Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Keep your money

And I have heard of thee, that thou canst make interpretations, and dissolve doubts: now if thou canst read the writing, and make known to me the interpretation thereof, thou shalt be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about thy neck, and shalt be the third ruler in the kingdom. Then Daniel answered and said before the king, Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another; yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation. – Daniel 5.16-17

Belshazzar was desperate to find out what the words on the wall meant. The words were MENE MENE TEKEL UPHARSIN but nobody could figure out what it meant. When some in the room told him about Daniel he called for Daniel and offered him all the riches of the kingdom if he would translate the writing in the wall. He offered him a place in the government as well.

Daniel’s response was a mark of his character – ‘keep your money and your royal clothes and your offer of power. I’ll tell you what it means.’

I like the fact that David had the character to not take any of the stuff he was offered. I think it went back to a long time ago when we decided that he would ‘not defile himself with the king’s meat.’

There is nothing wrong with getting paid for ministry. Paul makes that very clear. But it is wrong when we are paid in any what that might compromise the truth. Daniel did not want to be swayed by the riches. He simply said ‘I will tell you what the words says.’ He didn’t do it out of a desire for ‘filthy lucre.’ He did what God wanted him to do without regard to how much it paid off. 

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

There is a man in your kingdom

There is a man in thy kingdom, in whom is the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of thy father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar thy father, the king, I say, thy father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers; - Daniel 5.11

Belshazzar was clearly and literally shaken. He needed to know what the writing in the wall meant. He looked for an answer and finally someone said ‘wait, there is a man in your kingdom. He has the spirit of the gods in him (notice how that got corrupted from Nebuchadnezzar’s time), he has the wisdom of the gods and he shed light on things when your father was king. The king trusted him over all the magicians and soothsayers.’

I find it amazing that Daniel’s reputation was so important that he was still remembered even in Belshazzar’s pagan administration. That shows us how much impact he had. He showed how powerful his witness was.  

What would happen if people in our lives were looking for someone who knew God? Would anyone even think of us? Would our names come up?

We must live our lives in such a way than even if those around us don’t totally get it, like the folks above, there know there is something special about us. They need to know that there is something that sets us apart from the rest.

Do our lives present that kind of testimony? 

Monday, 20 November 2017

The writing is on the wall

They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone. In the same hour the fingers of a man's hand appeared and wrote opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king's palace; and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. Then the king's countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another. – Daniel 5.4-6

Chapter 5 opens with a new king. Nebuchadnezzar was dead and his son Belshazzar is on the throne. Things have changed. The scene opens at a great royal party. Belshazzar has decided to bring the vessels from the Temple in Jerusalem into the palace and was using them for his debauched party.

We find out than rather than worshipping the God his father had come to worship Belshazzar and the others worshipped gods of silver and gold and bronze and iron and wood and stone.

He thought he was grand. The nation had thrown off the shackles of this foreign God his father had adopted. They were free to party hearty.

But then, suddenly, the writing was on the wall. Belshazzar’s countenance changed. His knees were knocking. He was terrified.  I suspect that all this happened because somewhere in his past He had an encounter with God and he knew exactly what he was doing when he used the Temple utensils at his party.

Now it was time to reckon with God. 

Sunday, 19 November 2017

His works are true

Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase. – Daniel 4.37

At the very end of the account of Nebuchadnezzar it looks like he finally gets it right. It is the last we hear about him and it appears that he finally understands God. Without reservation he praises and extols the King of heaven. He realises that those rulers who walk in pride God is able to put down.

He also comes the understanding that all of God’s works are truth and that all of God’s ways are just. It took a lot for him to learn that, and it all started with the testimonies of four Jewish captives who chose to honour God in all their choices and decisions.

To a lost world God is not always going to make sense. Not everything makes sense in my sin limited human mind. That’s why it is vital that God’s people live lives where we consistently trust God no matter what comes our way.  

At the end of the day we want people to know, from our lives, that God’s works and true and His was is just. As a result of our contact with us we should desire that they too ‘praise and extol and honour the King of heaven.’ 

Saturday, 18 November 2017

The Most High rules

And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field: they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will – Daniel 4.32

Nebuchadnezzar has highly exalted himself as the one who had built great Babylon. He was proud of himself.  But then God drove him to live in the fields like a wild beast until he learned something important.

The Most High God rules in the kingdom of men and He gives kingdoms to whomever He wills.

This can be a hard one to understand sometimes when we see all sorts of wicked ruler and evil nations. I admit that I don’t fully ‘get it.’ I don’t understand the rise of the Hitlers and the Stalins and the Pol Pots.

The reason is that I don’t see the mind of God. I don’t always understand His ways. Sometimes there are things that I just have to accept things by faith and trust that one day I will get it.

The truth is that God does allow governments to come to power and he allows them to fall. These are more of the effects of free will and broken people making decisions in a broken sin-cursed world.

The point here though is that leaders need to know that they are where they are because God allows it. It is not of their own skills or ability and nothing for them to be able to brag about.

And more importantly, those who lift themselves up, God is able to abase. 

Friday, 17 November 2017

Mixed signals

Nebuchadnezzar the king, To all peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you. I thought it good to declare the signs and wonders that the Most High God has worked for me. How great are His signs, And how mighty His wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And His dominion is from generation to generation.  – Daniel 4.1-3
The king spoke, saying, "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honour of my majesty?" While the word was still in the king's mouth, a voice fell from heaven: "King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: the kingdom has departed from you! – Daniel 4.30-31

At the beginning of this chapter Daniel is praising God. His words speak of what God has done and about how God has used him. Look at his words ‘how great are his signs…how mighty His wonders…His kingdom is everlasting…His dominion is from generation to generation.’

That sounds like he is really coming around. He is saying all the right words.

But then, just a few verses later we see that he really doesn’t have it. ‘Look at great Babylon that I have built!’

The praise goes from God to himself. It goes from ‘God did it’ to I did it all.’ It goes from humility to pride.

We learn right away that pride is a terrible thing. When the king forgot God, God got his attention. Nebuchadnezzar loses everything and lives like an animal. God shows him Who and what is really important. The king is finally going to get this all sorted in his head, but, like a lot of us, it is going to take a little more to get through his thickness.  

Thursday, 16 November 2017

The spirit of the holy God

But at last Daniel came before me (his name is Belteshazzar, according to the name of my god; in him is the Spirit of the Holy God), and I told the dream before him, saying: - Daniel 4.8

I love watching Nebuchadnezzar’s quest to find the true God and I love how God’s men had an impact on him and drew him closer and closer. The king had another dream. This happens right in between a real back and forth by the king. If we read it too quickly we could miss it in the story.

It is the king’s description of Daniel that grabbed my attention – ‘in him is the spirit of the Holy God.’ This once again speaks to Daniel’s clear testimony before the king. It was no longer just a difference. It wasn’t just a matter of being smarter and wiser than the staff magicians. Now the king knew the difference. Daniel was different because the spirit of the holy God lived in him.’

I wonder if that is the impression that I give to other when they know me. Does the Holy Spirit shine in my life so that people know He lives in me? Is that what makes me different? Is that what makes me stand out? 

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Blessed be the God...

Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying, "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king's word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God! Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation, or language which speaks anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made an ash heap; because there is no other God who can deliver like this." Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego in the province of Babylon. – Daniel 3.28-30

Poor old Nebuchadnezzar. Poor guy just could not get his head around these strangers and their God. Sometimes he seems to get it and then he is back to his old ways. But more about that later.

For now the important thing is the impact of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego on the king and the kingdom. They had the courage to do the right thing by not obeying the law and bowing to the image.

Although it doesn’t look like it clicked completely yet the king proclaims ‘blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego!’

For some people we are the only picture of Christ they will ever see. They need to see a difference in us. There needs to be something about us that causes men to say ‘blessed be Roger’s God.’ Do I reflect the kind of God in my life that people want to meet? I doubt any of us will ever survive being thrown in a literal fiery furnace, but we all go through hard times and struggles. How do we go through them? Do we go through those ‘fiery times’ in such a way that people say ‘I wish I had what he has?’

Nebuchadnezzar is not there yet, but the testimony of God’s people is drawing him closer and closer. 

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Help in the fire

Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished; and he rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counselors, "Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?" They answered and said to the king, "True, O king." "Look!" he answered, "I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God." – Daniel 3.24-25

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were cast into the fiery furnace, heated so hot that some of the men who threw then in died. I reckon that everyone thought that was the end of the story. You get the idea from the king’s reaction that he was not so sure about his decision. He was following the events and responded with haste when it appeared that there were four, not three, men in the furnace. There was something different about the fourth one. He looked like an angel or, as they put it, ‘like the Son of God.’

There are several places in the word of God where God talks about being with His people ‘through the fire.’ ‘When we walk through the fire’ we read in Isaiah 43, ‘you will not be burned.’

The experience of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego surely speaks to the truth of God going with His people through the fire. Unlike these lads sometimes the trials and fires of life do hurt. Sometimes they do burn. But even then we have the comfort to know that Christ is there with us to give us strength and patience to get through the fire.

We have Someone with us in the fire. May we find our strength in Him. 

Monday, 13 November 2017

Civil disobedience

Now if you are ready at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, and you fall down and worship the image which I have made, good! But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?”
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” – Daniel 3.15-18

There is a lot of talk and a lot of discussion about the roles of church and state and Christians and government. In some countries there is a huge mingling of church and state and there are some places when the lines are blurred.

The Bible is clear about the importance of Christians submitting to government. There can be no doubt about it. We also know that when man’s laws are in conflict of God’s law we have to obey God.

But then the government has the right to punish us for doing what God says. The question we have to ask ourselves is how we are going to choose to disobey. In these three men we find out.

Of course when they refused to bow down they were called before the king. I imagine the king must have been hurt as well as angry. He had learned to depend on these guys and trust them. But now they refused to bow down! The king warned them again, but they still could not do it.

There were polite a decent and simply said ‘do what you need to do. Our God is able to deliver us. If He doesn’t we still cannot bow down to your image.’

There was no disrespect, no protests no crying – they just had to do right, and they did it. When they broke civil law the state had the right to punish them. They did; the men were sent to the fiery furnace. But that wasn’t the end. 

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Your God

Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell on his face, prostrate before Daniel, and commanded that they should present an offering and incense to him. The king answered Daniel, and said, “Truly your God is the God of gods, the Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, since you could reveal this secret.” Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts; and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief administrator over all the wise men of Babylon. Also Daniel petitioned the king, and he set Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego over the affairs of the province of Babylon; but Daniel sat in the gate of the king.Daniel 2.46-49

Who would have thought that when these Jewish men came into Babylon that their God would have ended up being a major force in the land where they were captive. Daniel and crew quietly and simply lived their lives of reliance on God and their lives of hard work were a testimony to their God.

God revealed the secrets of Daniel’s dream to him. No one else had been able to do that. The combination of Daniel’s life and testimony and the interpretation of the dream led the king to proclaim ‘your God is the God of gods, the Lord of kings, and he reveals secrets.’ Daniel was blessed with all kinds of gift, but they great thing here is that the true King of kings and God of gods and Lord of lords was revealed to a pagan people. The true God was introduced to a nation who needed Him.

Our witness probably won’t be quite so dramatic. None of us are probably going to be called on to help the national leader with a problematic dream. But our witness matters. Our testimony in this world will make a difference, and, God willing, one day we may speak of Him and hears words like ‘your God is the God of gods!’ 

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Kingdoms come and kingdoms go

You, O king, are a king of kings. For the God of heaven has given you a kingdom, power, strength, and glory; and wherever the children of men dwell, or the beasts of the field and the birds of the heaven, He has given them into your hand, and has made you ruler over them all—you are this head of gold. But after you shall arise another kingdom inferior to yours; then another, a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth. – Daniel 2.37-39

Nebuchadnezzar was a powerful king. He was possibly the most powerful king of his time. That kind of power tends to corrupt the holder of the power. Through his dream God made it clear that the king really was nothing more than another cog in the wheel of time.

‘You are the most powerful king there is,’ Daniel said, but you are not going to last forever.’ Daniel said that another, less powerful king would rise to power and after that another would come. Time goes on and kingdoms come and kingdoms go. No power lasts forever.

That’s important for us to remember. As believers our citizenship is in heaven and that is the only kingdom that will endure forever. No matter where our earthly citizenship is it is only temporary. We don’t have time to get entangled in the affairs of this world and if we are in a position to have an impact our constant goal should be to point others to our heavenly eternal home.

There is a God in heaven as Daniel said. He also pointed out that no kingdom lasts forever. We must keep our eyes on the eternal and not the temporal.

Friday, 10 November 2017

There is a God in heaven

Daniel answered in the presence of the king, and said, "The secret which the king has demanded, the wise men, the astrologers, the magicians, and the soothsayers cannot declare to the king. But there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days. Your dream, and the visions of your head upon your bed, were these: As for you, O king, thoughts came to your mind while on your bed, about what would come to pass after this; and He who reveals secrets has made known to you what will be. – Daniel 2.27-29

Daniel had continued to rise in prominence in the king’s household. His life was an example and his testimony was right. God had put him in the right place at the right time and he had behaved himself the right way for the right time and right place.

The day came when the king had a dream. He called in his soothsayers and astrologers and magicians to try to figure out what the dream meant. They were clueless so the king called on Daniel.

Now, after doing right and having a proper testimony proving himself by his character, Daniel had the chance to speak of his God. ‘There is a God in heaven who can reveal secrets’ Daniel said.

I like how Daniel lived a life that backed up His words. The four men stood out for the character and their hard work. They lived lives that made a difference. When Daniel said ‘there is a God in heaven’ it wasn’t just the words of some foreign religious zealot chasing after some false god. His words had weight because God gave him the interpretation of the king’s prayer. If Daniel had not been such a testimony he never would have been in such a position to talk about his God.

Let us live the kind of lives that present us the opportunity to speak of our God, and may we do it faithfully. 

Thursday, 9 November 2017

And they served

Then the king interviewed them, and among them all none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; therefore they served before the king. And in all matters of wisdom and understanding about which the king examined them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers who were in all his realm.  – Daniel 1.19-20

Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah passed the test. From there they went on to an interview with the king. When he was done the king found that there was no one in the land like these four men. They were wiser and smarter than anyone else and they were ten times better than the magicians and astrologers he had been depending on.

What a strange things for members of this displaced nation to be serving in the king’s government. It wasn’t a matter of happenstance. God had a plan for them. God’s plan was for His people to make a difference no matter where they were – even if they were being held captive.

All it took for it to happen was willing servants. Sure they were servants of the king but they we also servants of God doing His work in the most unexpected of places.

God is of course still looking to servants today. In our strange where we are strangers and pilgrims we can and moan about how hard it is to be a Christian is such a lost world, or we can step up and serve. We can be a part of our community and stand for our God as we serve Him and as we serve others. 

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Better and fatter

So he consented with them in this matter, and tested them ten days. And at the end of ten days their features appeared better and fatter in flesh than all the young men who ate the portion of the king's delicacies. Thus the steward took away their portion of delicacies and the wine that they were to drink, and gave them vegetables. As for these four young men, God gave them knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. Now at the end of the days, when the king had said that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. – Daniel 1.14-18

The Jews in Babylon did not just settle in to their lives in Babylon. After the crushing blow of losing their land and being deported as slaves and servants they knew it was important to stay who they were. They could not just be absorbed into the culture as was the norm. They were God’s people and they had to keep that testimony. They kindly and respectfully asked that they be exempted from eating the king’s food and asked that they be tested after ten days.

The ten days passed and the official came back to check on them. I suppose he didn’t know what to expect but when he came back he found them in better shape than anyone else. I suppose this could have been the vegetarian diet, but God had taken care of them during those ten days to show that He could be trusted. What an encouragement for these men and what a testimony to the officials.

God can take care of His people no matter where we are. We live in a broken world and sometimes bad things do happen to God’s people, but He is there and will provide His grace to get through it. 

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Purposed in his heart

But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself. And the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, "I fear my lord the king, who has appointed your food and drink. For why should he see your faces looking worse than the young men who are your age? Then you would endanger my head before the king." So Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had set over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, "Please test your servants for ten days, and let them give us vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance be examined before you, and the appearance of the young men who eat the portion of the king's delicacies; and as you see fit, so deal with your servants." So he consented with them in this matter, and tested them ten days. – Daniel 1.8,10-14

How did these guys do it? How did they stay true in a strange land with all the strange customs and different religions and the gods of Babylon? One might just give up and say ‘when in Babylon do as the Babylonians do,’ but these men had a better plan to get them through. They rose to prominence because of their character and they survived because of something Daniel did back in verse 8 where he ‘purposed in his heart’ that he would not let himself be defiled.

When the king’s man came and told Daniel and the others to enjoy the delicacies of the king’s household David refused, politely. The steward was afraid he would be punished so begged them to comply so David asked for a test. ‘Just let us eat vegetables and beans and check us in ten days to see how we are.’ The king agreed and the test began.

But let’s step back. When the time came to make a decision there was no decision to be made. Daniel had already purposed in his heart that he would not be defiled. All of us are going to face situations where we are going to be called on to decide what we are going to do. Will we compromise? Will we give in? Will we be defiled? Or have we purposed and decided that when that test comes that, by the grace of God, we will not be defiled so that there is no question about what we will do when tested? 

Monday, 6 November 2017

Stranger in a strange land

Then the king instructed Ashpenaz, the master of his eunuchs, to bring some of the children of Israel and some of the king's descendants and some of the nobles, young men in whom there was no blemish, but good-looking, gifted in all wisdom, possessing knowledge and quick to understand, who had ability to serve in the king's palace, and whom they might teach the language and literature of the Chaldeans. And the king appointed for them a daily provision of the king's delicacies and of the wine which he drank, and three years of training for them, so that at the end of that time they might serve before the king. Now from among those of the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. To them the chief of the eunuchs gave names: he gave Daniel the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abed-Nego. But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself. – Daniel 1.3-8

I have been preaching through 1 Peter about the whole notion of God’s people being strangers and pilgrims in the world. I keep looking for good illustrations of what it means to be strangers in a strange land. Then, as I started reading in Daniel I realised that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were the perfect picture.

Israel had been taken into captivity by the Chaldeans (Babylonians) as a result of ignoring God’s Sabbath years for nearly 500 years. This time is referred to today as the Babylonian Captivity. It was, in essence, going to be seventy years of enslavement.

So how was the nation going to handle being slaves again? Their heritage knew all about being slaves with their time in Egypt. But here it was again. What were they going to do?

These four men were going to make the best of it. Daniel and the others worked in government offices. The best have done the best they could because they rose to prominence and were seen by the government officials. Even in this strange land God’s men of character stood out.

As we wander through this world while awaiting our ‘better country’ this is the kind of life we should live. Instead of trying to make as many enemies as we can we need to be the very best we can be. We ought to be model citizens of our earthly home. The rest of the story is clear that these guys did this without compromising their faith.

This is world is not our home, but while we are here let’s use the time to serve our Lord where we are. 

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Among many nations

Thus I will magnify Myself and sanctify Myself, and I will be known in the eyes of many nations. Then they shall know that I am the LORD." ' – Ezekiel 38.23

Go into the world and make disciples of all nations. You shell be my witnessing both in Jerusalem, and Judea, and Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. These are the words of Jesus that show God’s commitment to be known in the eyes of many nations.

There was a day when ‘the uttermost parts of the earth’ included Ireland. It was this charge that led Patrick to come here and preach the gospel. His desire was to be the one who went to the uttermost parts.

The Jews of this day thought that God was just for them. That caused a lot of pride and error on their parts. God’s plan was much bigger. God’s plan is that His word be spread to ‘many nations’ that all will know that He is the Lord.

There is a great big world out there that needs to know that our God is the Lord. In a world increasingly turning from Him it is more important than ever that we carry His word to them. 

Saturday, 4 November 2017

One Shepherd

I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them—My servant David. He shall feed them and be their shepherd.  – Ezekiel 34.23

The gospel in the Old Testament is called a ‘mystery’ or a ‘hidden truth’ in the New Testament because it is there, but it is not always obvious. That is the case here with the reference to God sending one shepherd to feed His people. God says ‘David’ but David was long dead. David in the Old Testament often refers to David’s descendants and specifically ‘David’ often refers to the coming Messiah.

I think that is worthy of consideration here because of the phrase ‘one shepherd’ being over God’s people who will feed and lead them.

‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me’ the Great Shepherd said. The one true Shepherd is the One who will lead us and feed us and protect us and provide for us and comfort us and heal and provide goodness and mercy for us now and forever more.

God’s promise of ‘one shepherd’ was not fully understood in Ezekiel’s day, but we know today the truth of ‘the Lord is my shepherd.’ God give us grace to depend on Him for our daily provision and leadership, follow Him, and trust Him to see us through 

Friday, 3 November 2017

To seek

"I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick; but I will destroy the fat and the strong, and feed them in judgment." – Ezekiel 34.16

It seems logical that God would just give up on people eventually, doesn’t it? If nobody is going to listen why waste our time.

We are fortunate though that God it not me. God says, even in this rebellious land, ‘I will seek what was lost. I will bring back the driven away. I will bind up the broken hearted. I will strengthen the sick.’

God is still in the seeking business. It is not His desire that anyone should perish. God does not stop seeking, even to this day, and even till the Day of the Lord appears.

In a world which seems more and more determined to reject Him He does not change His desire to see all people come to Christ. Jesus came ‘to seek and to save that which was lost’ and He uses to us to carry that message to all around us.

Lord, give us seeker’s hearts like Your heart. 

Thursday, 2 November 2017

That a prophet has been among them

Indeed you are to them as a very lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not do them. And when this comes to pass—surely it will come—then they will know that a prophet has been among them." – Ezekiel 33.32-33

As we seek to serve God in this world and love people and draw them to Him we may not always have a lot of what we see as success. It can seem like we are just wasting our lives away in a fruitless effort.

In reality we never know what is happening. Just because we don’t see it doesn’t mean nothing is happening. Even if nothing does happen there is one thing we can seek after. There is one thing we can be sure of.

We strive to speak pleasant words. Our words should be as music. If we do that people will hear our words. That is the good news. They will hear, but they won’t do them. That's the bad news. 

That is terribly sad.

But there is something to be seen here. If we are faithful to live and proclaim God’s word and say and do the right things everyone will know that a prophet has been among them.

Are we willing to say and do the right things, only so people will know that ‘a prophet has been among them?’ If we are we can be content with where God puts us. 

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

With their mouths they show love

So they come to you as people do, they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain. – Ezekiel 33.31

‘Be ye doers of the word, and not just hearers’ James writes. John says that our love should not be in word only, but in deed and in truth. The people of Israel were full of words of love, but nothing was in their hearts. God said of the people ‘they sit before you as My people, they hear your words, but they don’t do them. With their mouths they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gains.’

Love talk is cheap. It is easy to talk about love and sing about love and all that but it when it comes down to actually acting in love it is much harder. Love means action. Love means we keep loving even when people are unlovable. The ultimate standard for love is this; greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend. Our love in action should be such that we put ourselves last. Love means time and effort and sacrifice. True love is not only words and songs – true love is action.

Ezekiel hints at what prevents true love here when he says ‘they show great love with their mouths, but…’ That but makes all the difference in the world, …but their heart pursue their own gain.’

It is the pursuit of our ‘own gain’ that keep us from loving the way we should. Love in action may at times require great things, but sometimes love in action is cleaning the toilet or emptying the dishwasher or making an early morning airport run or minding the kid or making a hospital visit or bringing home some flowers or any number of simple every day love actions. It is listening to a friend when we have other things to do. It is making a phone call we don’t want to make. It is being rejected and still loving.

Love God and love others. That’s how Jesus summarised God’s plan for us.

How is our loving? 

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Forgotten sins

None of his sins which he has committed shall be remembered against him; he has done what is lawful and right; he shall surely live. – Ezekiel 33.16

God is just a righteous and holy and just God. Sin opposes all that God is. None of us would want an eternity where sin exists because it would be no better that this life. So sin will keep us all out of heaven and the wages of sin is death.

But God provides an answer to that. With true repentance of sin and true dependence on God we can find forgiveness. Though only hinted at here, the answer to the problem was provided by Jesus Christ on the cross. Those who were saved in the Old Testament trusted that God would provide salvation through Messiah and we look back at what He has already done.

But the point here is this – God doesn’t only forgive our sins. He chooses to ‘not remember’ them. That’s hard for us to grasp because we may be able to forgive someone, but we won’t forget what was done. We can’t turn off our memories. We can choose to not be offended, but we can’t simply to choose to not remember.

God is God though. God can do what we can’t do. I am grateful that even though I remember my sins God does not. They are buried in the depths of the deepest sea and they are as far as the east is from the west.

Gone, praise God my sins are gone!

Monday, 30 October 2017

Do them

I am the LORD your God: Walk in My statutes, keep My judgments, and do them; - Ezekiel 20.19

It is a good thing for Christians to go to church and read their Bibles and do their devotions and do Bible studies and all of those things. We can study theology and get to be ‘Bible experts.’ All of that is indeed good, but it is not enough.

The test comes in the doing of these things. Do we do them? Do we walk in the light of God’s word? Do we hold to His instructions? Do we do what He says?

James addresses the same issue when he says that we must be doers of God’s word, and not just hearers. He says that if we just hear and do nothing about it then we are deceiving ourselves.

The reality of following Christ is seen in the doing. It means we love others, care for the poor, live godly lives, represent Christ as his ambassadors, share the gospel, and glorify Christ in this present world.

Praying is good. Reading is good. Listening is good. Fellowship is good. But the real test is in what we do about in our own daily lives.

Do we do? 

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Cry over them

Now the glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherub, where it had been, to the threshold of the temple. And He called to the man clothed with linen, who had the writer's inkhorn at his side; and the LORD said to him, "Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it." – Ezekiel 9.3-4

In this old world it is easy for us to get angry or haughty or arrogant or proud because things are so bad. We see the very public evil of the world and we can only think about how bad they are and how much we want to see them punished. It is cool to get on Facebook and call them names and condemn them and try to seem all spiritual about it.

But look what God says about how to respond to all this evil. God tells Ezekiel to ‘cry over all the abominations that are done.’

In our humanness we want to see people punished for their wickedness. Vile cults like Westboro Baptist openly condemn people had stand in the place of God with their condemnations. The poor folks there are trapped in a system that is its own kind of abomination.

I think about when Jesus looked back over the city of Jerusalem and His spirit was stirred within Him and he groaned as saw then as sheep having no shepherd. I think about where Paul writes that we no longer see people with the flesh, but the love of Christ constrains us and we see them with His eyes. Are we weeping over the broken world or are we standing back, condemning them, and resting on our laurels?  

Are we crying over the abominations of the world around us? 

Saturday, 28 October 2017

God's way is not fair! (?)

Yet the house of Israel says, 'The way of the Lord is not fair.' O house of Israel, is it not My ways which are fair, and your ways which are not fair? – Ezekiel 18.29


I heard it just the other day from a grandchild. I have been hearing that for a long, long and I am sure that long before that I was saying it myself. It seems like the perfect answer, doesn’t it? If we don’t like something it just isn’t fair!

Our concept of fairness is flawed because we don’t know everything. We base ‘fairness’ on our perceptions. As parents and grandparents and teachers and whatever as hard as we try we may not always be fair because we are not perfect, but God’s way is always because He can’t help but to be fair. It’s our ways that are not fair because we have a skewed perspective on fairness. To me fairness means that it doesn’t suit me. Fairness means that I am treated differently.

God is fair because has a simple standard. We, every one of us, live in a broken world full of broken people and I (and you, and everyone else) am one of those broken people. We are sinners and every sin is enough to keep us out of heaven. Not a one of us is good enough to go there.

But God is fair because He has it sorted. He sent Jesus, who knew no sin, the take our sins to the cross and anyone, anywhere, who calls on Christ for forgiveness can enjoy eternity with Him.

Man’s way and his created religions are not fair because they put a burden of works on man that can never be satisfied.

I am glad that those 40 some years I trusted God and His fairness. 

Friday, 27 October 2017

Turn and live

Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?" says the Lord GOD, "and not that he should turn from his ways and live? - Ezekiel 18.23

Ezekiel is a pretty sombre and serious book. It is a book of doom and gloom. It is a book that really shows the brokenness of this world. There is a lot of judgement for sin and wrath of God there. It is a clear picture of a society without God.

But even here we see God calling out with the answer ‘I don’t take any pleasure in the death of the wicked,’ He says, ‘I take pleasure when they turn and live.’

We see it all the time in the scriptures. When the serpents were biting people in the wilderness Moses said to ‘look to the brazen serpent and you will live.’ Jesus used that to illustrate the need to look to Him in John 3 when he was talking to Nicodemus. I think of the prodigal son’s father waiting on the front step for his wandering son to turn around and come home – and when he did turn for home the father ran to him.

God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. He would that all would turn to Him. Turn and live was God’s call to Israel. It is still God’s call to a broken world in 2017. 

Thursday, 26 October 2017

For all have sinned

The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. – Ezekiel 18.20

The wages of sin is death. The soul who sins will die. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. All have sinned.

That concept has been sadly true since Day One. Ever since Eve sinned and passed the fruit on to Adam and he sinned sin has reigned. Ezekiel here is making it clear that that no one is accountable for his father’s sin and no one is made righteous through his father’s righteousness. Everyone of every generation is responsible for their own spiritual life.

It would be nice if we could blame somebody else, but we all sin. We are not sinners because sin, but we sin because we are sinners. It is our nature. We are broken. No matter who is born to what parents we are all sinners.

So everyone must make a decision what they are going to do about their sin. My parents aren’t to blame and they can’t fix it. What can I do?

Everyone is a sinner. But God loved the world so much that He sent His son to pay the penalty of sin. The soul that sins shall indeed die, but Jesus died in our place. It is a free gift and whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Even Daniel, Noah and Job

"Son of man, when a land sins against Me by persistent unfaithfulness, I will stretch out My hand against it; I will cut off its supply of bread, send famine on it, and cut off man and beast from it. Even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness," says the Lord GOD. – Ezekiel 14.13-14

This is a pretty neat passage. We know by now that Ezekiel was sent to a hard hearted, stubborn, not-hearing, rebellious people. They refused to listen to Ezekiel and they refused his offer of God’s righteousness.

I would guess that Ezekiel would have a bit discouraged. All that work and nobody would listen.

That’s not all that unusual. In the story of the rich man and Lazarus the rich man begged for someone to go and talk his brothers. Abraham, ‘he wouldn’t listen is someone came from the grave to talk to him.’ Even Jesus could not get everyone to listen. He God tells Ezekiel that the people would not listen even if Noah and Daniel and Job came to them. If they did the only ones who would leave with God’s righteousness would be Daniel and Noah and Job.

So we can’t let it get to us when people won’t listen. God must be working on their hearts, or no matter who we are, they are not going to listen. All we do is because of Who He is. All God requires that we are faithful and leave the results us to Him. We won’t hold us accountable for their hard hearts.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Trusting in walls

"Because, indeed, because they have seduced My people, saying, 'Peace!' when there is no peace—and one builds a wall, and they plaster it with untempered mortar—say to those who plaster it with untempered mortar, that it will fall. There will be flooding rain, and you, O great hailstones, shall fall; and a stormy wind shall tear it down. – Ezekiel 13.10-11

The people of Israel were being deceived. Many were crying ‘peace’ and they built a wall to protect their city. ‘There, look,’ they said, ‘we have a wall to keep us safe.’ The work of our hands will protect us and give us peace!’ Everyone felt secure. ‘We are safe and we finally have peace because that wonderful wall has been built.’

The problem was that these people were deceived. That wall was finished with ‘untempered mortar’ and could not provide the peace they so desperately desired. It was man’s work and it was going to fall, like man’s work always does. Those who trusted in a wall were going to be sadly disappointed. Walls are not the answer – Jesus is. Wall cannot provide security, only Jesus can.

That never changes. Man’s desire for peace has always fallen short. It falls short today. It will fall short until Jesus comes back bringing His peace. Don’t be deceived by man's solutions. 

Monday, 23 October 2017

A watchman

"Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me: When I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul. – Ezekiel 3.17-19

Learning from the prophets can be hard sometimes. We are told that thing that were written in the Old Testament were written for our learning, and yet we need to be careful to remember that we can’t apply everything that God said to prophets or nations applies to us.

Even in those cases I think we are safe to see principles to learn from.

Here Ezekiel is given the task of issuing a warning to the nation of Israel about their ignoring God and refusing to turn from their sins. It was a solemn task. Ezekiel had to be faithful and if not the blood of the people would be on his hands.

I think this shows us how important our task is. God has given us the job of telling the world about the love of God and the free gift of salvation. It is a vital task. If we selfishly keep the gospel to ourselves we rob the world of the greatest gift possible. We deny them the message of eternal life. We miss the chance to offer them the blessing of eternity.

While I am not so sure about the ‘blood on your hands’ in this day if grace, it does show the importance of our responsibility to warn the world of the consequences of sin and of God’s great love in offering a solution. 

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Hearing and speaking

Moreover He said to me: "Son of man, receive into your heart all My words that I speak to you, and hear with your ears. And go, get to the captives, to the children of your people, and speak to them and tell them, 'Thus says the Lord GOD,' whether they hear, or whether they refuse." – Ezekiel 3.10-11

God knows the heart of men. He knows that we tend to get discouraged when it seems like what we are doing is a failure. God spent a lot of time making sure that Ezekiel had a proper perspective of what he was doing. It is perspective that we would all do well to grasp.

Here’s the plan. We listen to what God says with our ears, we apply it to our hearts, we tell it to others, and then we leave it up to them. They can accept it or reject it – but we have done our part.

Of course it is not that simple and that sounds kind of harsh. It doesn’t mean we do our bit and then ignore them. It does mean that we are faithful and then we leave the results up to God. We can’t hols ourselves to standards us success if we are listening to God and sharing Him with others.

So we keep spending time and listening to God. That we can do. We keep telling other about Him. We can do that. We keep loving people no matter how they respond. We can do that.

Then we have to leave the rest with God. 

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Stubbornness and serving God

For you are not sent to a people of unfamiliar speech and of hard language, but to the house of Israel, not to many people of unfamiliar speech and of hard language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely, had I sent you to them, they would have listened to you. But the house of Israel will not listen to you, because they will not listen to Me; for all the house of Israel are impudent and hard-hearted. Behold, I have made your face strong against their faces, and your forehead strong against their foreheads.  – Ezekiel 3.5-8

I am sometimes asked how we have stuck it for so long here in Ireland. I have very kind people who say they appreciate our faithfulness in such a tough little area of Ireland. Our prayer letters have rarely been very exciting and some people wonder why or how we do it.

I kiddingly respond sometimes that I am too thick to take the hint. It is more a case of being hard-headed than spiritual.

From this I find out that being hard headed may not be such a bad thing. God tells Ezekiel that he gave him a ‘strong face’ to stand up against them. He says we have a strong forehead to face up to their foreheads.

That kind of looks like God gave Ezekiel the stubbornness to toe to toe with his opponents. It seems like his ability to stick it out and not back down was from God.

Praise God to bull headedness. The world is surely bull headed in their sin – we need to be even more bull headed about sharing the gospel with them. 

Friday, 20 October 2017

Whether they listen or not

You shall speak My words to them, whether they hear or whether they refuse, for they are rebellious. – Ezekiel 2.7

This is a tough challenge. God tells Ezekiel that he is to go and speak to the people and share his word. God also tells him that they are rebellious. And God says ‘you speak whether they listen or not.’

It is too easy to base our evangelism on who is going to listen. If we think folks aren’t going to listen it is easy to just forget about them.

We have been in Ireland a long time. One thing I have learned is that most people here choose not to listen. Our friends and associates and co-workers are wonderful people, but very few want to hear what we have to share.

So I can get discouraged and wonder if it is worth the bother to speak or should I just love them and be a good friend or neighbour. But ‘how will they hear without a preacher.’  Israel were a rebellious people. A world which rejects Christ is a rebellious world.

All their rebellion aside – nothing changes our responsibility to speak God’s words to those around us.

I can’t use ‘they just won’t listen’ as an excuse.