Tuesday, September 29, 2009

+ Hosea 3:1 + False Gods + Priorities

Hosea 3:1 The Lord said to me again, "Go, love a woman who has a lover and is an adulteress, just as the Lord loves the people of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes."

That's one of my all-time favorite verses.

I howled with laughter the first time I read it.

How in the world is "1 lov[ing] raisin cakes" somehow comparable to "1 turn[ing] to other gods"?

It seemed so odd that for many years I intentionally tried to NOT find out what raisin cakes meant!

What it does mean, however, makes a rather important point: Grapes -- and thus raisins -- were a symbol of the fertility of the earth. The "1 other gods" that Israel chased like an "1 adulterous" were pagan fertility gods. "1 Lov[ing] raisin cakes" was essentially the pagan version of desiring holy communion.

Raisin cakes represent a false and dangerous priority.

What is your raisin cake? What priorities do you desire in life that take you even one degree away from God?

Lord, help me not be a spiritual adulterer ... and steer my diet away from raisins and cake.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

+ Hosea 2:9 + Discipline

Hosea 2:9 Therefore I will take back my grain in its time, and my wine in its season; and I will take away my wool and my flax, which were to cover her nakedness.

Nakedness ...

Before the Fall -- Genesis 2 and 3 -- Adam and Eve were "naked and not ashamed." The first thing they realized after their first sin, however, was both their nakedness and their shame. Fortunately, by the end of Genesis 3, God in his mercy does what? He covers both! And that's a powerful picture of God.

By the middle of Hosea 2, however, God is reversing this grace again. Therefore, the question for today is, why does the generous God who gives "9 grain" and "9 wine" and "9 wool" and "flax," also and occasionally choose to "10 uncover [our] shame"?

Why? The answer is love and discipline.

The history books of the Old Testament are a roller coaster ride of up and down, faithfulness and unfaithfulness. So is Hosea. The bride in Hosea -- which is clearly Israel -- is guilty of "2 adultery" and "2 whoring." How will God respond? Anyway he can in order to try us draw us wanderers to himself!

Sometimes God will woo and "14 allure her (us)." Other times he will "9 take back" and discipline. He will "9 cover" and "10 uncover." His whole passion is to draw us to himself. The question is: Which one do you need in to draw you right now?

Lord, when I am broken, woo me gently. When I am proud, discipline me. Mainly, just don't give up on me.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Hosea 1:2 + Faithfulness

Hosea 1:2 When the LORD first began speaking to Israel through Hosea, he said to him, "Go and marry a prostitute, so some of her children will be born to you from other men. This will illustrate the way my people have been untrue to me, openly committing adultery against the LORD by worshiping other gods."

Hosea is one of my favorite prophetic books ... but not because it's pleasant and easy. I like Hosea because it's message is sharp, clear, and chilling.

First point ... being a prophet is a crummy job. God asks his servant to marry a prostitute.

Why a prostitute? Second point ... because God wants Hosea's life to be a living picture of Israel's (humanity's) infidelity to the Lord.

Third point ... God wants to use every aspect of our lives. For example, the names of every one of Hosea's children with Gomer has a purpose.

Three names and fourth point ... "Jezreel" is the valley where Israel will be crushed; "Lo-ruhamah" means "not loved," and "Lo-ammi" means "not my people." Harsh names. Hard truth: the God who protects can also remove his hand of protection. Or in other words, our fidelity and faithfulness matter.

Fifth point ... "But" is often the most wonderful word in scripture. Yes, God can remove his hand of protection; "10 but the time will come when Israel will prosper and become a great nation ... 11 the people ... will return from exile together. What a day that will be ... when God will again plant his people in his land. Yes, "but" is one of the most wonderful words in scriptures because God's overwhelming grace, salvation, and victory is the ultimate and final word!

Gracious Lord, don't let me prostitute myself in big ways or small.


Friday, September 18, 2009

+ Daniel 11 + King + False gods + Priorities

Daniel 11:36 "The king shall act as he pleases. He shall exalt himself and consider himself greater than any god, and shall speak horrendous things against the God of gods. ... 37 He shall pay no respect to the gods of his ancestors ... 38 He shall honor the god of fortresses instead ...

Daniel 11 is talking about the Antichrist again. It's understandable to think he will "36 exalt himself ... and ... speak horrendous things against the God of gods." He's evil, right?

But how about us? In what ways do we "37 pay no respect to the [G]od of [our] ancestors"? In what ways do we "36 act as [w]e please[]"?

I'm surely not suggesting a moral equivalence between us and the antichrist! And yet, in what ways do we act like our own god -- following our own path, doing as we please, and subtly ignoring God in the way we live our lives?

O God, you are my God. Help me to always praise you.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Daniel 10:12-14a + Angels

Daniel 10:12 ... "Do not fear, Daniel, ... I have come because of your words. 13 But the prince of the kingdom of Persia opposed me twenty-one days. So Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, and I left him there with the prince of the kingdom of Persia, 14 and have come to help you understand what is to happen to your people at the end of days.

Four points ...

1. "The end of days": That's what this passage -- and much of the apocalyptic book of Daniel -- is ultimately about.

2. Angels must be awe-inspiring enough to evoke a little human terror because, again, "Do not fear" is the first word. (I'm glad their on our side!)

3. If we admit that there are angels, the angel tells us to be aware that there are forces that opposed the angels and aligned against each of us. The apostle Paul puts it like this: "For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Eph 6:12).

4. The angel came to Daniel "because of [his] [prayer]." Think of it like this. We live in the material world. But scripture tells us that the atmosphere is alive with unseen "spiritual forces ... in the heavenly places." Prayer is a bridge between these two worlds.

Lord, thank you for the gifts of this material world, but make me less blind of the other world around me. And help me grow in prayer as bridge to see more of you.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Daniel 9:19a + Prayer

Daniel 9:19a O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, listen and act and do not delay.

Which of these petitions do you need most in your life? Do you need God to ... hear you ... forgive you ... listen to you (which is more active than just hearing) ... act on your behalf ... or act without delay?

Actually for me, instead of pondering which one I might need, I need to admit that I desire them all ... and in this order. In fact, this could be a wonderful order for your prayers.

"O Lord, hear," is like a knock on the door. "I'm just letting you know that I'm here again, Father."

"O Lord, forgive," is then our first approach. "I don't deserve for you to open the door and to be in your presence, so I need you to start by washing me clean."

And then we pray for God to hear again -- but not just hear, not just notice the knock on the door -- what we're really asking is for God to pull up a chair and give us his undivided attention. That sound presumptuous; except, God repeatedly invites us to take him up on this offer of friendship and care.

And then we ask for God to act on our behalf. Like a child asks for breakfasts and trusts that mom will act, we are invited to ask for things big and small. There's the old saying that sometimes God says yes ... and sometimes God says no ... and sometimes he says wait. But it's faith that asks because in asking we are believing that God is who he says he is and we are therefore trusting that he will act.

And furthermore, we're invited to pray with a little passion and urgency. "Do not delay!" Faith is not afraid to be bold! And yet faith is bold enough sometimes to endure a little patience.

O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, listen and act and do not delay.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Daniel 8:12 + End Times

Daniel 8:12b ... it cast truth to the ground, and kept prospering in what it did.

The first words of the first commentary I read today were: "Daniel chapter 8 is a preacher’s nightmare." The summation was that if even the dream interpreter himself -- Daniel -- didn't have the foggiest notion of the vision’s meaning, what prayer does the average preacher have!

One common intrepretation is that Alexander the Great became the eventual great goat horn who defeated the two rams horns -- the Medes and the Persians. But those aren't really the primary focus. It's the little horn that really matters. And a common interpretation is that the little horn -- after the four smaller horns -- was Antiochus IV (who nicknamed himself "Epiphanes," the illustrious one) who, about 200 years before the birth of Christ, persecuted Israel and blamsphemed God.

But that's only part one of the prophecy. Gabriel tells Daniel that what will factually play out in history will repeat itself at "17 the time of the end." In this view, history gives us a little horn named Antiochus Epiphanus. The end times gives us the same pattern and the same horn known as the Antichrist. Both, we are told, will "12 cast truth to the ground" and will "12 k[eep] prospering" in its evil.

Our reflection always needs to be: how is truth cast the ground in our generation and what are we doing to keep it from prospering in our midst?

Gracious Lord, make me a brave and grace-filled defender of your truth.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Daniel 7:9,10,15 + Prophecy

Daniel 7:15 As for me, Daniel, my spirit was troubled within me, and the visions of my head terrified me.

How many of us -- when reading chapters like Daniel 7 -- feel troubled, terrified, or at least confused?

Many readers find a powerful symmetry when reading Daniel. Many find links between the first and last chapters, and then between the chapters 4 and 5 (proud rulers humbled), 3 and 6 (faith saves from lions and furnaces), and 2 and 7 (the four kingdoms). In chapter two, the four kingdoms predicted four key eras of human history (clay, iron, bronze, and more precious metals). In chapter seven, the four kingdoms predicted the beastly character of four coming empires -- Babylon, Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman (or possibly others).

Now ... it takes a much, much, much longer analysis to discuss the apocalyptic visions and writings of Daniel! So let's simply focus on this: Daniel had an overwhelming vision, and in it, he glimpses God. Troubled? Terrified? Let's leave today with AWE!!! And let's turn verses 9 and 10 into a prayer ...

Lord, "I watch[]", I wait, I want to know you.
Your "throne[ is] set in place."
You are "Ancient of Days."
"White as snow," your purity is beyond my comprehension.
"Pure [as] wool," your holiness is as comforting as a blanket.
And yet, there are "fiery flames"
to remind me that I must bow before your majesty.
Allow me to join the "thousand thousands [who] serve" you today.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Daniel 6:26,27 + Resurrection

Daniel 6:26 [King Darius said,] "I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people should tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: For he is the living God, enduring forever. His kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion has no end. 27 He delivers and rescues ..."

King Darius was tricked. "Make a law against praying," he was told. Daniel, refusing to bow down to the gods of the world, continued to pray to God. The penalty? King Darius was required to throw his top governor, Daniel, into a lion's den.

You probably know the rest of the story: Sleep "18 fled" from Darius. An angel shut the lion's mouths. Daniel was saved. And those who schemed had their evil plots turned back on them.

But do you know what? That's not really the rest of the story! The key to the rest of this story is that all "people should tremble and fear before ... God."

"Fear of God" has fallen out of favor. We are told that God is loving -- true, True, TRUE! -- but somehow we've been seduced into not fearing, honoring, or respecting. Though God is awesome, we've ceased to bow.

So fear of God is the key to this story, but -- and here's the best part -- what does a key do? It unlocks the door! It rolls away the "17 stone [that] sealed" the would-be tomb. It discovers life where there was supposed to be devouring. It discovers the God who "27 delivers and rescues."

Eternal Father, "26 [you are] the living God, [your] kingdom shall never be destroyed, and [your] dominion has no end. 27 [You] deliver and rescue." Lord, open my door, open my eyes, open my heart. Let me tremble, worship, honor ... and then see you.


Friday, September 11, 2009

+ Daniel 5:4-6 + Pride

Daniel 5:4 They drank the wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone. 5 Immediately the fingers of a human hand appeared and began writing on the plaster of the wall of the royal palace, next to the lampstand. The king was watching the hand as it wrote. 6 Then the king's face turned pale ...

Yes, the expression "the handwriting on the wall" comes from this chapter.

A reveling King Belshazzar drank from the holy vessels which had been stolen from God's holy temple in Jerusalem ... until a mysterious hand appeared! Only Daniel could interpret the words from God: Belshazzar's kingdom would be "28 divided and given to the Medes and Persians." In fact, "30 that very night Belshazzar ... was killed."

There are at least three powerful lessons in this chapter ...

+ First, very few stories in life begin well when they start with these words: "2 under the influence of wine."

+ Second, stories quickly turn from bad to worse when we mock God as Belshazzar did -- "3 they brought in the vessels of gold and silver that had been taken out of ... the house of God in Jerusalem ... drank from them .... 4 and praised [instead] the gods of gold and silver ..."

+ Third, Daniel reminds Belshazzar of the humbling that his father, Nebuchadnezzar, endured -- "18 the most high God gave your father ... kingship ... 19 He killed those he wanted to kill ... 21 [So] he was driven from human society and made like that of an animal ..." And then comes the key verse: "22 You knew all this ... and [yet] have not humbled your heart." The question for us is this: What do you know is godly or ungodly and yet have refused to humble your heart and obey?

O God, let this be the handwriting on my wall. Let me see the hardness of my heart and turn from my sin.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Daniel 4:25 + Pride

Daniel 4:25 [King Nebuchadnezzar,] you shall be driven away from human society, and your dwelling shall be with the wild animals. You shall be made to eat grass like oxen, you shall be bathed with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over you, until you have learned that the Most High has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals, and gives it to whom he will.

King Nebuchadnezzar stood on the roof of a tall building, surveyed his kingdom, and said, "30 Is this not magnificent Babylon, which I have built ...?" Do you hear the pride? God's surely hears that kind of pride frequently from successful people.

Therefore, God sent Nebuchadnezzar a dream that all proud people would do well to remember. Imagine it like this: What would you do if God "25 dr[ove you] from society ... [made] your dwelling ... with wild animals ... and made [you] eat grass like oxen"?

It happened to Nebuchadnezzar. For seven years, he was stripped of more than his kingly glory. He was stripped of his humanity. He was a long-haired cow. And his response? Humbled, Nebuchadnezzar praised the real king -- "I blessed the Most High ... for his sovereignty is [the real and] everlasting sovereignty."

Lord, humble my pride before I need to be turned into a cow! Help me "27 atone from [my] sins with righteousness, and [atone for my] iniquities with mercy to the oppressed," and help me "37 praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all [your] works are truth ..."


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Daniel 3:17, 18 + Faith

Daniel 3:17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. 18 But even if he doesn't, Your Majesty can be sure that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up."

You probably know the story ... King Nebucchadnezzer set up a golden statue and under the threat of a fiery execution, demanded that all fall down and worship the statue (i.e. him). Three godly men -- Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego --refused, and their response (our verse for today) is wonderful and instructive.

Point 1: When they state that God is "able" to save us, they proclaim that God is powerful, mighty, holy, and omnipotent.

Point 2: "Able ... rescue[r]" also proclaims that God is truly active in our world. He cares about his children and often chooses to act powerfully and directly in human lives.

Point 3 (and this is the best part): "God is ... able ... but even if he doesn't ..." Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are just like each of us. When times are tough, we hope and pray for a miracle. Sometimes it comes (and even better if it comes just when we want it). But even if the miracle doesn't appear, they are saying, "That's okay. It's not going to change my faith. God is strong, able, and present, and I trust in him no matter what!"

Lord, help me be more like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego ... to trust you through thick and thin ... and even when earthly things seem at their worst to realize that "neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the incredible love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!" (Romans 8:38-39)


Leviticus 23:42,43 + Remember

A second reflection for today because in my reading from Leviticus, I couldn't pass it up!

Leviticus 23:42 You shall live in booths for seven days; all that are citizens in Israel shall live in booths, 43 so that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

Some people like to camp. Others feel like a three star hotel is as close as they ever want to get to camping. God, however, tells his people, Israel, to spend a week camping each year. Why? To help us remember. This was the Festival of Booths.

When God was leading Israel to the promised land, they lived in tents. To help you reflect on your regular, daily comforts and to help you remember how I am able to deliver you, God was saying, "Spend a week in a tent."

Lord, help me reflect on my comforts and blessings before I have to "rough it." And help me remember daily and always how you delivered me -- especially through the cross of your Son.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Daniel 2:26,27 + Mysteries

Daniel 2:27 Daniel answered the king, "No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or diviners can show to the king the mystery that the king is asking, 28 but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries ...

King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream about a huge statue. Since it haunted him, he called for his "2 magicians ... enchanters ... [and] sorcerers." Threatening to tear them "5 limb from limb," he asked them to interpret his dream BEFORE he told them what his dream was. Why would he ask anything so ridiculous? Because if they could tell him the dream, he knew their interpretation would be true.

Just before telling the king the dream -- and God's message through it -- Daniel answered the king, "No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or diviners can show to the king the mystery that the king is asking, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries."

Lord, I don't want to rely on human wisdom. Help me trust more in you -- the God in heaven who reveals mysteries and unfolds for us all truth!


Monday, September 7, 2009

Daniel 1:20 + Temptation

Daniel 1:20 + In every matter of wisdom and understanding concerning which the king inquired of them, [King Nebuchadnezzer] found [Shadrach, Mesach, Abednego, and Daniel] ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.

When King Nebuchadnezzar sacked Jerusalem in about 600 AD, he took some of brightest young people home to Babylon and into his palace court. He trained them in the best of Babylonian wisdom and literature and fed them the best Babylonian food and drink. Four of these young men, however, refused the fat of Babylon. Their names, you may recall, were Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Daniel. "17 To these four young men," it says, "God gave knowledge and skill."

Notice the pattern here: Avoid the fat and temptations of the world -- for godly reasons -- and God will pour knowledge and blessing into your life.

On a personal level, don't we all want God's blessing? But there's still a more important reason for undertaking this course. When we avoid the world's fat and temptations, that's often the first step we can take in helping transform our culture!

Therefore, notice the fuller pattern: 1) Avoid the fat and temptations of the world -- for godly reasons -- and 2) God will pour knowledge and blessing into your life. 3) Others will notice the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness -- "20 [King Nebuchadnezzar, for example] found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom" -- and 4) they'll begin to place their trust in you. And that's where the transformation of culture begins!

Lord, I want to help influence the hurting culture around me. Therefore, help me turn from fat and temptation and turn toward you.