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Advent / Christmas Hope Refresh & Restore

Refresh & Restore — 12/3/2020

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23    “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Matthew 1:18-25

Greetings, Sojourner!

It is hard to believe that Christmas is almost here! Even though Christmas trees have been out at Wal-Mart since before Halloween, the events of 2020 just have not allowed for the regular passage of time. But, in just a few short weeks, ready or not, it will indeed be Christmas.

The purpose of these devotions has always centered around the idea of being refreshed by the presence of King Jesus while we wait for Him to restore everything as He promised (Acts 3:19-21). It is my hope that this Christmas we will be able to feel the presence of Jesus, especially in the middle of everything that this year has thrown at us. Over the next few weeks, we will look at the hope, joy, and love that come only from the Lord. For us today, what could be more fitting a beginning than hope?

Can you imagine what it was like to be the earthly, adopted father of Jesus? A lot of people (and rightly so) have spent a great deal of time wondering what it must have been like for Mary, and I do not want to downplay what all she must have gone through. I have no doubt that her community was quick to brand her with a scarlet letter and cast her out as a loose woman. I cannot imagine how hard that must have been. But, today, I find myself looking through Joseph’s eyes.

The Bible describes Joseph as “a just man” who was “unwilling to put [Mary] to shame” (v. 19). While this seems to be a complete description of him, I believe that these two things contradict each other. You see, Joseph could have still been just had he brought Mary before their village and had her put to death for her apparent adultery (Leviticus 20:10, Deuteronomy 22:22). Before you rise in anger here, imagine whether you would have believed in the virgin birth if you had lived down the street from Mary. As bad as I hate to admit it, I would likely have been casting gossip and selecting rocks. But Joseph was different – at least a little different.

Joseph was indeed a just man, but he was also a man of grace and mercy. Grace and mercy always contradict justice. They swap the pain of punishment on the part of the one who committed the injustice and place the burden of pain and shame on the one giving the grace and mercy. Joseph was unwilling to put her to shame, which means he was going to bear the shame himself. People always look at Mary and can see why God would choose her to be Jesus’ mom, but it is noticeably clear here why Joseph would get to be the man to raise Him.

This, in and of itself, should give us hope. We do not have to quake in fear of the justice of God if we have received His grace and mercy. Mary had to be scared, but, all of a sudden, the one man who could have called for her life did not seek to heap shame upon her. We do not see much of Joseph, but what we do see of him points to the God who put on flesh, grew up in his house, and took up his profession (John 1:14, Mark 6:3)!

The very same night he decided to show Mary the mercy of a quiet divorce, an angel came to him in a dream (v. 20). The angel let him know that Mary’s claims of a virgin pregnancy were true and that he should not be afraid to continue as her husband. This is good news for us as the Church, the bride of Christ! Rather than casting us away because of our legitimately sinning against Him, He gave Himself for us (James 4:4, Ephesians 5:23-27). Although their earthly relationship would be subject to gossip and ridicule, it would actually be a beautiful picture of the gospel and redemption! And there is always hope to be found in the gospel. There is always hope for the redeemed.

The angel continued to tell him that Mary’s son should be named “Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (v. 21). This may not seem to be a big point, but the name of Jesus is something special. In Hebrew and Aramaic it would be Yeshua, which means whose help is Yahweh or the Lord is salvation. This should not be glazed over, because there is no other name like the name of Jesus. There is “no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The name of Jesus is the name that God the Father “bestowed on Him…that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…” (Philippians 2:9-10). The Father “exalted [Jesus] at His right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31).

Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, would grow up and learn to be a man in Joseph’s house. He would grow to be the mediator between Joseph and God by giving His life as a “ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Timothy 2:5). He would learn to work and form wood in Joseph’s workshop before He would hang on the tree in Joseph’s (and our) place (Galatians 3:13).

That night, while Joseph slept, the uneasiness and fear at the prospect of divorcing Mary gave way to peace. And it gave way to hope.

After all the many years that the Lord had been silent with His people, He fulfilled His promise to them by sending them Emmanuel. The word Emmanuel is incredibly special. God showed it to His people through the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 8:8-10). He spoke of nations rising against God’s people. Their fierce armies would threaten doom and destruction. But Emmanuel would fill the land and make all their threats against the Lord’s people amount to nothing. The fierceness of their armies and might of their threats “will not stand, for God is with us” (Isaiah 8:10), which is exactly what Emmanuel means – God with us.

This gave Israel hope during their exile in the land of Babylon. It gave hope to the early believers who realized that the Messiah had come. And it gives hope to us still today.

We do not have to fear all the things that come against us because God is with us. We do not have to worry about the impending doom on the horizon because God is with us.

While this passage is not often cited in the context of Christmas, I believe Romans 8:31-34 is the epitome of Emmanuel:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

We have nothing to fear because God is with us, His name is Jesus, and He loves us. He will never leave us. He will never stop loving us. Those are immovable truths. They are facts. And they give hope.

I have no doubt that 2020, the gift that keeps on giving, still has more surprises in store. I know that there will be dark days we have yet to experience. They will shake us and our faith. But there are no days that will shake the throne of heaven – the throne of the King of kings. I know that God has all of this under control – that He has not and will not be caught off guard or surprised. These facts should give us hope.

I like the way that the Jesus Storybook Bible (yes, a children’s book) reflects today’s passage. When you read these words, notice the hope that comes from what it says about Jesus:

“Mary and Joseph named Him Jesus, ‘Emmanuel’ – which means ‘God has come to live with us.’ Because, of course, He had.”

Just as Joseph rested as he dreamt of the hope yet to come in His life, may we rest and hope in the promises of Emmanuel – of God with us. Because, of course, He is.

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Gratitude Refresh & Restore Stuff I've Been Writing Worship

Refresh & Restore — Thanksgiving 2020

1 Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good,
for His steadfast love endures forever!
2 Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
whom He has redeemed from trouble
3 and gathered in from the lands,
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.

8 Let them thank the Lord for His steadfast love, for His wondrous works to the children of man!

Psalm 107:1-3, 8

Greetings, Sojourner, and “Happy Thanksgiving” to you and yours!

I hope that this devotion finds you in a place where you are opening up your heart in gratitude for all that God has given you and expressing that thanks to Him and sharing what you are thankful for with family, friends, and food!

Today, I am thankful for the steadfast love of God that is so much more than I deserve! The way that the Bible presents this love completely and utterly blows my mind:

  • “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
  • “…but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
  • “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved….” (Ephesians 2:4-5)

The love of God stands out in my mind – probably because it seems so foreign to me. I understand the need for His wrath. It only takes a quick look at my own sin to see why that makes sense. I also understand His righteousness. Looking at the way that He carries Himself through His Word shows that to be true. But the fact that He loves me – “a sinner, condemned, unclean”[1] – that I do not understand. However, it is because of this that I am immensely thankful!

I think the psalmist of Psalm 107 gives us context for just how thankful we should be. First and foremost, we give thanks to God because He is good. His goodness has nothing to do with what we receive from Him. It is just “who He [is]”[2], plain and simple (Luke 18:19). He would still be good if He had never shown His “steadfast love” to any of us. Thankfully, however, that love that He shows us “endures forever”!

Not only should we give thanks to God because of His goodness and love, but we should give thanks to Him because He redeems. The word “redeemed” means to buy back or to make free. So, when the psalmist says “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so”, he is calling all who have been made free from their trouble and sin to give thanks to God and let our world know what He has done. If He has “redeemed [you] from trouble”, “say so”. If He has set you free from slavery to sin, “say so”. If He has saved you, “say so” – and say thanks!

This psalm was likely sung after Israel returned home from their exile in Babylon. Their redemption and thankfulness were specific to what God had done for them. After all, it was God who “gathered” them back home from “the lands” and the four corners of the world. And, just like their thanksgiving and praise was supposed to be specific, ours should too.

Let us take a brief tour through the rest of Psalm 107 to see some examples of God redeeming His people.

Some of the redeemed (Psalm 107:4-9) spent time wandering and alone, without food or drink, enduring times of trouble and distress. God delivered them by leading them out of trouble, satisfying their thirst and filling their bellies. They thanked God for His continual love and told people what He had done for them.

Others (Psalm 107:10-16) walked paths of the darkness of the shadow of death. They found themselves imprisoned by iron bars and various afflictions. All of that turmoil is because they chose to ignore the Most High. But, because of His great love, He brought them out of the darkness – shined His light to remove the shadow of death – and burst open their prisons. They thanked God for loving them despite their ignoring Him and shared His works with those around them.

Finally, there were also those (Psalm 107:17-22) whose sinful ways had shown them to be fools. Their foolishness nearly cost them their lives. But God – through His Word – kept them from death and healed them. They thanked God for His love and Life and made sure that other fools knew about the wisdom of their God.

Each of these groups had two things in common. First, their troubles were of their own making. Their sin disrupted their lives (Romans 6:23). Second, God was their only Way out of their trouble. In each of those sections of Psalm 107 (vv. 8, 15, 21, 31), we see their response to their being redeemed: “Let them thank the Lord for His steadfast love, for His wondrous works to the children of man!” But look at what comes first every time (vv. 6, 13, 19, 28): “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress.”

That may seem to simple, but repentance almost never is. If we say that we do not enjoy the sin that we commit, we are lying. We are not tempted with chores and labors of obligation. We are tempted by those things that make our sinful hearts delight. Those wandering alone did not set out to trapse through the wilderness. No, their path began by following the desires of their hearts. Those in the darkness did not expect to find themselves in the shadow of death; they just merely played in its dusky edges until they could no longer see the light. That is why God’s love is described as steadfast – it sticks with us through thick and thin, from our foolishness to our repentance.

That is good news!

When I think of my sin, I think of my Savior. When I think of my failures, I am reminded of His strength. When I am confronted with my past, I meet Him in my present with thanksgiving.

Maybe you are still wandering and alone in the shadow of death. The same Savior that delivered Israel and every saved sinner in history is available to you. Cry out to the Him in your trouble, and He will deliver you from your distress. The way to do that is clear. Romans 10:9 tells us “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Call out to Him. Confess your sin to Him. Trust in Him. Let Him lead you. Repent, and say thanks.

As always, know that I love you and am praying for you. I hope that your heart is moved toward thankfulness to God today, and I want to leave you with a few verses that illustrate thankfulness. May today be a day where our gratitude to God is clear and constant. And may this be the first of many days where we give Him the thanks He is due.

4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in every way you were enriched in Him in all speech and all knowledge – 6 even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you – 7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 1:4-8

21 I thank You that You have answered me
and have become my salvation.

Psalm 118:21

15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Colossians 3:15-17

1 We give thanks to you, O God;
we give thanks, for your name is near.
We recount your wondrous deeds.

Psalm 75:1

1 Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon His name;
make known His deeds among the peoples!
2 Sing to Him, sing praises to Him;
tell of all His wondrous works!
3 Glory in His holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!

Psalm 105:1-3

[1]I Stand Amazed in the Presence”, Charles Hutchinson Gabriel  

[2]Good, Good Father”, Chris Tomlin

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Faith Hope Refresh & Restore

Refresh & Restore — November 19, 2020

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share in Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.

1 Peter 4:12-13

8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To Him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 5:8-11

Greetings, Sojourner!

It has been so good these past few weeks to look at God’s faithfulness throughout the trials of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. This world can be a scary place sometimes, and we need to remember that God is in control – His sovereignty and power know no bounds! It is also important to remember that God’s faithfulness is not dependent upon our own faithfulness.

Through the examples of these young men, we have seen what one’s relationship with God should look like before, during, and following difficult times. Thankfully, most of us have not had to endure a fraction of the suffering that they did. We followed them from the beginning of their exile, their endurance of tyrannical leaders and near death experiences (through furnace and lions’ den). But where does that leave us?

I believe that the guidance we have in 1 Peter helps us to see how we are meant to live our lives in the face of the “various trials” (1 Peter 1:6) that will – or already have – come our way. Depending on what date you hold 1 Peter to, it was either written in the period right before or right after the Roman emperor Nero came into power. There is a saying that goes with Nero’s rule, particularly how he reacted during the Great Fire of Rome in 64ad: “Nero fiddled while Rome burned”. Whether or not he started that fire or played the fiddle, we will never know, but his persecution of the Church in Rome was wicked and terrible. King Nebuchadnezzar would have been proud.

Looking at Peter’s advice and encouragement to his original audience (and to us today through the Holy Spirit), we can pull out some principles that will help us to live out our faith in the midst of whatever trials may come our way.

1. Trials and Tribulations are Part of the Christian Life

Trials and tribulations are constants throughout Church history – from the time of Christ to the present. “…[A]ll who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…” (2 Timothy 3:12). Peter is trying to relay this in our first passage today. He is showing us that we can and should prepare so that we are not shocked when times of difficulty arise (4:12).

Many believers in the world at the time of Peter’s writing faced trials (5:9), and many around the world today face them as well. Are you? I think it is important to examine our lives to see: 1) whether or not we are suffering because of our faith, and 2) if we are suffering, is it for our faith and not situations of our own making. I do not think that suffering is something that we necessarily need to covet or invite, but we do not need to walk with Christ in such a way as to prevent it out of fear nor avoid it when it comes.

2. Our Trials Identify Us with Christ

So often Scripture perplexes us when it talks about rejoicing in the midst of suffering (James 1:2, Romans 5:3), but Peter helps us to see why we are rejoicing. We are not supposed to rejoice that we are experiencing misery – that would be crazy. We are not supposed to relish in the pain – again, nuts. We are supposed to rejoice because we get to be identified with Jesus and “share in [His] sufferings” (4:13).

Jesus Himself promised such treatment for being identified with Him:

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”

John 15:18

Oh, to be identified with Christ – to live for Him in such a way that the world looks at us and sees Him! That is, after all, what the word Christian means: little Christ. And it was meant as a slur to Christ-followers long before our people began to wear it as a badge of honor (Acts 11:26, 1 Peter 4:16).

3. These Trials are Not Meant to Be Faced Alone

If we are not careful, all this talk about trials and tribulations can scare us. That is not the intent of the Bible, and it is not my intent here. As we move to our second passage where we see the devil depicted as a “roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (5:8), we could be tempted to be afraid. I would definitely feel fear if I encountered a hungry lion! So, let me remind you of the words of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah:

“I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

In regard to encountering the devil, I do not want to downplay his strength and ferocity. I just want you to remember that there is a greater Lion.

I believe it is for this purpose that Peter begins this section with the command to be “sober-minded”. We need to keep our minds clear from all of the thoughts and desires that tend to take it captive (Romans 7:23, Colossians 2:8) and, instead, allow the Holy Spirit to rule in our hearts and minds and destroy the strongholds of the enemy, especially fear (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). In our sober-mindedness, we find ourselves able to “be watchful” so that we can “resist him” and remain “firm in [our] faith”. You cannot have one without the other.

The interesting thing about these commands is that all of them are plural. In Mississippi, we should have no problem with translating this because it is like Peter is saying, “Y’all be sober-minded; y’all be watchful; y’all stick together and resist him; and y’all be firm in your faith.” The Holy Spirit, through Peter, is reminding us that we are supposed to be part of a local church – a local expression of the body of Christ. There is no such thing as lone ranger Christianity. He designed us to work together like a human body with Him as the Leader and Head (Colossians 1:18). When we are walking with the greater Lion, the devil knows that he cannot lay a claw on Him.

4. All Trials and Tribulations are Temporary

Peter describes the length of time that our trials last as a “little while” (1:6, 5:10). I do not know about you, but I have never experienced a difficult time and thought of it as being short. Some Mondays seem two weeks long and some seasons of life seem never-ending. It is all about perspective. And that is exactly what Peter is trying to give us here.

He is wanting us to look at our trials with eternity in mind. At the end of this earthly “little while”, those who put their hope and trust in Christ will be “called…to His eternal glory”. When we are with Him in eternity, our final tear will be wiped away, death will no longer be a threat, and mourning, crying, and pain will have all surpassed their expiration date (Revelation 21:3-4). Just like a new mother forgets the excruciating hours of labor when she holds her child, we will forget the pains of our labor from this earth when we kneel at the feet of King Jesus with the rest of the saints around His throne!

Ultimately, that is what this whole study has been about – perspective. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were able to continue serving the Lord because He had never forsaken them in their whole relationship. Daniel could turn to prayer in the face of execution because He was constant in prayer. Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah could walk confidently in the fiery furnace because their faith had been tested by fiery trials all along their journey with the Lord. And Daniel was able to faithfully continue going to the Lord in prayer rather than fearing the lions because the Lord had faithfully cared for him all of his long years.

It is supposed to be the same for us. If we look for this life to be fulfilling and never disappointing, we will be empty of everything except disappointment. But, if we look to Jesus as the “founder and perfecter of our faith” and long to be with Him, we can “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and…run with endurance the race set before us” (Hebrews 12:1-2). The “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” will outweigh the pain of any trial or temptation (Philippians 3:8). My prayer for you is that you examine your life. Are you living for Christ or for yourself? Do you want to please Him or yourself? I think that Jesus’ question in Luke 9:25 is a good place for some self-examination this morning: “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” May you see the surpassing worth of King Jesus and worship Him in the good times, cling to Him in the bad times, and be with Him for all time in eternity.

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Discipleship Faith Hope Prayer Refresh & Restore Stuff I've Been Writing Worship

Refresh & Restore — November 12, 2020

1 It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom 120 satraps, to be throughout the whole kingdom; 2 and over them three high officials, of whom Daniel was one, to whom these satraps should give account, so that the king might suffer no loss. 3 Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. 4 Then the high officials and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. 5 Then these men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.”

Daniel 6:1-5

10 When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.

Daniel 6:10

Greetings, Sojourner!

Well, just when we thought 2020 could not get any stranger, we decided to hold an election. The United States is split, and divisiveness seems to be at an all time high. But, to quote my friend and fellow teacher Chuck Crouch, “The world is not falling apart; it’s falling into place.”[1] How can that be amid things seeming to be in such disarray? Oddly, our answer comes from King Nebuchadnezzar after God finally got his attention:

“…I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored Him who lives forever, for His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His Kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, ‘What have you done?’”

Daniel 4:34a-35

In the first devotion in this series, we saw how terrible and wicked Nebuchadnezzar could be. Then, in the second installment, we saw how irrational and tyrannical he could be. And, last week, we saw the full extent of his desire for power and recognition as he demanded worship and threatened death to everyone who did not bow to him. But – and this is especially important – the kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar is gone and has been for millennia. In fact, his son Belshazzar who took over from him (Daniel 5) is gone, too. The same can be said for so many kingdoms. But there is a King of kings with a Kingdom that will not and cannot be shaken (Colossians 1:13; Hebrews 12:28)!

Ultimately, this is the biggest lesson to be learned from Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. They were of God’s chosen nation, yet that earthly kingdom was allowed to be taken over. They were given places of esteem and renown within arguably the greatest and most powerful kingdom of its time. But their allegiance was to a greater Kingdom. When the laws of the land contradicted the Law of God there was no question as to where their obedience would lie. They faced certain death with a faith stronger than the powers-that-be could or would ever understand. Even though they lived thousands of years before Jim Elliot, they embodied the message he proclaimed with his life and these words: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

In today’s passage, we do not see Daniel the youth, but, rather, we see Daniel as an older, seasoned man. He has served his Lord continually and served under three kings and two major world powers – Babylon and Media-Persia. By all accounts it seems as if everything had fallen into place for Daniel; at least that is the way I have always heard his situation portrayed. But was he any less an exile or eunuch because he had renown and a high-profile job? The world had certainly not forgotten that he was “one of the exiles from Judah” (Daniel 6:13). No, Daniel was a servant of the Most High God throughout his life, and the kingdom of the world would continually hold that against him.

So often, we see Daniel and his companions characterized as heroes because of their survival, but God is the hero of their life stories. Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were not naturally flame retardant, and Daniel was not immune to the teeth and claws of ferocious lions. God caused the flames not to burn. God shut the mouths of the lions. What did these guys do, then, that causes us to still speak of them all these thousands of years later?

They prayed to their God.

They worshiped their Lord.

If we are honest with ourselves, their only remotely heroic acts – the actions that are heralded as examples of civil disobedience and contending for the faith – are the actions that we find the most mundane and practice the least in our walk with the Lord. It must also be noted that these acts of prayer and worship were not done in the public square. They were not done in grandiose gestures that draw attention to movements or positions or any such thing. Their prayer and worship took place in their private lives – just between them and the Lord. The only reason that we have even heard about it is because one’s personal relationship with the Lord is the only thing that fuels courage in the face of death – the only thing that straightens the backs of Christ-followers when an emperor demands bowed heads and knees.

For Daniel, the situation was different than we probably realize. It is easy to look at him as a “Bible hero”. That gives him a sense of other-ness and allows us to excuse our lack of faithfulness. Daniel was not different. He had to feel the tension to give in just this once. You see, Daniel was a legit disciple; his personal worship included study of the Word, specifically the writings/prophesies of Jeremiah. And it was through this studying that he learned that the end of their exile was coming to an end (Daniel 9:2). That means that this trial hit differently. He had lost so much over the years in exile, and, now, as an old man he faced the chance of losing his life when he was so close to being released and going home.

I cannot imagine what went on in his heart. I would like to believe that he struggled like I do. I know that is selfish of me, but I think of how much I struggle to weigh the benefit of being and ministering where God has planted me against the difficulties of actually being in those situations. For Daniel, the years of constant prayer and continued faithfulness from God to him outweighed the possibility of death. The life that God had given him (John 14:6) and the hope for a future (Jeremiah 29:11) that came from his faith in the Lord kept him faithful even when times appeared dark. So, rather than giving up or giving in, Daniel “got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously” (Daniel 6:10; cf. Daniel 2:23, Daniel 9:3-19, Psalm 138:2, 1 Kings 8:48).

That continued faithfulness had an impact on those around Daniel, too. Of course, many of those people – those belonging to the kingdom of darkness and vying for a temporary earthly position – wanted him dead, but Darius wanted him to live. Do not misunderstand me here. It was Darius’ worldly foolishness that put Daniel in this situation. But God showed Darius something through the witness of Daniel.

Most of us have much more in common with Darius than we do with Daniel. Darius knew he had messed up and tried his hardest to undo the situation himself. “…[H]e labored till the sun went down to rescue him” (Daniel 6:14b). But, truth be told, Darius made a terrible Savior. It is a good thing that Daniel did not need Darius to save him. No, Darius tried all that he could but was unable to come up with a plan to save Daniel. At his wits end – at his most hopeless, he saw the hope that Daniel had and made an amazing proclamation: “May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you” (Daniel 6:16)! Daniel’s continual service and faith in God was evident. If someone were to call upon the God we serve continually, would King Jesus be the one to respond or would we be at the mercy of the mute idols that receive our time and worship (Habakkuk 2:18, 1 Corinthians 12:2)?

With Darius’ plea for help from Daniel’s God, Daniel was lowered into the pit where ferocious and hungry lions were waiting to devour him. A stone was laid over the entrance of the lions’ den. And Darius was forced to wait until morning to find out if Daniel had been delivered or devoured.

As I said earlier, it is a good thing that Daniel did not need to rely on Darius as his Savior.

I find this part more comforting as an adult. The lions’ den terrified me as a child, even though I knew Daniel would walk out the other side unscathed. Now, I know that there was a stone rolled over a door hundreds of years after Daniel and the lions’ den. That stone covered the tomb of a lion, and Satan and his earthly forces – just like those who plotted Daniel’s demise – relished in the excitement that they had shut the mouth of that lion. But that lion – the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, our God and Savior Jesus Christ – would walk out of the tomb of His own accord! And it is because of Him that Darius – and all who put their hope and faith in Him – could rejoice like John in his vision of heaven:

“And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered….’ And…I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain….”

Revelation 5:5-6

It is that Lion – “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) – who gave Daniel the rescue that he so desperately needed and can rescue us as well.

When the stone was rolled away from the lion’s den, Darius asked (Daniel 6:20) a very important question: “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions”? God had, of course, shut the lions’ mouths (Daniel 6:22, Hebrews 11:33). And His power to save is still available today.

I do not know what difficulties you face. I know that many people are afraid of the way things in this world are heading. But God is still on His throne. The question for us is: where are we? Are we on our knees like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah? Are we continually serving the God we claim to trust? The good news for us is that He is willing to accept us should we call out to Him (Romans 10:9-10, 13).

I would like to leave you with a song this week. This was written nearly 500 years ago by Martin Luther, and I think it would do us well to have this song in our hearts today:

“And tho’ this world, with devil’s filled / Should threaten to undo us / We will not fear, for God hath willed / His truth to triumph through us / The Prince of Darkness grim / We tremble not for him / His rage we can endure / For lo, his doom is sure / One little word can fell him.”[2]

Amen.


[1] After telling Chuck that I wanted to quote him for this week’s Refresh & Restore, he quickly told me that he felt that he had gotten that thought from a Christian song and did not want to take credit away from the original author. Ye olde Google told me that the original quote comes from the song “Just Be Held” by Casting Crowns. So, listen to Chuck, and click the link if you would like to listen to the song.

[2] Martin Luther, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”

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Faith Refresh & Restore Stuff I've Been Writing Worship

Refresh & Restore — November 5, 2020

13 Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought. So they brought these men before the king. 14 Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? 15 Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?
16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

Daniel 3:13-18 ESV

Greetings, Sojourner!

I am writing this on Sunday, November 1. I had originally planned to wait until Wednesday to write this week’s devotion since the election is Tuesday. Somehow, in my mind, I felt like this would be more relevant having all the context that making it through November 3 would give. But God’s Word is always relevant for all our circumstances!

My son, Xander, unknowingly convinced me to go ahead and write this today. After church, I always ask him what he learned about in Sunday School because I love to hear the way he phrases things. He has this cool mixture of excitedness and nonchalant fact in the way that he retells the lesson. Here is the gist of today’s:

“There were three friends who didn’t want to pray for the big statue. And the king threw them in the fire oven. But – guess what – they didn’t burn up because God send…there was four guys in there…an angel…and the fire…it didn’t work!”

Oh, to get to go back and hear the amazing tales of God’s faithfulness for the first time! I got to see the joy on his face when I was able to tell him that this was true and not merely a story! I got to see the delight in his eyes when he found out that God can do more than what comic books heroes or movies can try to point to. So, I can say with full assurance that whatever November 3 has held – whether we now be in World War III or are having a casual American Thursday – the God of Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael is still bigger and still sovereignly seated on His throne.

For the past few weeks, we have been looking at the examples of these four young men as they were exiled in a foreign land. The first week showed us how simple faithfulness is necessary in the easy times before we ever see it worked out in our difficult times. Last week, we saw how that simple, every-day sort of faithfulness is expressed once the hard times begin. But this week is something else entirely!

I can remember hearing this story as a kid. Like Xander, I was fascinated with the fire that “didn’t work” and the fourth presence there in the furnace with them. And, now, as an adult I am finding more hope than fascination. It is amazing to look at the way these young men grew from beginning to walk out their faith in the Lord into older men who live out that faith on the grand scale that we see in Daniel 3.

I want us to focus on what their response was and what it was not. This all started because they were continuing in their regular practice of faith. Their faith was a normal part of their life, and it continued uninterrupted from before their exile and in the unknown periods of time between Daniel 1-2 and 2-3. In fact, people expected them to practice their faith. What they did not do is fear. They did not stop trusting in the God that they had walked with for so long. They just kept on walking by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7), even when their current situation began to look darker.

King Nebuchadnezzar tried to deny the reality of his nightmare and Daniel’s prophecy (Daniel 2:31-47) by building a giant statue – and in the same plain as the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:2)! In both monuments we see man trying to take the place of God. In the case of Babel, they wanted to be wise and glorious like God. But, in Nebuchadnezzar’s case, he was already wise in his own eyes; he wanted to be worshipped. Nearly everyone bowed the knee. Everyone, that is, except for Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah – because they had bowed the knee to God Most High consistently and continually.[1]

When people fall into idolatry – when they succumb to the pressure of temptation, they are angry at those who do not. Many of the people who were bowing to Nebuchadnezzar’s statue were exiles just like these young men. They were of many “peoples, nations, and languages” (v. 4) and victims of the same brainwashing and persecution that they tried to force on Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Yet these other exiles bowed the knee to the king long before he built the statue. That made it easier to march to the beat of his drum when he struck up the band. And it made them angry to see people not bowing with them.

One would think that the courage to stand in the face of certain doom would be labeled as heroic. But their faith found retaliation instead of renown. Nebuchadnezzar used fear and intimidation to get worship. No doubt those exiles who bowed the knee did it to escape both the fire of the king’s wrath as well as his furnace. Yet our young men silently and faithfully carried on. They bowed their heads and hearts to God and continued as they always had – bowing their knees to God only.

When the king heard about their steadfastness, he had them drug in before him and gathered a large audience. He pulled out all the stops. If he could not get these young men to bow the knee, he would secure his hold over the masses by executing them publicly. He wanted to establish his place as their god and squelch any faithfulness or worship to any god aside from himself.

Imagine yourself in the place of these young men – and there is a time coming where we may not have to imagine (2 Timothy 3:1, 12-13). They were stood in front of a large audience, mocked and berated by the king. He reminded them that they were far from their home and that their livelihood and safety were in his hands. He had the band queued and ready. As soon as the music started, all they had to do is simply bow the knee. He made it sound so easy – so reasonable – so harmless. He asked them what god could rescue them from his hands (v. 15). Little did he know, there is a God in heaven who could rescue body and soul – one way or another (Matthew 10:28).

Their response is recorded in the verses at the beginning of the devotion (vv. 16-18). Look at the way that their response exhibited their faith. First, they let the king know that they did not have to answer to him (v. 16). Then, they declared that their God was “able” to and would deliver them indeed (v. 17). Finally, they let him know that should God choose not to rescue them from the flames they would not bow to the pressure and squander their worship on him or his false gods (v. 18).

That last part is especially key. While this is not a popular view on the subject, God would be no less God if these young men had died in the furnace for their faith. Their fate was sealed by their faith, and, just as they said, they knew God would deliver them one way or another. There are people all over the world, even today, who are martyred for their faith. People see their devotion to Christ and get to see His power through the witness of the faithful. Their faith is not lessened by their deaths. Just as they close their eyes in death as an act of worship, they open them again in heaven, looking on the face of the Savior who died for them and are happy to worship Him forevermore!

Do not hold their lack of execution against Nebuchadnezzar. He was good at being bad. He could not help it that, just as Xander said, his fire did not work! Their faith “quenched the fire” (Hebrews 11:34)! Nebuchadnezzar watched joyfully, expecting to hear screams from the dying and see groans of submission from the audience. He had a front row seat, wanting to see these men die. But much to his surprise, he saw the power of the Lord (vv. 24-25)!

Nebuchadnezzar witnessed all of this with his own eyes. One would think that would be enough to turn his heart – and it looked like it did for a minute (vv. 28-30). But, just as Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah came out unsinged with no smell of smoke (v. 27), Nebuchadnezzar’s view of himself remained unchanged (Daniel 4:27-34). His desire to keep his status and the status quo outweighed his desire to bow the knee to God Most High.

So, I ask you: to whom do you bow the knee – to Jesus or something lesser? I am sure that if Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah could talk to you today they would remind you that “if you confess with your mouth that JESUS is LORD and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9, emphasis added). No matter the beat of the drummer who was elected two days ago – if a decision or consensus has even been reached – Jesus is truly the King of kings and Lord of lords (Philippians 2:9-11), and that is not up for election or debate!

Let me remind you again that what we practice in peace is available to us in persecution. If you are tossed about like a rowboat on the ocean by every unknown fear in times of peace (James 1:6), your whole world will crumble when the rain and floods come (Matthew 7:24-27). But “those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever” (Psalm 125:1)! The kingdom of the Lord “cannot be shaken” and God alone is worthy of our “worship, with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28).

Let us practice what the psalmist wrote in peace so that we are not shaken when things get truly difficult:

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling…. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

Psalm 46:1-3, 7

And may our daily worship and devotion begin to mirror the faith of three young exiled eunuchs in the midst of their “fiery trial” (1 Peter 4:12) – “our God whom we serve is able to deliver us” (v. 17).

Xander Harris, illustrator

[1] Many people wonder why Daniel was not part of this narrative and whether or not he bowed the knee. Daniel 2:49 clarified that Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were given authority “over the affairs of the province of Babyon” but Daniel’s responsibilities called for him to remain “at the king’s court”.

Categories
Prayer Refresh & Restore

Refresh & Restore — October 29, 2020

17 Then Daniel went to his house and made the matter known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions, 18 and told them to seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his companions might not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. 19 Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven. 20 Daniel answered and said:
“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
to whom belong wisdom and might.
He changes times and seasons;
He removes kings and sets up kings;
He gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding;
He reveals deep and hidden things;
He knows what is in the darkness,
and the light dwells with Him.
To you, O God of my fathers,
I give thanks and praise,
for you have given me wisdom and might,
and have now made known to me what we asked of you,
for you have made known to us the king’s matter.”
24 Therefore Daniel went in to Arioch, whom the king had appointed to destroy the wise men of Babylon. He went and said thus to him: “Do not destroy the wise men of Babylon; bring me in before the king, and I will show the king the interpretation.”
25 Then Arioch brought in Daniel before the king in haste and said thus to him: “I have found among the exiles from Judah a man who will make known to the king the interpretation.” 26 The king declared to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, “Are you able to make known to me the dream that I have seen and its interpretation?” 27 Daniel answered the king and said, “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show the king the mystery that the king has asked, 28 but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in latter days. Your dream and the visions of your head as you lay in bed are these….”   

Daniel 2:17-28

Greetings, Sojourner!

I have always been fascinated by the lives of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Their dietary faithfulness in Daniel 1, excursion in the fiery furnace in Daniel 3, and salvation in the lions’ den in Daniel 6 get a lot of focus – and have always been favorites of mine. But it was not until recently that Daniel 2 became a centerpiece of my amazement.

It is in our nature to be attracted to moments that appear spectacular. And these four young men were definitely involved in some spectacular moments. God moved powerfully and memorably in their lives. Even though they were exiles, they enjoyed the freedom that comes only from knowing and trusting in the Lord. But it is the acts of worship that precede these events that can give us the most hope.

Daniel 2 begins with Nebuchadnezzar being greatly disturbed by a dream. Perhaps disturbed is an understatement. He was plagued by a prophetic nightmare that kept him up and made him even more violent than usual. He had court magicians and tricksters who specialized in everything from token parlor tricks to divining futures to interpreting dreams.

He made a request of them that was quite ridiculous and genuinely impossible. He did not want them to tell him their interpretation because he knew that they would tell him an answer that pleased and comforted him. Instead, he wanted them to be able to describe his dream to him and, then – and only then, give him the interpretation. They stammered and complained. They tried to explain to the king that it was impossible, but he, just like all tyrannical kings in history, would not be pacified. He gave orders that his guards go through the kingdom and mutilate every magician, enchanter, and wise man that could not fulfill his demands.

This is where we pick up today. You see, Daniel was gifted by God with “understanding in all visions and dreams” (Daniel 1:17), and he, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were “found…ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters…in the kingdom” (Daniel 1:20). But, since the king was so angry, they were in danger of being killed.

These guys just could not catch a break. After all they had been through, these exiled eunuchs now faced execution because of the king’s nightmares. The natural course of action would have been to run away or beg for their lives. They could have fought or struck up a rebellion of sorts. I am sure there were other natural responses that they could have made. Yet they chose the one response that is the most unnatural – they chose to pray.

As we talked about last week, times of crisis draw on the faith that is practice in the normal and mundane. If you turn to God for every need (Philippians 4:6), you will surely turn to Him when things get difficult. If you are looking to talk with Him continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17), you will be no stranger to prayer once things tend towards persecution. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were still communing with the Lord even though they were exiled to a foreign land. They did not worship the gods of the Babylonians because they had faith in the Most High. And they did not allow themselves to succumb to fear because they fully knew that their God had already carried them through all of their troubles thus far.

I absolutely love the way that their faith showed up in their lives so naturally. Look again at Daniel’s response to finding out he was sentenced to death:

“Then Daniel went to his house and made the matter known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions, and told them to seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his companions might not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.”

vv. 17-18

He simply went to his companions and told them to pray! This seems so outstanding, but it should be commonplace for all believers. These young men’s response should be the same for us. Imagine how much different our lives would be if we would follow the advice of the writer of Hebrews:

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Hebrews 4:16

Daniel told his companions to “seek mercy” and that is exactly what God gave them. He had such faith that God would give them mercy that he was able to go to sleep so that God could reveal to him the king’s dream (v. 19). And how did Daniel respond? Did he march straight up to old Nebuchadnezzar and set him straight? Maybe he jumped on the ancient middle eastern social media platform and let everyone know he had a solution to their problems? No, and no. He responded by worshiping God Most High because he knew that he had no means by which to save himself and realized that he should show his gratitude to the King of kings before settling up with the king of his exile.

I love the way that Sinclair Ferguson puts this particular practice into focus:

“The test of spirituality does not lie only in the fervency of our prayers in times of crisis, but in the wholeheartedness of our worship when God acts in grace. Relief unaccompanied by worship is never an adequate response to the mercies of God.”[1]

Daniel had a relationship with his God. He knew that his God knew him and cared for him. He worshiped his Lord because he saw the value – the “surpassing worth” (Philippians 3:8) – that his God uniquely held. And that moved him to worship.

I would urge you to go back to the Scripture passage at the beginning of this devotion and read Daniel’s prayer – his song – to God in response. You can also continue through the end of Daniel 2 and see the vision that God gave Daniel and the response of Nebuchadnezzar to the impossible thing that God did through Daniel. But, above all, I hope that you realize that the faith that Daniel and his companions had is something that is available to you even today.

As I wrote last week, there is coming a time when difficulties will be more prominent. Things are going to get worse here on earth and not better. But God is still going to be on His throne through all of this. And the best place for us to be now – and it must be now if it will ever be in the future – is on our knees seeking mercy from Him.

Maybe you do not know how to pray. Let Jesus Christ – God Himself – show you how:

“Pray then like this:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.”

Matthew 6:9-13

Amen.


[1] Sinclair Ferguson, The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Volume 21: Daniel

Categories
Refresh & Restore Stuff I've Been Writing

Refresh & Restore — October 22, 2020

1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god.

Daniel 1:1-2

Greetings, Sojourner!

We are certainly living in strange times! It seems that every time we wrap our minds around the way the world is changing, it just changes some more. Fear seems to be the norm and peace seems to be either stuck in 2019 or just beyond our reach in 2021. We have had to survive viruses and murder hornets. And, to top it off, this is an election year!

With the present in such disarray, anxiety regarding the nature of the future is escalating. I talk to at least one person a day who mentions their feelings of uncertainty about the future. Most of them reference how unsure they are about the state of our country and how Christians will navigate this uncharted future.

It is in our nature to fear the unknown. And change is always less than welcome. However, I do not believe that we need to fear. But the fact that we do not have to be afraid does not mean that there will be no trouble. Look at Jesus’ words in John 16:

“In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33b

No matter the tribulation that we face, we can “take heart” because Jesus has already won the victory. We can withstand whatever may come so long as we keep our faith and trust in Him alone.

How can we be sure of this? It is because it can be seen in the Word of God. We have examples of people whose faith was put to the test. We can see how they reacted when the times got hard. We can see the substance of their faith, and, hopefully, learn from it and see that sort of faith grow in our own lives.

I can think of no better example of faith under fire than Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. They lived under a corrupt government in Judah where even their king – a descendent of David – allowed his heart to lead him on to evil. These young men, along with many others, were kidnapped and sent into captivity in Babylon. They were living in times that were prophesied by Isaiah years before:

“Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your father’s have stored up till this day, shall be carried off to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. And some of your sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”

Isaiah 39:6-7

They had their whole lives torn apart, yet one thing set them apart from the rest – their faith in God! And they followed Him before their time of trial began. Even though they lived long before Paul penned these words to Timothy, they exhibited that God gives us “power and love and self-control” instead of a “spirit of fear” (2 Timothy 1:7). It was because of their standing relationship with the Lord that they survived, and that God received glory and recognition through their lives and actions.

These young men lived through things that I hope we never have to live through. After they were taken from their homes, they had their pasts and their futures stolen from them. All four of these young men had names that proclaimed something about God. Daniel (Hebrew – “God is my judge”) was renamed “Bel protect the king”; Hananiah (Heb. “the Lord is gracious”) was renamed “command of Aku”; Mishael (Heb. “who is like God?”) was renamed “who is what Aku is”; and Azariah (Heb. “the Lord is my helper”) was renamed “servant of Nego/Nebo”. Nebuchadnezzar knew that they were more likely to stray away from God if he isolated them from Him. He could not allow names that reminded them of their faith to get in the way of his own agenda. And he stole their future by having them made eunuchs. The fact that they could trace their lineage all the way back to Adam had become irrelevant since they were most certainly the end of their family trees.

Not only did he remove them from their heritage, but he sought to interrupt the practices of their faith by having them indoctrinated by “the literature and language of the Chaldeans” (Daniel 1:4) and assigning them a “daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank” (Daniel 1:5). They were being given permission to break the rules. I cannot imagine how appealing this must have seemed to these teenagers; it would be appealing to me as an adult! Their mouths must have been watering as they smelled delicious foods that were forbidden before. And God must have seemed so far away with all the terrible things they were going through. Yet they held on to their faith and the hope that one day Emmanuel (Hebrew – “God with us”) would come and bring the rescue they so desperately hoped for.

Look at the power that their faith held in their lives. “Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank” (Daniel 1:8). He went to his captor – the “chief of the eunuchs” and asked that they be allowed to keep the dietary restrictions from the Law. Literally everyone else was partaking and breaking the Law. They were keeping up with the status quo. They were seeking the opportunities that thriving in Babylon could afford. But “God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs” (Daniel 1:9).

It is interesting to me that Daniel did this instead of pursuing that God rescue him from his captivity. We have already seen that it was foretold that all these things would occur and can reasonably assume that Daniel and his friends were familiar with Isaiah’s prophecy. So, rather than seek out comfort for themselves, they sought to glorify God with their lives by being obedient to His Word where they were. God gave them “favor” but it is vastly different than what we hear today. God’s “favor” helped them to be faithful to Him amid the trial. When everyone around them was compromising, they were holding fast to the promise. And that promise was more powerful than their fear of Nebuchadnezzar. They were living out Psalm 119:38: “Confirm to your servant your promise, that you may be feared”.

These young men give us such a good example of faith. The circumstances that we are confronted with pale in comparison to what these teenagers faced. Yet there is coming a day when we may have to deal with similar things. In fact, there are places in the world where this is already the case. I think that Sinclair Ferguson says it better than I can:

“The same pattern employed by Nebuchadnezzar to draw Daniel away from the Lord is employed all around us today: isolation from God’s influence to produce holiness in our lives; indoctrination with the worldly ways of thinking (of course, we do not share all of the world’s conclusions, but too often we think about everything in the same way and operate with the same value system – how many of us would rather die for the glory of God than live halfheartedly for Him in a measure of comfort?); compromise with the riches of this world instead of…’solid joys and lasting treasures’…; confusion about our own identity and purpose.”[1]

I realize that this probably seems like a lot of bad news. And I know that the tone of today’s devotion is heavier than usual. But there is coming a time when we will wish that we had been faithful in the easier times. Let me assure you of this: the good news vastly outweighs the bad.

Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were right where God wanted them to be. When you look at the end of Daniel 1, you see clearly that God blessed their faithfulness to Him, and, even though He did not send them home, they were in a position so that many people – their kinsmen and Babylonians alike – could hear the truths about God. Their continued faithfulness during their trials showed the eternal value of following after the Lord. And no matter how faithful we are or are not to Him, He is always faithful to His people. It has been foretold:

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

Isaiah 43:1b-3a

That’s good news!

No matter what you are going through, Jesus knows you and wants to be your refuge in your time of need (Nahum 1:7). Will you reach out to Him and seek His help now (1 Peter 5:7)?

“It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; He will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”

Deuteronomy 31:8

[1] Sinclair Ferguson, The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Volume 21: Daniel

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Refresh & Restore

Refresh & Restore — October 15, 2020

1 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. 3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Titus 3:1-7

Greetings Sojourners!

I have been thinking a lot about the effect that spending time with Jesus should have on our lives. Looking at the lives of Peter, John, and Paul make it seem somewhat unattainable for us – somewhat out of our reach. I do not know about you, but, many times, I find myself using the lofty examples of the apostles and other “heroes” in the Bible as excuses to not desiring to see the Spirit of God move more in my own life.

In the first part of this study, we saw that the Sanhedrin saw Peter and John’s “boldness” and were “astonished” that these “uneducated, common men” were able to speak with any eloquence; we also saw that it was “recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). That challenged me. Do I long for people to look at me and be impressed with my eloquent words or skills, or do I long for people to look at me and see that Jesus has impacted my life?

Last week, we looked at Paul’s trial before the Roman governor Festus and King Agrippa. Paul did not hesitate to share both the reality of his sinful past and the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Rather than seek to have himself set free, he shared how Festus and Agrippa could be freed from their sin and live through Christ Jesus. How much of my life is spent avoiding trials and tribulations, even for the sake of Christ? If it became illegal to worship Jesus (like it is in so many parts of the world), would there be enough evidence in my life to bring me up on charges – much less convict me?

The older I get, and the more I walk with Christ, the more fully I realize that I often fail. Looking at the first two verses of today’s passage remind me of this. I often struggle with submitting to authority because it shows me that I am not in charge. I would rather do things that serve me than to be “ready for every good work”. More times than I would care to admit, I “speak evil” of others and enjoy doing it. For years I thrived on “quarreling” and see this flare up in my life even today. And, while I may exhibit gentleness and courtesy on the outside, I am often angry, bitter, and rude in my heart.

I am glad verse three reminds us that our sinful lives should be part of our past – not our present, but all too often I find that I struggle with the same old sinful nature more than I feel that I should. Instead of being characterized as “once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another”, I find those qualities to show up in my every day life. I am thankful that, the more I walk with Christ and spend time with Him in prayer and in His Word, that those moments have less power over me. But I would much rather not struggle at all.

I identify fully with Paul’s words in Romans 7:15:

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate.”

If we are honest, we enjoy the sins that we habitually commit. But – if we are in Christ – our love for Him should produce a hatred for the things in our lives that go against God, namely sin. Longing to follow after God is a result of walking with Him. Wanting what He wants is too. But, while I am glad that verse 3 points out that there should be a difference between our sinful past and our present walk with Christ, I am eternally thankful for the gospel truths that show up in verse 4.

BUT. GOD.

Let that phrase sink in.  I was dead in my trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-2) – BUT GOD. I was lost and headed toward death (Romans 6:23) – BUT GOD. I was doomed to die and stand before the judgment of God with no righteousness (Hebrews 9:27) – BUT GOD.

We shift here from looking at all we can accomplish (verses 1-3) to what Christ alone can accomplish should we trust in Him as our Savior and Lord. You see, there is nothing that we can do to save ourselves. Jesus is our only Savior. He is our only hope. And that is why verses 4 and 5 bring such good news: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy….” Our efforts do not save us – His effort does. Our own meager works condemn us, but His mercy saves.  Rather than give us the punishment due our sin, he “himself bore our sins in His body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24).

Note that this is a result of his “goodness” and “loving kindness”. So often people want to paint God as cruel because of the existence of Hell. But, in “goodness and loving kindness”, He made a Way through Jesus Christ (John 14:6). We see in 1 Timothy 2:4 that God “desires all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth”. And through that knowledge of the Truth – again Jesus (John 14:6), people will see that they must turn away from their sin to God. Look at how God’s heart in this is shown in Ezekiel 18:23: “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?”

God is merciful, but He is also just. He cannot merely pass over our sin. This is why Jesus died on the cross – to pay our price for our sins (Colossians 2:13-14, Romans 6:23). God’s kindness in allowing people to come to a knowledge of the Truth (Jesus) and enter into His Kingdom through the living Way (again Jesus) is “meant to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:4).

Salvation is also a result of God’s love. Many people are familiar with John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” He loved us enough to give His only begotten Son. Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:4-5 mirror and clarify today’s passage: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved….”

A love like that impacts one’s life.

Imagine that you and I are walking down a busy street together. While we are walking, we hear the roar of an engine and the screeching of tires a few yards behind us. There is barely enough time to understand what is going on, and I act solely out of reflex – shoving you to the safety of the yard while I (standing where you were just standing milliseconds before) take the full weight of the vehicle. Obviously, I would be dead. But you would be alive.

In that situation, you could definitely describe my actions as kind. Those actions would be characterized as a sacrifice. What would you say to my wife when she arrived at the crash site? What would you tell my children? How about your family – would my sacrifice come up as a topic of conversation?

You would tell everyone. My sacrifice would move you to words and gratitude. But I would be dead and my sacrifice would help only you.

We have been looking at the effect that Jesus’ presence – the effect of His sacrifice – on one’s life and how it should be evident. Jesus’ sacrifice is real in every way my hypothetical story was not – the main difference being that Jesus’ sacrifice is actual and He did not remain dead! The news of Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf can help others be saved from sure destruction and damnation.            

If Jesus’ “goodness and lovingkindness” has appeared in your life, if He has saved you, it is time to make sure that His presence is producing a recognizable difference in your life. If you see no difference – no fruit, maybe it is time to assess whether or not you have moved from darkness to light – from death to life. The good news is that it is not too late to give your life to Him!

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Refresh & Restore Salvation

Refresh & Restore — October 8, 2020

9 “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. 11 And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.

12 “In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. 14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15 And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness of the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, 17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles – to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

19 “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.

Acts 26:9-20

Greetings Sojourners!

I hope that this finds you well and ready to dive into God’s Word together!

Last week, we started looking more closely at what it means to have been in the presence of Jesus. Our theme verses for this devotional are Acts 3:19-21, and, in them, we see that “times of refreshing…come from the presence of the Lord”. Those words came from a sermon that Peter preached, and we followed those events through to their end when the hearers of that sermon were “astonished” that “uneducated, common men” – working class fishermen –  could have spoken so eloquently (Acts 4:13). It was clear to all that the only way this could have happened was that they “recognized that they had been with Jesus”.

So, today, we are continuing our look at what happens to one’s life when they have been with Jesus – when He has saved them and “caused [them] to be born again to a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3). Peter and John were standing trial for practicing their faith, and it is the same for Paul in today’s passage.

Paul was standing before King Agrippa and was given the opportunity to “make a defense…for a reason for the hope” that was in him (1 Peter 3:15). I am sure that it had to be tempting to speak up for release. In fact, Paul had been imprisoned for a while by that point. Yet Paul saw this as an opportunity to share the gospel with his captive audience.

King Agrippa was really nothing more than a figurehead, but he had been summoned to hear Paul’s case by the Festus, an official representing the Roman government. Paul was originally put in jail for his own protection as some Jewish men had made a vow to kill him. He could have been released, but he had instead appealed to the emperor (Acts 25:25) since 1) it was his right as a Roman citizen, and 2) he felt compelled to take the gospel to the household of Caesar (Philippians 1:13, 4:22). You see, he had no desire to free himself from his worldly bonds because he was right where Jesus had already freed him to go – “…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

I have often heard people say that they wished that they had a life like Paul’s, but, hearing his testimony, I do not think that people have really thought that through. Paul did not candy-coat his story or gloss over the rough bits. He was unashamedly sharing his sinful past because there was “now no condemnation” for those actions (Romans 8:1); he had already been forgiven!

He testified to the fact that he had been heavily involved in persecuting those who are now his brothers and sisters. He testified to the fact that he put them in prison (where he now finds himself) and that he sought to have them speak against Jesus. Why did he share these terrible bits? He cannot have been proud of them. Why would he tell these strangers about his sinful past? He wanted them to understand that they too could be forgiven – that they too could be saved!

He moves on from his sinful past to the moment that he encountered Jesus. For us, it is through His Word and the prompting of His Holy Spirit as it is read or preached. But, for Paul, it was an experience like no other. The very same Jesus he was persecuting – and trying to convince people that He was dead – showed up on the road to Damascus! Talk about a life-altering experience! The very Light that he was trying to extinguish shined so brightly on that road that he became literally blind. And the gospel truth of the resurrected Christ that he was blind to suddenly became clear!

Any time that a lost sinner, dead in his or her trespasses and sins, gets saved and finds new life in Christ, it is a miraculous thing. Men and women dead in their sins can come alive in Christ through faith and repentance in Him – even today! Think of the awesome opportunity that Paul had that day: he stood before the political leaders of his day and shared with them how to be saved. Let us look at the message he proclaimed to them.

He shared with them that – just as his blind eyes were opened – the gospel of Jesus Christ could “open their eyes” (v. 18a). Isaiah 42:7 tells us that God can “open eyes that are blind” and “bring out…prisoners from the dungeon”. This is especially cool since the prisoner (Paul) is seeking for Christ to free his jailers from the true prison – sin! He hoped that – as he would later write – their eyes would be opened to see “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

He also shared with them how Christ can turn us from “darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God” (v. 18b). This reminds me of the imagery that we read about around Christmas time: “…the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16). Paul introduced them to Jesus who was the “life and light of men” and who “shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome” (John 1:4-5)! He wanted them to have the opportunity to turn away from their lives of sin to the light and light that only comes from Jesus Christ.

The last part of his message focused on forgiveness. How many of us could forgive those who had wrongfully imprisoned us? How many of us can forgive things much less than that? But this was not some great character trait of Paul; it is a trait that comes from being forgiven of much ourselves (Matthew 18:21-35)! You see, Paul’s sharing of his former wickedness and life change through Christ showed that he remembered what Christ had done for him. And he knows and wants others to have it, too.

He wanted King Agrippa, Festus, guards, and anyone else who would listen to “receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith” (v. 18c). He wanted them to know that it is in Christ “in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:14) and that “to Him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name” (Acts 10:43).

I want you to know that the same thing is offered today. I hope that you have looked at the life of Paul today and noticed whether your life shows that you have been with Jesus. One day, we will all stand before Him, and we will either stand on the merit of our own works and the “wages of [our] sin” or on the merit of the work He did on our behalf and “the free gift of God…eternal life” (Romans 6:23).            

It is my hope and prayer that, if you are reading this, you have had your eyes opened by the gospel of Jesus Christ and moved from darkness to light, the power of Satan to God by repenting of your sins, believing in Him, and finding the forgiveness that only comes from Him. If you have, pray with me that God will make Himself evident in your life. If you have not received this eternal life, I would love to talk with you and introduce you to the One who gives it in abundance.

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Refresh & Restore

Refresh & Restore – 10/1/2020

13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. 14 But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. 15 But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, 16 saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” 18 So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” 21 And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened. 22 For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old.

Acts 4:13-22

Greetings, Sojourners!

Last week, I heard back from one of my readers, and they referred to the devotion as “R & R”. That typically refers to rest and relaxation. While those are good things – and definitely things that I crave, it is much better and fulfilling to be able to rest in the presence of Jesus and be refreshed in our time spent with Him.

I find myself often returning to the verses that sparked the idea for the Refresh & Restore devotions:

“Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.

Acts 3:19-21

We have talked at length over the last month about repentance. We have looked at how we have sinned against God and need to turn away from our sin to Christ our Savior. Now, I want us to see some examples of what it looks like to have been in the presence of Jesus.

Our passage today connects with these verses; they are part of the same event. Peter and John happened upon some people carrying a “man lame from birth” to the Beautiful Gate where he would beg for money (Acts 3:2). That man found more than he bargained for when he encountered Peter and John. Peter introduced him to the One who would change his life forever – Jesus. He told him:

“I have no silver and gold, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”

Acts 3:6

And, just like everyone who has ever encountered Jesus, his life was changed thereafter.

Peter and John would proceed to have the opportunity to preach the gospel to a multitude of people at the temple because of this event and that man’s testimony. They testified to the amazing and miraculous salvation that takes place when people put their faith and trust in Christ. That same gospel still applies today for you and me! If we turn from our sin and put our faith and trust in Christ, we can find salvation as well!

Peter and John’s message travelled all the way to the Sanhedrin (Israel’s Supreme Court at the time). The powers-that-be were “greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2). They set out – and succeeded – in arresting Peter and John. Their annoyance led to anger. But the gospel preached led to “many of those who heard the word [believing]” – “about five thousand” (Acts 4:4)!

The Sanhedrin felt that they had a duty to the status quo to keep Peter and John quiet. They tried the same thing with Jesus when they crucified Him. But, they were about to find that they could not stifle or silence the gospel. As Big John often says, “Preacher’s gonna preach!” Rather than being put out or discouraged by their arrest, Peter and John found themselves with a captive audience to hear their plea before the court. I can almost picture them smiling at the opportunity to testify!

I find it amazing that the people who failed to kill Jesus (well, they succeeded in killing Him for a few days) would ask as foolish a question as they did to Peter and John. They wanted to know “By what power or by what name did you do this?” For people who wanted them to stop proclaiming the name of Jesus, they sure went about it foolishly! Those who arrested Peter and John to quiet them just invited them to preach in the court!

It would have been easy for Peter and John to take credit for the healing of the lame man. It would have been easy for them to claim some sort of power and use it to manipulate the court into freeing them. They could have complied with the order to stop preaching. Or could they? There are many places in the world today that the powers-that-be have ordered that people stop preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. In those places, they would not care that good had come from people being saved, healed, or otherwise. They simply will not abide with the name of Jesus being proclaimed.

But the Bible is clear on the subject. The gospel must be proclaimed:

  • Jeremiah 20:9 – If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary holding it in, and I cannot.
  • Amos 3:8 – The lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken; who can but prophecy?
  • John 15:27 – [Jesus said] And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.
  • 1 Corinthians 9:16 – For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!

When one is saved by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone, they cannot help but proclaim it! And that is just what Peter and John did in response to the question of the court:

“Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead – by Him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Acts 4:8b-12

Instead of seeking to free themselves from arrest, they sought to offer opportunity through the gospel for lost people to be freed from their sins and saved by Jesus!

The response of the court is that they were “astonished” that these “uneducated, common men” were able to preach with such “boldness” (v. 13). And their astonishment fell beyond Peter and John. The powers-that-be “recognized that they had been with Jesus”! May that be our testimony today – that people will recognize that we have been with Jesus, that we have been in His presence!

Spending time with God is always a noticeable thing. I know that I can tell a difference in myself and my own attitude when I spend time with Him in His Word and prayer. I also find that I cannot share what I have not experienced. Just as the lame man could not wait to run and tell everyone once he had been healed, Peter and John could not but tell people about the influence that Jesus had made on them – the impact of moving from death in their sins to life in Christ (Ephesians 2:1, 4-5)!

The Sanhedrin were afraid for the gospel to continue because they had witnessed first-hand that it is “the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16). It is quite a statement that the people who wanted to stop the preaching had a genuine belief that its preaching would cause the Way of Christ to continue and permeate their community. Do we believe that?

Are we spending time in God’s Word and in prayer and seeing it carry over into our lives? Are people looking at us and recognizing that we have been with Jesus? Unfortunately, we often just blend into the crowd. Our powers-that-be are not crying for us to cease preaching. But maybe we have yet to begin! May we think back to what Christ has done for us and proclaim it to any who will listen. Or else maybe we look and find that our lives have not yet been changed. What good news it is that Jesus specializes in just such a situation. “…[C]onfess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, [and] you will be saved” (Romans 10:9) Then, and only then can you rest and be refreshed in His presence!