Ever More Faithful

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“Then the high officials and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him.” (Daniel 6:4)

 
Did you ever hear the expression “aging with dignity?” I read today’s account of Daniel and that’s what comes to my mind. I mean, when was the last time in any movie about Daniel, he was depicted as a 70 year old man being lowered into the lion’s den? According to Biblical timelines, he was probably a little older than that but just knowing that he was there around 605 BC when he refused to eat the king’s portion and then this lion’s den incident took place around 539 BC, we can easily do the calculations and see that Daniel is no longer a young man. But what else we see is that over all these years he has been a faithful man. And his age doesn’t stop him from continuing to be faithful.

 
For every time I have thought, “God, this is too hard. I can’t do it,” or “God, I’m too tired to go on,” Daniel may have felt that way, but he certainly didn’t live that way. I see a man whose sites were set on God. I see this faithful man who, because he was faithful first and foremost to God, was able to continually be faithful to those he served and those around him, no matter their walk of life or religious beliefs. I see a boy who was loved by those around him because of his character. I see him grow into a man who continues to be loved by those around him because of his character, well, loved by those who respect a faithful character.

 
I mean, here he is brought under another conquering ruler. And here God provides Darius, who, like Nebuchadnezzar, wanted to surround himself with wisdom. So who impresses him? Daniel. Our Daniel is set as one of the three highest satraps over the kingdom. Now, Daniel does his job so well that he is preferred over all the counselors so the king was wanting to set him over the whole entire realm. Why again? Because there was “an excellent spirit” in him.

 
What does it mean that there was “an excellent spirit” in him? Maybe to the king it meant Daniel’s mind was far above everyone elses and his wisdom surpassed all. But don’t forget that the word for spirit here, “ruach” is also used for God’s very breath and His living Spirit, the Holy Spirit. Could it be that Darius saw that Daniel was guided by God? That Daniel had a relationship and knowledge from a God like no other?
Well, Darius saw something extra special in Daniel. But, the other officials weren’t looking that way. They were just plain jealous of Daniel. So, what do you do, when you don’t like someone? You try to find fault in them. They wanted to ruin Daniel in the eyes of King Darius. Only, he was so faithful to the laws of the kingdom and to God that he was squeaky clean. If they were going to catch him up, it would have to be in something that went against His God. So they created a situation that would fit their cause.

 
So much for character in these men. They weren’t about faithfulness. They were about getting their own way. If deception would get them there, then that’s what they would use. Now, I’m pretty sure that Daniel was supposed to have a say in things. But these fellows approached King Darius with an idea that had not been shared with Daniel. Only they said, “All the high officials, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed…” Really? I don’t recall Daniel being included. So here is King Darius thinking that Daniel, along with all the others, has established this ordinance that no one should petition any god or man for thirty days, except for the king, or they would be thrown to the lions. Because they said all had agreed, Darius signed the injunction.

 
Knowing that Daniel prayed three times a day, the satraps watched for their opportunity. They had him! They knew one thing about Daniel. He was faithful and he would be faithful to his God no matter what. And he was, just as he always had been. They bring Daniel before King Darius. The king spent all night trying to find a way around the law, but there was no way once a law was signed. He felt terrible and tried to find a way to rescue him. But the king was forced to command Daniel to be lowered into the lion’s den. It was out of his hands. It was out of his control. But the king held onto one hope, that it wasn’t out of the control of Daniel’s God. “May your God whom you serve continually, deliver you!”

 
Darius was a king who cared about Daniel. He cared about what was happening around him here. I know because he couldn’t sleep, he didn’t eat, he didn’t enjoy the king’s pleasures that night. Daniel was on his mind. The acts of the other satraps were on his mind. I’m supposing that Daniel’s God was on his mind.

 
The king didn’t wait, but at the break of day went to the pit. I think he was in anguish because God’s word says he cried with a lamentable cry. That sounds like a heartbreaking, heart wrenching kind of crying to me. And he called, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, is your God whom you serve continually, able to deliver you from the lions?” And imagine the state of the king’s heart when he heard Daniel’s voice answer, “O King, live for ever. My God has sent His angel, and has shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before Him innocency was found in me; and also before you, O King, have I done no hurt.”

 
So Daniel was lifted up and the deceitful satraps and their families were cast into the lions’ den instead. Only this time, the lions were not merciful at all. And before a whole nation, King Darius declared that Daniel’s God was a living God, steadfast for ever, whose kingdom shall not be destroyed, and whose dominion shall be to the end. He declared God to be a deliverer and a rescuer who works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, who was even able to deliver Daniel from the power of the lions.

 
Now, what if Daniel isn’t supposed to be some unique and fantastic story? What if Daniel’s example is supposed to be one that we follow? I mean, most of the time Daniel was involved in normal affairs and normal life. Only he chose to live his every walking and every sleeping moment according to God’s ways and for God’s glory. He chose to be faithful in You, God. He didn’t choose just to be faithful sometimes, or only in the good times, but to be faithful. And so, when the hard decisions came, it didn’t matter how hard they were, he already knew the choice he would need to make, and he did it, he remained faithful no matter the cost. Because in truth, the cost of being unfaithful is far worse.

 
Jesus asked a question once, “For which of you, intending to build a tower, doesn’t sit down first and count the cost, whether you have sufficient fund to finish it?” (Luke 14:28) I need to be like Daniel and count the cost from the start so I already know that I have a sufficiency of all I need at any point down the road. Daniel’s life story reminds me of Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 2, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?” Well, who is, but God?

 
The truth is that Daniel wasn’t sufficient in and of himself. His sufficiency for every moment, for himself and for those around him, came from God. Paul continues in 2 Corinthians 3:5, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God…” God, You not only delivered Daniel multiple times, but you made his life a continual ministry of Your Spirit and of You. You call us to the same life today. Your grace and power is just as sufficient for me today as it was for Paul and Daniel, and anyone else who would choose faithfulness in You. May we become people who would rather glory in our weaknesses so that You and the power of God in Christ Jesus might rest upon us and the world around us would see Your glory manifested in the midst of our faithfulness to a God who is ever more faithful to His children.

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Consider Your Ways

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“Thus says the Lord of hosts; “Consider your ways.”  Haggai 1:7

This is pretty potent advice here.  It seems like you can take it or leave it for whatever you think it’s worth.  But I’m pretty sure that when God says something, it’s not just advice; it’s a command.  And I’m pretty sure that in honoring that command, one finds fulfillment, completion, satisfaction, blessing, and a real relationship with God Himself.  Which would mean, that not honoring that command, or throwing the “advice” to the side and doing your own thing, would lead to unfulfillment, incompleteness, dissatisfaction, cursing, and a lack of a relationship with God. 

Actually, verse 7 is the second time that God asked the people of Israel to consider her ways.  In verse 5, we hear, “Now therefore thus says the Lord of hosts; ‘Consider your ways.’”  That’s twice in a really short time so maybe it is imperative that the people of Israel and we consider our ways after all.  The Compete Jewish Bible, written from a Jewish Messianic viewpoint, puts it this way, “Think about your life!”  Were they?  Are we?  Am I?  And when they did, do we find them doing something about it?  When I do, is there something that I do about it?

Now, I’ve been heading backwards from the New Testament or New Covenant.  First was Malachi, then Zechariah, and now Haggai.  We’re in Darius’ reign and we’re still under Zerubbabel, and Joshua, the high priest.  And people were living again in Jerusalem during the captivity but they were fixing up their own houses and leaving the House of God in ruin.  Lord, You even say that the people were saying, “It’s not time to  rebuild the Lord’s house.”  But it was time to build their own houses. 

That makes me think about the condition of the Lord’s House at that time.  Because You pose a question, “Is it time for you to live in your own paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?”  I wonder if the paneling in the House of God was broken down and rotting and being uncared for?  It seems so.  Think about it.  The House of the Lord, is where God would come meet with His people.  It’s where His presence appeared.  But no one was giving that the time of day.  They were taking care of their own lives, their own houses, their own families, and seeking the will and presence of God had become less important.  I suppose it was glorifying themselves before glorifying the Lord.  “Let me get my house in line before I think about You, Lord.”  And You, had a problem with that thinking, Lord.  Rightly so.

Stop and think about what that attitude was producing, that attitude of providing for self and leaving your God out of the picture.  They were sowing much, but getting little back in the harvest.  They ate but were never satisfied.  They drank but were never satisfied.  They provided their own clothes but weren’t satisfied.  They earned money but it never sustained.  It was like putting it into a bag with holes.  Think it over.  Think it all over.  It’s the same today for some of us.  We have high expectations but it comes to nothing.  We try to bring it home only to see it  blown away like “dust in the wind.”  Why?  “Because My house lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house.” (slightly paraphrased)

But the truth of the matter is that we aren’t in charge of our lives.  We don’t have what it takes to build our own houses sufficiently.  God, in His sovereignty created the heavens above us and the earth and designed it to bring forth produce in it’s season and in His season.  He is the Master of everything and by His command was everything made.  Now here’s the truth.  Back in the very beginning of what we know, God created.  And Jesus was part of it.  Jesus is the very image of the Word of God and how we see it all come together, from Genesis to Revelation.  “He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.”  (John 1:2-5)  Now if all life comes from Him, how can we live apart from Him?  How can we ever think that we are sufficient to build our own houses and neglect Him?

Paul reminds us that we are not “sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant…”  (2 Corinthians 3:5,6)  It’s not about me.  It’s all about God.  We keep having pounded into our minds that it’s all about us, but it’s not.  It’s all about the One who created us and gives all things to us.  So what can we do about it?

We do like the Israelites.  The change our focus and get it back on You, Lord.  We do what You ask us to rebuild Your house and to shine Your glory into the world around us.  We look to You first and let You look to our needs.  We go up into the hills and we bring work and build Your house, so You can take pleasure in us taking pleasure in You.  Then You are glorified.  The truth is, we can try to care for ourselves, but we are insufficient.  You know our needs better than we do. 

Do I feel like I’m working hard and sowing much but reaping little?  Consider my life.  There’s a lot to consider, day by day, and moment by moment.  Consider “the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much better than they?”  (Matthew 6:26)  Consider if things I try to do seem to be all futile efforts.  Is it just because I am giving from me? My way?  What if I reconsidered and went to God first to give of what You give me.  Maybe that’s what Paul is talking about in 2 Corinthians 9?  “Here’s the point: he who plants sparingly also harvest sparingly.”  It’s not just about planting.  It’s about planting in You, Lord, and for You.  If I plant for myself, my harvest will all be for myself, and that’s not a harvest You bless.  You bless those who plant for You and toward the needs of others.  That’s a harvest after Your own heart, and You bless the planter in You.  “Each should give according to what he has decided in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. Moreover, God has the power to provide you with every gracious gift in abundance, so that always in every way you will have all you need yourselves and be able to provide abundantly for every good cause…”  I’m not rich by my country’s standards but I know this, that every time I step out for God’s glory to help meet the needs of others, every time I choose to step out to build His house first before mine, He provides way beyond what I have.  I don’t even know how it will be harvested but I know that He’s provided for me to be a part of the sowing.  And since nothing He does returns void, I can know that He will bless the harvest in HIs time. 

I can feed myself gluttonously on all kinds of food.  But there is only one food that will satisfy.  “For the bread of God is He which came down from heaven, and gives life unto the world.” (John 6:33)  Jesus is the only bread that satisfies.  He said, “I am the bread of life: he that comes to me shall never hunger; and he that believes in me shall never thirst.”  He’s the living bread that came down for us.  And if you are thirsty, He says, “Come unto me, and drink.” (John 7:37)  Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman at the well, hold true for us today also.  “if you knew the gift of God, and who it is that says to you,’ Give me to drink; you would have asked of him, and he would have given you living water.”  Why?  “Because “he that believes on [Jesus], as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:38)

Really, it all boils down to the character of God.  God, You flow out in love over all people.  You do good because You are good.  You love because You are love.  You give because You are generosity.  You provide because You are Provision.  I can’t help but thinking about the word, “fulness”.  The people were taking care of themselves but it led to emptiness and being unfulfilled.  But in You, You bring fulness into our lives.  All things are Yours, and in Jesus, You provide them to us, the called out ones, His body, Your body, and fill us with the fullness of Him that fills everything from even before the time of creation as we know it. (Ephesians 1:22,23)  And when we turn our focus off of ourselves and our provision and put it back on You, we experience “the riches of [Your] glory, [and are] strengthened with might by [Your] Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in [our] hearts by faith; that [we] being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of christ, which passes knowledge, that [we] might be filled with all the fulness of God.”  (Ephesians 3:16-19)  Why?  “Till we all come in the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:13)

This is what glorifies God.  This is what pleases Him beyond words.  “For it pleased the Father that in Him [Christ] should all fulness dwell…” (Colossians 1:19)  We only find our completeness in Christ.  We will only find true fulfillment in Him.  He’s the piece that fills everything up.  He’s the piece that brings everything together in God again.  And what a shame to ignore Him.  What a shame to leave His house, His presence abandoned.  I don’t want to be apart from You.  I don’t want to do things my own way.  I’m absolutely prone to error.  I have no idea how to even satisfy myself.  But in You my joy can become full.  I can choose to be full of myself, or I can choose to be full of You.  That means that I need to be concerned about Your glory above mine.  So let me be more concerned with building Your house and let You take care of building mine.  May I continually consider my ways and line then up in and with You.

Dumb Sheep to Transformed Sheep

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Photo credit to funnypics.com.

“Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate, and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate, and seven pairs of birds of the heavens also, male and female, to keep their offspring alive on the face of all the earth.”  Genesis 7:2-3

Did you ever stop to think that all these pairs of animals walking two by two onto the ark could have a spiritual application?  But I think it really does.  I mean, why did You pick pairs?  Well, that’s a no-brainer, right?  So they could make babies and multiply their kind on the face of the earth.  But is this really just about animals or is this a picture of Your desire for Your children?

I was thinking about something I read last night.  It was talking about leadership, about shepherding.  And it was talking about how most of us in the church have gotten it wrong because we haven’t really been following Your example.  Because if we get back to following Your example, it brings me back to this two by two thing, to this being called and sent in pairs.  And maybe there’s a reason bigger than saving the animals from the flood.

So I go back in time to where You have gathered Your disciples, the twelve.  And they have learned from You and seen You and been witnesses to Your power and Your person.  As a matter of fact, they haven’t arrived all the way in learning everything they need to.  They are still learners.  But Mark tells us that You “called the twelve and began to send them out two by  two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.

And that takes me back farther in time, even farther than the animals arriving on the ark in pairs.  It takes me back to Adam and Eve.  If You had wanted us to do things on our own, You would have stopped with Adam, that guy you formed and had name all the animals, that guy who was working and keeping the garden of Eden.  Here’s this guy You made who had everything at his fingertips except that tree of the garden, the one called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  It was just Adam, the animals, the plants, and a responsibility to take care of it all, and no weeds in the deal, just one warning.  I’m pretty sure Adam thought it was good.  But God already knew that wasn’t good for Adam.  There’s no way he could do it sufficiently on his own.

How do I know he wouldn’t be sufficient on his own?  God made a help meet for him.  That’s that ezer kenegdo.  God makes him one to stand beside him, actually face to face.  God makes him one who can sweep down and rescue him like God rescues Israel.  Because the truth is, none of us were created to be islands.  I guess I could think of it just being Eve that was that help meet for him, the warrior woman created to stand face to face with Adam and watch out for him so that he could be everything he was created to be.  But that face to face part just makes me think of this reflection of this image.  And it’s not the reflection of the image of Adam, or Eve, but it’s the reflection of the image of God in them.

Why would You make a help meet for him?  Could it be because he’s not the full image on his own?  Why did You create Eve?  Was she better?  Or did she just complete that image?  Does it take a man and a woman and what You created them both to offer to share Your image the best?  Notice I didn’t say that it takes man and a woman to offer what they want to share Your image best.  But what if this idea of Eve being that help meet, that ezer kenegdo, that warrior woman for man is because You really intended man to be that warrior man for Eve?  What if this help meet for him was intended to be recipricol?  What if You intended for these two that were created to stand face to face, to love and protect and honor and esteem each other like that, each as much as the other?  After all, Paul reminds us to do nothing through selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others as more significant than ourselves.  We’re not supposed to look at only our own interests, but also to the interests of others, having the same mind as Christ, who”though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  And why did You do that, Jesus?  Is that because You were our Ezer Kenegdo, our Help Meet, from the start?  Well, that put’s a new twist to ezer kenegdo, that help meet idea, doesn’t  it.

Well, that’s a lot of jumping around so let’s jump back up to Luke 10.  Timewise it comes after You send the 12 disciples out by twos to proclaim Your kingdom and heal.  Why by two”s?  Do You want us to learn dependency on each other?  Could we be called to lean on each other as another form of ezer kenegdo?  Is there something vitally important about community and walking this walk in You together?  Just going back to the twelve, You told them not to take anything for their journey, no staff, money, bread, bag, and not even a change of clothes.  They would stay in a stranger’s house who would receive them.  And they did that.  They went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing, and staying with people and getting to know them.  And I suppose that gave people the opportunity to get to know them and see that there was something different about them.

Alright, so I’m only in Luke 9, still looking at the 12, and I haven’t made it to Luke 10 yet.  And I’m looking at these disciples, sent out in community, sent out to build community, and it’s Jesus’ time to share and preach and teach.  And all these people have come out into this far away desolate place just to hear from this Jesus these guys have been telling them about.  Their hearts want more.  And they’re even forgetting about their next meal and forgetting to look at their watches because here they are out in the wilderness, far from home, with nothing to eat, but they want to hear.  Wow, this method of Jesus’, sending out His disciples in community, it seems pretty effective.  It seems like hearts are searching.

Funny thing is that the disciples don’t realize all that’s transpiring.  And then Jesus invites them to be an even closer part of the community.  “You feed them.”  Well, that causes a quandary, doesn’t it?  I suppose if I had just been preaching this wonderful news and healing people of diseases and casting out demons, which I’d never been able to do before, you’d think I might think a little more extraordinarily about things.  But maybe not.  I mean, if I just “flew into Neverland on a pirate ship, you would think my view of reality would be a little more fluid”(from Pan).  But I guess we all miss the obvious when we’re not used to seeing it.

“You give them something to eat.”  “You be my hands and feet.”  “You be my mouth.”  “You be my love.”  “What do we have to give that would be sufficient?”  What’s the answer? “Me, by faith.”  So we obey in community.  If You tell us to have them sit down in groups of 50 each, well, we do it.  And then we wait and we watch, together.  And then we minister together.  We give them what You give us to give them.  We feed them.  And there’s overflow, and we get to see it and be a part of it and reap it’s benefits!  But only in community with You and each other.  And then we reap the benefit of seeing You.  It’s when we come to say and see and know that “You are the Christ of God.”

Oh, there’s more that happened in that chapter, but if you want to know, you’ll have to read it.  But it continues to help us to grow in the knowledge of Christ and in community.  And then after these things, and after more followers, more disciples have been drawn to You, You appoint 72 others and send them ahead of You two by two into every town and place where You Yourself were about to go.  You sent them into a harvest that was ready and waiting.  You sent them into a harvest with few laborers.  You sent them out to pray for more laborers.  It was a doable deal.  You had already sent out 6 pairs of disciples and now there were 36 more pairs to send out.

I think it’s kind of ironic that You sent them out “as lambs in the midst of wolves.”  I just heard again yesterday how stupid sheep are.  That sheep sometimes just fall down because they are afraid or they just start running and running and don’t even think about where they are going.  The comment was made that sheep are probably the dumbest creatures.  So You send out Your disciples as sheep?  As sheep in the midst of wolves?

What if living in community with You and fellow believers so alters this sheep that they don’t respond in the ways people or wolves expect them to respond.  What if these sheep are so in tune to their Master and so in tune to their brothers and sisters that they blow other’s expectations of them away?  What if we’re talking about some radical reactions of some kind of radically recreated sheep?  I mean, who goes out without money, knapsack, sandals, and doesn’t greet everyone on the road.  Who is that focussed?  Who is that obedient?  Who is that certain?  These dumb sheep.  Or maybe more so, these transformed sheep.

I think of Your command in Genesis 1:28, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.”  That’s what man and woman were created to do together.  That’s what the body of Christ was created to do in community.  Adam and Eve can’t be fruitful without true community.  And it won’t lead to filling the earth and subduing it in the Lord without living in community with You, Lord.  Animals may be a far stretch, but if they don’t follow out the purpose they were created for, in their own communities, they’ll go extinct.  And extinction could be a real danger for believers who don’t know how to live in community with You and each other.  We’re not called to build our own kingdom our own way.  We’re called to build Your kingdom Your way.  I want to get on board with You.  I want to live in community.  I want to partner with others to bear Your image more fully.  I want to partner with other brothers and sisters so that people see something different, something they would want to come hear more about, something they would forget they were hungry over.

I want to be like those 12 or like the 72 who returned with joy so excited about what You were doing through them.  But I want to remain even more excited that I am Yours forever and You are mine.  My name is written in heaven.  But not just mine.  Look!  Look at all my brothers and sisters names too!  Now that’s exciting!  And it’s exciting to think about the other names that will be added as brothers and sisters as I go out two by two (or even more!) with those already in the Book.  I’m not a dumb sheep any more, I’m a transformed sheep.  I want to walk in the community of other transformed sheep and I want to draw more dumb sheep into the fold so they can be transformed.  And that’s right in line with Your will so I can’t think of a better place to be than right there, in the middle of Your fold, listening to Your voice, and helping others to come so they can hear.

“Follow Me.”

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Wherefore I beseech you, be followers of me.”  (1 Corinthians 4:16)

These are Paul’s words to the Corinthians, to believers who seemed to be following whatever teaching was on the breeze.  Now, I want to do something that I don’t know if I have the freedom to do.  But do it, I will.  What if You Jesus are using Paul’s words to tell us that You are beseeching us to be Your followers?  What if that was what Paul was trying to do?  What if he wasn’t really trying to get people to follow him but to get them to follow You like he was following You?

That seems logical to me because if I drop down four verses I see how Paul is saying that he will come shortly “if the Lord will.”  And what was he looking for when he came?  Whether or not Your power was in the words and actions of those who were puffing themselves up as teachers.  It seems that Paul was saying that there is evidence of following You and it’s not the evidence of our words but the evidence of power.

In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, (1:7) Paul reminds us that “God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.”  I suppose I ought to understand what power is, then.  The Greek word used here is dunamis which means force, specifically miraculous power, ability, might.  But if we look at the Hebrew connection it’s more than about “ability, capacity, vigor, strength, and will.”  It actually takes more than one Hebrew word to tranlate dunamis.  In the Hebrew, it has to do with strength, wealth or an army.  It’s the influence one has on others.  It can be financial or numerical or military.  It’s also about “not lacking, not being deficient or not having poor quality.”  It has to do with our going out and our coming in or what causes our going out and our coming in.  In the same sense, it has to do with bringing forth vegetation and feelings.  That’s not all.  Another word for it has to do with ascending, taking away, and offering; and yet another about waging war, mustering for war, serving.  And all of these things wrapped up together bring forth the concept of power.

So what is power?  Well, part is that Greek mindset.  There is an idea of “capacity, strength and will” but it plays out in conjuction with everything else.  See, strength is in relation to our influence.  It’s more than physical.  Someone has influence over another.  It’s what was happening with the Corinthians.  What was their source of inluence, or rather who?  Who is my source of influence?  Because the strength of that source will flow to others and they will wind up relying on either my weak influence or the true influence of God.

But it doesn’t stop there.  Power was tied to sufficiency.  I mean, in those days subsistence was important.  If you didn’t lack food, shelter, and the basics, you had power.  Without them you were powerless and dead!  But the truth for believers is that our sufficiency goes beyond subsistence, or maybe that our subsistence has to be in a Person and not things.  We have to come to the point where we truly know that “we are not sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; who also has made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.”  (2 Corinthians 3:5,6)  The whole point in these verses as that we are enable wholly by You, God.  Our power comes from and in You.  That word for sufficiency, sufficient, and able in verse six are all related in the same base word hikanoo.  We are made able, qualified, or enabled through not the words written in a book, but through the life within those words and from the Person who shared them with us.  You are our sufficiency.  You make us able.  You are our Power.

Now, as if that isn’t enough, power is also tied in to being able to “come and go.”  In the days of Paul’s authorship, they knew about slavery and about being a vassal.  Slaves and citizens under the rule of another power were limited in movement.  To have power is to be “able to move at your own will.”  Not only that, it includes the freedom to “express your own feelings.”  Think of how many citizens were nailed to crosses and impaled on spikes or burned at the stake because of expressing feelings contrary to the power in charge over the course of history.  Think of the many persecuted even today.  And with this power we must keep in mind the idea of war or warfare.

Well, those last concepts seem to make sense.  But what of this additional concept of power- to ascend, to take away?  The word for this is a verb and it’s about “sacrifices and offering.”  It’s about the power “to remove guilt.”  Did you ever think of the importance of this power, this power of sacrifice?  Maybe now is a good time to think about it, because God certainly thought about it in the power of Jesus Christ, and Jesus thought about it and demonstrated it.

So sure, many of us have lots of power.  We live lives where we are sufficient, where we have political freedom, where we have influence over others, and we are able to express our feelings freely, for the most part.  But we also have the “ability to have our guilt removed through sacrifice.”  I mean, how equipped is that?

But do I really realize what all this power bestowed on me means?  What did Jesus use His power for?  He used it for the benefit of those He came to seek and save.  He used all this power to find the lost and to save them and to make them His own.  How do I use the power that You give me as a believer, that power that comes from the life of the Spirit in me, that power that flows from the heart of God in Jesus Christ?  Am I only focussed on myself or am I, like Jesus, focussed on the lost and the hurting and the lonely and the broken?  Is my power for myself or is it a gift and a privilege, and a duty to share it with those who have not yet experienced it?  Is this power something that multiplies when it is shared or something to be horded?

Yes, I don’t think Paul wanted us or his people to follow him.  But I think that Paul wanted his people and us to learn from him that the only and true source of power lies in following Jesus.  Without knowing Him, without surrendering to His authority, without being adopted into His family and born of His Spirit, there is no power and we are but mere men.  Paul reminds us in Romans 8:37 that God’s purpose for us is to overwhelmingly conquer.  Why?  Because He is the Overwhelming Conqueror and the battle is His and it’s already a victory.  We just have to hold onto the ball until the end of the game.  And He’s passed the ball to us.  We’ve been made ready and equipped by the One who is the Source of Power.

Who I follow is important.  My life and my victory and the life and victory of those around me depend upon this choice.  It was important to You too, Jesus.  You commanded, “Follow me,” in over fifteen instances in Scripture as You walked this earth.  If a thing You repeat is important, than certainly understanding what it is to follow You is of major importance to me.  “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.”  It only comes from following, from attaching, from being dependent upon, and from being enabled by You.  “Follow Me and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”  “If anyone whold come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”  “If any man serve Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve Me, him will my Father honour.”  “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to you?  Follow Me.”  “Follow Me.”  “Follow Me.”  “Follow Me.”

You know, sometimes as “baby” believers we need to follow someone else as our example, someone else we can see and feel and touch.  But with maturity comes greater responsibility.  There has to come a day when we stop needing to follow Paul and we experience You Jesus for ourselves.  There has to come a day when we know You so well that we follow You, that we listen to You, that we know Your heart.  There must come a day when You are my heart’s desire and joy.  You have to be the focus of my emulation.  There has to come a day when I see that all this stuff that has to do with the power I need is right there and has always been right there in You.  And if I’m still following some other believer’s method or style, I need to fall on my knees and just start relying on You and accepting all that You have for me and stop disabling what You desire to enable in me.  You didn’t create anyone else but Paul to be a Paul.  You desired for Timothy to be his own Timothy in You.  You designed for Bong to be her own Bong in You.  You designed for Jessica and Gemma and Betty and Sharon and Carla and Mickie to be who You created them each to be, specifically different by design.  You designed Jack and Warren and Mike and Eric and Carl and Genesis to be who You created them each to be, specifically different by design.  But my question is, am I living in Your design for me or my own design?  What a shame it would be to be invited and have the ability to follow the King of the Universe, to follow the Jesus who saved me and the God who made me, and to not choose to follow Him intimately.  Oh, that I, that we, would learn to follow You all the days of our lives!

No Matter the Circumstances

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Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  Philippians 4:11

Here’s my question today, “How long does it take to learn to be content?”  Funny question?  But it really is my question.  When do I really learn that lesson?  How long did it take Paul?  Well, I’m not really sure but I looked into his life timeline.  He was converted by the Lord on the road to Damascus and placed his trust in the Lord around 34 A.D.  And this letter to the Philippian believers was written somewhere around 61-63 A.D.  That’s about 27 years.  Not only is that 27 years but it’s 27 hard years from the start.

Before his conversion, Paul probably had everything people of his day wanted.  He had a political and religious standing of importance in the community, respect, money, power.  What did he have after his conversion, after he placed his trust in You, Lord?  I think he started out with some solitude with You in Arabia for maybe 3 years.  And at the beginning of his conversion, he was already an outcast.  People were afraid of him so it wasn’t like there were welcome arms all around.  On his return, his preaching and teaching get him drummed out of cities, persecuted, beaten, chased.  He was shipwrecked and imprisoned.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

To get the picture, I want to listen to Paul’s own words.  As a minister of Christ, Paul speaks of superabundant labours,  stripes beyond measure, superabundant prison visits, and even death many times.  To be in danger of death is one thing, but to be left for dead or even believe God revived You from the dead is a whole deeper story, and I think that’s also what Paul has experienced.  He goes on, “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.  Three times I was beaten with rods.  Once I was stoned.  Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold exposure.   And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”  Yeah.  Paul didn’t learn contentment all at once.  And to learn it, You, Lord, had to take him through some pretty rough stuff.  I suppose if I want to know supernatural contentment, I need to learn to go through supernatural circumstances.

See, You God, are Supernatural.  If I want to experience You, I have to learn how to live in the Supernatural.  If I can do it on my own, then that’s exactly what I’m doing, doing it on my own.  But I can’t do supernatural on my own.  Only You can.  And I can only do that if You do it in me.

If I want to come to the point in my life of living life supernaturally in and through You, then I have to let You bring supernatural situations into my life.  And I have to respond rightly to them.  I have to begin seeing every circumstance as Your circumstance designed for my benefit and Your glory.

I have to learn to live a life in need, not so I can call on others, but so I can learn to be dependent on You.  And so that in that dependence, I can learn to be confident and content in You.   This word for content in Greek is “autarkes.”  It means “self complacent, contented.”  Get this, it implies self-sufficient.  What?!  How can I be dependent and self-sufficient at the same time?  Isn’t something wrong here?

Well, let’s understand this idea of self-sufficiency here.  Skip Moen relates it as “the positive sense of being satisfied in mind and disposition.”  And get this, it’s not passive.  I have to make it happen.  The two words that best express this idea in Hebrew are “avah” and “Ya’al.”  Here is more of what Skip has to share about their meaning. “Both words convey the idea of choosing.  ‘Avah is about being positively inclined to respond.  Ya’al is about making a decision to act.  Neither one conveys the idea of simply waiting around for something.  To be content is to choose a certain frame of mind, a certain kind of external activity, a certain way of being in the world.  That’s why contentment has to be learned.”

Paul had learned to choose Your sufficiency.  His frame of mind in all these circumstances, good or bad, was centered on You.  His activity in the midst of the trials was centered on You.  His way of being in the midst of much or little was centered on You.  You were his Sufficiency so he was sufficient and all his needs were sufficient because You were what He needed most and he learned to keep his focus on You.  Lord, You warned us it was going to be rough.  You said that in this life there would be troubles, but You also promised us Your peace if we learned to remain in Your focus, in You.  Why did You tell me about the rough times I should expect in this world as Your follower?  “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Tribulation, “thlipsis,” is ‘back-breaking” pressure.  As Your follower, You are preparing me for the supernatural pressure that comes with living in You in a foreign territory, under an enemy who is looking to destroy and plunder everything that belongs to You.  In the world I’m guaranteed tribulation and pressure.  But in You I’m guaranteed peace.  Now the Greek word for peace is “eirene.”  And the Greek meaning has the connotation of the absence of war, of prosperity, good health, and well-being.  But That’s not what Jesus is talking about here.  It’s not what Paul has learned and is teaching us about.  See, the Hebrew notion in this Greek expression comes out of “shalom.”  “Shalom begins with right relationships because right relationships determine all the other factors in life.  Fixing my retirement plan will not improve my relationship with my wife, but improving my relationship with my wife will certainly have an effect on my retirement plan.” (Skip Moen)  So, having a right relationship with Jesus will determine all the other factors in my life.

I can be courageous in the middle of the deepest pressure because I am under the goodness and power of my Everlasting God.  You already overcame it all!  You already conquered!  All of Your promises are true.  You will continue this glorious, supernatural work You have begun in me!  Whether I have food or no food, You remain good and You remain with me.  Will I remain in You?  Whether I am persecuted or at ease, You remain good and You remain with me.  Will I remain in You?  Whether I live or I die, will I still insist that You are good and You are with me?  Will I remain in You?  I was created to be an overcomer because my God is an overcomer.  Who will my focus be in?  How will I live?  How will I act?  How will I think?  How will I respond?

Lord, I must learn the lesson that Paul learned.  You must take me through hardship so that I will learn.  I want to be able to know exactly where Paul is coming from and be able to say with him, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.  In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through HIm who strengthens me.”  Yes, it’s not because someone, or even You MADE Paul bring himself low, or abound.  He learned through You to bring himself to be grateful and in You in those low circumstances.  And in the abundance, he learned to bring himself under You and be grateful also.  He learned the secret.  The secret was that You, Lord, are the sufficience in every situation, whether bounty or dire need.

Yes, “such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.  Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant…”  See, You love a cheerful giver, Lord, because You are a cheerful giver to the max.  “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.  As it is written, ‘He has distributed freely, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever.’ He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.  You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.  For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:8-12)

Well, Lord, Your Word took me exactly where I was hoping it would take me today.  Straight to a heart of thankfulness.  Because in the midst of all these hard things and all these pressures, I need to learn to ever be thankful.  Because no matter what, You have given me and continually give me the greatest gift of all, a relationship with You, my God!  So, when the money doesn’t come, thank You, Lord, I am Yours.  And when the money comes, thank You, Lord, I am Yours.  And when things fall apart around me, thank You, Lord, You hold me together in You.  And when things are just honky-dory, thank You, Lord, because You are better than the best thing in my life.  So, Lord, teach me this contentment that Paul learned to experience in You.  And let my praise in and for You never cease to usher from my lips and heart no matter the circumstances.