WHAT WOULD YOU DO? (Daniel – part 2)

Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. [Isaiah 43:1b-3 (NLT)]

climbing asterOne night King Nebuchadnezzar had a disturbing dream and asked the court’s wise men to interpret it. Whether he couldn’t remember it (as happens with dreams) or, being obstinate, wanted to test the soothsayers and astrologers, we don’t know, but the king expected them to tell him the dream’s meaning without his revealing its content. Indignant at their failure to do so, he ordered the execution of all of Babylon’s counselors (which included Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego). Daniel approached the king and asked for time so that he could discover the dream’s meaning.

That evening the four men pled with God for His mercy and, during the night, the dream’s meaning was revealed to Daniel. After praising God for His revelation, Daniel correctly interpreted the king’s dream. In appreciation, the king praised Daniel’s God, chose Daniel for his court, and appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as administrators over Babylon. While Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged that Daniel’s God was the greatest of gods, he never understood that Daniel’s God was the one and only God!

A large statue, only the head of which was gold, had been part of Nebuchadnezzar’s troubling dream. Perhaps, thinking he could change prophecy’s prediction that his kingdom would come to an end, he erected an enormous statue on a pedestal that was entirely overlaid with gold. When all of the officials were gathered around this ninety foot colossus, it was commanded that everyone, both foreign and Babylonian, was to bow to the image and worship it; those who disobeyed would be thrown into a blazing furnace. When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down, the king flew into a rage. Even when they were given a second chance, the men refused to worship the idol.

This was the kind of furnace used to bake bricks or smelt metal. We’re not talking third degree burns here; with a temperature of 1,800 degrees, they’d be cremated! The three, however, had faith in the God they served. This knew the God who kept them healthy and gave them wisdom was both good and powerful. Although confident that He could save them, they also knew that He might not choose to do so. Placing their lives in the hands of God, the three friends stood strong! Although thrown into the furnace, the Angel of the Lord saved them, and the men exited the furnace unharmed.

We only have to look at the fates of most of the disciples to know that angels won’t always save the faithful from incineration or open the doors to their prison cells. The disciples were imprisoned, beheaded, crucified, stoned, and beaten. Sadly, in some places, martyrdom of Christ’s followers continues today. The three men’s statement of faith is one of the strongest we’ll find throughout Scripture. Knowing there was no chance of survival, would we trust God as did they? Could we remain as faithful and strong as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego?

If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up. [Daniel 3:17-18 (NLT)]

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DON’T DO IT!

Again and again the Lord had sent his prophets and seers to warn both Israel and Judah: “Turn from all your evil ways. Obey my commands and decrees—the entire law that I commanded your ancestors to obey, and that I gave you through my servants the prophets.” But the Israelites would not listen. They were as stubborn as their ancestors who had refused to believe in the Lord their God. [2 Kings 17:13-14 (NLT)]

wrong wayWe were at the symphony watching Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho while the orchestra played Bernard Herrman’s chilling soundtrack. When Janet Leigh’s character, Marion Crane, stepped into the shower, a man in the audience yelled, ”Don’t do it!” Since most of us saw the movie decades ago, we didn’t want her to take that fatal shower either. In spite of the warning, however, she did. Since Marion was at the Bates Motel because she’d embezzled $40,000 from her boss, perhaps that man should have yelled, “Don’t do it!” much sooner.

That’s sort of what it was like when rereading the books of Kings and Chronicles recently. I knew they would end badly for both Israel and Judah but there was nothing I could do about it. I didn’t want to read their sad history again any more than I wanted to see Marion Crane die in the shower a second time. But, just as I made it through the gruesome movie murder, I made it through the disheartening saga of God’s chosen people.

No one warned Marion about Norman Bates but the people of Judah and Israel got plenty of warnings from God. The prophets Amos and Hosea told the northern kingdom they’d be taken captive by the Assyrians and both kingdoms were warned of their tragic ends by Micah. Joel and Isaiah warned Judah to turn from their idolatry and sins. Habakkuk warned them that the Babylonians would be used as an instrument of judgment and Zephaniah and Jeremiah predicted the destruction of Jerusalem. God’s chosen people couldn’t claim they weren’t warned. In fact, the warnings are found as far back as Deuteronomy when God made clear the cost of disobedience.

Scripture warns us to repent, resist the enemy, be morally alert and obedient, and not to be misled by false teachers. It warns of persecution and the dangers of lust, drifting away, prejudice, hypocrisy, and God’s impending judgment. Romans 6:23 puts it bluntly: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” Like the people of Israel and Judah, we can’t say we weren’t warned.

Be careful that you do not refuse to listen to the One who is speaking. For if the people of Israel did not escape when they refused to listen to Moses, the earthly messenger, we will certainly not escape if we reject the One who speaks to us from heaven! [Hebrews 12:25 (NLT)]

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LET’S PRAY

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. [1 Timothy 2:1 (NLT)]

snowy egretsThe eight of us were brainstorming a difficult and heartbreaking situation facing a family we know. We had plenty of ideas about getting them the assistance and guidance they needed but we could only direct them to the resources. They were the ones who needed to take action. Unfortunately, people often want the easy way out of their problems and desire money rather than counsel. Money, however, is usually only a stop gap measure and it frequently enables a bad situation to continue or get worse. The problem we were discussing required change, compromise, work and sacrifice far more than money. These people had to take action and, truth be told, I’m not so sure they wanted to step forward and act.

Those of us sitting around the table that day are people of action. Asking “What can I do? How can I help?” we wanted to roll up our sleeves, get to work, and make things right. This was one of those times, however, when there was nothing more we could do and no way we could make things right. There always will be hurts that we can’t heal, needs that we can’t satisfy, situations we can’t fix, and wrongs that we can’t make right. Sadly, this was one of them.

I learned something important that day, something even more important than understanding when it is time to step back from someone else’s problem. Our discussion had reached a dead end and we started repeating ourselves. At that point, we had a choice. We could beat a dead horse and keep talking which probably would have turned our constructive discussion into gossip and censure. On the other hand, we could stop and pray. Fortunately, understanding we were helpless onlookers and seeing we were dangerously close to becoming judge and jury, someone suggested prayer! Knowing we can’t fix everything but that we can love and pray for everyone, we prayed and handed the situation to God.

The thing I learned that day? While I’ve always believed in the power of prayer, I hadn’t realized the power of just saying, “Let’s pray!” Pausing for prayer changed the entire tenor of the discussion. The next time I’m in one of those conversations that starts to go downhill into the territory of gossip, disapproval, or scorn, I know to say, “Let’s pray!” Prayer can change more than situations and other people; it can change the people doing the praying!

If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. [James 1:26 (NLT)]

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. [Colossians 3:12-15 (NLT)]

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PERFECTION

He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is! [Deuteronomy 32:4 (NLT)]

But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. [Matthew 5:48 (NLT)]

water lilyAlthough humanity started out as a perfect creation, we quickly lost that perfection in the Garden of Eden; Jesus was the only sinless perfect man. If He’s telling us to be perfectly sinless when He calls us to be perfect, we’re in trouble. I suppose we should be able to resist all sin (as did Jesus) but, in reality, no one else (not even the Apostle Paul) has managed to do that. Perfection is God’s alone and we flawed mortals will never be His equals. If Jesus means things like spotless kitchens, beds made with hospital corners, and clean mirrors when He says to be perfect, even without having guests, I’m still in serious trouble. Yet, Jesus’s answer to the rich young man that, to be perfect, he should sell his possessions and give to the poor tells us that possessions and how neatly they’re arranged have no importance to Him. So, what does it mean to be perfect?

Of course, Jesus wants us to be as flawless as humanly possible. Nevertheless, He isn’t expecting us to be completely faultless. By telling us to be perfect, He’s telling us to reflect the moral excellence of God, something God told people to do centuries earlier when He said, “Be holy because I am holy.” [Leviticus 19:2] Jesus is asking us to imitate God, just as children imitate their parents. The original Hebrew word used in this verse was tamim. Rather than perfect (meaning without fault, flaw or defect), it might better be translated as complete in all its parts, full grown or mature. Jesus is the standard by which we set our goal and He wants us become mature in our faith by growing more like Him.

The Pharisees tried to achieve perfection through exacting obedience to the law but, while they looked good on the outside, they were soiled inside (and Jesus took them to task for that). Our perfection will never be found their way. By telling us to be perfect, our words and actions are to match up with our faith. Jesus wants us to be resolute, wholehearted and completely committed to walking with Him and living His way. We’ll become perfect by living through the power of the Holy Spirit: by letting God’s glory shine through our imperfect and flawed lives into the world. Our call is not to have spotless mirrors but to mirror the spotless character of God.

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. [Ephesians 5:1-2 (NLT)]

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. [Romans 12:2 (NLT)]

And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. [1 John 4:17 (NLT)]

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TOSS ‘EM OUT – It’s a New Year

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable. [Hebrews 4: 13 (NLT)]

Snow in SteamboatExplaining her years of addiction, Alice said, “It’s all because my parents moved from Illinois to Texas while I was in high school.” Was the move a contributing factor to Alice’s drug use? Maybe, but that was more than twenty-five years ago and has nothing to do with her failure to deal with her behavior today. Since high school, she’s abandoned a child, served time in prison, been in and out of a well-known residential rehab so often that she should have her own room, and is still lying, stealing, and using. Like many of us, Alice is simply blame shifting.

Yes, our experiences influence us but, as Christians, our past determines neither our present nor our future. By blaming our genes, nationality, appearance, or our over-indulgent or too strict parents, we abandon ownership of our failures and sins. We say we had too little or were given too much, that the spouse was inattentive, the judge was prejudiced, the teacher was inept, or we shouldn’t have moved. I’ve heard people blame their rudeness, stinginess, drinking, and tempers on their upbringing when they alone are responsible for their conduct today. Blaming other people or things implies that we aren’t accountable for our actions and leads us to think we aren’t responsible for changing that behavior.

Contributing factors, extenuating circumstances, and difficult childhoods may be of interest to a therapist but not to God. We may be able to deceive ourselves and others, but our excuses will never deceive Him! There will come a day when each one of us will be held responsible for our thoughts, words, and deeds and any excuses we use to justify our sins will disappear.

For both the non-believer and believer, there is judgment. No matter what the excuse, the person who has rejected Christ is doomed. When Alice meets God face to face, He will see into her and hold her accountable for her sins: the way she denied Him and wasted the precious life he gave her. While believers are saved by faith alone, they too will be judged. At the Judgment Seat of Christ, they’ll be asked to give an accounting of their lives in service to Him. When Alice’s parents (both believers) stand before God, He won’t hold them accountable for their move to Texas but He may well hold them accountable for the way they continually enabled their daughter to squander her life.

Excuses may not be outright lies but they keep us from facing the truth and, without facing the truth about ourselves, we won’t change. Our goal in life is to become more like Christ and we can’t do that by rationalizing our failings. This is a new year and a perfect time to do some serious self-examination. Are we victims of circumstance or victors in Christ? Are there any excuses we should toss out with the holiday trash?

Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. [Ephesians 4:21-24 (NLT)]

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THE BLAME GAME

Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. [Matthew 7:1-2 (NLT)]

roseate spoonbill - corkscrew sanctuaryThere’s a classic Peanuts comic (drawn by Charles Schulz) that shows meek Linus questioning Lucy, “Why are you always so anxious to criticize me?” His bossy big sister answers: “I just think I have a knack for seeing other peoples’ faults.” Dropping his blanket, Linus asks, “What about your own faults?” to which Lucy replies, “I have a knack for overlooking them.” Among other things, Lucy has what psychologists call “fundamental attribution error.”

Fundamental attribution error is the tendency to judge other people differently than how we judge ourselves. We attribute other peoples’ flawed behavior to shortcomings in their character (dispositional attribution) and ours to the challenges of our situation (situational attribution). For example, when someone else spills his coffee, it’s because he was careless but, when we do, it’s because the barista didn’t put the lid on tight. When a car speeds past us in traffic, the driver is a jerk but, when we exceed the speed limit, it’s because we’re late for an important appointment. Our neighbor’s angry outburst is evidence of a character flaw but our temper tantrum is because of the extreme pressure at work. Unfortunately, we often attribute other people’s actions to their disposition (they’re irresponsible, inconsiderate, or foolish) rather than consider that their behavior, just like ours, could also be linked to their circumstances. Although we know our story, we don’t know the stories of others. Perhaps the person who spilled the coffee has Parkinson’s, the speeder was on his way to the hospital, or the neighbor’s spouse just filed for divorce.

Without reading further than Jesus’s first words in Matthew 7, people often misinterpret the passage. “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged,” Jesus doesn’t mean we shouldn’t judge. He doesn’t want us to suspend our critical thinking or be so open-minded that our brains fall out! Wanting us to use discernment in our dealings with people, He tells us that the same standard we use in judging others will be applied to us. The literal translation for this verse is: “for in what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged, and in what measure ye measure, it shall be measured to you.” If I measure you in fractions of an inch, I can’t measure myself in yards! If I judge your actions by your nature, I must judge mine the same way. If I explain or justify my actions by my circumstances, I must consider that circumstances may also explain or justify yours.

Even if you didn’t hurry home after school to watch Dark Shadows, you probably know that vampires can’t see their reflections in the mirror. While we may not sleep in coffins during the day, there’s a little bit of vampire in us when it comes to seeing ourselves in a mirror. Like Lucy, we often judge other people harshly but rationalize our own behavior to make it excusable. Jesus, however, tells us to take a good hard look at ourselves and deal with our own faults before we start judging other people.

There is a Chinese proverb that says, “Deal with the faults of others as gently as your own.” While that’s good advice, Jesus tells us to deal with our own faults before we begin to deal with anyone else’s.

It is the peculiar quality of a fool to perceive the faults of others and to forget his own. You can‘t clear your own fields while you’re counting the rocks on your neighbor’s farm. [Cicero]

And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, “Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,” when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye. [Matthew 7:3-5 (NLT)]

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