“Come to me.”

“Don’t be afraid, Daniel,” he said to me, “for from the first day that you purposed to understand and to humble yourself before your God, your prayers were heard. I have come because of your prayers.” (Daniel 10:12)

Daniel was serious and earnest about his faith. Realizing all the obstacles that has arisen against his people who had returned to Jerusalem (see Ezra 1-2), he acted. What did he do?  In those days I, Daniel, was mourning for three full weeks. I didn’t eat any rich food, no meat or wine entered my mouth, and I didn’t put any oil on my body until the three weeks were over. (Daniel 10:2-3) He humbled himself before God in fasting and in prayer. Was his approach to God and his entreaty effectual? Indeed. He was visited in a vision by an angelic being! God sent him in response to Daniel’s prayers and his character of humility.

Daniel just acted like Daniel. He was a faithful believer in Yahweh, the God of his fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He was not trying to twist God’s arm. He was not seeking to manipulate God. He had a relationship with a holy and righteous covenant LORD and so he acted like one in service to his King. God sees everything and knows everything. He knows what you and I are thinking right this moment. He knows what we each need. He has provided both precept and example in his word, the Bible, to guide us through any circumstance we may face. He will not turn away any who come to him in faith.

Jesus said it clearly: “Everyone the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. This is the will of him who sent me: that I should lose none of those he has given me but should raise them up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father: that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him will have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:37-40)

Amen and amen!

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The Remarkable Incongruity of Mercy

They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God, their Redeemer.

But they deceived him with their mouths, they lied to him with their tongues,

their hearts were insincere toward him, and they were unfaithful to his covenant.

Yet he was compassionate; he atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them.

He often turned his anger aside and did not unleash all his wrath. (Psalm 78:35-38 CSB)

After leading his people out of slavery under Pharaoh through Moses, they consistently rebelled against his holiness and grace. So he disciplined them for their own good. And for a time they would repent and obey. It is almost a precursor to the times of the Judges. Blessing, forgetting, disobedience, discipline, crying for help, deliverance, blessing.

In the account recorded and recounted above, we see a profound breaking of the fourth commandment. And a warning to all of us! We speak untrue words before God: deceived/mouths and lied/tongues. The parallelism emphasizes the sin. And it is toward God. Yet we are told not to take his name in vain (not to mention not to bear false witness; see Exodus 20). But it goes deeper. Insincere hearts toward him. It hurts to type such words! Unfaithful to his covenant. Let us not deceive ourselves. We follow in their footsteps. Though we bear his name we bring shame on that name through our actions and even our ways of life.

Yet! Yet his response included compassion, atonement, preservation, holy patience, and the ultimate demonstration of self-control. (I do think God first is the perfect demonstration of the fruits of the Spirit he shares with us.) In Christ and by sheer grace God does not give us what we deserve. He shows compassion toward sinners. He sees that we are lost sheep in need of a Shepherd. He provides atonement. That actually means he removes the obstacle of his wrath and makes the way for us to be reconciled to him. He lets us live when we deserve to die for our sins. He relinquishes his holy anger that our sins rightly provoke and withhold his wrath that our sins rightly deserve.  What a comprehensive deliverance!

Of course this could not go on indefinitely. Sin had to be dealt with finally and fully. The answer to the dilemma? Jesus. Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed. (Romans 3:24-25) The answer is spelled out in the work of Christ for sinners like me and like you. Hallelujah, what a Savior.

PRAYER: Dear Lord, thank you for the salvation you provide by grace through faith in Jesus. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Mercy for Sinners

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. (Psalm 119:9 ESV)

As I was thinking about Psalm 119, I came across an article about the filthy and heartbreaking cover of the recently released EP by Harrison Patrick Smith, AKA The Dare. First Mr. Smith, I appeal to you, you are still alive on this earth, so there is still hope for you. I implore you, you should repent of your views of sex and sexuality. Sex is meant for the marriage bed between one mane and one woman. As Jesus said, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?” (Matthew 19:4-5). And yes, your album cover is unrestrained pedophilia. Again, I implore you, you must turn from your wicked ways and turn to Christ for failure to do so will mean for you the judgment of everlasting torment in the lake of fire. But you do not have to go there since Jesus died for sinners like you and me. Run to Jesus now for refuge and He will forgive you and make you a member of His heavenly kingdom.

Friends, thank God for his word. There we find the only safety against the world, the flesh, and the devil. How can you keep from being tempted into the lifestyle promoted by the above artist and others like him? Guard your life according to the word of God. It tells us we will not be tempted beyond what we can bear but that God will always provide a way of escape. We are instructed to flee temptation. We are told to resist the devil and he will flee from you. Friends, the name of the LORD is a strong tower. The righteous run to it and are safe. Do so, even now.

PRAYER: Dear Lord, help me to guard my life according to your word. And further, God, have mercy on me, a sinner. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Conviction and Confession

For I confess my iniquity; I am full of anxiety because of my sin. (Psalm 38:18 NASB)

David, the young shepherd who became the King of Israel and a man after God’s own heart, found himself sick in his sin. He knew that his sin was against the God who made him. As he was living in sin he found no soundness in his flesh and no health in his bones. He was in over his head in sin and it was a burden too great to bear (v. 4). He admitted his folly. He was benumbed and badly crushed. He was sighing, crying, and in physical, mental, and spiritual pain.

David was under the conviction of sin. The Holy Spirit applied God’s word to him and it made him groan and sigh. His heart was agitated. What was he to do? Confess and repent!

For I confess my iniquity; I am full of anxiety because of my sin. He was filled with anxiety. Why? Because people did not like him? That is not why. Because of strained relationships at work and at home? That is not why. Because he felt like the world was a dangerous place? That is not why. These things were all true of King David. But his “anxiety attack” was over his sin. His sin against the God who looked upon him with steadfast love and faithfulness. The God who said, “You shall have no other gods before me.”

Can you relate to David? David realized his troubles were due to his own sin. He discerned that he was receiving the discipline of a loving Father. And so he confessed. He repented. And he ran to the very One he had offended: Do not forsake me, O Lord; O my God, do not be far from me! Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation! (vv. 21-22).

PRAYER: Dear LORD, Create in me a clean heart. Please renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence; take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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The Word and Prayer

 I, Daniel, learned from reading the word of the Lord, as revealed to Jeremiah the prophet, that Jerusalem must lie desolate for seventy years. So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and fasting. I also wore rough burlap and sprinkled myself with ashes. (Daniel 9:2b-3 NLT)

Daniel was over eighty years old. He had spent his entire adult life in exile. What was he doing? He was reading his Bible. Whatever scrolls or fragments of God’s word that had made the trek to Babylon some 67 odd years before, Daniel was studying them. What does he learn from his meditation and study? In his case he learns that the time of exile, according to the word of the LORD through Jeremiah the prophet, is drawing toward a conclusion. How does he respond? He prays. Notice his position. He turns toward the Lord. Notice his petition. He pleads with God. He seeks the LORD. He intercedes for his people. Notice his posture. Fasting, burlap, and ashes. These items represented humility in his approach to the throne of the Most High. He comes with reverence. He kneels in worship. To whom else can he go?

We have the benefit of the 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament bound and in multiple English translations. Do you read it? Do you meditate upon it? Do you need inspiration? Take a look at Psalm 119. We have a Savior through whose perfect merits we can approach the throne of grace with confidence and find mercy and grace in time of need. Have you kneeled in prayer lately? Further, those united to Christ by faith have the deposit of the Holy Spirit, guaranteeing our redemption. And lo and behold, He dwells within us, offering supplication with groans too deep for words. Have you plead with God lately?

Friend, Reformed and Evangelical Presbyterians like myself are not supposed to say what I am about to type. I dare anyone to rebuke me. Friend, by God’s grace, dare to be a Daniel.

PRAYER: Dear Lord, give me the motivation to read your word and the inspiration to pray fervently to you, even as Daniel did. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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A Vision of the One True God

“This is the end of the account. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts terrified me greatly, and my face turned pale, but I kept the matter to myself.” Daniel 7:28

Daniel 2 describes a dream of Nebuchadnezzar. In his dream we see a statue made of various materials, each of which describes the movement in world history of empires from the Babylonians to the Medo-Persians to the Greeks under Alexander the Great, to the Roman Empire. A statue of precious metals gives us the world’s view of these self-exalting rulers and kingdoms.

However, in Daniel 7 we see in Daniel’s own dream how these kingdoms look from God’s point of view: beastly. A lion with eagle’s wings gives way to a gluttonous bear which gives way to a leopard with four wings which finally gives way to a frightening fourth beast. Some wretched horns complete this part of the vision.

Thankfully, for Daniel and for us, he also sees visions described by those familiar and sacred terms for all believers: The Ancient of Days and the Son of Man. Hallelujah! The one true God reigned in his vision!

But I come to the verse above to remind us how Daniel reacted to these apocalyptic visions that give us a portion of this genre of literature in the Bible. He received the shock value God intended. He did not start speculating. He did not start pontificating. He did not get out his newspaper and try to figure out how current events related to his vision. He was rightly terrified, to the point of his face turning pale. And like Mary, after the visit from the angel, he kept the matter to himself, pondering, meditating, and praying.

PRAYER: Dear Lord, help me to ponder, meditate, and pray over your word. May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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The Great Snare

Yet no one was speaking openly of Him for fear of the Jews. (John 7:13 NASB)

If you look at the preceding verses in John 7, it sounds very current. One group of people want Jesus to cash in on his notoriety: So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea so that your disciples can see your works that you are doing.  For no one does anything in secret while he’s seeking public recognition. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.”  (For not even his brothers believed in him.) (vv. 3-5 CSB) Watch out, social media, Jesus’ own brothers are ready to treat him like a carnival act.

It is the other group, however, that alarms me more. They are afraid to even speak his name out loud. Does that have a contemporary ring to it? He is just him. And you can tell that they are very self-conscious as they even speak openly of him. In fact, John tells us: Still, nobody was talking publicly about him for fear of the Jews (v. 13).

Solomon warned us about this long ago: Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe (NIV 1984). As you go out today, fearing people rather than God will trip you up. So I say, “Dance with the One who brung ya!” Paul was privy to the temptation as well: Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ (Gal. 1:10). You better be settled on this before you even go out today. That way you can serve Christ unencumbered. And Jesus minced no words about the issue: “Therefore, everyone who will acknowledge me before others, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever denies me before others, I will also deny him before my Father in heaven” (Matt. 10:32-33 CSB). Even before you go out, choose this day whom you will serve. If the Lord is God, follow him. (See Josh. 24 & 1 Kgs. 18.)

The message is clear and the temptation against it will only grow stronger. And do not be naïve. This goes for the word of God. Denying the word of Christ is part and parcel to denying Christ. Just as the devil questioned in the garden, Did God really say? so is it in our own day. Do you really believe “such and such” is a sin? The question will come. Are you firm in your convictions? The Bible is. Be prepared to answer boldly, truthfully, accurately, courageously. And it may help to go ahead and memorize the words of Jesus in Matthew 19:4-6, among other passages.

BENEDICTION: May the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, strengthen you and help you. May he uphold you with his righteous right hand. Amen.

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Does it really say that?

For the Lord takes pleasure in his people;

he adorns the humble with salvation. (Psalm 149:4 CSB)

Have you trusted Jesus alone for salvation from your sins? Have you responded to his call to come and find rest for your soul (Matt. 11:28-30)? Are you one of the Lord’s people? The psalmist tells us the Lord takes pleasure in his people. Is that amazing or what? As I read this the other evening I was struck afresh with wonder. I certainly needed to hear that. It reminded me of a time about six or seven years ago when I was reading Sinclair Ferguson’s book The Whole Christ for the first time. I wept in my study in Selma as I pondered the fact that Jesus loves me. Yes, like many of us I have sung “Jesus Loves Me” since I was a child. But I suppose I usually sing it as if the “me” is just one straw of hay in an earth-sized haystack. But in reality we are each the proverbial needle in that haystack that he finds! (See Gen. 3:8-9; Luke 15:1-7; John 6:39-40; 15:16-18.) And even now Jesus has gone to prepare a place for his people that where he is we may be also (John 14:3). Look, I know that people is plural and so Psalm 149 is talking about what we now know as the Body of Christ, the church. But I am a member of that body. And he loves each member even as he loves the whole (Ephesians makes this clear). So… the Lord taking pleasure in me. What a thought! Dear Lord, thank you for your love for sinners like me. Please help me to approach your throne of grace with boldness (Hebrews 4) and to abide in you (John 15). To God be the glory! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Anxiety Like a Lead Zeppelin

Anxiety in a person’s heart weighs it down, but a good word cheers it up. (Proverbs 12:25 CSB)

As a pastor and a hospital chaplain, anxiety often overcomes me with a double-dose: Sunday followed by Monday. I can find myself sweating profusely and feeling faint. Just did yesterday. And then came close today. When will it end? Come, Lord Jesus.

By God’s grace and in his wonderful timing last night I read about prayer and anxiety, about what “an unused prayer link” to God looks like. “Anxiety. Instead of connecting with God, our spirits fly around like severed power lines, destroying everything they touch. Anxiety wants to be God but lacks God’s wisdom, power, or knowledge. A godlike stance without godlike character and ability is pure tension. Because anxiety is self on its own, it tries to get control. It is unable to relax in the face of chaos. Once one problem is solved, the next in line steps up. The new one looms so large, we forget the last deliverance” (Paul Miller, A Praying Life)

“Pure tension.” “Unable to relax in the face of chaos.” Thank you, Paul, for these phrases that help me describe my dilemma. However, life must go on even in the midst of the situations that unleashed the anxiety. What do I do? Another Paul tells me to be anxious for nothing but to pray about everything. … through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7) These Pauls think alike. Prayer. Well, I can try. Peace. That sounds divine.

But the Proverb mentions a good word that cheers up. Peter, have you got anything for me? Indeed: Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your cares on him, because he cares about you.  (1 Peter 5:6-7). OK, here goes. (And thank you, Solomon, for the ancient and relevant insight, a sort of stairway to heaven.)

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The Living God

Then King Darius wrote to those of every people, nation, and language who live on the whole earth: “May your prosperity abound. I issue a decree that in all my royal dominion, people must tremble in fear before the God of Daniel:

For he is the living God,

and he endures forever;

his kingdom will never be destroyed,

and his dominion has no end.

 He rescues and delivers;

he performs signs and wonders

in the heavens and on the earth,

for he has rescued Daniel

from the power of the lions.” (Daniel 6:25-27 CSB)

Daniel’s deliverance from the den of lions turned King Darius from playing god to fearing God. What did he learn? God is real. He is alive. In fact, he is self-existent. He is eternal. He ain’t going nowhere like each successive king of the empire in question. His kingdom, spiritual and not geographical (though it covers the earth), is indestructible. His sovereign reign (redundancy intended!) is most certainly not temporary. He is a Savior and Redeemer. He is divine. He is beyond us. As Creator, there is nothing and no one outside his control. Yet he cares enough and pays enough attention that he hears and answers the prayers of an old man named Daniel in Babylon and his earthly king (see 6:11 and 16b).

PRAYER: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Thank you for hearing my prayer. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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