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Friday, November 30, 2012

Belshazzar's Last Party

Belshazzar threw a party. He invited one thousand guests, all lords, plus his wives (plural; one wonders how many), and concubines (the harem got in on it, too).

We usually understand this scene as “Belshazzar’s Feast,” but the Bible doesn’t mention a morsel of food, rather the emphasis was on the drink. Belshazzar had already drunk some, and he ordered the golden and silver vessels, that had been taken from the temple in Jerusalem, to be brought into the halls, so they could drink from them. These vessels had been dedicated to God. Read what these guests did with them: the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them. They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone (Daniel 5:3b-4). This was idolatry! This was an insult to God!

All of a sudden, their drinking party stops.

On the wall . . . fingers writing . . . .

The king shakes visibly. He calls for his astrologers and soothsayers. He promises a reward to the man who can read the writing and interpret it. The astrologers and soothsayers come, but they can’t read the writing on the wall.

The king is not happy.

The queen (which one?) had been in another room, but she goes in to where the king is, and she greets him in the customary way, “O King, live for ever.” (She had no idea of the prophetic irony.) Then, she tells Belshazzar about Daniel, in whom is found an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams, and shewing of hard sentences . . . . The king sends for Daniel and tells him he will reward him if he can read and interpret the writing on the wall.

This is Daniel’s response: Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another; yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation.

Daniel then recounts the history of Belshazzar’s father, Nebuchadnezzar, how God had worked in his life, giving him majesty, glory and honor. That God had seen Nebuchadnezzar’s pride and taken away the kingdom until the day he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that he appointeth over it whomsoever he will.

Daniel pulls no punches. He tells King Belshazzar, And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this; But hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them; and thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified: Then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing was written. This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians. (Daniel 5:22-24, 26-28)

This wasn’t exactly a positive message for Belshazzar! But, he honors Daniel and makes Daniel the third man in his kingdom—a kingdom that lasts, at the most, a few hours.

That very night, the Medes invaded, killed Belshazzar, and Darius became the new king.

Daniel’s prophecy came true. The God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified. . . . God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. (5:23b, 26b) God judged the king, who knew about God from his father but chose to honor false gods instead. What a sad end!

As usual, God has some practical lessons for us in this story. We aren’t kings with a thousand lords, but we can learn from Belshazzar’s shortcomings and Daniel’s reliance on God. Here are some of the lessons from Daniel, chapter 5:
  • Only God deserves honor. Any recognition of anything else is idolatry.
  • God communicates to everyone, even the wicked.
  • Daniel spoke God’s Word and God’s meaning, even though he knew it wouldn’t be popular. So should we.
  • Make sure we’re not found wanting when we’re weighed in God’s balance. Make sure we’re trusting in Jesus alone for our salvation. Be sure we’re living for Him.
  • God rewards a faithful servant. Daniel lived on, while the kings he served under came and went. God rewards faithfulness.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Book Review: MESSAGES

I like something different when I read, and this was a sure departure for me. I am so glad I dared to try this book and its new-to-me author.

MESSAGES by John Michael Hileman begins with David Chance’s uncanny seeing and, sometimes, understanding words that pop out to him, forming short messages and directions. David knows he has to follow this guidance, even though he thinks he might be going crazy. He doesn’t understand where the messages are coming from or how they come, but he knows he must act. Almost always, when David acts on the message, he saves himself or others from harm. But, sometimes, he doesn’t get a message when he’s the most desperate.

The plot of MESSAGES includes many exciting twists. It includes terrorists, their plans to kill the president and others, and the terrorists’ connection to David. Throughout the book, David learns to trust the messages, his neighbor James, and ultimately, the Lord Himself.

The Christian theme is strong and well presented. I liked the emphasis on the Word of God, especially along with the theme of messages.

This book is fast-paced but not confusing. The writing is good. I really enjoyed MESSAGES! Of course, the whole concept is fiction, but it’s refreshingly different without being weird. I’d give it four and a half stars, and I look forward to reading more of Mr. Hileman’s books.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Three (Four) Men in the Fire

We read Daniel, chapter 3. There’s a ninety-foot, golden image in the plain. Imagine what it looks like! You can see it shimmering in the sunlight. It is amazing!

Where’s Daniel? In this story, he doesn’t even figure. We have to assume he was either out of town on business (which I find unlikely, since he was very important in the government, and King Nebuchadnezzar would have wanted him there). Or, he might have been taken ill on this most important of days, unable to attend. We’re not told. At any rate, he doesn’t get in on the action.

You probably know the story. King Nebuchadnezzar commands that everyone bow down and worship this super statue (maybe of himself; how humble!). The penalty for not bowing was death by fire. And, as a deterrent to disobedience, Nebuchadnezzar had an oven built near his platform at the front of the fiesta. (Nothing like persuasion!)

As you know, there were three men who didn’t bow: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They are tattled on, brought to the king, and probably, those opposed to the Hebrews and their God were rubbing their hands in glee. 

The king offers them another chance.

Imagine the pressure: they are the only three men in the whole country who refuse to bow down. What awaits them is certain death, should they refuse. Everyone is watching, including, of course, the king. It would be so easy to bow. They wouldn’t have to mean it.

I absolutely love their response! Let’s read it: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up (Daniel 3:16-18).

They didn’t need time to think about it. They already knew. They had counted the cost. They also trusted in God to do what was best for them. They are my heroes!

Nebuchadnezzar feels sorry for them and decides to let them off the hook. No! I made that up. He actually gets furious and orders the oven keepers to make the furnace seven times hotter. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are tied up and thrown down into the oven. The mighty men who throw them in are killed by the heat. (So much for Nebuchadnezzar’s choice soldiers. What a waste!)

Nebuchadnezzar wants to see the spectacle of these guys dying—a “lovely” entertainment choice—and looks down into the fire. What he sees must have taken his breath away! He counts.
1, 2, 3, 4.

He re-counts. 1, 2, 3, 4. King Nebuchadnezzar makes sure, because they are walking around in there. He asks his men, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God (3:24b-25).

Then, he does something I find comical. He asks them to come out. Okay, they were thrown down into the oven from the top, bound. How did the king think they were going to manage that one? Fly?

But they did!

And, when they came out, not a hair was singed, no clothing burnt, and they were just fine. They didn’t even smell like the oven.

Three men came out. (Jesus—or at the very least, an angel—was with them when they needed Him. But now, the testimony of God’s amazing power is clear for everyone to see.)

King Nebuchadnezzar is more than impressed. He knows something very special has happened. (He understands more than we sometimes give him credit for.) And, in typical despotic king fashion, he reacts with a decree: Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God. Therefore I make a decree, That every people, nation, and language, which speak any thing amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill: because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort (3:28-29).

May we, like our brothers Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego,
believe, our God whom we serve is able!

Praise Him!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The King's Dream

We all know the story. King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream and didn’t remember it in the morning. He asks the impossible. Someone has to tell him what he dreamed and then interpret its meaning. Well, the wise men of the kingdom tell him it’s impossible, but he isn’t in the best humor. He announces he will kill them all!

Arioch is the king’s captain, and goes to round up all the wise men to kill them, and Daniel asks him what’s going on. Daniel asks for time, gathers his three friends who fear God, and they have a prayer meeting. Then, God gives Daniel the answer overnight. Daniel asks Arioch to arrange a meeting with the king, who introduces him: I have found a man of the captives of Judah, that will make known unto the king the interpretation (Daniel 2:25b).

King Nebuchadnezzar asks Daniel, Art thou able to make known unto me the dream which I have seen, and the interpretation thereof? (2:26b)

What would you have answered? “But of course!” “Oh, yes, I’m your man.”

Daniel answered in the presence of the king, and said, The secret which the king hath demanded cannot the wise men, the astrologers, the magicians, the soothsayers, shew unto the king; But there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be . . . . (2:27-28a) Daniel took absolutely no credit for himself. There is a God in heaven . . . . What a beautiful testimony!

Daniel didn’t deny his own goodness only once. Read the first part of verse 30: But as for me, this secret is not revealed to me for any wisdom that I have more than any living. Daniel understood his total dependence on God.

So, Daniel tells King Nebuchadnezzar about the dream he had—a huge, mixed media sculpture of a man. Daniel then reveals to him the prophecy of future kingdoms and Nebuchadnezzar’s role.

Nebuchadnezzar’s response isn’t at all what we would expect. He falls on his face and begins to worship Daniel! He even commands his servants to offer an oblation to him and to start burning incense. (2:46) Can you imagine Daniel’s reaction?

Between verses 46 and 47, Daniel must have cleared up Who deserves the credit, because we read in verse 47, The king answered unto Daniel, and said, Of a truth it is, that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal this secret. Now, finally, King Nebuchadnezzar gets it.

The king promotes Daniel to be “a great man.” (I think God promoted Daniel first. Don’t you?) He gives him gifts, makes him ruler of the province of Babylon—the capital city—and the chief over the governors and wise men. (I have a feeling that the Chaldean wise men were okay with Daniel’s promotion, since he was the one who saved their skins.)

Now, Daniel’s in a position to ask a favor of the king. Daniel asks him to appoint his God-fearing friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, to help him in the province of Babylon.

As in all Bible stories, this one is recorded in Scripture for our good. Here are some practical lessons from it:
  1. Always rely on God.
  2. Always give God the credit. Don’t even take partial credit.
  3. After God grants success, give Him the credit again. 
  4. If you are rewarded for what God does through you, be thankful, and do your job conscientiously. Any wealth should be managed carefully, pleasing the Lord.
  5. Surround yourself with godly people. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

The King's Food

I love the book of Daniel! Let me share the very first story with you. (The verses shown are all from the first chapter.)

Jerusalem has just been conquered by King Nebuchadnezzar, and many have been taken captive to his headquarters in Babylon. The king especially wants to borrow brains, so he instructs a man named Ashpenaz to look for young noblemen to be wise, knowledgeable, able to teach, strong in their standing, and without physical blemishes. (verses 3-4)

Four young men were chosen: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. (You’ll remember the last three as Shadrach, Mechach, and Abednego, their pagan names, given to them in Babylon. Oddly enough, we know Daniel as Daniel and not by his pagan name, Belteshazzar.)

They were to be given the king’s food—the meat and drink from his table. (verse 5) This was to last for the three years of their training. But, Daniel was not pleased with this idea. Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself. (from verse 8)

Notice that Daniel understood that eating the king’s meat and drinking the king’s drink would defile him. The meat was prepared by gentiles, which was forbidden under the Mosaic Law. It might have included meats from “unclean” animals, and it was probably offered to heathen gods before the king partook of it—all reasons that eating this meat was not agreeable to these Jewish young men. The drink was also probably much stronger than what was permitted, thus another “defilement.”

Daniel was the leader of the four, and he had won the friendship of Ashpenaz, the master of the king’s eunuchs. Daniel suggested to Melzar (who worked under Ashpenaz) a switch to “pulse” (vegetables, quite possibly legumes of some sort) and water. Melzar thought this would displease the king and maybe even cost him his life! But, he agreed to a ten-day trial period. If, after ten days, the young men looked sicklier than the others, they would have to eat the king’s food. Daniel agreed.

This was much more than a switch to a healthier lifestyle. This meant the four friends were sticking to their faith. And, God honored them.

After the ten days, they appeared before the king, and they were more handsome and ten times wiser than their counterparts, who had eaten the king’s food. (Think of it—one time wiser for every day of obedience! Not a bad swap!!!) That they looked so healthy after only ten days of a diet change was nothing less than a miracle of God. God did it so that these men could stand pure and honor Him. And the wisdom . . . the source of wisdom is God! (James 1:5)

The practical lessons for us?
  1. When you’re away from your Christian comfort zone (on vacation, moved to another place, studying out of town, visiting friends, etc.), don’t leave God behind. Instead, look for other Christians, so you can have fellowship. Cling to God’s Word daily. Follow His commands rather than the prevalent philosophy around you.
  2. Prove God’s faithfulness.
  3. Follow Daniel’s example and endear yourself to the people around you. Be courteous and classy.
  4. When you’re tempted with “the king’s food” (sin), remember to honor God instead. 
Whether therefore ye eat, or drink,
or whatsoever ye do,
do all to the glory of God.
(1 Corinthians 10:31)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

"A Perfect Thing"

I recently heard an interview with the British author Susan Hill. She told about seeing the Book of Kells in a museum and realizing that “a book is a perfect thing.” It inspired her so much that she decided then and there to be a writer.

It got me to thinking. A perfect thing . . . .

I know of a few things that are almost perfect: exquisitely cut diamonds, a flawless paint job on a brand new car, even having a wonderful day.

But perfect?

Outside the spiritual realm, nothing is perfect. The world, the earth . . . they’re cursed by sin. People, well, we all know no one is perfect. God made a lot of beautiful things: flowers, trees, mountains, sunsets, interesting insects . . . . Anything not tainted by sin is perfect.

Perfect is God. Only God. Perfect is His eternal Word, because it was breathed by a Holy God. Perfect is sinless, and only God is sinless.

Ms. Hill was partially right. The Book of Kells contains part of the Bible—Matthew through John 17:13. (It was never finished.) Scripture, of course, is perfect. The Book of Kells wasn’t perfectly copied, though. There are a couple of mistakes. (There’s an extra ancestor in Jesus’ genealogy in Luke and a wrong translation of the word “sword” in Matthew 10:34.) Though not perfect, The Book of Kells is impressive, especially because of its lovely calligraphy and fantastically illuminated pages. Its decoration includes Celtic knots and bright colors, some of the pigments imported from a great distance.

I am thankful that we have an absolutely perfect foundation for our faith: God’s Word and God Himself.

One Book is a perfect thing. What an inspiration! (Pun intended.)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Is Your Heart Fixed Yet?

I grew up in the southern part of the United States, where the word fix has several uses:
  • It can mean fixing something that is broken, repairing.
  • It can mean decorating, as in fixing up your living room.
  • It can mean a drug dose, as in an addict getting a fix.
  • It can mean preparing, as in fixing dinner.
  • It can mean combing your hair or putting on make-up: fixing your hair, fixing your make-up.

When we read the word “fixed” in the Bible, it’s not any of these meanings. Rather, it’s a Hebrew word that means:

Let’s read some verses about a fixed heart:
  • My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise (Psalm 57:7).
  • O God, my heart is fixed; I will sing and give praise, even with my glory (Psalm 108:1).
  • He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the LORD (Psalm 112:7).

How can we have a stable, established, ready, and prepared heart? These verses give us some clues:
            Praise God.
            Trust in the Lord.

Is your heart fixed yet?

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Guy Who Grew Up with Jesus

I began reading the book of James this morning. I only read the first chapter, but I was blown away (again) by all the practical instruction in so few verses of Scripture. My immediate impression was, if you obey only this chapter, you will be well on your way in spiritual growth.

The author of the book of James is the half brother of the Lord Jesus, James. Picture with me: a fairly large family, living in a carpenter’s home. The eldest child is perfect. He never does anything wrong, never sasses His parents, always obeys, never tells a lie, never hits His brothers or sisters . . . . And, Mama tells the other kids that Jesus is special; He’s the Son of God. The angel Gabriel told her, and Elisabeth told her, and Anna told her, and Simeon told her. When He was born, shepherds came to worship Him. When He was a little bigger, wise men from the East came and gave Him expensive gifts. “This was before you were born.” Father adds, “Yes, an angel told me all about it, too. And, angels sang at Jesus’ birth. I will never forget that night . . . .“

James was one of those little brothers. He grew up with these tales in his head. And he rejected them.

When his half brother had a world-famous ministry of preaching, healing, and miracles, James still refused to believe in Him. So did his brothers. (John 7:5)

Jesus died, horribly tortured and nailed to a cross. He was buried. I wonder what James was thinking, then.

Three days later, James hears the amazing news. Jesus is risen! 1 Corinthians 15:5-7 tell us that, after His resurrection, Jesus appeared to Peter, then the twelve disciples, then to five hundred believers at once, then to James, and to the apostles. Why did Jesus make a special appearance to James?

Sometime between Jesus’ appearing to him and Acts 1:14, James and his brothers believed. They’re with over a hundred other believers in an upper-room prayer meeting. By Acts 12, James was a leader in the early church. (See also Acts 15:13-29; 21:17-18; Galatians 1:19; 2:9, 12; and Jude 1. By the way, Jude was another of the Lord’s half brothers.)

James might be the earliest penned epistle in the New Testament, before Paul’s letters. We don’t know for sure. His letter may have been written a while before Paul’s (48-50 A.D.). The Jewish historian Josephus records James’ martyrdom in 62 A.D..

Keeping in mind James’ background, family, unbelief, and his path to faith, enjoy reading his very practical teaching of Scripture. Isn’t it wonderful that God used James to write a book of His Word? It’s another evidence of His mercy.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and will call upon the name of the LORD (Psalm 116:17).

The psalmist’s heart is full of thanksgiving, and it’s based on his past experiences. Looking back over Psalm 116, we find:
  • The Lord hears and listens to our prayers. (verses 1-2)
  • God delivers the psalmist from the sorrows of death, the deepest hell, and trouble and sorrow. (verses 3-4)
  • God is gracious. (5)
  • God is righteous. (5)
  • God is merciful. (5)
  • God helps the “simple,” in this case, the psalmist. (6)
  • God provides rest and deliverance. (7-8)

Is it any wonder that the psalmist offered thanksgiving to the Lord?

I looked up the word “sacrifice,” something we don’t usually associate with giving thanks. Here, it means an offering or a sacrifice. Remember the Old Testament altars and sacrifices? Their burning was a sweet odor to the Lord. They were offered up to God.

So it is with thanks. It is offered up, its “smoke” reaching the nostrils of God, bringing Him pleasure.

This Thanksgiving season, I can look back over the past year and remember many of the same blessings the psalmist had, but in my own life:
  • God has heard and answered specific prayers.
  • God has delivered loved ones from death.
  • God has been gracious, righteous, and merciful.
  • God has helped the simple, in this case, me.
  • God has provided my soul with rest and deliverance—through and after some unique trials. 

I can add many more reasons to praise the Lord with thanksgiving, such as finishing my book, freedom from pain, daily provisions, family blessings, the beauty of nature . . . . I could spend all day listing them!

This Thanksgiving, I will offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving
to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Entertained an Angel Lately?

Hebrews 13:2 is one of those verses that has always intrigued me. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

The idea of entertaining angels isn’t a new one. Remember Abraham? He and Sara gave a meal to two angels and the pre-incarnate Jesus. (Genesis 18: 1) Did Abraham know they were angels? I don’t know, but he seemed to know that Jesus was Lord. I find it interesting that Abraham fell to the ground in a very deep bow when they approached. It’s also interesting that they could eat meat and bread. These weren’t exactly see-through ghosty guys.

A chapter later, these same angels visit Lot in Sodom. Lot doesn’t seem to have a clue that they are angels. He honors them as guests and tries to protect them from the onslaught of sinful men all around his house. In turn, the angels end up saving Lot, by pulling him into his own home. The next day, these angels take Lot, his wife, and his two daughters by the hand and rescue them from the destruction of Sodom. The angels looked like men, acted like men, and they were strong. Lot definitely entertained them unaware—at least at first.

I know a very few people who have actually seen someone who helped them in a very particular way, and later that person couldn’t be found. Was this an angel? I don’t know, but at the very least, it was someone used of God.

The word angel in Hebrews 13:2 means: a messenger, an angel, someone sent by God.

Commentaries don’t give us any instances in Scripture besides those with Abraham and Lot, but I found an interesting application for this passage. The author cited the blessings available to Christians who entertain strangers in their homes. Many times, having servants of God—evangelists, preachers, musical groups, young people, etc.—in your home gives you a blessing and also impacts and blesses your children.

When I was young, my parents often entertained servants of the Lord. I think it prepared my heart to want to serve God as well. It’s great to get to know people who are serving God and are normal human beings with a sense of humor and interesting stories to share.

I have had the privilege of entertaining some precious people in my own home. Probably the most amazing person I have entertained was a lady that a friend had recommended to come and speak to our ladies. Three churches of women assembled together for the special meeting. The woman speaker was quite ill when she arrived at our house—about an hour before we needed to leave for the meeting. She had no strength. I feared for her health. How was she going to be able to speak to all these women?

Let me back up a little. The featured speaker was a lady who, when she was younger, was jailed for her faith. She was persecuted because she taught children God’s Word. She was arrested because she led a children’s choir. She suffered in many ways for her faith in Christ.

Fast forward to our meeting. When Silvia got up to speak, she spoke powerfully! God spoke through her to our ladies. It was one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had—the Holy Spirit enabling her to do what she could never have done on her own. Afterwards, we drove home. She felt so badly that she ate a little bit of chicken soup and went to bed. The next morning, we had some time to share together, and then she was gone.

I felt like I had met someone truly special. I’d been privileged to get to know a lady of whom the world was not worthy (Hebrews 11:38a).

Now, Silvia would be the first to say she isn’t an angel. Indeed, she’s written several books* that tell about her life, revealing a very alive, feisty spirit. But, this dear lady is a special saint (in the biblical meaning of saint), and it was a blessing to entertain her in our home.

Have I ever entertained an angel in my home? If I ever did, I remain unaware! But, I think I’ll keep my house open to strangers, my heart open to what they can teach me, and my eyes open . . .
                                  just in case!

*Silvia Tarniceriu’s life story is in two books, God Knows My Size (by Harvey Yoder) and God Knows My Path by Silvia herself.

Monday, November 19, 2012


WHAT I WANT MY CHILDREN TO KNOW by Todd Hoffman is a wonderful book by a father to his children. I have never read a better one! Mr. Hoffman’s talky, approachable, and loving style and his real appreciation for the Word of God make it an excellent book for both parents and teens. It covers a broad range of topics, including respect, values, prayer, Satan’s tactics, pleasing people, love and marriage, loving God, and moral excellence.

Mr. Hoffman weaves well-known Bible stories into his instructions to his children. My personal favorite was Lazarus' sickness, death, and being raised from the dead. He told it three times: once from Martha’s point of view, then from Mary’s, then from Lazarus himself—from inside the tomb and afterwards. Great!

There was so much to appreciate in this book, it’s hard to pick one thing that stands out. Here’s a quote about values:
            “ Gold cannot fix being trapped in that cave of doubt and anguish. Gold cannot mend a broken relationship or teach you how to control your temper. And nothing you can hold in your hands can ever substitute for that compass you have been given by God called the Bible.”

About the pursuit of godliness:
            “Wishing to be godly will not bring godliness. But desiring God to the point of obsession, then planning definite ways to draw near to God and serve Him, and continuing in that persistence which does not grow weary in doing good, will produce godliness and a deep relationship with God.”
            “Godliness is not developed through apathy and lack of concern. It is not awarded to the lazy, who hope they can spend their time however they choose, and yet bear fruit as if they were a well watered garden.”
            “If you are serious about knowing and loving God, then let Him become your life. Seek Him daily through prayer. Praise Him daily for each aspect of your life, whether those things are good or bad.”

On trials:
            “When life is hard—as it will be—take courage, for those experiences are making you into the likeness of Christ, and are thus of incomparable value.”
            “Every trial in your life has been allowed by God, which means, every trial is a stepping stone and a reason to praise God.”
            “A proper understanding of God prevents anger and frustration with the way God does things. It produces praise rather than resentment.”

I liked this:
            “Many times so-called Bible teachers give a description of God that’s nothing like who God is at all. The Bible alone is guaranteed to give an accurate and true picture . . . .”

I also liked this metaphor:
            “Drifting away from God comes easily. A ship does not need coaxing to get off course. But it does take much effort and attentiveness to stay on course for an entire journey.”

Needless to say, although my own children are grown and married, I gleaned much from this sound, biblical and timely book. I would recommend it to anyone—parents, children, and to people who are neither. Definitely five stars.

Remember Brothers in Bonds

Remember them that are in bonds,
as bound with them;
and them which suffer adversity,
as being yourselves also in the body.
(Hebrews 13:3)

Remember them that are in bonds . . . . Pray! Pray for believers who are in prisons, kidnapped, enslaved, abandoned, persecuted, mistreated, suffering—because they are unashamedly Christians. When Hebrews was written, this was a common problem. The Roman government wasn’t too keen on Christianity. Nero blamed the Christians for the fire in Rome and tortured all those he could find to death. He made their deaths a spectacle sport. Hebrews was probably written the year Nero died.

Remember them . . . as bound with them. How would we pray if we were right next to the Christian tied to the stake? How would we pray, chained, in prison? How would we pray if we were trudging through the jungle, prodded on by our captors? How would we pray if tortured for Christ? How would we pray under interrogation? This is how we need to pray for our Christian brothers in bonds for Christ’s sake.

I’m not exaggerating. Today, perhaps every bit as often as in Roman times, Christians are being persecuted. Some are imprisoned just for teaching Sunday school to children. Some, because they attend an unapproved church. Pastors are kidnapped. Some endure tortures. Orphanage workers are expelled. People who try to help others, in the name of Christ, face danger. Churches and believers’ houses are destroyed. In some places, even to profess Christ means a death sentence. Today—2012—Christians need our prayers, as if we were right there beside them.

And them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body. Have you ever stubbed your toe so badly that your stomach hurt? One part of the body hurts when another part hurts. This is an illustration of what happens in the Body of Christ when one brother suffers. Others suffer with him. Each person is connected to the others.

We’re to pray for those who have a hard time. Do you know anyone who’s in need of work, or ill, or hungry? Because they hurt, we need to pray . . . and, if we can help them in a practical way, we need to do that, too. (Proverbs 3:28)

It’s important to be aware of the needs of Christians all over the world who suffer persecution and captivity. When we know about them, we can pray. And, our prayers can make all the difference.

Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

How to Encourage Other Christians

And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:
Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together,
as the manner of some is;
but exhorting one another: and so much the more,
as ye see the day approaching (Hebrews 10:24-25).

These verses come on the heels of verse 23: Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised). Because we know Christ and know He is faithful, we can then help others.

Do you find yourself struggling to get through your own life? If so, you must be human. It is overwhelming, sometimes, just to get done what you need to do.

And, you might forget about others.

These verses are a reminder to consider (think about) other Christians. We’re supposed to provoke them! (Provoke is one of those English words whose meaning has changed over the years. This word actually means “inciting.” You can think of it as “stimulating” or “encouraging” someone.) We’re supposed to encourage other Christians toward love and good works.

The next verse says we can best do this by assembling ourselves together. This assembly is the same word translated as “church.” It’s talking about a local church gathering. It’s not a virtual church or an Internet “service” or a Christian chat group. It’s the actual physical meeting together of God’s people. It’s real live interaction with other Christians. It’s a mutually beneficial worship time, where we can exhort and edify one another. We also exercise our spiritual gifts in our church.

How can we encourage other Christians? Did you know that your very presence in the service helps other Christians spiritually? It even encourages your pastor! (I know; I’m a pastor’s wife.)

We have a small church. Through the years, I’ve observed Christians enter our services with long faces and many burdens. By the end of the service, their faces are happy, and it seems that, for the moment at least, their burdens are lighter. What makes the difference? It’s praising God in song, listening to a message from the Bible, praying together for people’s needs. There’s something about worshiping together that feeds the soul.

God knows this. That’s why He commands us not to slack when it comes to church attendance. It’s one of the ways we encourage (provoke) others to love and good works.

The practical lessons:
  • Consider others.
  • Provoke them (biblically!) to love and good works.
  • Go to church, so you can be an encouragement to other Christians. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

My Lousy, Rotten, No-good, Miserable Morning

This morning started all wrong. I got up later than usual, my mind filled with weird dreams. I checked my e-mail and fired up the printer, which proceeded to eat the paper. On to get some coffee and a better start to the day. Not so! I opened a plastic package which split and spewed all its contents on the floor. I picked up a newspaper and a nasty, live bug was dangling from it. (Yes, we live in the country.) I thought to myself, “Now what? If the rest of the day is like this . . . .”

Time for prayer, thanking the Lord for a huge, recent blessing. Time for a cup of coffee and some breakfast. Time for the Word.

My day changed around!

This is what I read:
Praise ye the LORD.
Blessed is the man that feareth the LORD,
that delighteth greatly in his commandments.
(Psalm 112:1)

This verse begins with praise. Thankfully, I had already praised the Lord for something. I was feeling a little self-satisfied. Then, the verse talks of blessing. I love blessings! So far, so good. In Psalm 112, this blessing is for the man (or woman!) who fears (respects) the Lord. Wonderful! I definitely love and respect my Lord. It’s for someone who delights greatly . . . . Again, that’s me! I have a joy and a delight . . . .
And here came the surprise:
The blessing is for the person who delights in God’s commandments!

It’s so easy to delight in Who God is: His holiness, His omniscience, His power, His actions, His creation . . . . We could go on and on!

It’s easy to delight in God’s love, mercy, care, His dealings with mankind.

It’s easy to delight in reading His Word.

But, this is more specific. And, it carries a blessing. God will bless the person who delights not a little bit, but greatly, in His commandments. This person’s big joy is in what God tells us to do. He loves the commandments!

I thought of this verse: For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous (1 John 5:3).

Here are some more, all from Psalm 119, probably the most complete chapter in the Bible about loving the Word of God. Can you feel the psalmist’s delight?
  • With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. (verse 10)
  • I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart. (verse 32)
  • Make me to go in the path of thy commandments; for therein do I delight. (verse 35)
  • And I will delight myself in thy commandments, which I have loved. (verse 47)
  • My hands also will I lift up unto thy commandments, which I have loved; and I will meditate in thy statutes. (verse 48)
  • Thy hands have made me and fashioned me: give me understanding, that I may learn thy commandments. (verse 73)
  • Therefore I love thy commandments above gold; yea, above fine gold. (verse 127)
  • I opened my mouth, and panted: for I longed for thy commandments. (verse 131)

And, these are just a few of the verses in this chapter about delighting in the commandments of God! All through the Bible, we find people who enjoyed God’s instructions. I can guarantee they were blessed.

So was I this morning, meditating on the way God tells us clearly what He wants. He didn’t leave us to grope around in the dark. He even rescued my spirit from my lousy, rotten, no-good, miserable morning . . . that He turned into blessing!

Praise Him!

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Faith = the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
(from Hebrews 11:1, emphasis mine)

Such an interesting definition! Faith isn’t an I-hope-so or an I-wish kind of thing. It’s sure. It’s substance. It’s evidence! It’s knowing what you can’t actually see.

Let’s read the two verses that follow this definition of faith:
For by it the elders obtained a good report. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear (Heb. 11:2-3).

I’m reminded of an excursion with a blind friend named Lela. She and her husband accompanied our family to the historical church, St. John’s, in Richmond, Virginia. (It’s where Patrick Henry gave his famous, emotional “Give me liberty, or give me death” speech.) The guide was describing a beautiful low pulpit in the front of the church, carved like an eagle with its wings outspread. Lela wanted to “see” it. We waited until others had moved on, and walked up to the front where the guide graciously let Lela run her fingers over the carved pulpit. Lela’s face lit up, and she exclaimed, “It’s beautiful!”

During the guide’s introduction, Lela had understood the beautiful pulpit’s existence. She couldn’t see it in front of her, but she knew it was there. She hoped to examine it for herself, but she trusted it was real. That’s like faith.

God reveals Himself through His Word. We know in our hearts it is true. When we actually reach out and touch God spiritually, through faith in His Son, it’s like Lela’s “seeing” that intricately carved pulpit. It’s the substance and evidence of things not seen. It’s beautiful!

Later in this same chapter, Hebrews 11, we read about the heroes of the faith, those who believed God, even though they hadn’t yet experienced the completion of the promise. They believed, through faith. They knew through faith. Like Lela, they touched and saw, without really seeing . . .

For now we see through a glass, darkly;
but then face to face:
now I know in part;
but then shall I know even as also I am known.
And now abideth faith . . . .
(1 Corinthians 13:12-13)