Sunday, April 30, 2017

Prayer makes us understand...

Daniel 9:20 While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my plea before the Lord my God for the holy hill of my God, 21 while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. 22 He made me understand, speaking with me and saying, “O Daniel, I have now come out to give you insight and understanding. 23 At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision."
Daniel, burdened with the plight of His people and with Scriptural promises on his heart and mind, had committed himself to seek God's answer. He asked Him to listen, to forgive, and to act.  While he was talking to God, he received His answer.  Lots of times we treat prayer as dialing in a request with the hope of receiving a form letter later.  We do it, forget about it, and wonder if God will too. But Daniel continues to pray, not giving up. And God answers WHILE he was praying. God talks back. Verse 22 is important: "He made me understand." God can clear up our thinking, answer our questions, and give us wisdom while we pray.  What Daniel was about to receive was in part the answer to his plea, and a whole lot more.  It fit well into the other experiences Daniel had had with God in prayer.  When we pray, God can help us fit together the pieces of our past, as well as give understanding of the present and direction for the future.  It doesn't usually happen over night, but with a life time and day-by-day time of praying.  God may not give us the great visions of History He gave Daniel, but He will help us fit together the pieces of our lives as we need them, if we ask. So let's do more asking.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Bottom Line Praying...

Daniel 9:16 “O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy hill, because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us. 17 Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. 18 O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. 19 O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.”
Having identified the playing field, that God is faithful, righteous and forgiving, and that we are none of the above, and confessing all that on behalf of himself and his people, past and present, Daniel goes on to give the core of his prayer. He humble asks for God to hear, to look, to forgive, and to act. He realizes and states that they are totally at the mercy of God.  But the bottom line is not so much what happens to them, but how it reflects on God and His name.  That is what drives Daniel to such desperate prayer. "Look around God. Yes, we're a mess, but look at how people are looking at us as your representatives. Help us to stand back, get out of the way, Humbly pray, and watch You glorify Your name." 

Friday, April 28, 2017

Let's get this straight...

Daniel 9:4 I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. To us, O Lord, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him 10 and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets.
Daniel begins his prayer the way we always should: addressing the One we are talking to: God, the One who is great and awesome, faithful, righteous, merciful and forgiving.  He then identifies who he is, and for that matter, who we all are: sinful, rebellious, spiritually deaf, disobedient and shameful.  This sets the playing field for the rest of this discussion.  It puts us in the proper position: we are needy; He has what we need; we need to ask Him.  So many times we come into God's presence with a sense of entitlement, demanding that He hear, answer, and do whatever we think best.  We need to be set straight. 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Power-Packed Praying...

Daniel 9 In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, by descent a Mede, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans— in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.
Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.
It is very obvious that Daniel, a man of prayer, was really serious about this particular burden.  First, it was grounded in the Word of God.  It was not just the course of events, or individuals, or the way he felt; it was scripture coming alive. Secondly, Daniel went all out.  He "turned his face" away from everything and everyone else that would distract him, so he could seek God, and only God. Thirdly, used prayer and pleas - deliberate statements of faith, as well as frantic cries for help and understanding.  Finally, he accompanied these prayers and pleas with fasting, sackcloth and ashes. All of these "rituals" were not to impress anyone, including God.  They were meant to detract from his own self- body, soul and spirit - so he had no distractings in hearing what God had to say.  The next result of this prayer at the end of the chapter would be one of the most profound (and debated) prophesies of the Old Testament.  Daniel only received it because of his intense investment in prayer.  Do we really want to know? Do we want to know what God wants from us and what He has for us? It will require som power-packed praying.  

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Does it pay to pray???

Daniel 6:10 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. 11 Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and plea before his God. 12 Then they came near and said before the king, concerning the injunction, “O king! Did you not sign an injunction, that anyone who makes petition to any god or man within thirty days except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions?” The king answered and said, “The thing stands fast, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be revoked.” 13 Then they answered and said before the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or the injunction you have signed, but makes his petition three times a day.
Daniel was disliked.  He was the teacher's pet, always knew the answers, always did the right thing.  His peers were jealous - by comparision nothing they ever did was good enough for the king; Daniel had to be eliminated.  What better way than for Daniel to be caught "being good," doing as he always did-spending time with God in prayer. They plotted; Daniel prayed.  Daniel ended up in the lion's den.  Of course, we all know the rest of the story - God delivered Daniel from the lions and his accusers got a dose of their own medicine; not the way they had it planned.  We are not always in such clearcut cases of whether to pray or not - do or die.  But we do often face times where we wonder if it's really worth it to pray.  After all, when we pray God DOES change things, and the results of our prayers may be Him asking US to do something hard.  Hard is not bad; hard can bring greater than we ever expected. It always "pays off" to pray, just not alway right away. So go ahead. Start the day. Pray. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

What if God doesn't "answer"?

Daniel 3:13 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.”
In this well-known account, God's people are once again being tried and tested. When forced to make a choice between living out our faith or going with the flow, which will we choose?  If it appears that our prayers go unanswered, what or who is wrong?  These three faithful followers are boldly responding to this direct question from the king: "Who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?"  The answer? "It's not Who will, but Who can. He is able to deliver us from the fire, and even if He chooses not to, we'll be out of your hands and in His!"  These men were going to pray, depend on God, and accept how He wanted things to work out.  It's ultimately about His plan, purpose and glory, and He sees the best way for the ultimate impact.  In this case, He did deliver from the fire, and the King handed them over like a hot potato, acknowledging that their God would deliver and had a hand more powerful than his own.  Do we believe that God has a hand more powerful than our own? 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Let's Pray about This!!!

Daniel 2:17 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.
21 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;
22 he reveals deep and hidden things;
    he knows what is in the darkness,
    and the light dwells with him.
23 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.”
Daniel and his friends were in trouble, due to no fault of their own. Their king had failed to receive the interpretation of a dream from his advisors, and these few faithful friends were "guilty by association."  The first thought of Daniel was "We need to pray!"  They did, and received a prompt reply.  Daniel's response was to first thank God.  What a reminder to us to give thanks for answered prayer! His prayer of praise goes straight to the character of God: it is because God is all-wise and all-powerful that He can and does answer such prayers.  He is worthy of our praise for Who He is, and worthy of our thanks for what He does.  As we go through this day, let's not forget to pray, and as he answers those prayers, let's remember to give him thanks and praise. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Ask and you shall receive...

Nehemiah 8 And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand, and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
After the city walls had been completed, and the city was inhabited by people, it was time to celebrate what God had done.  But they were unsure as to how. So they asked; they asked for God's word to be read. They received what they asked for as Ezra read for hours from God's Word, and they gave their attention to what he read.  Their "Amens" demonstrated their acceptance of what God had given them: His words, and their bowing their heads was an acknowledgement that the Word had hit home in their hearts.  They were now ready to make an appropriate response, fully understanding what God had said. 
The first thing they had to do was ask: ask for God to speak. May we be willing to approach this Lord's Day in that way: asking God to speak to us, giving full attention to His Word(no matter how long the sermon), accepting whatever He may tell us to do-whether we like it or not, and then responding appropriately in obedience to Him.  

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Dealing with False Accusations

Nehemiah 6 Now when Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies heard that I had built the wall and that there was no breach left in it (although up to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates), Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come and let us meet together at Hakkephirim in the plain of Ono.” But they intended to do me harm. And I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” And they sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner. In the same way Sanballat for the fifth time sent his servant to me with an open letter in his hand. In it was written, “It is reported among the nations, and Geshem also says it, that you and the Jews intend to rebel; that is why you are building the wall. And according to these reports you wish to become their king. And you have also set up prophets to proclaim concerning you in Jerusalem, ‘There is a king in Judah.’ And now the king will hear of these reports. So now come and let us take counsel together.” Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say have been done, for you are inventing them out of your own mind.” For they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.” But now, O God, strengthen my hands.
10 Now when I went into the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, son of Mehetabel, who was confined to his home, he said, “Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple. Let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you. They are coming to kill you by night.” 11 But I said, “Should such a man as I run away? And what man such as I could go into the temple and live? I will not go in.” 12 And I understood and saw that God had not sent him, but he had pronounced the prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. 13 For this purpose he was hired, that I should be afraid and act in this way and sin, and so they could give me a bad name in order to taunt me. 
When seeking to serve the LORD, nothing can be as disheartening as being falsely accused of evil and of having selfish motives.  Nehemiah's actions show us how to deal with that. First, he makes no sudden changes.  He does not doubt himself and run away or throw false accusations back.  He steps back and evaluates the situation. Next, he realizes what is going on, and sees the bigger picture: this was all a ploy to impede the progress of rebuilding that God wanted done and had called him to do.  Thirdly, He called out to God for strength. After all, he realized that he had needed God's strength to do this in the first place; he would need Him even more with this resistance pressuring him. He also would not run away or hide in the temple.  He knew who he was: he was not a coward, and he was not holy enough to be in the temple. That also would undo his dependence on God, and show that he thought he was special, exempt from the rules - qualified to be a priest and king.  That was not his calling. There was too much at stake: God's call, his name, the unity of the people, and the goal God had set before them.  How do we respond when we face resistance and are falsely accused?

Friday, April 21, 2017

This is not right!!!

Nehemiah 5 Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. For there were those who said, “With our sons and our daughters, we are many. So let us get grain, that we may eat and keep alive.” There were also those who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses to get grain because of the famine.” And there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king's tax on our fields and our vineyards. Now our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children are as their children. Yet we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but it is not in our power to help it, for other men have our fields and our vineyards.”
I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words.I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them, “You are exacting interest, each from his brother.” And I held a great assembly against them and said to them, “We, as far as we are able, have bought back our Jewish brothers who have been sold to the nations, but you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us!” They were silent and could not find a word to say.So I said, “The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies? 10 Moreover, I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us abandon this exacting of interest. 11 Return to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.” 12 Then they said, “We will restore these and require nothing from them. We will do as you say.” And I called the priests and made them swear to do as they had promised. 13 I also shook out the fold of my garment and said, “So may God shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise. So may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said “Amen” and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised.
One of the things that fascinates me about this account is Nehemiah's courage. He not only stood up to outsiders threating to obstruct the rebuilding of the temple - he did something far more intimidating: standing up to his own people who were taking advantage of those trapped by the situation. Widows and their children were especially adversely affected, and were being doubly hurt by those who were "bailing them out" by "buying their land" so they could pay their bills. In effect, they had become "slaves" by returning to "the promised land." Behind all this were the well-to-do nobles and leaders, who benefited from others' loss. What is interesting is how blind they were to their own sin.  So are we. We often do not step back and see how we contribute to the neediness of others.  Rather than contribute to their needs, we enhance their neediness.  So, how does our own personal lifestyle choices adversely affect others around us? Are we just using better business practices? Or are we, in fact, commiting an injustice?