..."and a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the way of holiness; evil minded people shall not travel on it, but it shall be for those wayfarers who are traveling toward God. (Isaiah 35:8, adapted)

Friday, December 28, 2007

He Who Lives By The Sword Dies By It: Should A Christian Protect Himself? Part Two of "Should the Church Use Armed Guards?"

In Luke 22:35-38, we again look at this
most difficult saying of Jesus. How
shall we interpret Jesus' words to His
disciples to "buy a sword" when it
seems to be at odds with the tenor
of what Jesus preaches, (i.e. turn the
other cheek; forgive; walk the second
mile, etc)?

Matthew Henry suggests that the sword
Jesus is telling them to buy is a
spiritual sword. In one sense our
weapons must be spiritual but
was this what Jesus had in mind here?
This buying of the sword is still
linked with Jesus being numbered
with the transgressors, which is
not easily understood. So attaining
a "spiritual" sword would not be
something that was worthy of prosecution
or even visible. Is Jesus suggesting that
his disciples obtain a few swords but
not use them as form of civil disobedience
so that Jesus would be "numbered with the
transgressors"? (an "only criminals have guns"
kind of thinking) I see no sense that
Jesus intended for his
disciples to use them except as the
mildest form of deterrent. This opens
up a larger can of worms then we have
time to address today!

Jesus, however, is definitely not
suggesting using swords or arms
to carry out the mission of
preaching the gospel. The
possession of arms seems limited
to a personal sword, if anything, and not
a military uprising. (see the
American Thinker's series of articles
of pacifism & Christianity) When Peter starts
to have his interest piqued at the
idea of swords, Jesus quickly
squelches him by saying, "it is
enough"...(the two swords carried
by the group). The fact that Jesus
disciples even had two swords among
them is interesting.

I'm wondering if Jesus is acknowledging
that the world is indeed evil, and
that protecting oneself is part of
human nature. Perhaps He might be
saying that if you want to carry
a sword, do it, but don't get carried
away with it, and don't rely on it,
and ABSOLUTELY don't use it to
enforce His message. I still think
He is calling us to a higher place.

I think it is fair to say that in His
saying,"It is enough" there is a strong
message of distaste and that Jesus is
really wanting people to go to a
deep place of trusting God--again,
something that cannot be legislated
and something that He is not willing
to demand of His followers, but prays
they will come to (and will not be able
to come to without the outpouring
of the coming Holy Spirit).

So Jesus could be saying, "use a sword
as protection if you feel that you must,
but know there is a higher path."
The interesting thing is that after
the incident in the Garden of Gethsemane
with Peter and the ear, there is no
tradition I know of in the early
church of Christians using violence or
even protecting themselves. At worst
they simply flee from the threat.
Apparently they got the
message loud and clear!

Of course, later we have the
ugliness of the crusades, and violent
encounters with Muslims, another whole
sad story in itself, but that is much later and
the violent actions of the crusades cannot
be traced back the the purest teachings
of Jesus. Now I am really close to
volatile subjects, so back to "Should
a Christian defend him or herself?
And should a Christian defend someone
in his or her care, especially a child?

Obviously, the use of non-violence to
stop violence and evil is a great call.
Sometimes that can be accomplished by
using the spoken authority that God
grants us in the Name of Jesus. We
can use prayer, use love, use peace as
the weapons we fight with. Do they
produce the same results as a magnum?
No. And you need to be at peace with that.

Other times we might use physical
force that is not deadly to protect
ourselves or an innocent bystander.
Sometimes we may simply put ourselves
and our loved ones in God's hands, even
if that means losing our earthly lives.
Many of the people, however, that I spoke with
in preparing this article felt like
they would use physical force to
protect a child or someone in their

Francis Schaeffer says,
“I am to love my neighbor as myself,
in the manner needed, in the midst of
the fallen world, at my particular point
in history. This is why I am not a
pacifist. Pacifism in this poor world
in which we live – this lost world –
means that we desert the people who
need our greatest help . . . I come
upon a big burly man beating a tiny
tot to death . . . I plead with him to
stop. Suppose he refuses? What does
love mean now? Love means that I stop
him in any way that I can, including
hitting him. To me, this is not only
necessary for humanitarian reasons;
it is loyalty to Christ’s commands
concerning Christian love in a fallen
world. What about the little girl?
If I desert her to the bully, I have
deserted the true meaning of Christian
love – responsibility to my neighbor."

At what point does this break
down or does it? Is this what
love really means, that I resort
to violence to stop violence?
(Of course, if someone were hurting
a child or an innocent in front of
me I would probably hit them
over the head with a baseball bat and not
think twice...but then this is why
I am prayerfully pondering this issue!)

During the Second World War, Dietrich
Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor, was
involved with the plot to kill Hitler.
If we have a chance, as a Christian,
to prevent the slaughter of hundreds
if not millions of people, should we
use that chance even if it involves
deadly force? Could you pull the trigger
on Hitler to save millions of Jews?
I'm surprised? sorry? to say that
I might say I might do that also.
I'm really not sure. God help us!

These are weighty questions. A pastor
is responsible for his congregation
before God. Perhaps it is up to each
individual pastor to pray and seek
God as to what God would have him
do. When it comes to defending myself
there seems to be less of an urgency,
for while I would not want to lose my
life or be hurt, I can know that I
am in the hands of God and perhaps
more ready to meet Him then my attacker

Perhaps there are no easy answers other
than going to God and doing what He tells you!

I leave you with two powerful thoughts,
"If is is possible, as much as depends
on you, live peaceably with all men.
Beloved, do not avenge yourselves,
but rather, give place to [God's] wrath:
for it is written: Vengeance is Mine,
I will repay: says the Lord. Therefore,
if your enemy is hungry, feed him,
and if he is thirsty, give him a drink,
For in so doing you will heap coals
of fire on his head. " Do not be
overcome with evil, but overcome
evil with good. (Romans 12:18-21).


"Pursue peace with all people, and
holiness, without which no one
shall see the Lord" (Heb. 12:14).

May your journey be free of strife
and sheltered from worldly turmoil,
but know, no matter what, that you
are safely in the hands of God.
Do not succumb to the world's ways
but follow the highest path Christ
sets before you.

Strive to walk in the highest
grace possible for you will
walk in the long line of those
of whom it is fitly said, "the
world is not worthy" (Hebrews 11:38).
The only bloodshed that should
truly be ours is the bloodshed of our
own prayerful striving against sin,
(Heb. 12:4)--even as Jesus sweat great drops
of blood as He wrestled with absolute
obedience to God. (Luke 22:44).

Violence in The Church: Should Churches Have Armed Guards? Part 1

In the wake of the recent Colorado
Springs shootings in the church,
and nearby YWAM missionary society,
I have been thinking much about how
Christians should respond to
violence both on an an individual
and a congregational level.

This is the first of two articles
on my musings.

I have talked with a wide
variety of Christians about
this issue and have received
nothing but thoughtful, prayerful
answers. The answers do not come
to the same conclusions and I
am not saying that the conclusion
that I have come to is the conclusive
one. I urge you to take this matter
to the Lord, and if you are a
pastor or Christian leader, I
ask you to take it to the Lord
on behalf of your congregation.

I am here in Colorado Springs
for the holidays. My somewhat
uneducated opinion of Colorado
is that it still retains a bit
of the wild, wild West in it.
I sense that Coloradians value
their individual and corporate
rights and that many would be
willing to fight for those
rights. In this respect Coloradians
are like most Americans.

The church that experienced
the shootings in Colorado was
Ted Haggard's church. It already
had a history of controversy and
being such a large congregation
decided that it needed
armed guards for the safety of
its members and guests. Many
other churches, no doubt,
have decided the same thing.

The question is, is this what
Christ would have us to do?
Is our duty to protect the
people who come into our churches
or to uphold the high standards
of the gospel which might ask us
to respond in a different manner?
Does resorting to violence or
even the potential of
violence violate the spirit
of what Christ calls us to?

Today, large gatherings of people are
typically protected by armed
guards. If we go into a stadium
or a music event etc., there are
armed guards who are there to
protect us. Should the church
follow suit or are we different?

When the Amish school children were
murdered a few years ago, that
community held up a high testimony
to the world in how it handled
the violence. It forgave the murderer
and reached out the family of
the person who committed the crime.

Part of the calling of the Church
is to be set apart from the world
and to show the world that Christians
live by a different standard. We
should know and testify to the fact
that we are in God's hands, no
matter what.

If we use the world's methods to
protect the church, then how are
we different from the world?
What message are we sending--
that we need to help God out
in defending people? Or, because
the world is fallen, do we need
to have "common sense" about violence?

Even implicit in that last idea
is the idea that love is not
strong enough to meet with
violence and win. I ask you,
what is "winning"? If the church
resembles the world in all its
undertaking, then how is it still
the church?

Do you want your church to resort
to armed guards to protect you?
Do you want these guards to be members
of your own church or outside
agents? How would you or they
feel if a member of your church
had to shoot someone to protect
you? Or are you content to
put yourself in God's hands no
matter where you are, church
included, and simply trust God?

In the book of Daniel, when Daniel
and his three friends are faced
with the possibility of death
they respond thus, "God is able
to deliver us from the fiery
furnace,...but if not, let it
be known that we do not serve
your gods" (Daniel 3:17, 18).
When does there come a time
when the standard we uphold
is greater than life itself?
What exactly is the standard?

Is there a point that we as
the salt of the earth lose
our savor? Does a pastor have
a moral duty to protect
people, especially children,
or is that duty, in some
cases, superseded by a
higher standard? Do I have
the right to take another's
life even if he does me or
my family or congregation

Can we, and should we, be
employing non-violent means
to counter-attack violence?
What would these means be?
What are the weapons of
our warfare? Prayer?
Love? The Name of Jesus?

A couple of the people I
discussed this with had
had their lives threatened
in very real ways (both by
knives). Both felt they
used the authority that
God has given believers
to disarm the situation
(i.e. commanding them in
Christ's name to put down
the knife). Do we walk in
the authority that God has
given us or do we resort
to worldly tactics in the
heat of battle?

There is a highly debated
passage in the gospel of
Luke (22: 35-38). When
Jesus was nearing the
end of His earthly ministry
He revamps what He tells
His disciples. He asks them
if they ever lacked anything
when He sent them out without
purse or money or swords.
They said they had not lacked.
Then he tells them that now
it is time to get a purse,
and a knapsack, and "he who
has no sword, let him sell
his garment and buy one' (vs. 36).
He also makes this rather
interesting comment:

"For I say to you that this
which is written must still be
accomplished in Me": "and He was
numbered with the transgressors"
(vs. 37). Now I am sure that
Jesus is not just saying that
so that He can manipulate
the prophecy into being fulfilled!

Is he actually telling them that
they will need a sword? And why
does it seem that He is connecting
the getting of the swords with
being numbered with the transgressors?

Jesus is, no doubt telling them
that their lives are about to get
more turbulent and the possibility
of violence administered against them
greater. Until now, Jesus' presence
protected His disciples when He was
on earth, but the Bridegroom
was leaving and the protected season
was ending. Now the disciples would
find themselves in a hostile world
and must be prepared for persecution.
But must they defend themselves with
a sword? When the disciples started
to pick up on what Jesus was saying
they produced two swords and Jesus
told them, "It is enough" (vs. 38).

Jesus never transgressed the Law.
He never sinned. Yet this twisted
world "numbered him with the sinners."
If they would do this to Jesus, then
what could the disciples expect?
And yet, Jesus way is not the way
of violence. Shortly after this,
Peter lops off the ear of the
high priest and Jesus patches it back on.

There is no evidence that the disciples
used violent force to preserve their
lives. There is no account of the
early disciples killing others to save
their own lives. Stephen is the first
martyr, and he offers no resistance.
All the other disciples, except John,
end their lives as martyrs. Either they
were lousy at swordfights or they did
not use arms to defend themselves.

So what is Jesus saying? It is not
easy to answer. It certainly does
not appear that He is advocating
violence but making us aware of
what life will be like. It is possible
that He is not legislating the higher law
of Love, but letting His followers
find it for themselves. If He had told
them, "never fight back" it might turn
into a legalistic pronouncement
rather than the radical relationship
to Himself. The coming Agency
of the Holy Spirit would soon completely
catapult their thinking and behavior
into a new realm. There is grace like
no other grace when we are faced with
our own death. To surrender to Christ,
and to choose to love at the moment of
our death, even, or especially, at the
hands of violent men, is such a high
calling that it cannot be demanded, but
must be a free offering of the heart.

No-one wants to die, but faced with
death we can become more like Christ
than at any other moments because
the stakes are so high: our life!
Jesus said, "No-one takes My life from
Me, I lay it down (John 10:18)," In one
sense we cannot make that claim, but in
another sense, no-one takes our life from
us, even if we are killed, because
we are in God's hands and we have
a larger kind of life: eternal life.

Jesus said, "He who lives by the
sword, dies by the sword" (Mat. 26:52)
as Peter tries to defend Him when
He is taken in the garden. Jesus
appeals to this line of thought:
"Don't you think I can pray to the
Father and have Him send more than
12 legions of angels to aid Me, but
then how would the scriptures be
fulfilled? (v. 53,54). Christ is
content to do the Father's will,
even if it means violence coming
against Him. He knows the violence
can only take so much from Him, only go
so far, only be so victorious, in
fact, not victorious at all.

Ultimate victory and vindication
lay in doing the will of God and
letting God take care of things.
So how much, if at all, do we
put our hands to things?

(Part Two continues this topic)
(your prayerful comments are welcome)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Never Alone at Christmas: Always God, Faithfully God, God without Fail!

It's Christmas Eve and I am way
out of town and decided to walk
down to the local church which
advertised its 5 p.m. Christmas
Eve service on the banner outside.

It didn't matter to me what kind
of service it was or what kind
of denomination. It is Christmas:
something that all Christians
share together no matter how or
when they celebrate it.

I didn't know a soul and didn't
need to. I wasn't dressed up and
didn't want to be. And so I went,
and so I sat, and so I sang, and
so I pondered as I always do.
Some things never change.

I wondered, forgive me for my
boldness, how easily Jesus
rested in the hearts of those
around me. All I know is that
a warm reception for God is
really not all that common.
Having said that I hadn't
come to judge. I just wondered
because that is how I am.

Here is the picture for you:
Ancient Christmas hymns, familiar
and nostalgic, fill the air. Candle
glow reflects on faces young
and old. The uneasy ambience
of families together: some happily,
some dutifully. A little girl
with a red plaid dress staring at
the flame of a candle her parents
hold carefully for her. Her father
holds a young baby who did not
seem to fit the same color or
genetic scheme as the rest.
An old man in a wheelchair, singing
loudly, sitting near me, smelling
strongly of urine. The pastor
seemingly torn between the
desire to unabashedly believe and
the ugly pressured burden that comes
from who knows where, to be or at
least appear, spiritually not-to-sure.

He said that this was the night
that something divinely special happened
(although he added that it might be
hard to say exactly what that was.)
Indeed. I wildly disagree. What seemed
hard to say was how many discerned Jesus in
our midst tonight. Did others see
Him holding out His Hand to them?

But isn't this what Christmas
is all about? About a Light
shining in our darkness,
about hope in our despair,
about a Remedy for our
spiritual ignorance, dullness,
and inability to see? Isn't
Christmas about Jesus coming to
the very least of us, and who of
us in not the least, the blindest,
and the most in need?

He promised to be there if
only 2 or 3 really knew their
need of Him enough to gather
in His Name. I desperately
hoped that at least one other
person felt as needy as me.
If so, Jesus would be a shoe-in, no
matter what.

I thought of my home church and what
the Christmas sermon might be like.
I thought of the robust sermon that
must be dancing like a sugarplum in
the heart of my other exiled pastor.
But here I was, thousand of miles
away from both, just me and Jesus.

Before the service a lady caught me
looking at her and came, straightway,
as the King James says, toward me.
Rarely does someone give you such
a look of recognition. Rarely does
someone remember your name on the first
go. As the service ended, people started
to gather up their things, I started
to leave my seat and heard, unexpectedly,
my name called out. I turned to find
the same lady looking intently at me.
She smiled. At that moment I knew that
God had noticed, had met with me,
alone in a strange church, in an
unfamiliar town. It was God, always
God, faithfully God, without fail,
God who had and would always meet
with me. It is hard to know what
people do with Jesus. It is sobering
to think of what Jesus will do with
us. And yet where meek souls will
receive Him still, the dear Christ
enters in. That is the message of

Tonight I shall sleep in peace
in the arms of My Saviour. I
trust that you will, too. If you
are alone this Christmas, you
needn't be...simply call upon
the Lord. He sees all who call
upon Him! Merry Christmas!

Awaiting Jesus at Christmas

Jesus, how we have waited for You!
This advent as we considered Your first coming,
now we long for Your second.

You who have ignited a fire on the earth
come and burst forth in our midst!

We have filled our lamps with oil,
it is You, our Lord, that we await
with great expectation.

O Come, Desire of Ages, come.
Come in fullness to inherit
all that the Father destines for You.

Fill our hearts.
Fulfill our souls.
Bring our spirits at last home.

photograph taken in Colorado Springs, Colorado

Friday, December 21, 2007

Bible Study on the Book of Daniel: Lesson 3, Identifying Babylon

Book of Daniel Bible Study: Identifying
Babylon in Your Life: Daniel 1:1-17

Daniel determined that he would not fall
prey to the spirit and ways of Babylon.
Even in his captivity he had to determine
what was of God and what was not of God
and choose to serve God alone.
He had to set his face like flint against
the spirit of Babylon even while
surrounded on every side by Babylon.

Have you ever felt surrounded on all
sides by evil and ungodliness? Consider
Daniel. He was immersed in the ways of
Babylon but Babylon was not touching
him! How did he keep his heart separated
to God? Everything in our lives is
either leading us toward God or toward
Babylon. We have to discern and recognize
the spirit behind that which we let into
our hearts.

How is Babylon crossing your life?
We need to examine everything that
we let into our lives because, like a Trojan
horse, once Babylon comes in, it infiltrates
to conquer. We don't need to fear
Babylon, we just need to have good
sentries, and ironclad--indeed "Spirit-clad"
boundaries to separate us unto God.

What are you filled with? You only have
so much inner room, so much time, so
much strength. What is your life filled with?
Did you know that you can build for God
even in Babylon?

Our lives will become something--we need
to ask ourselves how will that happen and
what are we building? When we get to the
end of our days we will be something--either
something for God or something for Satan.
We have to make deliberate and conscious choices
or we will be swept toward that which
is mediocre or worse yet, entirely not of God.

Daniel understood this principle. Daniel
understood that spiritual discipline
would aid him greatly in keeping his
heart pure and focused on God. We have
to incorporate biblical practices and disciplines
into our lives that keep us pointed in
the right direction. It is so easy to
drift off course.

Daniel prayed and saw that he could use
the disciple of fasting to set his
heart toward God. He did not have
control over very much in his life.
He was fed that which the king saw fit
to feed him, and the king no doubt
felt he was giving Daniel the best
kind of food. Daniel knew otherwise:
perhaps he was asked to eat pork
or unclean things according to
the Law. Perhaps the food was not
prepared the way the Law stated it
should be. Are you partaking of
things that Babylon offers without

Daniel asked to fast from the
"dainty meat" that was brought to
him. Even then there was a myth
circulating that fasting would
make you weak and take your strength
(Daniel 1:10). We need to realize
that while fasting may deny
the physical body, it strengthens
the spirit when we look to the Lord
(Matthew 17:21, Is 58:6). Fasting
can free us to find or rekindle
our reliance on God alone and
to gaze upon Him unhindered.

Each time Daniel ate his meal
of vegetables he was reminded
who he served and where his
strength really came from:
The Lord God! We need disciplines
such as these to carry us through
our walk in the Babylon of this
world. What might God be asking
you to do so that your focus on
Him might be strengthened?

God is looking for a consistency
in our walk with Him. We cannot
be full of zeal one day, and
compromise the next! We cannot
be for God on Monday, and
for Babylon on Tuesday! We
need "a long obedience in the
same direction"! We have to
"purpose" in our hearts to
not be defiled (vs. 8)
or we will drift away from God.

Jonathan Edwards, the noted
revivalist, himself made a
long list of resolutions
to serve God. It is a formidable
list and one that might seem
impossible to adhere to. But
his heart was set toward the
Lord. He did not want to waste
one minute of his life with
lesser things.

Jesus will direct us, as we
seek Him, with guidance that
He tailor-makes for us. This
guidance is born out of the
relationship we maintain with
God minute by minute, day by
day, week by week, month by
month, year by year. Daniel
spent his whole life in Babylon
but Babylon never conquered him. God
knows the details of our life
and situation and He knows what
will keep us with Him. Ask the
Lord what He would have you do.
Avail yourself of His Spirit.

Often we are spiritually ignorant
and we fail to recognize
Babylon in our lives and Satan's
devises in our midst. We need
to examine everything in our
lives to see if it something
that God wants for us.

Often we do things, even
spiritual things, and only
have a vague idea why we
do them or if they are backed
up by scripture. We may have
a mixture of truth and untruth,
human wisdom mixed with
eternal truth. We should
allow God to test our beliefs.
"God helps those who help
themselves" The Lord works in
mysterious ways, etc": we have
many truisms that circulate in
our minds that are not true at
all or are only partly true.

Where is Babylon in our lives?
We must identify where it is
coming in, and we cannot do
this without the aid of the
Holy Spirit (Romans 8:5-11).

What does Babylon say to us:
That youth is desirable, that
being good looking is
what makes a leader, that
social status is important,
that intelligence will get
you to the top, that human
charisma is the same as
divine charisms (Daniel 1:4).

These were all the things that
the Babylonians looked for
when they chose leaders.
Is this not the same message
we hear in our culture today?
In some sense these things
are ok, but they are
not the ways of God. God
looks at the heart, He is
after a pure heart that is
set on Him. He does not
consider the outward man,
nor that which is politically
correct. He does not consider
your looks, your heritage,
your intelligence, your
ability to charm others
when He calls you. Daniel
became a hero of faith not
because of what he looked like
but because of his strong
trust in God.

We need to ask where Babylon has
infiltrated our thinking and
what we actually value. We can
identify some of the more gross
areas of things that are against
Christ but there are many subtle things
that we must test. We often
accept things and never bother
to see how they contradict
the message of the gospel.

There are many things that we
as Americans value and sometimes
they become entwined with what
we feel we should value as
Christians. How is the American
gospel different from the gospel
that Christ presents?
How is
American Christianity different
from "mere" Christianity? When
you answer that question you
will uncover some of the blueprints
for Babylon's plan of attack in
your life. (Each culture, not
just Americans, has to look at
where it strays from the Lord).

American Christians often speak
much about family values, about
being a good "witness", about
being full of purpose and practical
vision. We stress balance, happiness,
and tolerance. We seem to want to
make the gospel palatable so that
people will be able to say "yes" to
it without undue inward change.
Jesus is often seen as someone
who will help us become a better
version of ourselves--who will help
with our problems, give us financial
and spiritual counsel, an occasional
tip for the stock market, find us a house
in the suburbs and a parking place
near the door, all from a
safely hidden seat in the bleachers.
Let me tell you, from everything
I know about Jesus, that is certainly
not what He is about!

We want to be seen as committed
to the Lord but not seen as fanatical.
We want to seem balanced but not
overly mystical. We say we value
a bold voice but we are very quick
to avoid confrontations. We want
to be seen as appealing to the man
in the street, even when the man
in the street in no way shares our
worldview. How will that work?

As Americans we seem to draw our
boundaries around what is already
there, around the status quo of
what we assume is good, rather then
staking out what God has told
us He values and letting
everything we do and believe fall
into place around that. I challenge
you to read the teachings of Jesus
and you will soon see quite a variance
with some of our most cherished
assumptions about family relations,
patriotism, and sucess.

So much pulls us away from
the ways of God.

What spiritual disciplines might
God be calling you to in order to
create a watchfulness against the
invasion of Babylonian values within you?

What reminders do you have in your
life that you belong to the Lord and
not to Babylon?

How can you make a stand for God in
your life?

What things are talked about in the
first chapter of Daniel that helped
Daniel stand in the place that he

How do you think you can live "in
the world" and not 'of it"? (John 17:14&15).

How can I make use of Babylon to help me
serve the Lord whole-heartedly? God allows
us to be in Babylon and He can cause us
to build up a resistance against evil.
Our hearts can be completely purposed
to obey only the Lord. Babylon can keep
us close to God by driving us into a
continual dependence upon Him. We desperately
need God ALL the time but when things are
easy we can fall into self-reliance and an
unguarded complacency.

Let us begin to use our sojourn in Babylon
to build spiritual muscle, purpose, discipline
and determination to serve God wholeheartedly.

(this bible study is a continuation
of a Bible Study on the book of Daniel,
further installments are archived in
this blog under "Daniel Bible Study"
and "Bible"

Immanuel: God with Us

"Mary PONDERED all these things in
her heart." Quiet, Happy spirit,
weigh in thy heart the grand truth
that Jesus was born at Bethlehem.
Immanuel, God with us;—weigh it
if you can; look at it again and
again, examine the varied facets
of this priceless brilliant, and
bless, and adore, and love, and
wonder, and yet adore again this
matchless miracle of love.

. . . Come and worship God manifest
in the flesh, and be filled with his
light and sweetness by the power of
the Holy Spirit, Amen.

——Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892).
"The Great Birthday"

photo taken in Colorado Springs, (on top of
someone's house) :)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The First Real Snow

A prison cell, in which one waits,
hopes - and is completely dependent
on the fact that the door of freedom
has to be opened from the outside,
is not a bad picture of Advent"
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

the season's first snowfall
in Feeding Hills, Massachusetts

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Bible Study on the Book of Daniel: Lesson Two

Bible Study on the Book of Daniel: Lesson Two

Alone with God in Babylon

Daniel finds himself in the most difficult of
places and circumstances. In a sense, he is
chosen to be trained in the enemy's camp,
chosen to fight for the enemy's purposes.
What gives Daniel the strength to serve God?

When Judah fell to the Babylonians some must
have thought that God had failed them, despite
the many warnings of impending judgment by
the prophets. We often discern a situation based
on our mindset and predisposition. It would be easier
to "see" that God failed rather than to see and
acknowledge that this was God's corrective judgment.
It is easier to rail at God then to acknowledge your sin!

Daniel clearly saw that this horrendous national
tragedy (the exile) was not God's fault and that
God was still sovereign and all powerful. He was able
to serve God without compromise. He was able to
make peace with his situation and not complain.
If this were you, how would you feel? How would
you cope? Would you think that serving in Babylon
was something to be rebelled against? How would you
see God in it? How do you see God in the Babylon
in your life?

Just as the treasures of the temple of God were
taken into the house of an alien god, so Daniel and
his friends, living treasures in the temple of God,
were taken into the house of an alien god. Thank
God they did not let themselves worship that
god! Here's why:

1) Daniel discerned God rightly. He was not tempted
into a syncretism: a melding of God and the gods
of Babylon. He rightly saw the Lord in
His holiness and set himself apart to God.

2) Daniel knew his heritage and found fellowship
with others who had set themselves to serve God
alone. He knew he did not belong to Babylon.
He was a captive in their system but he still
belonged to God and would still serve Him alone.
He had the fellowship of his 3 friends to gird him up.

3) Daniel cut off all ties with idolatry and set
his heart to serve the Lord. He used spiritual
discipline (fasting) to keep his heart set upon
the Lord and hold up a standard of being set apart.

We have to be fully the Lord's! We can receive
all the training. all the fellowship, all the great
preaching and teaching in the world, but there
comes a time when we must follow the Lord
ourselves. Our leaders, our family, our mentors,
cannot do for us what we need to do ourselves.
We need to make an uncompromised
commitment to God and sustain it in whatever
situation we find ourselves in.

If we translate Daniel's situation into a
modern day counterpart, we see how
precarious it was. The school that Daniel
was in was not unlike the "Hogwart's
School of Magical Arts." The Chaldeans
were masters of the mystic arts. In fact,
Daniel was in the middle of a "new age"
hotbed when it was still old age wizardry.

The Chaldeans taught astrology as well
as astronomy, "reading livers" as well
as practical medicine, a major in sorcery
with a minor in gourmet non-kosher
culinary arts! How in the world was
Daniel going to make it through this maze
and remain faithful to God? He did it by
walking in the power of the Lord!

While Christians shun "new age" practices,
and often rightly so, they often do not
have the working answer of God's power to
cast down the occult power of sorcery,
or repel the unharnessed power of the
human soul without God. If Daniel merely
had a faith of words, he would have been in
trouble. Daniel walked in the power of
God! He had the real thing, while the others
had the counterfeit, and the real
thing would come in mighty handy as we
shall see in the second chapter.

A Christian walking in the power of God
has nothing to fear from a hearty
spiritual challenge. He does not have to
worry that God will not come through
or that he will be overwhelmed by an evil
force greater than the Holy Spirit. There is no
such greater force! The Kingdom of God
is not meat and drink but righteousness,
peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:7).

Daniel was able to do his spiritual apprenticeship,
taught of God, even in the middle of the occult
arts taught in the classroom. I find this both
amazing, and reassuring! Here is an example
for Christian students who must attend a
secular school, for Daniel was not merely
in a secular school, but in a pagan school
that practiced sorcery! He was still untouched.
Can we be taught of God even in the
classrooms of pagans? Apparently, YES! Daniel was.
Why? Because his heart was firmly set on
God and he inquired continually of the Lord.
Even, and I think it fair to say, especially,
in Babylon he was taught of God. There was an
extra keen connection between him and his
God that might not have been quite
so sharp in a safer setting. It is not so much
WHAT he studied but what absolute allegiance to
God he carried within him and with what attitude of
heart he approached it. There is no discipline
that God does not have a word for. There is
no subject material that God cannot educate us about.

As the Spirit of God rises up strong in us, our
faith will be less and less about correct doctrines
and wars of words, but of the power of God at
work in and through us. Our lives will hold forth
a demonstration of the Lord's power. Just as
Peter said, "Silver and gold have I none, but
such as I have, give I thee, in the name
of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!"
(Acts 3:6).

The thing is, we need to be absolutely sure
we can sort that which is of God, from that
which is of Babylon. Of course we have to
stay completely away from things God
forbids in His word, but that is a proximity
of spirit and not of physical distance. We can
serve God anywhere, even in Babylon, we just
need to make sure that Babylon is not in us!

Here are a few guidelines to think about as
we approach anything we put our
head, hands and heart to.

1) Does it stay within the boundaries God
has set for us as revealed in His Word?
(Deut 6:6-9).

2) Does the power originate from God
or man or the demonic? Power issues are
always at the heart of things. Who is being
glorified? How is the power issuing forth?
Is it human soul strength or the power of
God? Sometimes these things are not
easily discerned but if you keep watching,
the source behind things will be revealed.
(Acts 8: 9-24) (Acts 16:16:-34).

3) Does it come from an understanding that
without God we can do nothing and that
we should not act independently from Him?
Does it call for wholehearted reliance
and commitment to Him? (John 5:19) (John 15:4-5).

4) Does it honor God or honor man? Does
it cause me to worship man or worship God
in Spirit and in truth? (John 4:23 & 24).

5) Does it honor and recognize Jesus Christ
as the sole Source of its workings?
(obviously in Daniel's day, Jesus had not
yet come in the flesh, but now He has, thank God!)
( 1 John 4:1ff).

6) Does it build relationship with God as He is,
or is it a system of works or something
we have concocted? (John 1:14-17) (Acts 15: 1-11).

7) Is it completely the truth or is there a lie in it?
(I John 2:18-23).

8) Is holiness its hallmark? (I John 3:3-10).

We need not fear that we will be deceived but
can call upon God's Spirit to teach us and
guide us into all truth. No matter where we are
we can walk in the power of God--even in Babylon.

Father, make us Daniels in our generation. Cause
us to stand strong in You, no matter what happens,
no matter where we find ourselves!

(this bible study is a continuation
of a Bible Study on the book of Daniel,
further installments are archived in
this blog under "Daniel Bible Study"
and "Bible"

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Bible Study on The Book of Daniel: Lesson 1

The Book of Daniel

The Book of Daniel speaks volumes to
our contemporary situation. Daniel was
only about 15 years old when he was taken
into captivity and placed in the inner
courts of Babylon to be trained and
brainwashed into the ways of Babylon.
His uncompromised stand for God is an
example to us all.

Background: God had warned His people
through the prophets that if they did
not turn back to Him they would be
taken into captivity. They did not
repent and Judah was taken into the
Babylonian Captivity which took place
from about 605-536 B.C. The Northern
Kingdom had already fallen to the
Assyrians in 722 B .C. [Israel had
two kingdoms: the northern (Israel)
and the Southern (Judah).]

Josiah, (reigns in Judah 641-609) a good
king, is killed at the battle of Megiddo,
this is a story in itself as it seems that
he dies unnecessarily when he does not discern
or heed the voice of God speaking through a
pagan ruler! (2 Chron. 35: 20ff). Josiah
sought to rid Israel of false idols. A series
of bad kings, who are easily compromised
and overtaken by that which is not of God, come next.

Daniel’s determination to stand for God is
an amazing testimony to God’s ability
to keep a person’s heart pure and unadulterated
even if they find themselves in the most dire
circumstances. What contributed to Daniel’s
faithful stand for God?

Tumultuous, life-changing events happened to
Daniel at a most impressionable age. In the
midst of a idolatrous nation, ready to reap
God’s chastisement and go into exile, who was
it that influenced Daniel in a godly way?

Was it Josiah, the good king, who sought to
rid Judah of idolatry? Was it the voice
of one of the prophets, Jeremiah perhaps,
crying out in the streets? Was it godly
parents or an unknown someone or someones who
remained true to God and held up a standard
in the midst of idolatry? We shall not know
until that Great Day when all things are
revealed, but we can know that SOMEONE
influenced him.

Questions: Who has influenced your
spiritual life? Who has mentored you
spiritually? What affects have they had
on you and what qualities have they
imparted to you? Who we hold up as our
spiritual models will greatly mold who
we become. Of course our only true Model
is Jesus, yet He has called us to disciple
others and model Him to others. Are those
who have most affected us spiritually true
followers of Jesus?

Try and name the people you think have
most influenced your walk with the Lord
and look to see how their influence has
helped make you who you are. What godly
values and characteristics of Jesus have
they imparted to you? What message have
they left you with? Is any of it from
Babylon? Are you pleased with how it has
affected you? More importantly, is God
pleased with it? If not, perhaps you
should pray and discern more seriously the
band that you want to throw your lot in
with! Choose the most godly and the
least compromised people you know to
journey with. They will affect you in
ways that you do not know!

BABYLON (DANIEL chapter 1: 1-7)

When the Babylonians assumed power
they chose a group of young men of
Judah who they would train up to
rule in the ways of Babylon. Daniel
and three of his friends were
chosen. The friends names were
Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. Part
of the indoctrination process was to
give these young men a Babylonian name.
This served to tempt them to take a
new identity, to forget who they were
and what their heritage was.

Daniel’s name means “God is my Judge”,
the name that was given to him in
Babylon was Belteshazzar, which meant
“Bel protect the King, or Prince of Bel”;

Hananiah’s name means “The Lord is
Gracious”, his Babylonian name was
Shadrack, which meant Command of Aku
or Servant of Sin (a god);

Mishael’s name means “Who is like the
Lord?”, his Babylonian name was Meschach
which means “Who is like Aku?”

Azariah’s name means “The Lord is My
Helper”, his Babylonian name was
Abednego which means “servant of Nego”.

God has a name for you. His name for
you contains your godly identity. In
Revelation 2:17, God promises to give
those who overcome a white stone with
their new name written on it. Have you
ever considered what your new name
might be? God has an identity for you
that will lead you to life, that will
cause you to inherit that new name.

Babylon also has a name picked out
for you, but it will lead to death.
Which name will you identify with?
What name does Babylon want to give
you? I urge you heartily to reject
that name!

What is God’s call to me? What is
Babylon’s call to me? Daniel decided,
he determined (vs 8), that he would
serve God alone. You and I are surrounded
by Babylon. Thank God we are not held in
a captivity we cannot get out of, but
Babylon can get into us either by a slow,
unnoticed process, or because we accept
its values without even knowing it.

We have to make a conscious, deliberate
stand for God. We must know our God and
what His standards are. In what way do
you feel God calling you to make a stand?

Babylon calls us to conform to its
system in a number of ways:

1) pressure to actively conform to the
expectations of the system. Daniel was
brought into a structured system. He was
expected to obey. In what ways might you
be expected to obey the system of this
world? How will or how do you deal with it?
How will you be in the world and not of it?

2) pressure to just get used to the system.
At first we might oppose Babylon and its
ways but after time goes by we become
acclimated and fail to see how we are being
influenced. It is like the proverbial
lobster slowly being boiled to death in a
pot. We can start out well but end up

3) pressure to act to protect myself and
my family. Daniel’s family was being held
in captivity also. If he did not behave
himself, then harm could come to his family.
Our natural inclination to protect our
family and ourselves can lead to compromise.
Daniel never compromised. Would I compromise
what God asks of me in order to protect
myself or my family?

4)pressure to pridefully view ourselves
as strong and gifted . Daniel was chosen
because he met the criteria Babylon valued.
He had many fine attributes and talents.
They did not know that Daniel had an
inner strength and calling that would
not work to their advantage. The world
can try and compliment us on our strengths
so that it can use them for its own
purposes. We have to have allegiance to
God alone and use our gifts only as He
directs. Have you ever been complimented
by the world’s system and found it to
be a hook?

5)pressure to adopt man’s ways and not
God’s ways. Daniel lived 24/7 in a system
that was designed to change him into what
the Babylonian’s wanted. How does the system
we live in want us to change? How are we
tempted to adopt man’s ways and not
God’s ways?

6) pressure to be passive and not active
in our opposition to Babylon. Daniel
could have sat back and not said anything.
He could have held his faith quietly to
himself. He never did. Do we ever remain
quiet when we should speak up?

Spend some time considering these points
and thinking about the position that
Daniel was in and how uncompromised his
heart was. I believe that the message
presented in this book is a contemporary
one that speaks to our current life
situation in America.

Father, show us how we can stand for
You, uncompromised, in a world system
that opposes You. Give us strength,
wisdom and insight, just as you gave
to Daniel.

(this bible study is the first installment
of a Bible Study on the book of Daniel,
further installments are archived in
this blog under "Daniel Bible Study"
and "Bible"

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Avoiding Fatal Mistakes: Wisdom from the Death of King Josiah

The Second Book of Chronicles (Chapter 35:22-27)
records the tragic story of the apparently
premature and unnecessary death of King Josiah.

Pharoah Necho was king of Egypt (circa 610 B.C.)
He needed to come up through the land Israel
on his way to Carchemish to help support the
Assyrians against the attacks of Babylon.
(Carchemish was an Egyptian stronghold near
the Euphrates River.) The Assyrian
king was caught in Haran, to the east of
Carchemish, and needed military aid.

It is understandable that King Josiah was
not thrilled that such a formidable force
was marching through his back yard. Josiah
sent ambassadors to ask Pharaoh Necho
his intentions. Necho told Josiah that
it had nothing to do with him, basically
"Butt out or die." Necho said that God
told him to get to Carchemish faster than
quick and Necho will basically kill anything
and anyone that gets in his way.

It is interesting to note that the
writer of Second Chronicles does not say
that "some Egyptian god", told Necho to do
this. It just says "God." (Hebrew: Elohim). He
says God commanded him to
hurry and don't meddle with "God" by
getting in the way. Interesting, no?

Josiah is a good king. He tore down
idols in Israel. He stood for God.
But here he makes a fatal mistake for
himself and for his nation. This
passage says that he decided to disguise
himself and fight against Egypt despite
what Pharoah said. After all, why believe
a pagan king? After all, wouldn't it be
logical to assume that it was the devil
lying to you?

But Josiah just assumed and did not
ask the Lord, even though Josiah
knew to ask the Lord and had
previously sought the Lord's
guidance (cp. 2 Chron. 34:19-28).
Perhaps Josiah was impatient and
wanted to fight. Perhaps he
thought he was going to be taken
advantage of. Perhaps he acted
to protect his country for it
was likely that even if the Enemy
did not currently have him in
his crosshairs, then it would
eventually be his turn.

Some of these reasons seem more
righteous than others. The problem
is, Josiah acted on his own
wisdom, and did not inquire of
the Lord. He did not hear God warning
him or was it that he did not
care to listen?

The Chronicler said he "did not
hearken to the words of Necho,
(vs. 22).
Did he understand it to
be God speaking to him? If so, then
he completely disobeyed. I
suspect that it was that
he just did not discern that it
was God speaking to him. The
problem was, he still did not seek
the Lord for direction and confirmation.
Most likely it was merely a mistake,
but a mistake that he would be
held culpable for, even unto death.

It is an interesting opposite
to note that when David faced a
worse situation with the
Amalekites (I Samuel 30), even
in his great and overwhelming grief,
he sought the Lord.

The Amalekites overtook Ziklag
were David lived and took
everyone's family, including David's
wives, captive and burned the place to
the ground. David's men were so
upset that they wanted to stone
David. David, however, "encouraged and
strengthened himself in the Lord
His God" (vs. 6). He then inquired
of the Lord for guidance. God
gave him victory!

Josiah, conversely, plunges
needlessly to his own premature
death because he chose his own
way. His undiscerned action had
tragic repercussions. Not only
did he lose his own life, but
insured that God's judgment would
fall on Judah. The subsequent
kings of Judah did not follow
the Lord and God was forced
to bring judgment. God, perhaps, was
holding back the judgment because
Josiah was a good king. But now
he was a good king operating in
his own strength.

It is ironic that Josiah's
opposition to the Egyptians,
who were going to aid the
Assyrians against Babylon,
probably kept Necho from reaching
his intended goal in time to be
able to defeat the Babylonians.
Babylon won out, and the kingdom
of Judah fell into the Babylonian
Captivity predicted by the prophets
Isaiah and Jeremiah.

It is also ironic that in
the previous chapter of
Second Chronicles (34), Josiah
is given a prophesy that said
because Josiah sought the
Lord and rid Judah of
idolatry that he would
"go to his grave in
peace and would not
see the evil the Lord would
bring on the inhabitants
of Judah" (2 Chron 34:28).

There is a lot to ponder here.
What part of prophecy is forged
in the immutable will and sovreignty
of God, and what part can be affected,
even altered, or made null, by my
sadly mistaken actions?

If you look at it one way,
Josiah did not go to his
grave in peace: he died
fighting a battle that
was not his to fight. But if
you look at in a larger sense
it could fairly be said
he died with personal peace,
with the heritage of being
a godly king, perhaps largely
unaware of his final costly
error, and he did not live to
see Judah fall into the
Babylonian Exile.

We all make errors, even
godly people. God will not
disown the godly legacy
of a man or woman just
because he or she makes
a mistake, even a mortally
fatal one. The only truly
fatal mistake would
be to turn from God and to
worship idols. Josiah
did not do that. Even so, this
story is bittersweet.

We must learn to seek the Lord
in ALL things, EVERY time,
without fail. Jesus said, "I only
do the things that I see My Father
doing" (John 5:19, 20). We cannot
spray spiritual buckshot into
every situation we see, even if
we mean well, or many will be injured
by "friendly fire." We have to make
sure not only that we are fighting on
the right side of the war, but on the
right front!

We dare not pull the trigger
until God says to or an arrow of
the enemy may come back and mortally
wound us. There are a lot of things I
can fight for, but are they the things
that God wants me to fight for?

Just because I sought God
yesterday, does not mean that
I will know His will for me
today. Yesterday He may have
said, "Go." Today, He might
say, "Stay." I will not know
unless I stay in vital union
with Him and ask Him continually.

Josiah was a good man, a godly king,
who lost his life for nothing:
he did not have to die at Megiddo.
There is so much in this passage
to examine. He did not have to die,
and yet, he could have been taken
captive and not killed. Then he would
have seen the painful sight of
his nation going into captivity.
Despite his mistake, God still
fulfilled the prophecy to him
that he would not see his beloved
country fall into the hands of the Enemy.

Was it then God's will that
Josiah be killed? No, I don't
think that for one minute.
Josiah failed to discern
God's voice and fell as a
casualty. Would you or I
discern God speaking through
the voice of our enemy?
Would we make the same mistake?
Now there is another whole
can of worms!

We have to be so careful,
so prayerful, so pure of heart
that we hear the voice of God from
whatever corner He speaks
and through whatever servant
He chooses to use.

Can our adversaries be the mouthpiece
of God to us? Can God use even our rivals
to warn us to get out of the way?
Apparently so. Do we need to refine our
discernment so we get the message straight
and not believe the lies of Satan mixed in
with the truth?

Better to hear the Word of the Lord
from the mouth of a friend or one
of the Lord's prophet's! The question
is, "Where were the Lord's prophets
when Josiah was pondering all this
in his heart? Were they speaking
the truth and Josiah was just not
listening? Were they telling Josiah that
Necho was a false prophet and
could not be believed or affirming
that God was speaking through him?"
Or where they not even asked?

This passage ends with Jeremiah
lamenting, crying because judgment
was now certain; crying because
the good king was dead; and
crying, perhaps, over the needless
loss of a good man. The Lament
he wrote in Lamentations 4:20
says that the "good king was
taken in their snares." You
hear his pain loud and clear.

The prophetess Huldah, who, from the Lord,
commended Josiah, failed to see the
totality of this unhappy event coming
(cp. 2 Chron. 34:22-28).
We see in part and prophecy in part
(I Cor. 13:9). She gave her piece
but apparently there were
more pieces to the puzzle.

There always are, aren't there?--
including that difficult piece
called "the free will of man!"

We need God utterly, completely,
each moment, every minute, now
and forever. He will lead us home
even if we make a huge mistake. Let
us help each other to avoid as
many mistakes as possible!

I encourage you to seek the Lord.
Don't lose your life, your
ministry, your hope, your peace,
your walk with the Lord, for nothing.
Avoid a fatal mistake: seek the Lord,
and having sought Him, obey what He
says. It always leads to life even
if it is through a path of death!