Comprehensive Protection

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The Book of Daniel contains the acts and welfare of the Jewish people in Babylon. They are captives and so much of the stories shared here are accounts of spirituality under duress. King Nebuchadnezzar, in an attempt to unify his kingdom, proclaims himself to be a god. He commissions a 90 foot statue to be erected; he orders that, on a prearranged moment, that all would fall down and worship.

Thgold statueere are three Jewish men: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who are brought to the king with the charge of ‘failure to worship.’ They refused to bow at the statue at the signal. They were observed standing when everyone else was kneeling. Non-compliance to the king meant the death penalty; but that doesn’t deter the three. Their faith will not allow them to sin in this way.

They are resolute. The first, second and third commandments clearly forbid the worship of all idols. There was no other options. Perhaps they valued their souls more than they valued their lives. In some things there can be no accommodation– no compromise. Standing before the king and threatened with death, they declare their allegiance to the living God. Dan. 3:16-18:

 “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

The king is enraged. Few have ever spoken and defied him like this (and lived). He orders the furnace to be heated up like never before.  Here the king is making a statement. He will not tolerate this kind of ‘rebellion’ in his kingdom. All of his governing leaders will witness what he does to ‘traitors.’ These Hebrews must be made an example.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” 25 He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods” (v.v. 24-25).

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are thrown into the fire. The men who escorted them are killed by the heat. Ironically, Nebuchadnezzer can’t protect his own men from death while the three Jews are not touched, not even a little. They are joined by a fourth man and they walk around in the midst of the flames.

Suddenly, Nebuchadnezzer realizes that the God of Israel is not only a real God, but a force to be reckoned with. The men’s faith has saved them. (And his men are dead.)

The complete story is quite compelling. The king orders all that the real God be worshipped. Henceforth, no one shall ever speak against this God. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are promoted in the kingdom.

The lessons for today are many,

  1. God’s Word is to be obeyed no matter what it costs,

  2. When confronted, we must never hedge over our beliefs

  3. God is present with us in our furnace, we’re never alone

  4. In the fire, our faith will ultimately triumph.

We may be standing in similar times. Faith will be tested. The Word must be believed and trusted. It is ‘comprehensive protection’ for our lives. Obedience to God will lead us into difficult places, but faith will triumph.

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Always Like Little Children [Always]

 

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 “About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Matthew 18:1-3, NLT

I used to think that maturity meant sophistication, something to out-grow. Applying it to spiritual matters was a natural fit. I tried hard to accelerate things and attempt to move beyond simple basics of the faith. Jesus’ cadre of disciples needed this lesson. They were given very specific and pointed instruction:

One day some parents brought their little children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But when the disciples saw this, they scolded the parents for bothering him.Then Jesus called for the children and said to the disciples, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. 17 I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”

Luke 18:15-17

“Children are the hands by which we take hold of heaven. ”  

Henry Ward Beecher

Jesus makes a special effort to get his followers to see their need. He voices the dictate that they must become children again; that they must learn that the basics are the core. Real faith remains childlike even as it gets old.  As we see the children that are in our midst, we should see in them the pattern for us as we connect with the Lord, and with each other. It’s a paradox, but we mature as children, and this doesn’t ever change. Jesus told us that the Kingdom belongs to those whose faith is childlike.

Childlike faith seems to have three focuses:

  1. Areas of intimacy, in the presence of the Lord as sons and daughters,
  2. Areas of relationships, between each other as brothers and sisters
  3. Issues of spiritual warfare,  facing the daily battle with sin and darkness.

Holding a child’s faith works its way into us in deep ways. At its essence is a humility (mixed with brokenness) that shapes how we move through our lives. There would be many embarrassed people if they were suddenly clothed in nothing but their humility. (I think we should make more of it then we do.)

Becoming a person of childlike faith will take a lifetime, that is why we should start now.

“God created the world out of nothing, and so long as we are nothing, He can make something out of us.”  

Martin Luther

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The God-Players, [Death Wish]

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The Problem Is Myself,

  by Earl Jabay

 

About twenty-five years ago, in a small Midwestern city, a group of young boys were playing baseball. It was a team tryout. Every boy was doing his best to impress the coach. Robbie was a catcher. Younger than the two other boys who were trying out for that position, he was, however, a real beaver. Nothing was more important to him than getting on the team. There was no question about his talent. He was good. Any spectator could see that he was better than the other two catchers.

Late in the afternoon, the coach called Robbie over to him. Robbie studied the coach’s eyes for some hint of acceptance. It was not there, but then, maybe the coach was hiding his feelings. The coach began talking about how much ability Robbie had and that he really gave a lot to the game. And then it came. “Robbie, I hate to have to tell you this, but I can’t use you.” It was like being hit on the head with a baseball bat. “But . . . why?” Robbie fought to hold back his tears.

“Robbie—two things. You’re not a team member. You never joined us. You play your game when you are out there. You are a good catcher—but a loner as a team member. “The second thing is that you have a problem with me. You play my part, coaching the players and taking over. We can’t have a ball club on that basis.” “But Coach!—I was only trying my best!” Coach reflected. “There’s more to it than that, Robbie.” You were a good ballplayer, but your enlarged ego moved you right out of the ball club. “Forget it!” cried Robbie, as he stormed off the ball field. “I wouldn’t be caught dead on your crummy team!” Even as you stormed off the field, you felt like a king. You told them you were too good for them.

When I met Robbie, he was a man in his late thirties who had recently been admitted to a mental hospital. Rob was severely suicidal. “I’ve been struggling against taking my life ever since I was a young boy. Death has somehow always had a fascination for me.” He was seated comfortably in my study, and I just let him talk. “I remember that old Ford I had just before I graduated from high school. One night I took it out to the edge of town and ran a piece of tubing from the exhaust, through the window, and into the car. Then I started up the engine. Somehow, it gave me wild excitement to see how close I could come to taking my life. I chickened out, as you can see.” He laughed hollowly. “Another time, I tried to see how close I could come to the concrete abutment of an overpass. The car was doing about fifty-five when I hit it. Two days later, I woke up in a hospital with a broken back which still gives me trouble.” I thought of all the highway deaths and wondered how many of them were, in reality, suicides. “This thing with death really frightens me.” He paused and shook his head. “Well, it does and it doesn’t. Right now, I really don’t want to kill myself. But when I get excited or things go wrong, the first thing I do is think about some weird plan to kill myself. I have literally hundreds of ways all worked out in my mind. The idea has a hold on me.

Many times, it’s almost as if a dark, brooding presence comes over me and I have no power over it. I don’t believe in the devil, but it’s like an evil power—I find myself absolutely powerless to resist it. That’s what brought me here. This time, I slashed my wrists. One part of me tells me I wanted to do it—another says I didn’t.” Rob went on to tell me what he had tried to do about his problem. “I spent years trying to figure out what kind of a nut I was to have these weird ideas. I became such a nervous wreck that I went to a psychiatrist for some tranquilizers. Thought maybe that would help.” He sighed and leaned back in his chair. “The doctor gave me some pills and suggested psychotherapy. I had already read a lot about it, so I began treatment. At the time, I claimed that it was doing a lot of good and that I was finally getting some answers. I think I had to say that to justify paying him all that money! After two years, I ran out of money—and patience. I came to know a lot about my past, but that old problem of suicide was more of a threat than ever.

“Next thing I did was go to a minister. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not religious, but I heard that this minister was a counselor, so I went to him. True, he didn’t say much about God, but he sure had a lot to say about his church. His congregation was very busy and active with all kinds of study groups and community-action programs, all of which I was invited to join. When I finally got to tell him about my problems, all I recall him saying was that I should make a decision not to kill myself, and that I should use more willpower. Oh yes, he said I should also pray. I was hoping he would pray with me, because I felt I really needed prayer, but he never suggested it. I quit going to see him.”

I looked at Rob’s face. Fatigue was written all over it. And despair. I felt pity for this man who had tried so hard to figure out why he was losing his battle against death. I sensed that Rob had a little more to say. “The only conclusion I can come to is that my biggest problem is myself. I am my own worst enemy!—always have been. I’m a double person—maybe I’m schizoid, I don’t know. I do and then I don’t want to kill myself. I don’t understand myself. I don’t even like myself. Worst of all, I can’t even control myself! For God’s sake, Chaplain, tell me what’s wrong with me!” he cried, putting his face in his hands. “Does any of this make any sense at all?”

I knew it was time to level with Rob. “Okay,” I said, keeping my voice low, “I’ll give it to you straight: you are absolutely right when you say that you are your biggest problem. And the problem with you, Rob, is that you are a god-player. What I mean is this: you have tried to create your own little world with yourself placed squarely in the center of it. God has no place in your world because you have taken His place. Your whole life is a story of how you tried to set things up according to your will and plans. You wanted to be a king and build yourself a kingdom. The truth is that you are not a god, not even a king—you are a plain, ordinary human being who has never joined the human race.” Rob was listening now, not moving a muscle. I went on. “That early episode on the ball field, in a sense, tells it all. Even then you tried to take over. You tried to take that ball club—coach and all—and make them serve you in the Kingdom of Robbie. I paused, catching my breath, but Rob remained speechless.

“Now, about this problem of suicide,” I continued. “Suicide is the ultimate act of god-playing—even though you never consciously intended it to be that. Look, when anyone attempts suicide, what does he do? He insists of having the world his way, and if he cannot have it his way, he will kill himself. The king in us would rather die than accept the world as it is. He has such a deep love for his kingship and such a strong faith in himself to bring it about, that any failure or weakness in himself must be punished with death.” Rob nodded. He didn’t like what he was hearing, but he seemed to see it was the truth, and he wanted to hear more. “The Kingdom of Self, understand, is in our heads. We spend years building this fantasy kingdom unto our own glory. The king’s thinking becomes grandiose and his feelings ultimate. He believes all things can and must be done according to his will. And another thing; the king is never wrong. He is always right. Just ask him. He’ll tell you. So when the castle really starts to fall down around his ears and the king has lost all control of the world in his mind, he will fly out of control unto his own destruction. Then the forces of self-hate and self-pity move in and become so strong that the king is powerless to withstand them. He does, therefore, what he does not want to do—he attempts to kill himself because he can’t stand himself, defeated phony king that he is. It’s not that he particularly wants to die; it’s just that there doesn’t seem to be any alternative with his kingdom in such terrible shape.” I glanced at my watch and realized I had only a few minutes before my next appointment. “One more thing before you go: you are a god-playing king. So am I. Everyone is. You failed as a king. I, too. We are both failures—in fact, we even failed to fail successfully. But we are still alive, thank God, and there is much hope for both of us. If you want to, come back this afternoon, and we’ll talk some more.”

 

Earl Jabay was a Christian therapist in 1950’s.  He wrote a number of books, including “The Kingdom of Self” and “The God-Players.”

 

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The Presence Makes the Difference

jesus-paralyticI once was told that depression is the inability to construct a future. Perhaps that is precisely where I’ve come to, this old despair that lies dormant until the conditions are just right— and then it explodes in burst of black dandelions.

For about three weeks, I had experienced being down. Somedays were much worse than others (and some where actually reasonable). I should of been more cautious. Afterall, I have twenty years of battling this old dragon that has been my most potent enemy. I suppose I got a bit arrogant. I know I felt immune.

I laid in bed, unable to get out for days. Obviously this was a concern, but I couldn’t find any strength to speak of. I couldn’t even pray.

 “A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them.Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them.Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Mark 2:1-5

There maybe some who wondered about the sins of this paralyzed man. I believe I may know:

  • There were sins of despair—of God’s goodness.
  • There would’ve been despondency of an unchanging future.
  • And finally, anger at God’s decision to leave him paralyzed and a burden to his family and friends.

That paralyzed man was carried by his friends, and brought into Jesus’ presence. And that is exactly what happened to me. I’ve been astounded by those who carried me. This man had no strength on his own; he was “jello on a mat.” (I don’t mean to be crude or unfeeling).

My own tiredness lingers, I’m struggling to pray. I’m too unfocused, but I’ve been told that comes with the territory with the aftermath of a total depressive meltdown. But I know Jesus. It is His touch that I must have now.

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