Daniel’s friends and the furnace

One of the Bible stories that I learned early in my life was about Daniel’s three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  In fact, when I was a child, I thought the third name was “to bed we go”!  The friends were the same friends who prayed with Daniel when the wise men were going to be executed because they could not tell the king’s dream or its interpretation. See Daniel 2

Nebuchadnezzar apparently had a shortened memory of spiritual things because after acknowledging all that God had done through Daniel when he gave both the dream and its interpretation in chapter 2, in chapter 3 we find the king setting up a huge statue of himself.  The people were to bow in worship of the statue and if anyone didn’t do so, they would be killed by being thrown into the fiery furnace. 

This presented Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego with a problem.  (We aren’t told about Daniel here, just his three friends.)  They clearly could not worship a statue of the king when their allegiance was to God Almighty.  The king learned of their refusal and the following dialogue is recorded in Scripture:

Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought. So they brought these men before the king.

Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up?  Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

Daniel 3:13-18

The three men were then thrown into the furnace fully dressed.  The furnace had been super-heated so that the men who threw them into the furnace died from the heat. 

The king looked into the furnace and was surprised to see 4 men walking in the flames.  This is what the king said:

Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.”  He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.  Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the burning fiery furnace; he declared, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here!” Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire.

Daniel 3:24-26

The king was amazed because not only were they not killed, but their clothes were also not harmed, and there was no smell of the fire on them.  Then the king sang a different tune.   Instead if wanting the men to worship him, the king blessed God, saying:

Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God  Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.”  Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.

Daniel 3:28-30

For purposes of this blog, I want to highlight what Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said to the king before they were thrown into the furnace.  They announced without reservation that God was able to save them even in the fiery furnace and that God would deliver them out of the king’s hand

But that is not all they said.  They also said that even if God did not deliver them from the flames of the furnace, they would still not bow to the statue of the king. In other words, their allegiance to God came without any expectation of deliverance.  They would be true to God whether or not He delivered them from the king’s hand.

Beloved, I doubt that we are in any danger of a fiery furnace, but the challenges that we have today can be just as scary.  We see dwindling of resources, we see riots in the streets, we see political divisions, we experience COVID 19 fears, and we have anxiety and tension everywhere. 

The God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is still active and alive.  Indeed, He is eternal and everlasting.  Rely on God.  He is in control and He will care for His people through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Father, so often we act as though You are not aware of our circumstances or that You don’t care about our problems.  Father, You are indeed aware of all things surrounding Your people and You protect and deliver them according to Your will.  You call us to Yourself and bring us into Your glory when our time on this earth is through.  But, in the meantime, You guide, protect, and give wisdom to us as we walk in your will.  May our trust in You be absolute as exhibited by Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego. Thank you, Father.

Thanksgiving during a pandemic is, well, different!

In his Thanksgiving Day address to the country in 1963, President John F. Kennedy said:

Let us therefore proclaim our gratitude to Providence for manifold blessings–let us be humbly thankful for inherited ideals–and let us resolve to share those blessings and those ideals with our fellow human beings throughout the world.”

Indeed, Thanksgiving Day is a time for us to remember the many ways that we have been blessed during the past year, even if this past year brought COVID-19 to our homes.

In years gone by, the traditional day was celebrated with the best china, glassware, linens and, of course, the best food that the family could afford. It was also a time for the family to gather, from various parts of the city, state, or country, to celebrate together.

Now, Thanksgiving in the midst of a pandemic, is far different. Many people are still traveling to visit family, but the CDC asserts. strongly, that such activity is to be avoided. Too much possibility that families will infect each other with the virus and then those people will travel back home infecting even more along the way.

Of course, in school we learned that the Thanksgiving meal was in celebration of the harvest and of the bounty that the country afforded the Pilgrims.  So, in keeping with the “bounty” part of the holiday, we have food that is a traditional part of the celebration.

But the centerpiece of the meal is the turkey! This year, rather than having a whole turkey with drumsticks and wings, we are having a turkey breast. It will be smaller, not as jazzy as the whole bird, but it will still be yummy!

Before eating, we “say grace”, a time when we thank the Lord for the manifold blessings that he has provided for us, focusing primarily on the food we are about to eat!

Holiday traditions and stories are important to keep us together and to define who we are.  Traditions and stories play a critical role in our life before God as He states in His Word.

For example, the Passover Meal is a time when the story of the Exodus is retold each year, even today, thousands of years after the event.  Scripture admonishes us to teach our children about God’s acts in our life.

The act of thanksgiving is described and discussed often in the Scriptures.  The Old Testament described the peace offering that was made to God in thanksgiving in Leviticus 7.

In 1 Chronicles 16:7 we read that David appointed that songs be sung in thanksgiving to God.

“I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving.”

Psalm 69:30

“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High,” [ESV]

Psalm 50:4

Scripture tells us that “grace” is more than just saying a quick prayer before the meal, although grace and thanksgiving are frequently paired.  In 1 Corinthians 1:4, Paul states:

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you.”

Paul is giving thanks to God for the grace given to the Church in Corinth, a church that he established, counseled, and nurtured.

I remember learning the term G-R-A-C-E by the phrase “God’s riches at Christ’s expense.”   But, grace is so very much more than this trite phrase defines.

  • Grace provides us with God’s love.  Paul says: “and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” 1 Timothy 1:14
  • Grace enables us to do the will of God.  1 Corinthians 12:4-6 tells us: “”Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.”
  • Grace provides forgiveness of sin.  “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,…”  Romans 5:20
  • Grace enables Christians to love others.  “We love because he first loved us.”  I John 4:19.
  • Grace provides us with the opportunity to fellowship with God.  “”Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power…. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.”  Ephesians 3:7, 10-12.

I pray that we are thankful daily not just for the material blessings we have from our Father but also for the grace given to us by the Lord. Remember this marvelous gift of grace from God and include it with humble gratitude in your prayers of thanks to God our Father.

Father, we thank you for Your love that you extended to us while we were yet sinners, before we could even think of loving You. Thank You for Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on our behalf, and thank You for the Holy Spirit who indwells us and is transforming us into the image of Your Son. Thank You for our country and the freedom to worship that is provided. We pray that our leaders and those in authority over us would look to You, Father, for wisdom, guidance and discernment as they lead us in these difficult times. Thank You, Father, for Your presence and for Your mighty hand.

SPEAK NOW!

We have had several deaths in our church family recently, and their absence from our presence is a heavy burden.  I realize that they no longer have pain and they no longer are suffering from a variety of illnesses and ailments.  I also realize that, as Christians, they are in the presence of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  What glorious blessings they are experiencing every moment.

David said in Psalm 116:15 “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.”  While we may grieve the loss of friends and family, we have to remember that we are not designed for this world … our death and transfer from this world to the next is precious in the Lord’s sight. 

But, in the here and now, God is with us and leads us as we seek out His will and as we are obedient to His direction.  David said it this way in Psalm 71:17-20:

O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.  So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.  Your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like you?   You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again.

Psalm 71:17-20

David says that God taught him from his youth, and that he is still proclaiming God’s wondrous deeds.  Even when he is old and has gray hair, David is asking God not to forsake him but, rather, to let him tell the next generation about God’s power and the wondrous deeds that He has done.

In Psalm 30, David speaks of death and the reality that one cannot praise God on this earth if they have died.

“What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?”

Psalm 30:9

Of course, the answer to David’s question is “No!”  The time for praise and telling others of God’s faithfulness is NOW. 

We should make this a focal point of our lives, telling others of the goodness, mercy, and faithfulness of God.  Telling others of the wondrous love of the Lord and His sacrifice for us, while we were sinners and His enemies!  Telling others of the salvation that is ours through faith in Jesus Christ, and of the marvelous relief from the power of sin that this salvation works in us. 

Do this in such a way that it is embedded in your actions and speech.  You don’t need to give a sermon!  Fly a kite with your grandson and tell Him of the God that sends the wind at His word.    

Flying a kite, Grandfather and Grandson.

Take care of the animals and tell how God has taken care of you through the years.

Interact with the grandchildren and weave the story of your walk with the Lord into the conversation.  Let your life do the talking and then be ready to answer questions that may arise.

Have gray hair?  Are you aged?  Remember all the times that God preserved your during your youth.  Remember the times that God led you even when you had no idea where you were going.  Remember the times He protected you, aided you, healed you, loved you!  Remember the years gone by, and then thank Him for His faithfulness to you.  Do this by telling others of His great power and love, grace and mercy, and do it NOW!

Father, we get distracted by things in the world and we lose sight of what is truly important.  Help me to tell others of the mighty works that You have done in my life as I tell of Your glory and majesty, Your saving grace and mercy.  Give me boldness as I go about Your business today, so that my voice may be heard to Your glory now!

The Incomprehensibility of God

I am pleased to introduce you to a Guest Writer today, my beloved Husband and editor of The Ruminant Scribe, Bill Mowles. He wrote this submission several years ago, but I only became aware of it recently and I wanted to share his comments with you.

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The Webster’s definition of “incomprehensible” is “impossible to comprehend”.  Not hard to understand, not difficult to put into words, but impossible to comprehend.

During a Sunday School Class on the development of the Church, the leader used the word “incomprehensibility” in the context of our inability to fully understand God.   Indeed, when cataloging 15 attributes of God, one author stated: 

What are God’s attributes? When we talk about the attributes of God, we are trying to answer questions like, Who is God, What is God like, and What kind of God is he? An attribute of God is something true about him. While fully comprehending God is impossible for us as limited beings, God does make himself known in a variety of ways, and through what he reveals about himself in his Word and in his creation, we can begin to wrap our minds around our awesome Creator and God.

As I thought about the incomprehensibility of God following this class, I resisted the use of our relationship with our dog Cuddles as an example of this concept.  But I kept returning to how similar our understanding of God and Cuddle’s understanding of us seems to be. 

What we do must seem incomprehensible to her.  We make her food and water appear, and while she “knows” when we go to a particular cabinet that a meal is forthcoming, she cannot grasp why, or what we have to do to make sure that there is food there to give her. She “knows” that when we put her harness on her that she is going for a walk or for a ride, but she has no control over what will happen to her, nor can she tell if she is going to visit a dog park (a good thing) or the vet (not quite so good).   She seems to understand somehow that we are the source of all of this. 

Cuddles trying to understand what Daddy was doing when fixing the faucet in the kitchen sink.

I’m amused at her expression sometimes when we are doing something not related to her care; she cocks her head to one side and seems completely puzzled.  “Why”, I imagine she is thinking, “do they spend so much time staring into those funny lights on their laps (computer and cell phones), where I should be?  Or that big funny light on the wall (television)?“  We provide her every need, because we care for her and want her to be well.  But we don’t grant her every wish, nor do we give her a snack whenever she wants one.

Likewise, God is our loving Father, and from the beginning made available to us our every need.  He has created a world made perfect for our needs.  He has given us His Word, to feed on, to guide us, to make us understand what He wants for us.  He doesn’t explain everything and He doesn’t give us everything we might want, but He provides our every need.

Cuddles seemingly asking Daddy “Hey, can I drive?” while we were on an RV trip and she was studying his movements at the wheel.

I feed the Squirrels. I started doing this to keep them out of the bird feeders, but have continued because the little rascals can be pretty entertaining, One day, when I was putting the peanuts in the little hinged box and the ears of corn on the holders, I became aware of Cuddles barking at me, She might have been saying, “why are you taking care of them? They don’t belong to our family! They don’t love you like I do!”  She doesn’t understand that I care about them too.

This made me think about some of my responses to situations: Why am I surprised that God makes the “rain fall on both the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45)?  Why does God let “bad things” happen to good people? (the unbeliever’s favorite argument!)  Why does He call people home to Himself when we aren’t ready to see them go? 

These questions have the same answer: because there are things about Him that He is not ready for us to understand.  God is incomprehensible to us now, but we will understand them when He calls us home.  His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8). 

What God wants from us, here and now, is that we trust Him and to know that He is providing. He wants us to love Him and glorify Him as best as we can.  He wants us to embrace the gifts He has given us, curl up in the lap of His Son, and be a part of His Body.

And I don’t need to understand much more than that!

Father God, I praise Your name for all that You are, and I pray for the wisdom and peace to accept Your will, which is beyond my comprehension. In all things, gain or loss, joy or sorrow, may Your will be done.

A PICTURE OF GOD’S GOODNESS

Scripture talks about God’s goodness to us in multiple places, but Psalm 65 is particularly detailed.  David, the shepherd boy who became King and was beloved by God, describes God’s care for His creation like this in Psalm 65:9-13:

You visit the earth and water it; you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide their grain, for so you have prepared it.  You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth.  You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with abundance. The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy.

Psalm 65:9-13
Farm with mountains in the background

The picture above is the very essence of peace and tranquility.  The field is prepared and is surrounded by beautiful trees with the mountains in the distance, and the unseen farmer waits for the rain to fall, to water his field and to bring forth the harvest.

Sheep in a field adjacent to Stonehenge in England

Flocks filling up the fields and meadows indicate blessing and abundance from God.  According to the Psalm, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks!

Rapeseed fields in bloom in England

We were in England when the rapeseed plants were in full bloom.  The “yellow fields” were beautiful, especially from higher elevations when the scope of the fields were apparent.  The beauty of these fields spoke of the beauty that God gives to us if we only were to open our eyes to see it.  They also foretold of the anticipated harvest when the plants would potentially become a cash crop for the farmer.

In God’s eyes, these things are all blessings from Him to us.  Where would we be without the freshwater of rainfall?  Where would we be without the sunshine causing growth in the grain?  Where would we be without God’s unfailing love and watchfulness over us?

Beloved, don’t keep your eyes focused on the pavement beneath your feet!  Don’t keep your thoughts trained upon yourself and the problems that confront you.  Step out of the problems and hardships and drink of the peace and comfort God provides to you.  I don’t mean that all the hard things will disappear, but I can say, speaking from experience, that God’s comfort and blessing will overshadow the difficulties that you are experiencing. 

Remember Psalm 65 – the valleys and fields, the meadows and pastures, all God’s creation shouts and sings for joy.  What about joining them in the symphony of love to the Lord?!

Father, forgive me when I am so focused on my own problems that I forget to praise You.  Through the Lord Jesus Christ You have given me all that I need, on earth and in heaven.  Salvation through faith in Christ, forgiveness of my sins, fellowship with other believers through the Church, resurrection from the dead and life everlasting.  On top of all those blessings, You provide comfort and Your Holy Spirit for guidance and a sure guarantee of salvation.  Father, thank You for blessing me so very much!

PEACE – WHERE IS IT?

Peace is hard to find in our 24/7 world today. But, thankfully, there are places that just seem to facilitate the sense of PEACE! Stay awhile, enjoy the scene, relax, rest, be at peace with yourself and with your God. This river and mountain view in Alaska was one of the peaceful moments in a crazy, stress-filled week.

Peace is a difficult word to define. For some, it is the absence of conflict, a state or period in which there is no war or a war has ended.. For others, it is akin to rest, where there is tranquility and calm. The Hebrew word for “peace” is , šālôm, translated in the Septuagint most often by the Greek word, eirēnē. It has a broad semantic range of meaning, including the concept of completeness or the totality of something. It also connotes success, fulfillment, wholeness, harmony, security and well being.

Scripture says this about peace:

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.

Isaiah 26:3-4

It is interesting to note that these words from the prophet Isaiah came while he was issuing oracles against the people because of their transgressions and failure to follow the commandments of God. In fact, in chapter 24 the prophet, speaking the words of God, pronounces judgment on the whole earth. In the midst of these judgments, we find words that promise peace.

Jesus frequently addressed the disciples in thisohn way. For example:

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” … Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

John 20: 19, 21

The Apostle Paul opened most of his letters with the greeting “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 1:3

The Apostle Peter expressed the same sentiment when he wrote: “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.: 2 Peter 1:2

Peace — it is something that most of us long for and something that very few possess. We know that during the difficult days of the COVID-19 pandemic, tensions are at fever pitch. Many of us are out of work. Many of us have lost our income and we don’t have enough funds to feed the family, or cover the rent. Many of us see no way out of the problems that loom over us each moment of every day.

Jesus never said that His disciples would have an easy time of things. Indeed, we know that each one of the Apostles endured extreme hardship, most of them being killed in gruesome ways. Yet, even in those horrendous days of hardship and torture, they had peace. An inspiring example is found in the pages of Scripture describing the first martyr for Jesus – Stephen. In Acts 6, we are told that Stephen was doing wonders and signs among the people, and that he was a a man who was full of grace and power.

This was too much for the establishment. They wanted rid of Stephen. Acts 6:10. Stephen detailed the message of God to the Hebrews through the centuries and he ended his statement with condemnation of the very people who were charging him. Here is the end of Acts 7 beginning with Stephen’s statement and then the response of the people, Acts 7:52-60.

“Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered,
you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”
Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him.
But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him.
Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.
And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Acts 7:52-60

Stephen had peace – the peace that comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the One Who is now sitting at the right hand of God, interceding for each of His children. Stephen’s peace was so great that he forgave the very men who were stoning him, including one Saul who was a young man guarding the coats of the men executing Stephen.

Peace can also be found in the security of mountains, the strength of the granite rocks, the beauty of God’s creation.

Characterizing God as a Rock is common in the Old Testament. The clear symbolism is that God cannot be moved, He is strong, He is the Source of all comfort and assurance. David says it this way in Psalm 18:2:

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Psalm 18:2

Beloved, don’t depend on your own strength, your own resources, your own understanding to get through these times. Look to God, the God who is above all gods, the God who is the Almighty Father and the One who desires to become your Rock, your Fortress, your Stronghold in days of trouble.

Father, forgive me when I run ahead and try to take care of things my own way! Help me to stop and look to You as the author of my salvation and as the lover of my soul. Enable me to see Your Hand in my situation and to rely on You even when things are dark and difficult.

WATCH WHAT YOU SAY!

Sign in South Dakota.

When we were on our western adventure we saw this sign in South Dakota, and it brought quite a few chuckles for several days. “My winter fat is gone; now I have Spring rolls!”

Dead End sign across the road from the Cemetery

While a Dead End sign is not unique, its placement across the street from a cemetery caused us to stop and think.  Yes, the cemetery really is the ultimate dead end, at least until the Lord returns!

Grand Junction, Colorado, one way sign with sheep in the foreground.

When we were in Grand Junction, Colorado, we found a lovely scene with sheep on the grassy field in a cul-de-sac with a “one way” sign showing the direction of traffic.  I thought to my self, “yes, there is only one way and that is to become a sheep in the Lord’s flock.”

Words – they sometimes say something silly, sometimes something profound.  They can be misunderstood and they can be clarifying. But words always have an affect on the hearer.

Jesus understood this well.  In Matthew we read this about the Pharisees who were taunting Jesus:

“Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words.  And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.

Matthew 22:15-16

What followed after these two verses was the question about marriage in heaven, specifically about the man who died and his wife was the wife of his six brothers, all without children.  So, whose wife was she in heaven?

The point for this post, however, is not the question nor the response Jesus gave.  It is what the Pharisees said as a preface to their question:

“we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.”

When we speak of our Lord, do we do what the Pharisees said Jesus did?  Are we true in our dealings with others?  Do we teach others of God truthfully and without shading our teaching to be sure we don’t offend or run roughshod over someone’s feelings.  Are we swayed by appearances? 

I cannot answer these questions for you.  I can only say that I have to repent and ask the Holy Spirit to give me the confidence, compassion and conviction to speak of the Lord without shading the truth, without adjusting the message to the audience seeking approval of man rather than approval of God.

I certainly do not mean that we should speak without consideration of the difficulties others are experiencing or without consideration of where others are in their faith journey.  Being rude and callous is not the way of our Lord.  Seeking to shock others is not the way of the Lord.  He was humble and filled with compassion for others.  When He answered the Pharisees it was to expose their hypocrisy – they were after all trying to entrap Him in His own words.

So, how do you speak?  What do you say?  Are you truthful when you speak?  Are you oblivious to the station, rank or wealth of the person to whom you are speaking? 

Does our speech reflect our Lord and Savior?  And if not, why not!

Father, so often I try to make my point by focusing on the minutiae rather than on You.  Let me hear the Holy Spirit and let me be guided by His words so that what people hear when I speak is You.  Enable me to be more and more like Jesus in my walk and especially in my speech. 

FAMINE FOR GOD!

Famine for God!

Badlands, South Dakota. Note sign warning to “Beware … Rattlesnakes”.

When we visited the Western United States, we saw much that exhibited the glory of God in creation.  Numerous national parks that boasted of incredible scenery, each of which were beautiful in their own way.  But the Badlands prompted us to wonder what the pioneers thought when they were traversing such inhospitable terrain.

Desolation – the breeding ground for rattlesnakes – the harshness of the terrain and the intense heat of the summer with the horrible freezing temperatures of the winter. Much of the area boasts no grass or tree coverage … just harsh rock.  Nothing warm and wonderful here – only hardship and difficult living conditions.

The prophet Amos had difficult living conditions too.  It was his lot to forecast the future to the people of Israel, to tell them of the coming discipline from God, to tell them of captivity and hardship.  Not something people wanted to hear.  Not the “good news” that would make everyone happy.

Indeed, in the Book of Amos we read:

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD, “when I will send a famine on the land– not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.

Amos 8:11

The Lord, the God of gods and Lord of lords, the Creator of heaven and earth, is telling the people that, in the coming days, there would be a famine of “hearing the words of the LORD.” 

There would be no more prophets, no more preachers.  There would be no more reading of the scrolls or of the scriptures.  There  would be no congregations for ministers to preach to.  The word of the Lord will be precious and scarce.  There will be Bibles to read but no minister to preach the Word and provide application for daily life.  It is as if there is water in the well but no way to draw the water up so that you can drink of it. 

Matthew Henry says:

“it was a common saying among the Puritans that brown bread and the gospel are good fare. But it is here a threatening that on the contrary they should have plenty enough of bread and water, and yet their teachers should be removed. … This was a token of God’s highest displeasure against them. Surely He was angry indeed with them when He would no more speak to them as He had done, and had abandoned them to ruin when He would no more afford them the means of bringing them to repentance.”

Matthew Henry Commentary

Why did this punishment come upon them?  Because they went after the gods of the surrounding nations and considered those gods to be better than the Almighty God.  The result is described by Matthew Henry in this way:

“Those who thus give that honour to idols which is due to God alone will find that the God they affront is thereby made their enemy, so that they shall fall and the gods they serve cannot stand their friends, so that they shall never rise again. They will find that God is jealous and will resent the indignity done Him, and that He will be victorious and it is to no purpose to contend with Him.”

Matthew Henry Commentary

I realize that Amos prophesied millennia ago.  But, the God who spoke in the Old Testament is the same God that speaks today.  His attributes are infinite and unchanging.  Thus, if He is angry about people giving honor to gods that should be given to Him, that anger is still justified and the effect of it will still be felt. 

God’s grace and His patience stop the awful wrath that will come at the end of time.    But His holiness demands that the indignity of running after other gods must be dealt with.  God has frequently said that He is a jealous God. 

You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate Me,

Exodus 20:5

For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.

Deuteronomy 4:24

But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the LORD, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions or your sins.

Joshua 24:19

They have made Me jealous with what is no god; they have provoked Me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are no people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.

Deuteronomy 32:21

In these difficult days, turn to the Lord, the God of gods and Lord of lords.  Read the Bible, study the Scriptures, listen to preachers who are true to the Scriptures.  Saturate yourself in the Word and let the Holy Spirit guide your thoughts and paths in what is right and holy. 

Scripture is clear that the time for turning to the Lord is now, not at some time in the future.  No one knows how many days or hours we have on this earth.  God knows, but we do not.   At some point in time, God will send a famine on the world, not for food but for the Word of the Lord. 

Don’t find yourself in the “Badlands” without “water”. 

Don’t wait until you cannot hear the Word of God due to the coming famine.

Listen to the Word and learn. 

Listen to the Word and repent. 

Listen to the Word and rejoice in your salvation.

Lord, Your word says that there will be a day when the word of the Lord is not heard in the land.  I pray that Your grace, patience, compassion and mercy would be upon us.  We have gone after the gods of worldliness, of power, of money, of greed, of arrogance, of self-satisfaction, all of which are unworthy of You.  In Your mercy, cleanse us and turn our eyes to You and Your Word.

Are we angry or submissive?

We were reading the book of Jonah in the Old Testament recently, and I was convicted about attitudes.  

Ocean waves (C)
Atlantic Ocean Waves

We all know the story of Jonah, the recalcitrant prophet.  God told him to go to the city of Nineveh to tell of God’s glory and mercy.  Nineveh was an enemy of Israel, so Jonah took the boat to Tarshish, in the opposite direction from Nineveh.  Of course, he ultimately did get to Nineveh via the great fish that vomited him up onto its shores.  

At this point, he proclaimed the word that the Lord had given him and then he left.  The king and all the people repented of their sin and the Lord had mercy and did not destroy them, as He was going to do.  Jonah succeeded!  Now, read the concluding chapter of the book: 

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry.  And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.  Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

And the LORD said, “Do you do well to be angry?” [“Is it right for you to be angry?” NKJV]

Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city.  

Now the LORD God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant.  But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered.

When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.”

And the LORD said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night.  And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”

Jonah 4:1-11 (ESV)

Jonah was angry with God because the people of Nineveh were going to be given mercy since they repented of their sin and humbled themselves before God.  His message was received and the people appropriately reacted to it.  But Jonah was angry.  He didn’t want “those people” forgiven.  He didn’t want “those people” to receive God’s mercy.   He didn’t want “those people” to survive God’s wrath!  He was angry.  He was so angry, he asked God to kill him because he just didn’t want to live anymore.

Then God addressed the ultimate issue for Jonah, by sending a tree and a worm.  The plant grew up and gave Jonah shade in the hot sun, and Jonah was happy.  Then a worm attacked the plant and it withered, so when the sun was high in the heaven and scorching heat was upon Jonah, he was angry, again.  So angry, he once again asked God to kill him because he just didn’t want to live anymore.

God pointed out that Jonah had pity on the plant which was here today and gone tomorrow.  Then God got to the crux of the issue — “should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons”.  

What is the point of the story for us in 2020?  We are in the same position as Jonah.  We don’t know God’s plan for us or for our world.  We understand that ultimately Jesus will return and claim His people and His kingdom, but that is at the end.  We are in the middle.  In Isaiah we read:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV)

God had mercy on Nineveh even though they were enemies of Jonah and the Israelites.  Jonah had to learn the lesson of submission.  He didn’t know why God granted mercy to Nineveh.  We don’t know why we are going through the difficult times facing us, individually, as families, as communities, as a nation, and as the world.  But, we know that God is in control.  He is fully aware of the trials that each one has, and He wants us to be submissive, to call upon Him, to submit to the tasks that He outlines for us.  He wants us to do His will, even while we are stuck in the COVID19 morass.

Are you angry?  Or are you submissive?  Does God need to put you in the belly of the great fish to calm you down so that you can do what He has asked?  Are you angry even when you have succeeded in the task?

James writes:

Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. … Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

James 4:7. 10 (NKJV)

Rather than being angry, submit to God, Beloved.  He will lift you up!

Father, forgive me when I have been so entrenched in my own agenda that I have been unable to see what You want me to do.  Forgive me when I have run in the opposite direction from the direction You wanted me to go.  Forgive me when I have become angry at Your direction.  Cleanse my heart and let me see Your working in my life and in the world around me.  May I submit to Your will even when I don’t understand it.  You are my God and I am Your child.