Daniel, a prophet of God

Of all the books of the prophets in the Old Testament, I think Daniel is undoubtedly the one most told in Sunday School. Jonah comes next and we know why. Ezekiel saw the wheel is sometimes taught as a song. Other than these 3, I can’t remember I ever taught any story from the books of the prophets especially to young children.

Reviewing the stories of Daniel, I am inspired and amazed at how God revealed Himself through Daniel and his 3 friends to a pagan nation who did not know Him. It’s amazing to read the miracles, visions and dreams that happened in the first 6 chapters of Daniel.

Chapter 1: Healthy vegetarians

Daniel and his 3 friends decided to distinguished themselves as exiles by abstaining from taking food – good food from the king’s provisions. God granted them favour with the F&B manager of the king’s palace. After 10 days of testing, the 4 young men were found to be more healthy-looking than the rest of the exiles.

When God’s children determine to be different from the world, He sustains them and helps them to be better – not through the ordinary path of man.

Chapter 2: Dream interpreter

Can you interpret dreams? How about interpreting the dream without being told what the dream actually was? Daniel was called upon to interpret a dream of King Nebuchadnezzar – a dream the king himself forgot. Imagine telling the king what his dream meant on top of telling him what he dreamed about. More amazing is that the king believed what Daniel told him and even praised his God for it.

Chapter 3: Walking Alive (not Walking dead) in a blazing fire

For disobeying the king’s order to bow down to a golden statue, Daniel’s 3 friends were thrown into an oven of blazing furnace which killed even the guards who threw them in. And out they came without even a hair singed! What impressed me is these 3 brave souls were determined to bow only to their God at all costs.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (vv.16-18)

God did not disappoint them. They were not put to shame. God sent an angel to be with them in the furnace.

Chapter 4: Dream # 2: mad king living with wild animals and eating grass

King Nebuchadnezzar sure was a dreamer. It’s good that he remembered his dream this time. Daniel told and warned the king that because of his arrogance, he would become mad and live with the animals and eat grass like the cow for seven years until he acknowledged that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.

Indeed, the interpretation came to pass.

Twelve months later he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon. 30 The king reflected and said, ‘Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?’ 31 While the word was in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you,32 and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place will be with the beasts of the field. You will be given grass to eat like cattle, and seven periods of time (7 years) will pass over you until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes. 33 Immediately the word concerning Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled; and he was driven away from mankind and began eating grass like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair had grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws.

At the end of 7 years, the king raised his eyes towards heaven and acknowledged and honoured God. He praised God with a doxology.

For His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
And His kingdom endures from generation to generation.
35 “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
But He does according to His will in the host of heaven
And among the inhabitants of earth;
And no one can ward off His hand
Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’

God rejects the proud and exalts the humble.

 

 

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When God listens

Batman vs. Superman: These 2 super heroes have caught the interest of children and adults alike.

We know they are fictional characters yet we like to watch how they save the world with their
superpowers. In the Old Testament, there was once such a super hero that did more than what these fictional
superheroes do. He commanded the sun to stand still and the moon to stop moving.

Joshua 10
12 On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence
of Israel:
“Sun, stand still over Gibeon,
and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.”
13 So the sun stood still,
and the moon stopped,
till the nation avenged itself on its enemies,
as it is written in the Book of Jashar.
The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. 14 There has
never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely
the Lord was fighting for Israel!

The Israelites were winning battles left and right. They defeated many kings in their journey to
take possession of the promised land. There was such a great fear and dread of them that the
Gibeonites deceived the Israelites into an alliance with them to the extent of being their slaves so
they would not be killed (Joshua 9). After this, 5 other kings in the region then gathered to
invade Gibeon. The Gibeonites called on Joshua to save them for this invasion. It was in this
battle to save the Gibeonites that Joshua asked God to have the sun and moon stand still for one
whole day while they fought the battle.

God promised Joshua that He would be with him and encouraged Joshua to strong and
courageous. This promise was realized in that they won battles after battles – Jericho, Ai, such
that people in the land were very afraid of this small group of people.

Joshua was called to be the leader after Moses died. He did not have any soldier experience
before he took on the task. He was Moses’ assistant. He held Moses’ arm so they would win the
battle (Exodus 17).

The Gibeonites were clever to ally with the Israelites. They were saved from being annihilated
by the Israelites. They got themselves a strong defender when they were under attack.

iIn life, we want to be on winning side, don’t we? It is assuring to be on the winning side. The
Gibeonites had a good ally in the Israelites under Joshua. Joshua had a good ally in the warrior-
redeemer God – who promised to win battles for them.

Joshua 10:14 is such powerful and
assuring statement – There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord
listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel!

When the Lord listened to a human being… this phrase is more than just a miracle story in the Bible. That the Lord listened to a human being is a continuing
event in human history. The question is more of “Does man call on the Lord to listen to him. What
kind of call does a human being make to the Lord that moves Him to listen like never before? Is
it one that call on Him to do the seemingly impossible? that even the sun and the moon stop its
natural course? Miracles in life are more than the big bang and amazing wonders that thunder
and blind the eyes. Miracles in life are seen and experienced when man open his heart to have a relationship with his amazing and loving Creator who seeks to save and do wonders in his life.

Do I see God as fighting for me? Or am I fighting it alone? Do I call on him and let him do the impossible?

When God listens, even the sun and the moon stop in their courses!

 

 

Where is God when it hurts?

Question… If you were to wake one day and all that you have were taken from you in an instant: all your possessions, your wealth and even your children, how would you respond? If you were left with nothing but pain and suffering, physical, mental, emotional torture in your soul, what would you do? If you believe in God, what would you say about him? What would you say to him?

Job is a Biblical character known for his great suffering sandwiched between his two great periods of prosperity. (See Job 1:1-5; 42:10-16) He started very wealthy. He had lots of animals and servants. He died at 140 – an old man full of days. He was greatest of all men in the east. Why? Aside from his great external resources, he had great internal values.

He was “blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.” (1:1) Job was first and foremost described as a good man. He had great integrity. There was no guilt in him. He believed in God and because of his belief, he did not want to do anything wrong to offend God. He even made daily sacrifices for all his ten children – saying perhaps they have ‘sinned and cursed God in their hearts.’ (1:5)

So what started his suffering? Who started it? It all started when God ‘bragged’ about Job to Satan: Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.  Well, of course he is good – you have blessed him so much. Take away everything. He ‘will surely curse You to Your face.’ 

This was the first challenge. God ‘allowed’ Satan to test Job. (1:12) “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.” `

What happened then? Long story short, in a day, no more oxen and donkeys; dead sheep and camels… and last but not the least, goodbye sons and daughters! (see 1:13-18)

What did Job do? Job stood up, tore his clothes and shaved his head. That was the custom of their day when one is in mourning. He fell to the ground and worshiped. What did he say?

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
And naked I shall return there.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

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What was the challenge again? Take away everything from him and he will surely curse you to your face! Ding! Round one goes to God. Job did not curse God. He blessed God. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God. (1:22)

Job did not sin. Curse God – that is the sin. How about blame God? Surely, God caused his trouble. To blame is to ‘ascribe unseemliness to’ (NASB footnote). To blame is to credit responsibility for something wrong. Yes, God was responsible for it. He allowed Satan to take away all that Job had. (1:12) Job blessed God because he knew one truth: He came into the world with nothing. When he dies, he takes nothing to the grave. All that he had came from God. If God is the one who gave, he also has the right to take away. There is no wrong in that.

Job knew his God. The God who gives. He did not know God’s conversation with Satan. He did not hear God said “Only do not put forth your hand on him.” But we do. We need to remember that even in suffering and trials, God extends his mercy.

So here comes round 2 of the challenge: God again praised Job to Satan. (2:3) Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” Yes, but a man would do anything to save himself. “However, put forth Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh; he will curse You to Your face.” (2:5)

God said “Behold, he is in your power, only spare his life.” Again God is merciful.

Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.  And he took a potsherd to scrape himself while he was sitting among the ashes.

What happened next? Mrs. Job had something to say to him: Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die (2:9). End your misery!

You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?

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Job was consistent with his knowledge of God. Just as God gives and takes away, God gives both the good and the bad. Another truth to learn.

So here are the two important lessons we can learn from Job’s response to sufferings.

Our Being

In suffering, we need to remember our being. We came into the world in our birthday suit. When we leave this world, we take nothing with us.

Our God

Our life begins and ends with nothing. Everything in between comes from God. Through this lens comes a different view to suffering. Just as God allows suffering, he extends his mercy. Suffering does end.

Our World

The reality of the world is that it is filled with both good and bad. It started very good. God created all things good. Sin came into the world because of man’s disobedience – because of the desire to be like God. God in his mercy still made animal covering for Adam and Eve to cover their nakedness. God in his mercy sent His Son Jesus to die for our sins. There is so much evil in the world, so much suffering because of so many bad things sinful men do. Man has a choice to do good or do evil. God allows it.

Shall we accept good from God and not adversity? This lens helped Job in his suffering. God is in control. He gives and he takes away. He gives good and he allows evil. He allows evil and he extends mercy. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

Where is God when it hurts? He is with me in my suffering. He loves me. He loves you too.

 

Joy of a different kind

Question… what makes a joyful church? What do churches of today celebrate about? Anniversaries mostly. They are happy when they have built bigger and grander places for worship and assembly. They pride themselves for being mega churches with thousands of membership and being globally known all over the world. They raise their hands in praise to the sound of grand accompaniments, with worship leaders in big air-conditioned and beautiful sanctuaries – in much comfort and ecstatic feeling of being together with so many people – so festive and elating. Of course, there is nothing wrong with being big in resources whether human or material.

Yet a blessed church is more than just about the external and the quantifiable – the tangible ‘blessings.’ In the early church recorded in the book of Acts, it was a different kind of joy that believers celebrate. I previously wrote about their joy of sharing their resources – there was no needy person among them because they had one ownership of everything they had. Everything they had they gave to benefit the whole church.

Another kind of sharing that brought them joy is the joy of sharing in the suffering for Jesus’ name.

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Acts 5
41 So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

So what happened here? After Jesus ascended to heaven, the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost and they were empowered to speak the good news of Jesus. Peter preached and thousands believed in Jesus. The early church led by the apostles of Jesus was growing in numbers. Miracles were happening – the sick healed, the needy provided for, thousands were added to the church (Acts 5:12-16) in spite of deep and severe persecutions from those who opposed Jesus. The apostles were imprisoned, threatened and flogged. (5:18, 40) Even after all these, Peter still preached and condemned them for putting Jesus on the cross. The temple leaders were so enraged they wanted to kill the apostles. They were released only because Gamaliel, a Pharisee, a respected leader stood up to give this advice:”stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.” (38-39)

So how was it to be ‘rejoicing’ after being imprisoned, threatened, flogged and shamed? For what? These believers had a different kind of motivation – they pride themselves for being ‘considered worthy’ – that they were good enough to suffer for the cause of making Jesus known.

Today, many of us believers are too comfortable living our faith – we only hear of persecutions in other places – of lives being taken, of imprisonments, of the horrors of suffering for being Christian. Yet it is often those suffering Christians who are more joyful than those who are living freely and comfortably. How sad…

So how do I apply this lesson? I need to be more grateful for the things I take for granted – freedom to worship, freedom to share God’s Word, freedom to make my life count – to further the cause of the gospel. I need to beware of taking life too easy – complacent in my comfort zone. I must learn to choose joy when things are not to my liking or expectations. Suffering or problems in life are relative – there is always the issue of comparison – with what or with whom are we comparing our issues and challenges?

To reflect… how do I rejoice when life is not easy? What do I consider to be worthy to be joyful for? What causes me to celebrate? What is the purpose of my existence? Motivation and purpose of living – this directs our perspective and influence us in the way of joyful living. Is it for the cause of Jesus?

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Abiding in the Shadows

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In the shadow of your wing, I will praise you, O Lord. This is the song my theology professor often led us to pray before we start each class.

What is a shadow? A shadow is the dark shape of the object formed by the same object when it blocks the light. As there is light on one side of it, it has its shadow on the other side.

As I look back in time through my life, I want to thank my Shepherd, for leading me through the shadows of life: my sins He forgives, my tears He dries, my wounds (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual) He heals. In my failures, He teaches me lessons, lessons that I could not and would not have learned in plain sunshine.

Growth is a process. In life, it is the struggle that makes a beautiful butterfly. The cocoon is formed by a plain caterpillar. What is it like to be in the dark cocoon? How does it feel to squeeze and wrestle out of the dark cocoon? How often I wish if only God would free me from this bad and sad situation, or change this difficult person(s) so life would be easier. Instead, it is me that He is changing. God wants me to dwell (to stay, to linger) in His Shelter. He taught me and is still teaching me that it is possible to rest (stop struggling) in the shadow because as He is my light, and I am in His shadow.

In life’s there is and will always be light and shadows. Thank u, Lord for your light to guide me in the shadow. Help me Lord to abide in your shadow. And in the shadow of your wing, I will praise you, O Lord.

Of Legacies and Epitaphs…

Question: Have you ever thought about how people will feel when you leave them? I have. What do I think about it? I’ve wondered and thought… would they feel sad or even cry? would they miss me?
This morning I read about a king with an epitaph like this:
Jehoram was thirty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eight years. He passed away, to no one’s regret, and was buried in the City of David, but not in the tombs of the kings. (2 Chron. 21:20)
Dying to no one’s regret! Perhaps even good riddance. How pathetic and sad. King Jehoram was son of King Jehoshapat who was a good king. But unlike his father, Jehoram was bad. He killed all his brothers and did evil in the eyes of the Lord. In judgement, God sent Elijah the prophet, to tell him that he would die of disease of the bowels – with his intestines coming out of him. Horrible.
Jehoram died at 40, young, and a painful death to no one’s regret. What a pity!
I’m 56. I don’t know when my last day on earth would be. No one does. One thing I know: God put me on earth for a purpose – his purpose is for me to live well so people will know of the God of grace when they see the grace of God in each moment of each day that I live. Sometimes I did well, sometimes I failed. But God is always gracious. He enables when He calls.
Even as I read of King Jehoram from the Old Testament, I read of Jesus’ words from John 14:1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”
These are words of great comfort as we live in our temporary world. Our final destination is to be with Jesus in eternity – in the place where He prepares for us. Jesus told these things to his disciples just before He went the way of the cross – to assure them that they would not be left alone. Jesus also said:
25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
So dear friend, let us live each day with hope and courage – that when we leave this world, we are going to be with Jesus and while we are in this world, the Holy Spirit is with us to teach us all things and remind us of the words of Jesus. Jesus leaves us with peace, peace not as the world gives – but peace that is beyond understanding.
Let not your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
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For Christians, C is Christ.  Choose Christ and let not your hearts be troubled and live for E- eternity: A life that lasts on earth as it is in heaven!

The Good Shepherd

Psalm 23.1

Psalm 23 is a famous psalm written by King David. As a shepherd boy, he sure knew the story of the shepherd and his sheep. He knew how it was to care for his flock: provide them green pastures and water; protect them from harm and lead them where they should go. And so David described the Lord as his shepherd who provides and protects him all his life. Instead of him being the shepherd, David pictured himself to be the helpless sheep who needed the constant care and guidance of his shepherd.

Jesus also used the story of the shepherd. He often told simple stories (parables) to teach spiritual lessons. He used real life situations and experiences of his listeners so they would understand better important truths.  In the Bible, from Abraham to the time of Jesus, shepherds were one of the main occupations of the land. This is why Jesus chose the metaphor of the shepherd to describe himself in relation to his followers being his sheep.

John 10

1“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognise a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.

Who is not the shepherd? What does this person do and not do?

The one who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate is not the shepherd. Why does he not enter by the gate? Because the shepherd is also the gate for the sheep. He is their protector. Before anyone gets to his sheep, he has to get through the shepherd.

The one who is not the shepherd came to steal and take away what is not his. The thief is a stranger whom the sheep do not know.  How do sheep know their shepherd? By his voice. Sheep are said to have good hearing. They are sensitive to noise when being handled. The thief does not know the sheep by name – he cannot call them by name to lead them out. The sheep will not listen to people who are not their shepherd (v. 8b) because they do not recognise a stranger’s voice (v.5b).

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

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Who is the shepherd? What does he do?

The shepherd is the one who comes through the gate. He calls his sheep by name. He knows each one of them. He comes to lead them out to pasture – to feed them, to provide for them and to protect them. While the thief comes to steal and kill, the shepherd comes to give abundant life.

Jesus described himself as the good shepherd.

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

What does a good shepherd do? The good shepherd gives his life to defend and protect his sheep against predators. He is not the hired hand who runs away when there is danger. The good shepherd does not abandon his sheep to the wolves. The good shepherd loves his sheep because they belong to him and he is their owner.

Application:

Two main characters in this shepherd story:

Who is the shepherd? What kind of shepherd is he? Jesus is the good shepherd. Why is he good? He loves us. He knows each one of us by name. He cares, protects and provides for us. He lays down his life for us to protect us from harm.  He calls to us to lead us to pastures.

What about the sheep? Here are some facts on what I researched about sheep.

Sheep are often perceived to be unintelligent animals. Sheep have a natural inclination to follow a leader to new pastures. All sheep have a tendency to congregate close to other members of a flock. Sheep can become stressed when separated from their flock members. During flocking, sheep have a strong tendency to follow and a leader may simply be the first individual to move. They tend to flee and panic. Despite these perceptions, a University of Illinois monograph on sheep reported their intelligence to be just below that of pigs, and on par with that of cattle. Sheep can recognise individual human and ovine faces, and remember them for years. In addition to long-term facial recognition of individuals, sheep can also differentiate emotional states through facial characteristics. If worked with patiently, sheep may learn their names.

We are not sheep. We are more than sheep. We are dearly beloved children of God – for whom Jesus, the good shepherd laid down his life. We not unintelligent animals. We are created a little lower than the angels (Psalm 8:5-6).  We are given the choice to let Jesus be our shepherd.

We can also learn from the sheep. We need to congregate with fellow members of the flock. Do we even feel stressed when we are not in the flock? Or are we self-sufficient to be doing well on our own? Do we follow our good Shepherd? Is our sense of hearing as good? Do we know his voice? Are we sensitive enough to listen for our names being called? Do we recognise our shepherd’s face? Are we aware of how we are making our shepherd feel? Is he glad or sad or mad? How attuned are we to his will and purpose for us?

The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. The Good Shepherd calls his sheep by name.

Jesus said: “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Today, hear and listen to his call: Enter the Gate and have life, a life to the full!

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