More Like Jesus, Less Like Me!

-Measuring Spiritual Progress!

Have you ever tried asking someone, “How are you doing spiritually?” They always say, “Good, Good,” right? Probably not a very good question. It’s not likely to get the real answer you’re looking for! Next time, try this instead: “So, where are you at in your walk with the Lord? And, on what criteria do you base your answer? How are you measuring your walk with Christ?” When we enter into that kind of conversation with someone, we need those “qualifying” or “follow-up” questions too! On what basis can we say we’re doing “good” when someone asks us how we’re doing spiritually?

-Does It Matter What We Do?

Do we measure spiritual progress by the things we DO? Be careful! Don’t quickly dismiss the things we DO & SAY, that, “it’s only what’s in the heart that matters!” If our heart is right with God, it will impact the things we DO, right? Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will KEEP my commandments.” At the same time, we can DO all the RIGHT things for the WRONG reasons, can’t we? We can DO things to be SEEN of men; and, Jesus called that hypocrisy!

-What About “Spiritual Disciplines”?

I received a phone call, some time ago, from a young man who was saved years ago in my youth group in Colorado. He was on the pastoral staff of a church in Oregon; and, he called to ask if he could conduct an interview with me for a seminary class he was taking! The interview was based on how I lived my life according to the “spiritual disciplines.” If that’s a new term to you, suffice it to say that “spiritual disciplines” are practices found, in Scripture, that can promote spiritual growth. They are “habits” of devotion, like prayer, fasting, public & private worship, meditation & making disciples—all activities that we’re commanded to do, right? Jesus practiced them! But, I prefaced my answer, in the interview, with this caution: “We are NOT GODLY just because we practice certain spiritual disciplines!

-The Error Of The Pharisees!

That was the great error of the Pharisees! They believed they were godly BECAUSE they did certain things! You can’t separate what you’re DOING on the OUTSIDE by who you ARE on the INSIDE! WHAT you do matters! But, WHO you are matters even more! Here’s the point—spiritual growth happens as you become more like Jesus; and, less like you!

-Become Like Your Teacher!

It is our goal, as a local church, that our community of believers would become mature disciples of Christ in their personal spiritual development. That’s a core value! That we’d all grow in spiritual maturity! As disciples of Christ, that we’d all become more like Him! That’s what a disciple does! He becomes like his Teacher! And, it is our belief that individual spiritual development occurs BEST in the context of a local church! Faith grows best where it is challenged, not isolated! And, crucial to that is the realization that being a disciple of Christ does not begin with something we DO; but, with something that Christ already DID! He redeemed our broken relationship with the Father by His death on the cross! He took my sin! And, He paid the penalty that I should have paid so that I might receive forgiveness! That’s the Gospel!

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Daniel & The Invisible God!

(NOTE: This Concludes Our Series Of Posts On Daniel’s Life)

-Never Give Up On Prayer!

As I bring this series of posts—on Daniel’s life—to an end, I conclude with an urgent plea not to give up because you don’t get an answer, to your prayers, according to your time line! Instead of quitting, follow Daniel’s example and devote more time to more prayer & fasting! Daniel shows us that because we pray in the spirit, we can’t see—with our physical eyes—the spiritual responses our prayers stir up!

-If We Could Only See!

If we could see into the spiritual realm, our prayer effort would reveal invisible forces of good & evil opposing one another. Unseen spiritual forces are behind every movement! Daniel couldn’t tell, just by observing the Persian Gov’t, that there was a war going on between an “angel of God” & a demonic “prince of Persia” (see Daniel chapter 10). But, if he could have pulled the curtain back, dividing our realm from the spiritual real, just a bit, he would have observed the battle going on in the spirit world. We can only assume, from this text of Scripture, that Satan has “territorial” demons in places of influence, among government leaders, in every nation. That’s why the Apostle Paul later wrote Timothy—in the New Testament—and, told him to pray for kings & all those in places of authority.

-Who Is The Real Enemy?

The REAL ENEMY is not the people we may oppose politically! Our battle, according to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians,  is not with flesh & blood. We need God’s help to see the truth about this! We need to pray for our leaders to be saved! Knowing that our warfare is spiritual in nature, it is our prayers, humility, knowledge of God & perseverance that serve as our best weapons against the spiritual forces of evil in this world; and, the unseen spiritual world behind the curtain that separates us. So, be inspired & encouraged! Daniel prayed! He humbled himself before God; and, he purposed to know God & to understand His ways! And, he persevered! For 21 days, the text says, he prayed & fasted & waited on God to fulfill His Sovereign purpose in His Sovereign time frame! Will you wait on God also?

-Focus On The Unseen!

A Biblical response—to the war going on in the spiritual realm & to life’s problems that result—is to focus NOT on the seen; but, on the unseen! What you see going on in this world will mess with you! It will frustrate you! It will, at times, cause you to question God! It’ll even depress you because it will APPEAR that we’re losing! So, focus on the UNSEEN, not the SEEN! Focus on the invisible God, who is Sovereign, who is Omnipotent; and, who is All-Knowing! He has an unbeatable plan; and, He will get it done! Don’t focus on the political climate of our country; or, the rest of the world! That’s the SEEN! Focus on the UNSEEN God! Pray to Him! He’s the only One who can bring revival & clean up the mess humanity has made of this world! Are you struggling in this area of your life? Make it a matter of prayer! Turn it over to God!

 

 

Daniel: War In The Spirit World!

(NOTE: This Continues A Series Of Posts On Daniel’s Life)

-All We Need To Know!

It’s easy for us to go off on a tangent & obsess over the supernatural aspects of a Biblical text like Daniel chapter 10. It’s true that we need to be aware of what happens in the realm of the supernatural; but, ONLY in as much as the Word of God reveals it to us! Everything else is in the realm of speculation! Scripture tells us all we need to know about the spirit world. There is no other authoritative source on demons and angels! That said, there’s really no debate that the “…prince of the kingdom of Persia…” in v.13 & the “…prince of Greece…” mentioned in v.20-21 are “fallen” angels. While Scripture refers to demons as “princes” in other passages, not every occurrence of the title “prince” points to a demon. Even here, in v.13, Michael, the archangel—is called a “chief prince.”

-Are Demons “Territorial”?

But, for several good reasons, it seems accurate to call “the prince of Persia” & the “prince of Greece” fallen angels or demons! For example, they oppose the angel of God sent to Daniel; and, Michael—God’s archangel—fought against them. Then, in v.20-21, the angel told Daniel that he was going to “…return to fight against the prince of Persia…”; and, when he was through with him he’d fight the “prince of Greece.” So, here’s my best shot at interpreting that—it seems like demons (at least some of them) are “territorial.” They seem to have spiritual responsibilities over countries, regions, and perhaps cities. And, somehow they seem to gain strength as they get a deeper foothold.

-Overcoming Demonic Strongholds!

We need to keep that in mind as we pray for revival. It’s possible that our area could have a strong demonic foothold—not unlike the kind of opposition that Daniel faced in Babylon. Let me draw another point, from Daniel’s story, because of that: Our prayers may require fasting & extra time & effort because of spiritual warfare in the spirit world! In case you forgot, look back at v.2 to see the amount of time that Daniel devoted to prayer & mourning & fasting! It says 3 FULL WEEKS! We need to pray MORE! We need to pray LONGER! And, perhaps we ought to be giving ourselves to FASTING if we hope to break through the demonic front-lines that war against us! Perhaps we need to let that thought soak in awhile! To meditate on Daniel’s spiritual stamina!

-Do You Have Spiritual Grit?

As I pause on that, I can’t help but think that our God deserves a higher level of devotion than we typically give Him. I’m ashamed to admit that I so rarely give Him my “1st Offerings.” It’s usually my leftovers that I give Him. What about you? Isn’t that also true of you? We usually give God our leftover time, our leftover effort, our leftover “piano”, and, a whole lot of leftover stuff we don’t even use anymore! Is it possible that we haven’t seen revival because we only pray for it if we have any leftover time? Daniel took a spiritual retreat for 21 days; and, just one note of interest—in v.13 it says God’s angel was delayed, by a demon, for 21 days. Daniel prayed ‘til there was a breakthrough! He didn’t quit!

 

 

Daniel: Treasured By God!

(NOTE: This Continues A Series Of Posts On Daniel’s Life)

-God Makes Us Valuable In Christ!

In the 10th chapter of the Old Testament book of Daniel, there’s an incredibly encouraging word, spoken by an angel, to Daniel:  “He said to me, ‘Daniel, you are a man treasured by God…’” (v.11).  God treasured Daniel; and, because God “…does not show favoritism…” we can be assured that we, also, are treasured by Him (Romans 2:11). He places great value on each one of us! As believers, we’ve been purchased by the precious blood of His Son, Jesus; and, we’ve been adopted into God’s family. We are actually said to be “…heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ…” to all the eternal riches of heaven (Romans 8:17).

-Why The Delay To Prayer Answers?

He longs to communicate with us; just, as all parents enjoy talking with their children!  He takes time to listen to our prayers! But, this chapter, in Daniel,  sheds light on the fact that sometimes the answers to prayer are delayed by unseen spiritual forces! By way of personal application, don’t assume that God isn’t listening to your prayers! Remember, that the text says that God heard Daniel’s prayer from the 1st day he prayed it! Starting in v.13, the angel told Daniel that “…the prince of the kingdom of Persia opposed me for 21 days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me after I had been left there with the kings of Persia…” Because Michael is also known to be an angel, in Scripture, it’s best understood that “spiritual warfare” was taking place here! The angel tells Daniel that Michael assisted him when a “…prince of the kingdom of Persia…” opposed him—this “prince” is best understood to be part of a demonic force opposing God’s work, at this time, in this place.

-Could It Be Spiritual Warfare?

Have you ever considered that the reason you’ve not yet received an answer, to a certain prayer, is because of spiritual warfare? It could be! God hasn’t ignored you! There’s a delay, which God has allowed, for the ultimate purposes of His Sovereign plan. Pastor Geoff Thomas put it like this: “Wherever there is a flock of Christ’s sheep there are wolves that want to destroy them. Whenever the Church advances, dark principalities are at work against it.” Daniel’s story may give us insight into delayed answers to our own prayers.

-It May Take Years!

Don’t quit praying for God to work! Don’t give up on revival just because God hasn’t answered your prayers thus far! God, in His eternal wisdom, may have very good reasons for allowing the spiritual warfare to take place all around us! This 10th chapter, of Daniel, gives us a rare peek behind the curtain dividing our realm from the spiritual realm. Daniel was given rare insight into the battle & the warfare that’s normally invisible to us! While it would be easy to obsess over the spiritual aspect of this text, let us not give in to “tangents.” We need to be aware of what happens in the realm, of the supernatural; but, only in as much as the Word of God reveals it to us! Everything else is speculation! Scripture gives us all we need to know!

 

 

Daniel: Responding To Spiritual Warfare!

(NOTE: This Continues A Series Of Posts On Daniel’s Life)

-Peeling Back The Curtain!

On rare occasions God pulls back the curtain that divides the “seen” from the “unseen”! This post is about spiritual warfare; and, specifically how the prophet Daniel responded to it! If you’re unaware of how prayer works, you might become discouraged with the “turn around time.” You might talk to God about something; and, because you don’t get an answer immediately, you might conclude that He’s not listening to you! That would be a mistake on your part!

-Unseen Spiritual Forces!

In the 10th chapter of Daniel’s book, in the Bible, we’re introduced to the concept that there are forces at work that we’re unable to see because they are “spiritual”! Here’s what the Apostle Paul wrote the Church of Ephesus about these “spiritual” forces: “Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens” (Ephesians 6:12). There are spiritual forces of evil at work in the “heavens”; but, we can’t see them because they are spiritual, not flesh! So, if we’re aware that there is a battle going on behind that “curtain” that divides our world from the spiritual world, we’ll adjust our focus! Again, the Apostle Paul said, “So we do not focus on what is seen; but, on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18).

-Don’t Focus On What You See!

So, a Biblical response to life’s struggles is to focus not on the seen; but, the unseen! That’s how Daniel responded! Our challenge is to let God’s Spirit pull back that curtain & give you a glimpse—through the Scriptures—into the reality of the spirit world! And, the reality that the spirit world impacts our world! That there is a spiritual warfare behind all of life’s struggles! And, Daniel shows us some things about this spirit world; and, how we ought to respond! Just pick up your Bible; and, read the 10th chapter of Daniel. Pay close attention to the words the angel speaks to Daniel in v.12.  He tells him that God heard his prayers from the very beginning; and, he was the answer!

-Your Prayers Were Heard!

Don’t be afraid, Daniel,” he said to me, “for from the first day that you purposed to understand and to humble yourself before your God, your prayers were heard. I have come because of your prayers.” (v.12)  Though time had passed—perhaps 3 full weeks (v.12)—God actually HEARD Daniel’s prayer from the FIRST DAY he had begun to pray! In v.11 the angel told Daniel, “…I have been sent to you…”; and, v.12 “…I have come BECAUSE of YOUR PRAYERS…” I hope that encourages you! It does me! It might seem as though your prayers are just bouncing off the ceiling! That’s what the enemy wants you to believe! Don’t listen to his lies! God hears our prayers the moment they’re formed in our heart & He’s sending help! But, as we’ll see, there are reasons the “answers” to our prayers may be delayed! Find out next time!

 

Daniel: What Revival Looks Like!

(NOTE: This Continues A Series Of Posts On Daniel’s Life)

-It Starts With Humble Prayer!

I don’t know that there’s a more beautiful & spiritually moving prayer than Daniel’s prayer in the 9th chapter of the book named after him. There’s a humility & a brokenness that’s often missing from the hurried & self-centered prayers of our day! When revival occurs, in the hearts of believers, this is what it looks like! Prayers, uttered by a revived saint,  admits a brokenness & even shame over their sin, selfishness, and idolatry— “Lord, righteousness belongs to You, but this day public shame belongs to us: the men of Judah, the residents of Jerusalem, and all Israel—those who are near and those who are far, in all the countries where You have dispersed them because of the disloyalty they have shown toward You. Lord, public shame belongs to us, our kings, our leaders, and our fathers, because we have sinned against You.  Compassion and forgiveness belong to the Lord our God, though we have rebelled against Him and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by following His instructions that He set before us through His servants the prophets.  All Israel has broken Your law and turned away, refusing to obey You” (Daniel 9:7-11).  Wow! What brokenness & transparency!

-Admitting Public Shame!

“…PUBLIC SHAME belongs to us…” he confessed in v.7; and, in v.8 he says it again, “…PUBLIC SHAME belongs to us…” Daniel’s greatness, in the eyes of God, was not because he was without sin! None of us are! It was Daniel’s sensitivity to his sin! He admitted the depth of his sin! He owned it! For our world—and, our NATION—to experience revival, it has to begin with the broken humility of God’s people! With us! We, the Church, have to take ownership for our sins—for our IDOLATRY! For our failure to love all the world’s people groups & every kind of sinner!

-Looking In A Mirror!

Daniel didn’t just throw “…our kings, our leaders & our fathers…” under the bus (v.8).  He said, “…WE have sinned against You…WE have rebelled against you…” (v.9).  I fear the American church has been too preoccupied with pointing fingers at political leaders when WE are the real problem! We should be looking in the mirror, spiritually speaking! God will only use a broken church to bring the world to revival!

-Concern For God’s Reputation!

Daniel was concerned that Israel had hurt God’s reputation in the world! “LORD, bring revival to your people,” Daniel prays, “…for the LORD’S sake” (v.17); “…make us a city called by YOUR name” (v.18); “LORD, HEAR! LORD, FORGIVE! LORD, ACT…” (v.19). Did you notice that? “…for YOUR SAKE”, Daniel prayed, “We base our prayers on YOUR abundant compassion” (v.18). Do you pray like that? I’m afraid that, for most of my life,  my prayers sounded nothing like that! Is it possible that the reason so many of our prayers go “unanswered” is because we’re not offering “God-Centered” prayers? Can we begin to pray—as Christ’s Church—that God would act in HIS own BEST INTEREST? And, for HIS GLORY? Let’s do it!

 

Daniel: Trust God With Your Life!

(NOTE: This Continues A Series Of Posts On Daniel’s Life)

-When Crime Is Not A Sin!

Let me start this post by making another interesting point about God’s prophet, Daniel—He purposely committed a “crime” against a human government so he would not be guilty of committing a “sin” against God!  The scene unfolds in chapter 6, of Daniel’s book, as the enemies of Daniel deceive King Darius into signing “…an edict that for 30 days, anyone who petitions any god or man except you, the king, will be thrown into the lions’ den” (v.7).  An agreement that, if followed , would force Daniel to commit the sin of idolatry against his God.  Something he would not do! So, when he was observed praying to his God the trap was set & he was arrested for treason against his King & sentenced to death, a pit full of hungry lions to be his executioners! So, he purposely & knowingly committed a “crime” against a human government to avoid committing a “sin” against his God!

-Familiar Territory!

This was familiar territory for Daniel! Much earlier, in his life, he had observed how his 3 friends—Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah—had made a similar decision when faced with their choice to obey God or man (see chapter 2). Instead of lions, they faced the prospect of death in a fiery furnace! But, Daniel noted that God delivered them! God always delivers—whether by a miracle; or, by death—but, He always delivers! When King Darius, who was NOT Daniel’s enemy, realized that he had been duped, he worked hard to deliver Daniel from certain death; but, he could not (v.14). The most powerful man, in the world, couldn’t deliver him from “…the law of the Medes & the Persians, that changes not…”

-The Weakness Of Man!

What a picture of the weakness of man! Even the most powerful, of men, was unable to reverse the inevitable! Don’t trust in man! Don’t trust in yourself! Trust God! Oh, how we need to learn that, don’t we? When Daniel submitted to God’s Sovereign plans, God was able to use his life circumstances to build another person’s faith! Daniel focused on God’s “big picture.” Without God’s help, we will always focus on our circumstances!

-Take Off Those Glasses!

We tend to see all our pain & suffering through the lens of our own self-centered glasses! We need the Holy Spirit’s help to remove the glasses of self! To deny self! Daniel saw God use the trouble in his life as a testimony that led first, to King Nebuchadnezzar’s faith (ch.4); and, now brought King Darius to faith! “Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting. No diversions were brought to him, and he could not sleep. At the first light of dawn the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. When he reached the den, he cried out in anguish to Daniel. “Daniel, servant of the living God,” the king said, “has your God whom you serve continually been able to rescue you from the lions?”  Even when facing the prospect of death, Daniel remained influential in the King’s life! He persistently incarnated God’s truth in the way he lived!