A feast with consequences

King Belshazzar made a great feast for a thousand of his lords and drank wine in front of the thousand. Daniel 5:1 ESV

What’s so special about what looks like any feast?
At the time, the Persian army stood before the gates of Babylon. They had just beaten Belshazzar’s father, King Nabonidus, in the Battle of Opis, effectively beating the Babylonians and clearing the path for the capital.

However, no panic is recorded to have happened at their arrival – Babylon was the most powerful stronghold of its time, and it’s inhabitants simply regarded it as impregnable. It is understandable that king Belshazzar was very self-confident, which explains with what mindset he was able to feast at a such a time.

Belshazzar, when he tasted the wine, commanded that the vessels of gold and of silver that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem be brought, that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them. (v. 2)

In his drunkenness, he becomes so proud as to utterly disregard the God of Israel, the God which the former king Nebuchadnezzar II had known to be the one true God. He ignored everything he had witnessed (He was alive during the events of chapter 4) and defiled the Lord through his abuse of the treasure.

By the time he (literally) saw the writing on the wall, it was too late – that same night, the Persians took Babylon without resistance and killed Belshazzar. Daniel, however, preserved by his Lord, lived on to serve at the court of his new master, the King of Persia.

Since most of us obviously aren’t drunken kings under siege, what does this event teach us? I, for one, often behave like Belshazzar. Not only am I constantly in danger of – or, more likely, actually being proud, but I also make mistakes of large scale. I never was drunk, but I still “feast” in war-time. I often play games or read Tom Clancy novels when I should actually be communicating with the Lord, praying, reading, singing, thinking, taking notes, … In short, I ignore the war that I live in. And it’s pretty hard (spoiler: impossible) to survive in this war as a human. We aren’t strong enough.

This chapter is a reminder to humble ourselves under our God. And to stay alert. Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak, says Jesus in Mk 14:38. Let us watch, wary of the war in us!

Hosea 11 – God’s neverending love

I read one of the most beautiful passages of the Bible yesterday. The chapters before this one are full of God’s wrath, but then the Lord shows a different aspect of himself:

““When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.
But the more they were called, the more they went away from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images.
It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.
“Will they not return to Egypt and will not Assyria rule over them because they refuse to repent?
A sword will flash in their cities; it will devour their false prophets and put an end to their plans.
My people are determined to turn from me. Even though they call me God Most High, I will by no means exalt them.
“How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboyim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused.
I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I devastate Ephraim again. For I am God, and not a man— the Holy One among you. I will not come against their cities.
They will follow the Lord; he will roar like a lion. When he roars, his children will come trembling from the west.
They will come from Egypt, trembling like sparrows, from Assyria, fluttering like doves. I will settle them in their homes,” declares the Lord.” (NIV, for once)

I was really moved by this passage. God looks so personal, so loving, so human in a way – and not human, the Holy One who doesn’t remain in his wrath! This is the strongest illustration of the personal, caring God Father I know.

This helped me to see the cross in the right light, because I take it for granted way to easily. It helped me understand how much the Lord hates sin, and how much he loves his people! The only proper response we can give is Romans 12:1

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” (NIV again, it helps us not to overlook the “mercies of God” part)

Praise the Lord!

2. Timothy 2:21 – Used of the Lord

“Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” (2 Timothy 2:21)

Do you want to be used of the Lord?
I want to. Many people – in fact, most churches – want  to. We want to bear fruit. We want to prepare the kingdom of God. Right? But why do we often feel so useless??

The answer can be found in this passage. To be useful to the Lord, and so, to bear fruit, we must clean ourselves and set ourselves apart as holy, completely dedicated to the Lord’s cause. I will quote Paul Washer again. We aren’t relevant because we conform ourselves to the world. We are relevant because we are set apart, living our life for the Glory of God.

You see, you can’t convert anyone. Nor can you withstand the temptations of sin. Why then would you want to live like the world to minister them? The only thing you will achieve is weaken yourself through sin! If you want to be used of the Lord, then live your life his way, and he will work through you! He will use you, and he will convert people through you if you set yourself apart. But you gotta do it his way. Your way isn’t an alternative to a holy, set-apart life – if your way isn’t God’s way, your way hinders God! Pastors, elders, parents, let me tell you this: If you want your church to be relevant, if you want the Lord to save people using you, then do not be conformed to this world!

In Hosea, Israel conformed itself to the world. It sinned against God in many ways. What is our Lord’s view on this?

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.” (Hosea 4:6)

Israel didn’t turn to the Word for knowledge. Modern, popular “christian” churches are in imminent danger of this: They listen to pop culture, to psychology, to philosophy, and they try to be attractive to the world to save people. God doesn’t need you to be attractive. God is Sovereign! He can save people without you looking like them. In fact, that’s the way he wants to do it. Do NOT be conformed to this world!
That’s also the way Paul tells the gospel. Did you notice that he never alters the gospel to be politically correct? Never. He explains differently from culture to culture so that his audience may understand better, but he never leaves anything out. And he always makes people mad – because that’s the reaction you will get if you preach the gospel. Do you preach the gospel? Or do you teach your politically correct view of God, so the pagans will like what they hear? If so, good luck: “They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.” (Titus 1:16)
You probably know the gospel of Matthew. If you don’t bear fruit, be afraid!
“Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:10)

One final thought about sin and being conformed to the world; again, from Hosea:
“Strangers devour his strength, and he knows it not; gray hairs are sprinkled upon him, and he knows it not.  The pride of Israel testifies to his face; yet they do not return to the Lord their God, nor seek him, for all this.(Hosea 7:9-10)

Sin, if tolerated and pursued – as churches that want to be like the people they minister to in order to be relevant do – will weaken you to the point that you cannot serve the Lord.

If you want to be used of the Lord, set yourself apart in holiness!

Ecclesiastes 11:9 – Youth equals freedom? – The consequences of sin

“Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.”

If we listen to the world, it teaches us it’s idea of youth: youth means freedom. It means listening to your heart, to your feelings, doing whatever you want. No regrets, fun and yourself are all that matters. Do whatever you can to be happy, because #YOLO (you only live once).

This is exactly the opposite of what the Word of God teaches! Sure, we should be happy. One recurring theme of Ecclesiastes is that we should be happy with our situation. And yes, we should roam free and do what our heart desires. We should discover things. However, this shall not be without consequences. And that is the crux of the matter. The world tries to make us forget that our behaviour has consequences. Satan tries to teach this. He wants us to sin as much as possible, without thinking of consequences. The problem is, this is not the way it works. The second most recurring theme after the vanity of the world is the fear of the Lord. Because the Lord will judge, and he will judge righteously, and everything will be made public. Sin will be punished, because God is just. That is, if we are not saved through our faith in Jesus Christ, of course. And even then, we are “only” spared death – the consequences of sin remain. If a man sleeps with the wrong kind of person in college, gets AIDS, comes to know the Lord, and is saved, he still has AIDS, and he still no longer is a virgin. This holds for everything, and Satan would love us to forget it.

Though we don’t know who the author of Ecclesiastes is, I found Solomons Proverbs very useful to understand the Kohelet. Let’s let the Word of God speak for a moment. Here is a selection of Proverbs that teach us about this topic:

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” (Proverbs 9:10)

“Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray.” (Proverbs 10:17)

“The fear of the Lord prolongs life, but the years of the wicked will be short.” (Proverbs 10:27)

“Whoever keeps the commandment keeps his life; he who despises his ways will die.” (Proverbs 19:16)

“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.” (Proverbs 21:2)

“Apply your heart to instruction and your ear to words of knowledge. Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.” (Proverbs 23:12-14)

“If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?” (Proverbs 24:12)

“Blessed is the one who fears the Lord always, but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity.” (Proverbs 28:14)

 Do you see? Freedom doesn’t mean we get carte blanche to do everything stupid we want, and when we turn 18, everything is forgotten! I know this is the way the law woks in many countries, but God doesn’t work that way!

We need to turn to the Word (not the world, scripture) and live our life by that. Being young may be an excuse to try (some!) things, and to do what we want instead of serving in our families and churches (after all, isn’t that maturity?), but it isn’t and shall never be an excuse to not fear the Lord who created the world and is just and righteous and hates evil.

You Only Live Once. After this one attempt, you will be judged if you don’t fear the Lord. Make something of your life!

Amos 4-6: Self-rightous hypocrites (What our worship should be)

I’ve been reading Amos since yesterday, and it has made a strong impression on me. It’s amazing how relevant this book is today.

The first 3 chapters are an announcement of God’s upcoming wrath over the entire region, including Israel and Judah. He also says that there is no escaping his punishment.

In Amos 4-6, God explains in detail why he will punish Israel.
The Israelites bring sacrifices and tithes, but they do not fear the Lord. They bring sacrifices to look good, to feel righteous, to save themselves. But this is not the way it works. Sacrifices mean nothing to the Lord if their motivation isn’t right.
God brought many evils about his people, but they didn’t return to him.
The Service of the Israelites is worthless because their lives don’t reflect that service. They hate truth, wisdom, and justice – like in Habakkuk 1: “So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.” (Habakkuk 1:4)
That’s the situation in Israel. The people live like they want, and then add a few good deeds here and there to save them – even being proud about them.

God hates the petty worship of his people: “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.” (Amos 5:21). Amos 5:18-27 sums it up very well – you should read it, you’ll see why in a minute. The Lord says that they should not desire his coming, because it will be a day of darkness to them – they will be judged.
Their only hope is to finally seek the Lord, and reinstitute justice.  “Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, as you have said. Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.” (Amos 5:14.15).
Hating evil, loving good, even seeking it – that’s pretty categorical, isn’t it? It applies to every aspect of a life. I’ll mention the Shema Yisrael in Deuteronomy 6 again.

What does this have to do with us? I think that many modern “christian” institutions are directly addressed by this book. That’s what modern evangelism often looks like, isn’t it? You are saved if you love Jesus. Go to church sometimes, maybe to a youth group, listen to “christian” music, maybe go to Africa for a month. And then that’s it. Who cares if you watch the same movies, play the same games, have a girlfriend, try drugs, cheat at school? You are conformed to the world in nearly every aspect, but you go to the church service once a month, so it’s okay, right? Guys, what happened to Romans 12? “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1.2).
This passage is categorical. Our worship isn’t our songs, our prayers, or going to church every sunday. Our service is our entire life! This stuff is important. If your life doesn’t change at all, you should find out if you really know Christ at all. If you do, it’s time to act like you do! Jesus says “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) And “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:21). If you love the Lord, you will change.

As for the rest: God told the Israelites what would happen to them through Amos, and this hasn’t changed. For example: “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” (1 Corinthians 11:29). In the words of Paul Washer: We can’t play church. Either we Love the Lord, and worship him with our life, or our “worship” won’t mean a thing to the Lord: “Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.” (Amos 5:23). True worship is righteousness and godliness. Fittingly, the german word for godliness translates to “fear of the Lord”…

But you don’t have to worry. “Seek the Lord, and live.” “Seek me, and you will find me”. If we actively seek the Lord, we can be sure that his blood on the cross has washed away our sins, paving the way for his acceptance of our life as worship.

Ecclesiastes 1&2 – The World is meaningless

I started reading Ecclesiastes 2 Days ago, and there is a lot of wisdom in there. Before starting, I thought it would be depressing, but I am happy to say that I was mistaken.

As far as I can tell (I didn’t read much further yet), chapters 1 & 2 are both an introduction and a topic for the rest of the book. The preacher talks about the meaninglessness of the world, and everything we do in it.

He begins by saying that nothing new can happen or be done, because everything repeats itself. In short, many things happen, and nothing changes.
Then, he goes on saying that the pursuit of wisdom in itself is vain, because it doesn’t bring lasting happiness.
He continues with the vanity of pleasure, leisure, “fun”, because of the same reason.
His next point his the vanity of work, achievements, “greatness”, riches, exotic riches, sex, and reputation.
After that, he builds upon the fact that a wise way of life is meaningless because it won’t change the fact that he will die. Wisdom cannot prevent death, or change what happens after death. A wise man will disappear in the same way as a fool.
His final point is the vanity of work, because nothing will matter when he dies – his belongings will be left to another person.

Basically, what the preacher is saying is this: That nothing we do for ourselves matters. Because nothing of it will change our fate, or save us, or fulfill us, or even remain with us after death.
I fought I would be depressed because I knew the first few verses, but I actually found the beginning pretty encouraging. I know that everything done for earth is vain, but I also know that serving the Lord is not. As far as I can tell, this will be the topic of at least the next passage, and probably a recurring theme in the book.

This is a great perspective to have. I know that my life belongs to God in at least 3 ways: He created me, he lets me live, and he saved me. Therefore, why would I waste this gift and responsibility and chase after vain things? I should really give my life to the Lord (all of it, I’m not talking about praying a prayer) and serve him with everything that I am, and do. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (in Shema Yisrael, Deuteronomy 6:5). This surely implies every second of my time! My prayer should be (and will be more so, from now on) “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12). I will try to live more of my life in a way that glorifies the Lord, and spend my time learning from him and teaching him. Maybe this post will encourage you to do the same!

As a sidenote – this doesn’t mean that we are not supposed to enjoy what God has given us, as another chapter teaches if I recall correctly.

Luke 17:1-4

I want to make 2 quick points in this passage that I read yesterday:

And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
 

1. God’s sovereignty doesn’t exclude us from being responsible.

God has a plan, and he will fulfill it. But we still have a choice in our life. God allows the devil to tempt (and really tempts himself, because he has control over everything), but we are still held responsible for our deeds, as the first verse makes clear. This isn’t the only passage you can take this from. There are probably many more, but I can think of 2:
In Luke 22:22, Jesus tells Judas that he “will die as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed”. Again, we have both aspects of our life in one single sentence by Jesus.
The other passage I can think of is Romans 9:19: You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” I heard a good sermon on this passage once, in which the preacher also addresses this topic – I don’t really remember what he said, though. I can point anyone to it who wants to hear it. Anyway, fact is that we are sinful and God is just and must hold us accountable to our sin – even though, in a way, he has control over it: because he gives us choice.

What can we do with this knowledge?
I take comfort in God, because I know that he is good, and just, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) I trust the Lord that he knows how to glorify himself. He may do with me as he pleases (he does anyway) and I am glad about it, for I know that he will do better than I would. I also work hard, fight the devil, try to die so that Christ may live in me, because: Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:13-15) (By the way, everyone should have studied James 1:2-18. This passage is really, really important). Finally, I have good faith, because “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

The Word is stronger that a double-edged sword. The devil can go right back home – his future doesn’t look so good anyway!

2. Love doesn’t ignore sin in a brother.

Okay, I already wrote a lot… I’ll keep this short.
There are several passages that teach how to deal with sin in the community. Matthew 18:21-22 would be another example, if you are interested. In short, the correct response to sin isn’t to ignore it. True, there is 1 Corinthians 13, but that’s not what that passage means.

If you love your brother, then rebuke him! If he is godly, he should be glad about any guidance he can get and try to conform himself to scripture. Then, when he repents, forgive him. This is where 1 Corinthians 13 comes into play. You don’t ignore sin, you forget and forgive past and acknowledged sins. By the way, this command is old: Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him. (Leviticus 19:17) As you can see, Moses already taught this as a basic rule for the community. Sin has to be fought, for the Lord is Holy. Sin cannot be tolerated in the community: either the sin, or the Holy Spirit have to leave. They cannot coexist. If we tolerate sin, we ourselves sin against the Holy Spirit in us and the others, as Leviticus teaches.

It’s important to guide our brothers and sisters in Christ within their daily life, so that they may “present their bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is their spiritual worship.”

Luke 16:19-31 – The sufficiency of scripture

This will be a very short post, but I wanted to talk about this. During my first quiet time today, I really enjoyed this story. You should go ahead and read the whole context, but I’ll briefly talk about verse 31:

He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”
 

This is very clear evidence of the sufficiency of scripture. We have everything we need in the word – the living word – and should not have to ask for visions, or wonders to strengthen our faith. Jesus also said: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”. This passage reminds of the pharisees that wanted to kill the resurrected Lazarus because he attracted too much attention in John 12. It was just as Jesus said: someone rose from the dead, yet they didn’t believe. I’ll even go further and say that we don’t need evidence of Jesus’ resurrection to believe in him. Thomas could have believed when the others told him that they had seen Jesus. We should strive to strengthen our faith through scripture – we won’t regret it!

Isn’t it  amazing how much we have been given through the Holy Spirit?

Is a girl more because of her relationship with you?

I found a very interesting statement in chapter 9 of EYMB:

I had little to offer a girl, but I wanted everything from her. It didn’t register with me that this was someone’s future wife, or that she was a real human with real needs that I could meet. Instead, it was all about me and making me feel good. Had I been godly, she could have become more because of her relationship with me. Too often, she was less because I took from her what only her husband should take.

This passage really hit me hard. What is more important to me: taking as much as possible, or giving as much as I can? I promised before GOD that every girl I know now or meet in the future, be she my friend, girlfriend, fiancée, wife, or even none of these, will become more, hopefully even grow spiritually because of me. And you know what the best part about this is? I know for sure that the HOLY SPIRIT will help me in making this happen 🙂

The Covenant with my eyes

Reading chapters 7 & 8 of EYMB, I heard about Job:

I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl.
Job 31:1

After further digging into this topic, I realized that this was what I had to do – so I did. I promised that my sin would stop from now on – down to every single little look. And than I prayed, brought this before GOD, and asked for his help in making this possible.

Hello world!

Yesterday, the 25th of July, 2012, was a turning point in my life. Realizing that I was much too loose in my fight against sexual immorality and porn, I started “Every Young man’s Battle”, which I had read before – but this Time I didn’t want to stop short. I wanted to do it right. After doing 2 Sessions in the workbook, based on 6 chapters in the book, I felt GOD’s presence in me stronger than ever. I prayed a lot and read a lot, until I decided, among other things, to start a blog documenting my daily life with the LORD.

Cover of Every Young Man's Battle