Monday, August 20, 2012

Daniel's Prayer: A Prayer for a Nation!

In the ninth chapter of Daniel, he prays for the nation of Israel. I cannot improve on his words except to say that this would be a great prayer to personalize and pray for our nation. It is a little lengthy, but worth the read. I will put a few brief notes at the end.

Daniel 9:3-19

I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. I prayer to the LORD my God and confessed:

     "O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings (President), our princes (Congress, etc), and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.
     Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame - the men of Judah and people of Jerusalem (Washington) and all Israel (America), both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you. O LORD, we and our kings, our princes, and our fathers are covered with shame because we have sinned against you . The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; we have not obeyed the LORD our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. All Israel has transgressed your law and dturned away, refusing to obey you.
     Therefore, the curses and sworn judgements written in the Law of Moses, the servand of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you. You have fulfilled the words spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing upon us great disaster. Under the whole heaven nothing has ever been done like what has been done to Jerusalem . Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come upon us, yet we have not sought the favor of the LORD our God by turning from our sins and giving attention to your truth. The LORD did not hesitate to bring the disaster upon us, for the LORD our God is righteous in everything he does; yet we have not obeyed him.
     Now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we hae sinned, we have done wrong. O Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our fathers have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us.
     Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, O Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. Give ear, O God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name."

1. Note Daniel's humility in the beginning. He places himself in an attitude of humility and mourning.
2. Daniel includes himself with all Israel. Even though, he led an exemplary life, he confesses his sin along with the rest of the nation. All of the pronouns are plural.
3. Israel was punished according to Deuteronomy 28. Even though we are no longer under the law, we can still experience the judgement of God if we do not turn back as a nation.
4. Daniel finished with intensity. Note the exclamation points. Listen! Forgive! Hear! Act! He is begging God with everything he has to act on behalf of his country.
5. In the verses following his prayer, we find that God answered his prayer AS SOON AS HE BEGAN TO PRAY because Daniel was highly esteemed. This message came from an angel of God. God highly esteemed Daniel! Oh, that we would live our lives in such a way that we would be esteemed of God!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Faithful In A Faithless Generation

I have been reading the book of Daniel in preparation for starting a Bible study on that book this coming Sunday. As I look at the life of this man who endured so much, I am convicted by his life.

As a young man, Daniel was taken captive from his home never to return. Although he lived in a foreign land under some crazy rulers, he never wavered in his faith or his dedication to God. He could have given in, gone with the flow, taken the comfortable route. Given his talents and abilities, he still might have exceled and been successful, but he would have missed the blessing of God. Daniel was ridiculed and persecuted for his beliefs, but he perservered and was blessed by God every time.

Christians are living in a difficult time. We may not be living in a foreign land, but in many ways our culture is trying to take us captive. The recent Chick-fil-A debacle is a prime example. One man, expressing his opinion supporting his beliefs, started a nationwide firestorm. This week, the Family Research Council was accused of "hate speech" and labeled a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Group because of their support of traditional family values. They were violently attacked and a security guard was killed at their facility. (Don't know if the gunmen knew that the head of FRC is a Marine, but anyone else wanting to try this might want to think twice...) Anyone who listens to the news, knows how the media feels about the "religious right", as conservative Christians have been labeled.

How do we respond? Maybe we can take something from Daniel:

  • Daniel lived under and worked for some political leaders that he did not agree with. From the very first chapter, Daniel stands up for his rights by not eating the king's food. He is always respectful and diplomatic, but never compromised his values. We have to stand up and be counted. We cannot sit quietly by and just absorb the "food" the culture sets before us. This will not be popular with many, but we are called to be set apart.
  • Daniel lived in a polytheistic culture where tolerance was expected but not returned. Remember the golden statue? Nebuchudnezzar wanted everyone to worship him. You could worship other gods if you wanted, but you were forced to worship the statue, too. Daniel isn't specifically mentioned in this story, but his best friends are and they didn't bow down to the culture. They stood for their religious rights and almost lost their lives for it. Favorite verse from Daniel is in this chapter. "If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. BUT EVEN IF HE DOES NOT, we want you to know, O king, that WE WILL NOT SERVE YOUR GODS or worship the image of gold you have set up." Daniel 3:17-18. We will pass through the fire. We must remain faithful to our God and not give in to cultural pressure.
  • Daniel was persecuted for his beliefs. In chapter 6, he encounters some jealous co-workers because he got the promotion they wanted. They decide to dig up some dirt on Daniel ~ negative campaigning if you will. Here is the great thing about Daniel - they couldn't find any. Daniel lived such a life of integrity before them that they could not find anything to present to the king. In order to get to him, they chose the one thing that they knew he wouldn't compromise...his faith. They literally talked the king into passing a law that they KNEW Daniel would break. No one could pray to any "god" but King Darius. No way Daniel would pray to Darius and he continued to pray to God. He was cast into the lions den for his trouble, but God saved him once again. As we stand for our faith, we should strive to live such a life of integrity that those around us can find nothing negative in our behavior. Tall order...but "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Phil. 4:13
Because Daniel was faithful, he prospered in spite of his circumstances and late in his life, God gave him spectacular visions related to end time prophecy.

How was Daniel able to remain faithful? First of all, he had an active, intimate relationship with God. He prayed daily - three times a day. Secondly, he remembered that God was in control. No matter what happened he trusted that God would only do what was best, even if it cost him his life. Also, Daniel knew he had a purpose in life. He knew God had placed him where he was and he was determined to serve Him no matter what. Lastly, he knew God is faithful. As Daniel's life grew longer, so did his history with the Lord and he knew God would be faithful to him - how could he be any less faithful in return?

Daniel and his friends give us a marvelous example of commitment, intergrity, and faithfulness when faced with a faithless culture. May we learn from their example and stand for Christ in the midst of the faithless culture by which we are surrounded. Let's let our voice be heard!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

There Is Hope

I have been leading/participating in a Bible Study on the book of Nehemiah for the past seven weeks. Tonight will mark our last session.

I have to say, the book doesn't end particularly well. As was typical of Israel's history, they had repented and made an agreement with God. But at the very end of Nehemiah, once again they backslide into sin. The book ends with Nehemiah beating people up and pulling out their hair. Not a stellar "the end".

It is difficult to study Nehemiah without taking a look into the book of Ezra as well. These two guys were contemporaries and both were responsible for leading groups from Babylon back to Jerusalem. Just from reading their books, it seems to me that these two were as different as night and day. While Nehemiah was the organizer, the planner, the administrator, Ezra was more the spiritual leader, the priest. Together they were able to accomplish much toward rebuilding Jerusalem. Beautiful view of the body of Christ ~ but that is for another post.

In the last chapter of Nehemiah and chapters 9 and 10 of Ezra, we have differing viewpoints of the same occurrence. The people have made a commitment to God to keep their race pure and have fallen back into the sin of intermarriage (along with a vast array of other faults). It is at this point that Nehemiah goes postal on the offenders. Ezra's response in chapter 9 of his book is vastly different. He tore his tunic (an expression of grief/repentance), tore out his own hair and beard (again an outward expression of sorrow over sin albeit a painful one). Then the Bible says, he sat appalled.

When on earth was the last time we sat appalled over sin? When was the last time we saw something that just made us sit and wonder in sorrow over what we have done or seen? We have so much stimulation coming at us through the media and much of it has a negative effect on our conscience. I will be the first to say I love a good crime drama. Every time I watch, I witness a murder or some kind of mayhem done to another person. Do I become so desensitized to these images that it doesn't even bother me anymore? The same goes for sex, adultery, drinking, abuse, etc. Even if, in our hearts we know its wrong, we become so used to tuning it out or off that when we experience the same behavior in real life, it has no effect on us any longer. We just never seemed to be appalled anymore.

Once he was through sitting appalled, when it was time for evening sacrifice, Ezra moved to a position of even greater humility. He got on his knees, spread his hands out before God and spent the next nine verses (in our Bible) confessing and begging forgiveness. Verse 1 of chapter 10 says he was throwing himself down before the house of God weeping. His repentance and response to sin was so demonstative that he drew a large crowd. His repentance led others to repentance. Often, we are too ashamed of what we have done or we are too embarrased to "carry on" so in the presence of others. But it may be this very admission of guilt, prayer for repentance that someone else needs to see.

The wonderful thing in all of this is forgiveness. In verse 2 of Ezra 10, Shecaniah says, "We have been unfaithful to our God..." Yes they had. Yes we have. All of us. Every last one. "But in spite of this, there is still hope..." Yes there is. For all of us. Every last one.

Nehemiah 9:17 says "You are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love." There is hope. John 3:16 says "God SO loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes on Him might have eternal life." There is hope.

Whatever you have done. Whatever you have seen. Wherever you have been. There is hope. Nothing is impossible with God.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Kitty Prayers

It is hard for me to pray. For whatever reason I just don't feel I have ever been very good at it. I'm not really sure what " good at it" is supposed to be or if there really is a formula, but it just doesn't come naturally to me. I have heard the sermons, done the journaling series, read books, and on and on.

Over the years, I have come to journal my prayers more than just saying them. Writing is a more natural activity to me than conversing. I know some of you who know me find that difficult to believe, but there it is. I buy a pretty book and really awesome pens (simple things amuse me) and it is so much more enjoyable to sit and write.

And now here's the rub (literally): I have a cat. If you have ever owned a cat, you understand the dilemma. As soon as I sit down with my Bible and a pen or my iPad, she is on top of me. She absolutely adores pens. She chases them, bats at them, chews them, and if is the one I am trying to write with all the better.

If she isn't playing with my pen, she is trying to insert herself between me and whatever I'm working on. Reading my Bible - she's on top of it. Writing in a journal - she is after the pen. Working on my iPad - she is on my lap between my fingers and the screen. Or maybe she is just rubbing against me somewhere, loving me, wanting to be with me.

First instinct is to shove her away so I can continue what I am doing. More often than not, we compromise with her on the arm of the chair or behind my head. Sometimes, I just have to stop and be with her. Hmmmmm.

How like my relationship with God some days. Sometimes, I would rather just push Him aside and get on with my agenda. Could this be having an adverse effect on our ability to communicate? Other days, I compromise. I let God sit close by along as He doesn't interrupt MY journaling or Bible study....or tv....or reading...or....

But what if just put it all down and would just BE with Him. Allowing Him to love me, purring in the lap of His love? What if I just nestled up to Him and loved on Him? Surely our communication would improve...kitty prayers...


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