Songs for Sunday — December 6, 2020

God kept His promise; the Savior was born in Bethlehem.

God left the glory of Heaven and took on flesh, being made in every way like us, to come and bear witness to the truth. He lived the life we could not live and died the death we should have died. Bethlehem was a seemingly insignificant town. Many of us feel insignificant on a regular basis. Yet God loves you! This week of Advent, let us pause and look at how our great God specializes in using the insignificant to bring Him glory – and pray He uses us for that purpose!

Here are our songs:

  • Holy Spirit —
  • John 1:1-5 —

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

  • God With Us —
  • Adore —
  • John 1:9-14 —

9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

  • King of Kings —
  • (inv) Joy to the World (King is Coming) —


I hope to see you with us, whether you gather in person, in the parking lot via speaker, or on Facebook or YouTube live!

If gathering in person, please remember that masks are recommended and that we need to remain vigilant in our social distancing measures. Continue to pray for those who are sick – not just our members but all those around the world.

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.

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

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.

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]


[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”

Songs for Sunday — November 8, 2020

What a week this has been!

If you are looking for nonstop surprises, 2020 does not disappoint – or it does absolutely disappoint! So, if you would like a reprieve from the counting of votes, let us look to the One we can always count on.

Psalm 130 is fitting for times such as this because it illustrates how we should reach out from the depths of uncertainty and despair to the Lord as our only hope.

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!
O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy!”

Psalm 130:1-2

The psalmist is crying out, begging God to hear his cries for mercy. It is good to be reminded that – whatever our desperate situation – there is a God in heaven who hears and rescues (1 Samuel 17:46, Daniel 2:28).

“If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.”

Psalm 130:3-4

If we are going to cry out to God, it is important that we understand the reality of our sin (Romans 3:23, 6:23). We need a Savior before we need rescuing from whatever dire earthly situation. Understanding our need for a Savior leads us to rest and relish in the joy of forgiveness! Knowing that King Jesus would be absolutely righteous to condemn us to hell but chose to love us and give Himself for us drives us to our knees in worship and prayer rather than trembling in fear (Ephesians 5:25, 2 Thessalonians 2:16, 2 Timothy 1:7).

“I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in His Word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.”

Psalm 130:5-6

I have never been a night watchmen, but I am a perpetual sophomore. This, in my mind, is similar to the way that kids look toward the final bell during the last month of school. They feel the relief and rest of summer like the glow of the sun playing on the edge of the horizon. They watch the time, some knowing down to the second how long it is until the bell.

For us, we wait on Him with that same fervency and desire.

We wait on Him with the same pregnant joy of an expectant mother – the joy of motherhood outweighing the discomfort of the last trimester.

We wait with that same hope of relief and joy that comes from feeling complete.

We can hope in His Word. We can hope in His presence. We can hope in His forgiveness. We can hope because He does not disappoint.

And that’s what we are singing about this Sunday – the never stopping, never giving up, always and forever love that the Father has for us and His gift of love and hope in giving His only Son for us (John 3:16, Romans 5:8).

Here are our songs:

I hope to see you with us, whether you gather in person, in the parking lot via speaker, or on Facebook or YouTube live!

If gathering in person, please remember that masks are recommended and that we need to remain vigilant in our social distancing measures. Continue to pray for those who are sick – not just our members but all those around the world.

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”.

Songs for Sunday — November 1, 2020

We have a saying here in the South that we use to describe someone who is – for whatever reason – indescribable. We will say that person is “something else”. That “something else” can be good, or it can be bad.

You could be telling a story about someone’s exploits that seems beyond human abilities and say, “That guy is something else.” Or you could be describing some deplorable action of an individual and be awestruck at how bad their behavior is and say the very same thing.

But let me tell you that our God is truly something else! The Bible word for this is holy. This means that He is set apart, high above all of everything that there is. He has this sense of otherness because there is nothing that can compare with Him.

I think that Isaiah’s encounter with the Lord gives a good picture of just how holy – how “something else” – God truly is:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above Him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of His glory!”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of Him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and you sin atoned for.”
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”

Isaiah 6:1-8 ESV

Isaiah found himself in the presence of God and was overwhelmed by the holiness of God. He was overwhelmed by the sheer glory that he was confronted with – and he was only able to see the tail end of God’s garment. Just being near to God convicted him of his sin. Sheer proximity produced a desire for repentance, worship, and faith. And this is exactly how we should be in the presence of God.

I think that, sometimes, we can forget just how “something else” that Jesus is. But we need to retain that sense of awe. We need to continually look in His Word and see how special He is. We need to be reminded of the “first importance” of the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:3-5) and have our eyes opened afresh at the splendor of our King. I think Micah gives us a good lens for such a view:

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over transgression
for the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain His anger forever,
because He delights in steadfast love.
He will again have compassion on us;
He will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea.

Micah 7:18-19 ESV

This is what we are singing about Sunday – God’s holiness and majesty on display. We will be reminded that He is truly “something else” and always has, is, and will continue to be forever. We will celebrate Who He is, what He has done, and we will lift our voices to the King of kings and Lord of lords – Jesus Christ!

Here are our songs:

I hope to see you with us, whether you gather in person, in the parking lot via speaker, or on Facebook or YouTube live!

If gathering in person, please remember that masks are recommended and that we need to remain vigilant in our social distancing measures. Continue to pray for those who are sick – not just our members but all those around the world.

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


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

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