Category Archives: Faith

The Difference Between Nebuchadnezzar and Ruth

Our elders have given me the privilege of preaching a four-week series while our senior pastor is finishing up some school, so I’ve been taking the congregation through  my favorite stories in the book of Daniel.  This week we will be covering Daniel 4 and the fall of King Nebuchadnezzar.

I remember reading through the book of Daniel as a young believer and being a bit confused about this character and his responses to God in leading up to this point in the book.  In chapter 2, after Daniel interprets his dream for him, Nebuchadnezzar says, Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery (v. 47).  Then, in chapter 3, when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are delivered from the flames of the  fiery furnace he says, Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him (v. 28).

In those early days of my faith, when I got to the end of chapter 2 I thought that Nebuchadnezzar had been saved, that he had seen the power of God and would now abandon his life of paganism to follow after the one true God.  But then, as I flipped the page to the next chapter, I saw Nebuchadnezzar erecting a gigantic golden image for his people to bow down and worship.  So, thinking I must have missed something, I got to the end of chapter 3 and thought, “Surely now Nebuchadnezzar is saved, not only is he verbally blessing God, but he’s putting decrees in place so that no one in Babylon is allowed to speak ill of him.”  But then in chapter 4 we see Nebuchadnezzar walking on his balcony in a narcissistic soliloquy praising his own glory.  I wondered where I had gone wrong in my thinking.  Obviously, Nebuchadnezzar didn’t get the real thing.  But why?

At this point in the book of Daniel (things change at the end of chapter 4), there is a difference between Nebuchadnezzar and let’s say… someone like Ruth.  Notice the words that Nebuchadnezzar uses when he speaks of God at the end of chapters 2 and 3: your God is God of gods and then blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  Then consider the words of Ruth when she refuses to return to Moab and, instead, remains with Naomi, her mother-in-law: Your people shall be my people, and your God my God (Ruth 1:16).

Ruth is not, here, simply showing respect to the God of Israel and acknowledging his power, she is committing to him personally.  There is no intent for her to keep one foot in Moab with her pagan gods and one foot in Israel with the Lord.  Nebuchadnezzar, up to this point, had only just recognized God’s greatness; he had not submitted himself to God in faith.

Church, let us not be too quick to assume the salvation of someone who acknowledges God and even speaks very highly of him.  It is only when we, by God’s grace, deny ourselves and, in faith, forsake all others to follow God that he saves us.

 

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The Folly of Misplaced Expectations

You and I have things that we desire other people to do.  We desire our spouse to treat us with respect, we desire our co-workers to work efficiently with us on the new project, we desire our children to obey the first time we tell them, and the list goes on.   Certainly, there is nothing wrong with these desires in and of themselves, but something changes in our hearts when these desires become expectations.  Expectations move desires to another level.  Expectations take something you would like to have happen and turn it into something you anticipate will happen.  I think that when this happens, you’ve set yourself up for discontentment.  A desire understands that a person may or may not do what it wishes, but an expectation is more pig-headed, even making decisions that depend on the fulfillment of what it wishes.  Therefore, there’s a lot more distance to be let down when the expectation is not fulfilled; there’s a lot more to lose.  And in the wake of unmet expectations is a heart that is bitter, depressed, or anxious.

Does this mean that we should not have expectations?  I don’t think so.  It just means that our expectations are misplaced.  When we place expectations on people we set ourselves up for discontentment because people are sinful and limited.  Sometimes people meet our expectations and sometimes they even exceed our expectations, but many times they don’t even get close.  God, on the other hand, does not have the capacity to be unfaithful.  He is perfectly loving, perfectly wise, and perfectly sovereign, so to place certain expectations on him would not be to set ourselves up for discontentment since he has everything necessary to be completely trustworthy.

But we must be careful with what expectations we place on God.  We should not expect God to do whatever we want, but we should expect him to do whatever he says he will do in his Word.  For example, Jesus says in Matthew 7:11, If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!  With these words we can and should expect that God will always give what is good to his children when they ask.  But it would not be right to expect that goodness to come to you according to your specific desires (i.e. – “God will give me this job with this company”).

As well-intentioned as we are, we humans often do not do what we say we’re going to do, so let’s place our expectations on the one who will always keep his Word and rest in the delight of seeing those expectations never going unmet.

 
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Can You Be Amazed by God and Not Believe Him?

In reading the Word yesterday I ran across a verse in Luke 20 that struck me.  Verse 26, speaking of the scribes and chief priests, reads, “… but marveling at his answer they became silent.”  Did you catch that?  Those religious leaders who despise Jesus are marveling at his teaching.  The same group of men who, just a few verses ago, sought to capture Jesus in order to put him to death (v. 19), are amazed at his answer to their question.  The conclusion here is clear: a heart can be amazed by Jesus without trusting Jesus.

There are two applications I think we can draw from this:

First, we should not assume that a person is a follower of Christ just because he/she is amazed by witnessing something God has done or said, like a direct answer to prayer, the wisdom of Jesus’ teaching, or a medical recovery that doctors cannot explain.  A person may stand awe-struck by God’s power much like king Nebuchadnezzar when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were not burned by the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:24, 28), but just as with Nebuchadnezzar, may go right back to a “me-centered” life soon thereafter, proving their unbelief (4:28-30).

Second, even as believers, being amazed by something God has done or said does not mean that we are walking in right fellowship with him.  There may still be sins that we need to confess and turn from and there may areas of life wherein we need to begin to trust God’s promises instead of the lies our hearts so often believe.  Walking in faith is a much better indicator of spiritual health than walking in amazement.

 

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Our Kids Need to Know that Sin is More than Being Wrong

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1).  Christian parents have repeated these words to their kids countless times because their kids have failed to heed these words countless times.  So, we parents use this verse to expose the wrongness of our children’s choices.  This verse cuts it straight – for children, the right choice is to obey their parents… period.  Therefore, we ask our kids, “Did you obey Daddy when you I told you to stop pummeling your brother?” “No”, they say, “Then according to God, you made the wrong choice because God tells us obeying our parents is right.”

The above is an aspect of good parenting.  We need to reveal to our kids their disobedience so that they see they are not righteous before God (this sets us up to point them to the Savior).  But there’s more to their sin on these occasions than simply being wrong.  As parents, we must also help them understand that their failure to obey is an act of unbelief.  Each time they disobey, our kids are making a wrong choice because they refuse to believe that God’s way is the right way and the best way; the way of truth, goodness and blessing.  We need to take our kids back to Eden and explain to them the reality that when God put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden and told Adam and Eve not to eat from it, he was not holding out on them.  He was not playing games with them as if to say, “Here’s what you really want, but you can’t eat it or you’ll die.”  May it never be!  Rather, God was communicating to Adam and Eve, “I made you and I know what brings you perfect joy… it’s Me, and I’m not going to deny you that joy!  So trust me when I say, ‘Don’t eat from that tree.'”

Our kids need to know that sin is the same today, it comes from an unbelieving heart that thinks God’s way is not what is right and best for us.  This primes the pump for gospel conversation with our children, because while we ruined the way of perfect joy in the garden by disbelieving God, he has made another way for us to have that joy through the life, death and resurrection of his only Son, Jesus.  But here’s the rub… as it was in the garden, so it is with Jesus: we must believe God.  Since we blew it in the garden, the way for us and our kids to get back to perfect joy in God is through believing that his Son died in the place of sinners and rose again conquering death and sin.
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Learning to Be Suspicious of Yourself… Not God

In his commentary on Psalm 95 in The Treasury of David, Charles Spurgeon writes on the way in which Israel put God to the test in the wilderness after they had been delivered from slavery: “Friendship only flourishes in the atmosphere of confidence, suspicion is deadly to it: shall the Lord, true and immutable, be day after day suspected by his own people?”

Although Israel had witnessed the power of God in the ten plagues, experienced his glorious way of escape from Pharaoh through the Red Sea, and daily ate of his provision (manna), they remained suspicious of God.  They continued to grumble and complain against him in the wilderness because they were not convinced of his goodness and love.  Israel did not believe God was looking out for their best interest, so they wanted to see more signs, experience more blessing.  Needless to say, this did not bode well for the health of their relationship with him.  As Spurgeon says, “…suspicion is deadly to [a friendship]”.

Are we any different?  When our circumstances squeeze us, so often we wonder if God is really “for us”, and we put him to the test in our prayers with a mentality that says, “If God is good, then surely he will ____________ for me.”  God has told us that he is unchanging (James 1:17) and he has told us that “in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5), so we can trust that he will always do what he says he’s going to do for us.  We, on the other hand, are the ones with hearts that are “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9).  Consequently, we should be suspicious of ourselves, not God.  I know I’ve said this before, but we need to be a people who are asking open-ended questions of our hearts: “Why did I say that?  What did I want when I did that?  What does that kind of thinking reveal about where my priorities are?  Is what I am telling myself reflective of God’s truth, or is it a lie?”  Certainly we can go nuts with this and become morbidly introspective, but the point is not to know your heart with scary-specific precision.  Rather, it is to expose your heart for what it is and then redirect it with God’s truth, pleading with him to help you break free from our world’s popular “just follow your heart” philosophy.  I believe it is one of the enemy’s great ploys to keep us suspicious of the One on whom suspicion is wasted so that our spiritual eyes don’t see all the incriminating evidence that lies within.  Church, let us pray for God to help us trust him and distrust ourselves.

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Be Warned, Your Routine Will Fail You

The majority of people I know in my life thrive in routine.  Can you empathize?  Are you too a person who works best when you’re habitually living out of a scheduled to-do list from day-to-day that you’ve never really written down because it’s all memorized?  Routine is a blessing from the Lord that helps us become more productive for his glory, but what often happens to our routine during the holidays?  It gets a huge stick stuck in its spokes!  With Christmas cantatas, shopping, gift exchanges, special church events, family in town, and holiday travel who can keep up their routine?  At some point during the holidays, many of us will abandon our routine until after the first of the year when it’s safe to take it out again.

 As Christians, along with our morning coffee and pre-bedtime floss, we have our time with God embedded in our routine.  So, when we abandon our routine at the holidays, things like studying the Bible, prayer, Scripture memory, and family worship get abandoned as well.

 Church, let me suggest that, at times, we put our trust in our routine instead of God when it comes to getting what we need to draw near to him.  We often look to our routine to give us the time and availability we need to meet with God, but when life doesn’t allow for our routine, God becomes someone we’ll get back to when things slow down.  God is for every season of life (calm or insanely busy), and he desires us to fellowship with him and serve others for his sake, so he will give us what we need to do these things (Matthew 7:7-11).  Yes, you may have to read your Bible at night instead of in the morning sometimes.  And yes, you may have to pray when everything around you isn’t still and quiet.  But God will provide you with what you need to meet with him.  It will awkward to do things differently (like you’re betraying your routine), but we must remember that like everything else, our routine will fail us, and the holidays are proof of that.  God, on the other hand, gives us a blood-bought promise that he will work in us so that we will choose him and actively obey him for his good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).

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Christians, What Do We Do About Our Emotions?

 

In his wonderful, yet neglected book, Feelings and Faith, Brian S. Borgman gives some common misconceptions we Christians have about our emotions:

1) Emotions are bad and need to be suppressed.

2) Emotions are irrelevant and unnecessary.

3) Emotions govern and control us.

4) Emotions are the most important thing about us.

From God’s perspective, none of these statements are true, so Borgman provides the following in way of a biblical definition for emotions:

The emotions are an inherent part of what it means to be a person; they express the values and evaluations of a person and influence motives and conduct.

In view of this definition, let me list some of the principles in his book that will help us take a more godly perspective on our emotions:

  • God not only has a perfect mind and will, but perfect emotions as well (Matt. 3:17; Gen. 6:5-6; Jer. 3:13; Prov. 6:16-19).
  • God communicates with passion and emotion in his Word (Hosea 11:8; Isaiah 65:2).
  • Our emotions are a part of our humanity that needs to be sanctified and brought under the authority of God’s Word and into conformity with God’s Word.
  • God’s truth precedes, governs, and interprets experience, not vice versa.  Truth must be the priority, and experience will often follow.
  • As we think about who he is and what he has done, God works through our thoughts to give us godly emotions (Lam. 3:19-25; Ps. 6:1-10).
  • To walk in a manner that is worthy of the Lord, we must kill godly emotions through honest self-evaluation, confession, and repentance.

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