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Cool And Comforting

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Today’s Bible Reading: Daniel 7:1-28; 1 John 1:1-10; Psalm 119:153-176; Proverbs 28:23-24

Old Testament

In the first six chapters of Daniel we read about events in his life, notably his interactions with the kings of Babylon and Persia. The remaining chapters record visions that he saw of the future. These visions are some of the coolest, yet frightening passages in Scripture.

In the vision recorded in Daniel 7, the prophet saw four beasts rise out of the “great sea” (a reference to the Mediterranean) . Each of these beasts represent a kingdom that would arise on the earth (Daniel 7:17). The first beast was a lion with eagle’s wings (Daniel 7:4). This beast represented Babylon whose symbol was a winged lion. This symbol appears on much Babylonian art visible in museums all over the world.

But eventually the wings were pulled off and the Babylonian kingdom came to a halt, giving rise to the next kingdom, Persia, represented by a bear (Daniel 7:5). Eventually Persia would be replaced by a leopard-like kingdom – quick moving, overwhelming its opponents with surprise (Daniel 7:6). The Greek empire, begun by Alexander the Great fits this description perfectly. By the young age of 28 Alexander had rapidly conquered southeastern Europe and Asia all the way to India. To further fulfill this prophecy, Alexander’s kingdom was divided up into four pieces after his death which explains the four faces on the leopard.

But the fourth beast was the most ferocious of all. Notice that it is not even comparable to any animal. The beast is the Roman Empire. This beast will have ten horns. Horns represent strength and power. This kingdom will have ten rulers (perhaps districts). But suddenly another horn will appear who will replace three of the horns. This is the antichrist. Someday an arrogant man will arise in a reestablished Roman Empire and seize sole control over it (Daniel 7:8).

Meanwhile, Daniel’s vision temporarily switches to heaven (Daniel 7:9-10). Despite all the chaos going on on earth, God is calmly reigning from heaven doing what He needs to. This is one of my most favorite passages in all of Scripture. I think about it a lot when my life gets chaotic. No matter how bad things are on this earth (and they will be really bad by the time the antichrist comes on the scene) God is still in heaven. He knows exactly what is going on down here. And He knows that He is in complete control and will have the final say. Pretty cool and comforting.

During the reign of the antichrist, Jesus will return to earth. He will destroy the new Roman Empire and will replace it with an eternal kingdom that will last forever (Daniel 7:11-14). The first 1,000 years of this final kingdom will be on earth. The rest – for all eternity – will be in heaven.

God gives us some interesting information about this future version of the Roman Empire. It will be ruled by an arrogant, boastful man we know as the antichrist (Daniel 7:20). This man will persecute God’s people on earth until Jesus arrives to save the day (Daniel 7:21-22). It is interesting to note that any Christian living today will not experience this because God is going to remove us from the earth just before this happens in an event we know as The Rapture. We’ve read about The Rapture previously. But Jews will still be on earth. And some people will come to faith in Jesus during this time, known as the Tribulation. These are the people who will experience tremendous suffering at the hands of the antichrist.

This vision of the future terrified Daniel who would not live to see it. I can only imagine how terrifying it will be for those who live through it. In my opinion, based on current world events, this period in history is not too far off – perhaps within a generation or two (or less).


New Testament

We begin the first of the three of John’s epistles (letters) today. John also wrote the Gospel of John which we read earlier this year and Revelation, which we will begin next week to finish up the New Testament.

John reminds his readers that he, and others, saw, heard, and touched the one who existed from the beginning – Jesus – who existed before the world began (1 John 1:1). John is not making things up. Many claim that Jesus never existed. John debunks that as he states that he is writing from his own real-life experiences.

The purpose of John’s letter is to invite others into a relationship with Jesus as well (1 John 1:3). This is an amazing concept. God wants to have a relationship with each of us. No other god desires that. Not Allah. Not Brahma. This is because these gods are human invention. They do not exist. No human would ever in a million years have invented a God who wanted to have a Father-Son/Daughter relationship with people.

This is even more amazing considering Jesus died on the cross. Yet He can still have a relationship with us. The God of the Bible is real and alive. Having a relationship with Him is a blast (1 John 1:4) and John wants his readers to know this.

Anyone who claims they are sinless is lying to themselves and calling God a liar (1 John 1:8,9). Many will admit “I’m only human” or “Everyone makes mistake” in an attempt to appear humble (that is not humility) or to defend their imperfectness. But few will admit that they are sinners – inherently inclined to be selfish and to hurt others. But that is the truth. And it is only by admitting this – to ourselves first then to God – that a person can be forgiven and cleansed (1 John 1:9). And only a forgiven and cleansed person can enter heaven.


Psalms

So many people reject the Bible because they think that God’s commands for living suppress life. But this is not true. Living the way God wants us to live breathes new life into us (Psalm 119:156).

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

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All Means All

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Today’s Bible Reading: Daniel 6:1-28; 2 Peter 3:1-18; Psalm 119:129-152; Proverbs 28:21-22

Old Testament

The book of Daniel is filled with many great stories and today we read one of the most famous. Babylon had been conquered by Persia and Daniel is now an administrator to the Persian king. Despite being an outsider (Daniel was an exiled Jew from Israel) who did not recognize the false gods of either Babylon or Persia, Daniel rose to high-ranking positions in both governments due to his abilities and ethical behavior (Daniel 6:3-4). Christians today often find ourselves working for people who do not know God. This is a great opportunity for us to demonstrate our faith by working hard as if for God, not for man (Colossians 3:23). No one should be able to rightfully accuse us of any wrong-doing.

Since Daniel’s co-workers could not find anything to accuse him of, they hatch a plot to get him to disobey the king (Daniel 6:5-7). Such is how jealousy works. People like Daniel – who focus on God, work hard, and don’t associate too closely with those who don’t – are often the target of others. I experienced this first-hand a few years ago when I worked for a manager who was foul-mouthed and quite lazy (he frequently didn’t come in until late and then left early). It was obvious to both of us that we were nothing alike and he subsequently used his power and position to spread false rumors about me. That’s how it goes sometimes.

Upon hearing about the edict from the king, Daniel immediately prays (Daniel 6:10) even though this went directly against Darius’ command. God does command His children to obey earthly authority figures. But this does not include orders that would cause someone to disobey Him or to become estranged from Him, as Darius’ order did. So Daniel was perfectly in the right for continuing to pray to God.

Christians today should obey their governments. We should pay our taxes (even if they are unreasonably high). We should pick up after our dogs. But when our government tells us we cannot pray on public land or in a school (or issues other similar laws) we do not need to obey. When there is a discrepancy between man’s law and God’s law God wins 100% of the time. I wonder how many of us would be willing to take the chance Daniel took and do something we know God wants us to do even though our government said it is illegal.

Despite his initial hesitation, Darius – out of obvious pressure – has Daniel thrown into the lion’s den (Daniel 6:16). I would imagine with the stone sealing the entrance to the den it must have been pitch black in there (Daniel 6:17). Daniel would not have been able to see the lion, not that seeing it would have made it any easier to escape. Daniel had to rely solely on God to protect him.

Just like He protected Shadrach, Mehsach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace, God protected Daniel from the lion. Upon being found unharmed Daniel informs Darius that he (Daniel) did not do Darius any harm (Daniel 6:23). Yes, Daniel disobeyed the king’s orders. But following God’s orders never brings harm. In fact, its quite possible that when caught Daniel was actually praying for Darius and his ill-conceived edict.

As a result of Daniel’s improbable survival, Darius is impressed with God (Daniel 6:25-27). This is the sixth time in the book of Daniel we’ve seen someone do the right thing in the face of undesirable consequences. When we stand firm in godly convictions and honor God even when it costs us, others will see the testimony and be impressed.


New Testament

Many dismiss the idea that Jesus will return to earth. They based this on an ill-advised premise that if were going to happen it would have happened by now (2 Peter 3:4). But this is an illogical argument. Who is to say when something “should” happen? Jesus will return when He is ready to return and not a moment before.

God does not operate on our schedule. What we consider late, He considers to be on-time. What we consider to be soon, He considers to be too early. It is not possible to compare our reckoning of time with God’s (2 Peter 3:8). To a little child “soon” means in less than five minutes. Adults understand it differently. Its the same way with us and God.

In any event, God is never tardy. People should not view Jesus’ thus-far non-return as God being slow. They should understand that it is God being patient (2 Peter 3:9). God doesn’t want anyone to be separated from Him. He wants everyone to repent and to be saved (2 Peter 3:10, 15). As soon as Jesus returns that can no longer happen. So God is giving all of us sinners time – a lot of time – to do just that. This is not slowness. This is love.

Peter was familiar with Paul’s writings and knew that Paul wrote some very deep and, therefore, hard to understand truths (2 Peter 3:15-16). Scripture can be twisted by those who don’t take the time to understand it. Many people are going to miss out on heaven because they arrived at erroneous conclusions about God due to their lack of diligence in studying the Bible. God does not want us sitting in front of a television 7 hours a day (the average for an American). That is a waste of life. He wants us in His word, learning about Him. This brings life. I believe that is one reason why the Bible is not always simple to understand. If it were, we wouldn’t need to spend much time in it.

This concludes Peter’s two epistles. Notice that there was no mention of any of the tenets of the Catholic church. Nothing about the pope, papal succession, or infallibility. Nothing about purgatory or praying for the dead. Nothing about penance, confession, indulgences, sacraments, or transubstantiation, to mention just a few. This is very telling considering that Peter is officially recognized by the Catholic church as being their founder. Virtually all of what the Catholic church believes and practices is unbiblical.


Psalms

God gives His children many promises in the Bible. One of them is that he will show mercy to all who love His name (Psalm 119:132). All means all. It doesn’t mean a few. It doesn’t come with an asterisk. It doesn’t exclude women, homosexuals, convicts, or anyone else who honestly and repentantly turns to God. God has enough grace and mercy to overflow all of our lives and He is just itching to pour it out on us.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

Whatever Controls Us

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Today’s Bible Reading: Daniel 5:1-31; 2 Peter 2:1-22; Psalm 119:113-128; Proverbs 28:19-20

Old Testament

Many famous sayings have their origin right from the Bible. We’ve all heard the expression “the writing on the wall”. Today we read the passages it comes from.

The story opens with King Belshazzar now on the throne of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar had died some years earlier and a series kings with short reigns followed until Belshazzar. This is confirmed by an archaeological discovery, the Nabonidus Cylinder, which is now housed in the British Museum.

We know from historical documentation that Persia was in full-attack mode against Babylon at this time. Nevertheless, Belshazzar throws a party for himself and his leaders (Daniel 5:1). This is the epitome of arrogance. A hostile enemy was at their doorstep, but they were paying no attention. They were trusting in their own military might and their false-gods to protect them.

Belshazzar even has the audacity to use the drinking vessels stolen from the Temple in Jerusalem by his grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 5:2). This is clearly a slap in the face of God – insinuating that God was weak or non-existent. As a result, God does something that scares them to death (not to mention is very cool). He writes on the wall (Daniel 5:5). Notice that He writes near the lampstand. Ancient rooms didn’t have bright overhead lighting like we do today. Rooms were pretty dark, even those with candles. God writes in a lighted area so that His message won’t go unnoticed.

Archaeological discoveries explain why Belshazzar offered Daniel the third highest position in the kingdom (Daniel 5:7). His father was still alive, and still king, but had fled the city when defeat by Persia seemed inevitable. Belshazzar was in now in charge, but in reality was second in command. So he gave away the highest position he could – third. The more we dig out of the ground, the more proof we have that the Bible is accurate.

Notice that Daniel wants no reward for interpreting the writing (Daniel 5:17). This gives credibility to what he will say. Just like he was with Nebuchadnezzar years before, Daniel is very direct and not only interprets the writing, but gives the king an application as well (Daniel 5:22-24). Belshazzar had not learned from his predecessor. He was an arrogant, sinful man with no respect for the God who created him.

Despite his wishes, Daniel was given the promised purple robes and gold chain (Daniel 5:29). But his lofty government position lasted just a few hours. The rewards for standing up for God on this earth can be short-lived. No problem. Better to have eternal rewards in heaven anyway. Later that night his new boss was killed. We know from history that Persia defeated Babylon by diverting the Euphrates River and entering Babylon through its for-some-reason unlocked gates. This is precisely what Isaiah 44:28-45:7 and Jeremiah 51:57-58 predicted 200 years before. More Bible prophecy confirmed!


New Testament

God tells us that there will be (not might be) teachers who come along with a false message that sounds appealing to many but will actually lead to destruction (2 Peter 2:1). Without a doubt these false teachers will be judged. God means what He says and says what He means. He also backs up His words with action. Peter gives us three historical examples in which God said He was going to judge and did (2 Peter 4:8).

Isn’t it interesting that angels apparently went through a period of time when they could choose to follow God or not. This is the same thing that we humans are going through right now. At the end of these periods of testing, God rescues the godly (e.g. Noah and his family, Lot) while punishing those who reject Him (2 Peter 2:9). The very same event, such as the flood, does both. So people today who believe that there is no God or there is no judgement have no leg to stand on. There is a God and He will judge each of us.

One characteristic of false teachers is they do not seek to understand God and therefore scoff at Him (2 Peter 2:12). They act only according to their natural self without stopping to think that maybe they are wrong. Many so-called “gay-friendly” churches operate this way. These churches preach a message that “its okay to be gay”. Since these sexual desires come naturally to them they conclude that such a lifestyle is acceptable to God. They never give thought to the fact that they might be wrong. Sadly, there are many who hear these and other flesh-appealing messages and buy into the lies too (2 Peter 2:14).

These false teachers preach that freedom can be found in following our natural tendencies. But this is not true. We are naturally inclined to sin. And sin is slavery. No one is truly free. We are slaves to whatever controls us (2 Peter 2:19). Whatever or whoever we spend most of our time with is our god. That is why God admonishes us to be controlled by the Spirit. We are to be His slaves. In fact, many Bible authors, including Peter, identify themselves as such (2 Peter 1:1).


Psalms

We can’t escape the bad influences in this world, nor should we. God commands us to be “in” the world but separated from it in our thoughts and actions. But we should not surround ourselves with people or things (TV, movies, music) that will direct our thoughts away from God and prevent us from adhering to His commands (Psalm 119:115).


Psalms

Getting rich quickly usually requires doing something immoral or illegal. Likewise, receiving a ton of money quickly (as many young athletes or lottery winners do) often brings more trouble that one would expect (Proverbs 28:20). Better to acquire riches slowly. This way we learn how to handle it along the way.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

Any Length Necessary

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Today’s Bible Reading: Daniel 4:1-37; 2 Peter 1:1-21; Psalm 119:97-112; Proverbs 28:17-18

Old Testament

After building a statue to be worshipped not long after experiencing God, Nebuchadnezzar once again turns his attention to God (Daniel 4:1). Nebuchadnezzar doesn’t appear to be a believer. He appears to be impressed with God, through his interactions with Daniel and his friends. But that did not translate into belief.

There are people who believe God exists and who are impressed with what God has done (e.g. created the world) but who stop short of putting their ultimate faith and trust in Him. So they turn to Him when they need or want something but otherwise live without Him.

Nebuchadnezzar has another dream which Daniel interprets to be a prophecy of Nebuchadnezzar’s downfall (Daniel 4:20-28). God was going to humble Nebuchadnezzar in order to get him to realize He was God. This is God’s goal for all of us – not because God’s ego needs to be fed. But because we need to know that there is a God who exists and who wants to be with us for all eternity. God knows what happens to us if we don’t believe and He is willing to go to any length necessary – like being nailed to a cross – to that message across.

Notice that Daniel delivers an honest message to Nebuchadnezzar. Often we are afraid to tell other people the truth, especially about Jesus, for fear of what they will say or do to us. But Nebuchadnezzar needed to hear this message so Daniel delivers it, even at risk to himself. But Daniel, who we’ve seen has been filled with wisdom by God, delivers this harsh message with love (Daniel 4:19). Truth and love. That is how God works. He tells us the truth about ourselves (we are sinners destined for a very unpleasant eternity). But He tells us these things because He loves us and wants us to have the best eternity can offer.

On the other hand, humans often deliver bad news to others out of our own selfishness. We demand others change because of how it affects us, not how it affects them. We are self-focused. God is us-focused.

The prophecy against Nebuchadnezzar was not fulfilled immediately. God gave Him a chance to avoid it by repenting but, sadly, he didn’t (Daniel 4:27-29). The broader message is that God has been warning people for thousands of years about eternal separation from Him (hell). He’s told us how to avoid it (repenting). But, sadly, the vast majority of people will not do so and someday, when they die, they will wish they did.

Some claim this account of Nebuchadnezzar’s life is fake – something that only exists in the Bible. While there is no secular documentation to corroborate these events, it is notable that there is a seven year gap in the historical record of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign from 582 BC to 575 BC. This is very unusual considering the voluminous documentation of Nebuchadnezzar’s years before and after. Additionally, Abydensus, a Greek historian, wrote in 268 BC that Nebuchadnezzar disappeared for seven years. Very interesting, eh?


New Testament

The world has been searching for peace nonstop since the beginning of time. There is a way we can experience that peace we so desperately seek: by obtaining more knowledge of God (2 Peter 1:2). We can even apply this to our individual lives, which are often full of stress. The more time we spend with God understanding Him, the more peace we will experience. Its not magical, though. Peace doesn’t just happen. We have to work for it as we read the other day. To that end perhaps God will convince us to make some changes to our lifestyle that will result in peace.

When a person comes to know God – is born-again – God gives that person everything they need to be like Him (2 Peter 1:3). God also gives that person great (large) and precious (valuable) promises (2 Peter 1:4) about the future so we can live in a world corrupted by desires of humanity. Notice that the problems of the world are caused by selfishness. Our desires rule us. We live for self and that causes every problem on the earth.

The way to avoid this is to have less self-love and more love for others and Peter tells us the steps to do this in 2 Peter 1:5-7. It starts with faith which leads to moral living – obedience to God’s commands. We also need to add to our knowledge of God (through Bible study and communication with God) which leads to self-control. Self-control leads to patience and godliness. Once we have a godliness about us we can love other people as brothers. Only then can we take the next step and love other people unconditionally. Needless to say, we all have a long way to go. But this is God’s goal for each of us. It will not be achieved on this earth.

The more we incorporate these actions and qualities into our lives the more useful our service to Jesus will be (2 Peter 1:8) because we will serve out of love and concern for other human beings. The drawback of not progressing along this path is forgetting that we have been forgiven and cleansed of all our sins. And when we forget what God has done for us we run the risk of falling away (2 Peter 1:9-10). We are forgetful creatures. We need to be reminded of our past and current sinfulness. Not in a way that keeps us in bondage to that lifestyle, but in a way that reminds us that we are no longer slaves to sin. Then we can live a life dedicated to serving Him.


Psalms

Its easy for our mind to wander to places it should not go. Thoughts of how we’ve been hurt by someone or fantasizing about sex are not useful. They are actually destructive. Instead we should fill our minds with God’s word (Psalm 119:97). There is nothing more valuable to think about (Psalm 119:111).

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

The Best (Or Worst) Is Yet To Come

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Today’s Bible Reading: Daniel 2:24-3:30; 1 Peter 4:7-5:14; Psalm 119:81-96; Proverbs 28:15-16

Old Testament

Its not hard to imagine that the ‘Breaking News’ in Babylon during the time of Daniel 2 was the king’s dream and his decree to execute all the so-called wise men who could not tell him his dream and interpret it. Everyone was probably talking about it. This gives God a great opportunity to reveal Himself to the people of Babylon through Daniel (Daniel 2:24).

Notice that Daniel does not take credit for the interpretation of the dream (Daniel 2:27). It was not something “figured out” by human reasoning. It was something that God had revealed (Daniel 2:28). Nothing can be known unless God chooses to make it known. All human understanding, including science, happens not because we are so smart or industrious but because God wants us to understand (Daniel 2:30).

Nebuchadnezzar’s dreamt about a huge statue of a man whose body was made of various materials (Daniel 2:31-33). Suddenly a rock, cut from a mountain but not by human hands, strikes the statue in the feet causing the entire thing to crumble into pieces (Daniel 2:34-35). This statue depicted Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom, Babylon (the gold in the statue), and the 3 subsequent empires to appear on the earth.

The silver corresponded to the next empire, Persia, which was inferior to Babylon as it did not have a ruler with absolute power and authority. The next empire would be Greece as indicated by the bronze in the statue. Greece had even less central authority than Persia. The final empire would be Rome as indicated by the iron. Rome was a very strong empire that crushed its enemies, just like iron crushes whatever it strikes. But notice that the Roman empire would be divided – it would consist of various parts that would not mix – like iron and clay do not mix – making it vulnerable.

The rock, of course, is Jesus Himself who will smash the Roman Empire to bits, causing all that man has worked for over the centuries to crumble into nothing. What’s interesting to note is that Jesus did not crush Rome when He first appeared on earth. And the Roman Empire was never really conquered – it just sort of faded away. Therefore we can conclude that in the final days before Jesus returns the Roman Empire will be reestablished. We certainly see this happening with the creation of the European Union which covers much of the same geographic area as ancient Rome and continues to add to it.

Ancient Rome had a single ruler, Caesar, and someday the new Roman Empire will have a single ruler too – the antichrist. And just like ancient Rome was more of a military force, so too will the future Rome. We’ll soon read that the antichrist will preside over a military kingdom that will conquer the world – something Rome never achieved. Then Jesus will crush it and will establish His own kingdom that will last for all eternity (Daniel 2:44). The future will be pretty exciting!

Notice Nebuchadnezzar’s reaction to this revelation: he recognizes God and promotes Daniel and his friends (Daniel 2:47-49). Although Daniel’s friends don’t seem to be present at this meeting, they had prayed with Daniel the night before. Here we see that prayer is very important to God and will not go unrewarded.

But sadly, Nebuchadnezzar’s loyalty to God fades because in the very next chapter we read about him setting up a gold statue to be worshipped. He commands everyone in Babylon to worship it too (Daniel 3:1-6). Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to do so (Daniel 3:12) and are thrown into a furnace (Daniel 3:19-23). But notice their attitude before this happens: they are confident that God will take care of them no matter what the outcome (Daniel 3:16-17). They stood up to a ruler who wanted them to betray their God. Sounds like 2013 America, doesn’t it?

Our government is doing all it can to suppress the name of Jesus and to eliminate God from society. Believers need to stand up to this, no matter what kinds of threats we receive from those in authority. God will take care of us. Even if we have to pay the ultimate price our commitment will not go unrewarded by God or unnoticed by an unbelieving world. But to comply with such commands would be to eliminate any chance these authority figures have to come to know how much they – and all their followers – need God.


New Testament

In a perfect segue, our reading in 1 Peter today discusses going through “fiery” trials. When we go through such situations we should rejoice (as James also told us) because it gives us an opportunity to partner with Christ (1 Peter 4:13). Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego experienced this first hand as they were joined in the furnace by Jesus Himself (Daniel 3:25).

When we live the kind of life that God commands of us we will be insulted (or worse). This is actually good news because it proves that we belong to God (1 Peter 4:14). Any harsh treatment from others for what we believe is proof that we are on the right track. God will allow such tests of our faith to purify us – like fire purifies gold. These are the worst things that Christians will ever experience in our entire eternal lives. The best is yet to come. But those who reject Christ are now experiencing the best of their entire eternal lives. The worst is yet to come (1 Peter 4:17).

It is never our place to exalt ourselves. We should keep ourselves humble and let God lift us up at the right time and place (1 Peter 5:6). Its always better to be given a place of honor unexpectedly than to demand it. Its more special and has more meaning when it happens that way.

The God of the Bible is very different from the gods of the many religions around the world. He cares. The concept of a god who cares for his people is completely foreign to Muslims, Hindus, Wiccans, Buddhist, or any others. They’re scared of their god and have to work for his approval.

This is not true of the God of the Bible. God cares about every person He has ever created (1 Peter 5:7). If you think of all the religions that are on the face of the earth, this one simple concept separates Christianity from them all and is proof that no human being would ever have made this up.


Psalms

In another perfect segue, Psalms also addresses going through difficulties. When we are suffering, or tired, or receiving poor treatment, there is one and only one cure: God’s word. It is here that we should put our hope (Psalm 119:81, 83, 86, 87, 92, 95). God is our comfort and our protector. Nothing that happens on this earth at the hands of weak and sinful people can compare to the plans that our powerful and strong God has for us.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

Opening Doors

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Today’s Bible Reading: Daniel 1-2:23; 1 Peter 3:8-4:6; Psalm 119:65-80; Proverbs 28:14

Old Testament

Today we begin the book of Daniel, another prophetic book of the Old Testament. Daniel was a young Jew who was taken captive to Babylon after one of Nebuchadnezzar’s three attacks on Jerusalem (Daniel 1:6). It was the policy of Babylon (and most kingdoms of this time) to take the smartest and strongest people captive back to their countries and to leave a poor and weak population in the land that was conquered (Daniel 1:4).

While there Daniel was determined to keep the dietary restrictions God had given Israel (Daniel 1:8). Notice that Daniel was firm in his commitment to not compromise and do something that went against God. This was clearly a dangerous thing to do. The king could have been highly offended and ordered Daniel punished or even killed. But obedience to God was more important to Daniel than the risk of retribution.

It also could have been easy for Daniel to give in and do as he was commanded by the king. I’m sure the king’s food was more delicious and satisfying than a diet of vegetables and water. Daniel was willing to make a personal sacrifice in order to live a life that reflected God to those around Him. If he had given in or acted rebelliously, his witness would have been lost.

Instead, Daniel requested not to eat the king’s food (Daniel 1:8). He acted with politeness and respect to his captors. And in return his request was granted because God gave the king’s officers reciprocal respect for Daniel. God would not have been able to do that if Daniel had not acted in a godly way. God will always support us when we support Him.

In addition to keeping Daniel (and his friends) healthy on a vegetarian diet, God gave these men special wisdom (Daniel 1:7-20). This will come in handy very shortly when Nebuchadnezzar has a dream that frightens him (Daniel 2:1).

Interestingly Daniel 2:4 – 7:28 is written not in Hebrew but in Aramaic, the official language of the Babylonian empire. This is the only portion of the Bible written in Aramaic.

For some reason Nebuchadnezzar demands his magicians and astrologers to not only interpret his dream, but to tell him what the dream was (Daniel 2:5)! These men recognize that such a thing is impossible for man, but not for God (Daniel 2:11), although they were not referring to the true God but to their false gods. Nevertheless, this entire scene sets up another opportunity for God to display Himself to the King of Babylon through Daniel.

Notice how calm Daniel is while in the midst of his captivity and specifically these dangerous situations – including when one of the king’s commanders come to kill him (Daniel 2:14). Daniel was completely secure and confident in God. No matter what was going to happen Daniel was sure that God was in control of the situation. Wisely, Daniel’s first reaction is to pray (Daniel 2:18). When faced with a troubling situation, pray.

And when God answers our prayers we need to thank Him and praise Him, just like Daniel did (Daniel 2:19-23).


New Testament

The real test our love for others is how we react when they wrong us. If we are truly concerned about them we will not retaliate in-kind but will respond with kindness (1 Peter 3:9). This is what God commands of His children. Its tempting to repay evil with evil because we get our satisfaction immediately. But the satisfaction of responding to evil with kindness is almost always delayed.

Note that God will reward us when we are unfairly punished for doing good, as long as we respond in a godly way (1 Peter 3:14). I’d rather have a reward from God than the satisfaction of telling someone off. Doing so may make me feel good temporarily, but will likely just ratchet up the tension. But acting peacefully will likely be a witness as such behavior is not the norm in this world. Someone may notice and ask why I decided to take the high road. Then I have a chance to explain the hope I have in Jesus (1 Peter 3:15). Our behavior should always be opening doors, never closing them.

Did you ever wonder what Jesus did for 3 days when He was buried in the ground? Well, 1 Peter 3:19 tell us. He went to the underworld and preached to the evil spirits there. Pretty cool, eh? This was probably not a message of repentance but of judgement. But this is just more evidence that death does not contain God (Jesus was God in a human body). Jesus’ earthly body may have been dead, but His spirit was actively alive.

And now Jesus is in heaven where all the angels and other beings respect His authority (1 Peter 3:22). Someday all human beings will acknowledge His authority too.


Psalms

When people wrong us we can spend the time and energy to retaliate. But doing so is just a waste of our time. Better to let God handle it while we brush it off and keep our eyes focused on Him (Psalm 119:78).

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

A Fork In The Road

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Today’s Bible Reading: Ezekiel 47-48:35; 1 Peter 2:11-3:7; Psalm 119:49-64; Proverbs 28:12-13

Old Testament

Ezekiel concludes recording the amazing vision God gave to him about the Millenium by letting us know that during this 1,000 year reign of Jesus on earth a river will flow from Temple, down the Jordan Valley to the Dead Sea (Ezekiel 47:8). Currently there is no such river nor would the current terrain accommodate such a river. Apparently the landscape of this region will change drastically between now and then. This should not be too surprising considering the earthquakes that God tells us will occur both during the War of Gog and Magog and also when the Trumpet and Bowl judgements are poured out. We’ll read about those when we get to Revelation in a few weeks.

Currently the Dead Sea is, well, dead. Nothing can live in it because its mineral content is 300% higher than normal fresh water lakes. But during the Millenium it will be transformed by the fresh water flowing from the Temple (Ezekiel 47:8) such that fish will “abound” in it. “Life will flourish” wherever this river flows (Ezekiel 47:9). Fruit trees will be found all along this river and they will provide fruit and medicinal leaves year-round (Ezekiel 47:12). All this will happen literally but is obviously symbolic of the life that Jesus gives.

Like the Dead Sea each of us a spiritually dead. It is only by the living water that Jesus provides that we can become alive. In fact, Jesus spoke of Himself as living water to the woman at the well (John 4:1-42). If we allow ourselves to be nourished by Jesus we, too, will flourish and will produce fruit (“good works”). Our lives will take on new and eternal meaning.


New Testament

We are all just temporary visitors to this planet. We are just passing through on our way to someplace else. Earth is just a fork in the road. As such, God commands His children (i.e. born-again believers) to avoid the things the world has to offer (1 Peter 2:11). They are traps that will draw us away from Him.

The world is always looking for reasons to criticize Christians (sometimes they don’t even need a reason). That is why it is imperative that we live honest and upright lives (1 Peter 2:12). We won’t always get it right. But we are to make every effort to do the best we can so that the accusations that are slung at us will have no basis. Our proper behavior will even act as a witness to God and may cause some of these unbelievers to become believers.

We (believers) are also to respect all human authority (1 Peter 2:13). We do this for Jesus’ sake because all leaders on earth have been appointed by God. He may not always give us good leaders (e.g. Saul) but that is for our own good too as we’ve read a few times this year. I often wonder about totalitarian regimes like North Korea that prohibit religion. I guess their leaders are not familiar with these verses. If they were they would realize that they have nothing to fear from Christians. We aren’t going to overthrow the government or incite riots. We will obey the authorities God has placed on earth, even if we disagree with them.

Even when mistreated believers should not retaliate (1 Peter 2:15, 19). This seems crazy to the non-Christians in the world who would, under similar circumstances, fight for their “rights”. But God isn’t as interested in our earthly “rights” (which, to be honest are very few if there are any at all) as He is in the salvation of those who are not yet saved. Just like Jesus endured beatings, mocking, humiliation, and a long, painful execution (1 Peter 2:21-23) we are to endure the mistreatment we receive as a witness to what Jesus went through. It is more important for us to “speak” to others through undeserved suffering than it is to protect our “rights”.

Decorating ourselves on the outside is meaningless (1 Peter 3:3). Instead we should make sure that we are beautiful on the inside because this pleases God (1 Peter 3:4). I find that people who want to be noticed for their outward appearance are more likely than not, unhappy with who they are on the inside. That is actually a good thing because, if used properly, that inward ugliness is just the right ingredient for God to turn that person into something beautiful. We are all ugly on the inside. That is the point. We need to be transformed into new creatures. Jewelry, make-up, and/or expensive clothes can’t change what we are.

In 1 Peter 3:1, Peter confirms the family leadership hierarchy that Paul had mentioned in Ephesians 6: God assigns men to be the leaders of their families. People need leadership. That is why baseball teams have mangers, companies have CEOs, and schools have principals. Without leadership, we would have chaos. But as we learned when we read Ephesians, being in a subordinate position within an organization (including the family) does not in any way imply inferiority. God is not saying that women/wives are inferior to men. This is confirmed in 1 Peter 3:7 where God clearly states that men and women are equal before Him. Don’t let anyone lie to you and tell you that the Bible has a negative or inferior view of women. That is simply not true. Different roles, yes. Different standing before God, no.


Psalms

God’s timing can be amazing. Today something happened that got me a bit down and depressed. When I prayed about it God told me not to let the things of this world get to me. He then reminded me of the future He has in store for me, making me feel a whole lot better. This is exactly what we read in Psalm 119:50.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

All The More Reason

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Today’s Bible Reading: Ezekiel 45:13-46:24; 1 Peter 1:13-2:10; Psalm 119:33-48; Proverbs 28:11

Old Testament

Interestingly Ezekiel’s account of the Millenium includes mention of two feasts from Old Testament times that would be observed again: the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Ezekiel 45:21) – a seven-day observance which includes the day of Passover – and the Festival of Booths (Ezekiel 45:25) – a seven-day observance in which the Jews lived in tents to recall their 40 years of wandering in the desert. The other feasts are not mentioned. This does not mean they won’t be observed. We’ll have to wait and see.

So it appears that much of the Old Testament rituals will be reinstated during the Millenium – the 1,000 years when Jesus reigns on earth. That means that the time we are living now is a “hiatus” – an intermission of sorts. Our present age – known as the “church age” – is the period of time when God builds His relationship with Gentiles (non Jews) through Jesus. Prior to this age and also subsequent to it, God builds His relationship with the Jewish people. This does not mean that Jews can’t come to believe in Jesus during the present age or that Gentiles can’t be saved during the Millenium. It simply means that the focus of God’s attention will be different during these time periods.

Throughout this view of the Millenium Ezekiel has frequently mentioned someone called the “prince”. Some claim that this person refers to Jesus. But this cannot be true as Ezekiel 45:22 tells us that this prince will offer up a sin offering for himself. Jesus, being God and 100% sin-free, would never have a need to do this. Additionally, the prince will worship God in the same way the “common” people would. So it appears that this prince is a human leader who acts as an assistant to Jesus during this time period.

One of the great things about reading the Bible is all the stuff that God doesn’t tell us. This is most notable when it comes to eschatological passages – those dealing with the end times. God has given us a glimpse of the future which is enough to pique our interest but not enough to answer all our questions. After all, if all our questions were answered there would be no need to keep reading the Bible to find more clues. God doesn’t miss a beat. He knows exactly what He is doing.


New Testament

When we are young we live with a lack of self-control, not thinking about the consequences of our actions. God does not want His children (born-again believers) to live this way (1 Peter 1:13). We are to think before we act, and we are not to act impulsively in a way that meets our immediate desires (1 Peter 1:14). We all act this way when we are kids and teenagers. We didn’t know any better – that is man’s natural way of behaving. But once we give our lives to Jesus, this behavior is no longer tolerable. This is a big stumbling block for many. They don’t want to give up their lifestyle thinking that what God offers is restrictive.

When we are living in sin we think it is freedom and that God wants to take away our freedom. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus came to break the chains of self-absorbed living, which is slavery (John 8:34-36).

Jesus paid a heavy price – a ransom – to rescue us from the slavery to sin that leads to eternal death (1 Peter 1:18). That price was His life. Not many people would give their life for another. But this is the greatest love of all (John 15:13). That is how valuable you are. God did what He didn’t have to do – He left heaven to dwell on this earth – He was slumming – and He went through the agony and fear of a death that He didn’t have to experience to pay for your sins. That is how much it cost to free you from hell.

The result for those who believe is an eternal life spent in the presence of God (1 Peter 1:23). The only thing, besides people, that will last forever is God’s word (1 Peter 1:25). So many times throughout history people have tried to eradicate the Bible. But God will never let that happen as it contains the Good News that everyone needs to hear.

Peter exhorts his readers (who are believers) to desire to know God’s word in the same way that a dehydrated person would desire water – with a deep passion (this is the connotation of the original Greek). We should not crave watching sports on TV. Or shopping. Or money. Or celebrity gossip. We should crave to know more about God, Jesus, and the Bible. That isn’t easy considering all the distractions we face in our modern world. But that is all the more reason we need to leave those temporary, earthly things aside.


Psalms

In a perfect segue from 1 Peter, our reading in Psalms today confirms that true satisfaction only comes from following God (Psalm 119:35) and turning our eyes away from worthless things, of which there are many in this world (Psalm 119:37). The latest gossip about Justin Bieber or the Kardashians cannot give life. Only God’s word can provide someone with eternal life.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

A Lie I Told Myself

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Today’s Bible Reading: Ezekiel 44-45:12; 1 Peter 1:1-12; Psalm 119:17-32; Proverbs 28:8-10

Old Testament

One of my favorite Biblical prophecies is recorded in Ezekiel 44. The Eastern Gate of Jerusalem is the gate through which Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time, a week before His crucifixion. According to these passages, God declared that this gate would be closed after He entered (Ezekiel 44:1-3). In 1541 Ottoman Sultan Suleiman ordered the eastern gate to be sealed because of the Bible prophecy that says the Jewish Messiah will return and enter through this gate. Suleiman was trying to prevent this from happening. What he didn’t realize was that he was helping to fulfill Biblical prophecy. Pretty cool, huh?

If you’re interested in learning a bit more about the eastern gate and the related prophecy, I found this interesting video on YouTube which does a great job of describing it: The Eastern Gate in Prophecy.

We’ve already seen that during the Millenium the Old Testament practice of animal sacrifice will again take place, albeit for a different purpose. Similarly the concept of a Sabbaths’ day’s rest will apparently be reestablished as will the position of judges (Ezekiel 44:24).


New Testament

Today we begin reading the book of 1 Peter which is a letter written by Peter, one of Jesus’ direct disciples. Peter was most likely the oldest of the disciples with the rest being teenagers (Peter was over 20 years old). In the Gospel accounts Peter is recorded as speaking more than any person other than Jesus. So, despite his impulsive personality, Peter was the de-facto leader of the twelve disciples. It is this leadership position that Peter points to as authority for this letter (1 Peter 1:1).

We’ve already read that eternal life comes not from our own good works but solely by God’s grace. Grace is the giving of something that is undeserved. None of us deserve to go to heaven due to our sinfulness. But God, out of His grace, gives us that privilege. It is also by God’s mercy that we have eternal life. Mercy is not giving something that is deserved. We deserve to be separated from God forever (we call that hell). But God, out of His mercy, offers to withhold that punishment to those who are born-again (1 Peter 1:3).

Those who accept God’s gracious and merciful offer have an inheritance waiting in heaven (1 Peter 1:4). God is keeping this inheritance there so it does not get ruined, which it would if it were here on earth. Everything on earth decays and eventually fades away and is forgotten. But God wants to reward us with something that lasts forever. Anything God gives is far more valuable than the most valuable item on earth.

Notice that believers (this letter was written to Christians) “have to” endure many trials while on earth (1 Peter 1:6). Difficulty is not optional, even though we do all we can to avoid it. Having an easy life is not something to boast about because those who have it easy have very little, if any, faith. Just like fire reveals the purity of a precious metal, trials and difficulties reveal our level of faith (1 Peter 1:7). Going through trouble helps us realize that we need to increase our faith (through Bible study, prayer, etc).

God’s salvation plan was not a new concept when it was written about by New Testament authors. The Old Testament prophets knew about this grace, through the Holy Spirit, but didn’t fully understand it (1 Peter 1:10-11). Those of us living today have an advantage of understanding this now. But there are still many things that those of us living today don’t fully understand, including the Millenium which we’ve been reading about in Ezekiel.

I think God likes to give us “coming attractions” into the future. But just like movie coming attractions, God doesn’t want to give us too much information – just enough to whet our appetite and leave us wanting to know more. Even the angels are anxious to see what happens next (1 Peter 1:12).


Psalms

It is impossible for a person to see God’s truth in the Bible if her eyes are closed to that truth (Psalm 119:18). For years my eyes were closed. I had no interest in anything related to the Bible. But then my eyes were opened. Not by me… notice that it is God who opens people’s eyes to the truth. Perhaps someone prayed for my openness. If so, I’m thankful to that unknown person. We should likewise be praying, asking God to open the eyes and minds of the unbelievers we know.

Understanding of the Bible does not come through osmosis. We can’t just skim over the pages and expect to understand, especially since the Bible was written in a different culture than the one we live in now. We must meditate on it in order to fully comprehend it (Psalm 119:27). Without the Bible in one’s life, a person lies to themself (Psalm 119:29). Our own mind is not capable of finding truth about God. For years I was 100% sure I was right about the Bible – that it was a completely worthless document filled with hateful commands and inaccurate historical facts. That was a lie I told myself. Once God thankfully opened my eyes, I realized I was wrong.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

When Life Is Good

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Today’s Bible Reading: Ezekiel 42-43:27; James 5:1-20; Psalm 119:1-16; Proverbs 28:6-7

Old Testament

Ezekiel continues to get the grand tour of the future millenium Temple in Ezekiel 42. The original Hebrew text contains some words regarding the architectural specifications that are difficult to translate. But that is not the point of these passages. Throughout the tour, Ezekiel is reminded just how holy the Temple is (Ezekiel 42:13, 43:7-9). Whereas the original Temple, built by Solomon, had been defiled by idol worship, this Temple would not be.

God had left Solomon’s temple (Ezekiel 10:18-19, 11:22-25) and had not returned when the Temple was rebuilt after the exile or when King Herod refurbished it. But God plans on permanently returning to the Temple described here (Ezekiel 42:7).


New Testament

In yesterday’s passages in James he admonished us to humble ourselves and walk closely with God. In chapter 5 he has a special warning for those who are probably the most likely not to do this – the wealthy.

Wealth does not last. No matter whether it is clothes, or material possessions, or money, it will become worthless (James 5:2). Clothes wear out. Material possessions eventually break down or become obsolete. We see this happening at an extreme pace in our current world where technology becomes obsolete after just a few years. Even things that are still in perfectly good running order are often replaced simply so we can have the latest-and-greatest (e.g. cars). Even money loses its purchasing power over time. Therefore it is not wise to count on these things to provide security (James 5:3).

Many (but certainly not all) wealthy people have little regard for those who are poor. They do not share their wealth and may have even become wealthy at the expense of other people. Even though they may not care for those who are hurting, God cares (James 5:4). Notice that the wealthy people are too deaf to hear the cries of those around them. But those in heaven hear. God knows every single thing that has gone on on this earth since Day One.

Those of us who are enduring hardship in this world, as those mentioned above, need to be patient. Jesus will return. But there are some things that simply take time. Just like the farmers have no choice but to what for their crops to grow, we must be patient too as we wait for Jesus (James 5:7-8). While we wait we should not complain or withhold love from one another (James 5:9). This is a tough command. Its hard to be loving towards people who might be abusing you. But Jesus was loving towards those who beat, and mocked, and killed Him. We are to be the same.

The Bible is filled with stories of people who endured hardships. Many of these situations were worse than we could ever have it. We can look to these faithful heroes for inspiration (James 5:10-11). Here is another reason why reading and meditating on our Bibles is very important.

When we are suffering we must not neglect prayer (James 5:13). Sometimes it can be hard to take our minds off our problems and pray. But it does us no good to dwell on our circumstances. James also gives us a great reminder to praise God when things are going well (James 5:13). If there’s one thing we do less than pray, its praise. We have a habit of only talking to God when we are in need. But its just as important – maybe more so – to praise and thank Him when life is good.


Psalms

The Bible should be the central point of our lives. Not our jobs. Not sports. Not television. Not even our families. All of these things have their place (well, maybe not television) but none have the power to change our lives. Studying and reflecting on the information God has given us in the Bible will give us the fulfillment we seek via so many other aspects of life (Psalm 119:15-16).

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

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