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)

The Greatest Love

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

There’s a love story that bears repeating because it’s a love story on an epic scale. It spans time from the moment of creation and continues into a future unknown to mankind but known to his Creator. And it’s summarized simply in this one familiar verse.

For God so loved the world…

Life everlasting, and that just because you believe. Set free from slavery to sin and able to not only choose righteousness, but to desire to be righteous. It sounds almost too good to be true. Almost.

But there’s more to the story. There’s belief and there’s belief. I believe in Elvis, but that belief hasn’t changed the way I live my life, the way I think, nor what I do.

However, I believe in breastfeeding, and that made a dramatic impact on every aspect of what I did, how I thought – even on what I wore – for a year after each of my 3 children were born.

I believe in God. I believe He sent His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, Yeshua Messiah, who walked in the dust of this earth as a Man. I believe He lived the sinless life and willingly gave up that life as the exclusively complete atoning sacrifice for the sins of mankind.

I believe He suffered greatly before He died; emotionally, socially, physically, and even spiritually. I believe He rose again and is now seated at the right hand of God where He makes intercession for all who have chosen to die to themselves and live for Him.

Because He suffered the unimaginable anguish of Roman torture, betrayal, and loss, I believe He is the only God who has an experiential knowledge of what it means to be a man.

And that belief has dramatically changed how I walk, talk, think, what I watch, what I buy, how I view others – everything. It’s changed everything.

That belief continues to change everything in me by a process known as sanctification. I believe this will continue until this body of mine exhales its last breath and I go to be with my Lord and King in the place He has prepared for me.

But it’s not just a love story for me. It’s for you, too.

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:20-21

You see, I don’t want anyone to die without coming to know and love my God. If you could catch but a glimpse of His splendor, taste but a morsel of His love, feel just the tiniest press of the weight of His glory! I promise you that you will never be the same.

It’s hard, sometimes, in this world of looking out for number one to realize that we don’t need a god who serves us. He’s not a waiter or a butler here to cater to our slightest whim. He’s God – Uncreated, Unchanging, Holy, and Almighty.

But even so, even though the best among us has rebelled against Him, He offers us the Word: His love story to us. In the Bible, He spells out the rebellion of mankind after creation, the continual cycle of repentance and falling away, the unbelief, the disobedience, the pain we as a species have inflicted upon our Father who gave us life.

In that Book, He also begins right after mankind’s Fall to tell a tale of His future plan of redemption and salvation. The whole Book is filled with that tale, ultimately finding fulfillment in Yeshua Messiah – my Lord Jesus Christ.

He is the Word made flesh; the Love Story Incarnate. He is the Love Story of God, and it’s in the written Word that you can discover the character and nature of God the Father and the Word Who was with Him and Who mysteriously also was Him in the beginning.

My Yeshua. My Messiah. My King. The One I love to obey and am sorrowful when I fail to keep His commands.

He lived as an example. He died to redeem. He lives to intercede, and some day He will come back to claim His own.

Friend, I hope you will join the great cloud of witnesses on that great Day and that we can celebrate together in His presence forever.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

John 3:17-18

Tuesday Prayer: Love for Man

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” 

John 13:34-35

God who is Love, today we come before Your throne of grace humbled and contrite in heart. We are more grateful than words can express that You have chosen to open our eyes to the greatest Love of all; the Love of the Almighty expressed in the ultimate atoning sacrifice. By Your sacrificial love, all our crimes are forgiven and taken away as far as the east is from the west. 

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

Psalms 103:11-12

Yet even with so great an example of humility and sacrificial love as Jesus demonstrated His life and death, even though the cost of our own sin is uncountable, we are prone to forgetfulness when it comes to extending that same love and forgiveness to other people. What a short-sighted and selfish people we are! Open our hearts more to understand the depth and breadth of Your love. Fill us with it so that we may love others just as selflessly as You love us.

Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’

Matthew 18:32-33

And Lord, please change our vision so that we do not interpret the actions and motives of others only by how they affect us or make us feel. Instead, help us see others as You do. For those who are unsaved, remind us that we, too, were once lost, deceived, and living in active rebellion to the Living God. Show us how to view others with humility, understanding that only by Your grace are we saved and that they, too, may be saved by Your grace. 

Shape us into a compassionate people, believing the best intentions of others no matter how they hurt us and willing to forgive no matter how deep the wound. Keep us mindful of the cost of the Cross and of the hurts we’ve inflicted on others and on You so that we can keep our own attitudes in proper perspective.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

1 Corinthians 13:7

Thank You for allowing us to be covered in the righteousness of Your Son, Jesus, for without His covering, we would be laid bare in our shame and filthy in our sin.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21

And Lord, make us to especially love our brothers and sisters in Christ. If we are not actively living in love with each other, we have no draw to those on the outside of the church. Let us live out Jesus’s words and show the world we belong to Him by the love we have for each other. 

May it be, also, that we love others enough to tell them the truth about You, even if it is a difficult truth for them to hear. If any should die apart from Christ, may it never be because we neglected share the news of Jesus Christ with them. It is for Your glory and in His name we ask for this great overflow of compassion in our hearts and actions, amen. 

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. 

Fountain

Thanks to the flu (which I have so far evaded) hitting my home, I’ve little time to engage on social media this week. So here’s an oldie from 2014 that I needed to re-read today! ❤

Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

Jeremiah 2:12-13

We do not like to hear difficult news. It isn’t much fun, I have to admit, especially when said news involves an uncomfortably close look at my own behavior. My pride doesn’t enjoy the buffeting that comes from a confrontation of my sin.

However, the longer I have walked with God, the more I see the absolute necessity of these moments. If I cannot humbly ask God to search my heart and know my thoughts, well… I am not drinking deep from the Fount of living water but trusting in the cracked and leaky vessel of my silly and rather vain human pride, either by trusting in my own effort or ability or by accepting a cultural standard that is man-made and fleeting. This brief passage in Jeremiah has given me pause for both personal reflection and for a close look at my expectations as a part of the Church at large.

Lately I have been wondering how much of our modern church services are driven by such cultural expectations and efforts. Have we allowed the show to upstage the Almighty?

I love some stirring music as much as the next gal, but I do sometimes fear that what passes for “worship” in many churches today is not actually the unadorned worship of the Father. I fear it isn’t fueled by a hunger for His Word and His presence and marked by repentance and obedience, but by something far inferior. I fear that it is nothing more and nothing less than emotional response.

The plain fact is, we do not need music or color-coordination or conducive environments to worship. Worship just happens, and it happens from a recognition of the majesty and worthiness of God. Worship cannot be manufactured: it is the natural response to our mighty King.

Just the other day as I read Jeremiah 2 to my kids, I pondered it in light of the current church trends. When we, the Church, allow human expectations to define our worship services, are we then trusting in the Fountain of Living Water? Or have we hewn out cisterns for ourselves, cisterns that we expend enormous energy trying vainly to fill only to watch our efforts drain away while we sit by, exhausted and helpless to stop the leak?

I do not claim to know the answers; it is just something I have been contemplating. I do know, however, that many people are out there searching, searching for just the right worship environment rather than simply seeking the limitless Fountain which will, without fail, well up to an overflow.

I have experienced that worship can happen in the midst of intense pain as well as in the midst of beautiful and stirring music. True worship is really a reflexive response to the work of the Holy Spirit and cannot be conjured by any amount of human effort or will. I hope to see a return to sincere worship in our churches in my lifetime. I pray to see it in my own heart, as well.

God has made me realize lately just how deeply I, too, have based my ideologies and standards upon these fractured and fragile, man-hewn cisterns. You see, I tend to view my life–my use of time and other resources, how busy I am, my assessment of my own spiritual condition–not by God’s standards but by measuring them against my peers.

This is an area in which God has been dealing with me lately, pointing to the leaks and flaws in the cisterns I am pouring my energy into and beckoning me to sit by His Fountain and be filled.

I spent years striving ceaselessly to keep my spiritual life “full,” but for years I neglected to begin with humility, repentance and surrender. I have tried to be “good,” but in the end my best efforts are no better than filthy rags. What I need is to abide–to be a part of the living Vine, to trust entirely in the Fountain of Living Water and allow His life, power, and love to suffuse every element of my being until I am utterly eclipsed by it. May He increase and I decrease.

My prayer today, Father, is that I will no longer commit these two evils. Teach me to forsake my flawed human understanding and surrender entirely to Your perfect will. May Your Living Water well up within me to an overflow, for the glory of Your Kingdom and of Your name.

Let it be Your power that others see in me–power over sin and over the cares of this world. I ask for Your forgiveness for my arrogance in carving out my own, leaky vessels. I pray, too, for Your forgiveness for our churches. I pray that we, as Your Bride, would humble ourselves completely and listen to Your will for us. Help us to let go of all expectations that we have created and heaped upon ourselves and open our hearts to pure and sincere worship of You, our King.

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 6:16

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