What is it?

Looking through my journals and email, I found out that I was wishing for a lot of good things to happen. I claimed to be “hoping,” but I did not/could not be confident the desired outcome would happen. That is not what hope is about. Hope is more than wishing. [Want to know more? Click here.]

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Trying to Look At the Big Picture

The study of the book of Daniel is winding down (two chapters to go). My Bible study partner suggested we try looking for the big takeaways from the book and our study. While much of Daniel, especially chapters 7 – 12) deal with various visions and dreams Daniel had, the first part covered the various Daniel “stories” we learned as children. There are, however, some common themes throughout which span all parts of the book.
Early we saw Daniel and his friends making stands for God and for living according to the Law even though it was not convenient to do so living in Babylon. There were several situations described where these young Jews chose to obey God even though it meant scrutiny and persecution from the Babylonian culture. A couple of results for staying steadfast were being thrown into the fiery furnace and being fed to the lions. This dedication to God continued to be a vital part of Daniel’s character. As a result, God was able to use him to interpret dreams and have some understanding of visions God gave him.
For us, we need to be obedient to God’s way of life. We need to be intentional and focused in what we do and say. Daniel kept himself pure because he had purposed in his heart to do so (chapter 1). Daniel arranged his schedule so he could pray three times a day, as was the law and customs of the Jews. Daniel approached every situation by appealing to God. He set his heart on upholding God’s ways in every situation – even if it put his life in danger (kings don’t like bad news). We need to do the same as the culture we live in today in a “foreign” culture, not at all what God wants for us, full of temptations and disobedience. We need to be intentional to live differently.
Another takeaway is the importance and urgency of the practice of prayer. Throughout the book, Daniel approached God for help, and God sent His angels to meet Daniel’s needs and help him proclaim God’s message to the rulers he served. He didn’t just pray in crisis. It was his habit, a daily – three times a day – practice. There are several examples of prayer in Daniel, but the most convicting for me is in chapter 9. Daniel’s prayer of praise and confession is recorded, and it’s a great pattern for us to follow when we come before God in prayer.
One more takeaway from the book of Daniel is the fact that God is in control. He made things happen and happen in certain ways. He gave Daniel prophecies and is fulfilling them. The 400 “silent” years weren’t without God’s activity. He told Daniel much of what would happen during that time, and those prophecies have come to pass in human history. Kings came and went. Wars were fought. Empires were formed. There’s still much to come according to Daniel’s prophecies, but we can be assured that God is working even now to bring those things to pass. His Words are true and have always been fulfilled. We can look forward to the final day when He fulfills the prophecies of a new earth and the eternal rule of Christ our King.
There may be some other possible themes or applications to come. We will see what pops up as we work on completing this round of studying the book of Daniel.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

A New Realization on an Old Commitment

I once made commitments and decisions to keep myself safe and talked about them in my blog. However, those commitments and decisions were “date-stamped.” There was always an expiration date attached to them. I’ve wavered in those commitments over time and spent many dark moments in between commitments contemplating suicide and self-harm (even engaging in the self-harm at times).
Today I want to talk about the end of those commitments – those temporary commitments.
As I was reading God’s Word and praising Him this last week, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart. (Not an audible spoken word, but gentle nudge). The nudge was for me to contemplate the status of those commitments.
I realized that somewhere in the last year suicide and self-harm had become non-issues. The Spirit’s influence on my life, especially since May when we first learned of the possibility of my having cancer and continuing through treatment and ongoing, has shown me that I want to live. I want to fulfill God’s purpose for my life. I want to be a witness to the saving power of Jesus Christ. I want to spend my every waking moment (and if possible, every dream at night) worshiping and praising the glorious and merciful God of my salvation.
Those desires and behaviors do not allow for taking things into my own hands. I don’t have to think about suicide not being an option anymore. It just isn’t.
This is big. I’ve struggle with mental illness most/all of my life and some of these harmful thoughts have been with me for equally as long. Now they are just gone. The decision wasn’t to make them not an option. The decision was to live my life for God’s purposes, a completely different way of thinking about things. It’s not focusing on what I will NOT do. It’s focusing on what I WILL do. This is a completely different way of approaching life.
I don’t know why the struggles have been such a part of my life, but God allowed them. He, I’m assuming, used them to accomplish His purposes for a time – maybe so my experiences would help or encourage another. I hope so. However, I’m going into a new phase of my life (or returning to an old one like at the time I first accepted Christ).
This is big. I just wanted to share it with all of you. This doesn’t mean there won’t be more struggles (John 16:33 assured us that in this world we will have tribulation) but my perspective has changed. Now I’m looking at Jesus and His promises (John 16:33 continues by saying we are to take courage because Jesus has overcome the world). 
Here's to a new way of living!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Burdened For the World

Daniel’s prayer and praise in Daniel, chapter 9:1-19, convict me. There are several key elements in this approximately three-minute prayer to which my attention was drawn.
First, Daniel may have intended to be long-winded, but God sent an answer while he was still praying. In verse 21 Daniel tells us, “while I was still speaking in prayer, then the man Gabriel, who I had seen in the vision previously, came to me . . .” I often think I’m not praying enough meaning my prayers are too short. However, God heard Daniel and responded quickly. One commentator suggested that God heard Daniel right away and it took Gabriel three minutes to get to him. Or, the commentator suggests Gabriel got there right away but stood by, shifting from one foot to the other, waiting for Daniel to notice him. Either way, God sent His answer quickly, not after long hours of prayer as I often suppose has to happen.
Second, Daniel prayed with understanding and earnestness. Verse 3 says, “So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes.” He also started off with praise and confession. Verses 4-5 say,
I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed and said, ‘Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, even turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances.’
Notice, he included himself in the confession. There is no record of Daniel’s sin in the Bible, but from his own mouth we know he sinned. He was pleading on Israel’s and his own behalf for forgiveness. However, I noticed that throughout the prayer, he acknowledged God’s character and promises. He acknowledged how they had sinned against all the commandments that God had provided them through His ordinances and through the prophets. They had rebelled in spite of God’s goodness.
And, third, Daniel’s heart was burdened for all the people and for God’s glory to be highlighted. My heart is now sufficiently burdened for mankind and that the glory of God, through the sacrificial act of Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection, be made known throughout the world – starting with me wherever I go and whomever I talk to. I also need to pray and keep in mind that it’s all for God’s glory. We are made for Him, not Him for us. We should be about the business of God, proclaiming Him and loving in His name. If I’m truly burdened for the world, I need to take every opportunity to share Christ, as He is the only hope in the world and through Him we learn to give God all the glory and praise we can. No matter how much we acknowledge God and point others to Him, it is not enough. He deserves so much more than we can humanly give Him. Being burdened for the world (our sin included) and trying to bring glory to God go hand-in-hand. Keeping both those perspectives in mind allows us to know true joy and peace.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Interpreting Prophecies

I’m continuing to go through the Book of Daniel. Chapter 8 is a recounting of a vision Daniel had about the future. He tells us the vision (in writing only) and then tells us he didn’t understand it. He asked, still in his vision, for help in interpreting it and God sent a “holy one” (identified as Gabriel) to give Daniel an understanding of the vision (vs. 16).
However, once Gabriel was done, Daniel still could not comprehend what the vision was about. Gabriel did tell him, “I am going to let you know what will occur at the final period of the indignation, for it pertains to the appointed time of the end (vs. 19).” However, we see at the end of the chapter that Daniel was still confused: “Then I, Daniel, was exhausted and sick for days. Then I got up again and carried on the king’s business; but I was astounded at the vision, and there was none to explain it.” God had given Daniel all the knowledge he was going to get about the end of time.
I believe that’s what God has done for us. We have the Scriptures and some interpretation, but we still cannot be sure what the end of times will look like – or when it will come. This passage is encouraging to me. Why? Because if Daniel, who had interpreted so many dreams and visions, was unable to understand the end times, it’s okay for me to not understand any more than he did. There are so many people (pastors, preachers, authors, lay people) who proclaim they know exactly what’s going to happen and when. Daniel 8 tells me that God has not revealed enough for us to clearly understand what is to come.
It means I can live my life for Him, knowing this could be the last day or just the beginning, in a way that glorifies Him and witnesses to others. Whenever He comes, and however God’s plan unfolds, I want to be ready to meet my Creator and using the gifts He gave me to be about God’s work to the best of my abilities. I will not get caught up in trying to understand or in fearing the end times.