but not in the concrete, irrefutable way he does through Scripture. Remember, we’re all masters of self-deception, but his word has a way of cutting through the nonsensical excuses we’ve erected, and it’s the Holy Spirit’s main way of speaking to us. If you’re asking for a “word from the Lord” in some mystical experience and haven’t spent time searching the Scriptures, you’re wasting your time.
            So you’ve committed yourself to reading God’s word daily. How can you apply it? Well, if you don’t have anything better, I have a suggestion.
            I can’t take credit for what follows. I don’t know if it was original with them, but I got this pneumonic device from Navigators LifeChange series. When you see a passage of Scripture, ask yourself 5 questions based on the word SPECK.

Is there a SIN I need to avoid? You might read a list of sins in one of the epistles of Paul or others.

Is there a PROMISE I need to claim?  Your Savior has “great and precious promises” for you in his love letter to you. He'll never leave you nor forsake you. He'll take care of all your needs according to his riches in Christ Jesus. He forgives your sins and remembers them no more. He has a home he’s preparing for us, and he’s coming back to take us there.

Is there an EXAMPLE  I need to follow or avoid? As I’ve mentioned before, it seems like the purpose some people have on this planet is to provide a negative example for us to avoid. Even the best of us--apart from Christ--have failures on our record, and the Bible’s excruciatingly blunt about the failures of its heroes. But having said that, there’s plenty in there for us to look at and say “I want to be like that!” Or you might say “Man, I sure don’t want to end up like him!”

Is there a COMMAND I need to obey? Not much more to say about this one. Just in case you’re wondering, God doesn’t give advice or suggestions. He’s not Dear Abby.

How does this passage increase my KNOWLEDGE about him? Quite frankly, I think this gets downplayed way too much among modern Christians. We emphasize so much that each of us needs a personal relationship with Christ, that it’s not enough to know things about him. And there’s a lot of truth in that. James tells us that the demons believe in God. They know very well the relevant facts about him. But they don’t know him personally.
            But along with that, we also need to know certain facts about our Lord. There are certain things which are true about him and other things which are not true, and it’s vitally important that we take extreme care in our thinking about him. Just like good theology, bad theology doesn’t stay by itself for long. Sloppy thinking about God does not honor him.
            Anyway, that’s a nice little device I read some time ago which is a good place to start. If you have a study method that works for you, then more power to you. May his word continually be a scalpel in the Spirit’s surgical hand: Cutting away the parts of us which don’t look like Jesus, and healing where he cuts.

Yes, Holy Spirit, that’s what I want. I don’t want to examine your word so much as I want your word to examine me. Please. 

[April 10]—If You Love Me, Hit Me

Psalm 141:4-5; Proverbs 27:17; James 5:16

            Over the last couple of days we’ve been talking about accountability to our Father, asking him to point out areas in which we’ve disobeyed and disappointed him. Today I’d like to focus on another aspect, another “outside audit” that we need on a regular basis. In case you haven’t figured it out from the passages, I’m talking about “horizontal” accountability as opposed to “vertical” accountability, namely towards godly friends.
            The title for today’s post comes from the first passage. I think this passage from the Psalm is really is high point for David. When someone comes up and “strikes” me with a word of rebuke, what’s my instinctual response? Of course the natural thing to do is to retaliate or defend myself: “You’re one to talk! What about the time. . .!” “But I had a really good excuse for doing what I did. . .”
            That’s not David’s response, at least not what he wanted it to be. If a righteous man struck him, he considered it an act of  kindness. To pour oil on someone’s head was a way of honoring someone. If you had a guest in your home, for example, you might pour olive oil on their head. And they poured oil on someone’s head to appoint them to an official office or important task. That’s how David saw a rebuke from a righteous man.
            Two quick points before we move to the other passages: First, this mainly applied to a righteous man’s rebuke. Now, a nonbeliever might have something important to say to you, and he still might have caught something about you that you’ve missed. But he doesn’t have access to the Spirit of Wisdom who dwells inside every believer. So be careful of who you take counsel from. And second, the reason David called a rebuke from a righteous man oil on the head? It’s an honor. So how is a righteous man showing you honor by rebuking you? By sharing the truth in love, he’s showing he cares about you and respects you enough to try to call you back into line with what God says.
            On the second passage we have a well-known proverb: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Notice the image here: Iron sharpening iron. These are two essentially equal materials. We don’t see a diamond sharpening iron. This reminds me that when you have two Christians and one of them rebukes the other, it doesn’t matter if one of them is more godly than the other or more mature than the other. They're essentially—and I mean it literally, in their essence—the same. The one who rebukes must put away any feelings of pride or superiority. You’re not superior.
            It also reminds me that I can be profit from being rebuked by a less mature Christian. I have my blind spots just like everyone else. I can easily see how even a new believer might see something in my life that I—in my mastery of self-deception—have missed.
            Then we come to the last passage in this short montage. James urges—no, it’s a command to do two things. We need to confess our sins to each other and to pray for each other. The reason why we confess to each other is not so one of us can judge the other or condemn the other. Again, we’re “iron sharpening iron.”
            A word of caution here: Based on the verses we’ve read today and in the context of the whole of Scripture, obviously James doesn’t mean that we’re supposed to share our secret sins with just anyone, or even with just any believer. You need to find someone you trust, someone whose life direction is towards Christ-likeness, and ideally one who can personally relate to your sin issue, who struggles in the same areas you do.
            My friend, this world can be a dark and lonely place. When the Holy Spirit tells us thru his inspired word that we need to help and get help from each other in this area, he means it.
            So whom can you approach about this today?

Father, I have some friends who fit into this category. They’re more precious to me than their weight in gold. Please help me be a true friend to them, and when they “strike” me, help me respond like David did.