Does God have a sense of humor?

mount of transfiguration flatSo Peter, James and John walked into a bar…   No, wait, change that. Peter, James and John were on the mount of transfiguration. There was Jesus and it says “His face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.” (Matthew 17:2) It says that the three disciples saw Moses and Elijah, speaking with Jesus as He was transformed like that. It’s even recorded to some degree what Moses and Elijah were speaking to Jesus about.

Can you relate to any of this? Can you see yourself one afternoon experiencing something like that? How would you react? What would you say? Do you thing you could do the subject justice and rise to the occasion? Well, dear impulsive, impetuous Peter the fisherman, just as human as any of us, tried to do what he could. It is recorded that during this utterly unearthly scene, transfigurationpretty much evidently unique in Jesus’ ministry, that our dear Peter just had to blurt out his analysis on the whole event and chime in with his council to Jesus as He glistened there in ethereal heavenly glory before them.

Peter advised the Lord at this time, “Lord, it is good that we are here. And let us make three tabernacles, one for You one, for Moses and one for Elijah”. (Luke 9:33) And the Bible goes on to try to help us understand Peter’s dilemma at this moment, “for he knew not what to say.” (Mark 9:6) You can say that again. And what happened next? Get this. “And while they were yet speaking, a cloud overshadowed them and a Voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him.” (Luke 9: 34 &35)

I don’t know about you but I’ve almost never been able to read this without a wry smile. It’s like the very presence of God, the Father (the “Ancient of Days” of Daniel 7:13), came near to them and sweetly, to me almost humorously chided Peter, “Umm Peter, this is My Son. Hear Him.

Talk about tact. Talk about understatement. Maybe everyone didn’t chuckle but there has just got to be some humor into that. “Peter, shhssss. Just be quiet Peter. We don’t really need your suggestions right now.” But isn’t it just like almost any of us have done in some incredible moment when we don’t know what to do? So we pipe up with something that in retrospect was pretty much misplaced and virtually stupid, considering the circumstances? Could God, the Father, have been smiling and just shaking His head when He said that? I’ve always thought so.

running from Jazebel fixed-1Then there was Elijah. Having fled from Jezebel, defeated, discouraged, a shadow of the great man of God that he’d just been recently in slaying the 450 prophets of Baal, now having fled far into the wilderness of the south. Away from his place of service and seemingly almost ready to hang up his crown and calling of being a prophet, there we see him on the mount Horeb.The Bible says the Lord sent the wind, but He was not in it, then the fire and He was not in it and then a shaking and He was not in it. What a pregnant build-up to that moment when Elijah heard the still, small voice of God. And what did the Voice say? (Wait for it) “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (I Kings 19:9)

doing here flatCome on! That’s funny! God, the God of the universe, the Almighty, is asking this guy what he’s doing there?! He knows everything! He doesn’t need to ask anything! I just can never read this without feeling that there’s this kind, loving God of the universe having condescended to this poor, defeated servant of His and He’s striking up a conversation with him, saying, “Umm, why are you here, Elijah?

Don’t you just know that if you could see all this in real time, there would be a warm, wry smile on the face of God as He asked that? Maybe, probably even a smidgen, a sprinkle of humor on the whole thing? Gotta be.

The Bible warns of “foolish jesting” (Ephesians 5:4) but it also says “A merry heart does good like a medicine” (Proverbs 17:22). keep laughing flatOne of the greatest helps I’ve ever had in my missionary service has been times when my friends and I just laughed at the impossibility of what we were trying to do and how it was utterly insane except within the will of God. My one year in Moscow in 1995 and 1996 was only sustained by just laughing with my friends at the extremes to which we were pushed physically to do what we felt we needed to do there and how no one in the world would do what we were doing, there’s not enough money to pay for it, unless you were doing it for God’s service.

So often we just kept laughing in the extremely difficult conditions we worked in. It was perhaps the toughest year of my adult life physically but also one I count as one of the most fruitful. And a sense of humor was a continual essential asset through it all.

I’m convinced God has some sense of humor. It doesn’t show up very much in the Bible and we know that Jesus was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). But also I’ve had times, even recently, where I just felt that the Lord can do some things that are just so amazing, “out there” and radically loving that the only reaction is to smile, laugh and feel that He’s just funny sometime. Or so it seems to me.

Acts 25 Live Class Audio

Paul and accussorsAs we’ve done at other times in our book of Acts classes, we started out by going over the last verse in the chapter before, chapter 24, and again zeroed in on where Paul “reasoned with him” (Acts 24:25). That’s actually a really good verse about sharing our faith with others. Paul didn’t start berating and condemning him but he “reasoned with him”. The full audio class on Acts 25 can be heard here.

And we got off into a rollicking discussion at the beginning about witnessing and someone mentioned “the Roman road”, a phrase used to describe the use of verses in the book of Romans which can be used to explain to people how the Bible says “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And subsequent verses show “The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) These are verses that were shown to me on the day I received Jesus as my Savoir.

Even that phrase right there, “receiving Jesus”, is directly from Scripture, one of my favorite verses. “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.” (John 1:12) That’s what I did, I received Jesus.

Well, this is quickly developing into a basic salvation class and a witnessing class but we all need plenty of those. Going along with John 1:12 that I just quoted is the super famous verse from Revelation 3:20, Jesus at doorBehold I stand at the door and knock” [this is Jesus speaking about His standing at the door of your heart.] If any man hears My voice and opens the door, I will come into him and will sup with him and he with Me.” Simple salvation. And sometimes you have to “reason” with people, as Paul did here at the end of Acts 24

And we talked about how even the word “sin” and the concept of sin in our world today is virtually a lost word in almost every segment of society except perhaps some churches. We related that to how things are actually in our world today and how Jesus said, “If the light that be in you be darkness, how great is that darkness” (Matthew 6:23). Regardless of the technical advancements we’ve experienced, if a society no longer retains the light of God’s Word, then there‘s an immense darkness upon it.

Actually, we had a little difficulty getting this class started because we just kept getting deeper on some of these first subjects. We even got into where there are things you can find on line that will tell us that the Apostle Paul led people away from God because Paul didn’t exalt and stay submitted to the Torah, the ancient laws given to Moses.

But did only Paul do that? What about when this all came up in Acts 15? The Apostle Peter settled the argument of that time when he said,Peter Acts 15Why do you tempt God to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples that neither we nor our fathers were able to bear? [He’s speaking here to his Jewish Christian brethren in Jerusalem about the Mosaic Law and he went on to say…] But we believe that through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.” (Acts 15:10 & 11)

We talked about the importance of Paul and how it seems he had a better grasp and understanding of what Jesus did and had done, and the vast significance of it all. It’s been said that without Paul and his writings, quite possibly the early Christian movement would have ended up faltering, being absorbed back into Judaism and would have just been another branch of it, like the Sadducees, the Pharisees and the Essenes. And someone in the class rightly mentioned that it all wasn’t really Paul but the power of the Holy Spirit which used Paul. Absolutely. But believe it or not, there are websites that say Paul was a false apostle that led away Christianity from the laws of Moses. Whew!

And then we finally got going into the chapter. The new governor, Festus, after two years, heard Paul again at the judgment seat. But something new happened. “Willing to please the Jews…” (Acts 25:9), Festus asked Paul if he would be willing to go back to Jerusalem and to be judged there by Festus. And undoubtedly Paul knew what would await him in Jerusalem or even along the road there, as 40 of his enemies had sworn to kill him a few years earlier.

So Paul told Festus, “I stand before Caesar’s judgment. To the Jews I have done nothing, as you know.” And then the big thing, Paul said, “I appeal to Caesar.” To which Festus said, “Have you appealed to Caesar? Unto Caesar you shall go.” (Acts 25:12)

It’s amazing the twists and turns of all this. Some days later, the next level up in the hierarchy of the Romans, King Agrippa and his wife Bernice came to Caesarea and Felix explained Paul’s cause to them.  Paul in prison3And we could almost think like that Paul made a mistake or God made a mistake. Because Agrippa and Bernice wanted to let Paul go. But he’d already appealed to Caesar. However, like Romans 8:28 says, “All things work together for good to them that love the Lord.

And the Lord had already told Paul back in chapter 23, “As you have witnessed for Me in Jerusalem, so shall you witness for Me in Rome.” So it was another rousing, at times debate-filled Bible class we had on the Book of Acts. The recording of the class can be heard here.

Broken pieces of the ship

paul in shipwreckThis morning I was reading something from “Streams in the Desert” by Mrs. Charles E. Cowman. It was talking about when Paul was shipwrecked on his way as a prisoner to Rome in Acts 27. The devotion was on the verse, Acts 27:44 “And the rest, some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship. And so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land.

How can you get anything significant out of that verse, right? Well, the devotion brought out that in this dire time in the great apostle Paul’s life, shipwrecked and at wit’s end, a great flaming angel did not appear upon the waters to raise Paul bodily above the rest. A chariot of fire with mighty thunderbolts did not come to his deliverance. And, by in large, that’s how God works most of the time.

God uses little things, broken things, seemingly trivial things. And with those He does His mighty works.

Paul in prison3Paul was destined to be in Rome, God had told him, “As you’ve witnessed for Me in Jerusalem, so must you also bear witness in Rome.” (Acts 23:11) Some things just seem to be destined and foreordained by God, if we continue to do our part. And even in this mighty storm that was upon Paul and the ones in that ship, even there God was in control. Like I wrote about recently when a tornado came over the house I was living in, “God has his way in the whirlwind and the storm.” (Nahum 1:7) But there’s even more significance to this seemingly insignificant verse. “broken pieces of the ship…” How poignant that is. Because so often that’s what each of us are in some points in our lives.

Our own ship has been broken and our life seems to be a ruins. Our family has been broken and seemingly destroyed. Our health is broken. Our church fellowship or denomination has been broken or shamed. And yet, God only uses broken things.

create in me flatGod told Saul, “When you were little in your own sight, I anointed you king over Israel”. (I Samuel 15:17) God wants and needs broken things, because that’s all He can work with. In perhaps one of the most important Psalms in the Bible, Psalm 51, King David in his desperate repentance and metanoia said to God, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, oh God, You will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17)

Brokenness. Nobody almost ever wants to be broken, to be defeated, to be embarrassed, to seemingly fail. But God gets some of his greatest victories out of seeming defeat. That broken vessel, the ship Paul was on, was lost. But he and all on board were saved because they kept listening to what Paul, God’s representative to them right then, told them to do in that dire crisis.

In the same way, if individuals or bodies of individuals keep listening to the Lord, keep our eyes on Him and our direct hotline of prayer to His Throne alive through direst times, He will not fail to keep, deliver and guide through anything. He loves to do the miracles, that’s the nature of God. And in our brokenness, whatever form that may take, He can do what He can’t do when we are so “together” and on top of things.

Gods judgements flatJesus even said, “Whosoever shall fall upon this stone shall be broken. But on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” (Matthew 21:44) God help us to fall on the Stone, Christ Jesus, in brokenness and dependence on Him. This is the safest state there is: utter dependence on the Lord. The proud, the haughty, the self sufficient who think they don’t need God or His ways and His love will sadly someday at length find the same Stone we are supposed to fall up will fall upon them when they see their lives were empty, meaningless and selfish. Although God’s wheels of justice sometimes seem to grind exceeding slow, they eventually grind exceeding fine.

God help us to have the vision of just being “broken pieces of the ship”. Broken things, little things, even despised things which God said He would use “to bring to naught things that are”. (I Corinthians 1:28)  “’For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways’, says the Lord.” (Isiah 58:10)

How inglorious to be floundering about helplessly and desperately on a plank in a stormy ocean, at wits end. But there the apostle Paul was and from there he was delivered by the One who always had “delivered him from every evil work”. (II Timothy 4:18) May God give us all the eyes He wants us to have to even be “broken pieces of the ship”, if so be the will of God.

At the Camp of the Saints (Part 2)

sit down merged flatThis afternoon I was having a Bible class with around 10 young people between the ages of 7 and 17, children of some of the attendees at the Christian fellowship I’m at up in the mountains of Romania.

Teaching Daniel chapter 2 is one of my favorite things since it’s about the easiest chapter there is to introduce the phenomenon of Bible prophecy. It’s actually about someone who was probably not older than 14 at the time. So this adds to the interest in the chapter for younger people.

If you’re a teacher, there’s a lot you can do to dramatize this chapter. Daniel and his friends are taken captive and carried away from their home country. They are educated, probably “upper class” kids. They’d already had serious instruction in the things of the Lord and had taken it to heart.

Shadrach-Meshach-AbednegoBut then Daniel and his friends are put to the test and nearly executed. Daniel and the others got down to desperate prayer and the Lord answered in one of the most miraculous ways in the Bible. Like I told the kids in my class, “What if you were suddenly carried away to Moscow?! You have to appear before Vladimir Putin and his advisers in the Kremlin to tell him what he had dreamed!” It makes it more real like this.

Dan & Neb for D9 postA lot of drama helps if you’re teaching kids. There’s the strange statue and, even stranger, that stone that hit the statue on the feet. So I was the statue, one of the kids held a big basket which hit me (the statue) on my feet. I crumbled to dust in front of their eyes and the basket (the stone) became a great mountain. Lots of spectacle in that when you act it out .

Neb falls at feetThe result? King Nebuchadnezzar fell at the feet of Daniel in front of his whole court. So I fell at the feet of one of the kids there and we played like I was Vladimir Putin, speaking my broken Russian, falling at their feet in thankfulness and awe that they were able to reveal the secret. It helps to bring it all home to kids and to help them remember it and grasp the significance when you do this. Often times that’s what they remember the most

But also in the room was a friend of mine who is 20 who comes from a family of dedicated east European Christians. All through our class I’d been trying to bring it all back to their level and help them to see how this could have been them and what it would have been like to have been 14 year old Daniel. Then at the end of the class, my 20 year old friend shared her life story with the ones there who were actually the same age as her younger sisters and brothers. She told them something like this.

“In 7th grade, because of my Christian beliefs, I really didn’t have many friends in school. So I decided I wanted friends and for them to accept me. From then on I started going to parties without my parents knowing.

When I turned 15, I started a relationship with a boy who at first accepted my beliefs. But after a year he told me he had lied to make me like him. I continued to be with him another 2 years and through that time he and his friends told me that I lived in a fantasy world and that I’m trying to run away from reality. This affected my beliefs and caused me to doubt my faith in the Lord. Around the end of our relationship, we went for a summer vacation where we had a big fight and I ran out crying.

I ended up looking at the stars which often brought me peace. I decided to give the Lord “one last chance”. Inside me I had a battle and felt I was making a fool of myself. But I told the Lord my feelings and I told Him I wanted to see a shooting star from left to right if I was not supposed to be together with my boyfriend. Or right to left if he was the one for me. And I told him if nothing happens, then I will never believe in Him again.

sit down merged flatI waited for about 10 minutes but nothing happened. So I stood up to leave but then a very strong voice in my head told me, ‘Sit down. The answer is coming.’ 

When I sat down and looked up, an enormous shooting star went exactly from left to right the way I had asked. The Lord told me then that my future boyfriend would have the same beliefs that I have. This showed me that the Lord truly loves me and that He will never leave me or forsake me. This was about 2 years ago and now actually I do have a boyfriend who has the same beliefs as me and he has a strong relationship with the Lord.”

So for me this was a great way to end the class with these east European kids from missionary families, hearing from one from their generation who’s come to know the Lord personally and has their own experiences (some learned the hard way).

(In part three I’ll tell you about a young man I met for the first time here, one who’s overcome obstacles most of us never face, who is an incredible light for the Lord in a far off corner of eastern Europe.)

 

Acts 24 Live Class Audio

Paul before FestusIn our live class on Acts 24, we started out by setting the stage for where we had come to in the story. Paul had been delivered from the 40 men in Jerusalem (whom we saw in Acts 23) who had “bound themselves with a curse” (Acts 23:14) that they would kill Paul at a judicial hearing they were engineering to have the Romans hold. The full audio class on Acts 24 can be heard here.

The point was made in the class that, nowadays, we can think of the Romans as being the persecutors of Christians and the bad guys. But at this point in the early days of Christianity, Paul was safer with the Romans than with his brethren who were persecuting Christians at that time. As Jesus had told His disciples, “The time will come when whosoever kills you will think he does God service.” (John 16:2) That’s how Paul had been before his conversion and plenty of his fellow countrymen were still adamantly that way.

Again in Acts 24 it’s a court scene and a whole gaggle of accusers had journeyed to Caesarea to stand in condemnation against Paul, accusing him of sedition (a very serious crime against the state in the eyes of the Romans)  “throughout the world” (Acts 24:5) and “a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes”. (Acts 24:5)

Martin Luther

Martin Luther

We mentioned briefly how that this is one of two places in Acts where the early Christian movement was called a “sect” by its detractors. Virtually every move of God, the early Christians, the followers of John Huss and later of Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformation, the Baptists of the 1500 and 1600’s, John Wesley and the Methodist, William Booth and the Salvation Army, all were called a sect in their earliest days. But many of those went on to be the major established religious of our times.

Then Paul stands to speak for himself, explaining that he’d actually barely been in Jerusalem a week and that the numerous false accusations made against him were just that: false. But he then did confess that he’d lived his life in full faith in the teachings of the Jewish Law and prophets. Paul defends himself by referring to his faith, saying that he believed in a coming “resurrection of the just and the unjust”  (Acts 24:15). He didn’t attack his accusers, he didn’t pander to Roman ways; he just basically stood up for Jesus, for his faith and what he had been doing in his life, taking the conversation into the things of the Spirit and away from politics, nationalism and secularism.

And here again, when the chips were down, Paul would refer to how he had lived in a good conscious. In fact, that was one of the first things he said at his hearing in Acts 23:1, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.” And he immediately was slapped by order of the high priest. But to Paul, living from a clean conscious was of utmost importance.

Paul and accussorsAnd there’s a great verse around here that sums up some witnessing experiences that we have. Paul “reasoned with him of righteous, temperance and judgment to come,” (Acts 24:15), at which point the Bible says Felix “trembled” and then kind of gave Paul the nervous brush-off by saying. “Go your way Paul; when I have a convenient season, I will call for you.” (Acts 24:15)

There’s a real lesson for us all here. Paul didn’t argue doctrine, he didn’t get into politics; he often just shared what had happened to him. Our own personal story and testimony are one of the most powerful things we can share with others.

happened to me“This is what happened to me.” When you tell people your own personal experience, and if you share it with sincerity in the power of the Holy Spirit, people will believe you. And if they believe it happened to you, then they’ll realize it can happen to them also.

So Felix got really under conviction. But he didn’t want to yield to the nudging and urgings of the Holy Spirit so he basically asked or told Paul to leave. This kind of thing still happens today when some people recognize the tug on their heart and soul but don’t want to yield to the Lord.

Then also we find out in the next verse that it seems like Felix was kind of holding out for or expecting some kind of bribe before he would release Paul. Things haven’t changed much, have they? And the chapter ends around there, Paul still in bonds, his fate still undecided by the Roman authorities. But in Acts 25, things come more to the climax as the “buck stops here” head of the Romans in that part of the world, King Agrippa, gives Paul an audience.

Paul and soldierWe’ll see in the next class that King Agrippa would actually have pretty much wrapped up the case against Paul. But instead, the seemingly “cruel hand of fate” had Paul end up being shipped off to Rome and ultimately to his martyrdom. Was it “the cruel hand of fate”? Actually no, since the Lord had already told Paul “Be of good cheer Paul. For as you have testified of Me in Jerusalem, so must you also testify of Me in Rome.” (Acts 23:11) It was all part of God’s plan, His much greater vision for Paul’s life and ultimately for the world as a whole.

Exciting stuff, no? The live class audio on Acts 24 can be heard here.

Acts 23 Live Class Audio

Paul on stepsIn our previous class, on Acts 22, we read about the traumatic moments in Jerusalem when Paul addressed his countrymen after he’d almost been torn in pieces by a religious mob there. In our class on Acts 23, we see the continuation of Paul’s new condition of being incarcerated by the Romans, almost as much as anything for his own protection and safety. The live class audio on Acts 23 can be heard here.

Paul and all the Jews in Israel were living under Roman rule but then he had been accused by the Jews. So the Romans held a local court in Acts 23 to find out what Paul was being accused of by the Jewish authorities. It all doesn’t really start so well. Paul opened by saying, “I’ve lived in all good conscious to this day.” (Acts 23:1) It’s hard to believe what happened next. “The high priest ordered those standing by Paul to slap him on the face.” (Acts 23:2)

Paul before the councilIt quickly became a very tense situation and Paul was accused of speaking evil against the ruler of the people when he somewhat hastily answered back to the high priest that he was breaking the laws of Moses by having him slapped. We talked about how Paul not only had a strong heart and spirit in the Lord but also he had a good mind. And when he had to use it, even to outwit his adversaries in emergencies like this one, he did.

We talked about the background of the Sadducees and the Pharisees and how those two groups developed during the period of the Jewish return to Israel from Babylon and later during the rule of the Greeks over the Jews who’d returned to their land and city. Actually it was the Pharisees who ended up coming to faith in Jesus after the resurrection, more than the Sadducees.

In our class we had a pretty large discussion as to whether or not Paul was in the highest will of God by going to Jerusalem where he got arrested. The way I’ve seen it and taught it is that Paul was first directly told “by the Spirit” (Acts 21:4),  that he should not go up to Jerusalem. Then later the prophet Agabus bound Paul’s hands and feet and told him that would happen to him in Jerusalem. Then there was the scene in Jerusalem where the Lord told Paul, “Make haste and get quickly out of Jerusalem for they will not hear thee”. (Acts 22:18)

True and rightious-flattenedBut some in the class felt there were other ways of looking at all this. They asked why the Lord stood by Paul in Acts 23 if he’d not been in God’s Will. So we talked about how “a just man falls seven times and rises up again”. (Proverbs 24:16) We talked about other examples in the Bible of men of God who made big mistakes, John the Baptist and King David to name but two, but who still were servants of the Lord who God didn’t abandon. It got to be a big discussion and not everyone saw it the same way.

In fact this whole discussion became a major subject of the class. One verse we looked at was “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (Romans 11:29). Some people have incredible gifts from God, gifts as soul winners and witnessers. Some have the gift of music and can play and sing in such a way that they melt and break hardened hearts and inspire people to draw closer to the Lord. Some have the gift of not only winning souls for the Kingdom of God, they have the gift of challenging people to serve the Lord and dedicate their lives to Him. They’ve won people to the Lord who went on to a lifetime of Christian service themselves.

Looking back flatBut sometimes these ones with such incredible gifts can somehow drift out of the beam of light that shines in the direction of His highest and best. They even have “put their hand to the plow and looked back” (Luke 9:62) or been discouraged or “grown weary in well doing”. (Galatians 6:9)

But those gifts and that calling are still there. And I’ve seen a few like this come back from turning aside from His will for a while to again take on His high calling. And they find that those gifts from Him are still there and functioning when they turn back to full commitment to Him

But there just was a lot of discussion about whether or not Paul was in the will of God in going to Jerusalem. If he wasn’t, why did the Lord stand by him and say, “Be of good courage, Paul”? (Acts 23:11) Because we all fall, we all make mistakes, “All we like sheep have gone astray” (Isiah 53:6). And my view is that Paul, because of his zeal and love for his countrymen, was determined to go to Jerusalem when the Lord repeatedly told him that that was not His highest and best. But Paul was still a disciple and pretty much the top apostle for the Lord when it came to reaching the Gentiles. So He stood by him, even when he’d not kept to the very highest path that the Lord would have had him follow. That’s what I believe and taught in this live class audio. But not all of my friends were totally on board with me on that, ha! The live class audio on Acts 23 can be heard here.

 

Still

Solomon musingI’m really thankful that God has made it so that the Bible has had such an impact on my life. Like someone said one time, “When all else fails, you’ll still have Jesus.” And equally it can be said, “When all else fails and you seem to have nothing and no one, you’ll still have God’s Word.”

Often individual Bible verses are almost like my friends, ones that I’ve been through experiences with, ones that have gotten me through those experiences when I might not have survived. And occasionally even just one word in a verse has huge significance for me. One place like that is in the last chapter of Ecclesiastes.

Solomon writingIt’s mostly assumed that this book was written by Solomon, although it doesn’t explicitly say so. It’s similar to the Proverbs of Solomon in many ways. But also it has a few places in it which made it so that it’s possibly the book in the Bible that was closest to being left out when the canon of Scripture was competed so long ago.

As you may know about Solomon, he’s said to be the wisest man that ever lived. But then also it says that Solomon “loved many strange women” (I Kings 11:1) and that “his wives turned away his heart” (I Kings 11:4) . Strange as it may seem, there was no specific law against having more than one wife in the laws of Moses.Solomon and wife It says that you shalt not “multiply wives to thyself.” (Deuteronomy 17:17) Several of God’s greats in the Old Testament had more than one wife and nothing was said about this. But the Bible says Solomon had “700 wives and 1000 concubines” (I Kings 11:3). And it seems many of these were foreign women who worshiped other gods and got Solomon to build temples to those gods in Israel.

To make a long story short, God spoke to Solomon that, after his death, Israel would be divided and that only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin would stay loyal to the house of David. (See I Kings 11) So Solomon knew in his later years that, as we say here in the States, “the jig was up”. The glory days were gone. Things were not anywhere near as they had been under his father David or perhaps in the early years of his own rule.

Solomon thinkingIn Ecclesiastes 12 there’s almost a haunting melancholy to the chapter. “Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when you shall say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’.” (Ecc.12:1) It sounds so much like the plea of a broken and failed father to his children to make the most of the life they have before the evil days come, which it sounds like Solomon knew he was already living in. Over half of chapter 12 has that sound to it, a little mournful, a little sad, a little defeated.

But then we come to verse nine. It says this. “And because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he sought out and set in order many proverbs.”(Ecc.12:9) And it goes on to describe this preacher, Solomon was almost certainly talking about himself, still “seeking out acceptable words”. (Ecc.12:10)

Solomon sadThis has always spoken to me so much. To me I see Solomon in his later years. Maybe, probably he knew and felt that in some ways the glory had departed from his life and from Israel and that tough times were coming. But that one word almost haunts me in a good sense: “still”. He still taught the people wisdom, even after he’d committed major sins and had been exposed. He still stayed faithful to his calling and gifts. He still fed the Lord’s sheep. In his case, his gift was to recognize wisdom and to collect bits of wisdom into proverbs.

But how does that work for us? How does that work for me? Paul said that we were to be “instant in season and out of season” (II Timothy 4:2). He also talked about “patient continuance in well doing.” (Romans 2:7) This in some ways reminds me of the story of Ruth and Naomi that I wrote about a while back. It sometimes feels like we are finished, used up, passed over, just a shell of what we used to be. The fruitful years seem to be gone and we are depleted, good for nothing except to go off somewhere to die. But that’s not true. Solomon “still taught the people knowledge”. Still …, even though it was not like the glory years, he stayed faithful to his calling and ministry.

Would to God that each of us would be like that. Solomon kept on being faithful to his skill and gifts and calling, perhaps because he knew even back then what Paul would later write, “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” (Romans 11:32) And this was true, even after his sins had gotten the best of him in many ways. How many of us feel our sins have gotten the best of us? Or perhaps the sins of others have gotten the best of us? If you feel like that, remember Ruth and Solomon. “Still.”

Пророчества изпълнени в историята

(Bulgarian video)

Български [Bulgarian]

Това видео представя феномена на Библейското пророчество, както и историята на древен Израел. Това е първото видео, което съм направил от серия върху пророчествата на Даниил. Много хора не знаят какво е Библейско пророчество. И аз не знаех, докато не се случи огромна промяна в моя живот и разбрах, че Бог е реален и духовният свят наистина съществува. По-късно станах християнин и бях толкова изненадан, когато четях Библията, особено удивителните разкрития на Библейските пророчества.

Това видео на английски се нарича “An Introduction to Prophecy in History” . Може да се гледа на английски тук. Моето следващо видео на български ще бъде Даниил 2 глава. То ще бъде готово скоро. Надявам се това видео да бъде благословение за вас и да се нахраните духовно от чудесата на Божието Слово.

С уважение, Марк

English

I’ve been able to complete the first video in Bulgarian of the Prophecies of Daniel series. This one in English is “An Introduction to Prophecy in History”. This can be seen in English here.

Many people don’t know what Bible prophecy is. I certainly didn’t until I had a big change in my life when I found out that God is real and the spiritual world really exists. Later I became a Christian and was so surprised when I read the Bible, especially the marvelous disclosures of Bible prophecy.

So, in doing this series on the prophecies of Daniel, I felt it would be good to first present the phenomenon of Bible prophecy, as well as a brief background of ancient history and the history of ancient Israel. History is the backdrop against which the prophecies of the prophets stand out as beacons and signposts of the future to come.

The next Bulgarian video will be Daniel chapter 2. My hope is that this video and perhaps others in Bulgarian will be ready this year. Meanwhile, I’m working on several other foreign language videos on Bible prophecy and I hope to have those out in the next months. God bless you.

Why study the book of Daniel?

Daniel Night for blog post With the way the world is in these times, more and more people have at least some curiosity about Bible prophecy and the future it tells us of. But once you start searching around, you can really find some different, even opposing ideas about it all. So much of it can even engender fear or confusion.

Often folks just give up trying to grasp any constants or absolutes that can be found about the subject of Bible prophecy. Some have even said, “Hasn’t the book of Daniel already been fulfilled? Isn’t it only written for Jewish people?” That’s what some say.

Recently I was meeting with a group of people who are studying the subject of prophecy in the Bible. The main thing we were reading was from the book of Ezekiel. It’s  being taught in this group that Ezekiel chapter 38 is in the  process of being fulfilled right now in currents events playing out in the Middle East, as a precursor to the final events leading up to the coming of God’s kingdom on earth. Then I have other friends talk to me about verses in Isaiah which they say predict a soon coming atomic annihilation the city of Damascus, Syria. Others in recent times have come to see Psalm 83 (written by King David as a prayer against the nations he was battling with in 900 BC) as being a specific endtime prophecy which is about to be fulfilled in current events in the Middle East

Before I read Daniel flatSo, why am I doing a series on the book of Daniel? Shouldn’t we be studying Ezekiel or Isaiah? Or Psalm 83? Here’s why. If you’re looking for authority in the Bible, there’s no greater than Jesus Himself. Did He talk about the future, the time before His return and His coming Kingdom?  Absolutely. The two main chapters where He talked about this were Matthew 24 and Mark 13. He’s quoted as saying this in both chapters but I’ll quote from Matthew 24:15. “When you shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (whoever reads, let him understand).”

Matthew 24 15-d for blog post

Matthew 24:15

When asked about the future, Jesus didn’t refer to Ezekiel, or Isaiah, or any other book in the Bible. But He did refer specifically to the book of Daniel and even to a specific passage of Scripture in that book. Then He went on to say, Whoever reads, let him understand.” Jesus both emphases that book and made it unusually clear, highlighting the importance of understanding that particular passage.

Admittedly, that verse, Matthew 24:15, is not very easy to understand at first glance. That’s one of the reasons why, in my series on Daniel, I start with the first prophetic chapter in Daniel and then build on it. The series begins with Daniel chapter 2, then goes on to chapters 7 and 8, before we are really ready to look at this emphasized statement that Jesus made about certain passages in what turns out to be Daniel 9 and 11.

Then, if we look at what is considered the most specifically prophetic book in the New Testament, Revelation, it is full of material that refers back to characters and events  first introduced in Daniel’s visions and prophecies some 600 or more years earlier than the date of Revelation.

Daniel foundation flat-1It reminds me of what Paul said, “I as a wise master builder have laid the foundation and another builds thereupon. But let every man take heed how he builds thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid.” (I Corinthians 3:10) Paul was not speaking here about Bible prophecy and the book of Daniel. But what he said can very much apply to the foundation of endtime prophecy that the Lord revealed to Daniel and which Jesus pointed us toward. It just seems like so many today are busy building edifices of endtime prophetic interpretation on little, if any, solid foundation. Simply finding some passage in the Old Testament that seems conveniently to match some aspect of today’s world and then proclaiming that as our major insight into current events and the future is a pretty shaky way to portray the events of the future according to prophetic Scripture.

With so much being wondered about nowadays having to do with fulfilled prophecy and possible events to come, I’m convinced that an understanding of Daniel’s prophecies offers the best hope of establishing a foundation for understanding future certainties. And no, definitely it’s not all been fulfilled. Numerous things that are first clearly spoken of in Daniel, and further clarified in Revelation, just haven’t happened yet. And it seems Jesus Himself pointed us to this beginning point when He referred to specifics in Daniel yet to be fulfilled and said, “Whoever reads, let him understand.”

Our giants

One of the more interesting, and to me puzzling guys in the entire Bible is the patriarch Jacob. Probably some will chide me for saying so but he’s always seemed like almost an anti-hero among the pantheon of Biblical greats.

Jacob tricks Isaac, with Rebecca’s help

Jacob tricks Isaac, with Rebecca’s help

Jacob even means “deceiver”. He lied to his dad. He tricked his brother out of his inheritance. And he conspired with his mother to do these things. He ended up having to flee for his life and he never saw his beloved mother again. Did that really teach him a lesson and he was a changed man from then on? No, certainly not immediately it seems.

But then God had Jacob work under a more conniving and hard man than he himself was, his uncle Laban. It’s a long story but after some 21 years of work, growth and certainly some bitter lessons learned along the way, God spoke to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you.” (Genesis 31:4?)

“Oh, great”, you could say, “He’s finally going to be able to go home.”

Jacob and Laban

Jacob and Laban

In Jacob’s case, it was a good deal more problematic than that. By this time Jacob was pretty much a rich man, with vast flocks and herds, wives and children, servants and helpers. And his twin brother, Esau, who he’d so blatantly and subtlety tricked out of his inheritance, was a fairly major local warlord. One way we know this is because, when Esau heard that Jacob was on his way back, he gathered 400 of his personal troops to go out with him to meet his brother.

For what purpose? To get revenge? To give him a big hug? It seems Jacob didn’t really know. But most likely his conscience was still eating away at him because of the scoundrel/crook/rogue-like nature that seemed to be a part of his personality. And this is where it gets really interesting.

Did Jacob boldly walk at the head of his tribe and go forward to meet his brother? No, he sent almost everyone else ahead of him: wives, children, flocks, etc. And then, the night before he was to meet Esau himself, it turns out that the Bible says Jacob “wrestled” with an angel. (Genesis 32:24 & 25)

What a scene, what drama, what pathos. God had evidently softened Jacob’s heart through the years at least somewhat. It wasn’t just him alone anymore. He had a large family who he evidently loved very dearly. And now the possibility was strong that he would get what in most ways he deserved: judgment and destruction of himself and his whole family for the perfidy he’d worked on his parents and brother many years before. He probably knew that if that happened, he would only be getting what justice would decree.

Jacob’s giants were not like David’s hundreds of years later. Jacob’s giants were his own sins and his own evil inclinations. Had he outgrown the sins of his youth? Or was now the time when they would finally catch up with him and it would mean the death of himself and all he loved?

For most of us, our biggest enemy is not someone else, or even the Devil. Our biggest enemy is ourselves. “The devils are subject to us“. (Luke 10:17) But it’s our own evil spirit, our own ornery will that seems to constantly rise up like an ogre to defy God and to lead us astray, even without the devil’s help.

jacob and angelBut Jacob knew the jig was up. We don’t have the entire dialog of that night and all the details. But it must have been one of the most intense battles any man ever fought, pleading with God through the angel as Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” (Genesis 32:26)

What kind of blessing did Jacob need? Well the next morning he would face his brother and 400 armed men. He needed God to have his brother’s heart touched so that he would receive him as his long lost brother rather than as the trickster and villain he’d actually been. If ever someone had to get their heart right with the Lord and probably really plead with God for the cleansing and remaking he so desperately needed, it must have been Jacob right then.

It sounds like it went on for hours, hours of desperate prayer, wrestling not only with the angel but also his own sins that so easily beset him. But at last, Jacob found grace in God’s sight. The angel even gave Jacob a new name at that time, “Israel”, meaning prince of God and man, perhaps signifying that he was “a new creature” (II Corinthians 5:17) in God’s eyes.

Jacob and esau meetAnd although we don’t know all the story of that momentous night, we do know that, almost surprisingly, the next day Esau didn’t go forward to kill Jacob. It says, “And Esau ran to meet Jacob, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept.” (Genesis 33:4) A heartfelt embrace of brothers, much matured and changed through the years who were just glad to see each other again.

Would things have been different if Jacob had not been so desperate in prayer the night before? I’ve always really thought that. Because Jacob really got down to desperate prayer with God, perhaps one of the most desperate in the Bible, most likely God was able to change Esau’s heart also to have mercy rather than justifiable judgment against his brother. God saw that Jacob himself was utterly desperate for God’s mercy and help and the Lord did a major miracle.

What a story. Our biggest enemy is ourselves. Getting the victory over “the sins that so easily beset us” (Hebrews 12:1) is our greatest challenge. And, let’s face it: a lot of us don’t always win that battle. May God help us all to fight our “giants” that defy us and will defeat us except for our desperate prayers for the Lord to “deliver us from every evil work and preserve us unto His heavenly kingdom.” (II Timothy 4:18)