Transformed!

Metamorphosis is not only a large word that is fun to say, but the process it defines is intriguing. One writer explained the word simply as “a process of major changes that allow [the species] to develop properly”¹. The phrase, ‘develop properly,’ is interesting because we are reminded that the process of metamorphosis does not change the species into another one, but properly—and effectively develops it in the way God intended. As Christians, we too should be going through a process of major changes that is allowing us to develop properly!

The Greek word, metamorphoō (v) to transfigure, transform, or change is used only four times in the New Testament: Twice when referring to Jesus being transfigured (changed) before His apostles; and twice when referring to a Christian’s transformation, or change: Romans 12:2 and 2 Corinthians 3:18. In this brief study, I will examine Romans 12:2:

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

We all know how easy it is to get caught up in and quickly conformed to the things of this world, yet daily, purposeful action is required for our proper spiritual development; our transformation is something we, unlike the butterfly, have complete control over.

Observe the word choice in Romans 12:2: “Do not be . . . but be . . .” Not, “Try not to be, or try to be.”It is imperative that we willfully refrain from conforming and purposefully allow ourselves to be transformed! Whether we stay an infant, needing “milk,” or grow and require “solid food” (1 Corinthians 3:2-3a; Hebrews 5:12) is up to us.

No doubt the apostle was disappointed when he Paul spoke to the church at Corinth saying “I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal” (1 Corinthians 3:2-3a, emphasis mine).They were carnal or ‘fleshly’ (Strong’s G4559). Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines that word as as: governed by mere human nature; not by the Spirit of God. Sadly, the members at the church in Corinth had conformed to the fleshly lusts of the world, thus their transformation had halted. How devastating!

What about us. Are we still drinking the milk of the word? Have we halted in our transformation? Have we conformed to the world? We must remember that our soul is most important–and we must work diligently to protect it.

Being transformed requires daily:

  • Careful Reading of God’s word
    • Remember, the Bible is not just any book, but is the “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12) words of God, the Creator of the world. The goal in reading should never be quantity, but quality.
  • Thoughtful meditation on God’s word
    • One could meditate on God’s word a lifetime and still not have fully grasped its life-giving message of love!
  • Meaningful prayers of adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication
    • Sincere speech to our Father in heaven can only be possible if we care for Him; and we can only care for Him If we spend quality time in His word. Think about human relationships. Meaningful conversation comes through care and concern for one another. God cares deeply for us; do we care deeply for Him?
  • Diligence in taking captive our thoughts and making them obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5)
    • We are sinners; we struggle throughout the day, everyday. In order to be transformed, we must grab our thoughts and throw them into immediate captivity in our minds.

Like the butterfly, our transformation process happens slowly (over a lifetime)–and in (many) stages; the goal though is movement through those stages. Imagine, if the butterfly stayed in any one of its three stages that proceed its final stage? If it did, it would never be what God intended it to be; in fact, it wouldn’t even survive! If we do not grow in Christ, we will not survive spiritually either.

¹Source: http://www.apologeticspress.org/pub_dm/08012007/d0708.pdf

THAYER’S GREEK LEXICON, Electronic Database.
Copyright © 2002, 2003, 2006, 2011 by Biblesoft, Inc.

 

 

God’s Providential Care

To my mom, with love ❤

She had aggressive cancer raging through her body. We all knew her physical life would end soon. But if my mother knew my sister had less than a week to live, she would not have taken her.

It was the last Saturday in the month of July in the year of our Lord 1997. My mother, sister, Michelle and her husband, and their seventeen-month-old daughter traveled by plane from Fort Myers to Atlanta. Once in Atlanta, my mother rented a car and they began the five hour drive to the Great Smoky Mountains.

But my mother’s dream for her 23-year-old to enjoy her first–and final fresh-mountain-air escape never became a reality; Michelle’s organs began shutting down . . . her bladder was first. She told my mother she needed to be taken to an emergency room right away.

The name of the hospital at which they arrived is unknown to this day; also not retained is how they found their way to it. My mother does remember what she desperately cried  out to the person who sat at the triage counter:

“My daughter is dying.”

Without delay, Michelle was bought to the attention of a doctor on duty. My mother handed him a sealed manilla folder which contained correspondence from Michelle’s oncologist. The doctor opened the envelope and began reading. It did not take long for him to lower the paper and verbally chastise my mother for bringing Michelle, in her grave state, away from home. She remembers little of the many words spoken by him, but my mother will never forget these:

“Why did you bring her here? She can die any minute!”

My distraught mother promised the doctor that she had no idea that Michelle was that close to death and, if she had, she would never have taken her. *Why did Michelle not tell her she was that close? Didn’t she know? Did she just not want to hurt my mother by refusing to go? That was my big sister–always the smile in the room . . . never in a bad mood . . . never had a bad word to say about anyone anywhere at anytime . . . yes, I believe my sister knew–she had to know–but she didn’t want to hurt anyone by telling them the truth. But, we all must have known–deep inside we were preparing for the un-preparable. I was there–at the airport–the day they left. I recall how morbid she looked then–how frail she was, sitting in that old, faded blue airport wheelchair; her daughter sitting on her lap: once a soft resting place, but then, only a hard surface of of bone. When I said goodbye to her, she smiled. I knew it was forced through the pain, but she smiled–for me. She always smiled; in her 15-month struggle with death, she never passed up a smile; and she she never complained—ever!

The Oncologist’s notes told the E.R. physician the devastating reality about Michelle. A reality which he angrily, then sympathetically relayed to my mother–a task that my sister could not bear to do. And with the truth behind them, my sister did something she rarely ever did–she asked my mother a favor:

“Will you please take Macheala home? I don’t want her to see me die.”

Oh how my mother’s heart must have torn wide open: she selfishly (and rightly so) desired to stay near her dying daughter, but unselfishly (as mother’s do) wanted to give her daughter what she wanted for her own daughter.

On Sunday, July 27 my mother left Michelle and her husband at a hospital in Tennessee. She took their 17-month-old daughter and drove to an airport. The details: How she got there and at which airport she arrived, are not recalled. What she does remember is long lines at the Delta airlines counter; making her way to the front of the line–without waiting, and making a desperate plea to a worker behind the counter:

“My daughter is dying; Please, I need to get her daughter home.”

The worker excused himself and walked back into a room behind the ticket counter. When he came back he said:

“It’s been taken care of. We have a flight leaving now.” 

From the generosity of the airlines–and God’s intervention–my mother boarded a plane and began her arduous journey in the direction of home–away from her baby.

The Delta pilot landed the plane in Atlanta; there was a layover there. My mother needed to make her way though the “world’s busiest airport,” which would include walking among thousands of people, getting on a train headed for a specific concourse and proceed to the correct gate. She would need to attempt all of that while holding her one-year-old granddaughter whose 23-year-old mother (her first born daughter and my big sister) could “die any minute.”

How, I ask you, did she walk? How did she have the strength to put one foot in front of the other when her daughter was drawing her final breaths? 

I don’t know when it happened, but it did. Somewhere along my mother’s journey in the Atlanta airport, something truly remarkable happened. Something providential!

If a statistician ran the numbers, what would you guess are the odds that, in the world’s busiest airport (for the past 20 years–since 1997), you would see:

Someone you know?

Someone who lives in the same city as you live?

Someone who attends the same church you attend?

Someone you trust?

Well, my mother managed to make it to the correct gate and there she saw:

A couple she knew

A couple who lived in the same city as she lived

A couple who attended the same church she attended

Yes, a couple she trusted.

The three of them began to converse there, at a random gate, in the world’s busiest airport. They asked my mother why she was there; she told them. They offered to take Macheala home to Fort Myers with them. My mother accepted.

“With God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26b)

The world’s busiest airport is no match for God. He made sure everything worked out!

“I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5b).

God was with my mother every step of her journey. And at the same time He was with my mom, He remained with my sister–comforting her–and with us, surrounding us too with His love and care.

 

With the Lord’s help, my mother made it back to the hospital. My mother was also blessed to be able to hire a private medical jet (that same evening) that flew my sister home.

On Sunday, the 27th of July, Michelle was placed on the 4th floor of the hospital–the Hospice floor; the place one goes to die. It was the same hospital she rushed in to fifteen months before–in tremendous pain . . . the same hospital that had to tell a 22-year-old mother of a 2-month-old baby girl that she had terminal cancer. The doctor met with our family in a back hallway and, after confirming  the do not resuscitate (DNR) order with my mother said:

“We are waiting for her heart to stop beating.”

“We are waiting for her heart to stop beating.””We are waiting for her heart to stop beating.””We are waiting for her heart to stop beating.””We are waiting for her heart to stop beating.””We are waiting for her heart to stop beating.” 

Those words were unwanted lyrics on an old vinyl. Unwanted and turning unauthorized on a broken record player. I wanted so badly to stop it–to break the needle–to grab the vinyl and snap it in half–but I couldn’t. It’s one thing to wait for summer, or for the pizza delivery man, but to wait for your big sister’s heart to stop beating forever? That seems impossible. How could we wait for that? We weren’t waiting because we were there, present, in each moment–listening to the clock in the hospital room–its second hand marching on a never-ending course around the periphery of its prison. Every. Single. Second. Every. Single. Second. And her heart ran with the clock–until it couldn’t keep up. Then, it beat . . . beat . . .  . . . beat . . .  . . .  . . . beat . . .  . . .  . . .  . . . beat . . .  . . .  . . .  . . .

The ravenous death inside her desired the last word . . . but Michelle was God’s child, so we knew that death had lost its “sting” (1 Cor. 15:55-56) through the cross. As her body of flesh was losing its battle, her spirit was being renewed (2 Cor. 4:16). ❤

Michelle slept most of the time in her final few days, a result of the high doses of morphine (the doctor said he had to almost overdose her to keep her from feeling the pain the monster inflicted on her, but that the high dose would keep her mostly sedated.) She would speak here and there and occasionally respond (although delayed) to our questions. She and we took pleasure in the small delicacies of life: banana popsicles, her pillow from home, her hair being brushed, and her face being washed.

On the day she died: Thursday, July 31, my sister dreamt about heaven. She looked at my mother, who sat by her bed, and said:

“It is really that beautiful?”

My mom smiled and answered:

“Yes, it is!” 

 

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort . . .” (2 Corinthians 1:3).

 

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Teachers and The Peanuts Gang!

There is a place I go each weekday; it’s a place that I have made my own. Colorful student displays and motivational posters cover the otherwise naked walls. It’s a quiet place until 9:20, when students begin passing through the opening of concretable #7. Their laughter is innocent; their smiles, pure. Many of the 115 students entrusted to me throughout the day, walk in, proceed quietly to their seats and ready themselves for English class; but, of course, there are the few outspoken ones who stand in the doorway and shout to other students that “they better not be late or they’ll earn a detention” (all the while not realizing that they too are technically outside, thus not in their seat, ready for class, and therefore are themselves in jeopardy of detention.) There are also the social ones who run in and immediately congregate around the desks, eager to share all the happenings of that day. And finally, within each group are the sentimental few who, upon entering, always approach me. Some come for a quick hug, some draw near just to say hello, ask me about my day and tell me about theirs. (In my experience, the sentimental ones are also those who feel it’s in the best interest of the school’s community to immediately, yet quietly update me on the ill behavior of their peers and naughty hall walkers.) 🙂

With daily interaction of all such personalities present, one could not avoid (even occasional) frustration. I guess if we lived in a world where we were all like basic stick figures, we would (maybe, if we knew to) complain about wishing to be different. As an educator, I am often guilty of looking past the (positive) uniqueness in each individual; and instead, focusing on what makes one student (negatively) different from another. It’s the same rhetorical interrogative cliché we’ve all heard: “Why can’t you just be like . . . ?” And because it’s rhetorical, the answer is obvious: we can’t be alike when we were all made to be different! For many, myself included, the challenge lies in embracing the uniqueness of each individual, and focusing on how each personality is vital to the health of the whole.

As I pondered on the four main character types in my classes, and began positively categorizing them, I could not help but think of four main Charles Schulz’s Peanuts characters: Lucy, Sally, Linus, and Charlie Brown:

  • The outspoken ones, like Lucy, may be willing to stand up and speak out for truth–even when no one else will. Sure, they may not always realize that they too are in danger, and that is a risk in and of itself, but they are willing to be the much-needed voice for a group.
  • The social personalities, like Sally, are vital to society because they bridge people. They are the smiling faces, and energetic bodies–they are the flavoring in otherwise bland food.
  • The sentimental personalities, like Linus, are the ones who are concerned about the well being of others. They are drawn to those around them by their deep need to give and receive love.
  • The quiet ones, like Charlie Brown, don’t have the need to be publicly heard. They follow rules and blend in.

Now, I must say, it is certainly frustrating when the quiet and sentimental ones refrain from interacting in class discussions, but it really is the outspoken and social personalities that I personally struggle with the most. They are the ones who are told every-single -day to sit down and “please” be quiet. Not only are they they the ones who are the most frequently redirected, but they are also the ones who raise their hands tentimeseachdaytoaskrandomquestions and make attention-seeking statements. These personalities may give a teacher the feeling that she is “climbing up a wall” or being driven nuts, bonkers, etc.; however, at the end of the day–and many deep breaths are drawn in and slowly let out, it’s important to remember that they are children who were made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27)!

 He made us all different, yet He loves each one of us the same. ❤

*At this point, you might be thinking, “Why is she writing this? Did she have a revelation or something?” And, if you were thinking such things, I would respond, “Why yes, in fact I did have one!” Two days ago, while walking back to my classroom from another building in the school, I was approached by one of my most outspoken (and challenging) students. He had, with the rest of the pupils in the school, just finished taking the state writing test. As he got nearer, I could not help but smile in response to his cheery disposition. When we were close enough to converse, he, with small chip crumbs still fresh on his face from lunch said, “Mrs. T., you’ll be so proud of me. I remembered everything you taught us and I know I did good.” The excitement on his face and the confidence in his voice made me so proud; and at that moment, neither the test–nor the results mattered. In that brief snapshot of existence, I forgot about all the times I had to redirect him, move his desk, gather up his incomplete work, send him out, and call home. In our unscheduled, impromptu meeting, I saw through the correction, to a person who truly mattered–to God–and to me.

In that moment, all the frustration left and an abundance of zeal returned!

As I sat at my desk to write this, I thought of the many of us who grew up with the “Peanuts Gang” and were highly entertained by the different personalities of the characters–(I personally was annoyed by Charlie Brown’s complacency, and could not stand Lucy’s demanding tone), but in real-life, we are anything but laughing. Yes, because watching a fake cartoon is far different than living the real thing. On the couch, we are not tested; in the classroom–and in our homes–we are–and that is a monumental difference!

In his precious innocence, my little student reminded me that God made the outspoken, Lucy’s; He made the social Sally’s; He made the sentimental Linus’; and He made the quiet Charlie’s, too. And because He loves all of us, and is not “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), we all must learn to see the benefits of each personality and work hard at training ourselves on how they best fit together.

*The next day, another one of my super outspoken students rushed in before the class period, gave me a hug and with the sweetest voice said: “Hi, Mrs. T. How has your day been?” And just like that, the day was a beautiful one! ❤

Genesis 1:27: “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daniel: Purposeful and Brave

“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 1:8).

 

Background: 

Daniel, whose name means “Judgement of God” (Smith’s Bible Dictionary, 135), was chosen, among other Jewish captives, to serve before king Nebuchadnezzar, “The greatest and most powerful of the Babylonian kings” (Smith’s, 437). The Lord, through the prophet Isaiah, describes the city of Babylon as “The golden city” (Isaiah 14:4). Being made aware of the grandeur of the king and his great city, our minds are free to form a more perfect picture of the environment Daniel was immersed in. The quality of the “king’s delicacies” (Daniel 1:8) must have been exquisite; and such a grand king ruling over an equally grand city would no doubt desire the best of the Jewish captives to serve under him. Strict requirements for servants can be found in Daniel 1:4. They included:

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.

Not only did Daniel (and his three friends) qualify based on the list of requirements, but we can probably add to their qualities that they were, what first-century historian Josephus claims, “Kinsmen of Zedekiah, their king” (333). Such a claim is verified in the book of the prophet Isaiah where the the prophet, speaking to king Hezekiah, foretold the following, recorded in 39:6-7:

“‘Behold, the days are coming when all that is in your house, and what your fathers have accumulated until this day, shall be carried to Babylon; nothing shall be left,’ says the LORD. ‘And they shall take away some of your sons who will descend from you, whom you will beget; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon’”

David is not named in the above reference, but he was taken away, and he did serve in the palace of several Babylonian kings. Hezekiah was the twelfth king of the Southern kingdom; Zedekiah was the nineteenth, and final king of the Southern kingdom. The king’s shared a blood line.

Based on the impressive list, which qualified him for service in the Babylonian kingdom, Daniel possessed all the ingredients for arrogance, but this young man did not stir up wrath for himself, but blessings. He was a young man who was extremely humble and dedicated to God Almighty.

Problem: 

Being in the king’s select group of servants, Daniel and his three friends were offered delicacies from the king’s table; delicacies that included foods which would have been offered to idols. Refer to Exodus 34 where God, renewing His covenant with His people: the Israelites, warned them not to make a covenant with inhabitants in pagan lands, because if they did, they would be tempted to “play the harlot with their gods and make sacrifice to their gods” (v.15).  Not only could Daniel have been avoiding the making of a covenant with heathens, but he could have also been recalling and observing Leviticus 3:17, where the LORD, instituting the peace offering for the Israelites, stated, “‘This shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwellings; you shall eat neither fat nor blood.’” Additionally, in Leviticus chapter 7, verses 22-27, the LORD spoke in this matter:

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘You shall not eat any fat, of ox or sheep or goat. ‘And the fat of an animal that dies naturally; and the fat of what is torn by wild beasts, may be used in any other way; but you shall by no means eat it. ‘For whoever eats the fat of the animal of which men offer an offering made by fire to the LORD, the person who eats it shall be cut off from his people. ‘Moreover you shall not eat any blood in any of your dwellings, whether of bird or beast. ‘Whoever eats any blood, that person shall be cut off from his people.

From the scripture, we can fathom why an Israelite would think twice before eating from just any table; for to be cut off would be a sentence that no Israelite would want to bear. And the Israelites knew exactly how God felt about them as a people; His words, recorded by Moses in Deuteronomy 7:6, must have provided great comfort and hope to His faithful. God said:

For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth.

Daniel must have at least pondered on going from God’s special treasure to being cut off from Him. Not that Daniel had access to New Testament teachings, but it is important to expose the truth—that idol worship is a sacrifice to demons. The example, taken from 1 Corinthians 10:19-20, is applicable, because the Babylonians certainly worshipped idols; this example shows how God feels about “things” sacrificed to idols:

What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything? Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons.

If Daniel wanted to please God, he had to be purposeful and brave in his decision not to eat of the foods spread out on the Babylonian’s table. The fear of being cut off from God’s chosen, because of food sacrificed to demons and not to God, would definitely have been a thought pacing through his young mind.

Daniel’s Actions: 

After exposing Daniel’s credentials, we know he could have been haughty; and after exposing the majesty of king Nebuchadnezzar and his golden city, we can assume the delicacies were indeed delectable. So, how did Daniel use his fortune? How did he react to the delicacies offered to him? After the word of God gives the details of Daniel’s status, and mentions the delicacies and wine he was offered, we read: “But Daniel purposed in his heart” (1:8). Let us back up for a minute—Daniel was handsome, wise, knowledgeable, quick-witted, and likely royal. King Nebuchadnezzar was a golden king living in a golden city; offering golden-quality food—“But Daniel!” The tiny, three letter conjunction, “but,” proves vital as it introduces the contradictory statement that follows: “Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself.” Daniel was not haughty, but humble. Daniel was not deceived by the delectable delicacies of the king’s provisions, but devoted to Jehovah. Daniel could have eaten off the heathen’s table, but he purposed—decided; and his decision—and devotion—led to his tremendous bravery. So, with his three friends in agreement, brave Daniel asked the steward if he and his three companions could be tested for ten days, wherein they would be given only vegetables: “Pulse and dates” (Josephus, 334) and water to drink. If after the ten days they appeared healthy, they would continue the vegetable and water diet. Because he feared for his own life, the steward only reluctantly agreed to Daniel’s request.

God’s response to Daniel’s purposeful actions:

  1. After Daniel purposed in his heart, and bravely spoke to the chief eunuch, it is written: “Now God had brought Daniel into the favor and goodwill of the chief of eunuchs” (1:9). Did you catch that? “But Daniel” in verse eight, then “Now God” one verse later in verse nine. Those who say God does not see or acknowledge purposeful, righteous actions are greatly deceived, for God immediately brought Daniel into the good favor of the chief of the king’s eunuch.
  2. After Daniel and his friends trusted God to nourish their bodies with vegetables alone it is written: “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 . . . God gave . . . knowledge and skill . . . and wisdom . . . and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams” (1:15, 17).

 

Visual Action Picture: 

1.) Daniel purposed in his heart.  / Daniel’s action

2.) God brought Daniel into the favor of the chief of the eunuchs. / God’s response

3.) Brave Daniel requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he (and his friends) might not defile themselves by eating the king’s delicacies or drinking the king’s wine. / Daniel’s action

4.) God blessed Daniel and his three friends with knowledge, skill, and understanding. / God’s response

Purposed in heart-> Brought into favor

Requested -> Blessed 

 

Just to Ponder: 

What does food mean to you? How hard would it be for you to choose vegetables and water over a great king’s fine food and wine? Food itself can be a “Lust of the flesh” (1 John 2:16) “Lust”- Greek epithumia- desire, eagerness for, inordinate desire, lust (Strong’s Concordance). True, we need food to survive, but some take the necessity to the extreme: they desire or lust after it. Recall the importance of food in the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden. It was a simple piece of fruit which led to the inception of sin in the world: Eve, seeing that the fruit was: “good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband and he ate” (Genesis 3:6). Daniel’s decision to avoid the king’s delicacies proves that he was a disciplined and devoted young man who was not easily deceived.

If we set up a visual picture, juxtaposing the first sin, in the Garden of Eden, with the love of the world in 1 John 2:16 we observe:

The Tree  Genesis 3:6 The Love of the World  1 John 2:16
“Good for food” “Lust of the flesh”
“Pleasant to the eyes” “Lust of the eyes”
“Desirable to make one wise” “Pride of life”

Notice that the tree being “good for food” easily compares to the lust of the flesh; the flesh desires, even lusts after food. Also notice that the tree being “pleasant to the eyes” compares to the lust of the eyes. The flesh likes to look upon pleasant things; therefore, the eyes lust. When Eve saw that the tree was “desirable to make one wise”, she was relishing in the pride of life, where being wise in this world is often accompanied by pride. What we observe when we compare the fall in the Garden, and the text in 1 John, is that sin has a basic composition; and all sins fall into one of the three traps. Now think of Daniel in relation to the table above. The three traps could have easily ensnared him: lust of the flesh—delicacies: food, etc.; lust of the eyes—all the prosperity of the Babylonian kingdom; the pride of life—his capability of serving and advancing in the king’s palace. But, because of his purposeful devotion to God, he was able to stay out of sin’s deadly traps and glorify God.

Fill in the blank after prayerfully pondering awhile: “I will not defile myself with _______________________.”

Possible Examples: (add your own to the list)  

For Discussion:

  1. Have you ever let physical enticements, or distractions get in the way of serving the Lord?
  2. Purposing (setting) in our hearts is a direct act of the will. Just as Daniel controlled his will under difficult circumstances: purposed that he would not defile himself in a pagan land, so we must control our will under difficult circumstances. Daniel deprived himself of physical pleasure: choosing vegetables over a grand king’s delicacies, and drinking water over wine in an effort to please God. We too must deprive ourselves of physical pleasures in order to please God.
  3. Remember, Daniel was brave and bold in his determination to obey God’s laws. We too must be brave and bold in the face of those who may want or expect us to please men, rather than Christ. Refer to Galatians 1:10. When can we be brave and bold today for God? Give some examples.

Reflection:

The beloved of God are purposeful and firm in righteous decisions. The beloved of God are also brave in the face of that which violates God’s commands. What are God’s commands? We should know. Turn to Matthew 22:36-40 and hear the voice of Jesus.

Challenge:

  1. Let us purpose in our heart that we will not defile God.
  2. Let us be brave when tempted (or even expected) to violate God’s commandments. Commandments of which we are well aware.

Critical Thinking: 

Daniel had to choose whether or not to eat off a table on which food was sacrificed to idols. What does the table represent? What does the food represent? Think—Think. Do we figuratively (or literally) ‘eat food’ sacrificed to demons? How can we apply the Babylonian ‘table’ and sacrificed ‘food’ to our lives? We can, I assure you.

 

Having a Mind to Work!

Living in a country where “freedom” of ______ (seemingly everything, right) is desired—even demanded, how do you think people would react to a person publicly confronting others about their life of sin by hitting them—and pulling out their hair!? We all know it would not go well—at all!

Although not a perfect parallel, in the beloved story of Nehemiah we read about such an event. Nehemiah was a truly spectacular man, and many devotionals could be written about his nature: faithful, patient, thoughtful, dedicated, humble, proactive, and more; however, this devotional will focus on Nehemiah’s sincere dedication to God’s laws. Dedication that became confrontational—even physically, to enforce the importance of following God’s rules to His exact specifications.

Before Nehemiah went to Jerusalem, for the first time—to build the wall—he was an exile in Persia. His job: cupbearer to King Artaxerxes. After hearing about the deplorable condition of his homeland, Nehemiah, through prayers, patience—and God’s blessing—was granted a furlough by the king. Nehemiah’s primary purpose when home was to rebuild the wall, destroyed by the Babylonians, that surrounded Jerusalem. Nehemiah served as the civil governor while home, in the “land of Judah” (5:14) This, his first trip, lasted twelve years (5:14). Although the trip consumed a large amount of time, the entire wall was erected in just fifty-two days—even under tremendous adversity and opposition because “the people had a mind to work” (4:6b)! Also in that time—under the great leadership of Nehemiah, the people repented (ch. 9), and feasts and responsibilities were reinstated. When Nehemiah left Jerusalem—to return to his service to King Artaxerxes, “civility” had been restored, but not for long. . .

After “certain days” (13:6) had passed, Nehemiah took a leave from the king and returned to Jerusalem (for the second time). Once there, he observed that the people had fallen back into their old, sinful ways. Nehemiah said, upon seeing the deprived condition: “It grieved me bitterly” (13:8).

His Mission: cleansing! (13:30)

Nehemiah immediately went to work! He threw out (13:8) articles from the courts of the house of God belonging to Tobiah, a bitter enemy of the Jews; “commanded” (13:9;19;22) the gates to be shut, the rooms to be cleansed, and the Levites to cleanse themselves—and guard the gates; he “contended” (13:11;17) with the rulers and nobles; “appointed” (13:13) treasurers; “warned” (13:15;21) the people about defiling the Sabbath—as well as telling merchants and sellers who were lodging outside the wall that he would lay his hands on them if they came back on the Sabbath—(the Bible tells us that those people did not return—13:21b). He also “posted” (13:19) servants at the gate to avoid defiling the Sabbath.

As if Nehemiah didn’t have enough turmoil to deal with, he also learned of the the devastating fact that his brethren had joined in marriage with pagan women. And what’s worse, the children born from those marriages didn’t even speak the “language of Judah, but spoke according to the language of one or the other people” (13:24). This is where we read that Nehemiah,

“Contended with them and cursed them, struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, “You shall not give your daughters as wives to their sons, nor take their daughters for your sons or yourselves . . . “”(13:25, emp. added).

In his wrath, Nehemiah reminds his brethren that even Solomon, the beloved of God, sinned by taking pagan women. He then asks the people: “Should we then hear of your doing all this great evil, transgressing against our God by marrying pagan women?” (13:27).

Nehemiah is a great example to all Christians for his unwavering dedication to God, and God’s laws. Nehemiah desired— and committed himself to the restoration, and continual cleansing of the people—for God’s glory! He knew that following God would bring blessings, but refusing to follow God would bring punishment. He was not ashamed to stand up—and fight against those things which God forbids—even when faced with extreme adversity. Nehemiah stood strong in the LORD; knowing it is He who fights for His people. Nehemiah 2:20; 4:14b; Deuteronomy 31:8; Isaiah 45:2.

What do we see around us that violates God’s laws? I know, a lot! What can we do about it? A lot! Remember, Nehemiah faced GREAT opposition, but with God’s help, endured; overcame! We can too!

“With us is the LORD our God, to help us and to fight our battles” (2Chronicles 32:8).

Letters on a Page!

Hebrews 4:13: “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”

In truth, we all are like individual letters on the page of a large open book: side by side and fully exposed! No matter how hard we try, we cannot change the fact that we are side by side; and we cannot change the fact that we are fully exposed.

Of course, given our close proximity, we interact. And, somewhere along those interactive lines, we, letters, have produced a distinct 3-tiered “status” system.

On the top status level are the robust capital letters. Each one has been given power over all the lowercase letters that follow it. So, depending on how long the clause, one capital letter might be ruler over ten smaller letters, while another capital might be ruler over fifty–or more. It’s a tough job being a capital letter because everyone looks up to them. They try their best to hide out in the open.

The middle status level is, of course, the largest level. It is there where all the “common” letters exist. Because of the amount of letters in this category, the noise is the loudest, so the confusion; and therefore trouble, is greatest. Deafness and blindness are common. Violence is sure. All the distractions drive deception deeper and the common letters believe wholeheartedly that their stark nakedness is unseen.

On the bottom status level are the “cast aways.” These letters have been labeled by all the distracted, common letters around them because they look different and are less used overall. While the majority of common letters seemingly never tire of taunting this group, the smaller percentage dare not show kindness, lest they too be shunned. It’s impossible to move up out of this level. Those residing here are content to be in full view.

***

So, where have you been placed on the parchment?

  • Are you a capital letter: someone whom others have given greater status to?
  • Are you just another distracted common letter?
  • Are you among the tormented cast aways?

There is good news: To God, the letter-Creator, we are all the same! 

To the “Capitals”: Be warned: God does not look at “Status” or “Stature!” 

  • Job 34:24: “He breaks in pieces mighty men without inquiry, And sets others in their place.”
  • 1 Corinthians 1:27: “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; . . .”
  • Samuel 16:7: But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
  • Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall.”

To the “Common”: Be reminded: God hears through the noise and sees through the dark veil! 

  • Romans 2:11: “There is no partiality with God.”
  • 1 Timothy 5:21: “I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality.”
  • James 3:17: But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.

To the “Cast Aways”: Be encouraged: God will avenge!

  • Romans 3:10: “”There is none righteous, no, not one;””
  • Romans 3:23: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, . . .”
  • Romans 12:19: “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.”
  • The Old Testament book of Obadiah is all about God repaying Jacob’s brother, Esau for his sins. God left nothing out–He remembered them all!

To all “Letters” on the page: God is in control! 

  • Job 34:14-15: “If He should set His heart on it, If He should gather to Himself His Spirit and His breath, All flesh would perish together, And man would return to dust.”
  • Acts 17:26  “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings. . . “

 

Bountifully Blessed!

2 Corinthians 9:6: “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”

This is a true story. I am not telling it today to be prideful–God knows. It is not written in my familiar format or style, but that’s okay. I don’t tell it much, but I should. ❤

It was in the month of December, 1995. I was a young, poor single mother.

I was desirous to purchase a special Christmas gift: two movie tickets, for a woman in the church, who watched my son for me, and her husband. All I had in my checking account was $20. The movie tickets were $20. I really wanted to show my appreciation to this special couple, so I drove over to the movie theater and purchased the tickets. I remember being filled with joy as I drove away. About five miles down the road, I was prompted, by the low fuel light, to look down at my gas gauge. I did not know what I was going to do. I had no money for gas.

Without thinking (literally), I made a right turn into an old Shell gas station near an old airstrip. I proceeded to a pump, parked my car, got out, and began filling up my dilapidated 1985 Ford Mustang. I NEVER filled up my car! Typically, I would only have $3 or $4 left over after paying bills and buying food, so I never went over that amount–but this night was different. I cannot explain my rationale because there was none. I do not remember having a single thought about HOW I would pay for the gas; it’s as if my mind was temporarily unable to process thought. So there I stood on a muffled December evening, filling my car full of gas that I could not pay for.

Out of the silence came a sound. I looked up and saw a man who looked to be in his 50s. He was walking past the front of my car, smiling. Having not received an answer from me, he spoke again: “I love your license plate.” (My license plate was a shiny plum purple color with “JESUS” printed in silver.) I smiled and thanked him. He continued walking into the station. Just then, the fuel sensor stopped the pump–my tank was full! I placed the cap back on the tank opening and walked into the station.

At this point, I still do not recall what I was thinking, if anything. It was as if I was a robot! I made my way to the counter; yet still, no processing. The second my eyes met the eyes of the cashier–and way before I had even a moment to process what I would say, she said: “Your gas was paid for by the man in front of you.” Stunned. Silence. Shouting inside. “What!”  My eyes desperately followed the direction of the “man in front of [me].” It was him! It was the same man who had, just a few minutes before, commented on my license plate!

I walked slowly–dumfounded out of the station, my eyes fixed on the stranger who gave a valuable gift to me. I got into my vehicle and I watched him get into his: a large, green, dilapidated tow truck. I intently observed him drive away from the station, around a corner and off into the distance. I watched those red tail lights sink into the darkness–craning my neck and straining my eyes to see them vanish forever from my sight. When they were completely gone, I began to sob. I was overwhelmed with gratitude and amazement at what had just happened to me.

My car remained parked at that pump for a very long time that night. As I sat there, I cried out to God, thanking Him for bountifully blessing me.

That December night, 22-years-ago, a young, poor single mother’s life was forever changed.

The story I just told is a true one. I did not tell it today to be prideful–God knows. It is not written in my familiar format or style, but that’s okay. I don’t tell it much, but I should. ❤