Day 257: A life well lived

Daniel 5-6; 1 Corinthians 16

Today, we read the end of the historical narrative of Daniel’s life. He lived most of his life in exile, in service to foreign kings for close to 70 years! During that time, he remained faithful to God, and God kept him alive in a figurative lions’ den for all that time!

Daniel lived to see part of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream fulfilled – as he witnessed the fall of Babylon to the Medes and Persians. Daniel continued to serve the Medo-Persian court – so well, in fact, that his jealous colleagues arranged to have him thrown in the lions’ den.

Wrapped up in this familiar children’s sunday school story… is the culmination of one man’s lifelong journey of faith. Daniel was faithful in a time when most of Israel had turned away. His trust in His God turned the hearts of foreign super kings. God honored Daniel’s perseverance!

We also come to the end of 1 Corinthians. We read Paul’s final exhortation to the Corinthian believers…

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love (1 Corinthians 16:13).

I think Daniel would say a hearty “Amen” to this list of commands!

The New Testament consistently teaches that perseverance is evidence of a saving faith. As members of God’s kingdom, we are called, similarly to Daniel, to persevere as exiles in this foreign land. May we follow Daniel’s example as we live life in the lions’ den with our eyes fixed on our Savior!

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Day 256: Come Awake!

Daniel 3-4; 1 Corinthians 15:35-58

Oh the folly of this world’s power and might. Who was this Nebuchadnezzar? He was the king of Babylon – the most powerful man of his time. He was so powerful that he commanded the death of others on a whim. He commanded limbs be torn and houses be demolished… and for three men who refused to bow before the golden statue made in his likeness, he commanded that they be thrown into a fiery furnace.

He sounds like a spoiled toddler to me – but unfortunately, he was no toddler. He was the king.

But he wasn’t The King.

Nebuchadnezzar got too big for his britches. He failed to realize he was just a pawn in God’s hand. God tried to warn the king through Daniel… (Dan. 4:27), but unfortunately… he didn’t listen.

“O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will” (Daniel 4:31-32).

How the mighty fall! But do you see that even this severe act of God towards Nebuchadnezzar was an act of grace? Because of God’s humbling hand upon Nebuchadnezzar, he could say, “I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble” (Daniel 4:37).

For ultimately, our goal is heaven. It must not be earthly power, success or comfort – for these will all be wiped away. Just as our very bodies are perishable – all the things of this earth will be destroyed in the final day.

But. But…

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:51-55)

This is our hope. This is our song!

Day 255: A Strong Mountain

Daniel 1-2; 1 Corinthians 15:1-34

Ahh. Daniel. He is a character that shines in the darkness. Daniel was among the first group from Judah to be exiled to Jerusalem. He lived during the time of Jeremiah and Ezekiel’s ministry. These prophets didn’t have too many encouraging words about the people of their time! But Daniel and his friends stand in stark contrast. They were faithful, and similar to the way God showed favor to Joseph (Gen 39-41), God showed great favor to Daniel and his friends.

The story recorded in Daniel 1-2 is probably familiar. But don’t let the familiarity steal its wonder! First, God greatly rewarded Daniel’s faithfulness to the law. God wasn’t honoring Daniel’s religious works, God was exalting a heart that strived to stay faithful in and amongst a foreign culture.

But the highlight of this story is God’s revelation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Somehow Nebuchadnezzar realized this wasn’t any ordinary dream, and Daniel’s trust in God’s faithfulness paved the way for God to use Daniel as His ambassador to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon!

Nebuchadnezzar’s dream revealed the future destruction of Babylon and the rise and fall of three subsequent earthly kingdoms. But on a deeper level, the dream revealed the sovereignty and power of God.

This God gave the tyrant-king, Nebuchadnezzar, the dream.

This God gave the faithful, Daniel, the interpretation.

This God would destroy the Babylonian kingdom and all future kingdoms – so that HIS KINGDOM would grow to fill the whole earth and endure forever! 

Listen to Daniel’s interpretation…

And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever (Daniel 2:44).

Paul speaks of this same eternal kingdom in today’s reading from 1 Corinthians! Paul cites Jesus’ resurrection as the proof of this eternal kingdom. His resurrection represents the firstfruits (1 Cor. 15:23) – or the first of many others who would one day be raised from the dead. At the end of the age, when all have been resurrected into new life, Paul says…

Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power (1 Corinthians 15:24).

This is the fulfillment of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream! Christ is the stone which destroys all other kingdoms to pieces and grows into a strong mountain which fills the whole earth (Daniel 2:35)! And we are a part of that mountain! Thanks be to God!

Day 254: The end of Isaiah

Isaiah 65-66; 1 Corinthians 14:26-40

Today’s chapters in Isaiah can almost stand alone as a summary of the whole book (and for the whole Bible, for that matter)!

Isaiah 65 begins with our faithful God calling out to his people. They would not listen and turned away towards their own pleasures and gods (65:1-7). God’s just judgment flows, but again, we see God’s grace as He preserves a remnant (65:8-12). He refers to this remnant as “servants,” and they receive great blessing. They shall eat, drink, rejoice and sing for gladness of heart (65:13-16)!

Now let’s pause and consider the jaw-dropping grace of our God. He was patient and long-suffering with His people.

Similarly, He was patient and long-suffering with the early church. Consider the topics that Paul has addressed throughout our reading in 1 Corinthians… Sexual immorality, idolatry, pride, greed, disrespect – and today we read that the Corinthian church was in such an extreme chaotic state that Paul actually had to teach them, “All things should be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40)!

But, don’t we deal with the same sins in our own hearts and churches today? Yes, God has also been patient and long-suffering with us! Isaiah’s words apply to us as well:

I spread out my hands all the day
to a rebellious people,
who walk in a way that is not good,
following their own devices… (Isaiah 65:2)

We must not belittle the grace of our God!! We must be grateful that we are counted among his remnant and be honored to be considered one of his “servants!” For through the writing of Isaiah, we have a hope that can’t be shaken – a future that will be full of joy and peace (Isaiah 65:17-25)!

And finally, Isaiah concludes his book by describing the way into this future glory… It is only through a humble and contrite spirit (Isaiah 66:1-6). We have no hope of attaining this future on our own – we need His help – His all-powerful, gracious, loving… help.

And then Isaiah describes the gathering of all people from all the ends of the earth. We will gather together to see His glory. And then we will worship (Isaiah 66:18-23), for what else can be done when in the very presence of God??!!

For as the new heavens and the new earth
that I make
shall remain before me, says the Lord,
shall your offspring and your name remain.
From new moon to new moon,
and from Sabbath to Sabbath,
all flesh shall come to worship before me,
declares the Lord (Isaiah 66:22-23).

And the people said, “Amen!”

Day 253: Not just a clanging cymbal!

Isaiah 62-64; 1 Corinthians 14:1-25

It would seem that there were some in the Corinthian church who could speak in tongues. This is a way of praying or praising God in a language that the speaker doesn’t even understand. It is a work and a gift of the Spirit in the believer’s life.

There are conflicting views on whether this gift ceased after the apostolic age (after the time the apostles worked to build the early church) or if it continues to this day and will end when Christ returns (13:8). Whatever your view, it is important to note that speaking in tongues is not a requirement for all Christians – it is a simply a gift.

Evidently, the believers in Corinth put an especially large emphasis on this gift of speaking in tongues, because Paul goes to great lengths in Chapter 12 to emphasize the importance of ALL spiritual gifts. Then he goes on in Chapter 13 to emphasize LOVE over ALL things, and finally in Chapter 14, he is tackling the subject of speaking in tongues head-on.

Paul – even though he says he speaks in tongues more than anyone in the church of Corinth – diminishes this gift in the church – simply because it is only beneficial to the speaker and unintelligible to others within the congregation.

It also hinders the gospel to outsiders…

If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? (1 Corinthians 14:23).

So let’s wade through the mire of details to find the transcendent principle. First, everyone is valuable within the church. It is common for those with more “behind the scenes” gifts to not feel as valuable as those with “up front” gifts. The Corinthian church exalted speaking in tongues over other gifts. Our churches might exalt something different – but no matter what gift is exalted, it is wrong. All gifts are vital to the building of the church!

We can also learn to conduct our worship services with a sensitivity to “outsiders” or unbelievers. We want to conduct our church-life and all-of-life in a way that others don’t look in and think “They are out of their minds!” :)

This is a worthwhile principle! We want our lives to be savory to the world – for we want ALL to come into God’s Kingdom and experience the indescribable joy that awaits for us at the end of the age!!!

Go through, go through the gates;
prepare the way for the people;
build up, build up the highway;
clear it of stones;
lift up a signal over the peoples.
Behold, the Lord has proclaimed
to the end of the earth:
Say to the daughter of Zion,
“Behold, your salvation comes;
behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.”
And they shall be called The Holy People,
The Redeemed of the Lord;
and you shall be called Sought Out,
A City Not Forsaken. (Isaiah 62:10-12)

Day 252: The Love Chapter

Isaiah 59-61; 1 Corinthians 13

Today we get to the famous “Love Chapter.” 1 Corinthians 13 has to be one of the best-known passages from all of Scripture, but it’s important to remember its context…

Paul has been addressing specific issues within the Corinthian church. There have been cases of division, taking fellow Christians to court, incest, sexual immorality, divorce, idolatry and other temptations.

As he addresses these various issues, Paul repeats a well-known saying from the city of Corinth, “All things are lawful.” But Paul adds the phrase, “but not all things are helpful.” Throughout his letter, Paul has pointed back to Christ’s sacrificial example and has exhorted the church to consider three things in every action and decision:

  1. First, consider others before yourself,
  2. Secondly, do nothing that will taint the message of the gospel,
  3. And finally, do everything to the glory of God.

I believe all of the issues within this church were rooted in pride and self-centeredness. Sure, they could prophesy and have amazing faith – but if their actions weren’t done in love, it was like a clanging cymbal…

It is within this context that Paul delivers his famous treatise on love.

  • Love is patient (so don’t take your brother to court, 1 Cor. 6)
  • Love is kind (so consider those who are weaker in faith, 1 Cor. 8)
  • Love does not envy or boast (so quit fighting amongst yourselves, 1 Cor. 3)
  • It is not arrogant or rude (so show respect to your spouse, 1 Cor. 11)
  • It is not irritable or resentful (so consider everyone as a vital member of Christ’s body, 1 Cor. 12)
  • It does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth (so don’t turn the Lord’s supper into a drunken, gluttonous feast, 1 Cor. 11)

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Paul is calling believers to interact with one another in a way that mirrors Christ’s love toward us!!

Hear the words of Isaiah describing the deep, all-consuming love of our Messiah toward us

The Spirit of God, the Master, is on me
because God anointed me.
He sent me to preach good news to the poor,
heal the heartbroken,
Announce freedom to all captives,
pardon all prisoners.
God sent me to announce the year of his grace—
a celebration of God’s destruction of our enemies—
and to comfort all who mourn,
To care for the needs of all who mourn in Zion,
give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes,
Messages of joy instead of news of doom,
a praising heart instead of a languid spirit.
Rename them “Oaks of Righteousness”
planted by God to display his glory (Isaiah 61:1-7, The Message).

May his perfect love take hold and send roots deep into our hearts so that we might reflect His love to our neighbors, our church and to our world!

Day 251: A vital part

Isaiah 56-58; 1 Corinthians 12

Isaiah 56 opens the third and final section of Isaiah which is a guide for all of God’s people in all ages. In other words, these chapters of Isaiah are meant for us.

Isaiah begins by widening the definition of God’s people to include anyone from any nation that binds himself to God’s covenant (56:1-8). Then he describes the type of people who have no place in God’s Kingdom… the idolaters, complacent leaders, deserters and mockers (56:9-57:13). But God provides a way for even these types of people to enter His Kingdom… through repentance.

And it shall be said,
“Build up, build up, prepare the way,
remove every obstruction from my people’s way.”
For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
and to revive the heart of the contrite (Isaiah 57:14-15).

This is the way of the Kingdom…through humility and a contrite spirit. And we see this demonstrated beautifully in 1 Corinthians 12 as Paul constructs the metaphor of the church being the “body of Christ.” Each member of the church has an individual and vital role in the church’s purpose and work in the world.

If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing?
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.
If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Corinthians 12:17, 21-22, 26)

This concept of “church” is based on laying aside our individualism and working collectively for the glory of God. This requires sacrifice. This requires a humble and contrite spirit!

Isaiah 58 is a glorious example of how the church should operate in the world – working together to seek justice for the oppressed, not justifying itself with empty rituals and puffed up religious duty.

Do you consider yourself a vital part of your church body? Have you ever considered the hole that would be created if you failed to serve or left the church altogether? Even though our culture screams “Individualism” to us constantly, the Bible teaches otherwise. We are members of His body. Our greatest impact in this world is done in the context of being a vital part  – not the whole, and not alone – but a part of the church. What part are you?

Day 250: Words of life

Isaiah 54-55; 1 Corinthians 11

The first half of 1 Corinthians 11 seems dated and irrelevant. What’s all this talk about women covering their heads? What in the world does this mean, and is it really important?

Once again, Paul is addressing a specific issue in the Corinthian church and we must look through the details to find the applicable principle.

In Paul’s day, it was only a married woman who wore head coverings. So this passage is specifically referencing the relationship between husbands and wives – not between men and women in general. If a married woman worshiped with her head uncovered, this would bring great shame to her husband – as if to say she were “sexually available” or not married at all.

Evidently, this was an issue in the Corinthian church, so Paul exhorts the congregation to act in a way that would bring glory to God. In other words, do not let external acts of disrespect distract others from the gospel.

Similarly, Paul instructs the church in the proper way to celebrate The Lord’s Supper (11:20-34). It wasn’t to be a glutenous feast with people gorging themselves with food and wine. No! It was an act of worship – a time where the congregation was supposed to lay aside their own desires for the sake of others and for Christ.

Their corporate worship was a witness to the world! What did their community communicate about Jesus when they came together to worship? Did they send a message of disrespect and lust for selfish desires – or did they consider the needs of others before themselves?

The Corinthian Church struggled with the same temptations we face… selfishness, individualism, rebellious attitudes, conformity to the culture, lust, greed, should I go on?? ;)

When my sin threatens to overwhelm me, I look to the grace and kindness of my God.

Today’s reading from Isaiah is spilling over with God’s goodness and grace! Savor the words from Isaiah 54-55. Let them sink deep into your soul and breathe life into your dry bones. These are the words of your Lord. These are the words of life!

Seek God while he’s here to be found,
pray to him while he’s close at hand.
Let the wicked abandon their way of life
and the evil their way of thinking.
Let them come back to God, who is merciful,
come back to our God, who is lavish with forgiveness. (Isaiah 55:6-7, The Message).

Day 249: The transcendent gospel

Isaiah 51:9 – 53:12; 1 Corinthians 10

All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6).

Paul details the Israelites idolatrous history in today’s reading from 1 Corinthians as a warning to the church… “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (10:12).

We, too, should heed Israel’s history, for hidden in her history is the love of Jesus Christ for the sinner.

Consider the flow of today’s passages from Isaiah.

Isaiah 51 is written to the Babylonian exiles. Why were they exiles? God’s chosen people were being punished for the gross sin of breaking God’s Law, especially for the sin of idolatry.

But.

God gave his afflicted people good news. He exhorted them to no longer fear men – because He would rescue them from their oppressors! And God, in Isaiah 52, promised that His people would return to Jerusalem in peace for the sake of His name!

The exiles experienced the gospel. They experienced salvation based on grace, alone!!

And then we come to the final servant song…the familiar words of Isaiah 53. Here we learn how forgiveness is made possible…how grace is made available to us all…Forgiveness and Grace are available because of The Servant…

He was pierced. He was afflicted. He was silent before his accusers. He was the sacrificial lamb, led to slaughter.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.

Here is the gospel – written by Isaiah 700 years before Jesus came in the flesh!

This gospel must be the agent for change in our lives…for we are also called to walk in the way of “the servant.”

This is the message Paul has been preaching to the Corinthian church over the last few chapters of 1 Corinthians…

He teaches that as members of Christ’s body, every decision and action we make should be influenced by affecting good to others (10:24) and bringing glory to God (10:31). We are called to lay aside our self-interests. We are called to become like The Servant.

Day 248: Victory through submission

Isaiah 49:1 – 51:8; 1 Corinthians 9

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them (1 Corinthians 9:19).

Paul speaks of relating to people as their servant… from a position of humility. He was intentional about this. He made an effort to relate to people on their own terms – not from a position of superiority or piety (9:19-22).

I believe this was the Spirit’s work in Paul’s life – shaping him to be more like Christ. For Christ came into the world so that He could identify with the world. He came to save, not to judge. He came in humility, and associated with “sinners.” He came as a servant.

Which brings me to Isaiah. Isaiah’s “servant” was a mysterious figure. Jewish scholars of Jesus’ day (for the most part) had not connected the “servant” with the Messiah. It seems so obvious to us that the Servant in Isaiah has to be the Messiah. But the concept of a great conquering Messiah also being the “servant” was a new paradigm and a concept that even Jesus’ disciples didn’t fully grasp until after Jesus’ ascension.

But fortunately, we have the hindsight to see. We read two of the four Servant Songs (42:1-9; 49:1-13; 50:4-952:13-53:12) in today’s reading. The voice in these “songs” is the Messiah himself. He was the one to rescue the remnant from the hands of captivity and restore his people in the land! And he is the one who rescues our souls from the clutches of death – and restores us to new life!

It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth (Isaiah 49:6).

But consider the way in which the Servant saves… It is not through power and strength – but through righteous suffering. This was a new paradigm…

The Lord God has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious;
I turned not backward.
I gave my back to those who strike,
and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face
from disgrace and spitting (Isaiah 50:5-6).

Who would have thought that victory could be won through submitting to the strong? This is the way of the Kingdom. This is the way of our God!!

Behold, the Lord God helps me;
who will declare me guilty?
Behold, all of [my adversaries] will wear out like a garment;
the moth will eat them up. -The Servant, Isaiah 50:9