Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Servant of the Most High God

Now the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; and no musicians were brought before him. Also his sleep went from him. Then the king arose very early in the morning and went in haste to the den of lions. And when he came to the den, he cried out with a lamenting voice to Daniel. The king spoke, saying to Daniel, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?” Then Daniel said to the king, “O king, live forever! My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths, so that they have not hurt me, because I was found innocent before Him; and also, O king, I have done no wrong before you.” Now the king was exceedingly glad for him, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no injury whatever was found on him, because he believed in his God. - Daniel 6v18-23

The king was truly distraught because of what had happened to Daniel. He could not sleep and early the next morning the king got up and ran to the lion’s den to see what had happened to Daniel.

There is a hint here as to Daniel’s testimony – ‘Daniel,’ the king cried out, ‘servant of the Most High God…’
There is no doubt in the king’s mind that Daniel’s God was the ‘Most High God’ and that Daniel was His servant. The end result is that God did choose to show His power be delivering Daniel and protecting him from the lions.

This is a story we are all familiar with. I think this is the first time though that I have noticed the impact that Daniel’s testimony had even before the lion’s den. I wonder how many people could look at my life and know the power of the Most High God and know that I am His servant.

Do we live lives that reveal the Most High God? Do people know that we serve Him? 

Monday, 30 January 2012

Your God will deliver you

So the king gave the command, and they brought Daniel and cast him into the den of lions. But the king spoke, saying to Daniel, “Your God, whom you serve continually, He will deliver you.” Then a stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the signets of his lords, that the purpose concerning Daniel might not be changed. – Daniel 6v16-17

Here we see still more of Daniel’s character and his testimony before a pagan and lost world. It is easy enough to maintain our lives and testimonies within the body of believers. It is quite another to stand for the Lord and still have he high regard of others.

The king was appalled when he realised what had happened. But it was too late, the law could not be changed and the penalty had to be carried out. He had to sentence Daniel to death.

When Daniel saw the king to receive his sentence both men were amicable. David respectfully addressed the king (that in itself is a challenge to us) and the king addressed Daniel kindly.

Here is where we see Daniel’s testimony. He knew that Daniel’s faith was genuine because he told ‘served his God continually.’ That is the greatest test for all of us. Do we serve God continually, no matter what comes our way? The very fact that he was not deterred from praying was the reason that the king could say with confidence ‘your God is able to deliver you.’

Our faith may be real to us. We have to ask ourselves if our faith is real to those we know. Do they see that we serve God continually? Do they know that our God will carry us through our own dens of lions? 

Sunday, 29 January 2012


Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days. - Daniel 6v10

Here is another instance of a man who does the kind of thing that I really desire to happen in my life. I am always challenged by my response when I get bad news.

Let’s get a little background. The other leaders under King Darius were jealous of Daniel. He just kept getting promoted. Who was this blow-in to keep moving up in the ranks? (Yes, I realise he had been there many years, but a foreigner is ALWAYS considered a foreigner by those who don’t like him. Trust me.)

They tried everything to catch him doing something that would get him brought down to size. Daniel, however, had such a testimony and such character that they could find not find anything.

So they were forced to change the rules.

The flattered and cajoled the king into making a new law that no one could pray to anyone but him. That would either cause Daniel to compromise, which they knew he wouldn’t do. Or, they would have him break a law and receive the death penalty.

So what did Daniel do when he got the notice? His custom was to pray before an open window. Surely, the next day he at least shut the window and pulled the curtains before he prayed.

They had him! They ran to the king to report him.

What sticks out to me here more than anything else though is Daniel’s consistency. When Daniel knew that the law had been passed. He opened his window that faced Jerusalem and he prayer three times – as was his custom.

The great thing is that Daniel was not deterred. He knew what he had to do. He knew what was right. He knew the consequences. And he still prayed like he always did.

Undeterred is a vital character trait. In 1 Corinthians it is called ‘steadfast and unmovable.’ I really desire to have that kind of character.

Undeterred. How many of us can claim that trait! 

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Selfless service

Then Daniel answered, and said before the king, “Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another; yet I will read the writing to the king, and make known to him the interpretation. – Daniel 5v17

‘Keep all of your gifts and rewards king.’

That was Daniel’s response when the king trued to pay him to interpret a mysterious dream. Belshazzar followed Nebuchadnezzar as king. Apparently Daniel’s ability to interpret dreams was still well known and Belshazzar had a dream than no one could interpret. When Daniel was called before him he offered great wealth and great reward for his interpretation.

Daniel told him that he could keep all of the rewards or give them to another, but he would still interpret the dream.

Daniel was in an interesting situation here. He was not ministering to God’s people who would have a responsibility to care for him. He was going before a pagan king to represent God. He had to be very careful about a financial reward. When someone is paying there is always to temptation to slant the message to suit them.

So Daniel did what was right. He simple refused payment. That way both he and the king would know that there was no bias in his interpretation.

It is easy to get caught up in reward and remuneration. There is nothing dogmatic in today’s thought. I was just reminded that we need to be careful that our service should never be motivated by money or reward. 

Friday, 27 January 2012

Those who walk in pride...

Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down. - Daniel 4v37

Nebuchadnezzar proclaims a truth here that he had to learn the hard way. To see that we need to go back just a little bit for some background.

One day the king was out walking in the beautiful gardens of Babylon. To parrowphrase his thoughts he said something like this – ‘Look at all I have done! I have this wonderful palace and these beautiful gardens and I am the ruler of a great kingdom. I, me, myself did all of this and it all shows just how great I am!’

I don’t know about you, but I don’t even need to be a powerful king walking in beautiful gardens to have those kinds of thoughts. Pride is a terrible thing that takes the least accomplishments and turns them in to something to be proud of. We, or at least I, can often think more highly of myself than I ought to think.

God used some an unusual method to teach Nebuchadnezzar that he wasn’t quite as great as he thought he was. For more on that read the verses just before the one above.

Suffice it to say the king was sufficiently humbled. When he was done he acknowledged that God was indeed the one in control. His works are true and His ways are just. He is able to put down those who walk in pride.

I suspect there are times when we all think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. I suspect there are times when we forget the warning that those who ‘think they stand take heed lest they fall.’ When that happens God us quite able to bring us back to earth.

We don’t like it, but humbling is a good thing. When we go through it we learn that we are not nearly as wonderful as we thought we were. We learn that we need to depend on our gracious Lord. Being knocked down always helps us to look up. 

Thursday, 26 January 2012

The Most High rules

‘This decision is by the decree of the watchers, And the sentence by the word of the holy ones, In order that the living may know That the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, Gives it to whomever He will, And sets over it the lowest of men.’ – Daniel 4v17

It is really easy to get caught up in news and politics and elections and all that stuff. At least it is for me. I really like all that stuff and can get consumed with it.

While I don’t see as much of it here in our churches I do know that in some places churches can be absolutely consumed with politics, elections, candidates, and laws. In election years the gospel can sometimes compete with politics in the pulpit. There seems to be a mind-set that part of the church’s role is to make sure that the politicians are in line with their views. It can go way beyond Bible principles and become a matter of personal preferences. Neither political side is exempt, both sides are guilty.

I guess to a certain extent Christians who have a voice in their governance need to be concerned and to use their liberties reasonably and in good conscious, Far too often it goes far beyond that and political views can affect fellowship in the body of Christ.

I don’t think there us anything wrong with following politics and doing the right thing when it comes to being a citizen, but we do need to remember what Nebuchadnezzar learned here. ‘The Most High rules in the kingdom and men, and He gives power to whoever He wills.’

It is good to keep up with what is going on, and even to exercise human liberties. However, we need to remember that God is in control of all of this. The church has a much bigger job to do than to focus itself on who is going to be in office.  Let’s preach the word and leave the rest up to the One who is in control. 

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The impact of doing right

Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king's word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God! Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation, or language which speaks anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made an ash heap; because there is no other God who can deliver like this.” Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego in the province of Babylon. – Daniel 3v28-30

So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego survived the fiery trial. Someone, either an angel or possibly Jesus Himself, appeared in the fiery furnace to deliver them. Somehow, they had come through a seemingly impossible trial and stood before the king again.

God could have been glorified and His cause advanced no matter what happened. We know that. Many have turned to Christ as a result of the faithfulness of God’s people even as they perished for Him.

But in this case God chose to deliver them. The king saw that there God had delivered them when they trusted Him. They would not obey the king and put themselves at risk rather than serve God. Therefore, the king passed a law saying that no one could criticise God and he promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

As I mentioned above sometimes God chooses to use the death of His saints to draw men to Him. Sometimes, like here, God lifts them up to positions of prominence.

Either way God honours doing right. Either way, if the men had given in and bowed down God’s cause would have been damaged.

Let’s just do right and trust God enough to leave the results up to Him. 

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

When faith is more important than fate

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” – Daniel 3v16-18

There are lot of examples of people in the Bible who decide to do the right thing and trust God with the results. I love those examples and am encouraged by them all.

To me though this incident really stands out and challenges me. When they refused to bow down Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were taken before the king. He was furious and told them if the still refused he would have killed in fiery furnace.

Their response is a statement of what I once heard called ‘raw faith.’

‘It is pretty simple king. You do what you have to do. If we have to go to the furnace our God will deliver us. But even if he doesn’t we still won’t bow down and serve your gods.’

These guys knew that as king Nebuchadnezzar had the power and the right to enforce his laws. They knew they could not obey this law. But they knew God was in control.

‘We believe that God is able to let us escape the penalty, but even if He doesn’t we will not bow down.’

Their faith was more important to them than their fate. How many of us can make that claim? 

Monday, 23 January 2012

What happens when you can’t obey?

You, O king, have made a decree that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, shall fall down and worship the gold image; and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. There are certain Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego; these men, O king, have not paid due regard to you. They do not serve your gods or worship the gold image which you have set up.” – Daniel 3v10-12

I almost missed commenting on this little section. I was going to write about tomorrow’s topic but felt like we needed to pause and look at this.

We all know that we have a Bible responsibility to submit to governing authorities. We may not like what they do, we may not like their character, we may not like the laws they pass. But still, we are told to obey the law and submit to our leaders.

That’s fine. We can obey the speed limits, pay our taxes, control our behaviour, and generally submit. Though there are Christians who feel like they have the right to take the law into their own hands, they will find no Bible support for their choices.

But what happens when you can’t obey the law because to obey the law would put us in direct conflict with the word of God?

We all know the story here. The king’s advisors had him build a huge golden statue. When the people were gathered together and the music played Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego could not bow down and obey the law. They simply stood there. There is no sign of a protest or a march on Babylon, they just stood.

They knew the consequences. They did not condemn the law. The simply couldn’t obey because the law was in conflict with their obedience to God.

In reality that is all we can do when man’s laws come in direct conflict with God’s laws. This is no licence to simply break a law because we don’t like it. It is what we have to do when we would have to disobey God in order to obey the law.

The time may come when we have to choose to obey God or man. What will we do? 

Sunday, 22 January 2012

God is in control

Daniel answered and said: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, For wisdom and might are His. And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise And knowledge to those who have understanding.  - Daniel 2v20-21

When Daniel was called before the king to interpret his mysterious dream he had the marvellous opportunity to show how his God was different from all the other gods. The king had a dream and could not get anyone to interpret it. They finally thought of Daniel who had come through the test so well. He was among the wisest and best advisors so he was called on to answer the king.

I wonder what went through his mind. I know that I would have been scared to death to go into a pagan land with a plethora of gods and try to tell them that my God was the one in control. How would the king respond? Would he keep his office? Would he be thrown into prison? Would he be killed?

None of that mattered. He just told it like it was. ‘Blessed be the name of God forever and ever. Wisdom and might are His. He is in control of times and seasons. He sets up kings and takes them down. He gives wisdom and knowledge.’

Daniel did a couple of things here. He let them know that the wisdom he had was not His. He told them that God was the source of all he was going to say.

He also let the king know that his kingdom was from God and that God could change it anytime He wanted.

I like that kind of courage. I hope that when I am in any kind of similar situation I can speak out for my Lord no matter what the possible consequences.

If God is really in control can’t He handle the results of my boldness to declare His name? 

Saturday, 21 January 2012

No one like them

Then the king interviewed them, and among them all none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; therefore they served before the king. And in all matters of wisdom and understanding about which the king examined them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers who were in all his realm. Thus Daniel continued until the first year of King Cyrus. – Daniel 1v19-21

So how did Daniel and his three compatriots do in their little test? It must have been a bit scary as the days passed by and they were not preparing for the king’s meeting the way he wanted them to. What did he expect? What would happen if they failed? There were a lot of Jews in Babylon and surely he has plenty of other to choose from.

But when the time came the king found them ‘ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers who were in all his realm,’ and because of that, Daniel gained his position as official in the king’s government.

I think the thing that encourages me here is that God can use all kinds of situations to do His work. Sometimes God is glorified and His purpose served and hearts are turned to Him when His servants and poor and suffering and enduring trials (we will see that later with these four men) and sometimes His cause is best served when His people rise to the top.

For example, in Genesis God used a prisoner to interpret a king’s dream. Here He uses a member of the king’s cabinet.

It is possible to take pride in our weakness and foolishness and baseness. We can look to those Christians who become household names and be critical of them. We think that they must be compromising something to be that well known and that well liked.

The truth is that we need to stop questioning how God does things and who He uses it what way and just rejoice that His work is getting done. 

Friday, 20 January 2012

Daniel purposed in his heart

But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself. - Daniel 1v8

I have always admired the young men in the book of Daniel. If there was ever a time when young men might be tempted to sacrifice their standards and principles it would be these men. Their nation was in ruins. They had been taken captive and transported about 800km to the enemy capital at Babylon. The king had seen something in them that motivated him to invite the four young men to some type of advisory council on how to deal with the Jews.

The combination of disappointment in the destruction of their land, being so far from home, and pride at being chosen for this council surely worked in their hearts. Here was a good chance to shake off the shackles of the oppressive Law and be somebody.

The king’s servant came to them to tell them that they were free to avail themselves of all the king’s food and wine. In fact, the king instructed them to eat it.

It would seem like a very hard decision to make. What do you do when you know you have the customs of your people, but the king orders you to eat the very best food and drink the very best wine available?

But Daniel showed great character. He had already decided what to do. He would not be drawn in to the Babylonian way. He had ‘purposed in his heart’ that he would not allow himself to be defiled with the ways of the world no matter how tempting they were.

That is amazing in itself. I think I might even be more impressed with the way he dealt with the king’s servant. He didn’t act like a sanctimonious jerk, he didn’t get hackles up and take on a spiritual arrogance. Instead, we read that he ‘requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.’

I love that. While taking a stand he still submitted himself to authority. We will see more of that later in Daniel. He politely and respectfully pointed out what he had to do.

It is possible to stand for Christ without being arrogant and offensive. We seem to have forgotten all about that.

Our testimony for Christ is important. We cannot afford to ‘defile ourselves with the king’s meat’ any more today than they could.

But we don’t have to be a jerk about it.  

Thursday, 19 January 2012

A new heart

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. – Ezekiel 36v26-27

There is a danger in our churches that shows itself in stressing external Christianity. That is nothing new. The book of Colossians deals with how to deal with people who teach a ‘taste not, touch not, handle not’ kind of Christianity. As we read through the prophets, maybe because they are in the Old Testament, that theme may seem to predominate.

But here Ezekiel gives us a hint that it is more than just trying to obey a set of rules and regulations.  As Paul wrote to the Colossians above, these things perish with the using.

Instead the change is much deeper. God tells the people here that if they will turn to Him He will give them a new heart and a new spirit. He tells them that He will replace their stony hearts with hearts of flesh. He tells them that His Spirit will dwell within and then they will walk in His statutes and keep and do His commandments.

I really like the fact that this is not just a church age concept. I like the idea that it was already around in Ezekiel’s day.

The truth is that none of us can really change unless we have that heart change. A popular Christian songwriter put it this way – ‘You have to change her heart before you can change her shirt.’ The change God desires is a heart and change. The wonderful thing is that He changes the heart and makes it mouldable and pliable.

When there is a heart change the rest will follow. Our heart ward lives reflect what is in our hearts. Obeying God is not an issue if we have our hearts right. The ‘do thises, don’t do thats’ are worthless apart from a true heart change. When the promised Holy Spirit dwells in a heart of flesh we will follow Him. 

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

How can we live?

“Therefore you, O son of man, say to the house of Israel: ‘Thus you say, “If our transgressions and our sins lie upon us, and we pine away in them, how can we then live?” ’ Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’ - Ezekiel 33v10-11

Ezekiel’s message seemed to be getting through. The people knew about their sin and they asked the question ‘How then can we live if we are so consumed with sin.’

We might ask the same question today. How can things continue on as they are since things are so evil? How can society continue to live since it is so consumed with sin and wickedness?

Good question isn’t it? If we are so bad why doesn’t God just wipe it all out?

God gave Ezekiel the answer – ‘I have no pleasure in the dearth of the wicked. I want the wicked to turn from their evil ways and truly live. Turn and live.’

The reason that God does not wipe it all out is because of his marvellous, infinite, matchless grace. He does not wipe it all out because His grace exceeds our sin and our guilt. He doesn’t wipe it all out because His grace is greater than all our sin.

Though the world deserves nothing but destruction God gives man a chance to turn to Him and find life. That life, according to verses like John 3v16 is only faith by faith in Christ.

We don’t know how much time we have left. Let’s be about the work of sharing the news of God’s grace. 

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

My wife died

So I spoke to the people in the morning, andat evening my wife died; and the next morning I did as I was commanded.– Ezekiel 24v18

I had not noticed this little aspect of Ezekiel’s life. I am not surewhat to think about it. Ezekiel spoke to the people in the morning. Okay, that’snormal enough. But then we read ‘and at evening my wife died…’

God had told him in advance that ‘the desire of his eyes’ was going todie quickly, but he was not to mourn or weep, but to carry on.

And he did – ‘and the next morning I did as I was commanded.’

I know things were different in the days of the prophets and that Godcalled them to do some things that are very unusual in our minds. We also knowthat God does not oppose normal mourning and weeping.

However when I read this I was reminded of how Daniel, when he was toldit was illegal to pray and that he could be killed for doing so simply did whathe always did, he prayed.

I am challenged by this ability to carry on our work for God no matterwhat comes our way.  I am especially challengedwhen I think about how easily I can be distracted from doing what I am supposedto do.

I don’t expect that if I were to suffer this kind of loss that Godwould expect to ignore it and just go on, but I do know that it takes far lessthan this to get me off track. May I see the seriousness of God’s work today.

Monday, 16 January 2012

I found no one

So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one. 31 Therefore I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; and I have recompensed their deeds on their own heads,” says the Lord GOD. – Ezekiel 22v30-31

The book of Ezekiel is all about the coming wrath of God and God’s last warnings to the nation about how to avoid that wrath. Poor old Ezekiel was sent in the land to tell them this, even though they were not going to listen. No one could doubt God’s goodness and justice in offering the people an out.

As part of that plan God sought for one amongst them to keep them from destruction. The illustration is of a hedge that keeps sheep enclosed. There is a break in the hedge and on the other side is destruction.

The one day I worked with shepherds my job to stand in the gap and keep the sheep to go where they were not supposed to go. All I had to do was stand there and bang a pot lid to keep them from coming where I was. Many of them wandered my way, but none of them came toward me. I stood in the gap, and no sheep came my way.

God was looking for a man who would stand in the gap and warn the people of the destruction that was coming. God had to send Ezekiel as a prophet of doom because no one would stand in that gap.

No one would sand in the gap – so destruction had already started and would be fulfilled.

I think we have a good illustration here of our role today. God is still seeking people who will stand in the gap and warn people of the wrath to come.

Are we willing to stand in that gap to warn our family and friends of an eternity without God and share the glorious gospel with them? 

Sunday, 15 January 2012

That’s not fair!

“Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not fair.’ Hear now, O house of Israel, is it not My way which is fair, and your ways which are not fair? When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity, and dies in it, it is because of the iniquity which he has done that he dies. Again, when a wicked man turns away from the wickedness which he committed, and does what is lawful and right, he preserves himself alive. Because he considers and turns away from all the transgressions which he committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not fair.’ O house of Israel, is it not My ways which are fair, and your ways which are not fair? - Ezekiel 18v25-29

‘That’s not fair!!’

How many, many times have I heard those words? Having and working with children and teens all these years means that ‘That’s not fair!’ is at the top of the list of common sayings I have heard through the years.

‘That’s not fair’ is always based on one’s own perception of justice. If justice doesn’t meet one’s standards then it surely must not be fair.

The people of Judah took it to the point where they said ‘God’s ways are not fair!’ They had sinned despite God’s repeated warnings and God was judging them. They, on the other hand, felt that God should conform to their own selfish standards. They were the ones who were not fair to God, not the other way around.

It is easy for us to sit back and condemn these people for saying ‘God’s ways are not fair.’ We think ‘I would never do such a thing!’

Or would we? What do we do when we dwell on thoughts about our lot in life and question why we get sick, why our loved ones die, why we can’t pay the bills, why someone else has so much more, or why our ministries don’t seem to prosper?

Are we not really holding God to our standards? When I look at these things I am the one who is not being fair. Who am I to hold God to my own selfish human standards?

When I doubt the fairness of God I need to remember which one of us is the Eternal God and which one of us is a man born in sin.

God is more than fair. It would have been fair of Him to destroy me because of my sin. I need to keep that in mind the next time I question His fairness. 

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Turn and live

The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.  “But if a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die.  None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; because of the righteousness which he has done, he shall live.  Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Lord GOD, “and not that he should turn from his ways and live? - Ezekiel 18v20-23

The soul that sins shall die. He shall not die because of his father’s sins, and that father shall not die because of his son’s sins. But every man sins and the wages of sin is death. God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. His desire is that every man would turn to Him and live. God is not willing that any should perish, but that all would come to repentance and turn to Him.

It was all a bit of a mystery in Ezekiel’s time. Salvation came by faith, as man realised his sin and by faith turned from that sin to God. That turning was only evidenced by a change in his life.

Salvation has never changed. Though the people in Ezekiel’s day did not know all the details they were saved when they trusted God's call to turn from their sin. God has blessed us today with a much clearer picture. ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.’ God still wants man to avoid eternal death. He wants it so much that He sent His Son that we may by faith turn to Him and live.

Just like in the day of Ezekiel that faith and turning is evidenced and manifested by a changed life as we turn from our old way and turn to a new life in Christ.

God is still calling mankind to ‘turn and live.’ We need to share that call like Ezekiel did. 

Friday, 13 January 2012

Idols of the heart

Now some of the elders of Israel came to me and sat before me. And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their hearts, and put before them that which causes them to stumble into iniquity. Should I let Myself be inquired of at all by them? “Therefore speak to them, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Everyone of the house of Israel who sets up his idols in his heart, and puts before him what causes him to stumble into iniquity, and then comes to the prophet, I the LORD will answer him who comes, according to the multitude of his idols, that I may seize the house of Israel by their heart, because they are all estranged from Me by their idols.” ’ “Therefore say to the house of Israel, “Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Repent, turn away from your idols, and turn your faces away from all your abominations. - Ezekiel 14v1-7

Most of us in the rest think we can just write off any teachings about idols. Most homes, especially Christian homes, don’t have an idol shelf. We don’t, for the most part, include bowing down before our idols as a part of our daily devotional life. When we read about idols we just kind of say, ‘Well, that’s one of those cultural things in the Bible.’

But here God talks about a different kind of idol. ‘Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts.’

These idols of the heart are a bit more difficult to deal with. They are not tangible images surrounded by candles and incense. They are the thoughts and ideas that represent god to us in the inner recesses of our hearts and minds. They are tough to deal with because we can give the image that we are worshipping the one true God while still harbouring these idols in the dark corners of our hearts.

Only we know if we have those idols. No matter how much we claim that we serve the one true God if we worship these false gods in our hearts we cannot truly worship Him.

Where do our thoughts dwell? That will tell us who or what we truly worship. 

Thursday, 12 January 2012

I am the Lord, I speak…

For I am the LORD. I speak, and the word which I speak will come to pass; it will no more be postponed; for in your days, O rebellious house, I will say the word and perform it,” says the Lord GOD.’  - Ezekiel 12v25

The time for God to act had come to pass. Ezekiel was in Babylon foretelling the fall of Jerusalem and its eventual restoration. In these prophecies there are some words about our future, but that is for another time and place. The point here is that God was going to do what He had been saying for many years. He was about to pour out His wrath.

But I want to focus on a particular principle here. God says ‘I am the Lord, I speak, and the word I speak will come to pass.’

We may not be in the exact same situation, but the truth that God does what He says He will do is still true. It reminds me of where God says in Isaiah says that His word will not ‘return void’ but that it will do exactly what He wants it to do.

That truth should both challenge and comfort us. It should challenge us in that one day Christ will return to wrap things up here. It’s going to happen. We need to be sure that our family and friends are ready. We need to be sure that we are ready.

It should also be comfort. God is love. He is not going to change. Jesus has gone on to prepare a place for us. One day He is coming back for us. He will give us grace and comfort in the most difficult times.

God’s promises are true. He will do what He says He will do. 

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

A Watchman

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me: When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul. Ezekiel 3v17-19

Ezekiel had to be reminded again and again about the reality of his seemingly futile ministry. Here God calls him a ‘watchman for the house of Israel.’ His job was to proclaim God’s word to the people as a warning that if they do not repent they will die in their sins.

Being a watchman was an important job. If a watchman did not do his job and an attack came the watchman could be killed. He would be considered guilty of the destruction of the people. If he was faithful in his warning, whether the people listened or not, he would not be held guilty.

There is a sense where Ezekiel sets a pattern for us. We too are called to be watchmen to this present age. God has made it clear that we have the responsibility to warn our fellow man of the results of their sin.

The basic lesson here is simple. All we can do is warn people of their fate apart from Christ. We cannot make them listen. We cannot make them respond.

As usual the question is clear. Are you faithfully doing the warning? Do our friends and family and neighbours and co-workers even know what to do about their spiritual state? God put is in our jobs and homes to be watchmen to the people in our lives.

Are we doing the warning? 

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Speak, no matter what

“And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you dwell among scorpions; do not be afraid of their words or dismayed by their looks, though they are a rebellious house. You shall speak My words to them, whether they hear or whether they refuse, for they are rebellious. But you, son of man, hear what I say to you. Do not be rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.” – Ezekiel 2v6-8

The charge to Ezekiel was a serious one. God obviously wanted him to carry His message to the people even though they would respond like briers and thorns and scorpions. They would give him strange looks. They would try to scare him off.

Have you ever felt that way when trying to share your faith? People look at you like you are crazy. You may get mocked or made fun of. Many of our fellow Christians are tortured and even killed for their faith. Sometimes it seems like they are so rebellious that they will never listen.

If it were any other work we would quit and go somewhere else.

But we don’t. We labour on. God told Ezekiel that if he refused to preach he would be just as rebellious as those who refused to hear him.

The cases where God tells His servants to quit a work because the people are too hard-hearted are few and far between and there is always a reason.

For the most part God says things like ‘Speak My words whether they hear or refuse,’ ‘be not weary in well doing,’ and ‘be steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.’

Sure the job is tough, but compare that to Jesus who was faithful all the way to the cross.

With that as our example, how can we quit? 

Monday, 9 January 2012

Yet they will know

And He said to me: “Son of man, I am sending you to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day. For they are impudent and stubborn children. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD.’ As for them, whether they hear or whether they refuse—for they are a rebellious house—yet they will know that a prophet has been among them. - Ezekiel 2v3-5

It must have been discouraging to do a job for God that you knew from the start was not going to have visible results. As Ezekiel entered his ministry God told him that the people he was going to preach to were impudent, stubborn, and rebellious. He knew from the start his job was not going to be one that would have people amening and praising the Lord at that time.

So why did Ezekiel have to go?

‘Whether they hear or refuse,’ God told Ezekiel, ‘they will know that a prophet has been among them.

Why do we do what we do? Why do we try to see people saved who act like they couldn’t care any less? We do we speak about our Saviour to people have no use for God? It seems like a waste. Nobody wants to hear so why bother?

I think we have the same purpose that Ezekiel had. We do what we do so that they will know that a prophet, or let’s say today, a Christian has been in their midst. No matter how our family or friends or associates or co-workers respond they will know one thing – somebody who truly loves God and loves them has been around. It is the sweet smelling savour that Paul wrote to the Corinthians about.

We can’t afford to cower in fear. We need to just do our job as we live our lives, love people,  and speak about our Saviour. Whether people hear us or not, they will know that a true Christian has been around. 

Sunday, 8 January 2012

How the gold has become dim

How the gold has become dim! How changed thefine gold! The stones of the sanctuary are scattered at the head of every street. The precious stoned of Zion, Valuable as fine gold, How they are regarded as clay pots, The work of the hands of the potter! – Jeremiah 4v1-2

Yesterday gold was selling at $1,767.27 an ounce. That is an amazing price, even for gold. Gold has always had an appeal and ‘gold fever’has driven men to madness time after time throughout history.

Today we have people telling us that our only hope to survive the current economic woes is to buy gold. If we invest in gold they tell us we will be immune to the troubles that are coming. My big problem there is that gold cost $1,767.27 an ounce!

Laying that aside though we have to ask ourselves if gold is really the solution. Jerusalem must surely have felt that with all their gold and wealth they were safe and secure. From what I have read there was so much gold that city the city fairly glowed in the sunlight and could be seen for miles.

But trouble had come. The Babylonians had come and ravaged the city. As Jeremiah put it ‘How the gold has become dim! How changed is the fine gold. The precious stones are no better than clay pots.’

I think about the Celtic Tiger years here. There was evidence everywhere of wealth. Housing estates and shopping centres were being built everywhere. We looked like we were rich!

Now we have ghost estates and empty shells of what were going to be shopping centres. How the Celtic Tiger’s roar has changed into a whimper.

Gold was not Jerusalem’s salvation. The almighty euro was not our solution. Those things come and go. Jerusalem’s problems came because they forgot about God. Our problems come when we depend on anything but Him.

Even if I could afford to buy gold could I really depend on it? I know I can dependon our God!

Where should I place my trust? 

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Good waiting

The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, To the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. It is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth. - Lamentations 3v25-27

I have said it here before and I wish I could say that I have overcome it, but I haven’t. I hate to wait. Waiting is one of my least favourite things to do. I don’t even like to wait when I have nothing else pressing to do.

But God has a different view of waiting. God says that waiting is good. He says that He is good to those who quietly wait on Him for deliverance. It is good to wear the yoke of affliction, especially in youth.

When we consider the rest of scripture that truth should not come as a surprise. Remember what James tells us? ‘Count it all joy when you face various trials. The trying of your faith develops patience and if you let patience work it will bring about spiritual maturity and completeness’ (parrowphrase of James 1v2-4).

Waiting is not easy, but it is good. Trials are not fun, but they are good. And God is good to us when we go through them.

‘They that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength. They will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run and not be weary. They will walk and not faint.’

Teach me Lord, to wait. 

Friday, 6 January 2012

My piece of lasagne

They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I hope in Him!” – Lamentations 3v23-24

I make the world’s nest lasagne. It is that simple. I call it ‘Roger’s World Renown Five Cheese Lasagne.’ It is simply fantastic.

When I make it I mark out my portion of the lasagne. I know which part of the lasagne has the best combination of ingredients and flavours and I want that portion for me. That is ‘Grampy’s piece.’

So what does my piece of the world’s best lasagne have to do with Jeremiah’s lament?

We have been the same passage for a couple of days now, but I did not want to go on without mentioning the little phrase ‘the Lord is my portion.’

Jeremiah knew something that we need to know. He came to the realisation that his portion in life was not with all the wicked that was going on. His portion was the Lord and in the Lord He could find comfort and strength.

It is like that piece of lasagne. I know that my piece is the very best of the very best.

In life we need not settle for less than the best. The Lord is already our portion. Let’s stop grabbing for all the other portions and be content with the best! 

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Great is Thy Faithfulness

Through the LORD'S mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. – Lamentations 3v22-23

"Great is Thy faithfulness," O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

"Great is Thy faithfulness!" "Great is Thy faithfulness!"
  Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
    "Great is Thy faithfulness," Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

In 1923, apparently without any ‘special’ motivation or circumstances, Thomas Chisholm penned the words to this marvellous hymn based on these words in Lamentations. The hymn is still greatly loved and continues to carry its powerful message.

Because of His faithfulness we can trust His promises. As Chisholm put it we have ‘strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,’ and ‘blessings all mine with ten thousand beside.’

My faithfulness is so weak and fallible. It fails time after time after time. Praise God that my future is based on His faithfulness and not mine. 

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

I have hope

And I said, “My strength and my hope haveperished from the LORD.” Remember my affliction and roaming, the wormwood andthe gall. My soul still remembers and sinks within me this I recall to my mind,therefore I have hope. Through the LORD'S mercies we are not consumed, becauseHis compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Yourfaithfulness. – Jeremiah 3v18-23

After his prophecies recorded in the book of Jeremiah he turned to abook to record his lamentations for the nation. He had seen the once greatnation reduced to rubble.

Of course he was discouraged, who wouldn’t be? We can sense the despairin his words. ‘My strength and hope are gone…I remember all of this and my soulsinks within me.’

If we are honest I think everyone can identify with these feelings. Ourproblem comes when we dwell there and let those thoughts control our minds.

Jeremiah didn’t do that. Look at his thoughts as his soul was sinking.

‘Here is what I am going to dwell on, and therefore I will have hope.It is because of the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed because His compassionsdo not fail. Great is God’s faithfulness.’

It is Jeremiah’s choice to call the thoughts to mind that sticks withme this morning. He could have chosen to give up. He could have chosen to dwellon the evil.

But he didn’t. God is merciful. His mercies keep us from total destruction.That was Jeremiah’s hope and that is our hope.

These are the things to keep in mind as we face the future. Look up.Set our affections on things above and not on the things below. Look to theunseen, eternal things instead of the seen and temporal things.

It is by the mercy of God that we are not consumed. That is our hope. 

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Pragmatic religion and faithful preaching

Then all the men who knew that their wives hadburned incense to other gods, with all the women who stood by, a greatmultitude, and all the people who dwelt in the land of Egypt, in Pathros,answered Jeremiah, saying: “As for the word that you have spoken to us in thename of the LORD, we will not listen to you! But we will certainly do whateverhas gone out of our own mouth, to burn incense to the queen of heaven and pourout drink offerings to her, as we have done, we and our fathers, our kings andour princes, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For thenwe had plenty of food, were well-off, and saw no trouble. But since we stoppedburning incense to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her,we have lacked everything and have been consumed by the sword and by famine.”– Jeremiah 44v15-18

The hearts of the people had gone terribly hard. Not only were thesefolks hypocrites, they were the ultimate pragmatists. These people were livingby ‘whatever works’ and it made no difference what Jeremiah said, they weresticking with the ‘queen of heaven.’

These folks said whenever they worshipped their goddess things wentwell, but when they tried to serve God things did not go well. They based theirworship on how things went for them. They were definitely walking by sightwithout any regard to faith.

‘Stop preaching to us Jeremiah, we are going to do what we want,because that is what works.’

And yet Jeremiah kept on preaching. He did not give up. Jeremiah wascertainly not motivated my numerical success. He could have said, ‘You knowwhat, they are right! I have only had trouble since I started preaching. Thingswere better before. I am just going back to that. I didn’t want to do thisanyway!’

But Jeremiah didn’t do that. He kept right on preaching. He kept righton serving God because He was motivated by a higher cause.

We can’t live for God and serve Him based on how things go for us. Weneed to keep our eyes on the finish line and keep plugging away. Don’t give upwhen things get tough. Otherwise we are no better than those who chose to keep burning incense to their ‘queen of heaven.’ 

Monday, 2 January 2012

You were hypocrites

For you were hypocrites in your hearts when you sent me to the LORD your God, saying, “Pray for us to the LORD our God, and according to all that the LORD your God says, so declare to us and we will do it.’ And I have this day declared it to you, but you have not obeyed the voice of the LORD your God, or anything which He has sent you by me. – Jeremiah 42v20-21

The more I read of Jeremiah the more I see that things really don’t change a whole lot. The religious Jews were saying, much like many Christians today, ‘Just show us what God has to say and we will do it!’

The Israelites knew they were in trouble so they asked Jeremiah to pray and then tell them what God wanted them to do to avoid destruction. Jeremiah did just that but they did not obey. Indeed they did not obey the word of God or anything that Jeremiah had said.

Therefore, according to Jeremiah they were ‘hypocrites in their hearts.’

Hypocrite is an ugly word – ‘two-faced’ is even uglier, but it is a good alternative.

Yet this is what God calls people who say they want to hear God’s word, but when they do they ignore it.

‘That is a terrible thing!’ we might say. ‘How can so called Christians do that?’

But I wonder how honest our mirror of self-reflection is? I wonder if it is not more like those trick mirrors that twist and distort our true reflection.

How often do we hear a message or read something in our devotions that reapply speaks to our heart. We know right away that it is something we need to deal with. We are determined to do right. But then, the next time we are tempted we ignore everything and go back to the thing we knew we were supposed to deal with.

If the word ‘hypocrite’ applied to these Israelites is it too harsh a word to use for us?  

Sunday, 1 January 2012

A New Year sacrifice

“Thus says the LORD: “Again there shall be heard in this place—of which you say, ‘It is desolate, without man and without beast”—in the cities of Judah, in the streets of Jerusalem that are desolate, without man and without inhabitant and without beast, the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of those who will say: “Praise the LORD of hosts, For the LORD is good, For His mercy endures forever”— and of those who will bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the LORD. For I will cause the captives of the land to return as at the first,’ says the LORD. – Jeremiah 33v10-11

Wow! The first day of 2012 is here. I am not one for resolutions, but the new year should always give us pause to reflect on the last year and look forward to the next.

I am challenged by this passage. As I read the various news sources and look deeper into the world situation I can find myself getting just a little frightened. The future is very unclear, and it really does not look good. Further economic collapse is very possible. We may face a situation like the Great Depression. When I look at that it can be frightening.

When Jeremiah wrote these words Judah was beyond that point. Jerusalem was desolate. The city, God’s city, was desolate. There was no one roaming the once bustling streets. No animals jostled each other. The people had been carried away captive into Babylon. It looked like it was all over.

And yet a voice was heard in the cities. It was not a song of woe and lament. It was a voice of joy, a voice of gladness. It was like the voices of a newlywed couple. There was a voice of hope.

What did the voice say? ‘Praise the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, and His mercy endures forever.’ There was a ‘sacrifice of praise’ to God in the midst of destruction. They knew that God had promised that one day the nation would return.

We have even more of a reason to offer up a sacrifice of praise in the midst of trouble because those of us who are saved know that we have eternal hope. We know that this is not the end. We don’t have to adopt the world’s mind set and give ourselves over to the doom and gloom.

I hope that no matter what this new year brings my voice will be one that calls out ‘Praise the Lord, He is good, and His mercy endures forever!’

God is good, every day, all the time.