Toto, I’ve a Feeling We’re Not In Athens Anymore

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it.

Daniel 1:1

I read this article from The Gospel Coalition a day or two ago after hearing it referenced in a class covering Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation. In it, the author compares the modern stance of the church in America to the Babylonian exile. He writes:

Unlike Athens, Babylon is not interested in trying to out-think us, merely overpower us. Apologetics and new ways of doing church don’t cut it in Babylon.  Only courage under fire will.

Steve McAlpine, The Gospel Coalition

It’s no coincidence, then, that many of the points of the article resonated with me after spending the previous week studying in the first half of Daniel. Even a brief reading of Daniel 1 reveals that the conquering nation didn’t seek to compromise or share philosophy with the Jews. By isolating, re-educating, and renaming the captives, the goal was full integration and assimilation into Babylonian society.

The truth is, though, many of these points would have resonated with me even if I hadn’t been recently reading in Daniel. As a former atheist who once immersed herself in the darkness enough to see glimpses of how just how deep the shadows really stretch, the comparison of the current cultural trends to Paul’s speech on the Areopagus in Athens (see Acts 17:16-34) has always seemed a trifle naive to me.

After all, during the days of my darker bent, most of the denizens of the world I chose to associate with did not view Christianity or even the Christ Himself with the slightest degree of reverence. At best, I encountered apathy from them; total unconcern about the very idea of a Creator or God.

However, the majority treated the idea of God with scorn, derision, or open hostility. Not that the mention of God fell from my lips in those days. I’m ashamed to admit it now, but I was on the side of the mockers. How great is the grace of God who can forgive me such a sin!

So it is that even now, just under two decades since my sin-blinded eyes were opened to the wickedness of me and the mercy and compassion of a God who loved me anyway, I still cannot reconcile the world I once moved in with a friendly Aeropagus debate.

What I can understand without the slightest hesitation is the warning my Lord left His disciples with hours before His crucifixion:

If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

John 15:19

You see, the men and women I knew then were not “very religious in every way,” as Paul observed of the Athenians. The people I knew then hated God, hated the very mention of Him. They were hostile to anything that challenged their freedom to do as they chose.

To me, even before reading the article, the darkness I have known reeks of Babylon – of conquest and assimilation. What I see is not a culture mildly interested in the Church and her God but a culture which will have nothing to do with a god it can’t make in its own image.

I agree with McAlpine; the culture is really just the world. And the world isn’t happy with concepts such as sin and rebellion or with the idea it may have gone wrong somewhere along the way. In fact, it despises the merest suggestion, thrusting it away with a perfunctory, You’ve no right to judge me! 

The world, in fact, believes that sin and evil are found, not in the human heart and in both public and private acts of injustice, but within the ancient and (to them) archaic moral system proposed by the Bible. How dare the Creator tell His creation right from wrong? Who does He think He is, anyway?

“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!

Luke 6:22

There it is, my brothers and sisters in Christ. Even though we are not at home in this Babylon, even though we must constantly withstand the pressure to name ourselves after their gods, entertain ourselves their way, worship as they want us to worship; even if we are threatened by lions and furnaces and social ostracism, we are blessed.

This doesn’t mean we give in to the pressure -far from it! We fill ourselves with the Lord so that the pressure of His Spirit within strengthens us to resist the pressure from without so we are not crushed. It also doesn’t mean we rant and rave and try to out-shout the Babylonians who apply the pressure.

When they say, “Just bow down, already; just eat the food, swallow the pill, drink the Kool-aid, and stop fighting the inevitable,” we don’t argue with them. We just stand firm on our conviction and trust in the Lord who calls us.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.

Ephesians 6:12-13

And we pray. Pray for our enemies, for those who persecute us, pray to have compassion even when we are shown nothing but hate and disgust. We remember that it is not people who are the enemy; people are deceived as I once was. Our enemy is far more ancient and cunning.

And we wait for the day of our exile to be over and for our final Homecoming, hoping to bring as many as we can out of the darkness with us into the Light!

Daniel answered and said: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him.
(Daniel 2:20-22)

Tuesday Prayer: Love of God

Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised!

Psalms 96:2-4a

Oh Lord our God, how blessed is Your name in all the earth! You are the Most High; the Creator of all that is; the One who is and was and is to come. Today we begin by praising Your name and exulting in Your faithfulness and righteousness. Thank You for giving us Your written word that by it, we may know You.

If You were not a compassionate God, we would have long ago been brought to nothing. Yet in Your mercy, You looked upon us in our rebellious state and had pity. You showed us grace when we deserved destruction and love when we deserved to be despised. Oh Lord, how can we know this and not love You back?

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

Mark 12:30

Please, Lord, forgive us any lack of love. Forgive us for ever allowing the worries of this world to cause us to doubt Your goodness. If we have allowed the pleasures of the world to take up a larger place in our hearts than You, we repent of that and ask forgiveness for it as well. Show us where these or any other acts of idolatry have replaced You in our hearts and lives, and prick our hearts to genuine and life-altering repentance.

Take our little love and grow it, Lord. Magnify it until all that we are is given over to You, bound by a love for You that is unbreakable, sturdy, and invincible. Where our love is small and weak, fill us with Your love so that we can return to You in kind the astonishing love You’ve already shown to us.

May we have a deep and abiding hunger for Your presence, Your word, Your Spirit, and Your Kingdom that never ends. We ask for this increase in our love for You in the worthy name of Jesus, amen. 

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

Tuesday Prayer: Joy

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. 

Psalms 16:11

Our God and King, You are our salvation and our very great reward. What a gift You’ve given us in Jesus! Of all the legends of other gods spoken of by man, only You cared enough to step down from Your throne, laying aside Your glory to confine Yourself to the limitations of Your own creation.

You alone, Lord, not only gave us commandments but kept them, living as man was designed to live – in perfect accord with and obedience to his Creator. Only You not only call for humility, You’ve shown us what true humility looks like.

If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.

John 13:14-15

Among all false gods who require a price from mankind, only You deserve one. And only You paid the price Yourself. 

Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.

Romans 5:9

Forgive us, Lord, for taking lightly the awesome and unbelievable acts that You have done for us. Forgive us for forgetting whose presence we stand in when we enter the holy place to bring our prayers and supplications before the Throne of Grace. Where we have been careless, give us reverence; where we have been anxious, remind us of Your power and might. 

You are the Almighty God, the Most High who deigns to look upon us and listen to our childish babble because You love us as Your children. Let us never lose sight of the wonder of that fact.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.

1 John 3:1a

Because of the sacrifice of Your Son, we may approach You with confidence in Him. If we approach in arrogance, teach us to approach You with respect and humility,  in trust and not in worry, knowing that Your promises stand forever.

As we draw nearer to You, teach us to love Your word as the very greatest gift alongside our salvation – the actual words and guidance of the Creator of the universe and the Author of our faith. Plant a deep and insatiable hunger for Your word within us and our families, and let us long to search its pages for the answers we seek.

If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.

Psalms 119:92, 97

And as we grow in faith and trust, praying and thoughtfully reading Your word, let it be that we honestly find joy in Your presence and pleasures forevermore at Your right hand. Expose the temporary nature of worldly pleasures and fill us so with Your Spirit that our joy is nothing more than Your joy filling us and spilling out.

May it be that joy will spill out on others who need it today, bringing light and laughter into lives filled with darkness and weeping, amen. 

Tuesday Prayer: Set Free

Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in affliction and in irons, for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High. 

Psalms 107:10-11

God our Savior, we exalt Your glorious name today! Thank You for saving us from our own slavery to sin; for treating us like Royal sons and daughters when we were no more than street urchins living in hostility to God and rebellion to Your ways.

When we were groping in the darkness, You brought us into the light of Your love and washed us by the blood of the ultimate Sacrifice, Jesus our King. Truly there is no god like our God who holds in His hand the power to save the most depraved sinner and turn us from death to life! 

Let Your praise never be far from our lips, O Lord. As we go about our days, show us how to keep in mind Your incredible deeds – the ones we read in Your word and the ones we’ve seen in our own lives. Teach our tongues to forgo complaint and instead express gratitude for the works of our wonderful and merciful God.

May we celebrate in our hearts the gift of being among the redeemed, and may that celebration spill out as words of praise for You to all we encounter. May our homes be monuments to Your glory where we share Your praises and thank You for Your blessings. 

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble…

Psalm 107:1-2

But even as we celebrate our salvation and Your awesome deeds, remind us of those we know and love who have not yet accepted the free gift of Your grace. To them especially, may our words be seasoned with graciousness, praise, and thanksgiving, and may the joy of  salvation be very real and evident in our lives.

Help us to be alert for the nudges of Your Spirit prompting us when to speak and when to listen. Grant us the humility to remember that we, too, once walked in darkness and were dead in our sins. Only by Your grace have we been made alive in Christ, so by Your grace help us to share the hope we have in You.

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

John 8:12

When those who are lost hurt us, remind us of how our disobedience hurts You. Just as we have been forgiven much, train our hearts to forgive much. May the grace and mercy You showed to us be the impetus for grace and mercy toward others.

As we speak and interact with a lost and hurting world, change our responses. Instead of anger, give us kindness; instead of agitation, patience; instead of harshness, gentleness; instead of self-righteousness, humility; instead of arrogance, meekness. May our lives reflect You and may the light of Your love in us draw the lost and hurting to You that they, too, may be set free; amen. 

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;

to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion– to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.


Isaiah 61:1-3

Tuesday Prayer: Expectation

Hear my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray. In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly. 

Psalm 5:2-3 (NIV)

Lord who hears us and who answers prayer, we praise You today for Your steadfast love and Your faithfulness. Blessed be Your name and Your Kingdom, and may Yours be all glory and honor now and forevermore! Thank You that even though You are the Almighty God, the Creator, You take the time to listen to the prattling of Your children. 

And children we truly are, Lord. So often, we fail to see the bigger picture as we pray, praying from  the limited perspective of our earthly lives rather than with Eternity in view. Other times, we hurl requests at You almost like a drive-in order, speeding off before we’ve taken the time to listen for Your reply.

Still other times, we ask for guidance but we do not search Your Word for answers, hoping instead that You will move heaven and earth to respond when we are not willing to move the covers of our Bibles to seek Your counsel. 

…Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Philippians 4:6

Lord, we confess that we can be impatient and demanding, self-serving and petty, and we too often forget that You are God and we are your creation not the other way around. Sometimes when we pray, we pray anxiously, not really trusting You to answer but pleading before You almost as if we’ve never seen You at work nor heard of Your works of old. Forgive us for such acts of unbelief or of selfishness.

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Hebrews 12:11

Today we ask that You will rid our hearts of all that is poisonous to the peaceful fruit of righteousness. By Your loving discipline, train us to pray, not anxiously, but expectantly – trusting in our Father to give us all good gifts and to withhold only that which would be detrimental to us for eternity according to Your perfect knowledge and wisdom.

Then, Lord, help us to watch and wait to see how You will work to bring glory to Yourself. Change our hearts to long for Your will much more than we desire our own wants, comforts, and whims met. Make us to want Your glory, not our own.

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Luke 11:13

Instead, Lord, teach us to ask You for the Holy Spirit and the wisdom He brings, trusting You in faith to deliver these priceless gifts to us, though we are no more than clay jars.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

2 Corinthians 4:7

May we walk before You in obedience and humility, letting our prayers and our very lives be guided by You. Help us to keep our minds on the things above not on the things of this earth as we pray and live and move in this world, loving You and those You put around us to love, amen. 

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

Colossians 3:1-2

Tuesday Prayer: Fruit

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23

Great Vinedresser, we know that You are the one who does the needed work of pruning in our lives so we can bear much fruit for You. We cannot bear fruit on our own but must remain connected to the Vine – to Jesus, the living Word of God who is Himself the embodiment of the truth of Scripture. He is our Savior who is also the Way, the Truth, the Life, the living Water, and the Bread of Life. In all ways, Jesus is our sustenance and our strength. 

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

John 15:1-2

Because of this, we give thanks for Jesus and for Your Holy Spirit who causes His fruit to grow in us. Thank You for pruning our hearts no matter how painful it may be at the time, so that we can bear more fruit. Thank You, too, for the solemn warning that any branch which fails to bear fruit will be taken away. You are good and wise, and we trust You even when a time of pruning doesn’t make sense to us. 

We also pray to You, Father, and ask that You will make us to bear much fruit. Since attributes such as love, joy, peace, and so on are the fruit of the Spirit, we recognize that we cannot manufacture them on our own but must ask for the Spirit to make them grow in us. Yet we cannot only pray for it then sit back with folded hands as if our duty is done. Time and time and time again, we also need to obey for it. 

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.

Acts 7:51

So it is that we ask You to open our eyes to see each opportunity You provide and open our ears to hear Your voice as we respond to each divine appointment. Guide us in being mindful of the gentle nudges of Your Spirit so we become more and more attuned to sensing His leading. Help us not to tune Him out but teach us to listen intently and diligently in all our days.

Please, Lord, let this year be one in which Your fruit grows so plentifully in our lives that we are radically and permanently changed. Make us to truly be plantings for the display of Your splendor and teach us to give You glory as it happens, amen. 

A New Year Invitation

Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls…

Jeremiah 6:16a

I rang in the New Year with a migraine.

But I rang it in after a leisurely morning in the Word of God. I also rang it in at midnight with my husband and all three kids present, including our almost-18-year-old who went out to see some friends and came back in time to toast in the New Year with our family tradition: sparkling grape juice for them and water for this old girl.

So I managed to be awake(ish) at midnight with a heart full of joy despite any pain. Maybe even joy in defiance of pain. But not only because of my family.

I’m still nursing the same migraine today, medicated enough to keep me out of bed but make my thoughts rather difficult to string together. Still, even today I am filled with joy.

This is an abiding joy which would have been with me even if I’d rung in the New Year alone with my migraine and cut off from medication, family, friends, or any friendly face. It’s a joy I’ve been granted, which I’ve found buried in the Scripture records of ancient paths and growing in me as I’ve followed in the footsteps of those who have traveled the Good Way before me.

For this reason, perhaps, as I read in Jeremiah this morning, verse 6:16 captured my attention. However, there is a bit more to the verse:

…But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’

Jeremiah 6:16b

My friends, I don’t know what you are facing on the first day of 2019. None of us know what we may be facing tomorrow. In fact, we are never guaranteed tomorrow.

But we have today. We have right now.

Today I invite you to a journey of joy. It isn’t a pain-free journey, nor it is a fool’s journey though you may be called a fool for embarking on it. I invite you nonetheless. Come, ask for the ancient paths where the good way is and find rest for your souls. Walk it, and do not refuse.

I know some of you are dealing with the slow decay of cancer. Others deal with the no less malignant cancer of anger, envy, unforgiveness, self-exaltation, or even the twisted egoism of self-loathing. Leave them by the wayside and find rest for your soul.

Others deal with pain rooted in an unhealed childhood wound. Many have addictions of one type or another, whether to food, entertainment, alcohol, drugs, sex, or something else. If you’ve lived long enough with any of these, you’ve experienced already the law of diminishing returns. The fun is gone, only the endless grind of need remains and grows like its own ruthless, devouring cancer. But you can lay those aside, too. Find the good Way, the One you were meant to be addicted to, and find rest for your soul.

Some have rejected the very idea of God so bitterly you think you can never turn to Him now. People would laugh. He would laugh and refuse to accept you now. He won’t.

You are not the first mocker to find that His way is the one you’ve been seeking after all. Peter, Jesus’s disciple, denied Him at His arrest. I once did, too. But the Lord had mercy on us both. So join me in searching the ancient paths like Peter’s and the paths of our lives today for signs of the God we once denied and like me, find rest for your soul.

The Peter who denied the Lord later received the gift of His Holy Spirit and spoke with enthusiasm to a crowd in Jerusalem. You can read about it in Acts 2. But what is remarkable to me is this: The joy I speak of, the rest for your soul that is promised along the good way, is part of what is called by Paul “fruit of the Spirit.”

…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…

Galatians 5:23-24a

This fruit grows along the ancient paths and nourishes those who choose the good way, even when the way is hard and the night seems long.

But even on the darkest night in the midst of the most horrendous pain, joy can still light your way and peace be your comfort because you will never walk the good way alone.