Learning from Daniel

The Book of Daniel has been on my mind over the past few weeks, and it has really got me thinking about the youth of this nation – most specifically the county and community in which we live.  Daniel was a spiritual rebel so to speak…as were his friends – Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (better known to many of you as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego).

Their story is key to the lives of many today…especially youth in today’s world…but a message we can all take to heart in our lives.  Daniel and his friends were teenagers…they were youth struggling to face the battles that the world wanted to throw at them…they struggled in a land where it seemed that the Government wanted nothing to do with the God that they had been raised to serve – sound familiar?

There are a few things we see in the life of Daniel that we can take courage in knowing and applying to our lives.  First – A group of four teens were able to change the mind of a King who wanted control over every aspect of the lives of his subjects.  The King wanted to make them do exactly what he wanted done…right down to their meals.  The “Government” thought they knew better on what would be healthy, what would be good for the people…what would be proper in terms of acceptance.

This is something each of us as Christians are going through today in a world where acceptance is being preached on every street corner…does it mean we aren’t tolerant?  By no means!  What it does mean is that we should do as Daniel and his friends…stand up for our beliefs.  Daniel went to the King’s men and simply asked for permission to do what the Lord would have him to do…and he started small…with the diet.  The King thought he knew what the people should eat, he told them what was good for them; but Daniel knew different and simply asked for the opportunity to go against the flow, to show the power of God.  After 10 days, he and his friends were healthier, they were in better shape…basically they only wanted to present proof that God would work in their lives – God took care of the rest.

Second – Daniel shared his knowledge.  The King was having dreams…and his men couldn’t explain what they meant…but Daniel could.  Daniel was given wisdom from God to discern the meaning of the King’s dreams…dreams that the King’s ‘magic’ couldn’t touch.

Each of us has been called daily to share our knowledge with a world searching for answers.  It might not be dreams, but there are questions that only our knowledge of God and His ways can answer.  There are answers to situations that the unchurched, non-believer goes through in which they can’t explain…and their way of answering – to turn to drugs and alcohol.  They don’t find answers, they just forget for a while…and when it comes back up…it hits them harder the second and third time around; which at that point they have more than just the original problem to worry about.

Share what you know in everyday situations…whether in word, or in action…prove to the world the existence of our God…don’t be afraid to share the love of Christ with anyone you come in contact with.

Third – Dare to be different.  It goes along with the other two, but we must dare to be different than the world around us.  Don’t do something just because everyone else is doing it – that is how we end up holding ourselves back from the blessings that God has for us.  Being different is what helps us to get through the tough times with a little extra help; help that the world doesn’t have – The Holy Spirit.

Being different is ok…contrary to popular worldly belief…being different is what sets a Christian apart from those around them.  Lives may look similar, but the difference is the heart.  Look inside your heart and trust in the Lord for deliverance from anything the world will throw at you…and I mean ANYTHING!

This brings us to the final and probably the greatest example from the lives of Daniel and his friends that will guide us in our steps…Deliverance.  Look at where being different got them…in trouble with those around them.  Does that mean we should use caution?  No…they didn’t, and because of their steadfastness in faith, they were delivered from certain death.  We can avoid death in one of two ways:  One – avoid controversy.  We can do as many of the Israelites did and cower behind the fear that the world will throw us to the lions, or throw us in the fire…or Two – dive in and hold on.

Daniel and his friends opted for the second of the two…it wasn’t easy, because death was the promised outcome…but God is stronger than the world would like you to believe.  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego stood firm…and faced the fiery furnace.  They were thrown in, they were given no chance…but when the fire was at its hottest…they were not alone.  Because of their willingness to stand strong they had company from “the Son of God”(Daniel 3:25).

What happens next is something that would happen if we would all stand firm…conversion.  King Nebuchadnezzer’s life was changed because these 3 teens were willing to stand for their God.  He declared that anyone who did something against the God of these three would face death…because he realized the power of God for those who believe in him.

Daniel accomplished the same when he was thrown into the lion’s den…his faith caused the taming of the lions so much so that it made a difference when they opened the pit.  The King had not wanted to throw Daniel in, but he did because of pressure…not unlike pressures we feel daily in this world; but the result…another decree declaring the power of God.

Let’s change the world…youth can do it…and so can adults.  We are all children of the same God Daniel served.  Let’s turn the world on its ear and evoke the same response as that found in Daniel 6:26-27:

“For he is the living God
and he endures forever;
his kingdom will not be destroyed,
his dominion will never end.

27 He rescues and he saves;
he performs signs and wonders
in the heavens and on the earth.
He has rescued Daniel
from the power of the lions.”

— Daniel 6:26-27 (NIV)

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Jeff’s Story

This is a story that I wrote during my junior year at Milligan College for a class in leading worship.  The story you read here is an adaptation of a monologue that I wrote for the class entitled, “Jeff’s Story”. I wanted to share this with you as we have just made it through the Easter holidays, and the celebration of the crucifixion and resurrection of our Savior.

Jeff’s Story – “ Hi, I’m Jeff.  Well, you may wonder what I’m doing here, and sometimes I ask myself that same question.  But I do know why I am here; I am here to share Love.  Why you ask, well, let me tell you a little story of an encounter I had….

I don’t exactly remember when it was, but that isn’t important right now.  I went out on a walk – it must have been around 8 in the evening, maybe 9ish, but I didn’t really look at the clock – I was upset, I had to get away, I left my wife and kids back at the apartment, but I just had to get away.  I did what I had done ten thousand times, I had to go for a walk.  Normally I took my Bible and I went to pray.  It was something I had done often you know, every time that something was bothering me, but this time I had left in such a hurry that I forgot my Bible, but I didn’t want to go back and get it, besides it was just this one time, and I was angry, dejected, and well, I felt as if no one loved me…

But this time, this time there was something different.  I wasn’t sure what it was, but something was different.  This time I didn’t feel alone, and that was strange; every time before I had walked out and felt empty – alone, like no one was there for me – but this time, this time was different – I felt comfort, well for the most part.  And that is when I turned and looked and I knew who was following me, I knew who was walking with me. It was Jesus, He was there – he was there with me!?

He caught up to me, and we walked side by side.  He asked me what was bothering me, and I told him; we talked – I had gone out like this so many times, and never felt his presence, but it was different – I liked it…

And then, that was when I looked around – I was worried – I had been following Jesus, and we were in unfamiliar territory, and I was confused. So I turned to Jesus, and asked him where we were – He said nothing, but I kept following.  He was unusually quiet, I didn’t understand it, I was getting scared, what was going on here?

And then he turned and he broke the silence by asking me, “Hey Jeff, you remember what I said to my followers about MY Commandment?”

I didn’t know what he was asking, I had probably heard the story – I had grown up in church – but intrigued I asked him, “What Lord, What did you say?”

He turned to me and smiled, I was really confused at this moment, but he looked deep in me, He knew what was wrong.  He knew the reason I had left was because I hadn’t felt like anyone loved me, not even him!  And that is when he said, “I told them, ‘Love one another as I have loved you,’ But Jeff, do you know what I said after that?”

I could vaguely remember the story, I felt horrible as I looked at him and said, “No, I’m sorry, no I don’t know.”  I started to cry, I felt as if I had let him down – and that is when He reached up, wiped away my tears…

He wiped them away, and then he said, “Greater Love has no Man then to lay down his life for his Friend.”

This confused me even more, what did he mean?  What was he getting at?  I couldn’t figure it out.  That is when I realized – we were walking up a hill, but it was so dark I couldn’t see what was at the top.  I just couldn’t figure it out, what was Jesus saying?  We just kept walking, he was silent again – I was trying to get him to talk, but he just said nothing, it was so uncomfortable – what was going on here?  That is when we got to the top – and I knew what was going on…

At the top there was a cross, three Nails, and a Crown of Thorns….

Jesus looked at me, and with sadness in his eyes he grabbed the nails and the crown and began walking toward the cross.  Then out of nowhere came Roman Soldiers, and Jesus handed one of them the nails, and placed the crown on his own head, I didn’t understand it – I couldn’t take it anymore, I tried to stop it, I knew what he was doing, but he just laid down on the cross, I just couldn’t bear to watch – I turned away…

I heard the pounding, I kept my face hidden – and then, then the noise stopped, and everything became quiet.  I gathered myself, and looked up…

Through my tears I looked up and he looked down at me – he was smiling through the pain – he just looked down and said to me, ”Jeff, do you still think no one loves you?  I love you Jeff, I am your friend…I love you!!  Remember Jeff, ‘Love each other as I have loved you.’”

​He didn’t say it, but I remembered what he followed that with, only this time it was real.  He followed it with what we know, John 15:13 – “Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for a friend.”  So you want to know what Love is?  To me that’s love – Jesus loves us – He showed us that on the cross, when he spread his arms and said, “I love you this much!””

Do you have a story like Jeff’s? Remember how much you are loved, so much that Jesus spread his arms and said, “I love YOU this much!” But also remember, the resurrection of Christ completed the task, not only did Christ die to save us from our sins, but he now LIVES to give us the victory over the grave, over death, and over Hell!  HE IS RISEN!!

The Final Week

Jesus and his disciples were making their way into Jerusalem when Jesus asked a couple of his followers to go ahead and find a donkey and her colt and bring them to him.  The instructions were simple…if anyone approaches and asks what you are doing, tell them, “The Lord needs them.”

Jesus then rides the donkey into Jerusalem to fulfill the scripture and the thing about it all is that the people were cheering, they were excited, they were welcoming in their Messiah as they had been following his ministry for the past three years and had seen all the healing he had done, they had heard his messages, they had followed him from town to town.

This same group of people would less than a week later be the same group who would call for the freedom of Barabbas and the death of Jesus by way of crucifixion.  What happened to cause the change of heart? Why did the people turn?

The truth is, they were scared…much as we are in our day.  They were afraid for their lives if they didn’t join the crowd and call for the crucifixion of the one they had cheered just a week earlier.  We do it as well, because we are so scared of how people will view us.  We are scared that they might judge us based on their worldly views, but we should not let things keep us from living out the life that we are called to.

Church, we must not let the world tell us how to live…we must live like Christ…we must walk in his steps and we must follow the path that he has set for us.  We may not know all the plans that God has for us, but if we live according to faith we can know that his plans are much better than our own.  Jesus tells us to take up our own cross and follow him daily, and today, we must do just that.

I encourage you during this Easter season, take a long, hard look at your life and see how you are living.  Are you loving like Jesus? Are you living like Jesus? Are you serving like Jesus? Are you winning others to the Kingdom of God? Are you showing the world that it has no hold on you? Are you living up to the name Christian?

It may be Friday in your life, but Sunday is coming!

Before Abraham was, I AM!

There has been a passage of scripture that keeps entering my mind over the past few weeks…so much so that I felt I needed to dive in a little deeper to what was being said.  The passage is found in John 8:48-59…

“The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me.  Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge.  Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”  The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’  Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?”  Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing.  It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’  But you have not known him.  I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word.  Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”  So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”  Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.”

— John 8:48-59 (ESV)

Breaking it down we see a couple of things here that are key to the message that Jesus was trying to convey to the Pharisees…Jesus wanted them to see who he was, in hopes that they would grasp his message…a message that we later see in John 14:6 where Jesus made the claim, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through me.”  Jesus also wanted to establish the authority that had been given him by his Father…and show them the reach of his ministry.

Jesus wanted the Pharisees to grasp his identity…They asked him about his identity, and he answered them in saying he didn’t have a demon, but that he honors his Father.  He then made it personal with them by stating that they were dishonoring him saying he had a demon.  He then clarified his statement by saying, “I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge.”  He stated this to establish the authority of God…and then, knowing that his ministry was God-centered, explained that if anyone keeps his word…he would never die.

This is where you have to stop and think about the group that Jesus was speaking with; you have to realize that they were a law based people…this kind of thinking wasn’t something that they grasped very easily.  They had a belief that Jesus was foolish in his claims, and didn’t seem at times to want to understand what he was trying to say…to them it was an extreme way of thinking…to Him it was the only way of thinking.  They revered Abraham…looked to him as an icon of the faith…so it almost seems that they take it personally when Jesus says that those who keep his word would not die.

With this thinking in mind, it is clear why the Pharisees responded in the way that they did, telling Jesus that he was clearly demon possessed.  In their eyes Abraham was the greatest, but he had passed on…as had the other prophets with whom they were familiar…sparking them to directly ask Christ…”Who do you make yourself out to be?”  This was important to them for the simple reason that in their eyes Jesus could not be who he claimed.  In their eyes, Jesus was just another man…a man who made “outrageous” claims…a man they didn’t understand.

Many of us daily face similar confrontations when we claim the name of Christ…people ask how we can believe in something that we can’t see…how we can base our lives on something that is “unproven”.  This is where we can take a lesson from Christ in how we handle a situation of this sort.  We are to be like Christ…so why not look to him for the answers?

Jesus responds to their question by saying something that hit them right in the face…Jesus hits them to the core with his next statement, saying, “If I glorify myself, then my glory is nothing.  It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’  But you have not known him. I know him.  If I were to say I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word.”

Why did Jesus feel that he needed to explain it in this way?  The Pharisees were a group of people who constantly looked down on others based on their beliefs…they constantly attacked the faith of those they came in contact with by simply glorifying themselves to “show how holy” they really were.  Their attitudes were similar to the attitudes of many within the church today…many who constantly look around the sanctuary on a Sunday morning, looking at everyone there and judging them, thinking, ‘I’m glad they’re here…they need this,’ or, ‘I can’t believe that person would even think they could come through the doors of this church.’  This is an attitude that can be detrimental to the health of a church…an attitude that can crush a new believer or a sinner looking for an answer.

Jesus felt that he needed to explain himself because they still didn’t get it…he knew the impact of that type of attitude on his ministry.  Jesus lived a God-centered life…he never wanted his name glorified because he wanted to bring the glory to his Father.  He offended the Pharisees because he then made a statement that would hit them at the heart of their message…”It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But YOU HAVE NOT KNOWN HIM.  I KNOW HIM.  If I were to say I did not know Him, I would be a LIAR LIKE YOU, but I DO know Him and I keep His word.” The problem they had with Jesus’ response is the same one that we have daily if someone seems to attack our faith when we think we have it all figured out.  Jesus said something to them that they did not want to hear…he told them that they did not know God.  The holy rollers had their skates ripped out from under them.

They responded with an even greater rejection of the authority of Christ…to them, he was just a man…a crazy extremist who was looking to cause a riot…a hypocrite…a liar…a blasphemer…a crook.  Jesus was all this and more in the eyes of those who found that he was detrimental to their message…just as we all are at times in our lives.  Or do you find yourself on the other side?  Putting down those who don’t share the same view as you?  Thinking that you have it all figured out…thinking that you have it all together…

We can all take a lesson from this section…that lesson?  God is the authority and he is the one to be glorified.  If we seek for our own glory, all that we will find is that our plans will fall apart, because God will not glorify that which does not bring glory to Him.  Jesus established God’s authority, while establishing his own in the final statement he makes.  He continued saying that “Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day.  He saw it and was glad.”  This was met with even greater opposition from the Pharisees because of the claim of Jesus that he had seen Abraham.  In their minds they could not grasp the fact that a man in his thirties would dare say that he had met Abraham…because they couldn’t grasp the idea that Jesus was God…but Jesus didn’t let that phase him, as he responded with, “Before Abraham was, I AM.”

The Pharisees knew well the story of Moses and the burning bush, where God first spoke His name, when He told Moses, “I Am, that, I Am.”  So why did Jesus feel this was a proper response to their question?  Because Jesus knew Abraham, he knew Moses, he knew God…He was there.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

— John 1:1,14 (ESV)

John established that when opening his book because Jesus established that in his ministry.  This was Jesus way of saying…”not only am I the son of God…I am God.  I was there in the beginning and I’ll be there in the end…I am the Way, I am the Truth, I am the Life…I AM!”  Jesus had met Abraham…He had walked with Abraham…He knew Abraham…personally.  The Pharisees only knew about them…they only knew what they had heard.  So with one sentence Jesus had established every authority which had been granted to him by his Father, “Before Abraham was, I Am.”

“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

— Revelation 22:12-13 (ESV)

Knowing the Scripture

With all the conversation that has come up about the movie “Noah”, I feel that I need to address something that has been the topic of conversation. The biggest thing I have seen and heard during this process is the Knowledge of Scripture. One of the biggest problems that I believe we face today is that many in the church like to argue for the sake of arguing.
There are many who get into conversations on a daily basis about films, programs, events, and more; many of them getting fighting mad about the situation. I want to encourage each of you today to read and familiarize yourself with the scripture. There is only one occasion in which Jesus got so mad that he reacted in any way other than speaking in love and truth. That occasion is when Jesus turned over the tables of the temple and told the vendors that they had made a mockery of God’s house.
We as Christians today, in my honest opinion (and as I say this, I realize that I am very guilty of this myself), overreact to circumstances and situations that honestly do not warrant such a reaction by us. Noah has sparked a war of words between many folks, and many of them within the Christian faith. It is a film, a production of Hollywood, a story that is set forth for Entertainment value, directed by a man who is only worried about a paycheck. It is very loosely based on scripture (and when I say loose, I mean that it is essentially only using names and certain facts such as a boat, a flood, and one family remaining).
This being said, I believe that we as Christians have two responsibilities in this…one, we must be careful to not show approval for things that are not of God. Scripture tells us to be aware of what we show our approval for because we are called as examples, and if we are showing approval for the world, we are not exemplifying Christ. The second, I feel that we need to use opportunities to share the truth when the contrary is put out there. Rather than just telling others not to see a film, invite them to watch and discuss, opening the scripture to share the right story and open their minds to understanding what God can show them.
I’m not saying we should encourage folks to go and see films like Noah necessarily, but I am saying that we should remember that this is a Hollywood production that is not intended to win souls to Christ. I am saying however that we should not condemn others for their decisions to see the film, rather, we should discuss it with them and hopefully open the doors of communication that the Church for whatever reason has chosen to close in many cases.
Westboro Baptist Church has been the best example I can think of that makes this point. We as the church should not be condemning anyone to Hell…it is not our place. We can share scripture and our understanding, but we must be calm and collected if we want the truth to be heard. Jesus addressed sin with conversation, sharing what is right, but ultimately giving them the choice to listen and choose the truth over their worldly ways. Just be aware that the world will not give up easily.
Today, choose truth. Study and memorize scripture and always be ready with an answer. Remember Psalm 119:11, “I have hidden Thy word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Scripture is strong on its own…we do not have to add to it to make a point or add entertainment value. Let God’s word tell us the story today; let it work in you and through you today.