Monday, March 29, 2021

When We Cause Our Own Problems

Matt 14:22-32 Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away. After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone. But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid." Peter said to Him, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water." And He said, "Come!" And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" When they got into the boat, the wind stopped. 

There is no parallel in life for needing to walking on water. I’ve never found a situation where walking on water would have been a necessary skill. Maybe if I’d been on the Titanic that could have been useful. But it’s not something we should ever expect to be asked to do or feel we need to do. I can hear Johnnie telling Kit that the battery has run down, so get out of the boat and push. Maybe we can get it running again. But other than that, not very useful.

So, why would this story be included in Scripture? Perhaps, to fulfill Paul’s statement: 1Cor 10:6 Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. 

That means there are some things in Scripture that are there so we can learn what not to do as well as what we can do, some things to embrace, some to avoid. This story would seem to fit into that unique category of experiences we should learn from, but never expect to need to do.

Most stories are to help us with situations we might face, like:

  •   Being asked to do the impossible or what seems impossible.
  • Being asked to remain faithful when the stakes are high.
  • Being asked to hang on when we don’t understand what’s going on.

Each of these is a category of the kinds of things we might need to do, but not by reliving the exact story. It’s almost certain none of us will ever face a fiery furnace, spend the night with hungry lions or wait fifteen years to understand a couple of visions, but we will face things like these and when we do we are going to need insight for how to do so. Now, walking on water is a rare category. We will never need to do that.

So, why is this story in the Bible?

The other stories are about success in trusting the Lord. This is a story about failure.

In the other stories, there are lessons we can transfer to our own situations, making them useful in other applications – transferable truths. Nothing transfers here except learning from our mistakes. Peter’s experience shows us what happens when we cause our own problems.

First of all, let’s get into the moment. It was an ordinary thing for the disciples to get in a boat and travel across the Sea of Galilee, which isn’t a sea but a large lake. It is 13 miles long and 8 miles across. Its total surface area is twice the size of Lake Conroe. And since it is oblong, you can see the shoreline from almost anywhere around the lake.

But the water is deep, on average 84 feet, going down to 141 feet at its deepest point. That depth, along with the influence of strong wind currents coming down from the mountains surrounding it, can cause quick and furious storms to develop. It is easy to get caught and tossed about by these storms and suddenly be in a dangerous situation. You’ll remember this had happened before with the disciples when Jesus was asleep in the boat with them.

So, you could say, according to the typical way storms happened on the sea, there was nothing extraordinary about the circumstances of being caught in turbulent water. What made it extraordinary was, Jesus walking on the water to join the men in the boat.

Now, when comparing Matthew’s account of this story with the other accounts (both Mark and John record this event), nobody but Matthew mentions Peter getting out of the boat. That would seem to indicate this wasn’t as big a deal to the other disciples as it was to Matthew. They probably wrote it off as typical Peter. Matthew saw it differently.

Most commentaries say the book of Mark was Peter’s story. Mark was a teenager during the time of Jesus and didn’t have sufficient details to write a gospel account, so Peter took him under wing and told Mark his story. Undoubtedly, the part where Peter sank in the water was an embarrassment and Peter left it out when he was telling Mark. Then, in the book of John, it could be John didn’t see it as important to him. But Matthew did.

Matthew thought it a moment to remember. Peter saw it as a failure to forget. See, most of us would rather not have our mistakes make public. We’d rather keep our embarrassing moments private.

How would this be an embarrassment to Peter? Go back into the story. Jesus didn’t call Peter out of the boat to walk on the water to Him, Peter asked permission to come out there and Jesus said come.

Matt 14:28-30 Peter said to Him, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water." And He said, "Come!" And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" 

Now, give Peter credit for getting out of the boat and walking on the water. That took courage. But then, he got distracted by the storm and began to sink. I can hear him screaming like a little girl. That’s probably how it sounded to Peter when he thought back on the moment, or maybe when he read Matthew’s account.

But since this story is about failure and not success, we can’t really find positive things to say about Peter trying to walk on water, so, why did God preserve this part of the story? To show us even disciples fail. To show us failure isn’t final. To make failure a moment for growth. To teach us a simple lesson that if we step out where we don’t belong, even thinking we’re doing the right thing, we will inevitably begin to sink. But the redeeming truth is: regardless of the cause, whenever we begin to sink, we can call out to Jesus.

That makes the story more about Jesus responding to his children’s mistakes than Peter’s boldness to try the impossible.

I’ve read many comments on this passage, wanting to make Peter a hero by his courage to try, his willingness to trust, his faith being greater than the rest of the men who stayed in the boat and never tried, his desire to go out to Jesus. All of them want to make Peter superior to the others, the super spiritual one. What he actually demonstrated was how, even in the failures we cause ourselves, the Lord takes care of even His misguided ones.

We need this story because, in most of the other stories of Jesus helping meet the needs of people, the condition of the lives Jesus touches, the circumstances that brought people to Him for healing or deliverance, were beyond their fault. They didn’t create their need. In this story, Peter created his own problem. And Jesus let him do it.

Peter didn’t need to walk on water. It wasn’t a skill he needed to develop or an ability he needed to learn. It served no purpose other than to set up his failure. Can you imagine what would have happened had he succeeded? It would have inflated an ego already pressing the envelope of arrogance that regularly had to be taken down. Peter had a problem with pride and Jesus needed to expose it.

Pride prevents growth. It leaves us stagnated. Pride gives us a superior sense of accomplishment. We believe we have arrived. We’re done with learning, listening, and opening ourselves to areas in which we need to change. We are above any challenge.

So, the purpose was for Peter to fail.

I can hear some reject this, saying, “Oh, Jesus would never set up circumstances for us to fail.” Really? So, we only learn from when things go right? Does a person learn more from their mistakes or successes?

Michael Jordan said once that he didn’t learn as much by making a basket as he did when he missed.

Bill Cosby said if a child never had a cold, how could he learn how to blow his nose?

Andre Crouch sang, “If I never had a problem, I’d never know God could solve them.”

There are some lessons we’ll never learn unless we’re given the opportunity to fail.

I once worked with a pastor who demanded I not fail. He said it reflected poorly on him. Not unless he set up the failure or caused it. I told him I couldn’t operate in a creative role if I’m not allowed to fail. I’m not choosing to fail. I’m not even planning to fail. But if I do, failing doesn’t make me a failure. It helps make me better.

  • Failure gets our attention.
  • Failure humbles us and makes us teachable.
  • Failure opens our eyes to what we’d shut them from.
  • Failure helps overcome our fears.
  • Failure makes us try harder.
  • Failure gives us things to avoid the next time.
  • Failure provides a reality check.
  • Failure teaches us there is no “one and done” or “three strikes and we’re out.”
  • Failure is usually the result of a moment’s action, not a lifetime crisis.
  • Failure reveals something about us that needs changing.

Now, we’re back to Peter. Peter’s failure showed him what he needed to change.

UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden once said, "Failure isn't fatal, but failure to change might be.”

God will allow me to fail if that exposes an area in my life that I have yet to surrender. How many times had Jesus taught on humility? And yet, Peter never got the message. Peter needed a visual to learn the truth of Prov 16:18 Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling. We can tell someone what the problem is, but unless they experience it for themselves, they will struggle to accept what we say.

In a book about the Titanic sinking: “The ship was not destroyed by an iceberg alone, it was also destroyed by a state of mind, an unseen force that [would] ultimately lead to its downfall . . . arrogance.” “Even God Himself could not sink this ship.”

The old definition of crazy: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome each time. If we keep doing the same thing the same way, we’ll keep getting the same results every time. We need something to break the routine.

John Gardner says, “One of the reasons mature people stop learning is that they become less and less willing to risk failure.” Most people want to be absolutely certain that everything will be okay — before they risk. But there are no such guarantees in life; so most people are stuck with old behavior and old results. Understand why Jesus would set up opportunities for failure?

Henry Ford: “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”

So, what did Peter learn? I’m going to fail whenever I focus on myself rather than on the Lord. Pride is self-worship – an inflated sense of our own importance. Had he had a cell phone, he’d have taken a selfie as soon as he got on the water.

Sinking showed Peter that in a moment of high risk that requires faith and courage, the most important person in the room is Jesus. It also showed him that even if Jesus says, “Come,” you can still sink if you take your eyes off Him. And it reminded him of the purpose of faith: Faith doesn’t make us capable; it makes us able to trust the capability of Jesus.

Then, finally, it showed him when you start to sink, the sooner you cry out to Jesus the sooner He will lift you up out of the water. Did Peter go under? Doesn’t sound like it. "Lord, save me!" Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him.

When we try to do things with more faith in ourselves than in Him, it shouldn’t surprise us when we fail.

Even when we begin in faith, we can suddenly switch to flesh by getting distracted by our circumstances.

But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" 

Peter had faith. It was just misplaced. It was faith in his own abilities. How do you correct that? By giving him the opportunity to use his misplaced faith to see what happens.

Realize, Peter didn’t get out of the boat expecting to fail. He expected to walk. But when he began to sink, he did the right thing – he transferred his faith in himself over to the One who could save Him.

I doubt Peter ever tried walking on water again. But I’m sure he did try other things that produced equal results. What he learned in failing, though, was the faithfulness of the Lord covers us even when we cause our own problems. That’s a pretty good lesson.

Little eagle watched his mom and dad soar off the nest then up high into the sky. He longed for the day he could do the same. Every morning he’d ask them, “Is this the day I can fly?” They’d say, “Not today but soon.” He grew impatient and one morning, after his parents left, he decided he’d try. He stood on the edge of the nest, spread his little, immature wings and lunged into the clear air. But he wasn’t ready and spiraled to the ground. The landing took the wind out of him. While he lay there trying to get his bearings a group of turkeys came by and asked him what he was doing. He told them what had happened and they said, “Since there’s no way to get you back into the nest, you’ll just have to join us and become a turkey instead.”

He ate what turkeys ate, walked like turkeys walked, slept where turkeys slept. He even tried to gobble like turkeys do. He lived a turkey life.

Then, one day he saw his parents high in the sky. He felt the same urges as before. He spread his wings and began to run around. But the turkey’s discouraged him and said, “Turkey’s don’t soar. They stay on the ground and scratch out their purpose in life.”

A few months later, he was near a mountain ledge and saw his parents again. The urge overwhelmed him and he spread his wings and lunged off the cliff. This time, his wings held the air of the currents and he sailed up into the heavens.  He went higher and higher until he disappeared into the intake of a 737.

From the ground, one turkey watching said, “Eagles may soar, but turkeys don't get sucked into jet engines.” But neither do turkeys experience what eagles were made to do.

God would never give us abilities we don’t need, to do things He never expects us to do, just to satisfy our selfish desires. He takes us step by step, infusing us with power to do what He calls us to do. Had Peter successfully walked on water, he could have undermined the whole mission of spreading the gospel through an arrogance inappropriate to a godly man seeking the honor of the Lord. He would have credited himself for the work God did through him. Not a position Jesus would have wanted him to take.

What can this story teach us? We all have areas in our lives that need to change. Areas where we’ve not surrendered to the Lord. Our pride stands in the way. For the Lord to show us that, He may have to expose us to embarrassment. Embarrassment can be a good teaching emotion when it causes us to never want to repeat what caused the problem in the first place.

Do you think Peter ever tried this again? No. Once was enough. Did he learn the lesson? Not completely. A short time later he would boast of how he would never deny the Lord, but he did. Then Jesus had to lift him up from drowning one more time.


  1. Failure isn’t the problem, not learning from the failure is.
  2. When God needs to challenge us to change, He’ll use whatever tactic works best.
  3. Our preference is He not use moments that hurt or embarrass us.
  4. But unless He gets our attention, we will remain as we are, and if how we are is more dependent on ourselves than Him, He must make us uncomfortable enough to change.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

When We Don't Understand What's Going On

 Florence Chadwick was the first woman to swim the English Channel. In 1952, she decided to swim from Catalina Island to the California coast, about 26 miles. No woman had ever done that before.

It was very foggy when she started her swim. To keep her safe, she was shadowed by a small boat, just in case she had any problems. After 15 hours in the water, she looked up at her mother in the boat and said, “Mama, I can’t make it; I can’t go any further.”

Her mother encouraged her to keep going, but after swimming for another 55 minutes, she gave up and got in the boat. When she did, she found that she was only half a mile from the coastline. When asked later why she quit so close to her goal, she said, “It was because I couldn’t see anything. If I could’ve just seen the coastline, I know I would have made it.”

Seeing the end of a difficult journey can often make it easier to finish the trip. Knowing how much longer we have to hang on can help us not lose our grip. Seeing the finish line can help us complete the race. But not knowing makes time slow down and the end get further away instead of closer.

Thus far in the book of Daniel, Daniel has been the man with great insight and understanding. He’s had moments with the Lord that bordered on the miraculous. He is distinguished and faithful, an interpreter of dreams as God gives him insight and is able to discern great mysteries. You would never expect him to get all out of sorts when he has a couple of visions and doesn’t know what they mean.

Let’s go back a few years before the incident with the lion’s den to when Belshazzar was king of Babylon.

Dan 7:1  In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon Daniel saw a dream and visions in his mind as he lay on his bed; then he wrote the dream down and related the following summary of it. 

The first year of Belshazzar was 553 B.C. In this vision Daniel saw four beasts coming in sequence, one after the other. We know they are: Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome, the same as Nebuchadnezzar saw. But they were presented differently to Daniel than to Nebuchadnezzar. Where Nebuchadnezzar saw a great statue of four different materials: gold, silver, bronze and iron, Daniel saw four beasts. So, he didn’t make the connection.

Then, he saw the throne room of Heaven.

Dan 7:9-10 I kept looking Until thrones were set up, And the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow And the hair of His head like pure wool. His throne was ablaze with flames, Its wheels were a burning fire. A river of fire was flowing And coming out from before Him; Thousands upon thousands were attending Him, And myriads upon myriads were standing before Him; The court sat, And the books were opened. 

And as the dream went on, he saw Jesus.

Dan 7:13-14 I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed. 

I don’t know about you but seeing what Daniel saw would be exciting beyond anything we could imagine. But realize, Daniel didn’t know about Jesus or what God had planned. He had no idea God would so love the world that He would send His only begotten Son.

Dan 7:15-16 As for me, Daniel, my spirit was distressed within me, and the visions in my mind kept alarming me. I approached one of those who were standing by and began asking him the exact meaning of all this. So he told me and made known to me the interpretation of these things: These great beasts, which are four in number, are four kings who will arise from the earth. But the saints of the Highest One will receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, for all ages to come.' 

Why would this be confusing to someone like Daniel? Because there was no concept for how God would present the Messiah to the world and how that would translate into a kingdom possessed by His people. In fact, the word Messiah is only found in the Book of Daniel in the OT. The same word is used other places but it is translated Anointed. Here, we’re given a concept and term totally unknown at this time.

Remember, God gave glimpses of truth along the way. Nobody saw the whole picture. Isaiah saw the suffering servant. David saw the crucifixion. But now, Daniel is seeing Jesus’ reign. But there is no running context for understanding.

Prophecy with no context often leads to wild speculation and confusing scenarios.

A prophet describes things he doesn’t understand with words that don’t always make sense. He is describing the indescribable. With images that represent things in the future or things in Heaven that we have no concept of, the prophet must try to explain those images by comparing them to things that don’t compare.

Read the Book of Revelation and tell me you understand all the symbols John uses. Read the Book of Ezekiel and tell me you understand all the images he presents.

If we’ve never seen a lion and someone says, “Oh, it’s like a big cat,” our image of lion would never be as powerful and massive as a lion really is. Our comparison wouldn’t compare.

A prophet sees spiritual sights that require spiritual insight to understand. And yet when we read prophetic scripture with natural eyes, trying to connect those words with things we’re familiar with, much of it just doesn’t fit. We have no point of reference without the rest of the Bible to help explain what we’ve read.

But even whatever Scripture Daniel had, there was little there that would help him. Much of the prophetic writings were works in progress. Isaiah was completed but Jeremiah was still being written during this time and Ezekiel didn’t start writing until now. You can understand Daniel’s frustration. He has no natural resources to use to understand what he’s seeing.

Then, Dan 8:1 In the third year of the reign of Belshazzar the king a vision appeared to me, Daniel, subsequent to the one which appeared to me previously. 

Another dream comes a couple of years later in 551 B.C. This one about a ram, a goat and a small horn. How on earth do you make sense out of that?

Now, when we put known history into Daniel’s vision, we understand Persia is the ram and Greece is the goat. The vision is telling of Persia’s downfall and what would happen in the final days of Greece being divided up and parceled out to four leaders. One of those leaders would be Antiochus Epiphanes who would desecrate the temple in Jerusalem by sacrificing a pig on the altar. It would bring the Maccabees into the story to remove Greece and restore the Temple in 167 B.C.

But we’re reading backwards. Hindsight is always 20/20. It’s much easier to see God looking backward rather than forward. Put yourself in Daniel’s place where you don’t know any of these specifics, other than what you learned in interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream that certain nations would come one after another to rule the world. Now, through these visions, you have more details but no insight into how it all fits together. You’d be frustrated, too.

So, God responds to Daniel’s frustration:

Dan 8:15-17 When I, Daniel, had seen the vision, I sought to understand it; and behold, standing before me was one who looked like a man. And I heard the voice of a man between the banks of Ulai, and he called out and said, "Gabriel, give this man an understanding of the vision." So he came near to where I was standing, and when he came I was frightened and fell on my face; but he said to me, "Son of man, understand that the vision pertains to the time of the end." 

Dan 8:26-27 The vision of the evenings and mornings Which has been told is true; But keep the vision secret, For it pertains to many days in the future." Then I, Daniel, was exhausted and sick for days. Then I got up again and carried on the king's business; but I was astounded at the vision, and there was none to explain it. 

Daniel had been stuck with information but no explanation. It’s like the switchback roads on the way to the Garden of the Gods in Colorado. We know there is a destination out there but the way to it is so disorienting, we think we’ll never arrive. And then we read the sign: Yes, you can; a million others have. So, we just keep going.

What did Daniel do? He kept going. He got up and carried on the king’s business. We can’t stop living just because we don’t understand what’s going on.

Ever get stuck in the switchbacks of your mind? Our thoughts are going one way, then they suddenly go another way. Been there? Of course. We get information all the time with no explanation of what it means. Without explanation, we’re left to our own imaginations.

One of our men was passing around a text with a video. In the text he said: Please pray for Tommy. He’s been in a bad wreck. Immediately we started asking questions: How bad was it? Was Paula with him? Is he okay? Was she hurt? Are they in the hospital? Then we noticed the video.


We have a hard time when we don’t understand what’s going on. We raise questions that cause more confusion than clarity. It can be a dangerous time. Speculation can overwhelm us.

In that zone between information and understanding we’re prone to: misunderstanding, creating false impressions, misinterpretation, distortions, even delusion. Why? Because our emotions want to take us to worse case scenarios.

When we hear something with no explanation, we start imagining what it means. The longer it takes to find the answer, the more distorted the picture becomes.

Back in the old days we had to adjust our TVs to get a clear picture. Sometimes just a minor tweak would clear things up. But when we didn’t know what to turn to make things better, we’d often mess it up more than it was to begin with. I remember trying to make the colors natural. I’d turn the hue knob and then the tint knob and go from green to yellow to blue to red. Then miraculously, I’d finally turn something the right way and things would balance and the picture would become clear.

Several years ago, I went to my dermatologist to get a spot checked out. He removed it and sent it off for analysis. A few days later, someone from his office called and said, “Mr. Smith, we got your results back and it’s cancer. You’ll have to come back in.” Then she hung up.

That was it. You have cancer. What does that mean? What kind? What treatment? Is this serious? I went through a dozen questions trying to understand what she had said. I started twisting knobs to clear up the confusion and only made things worse.

What do we do when we don’t understand what’s going on?

We go with what we do understand. The doctor knows what he’s doing. He has a plan for taking care of this. All I have to do is schedule an appointment and show up. He’ll remove the cancer. I don’t have anything to do. It’s all in his hands.

When what we don’t know is frustrating us, go back to what we do know.

·       I know God loves me, and He’ll never leave me.

·       I know He is for me and not against me.

·       I know God’s Word is true, and His heart is kind.

·       I know God is working everything out for good.

·       I know God will accomplish what concerns me.

·       I know God never fails His children.

We have to stop demanding to know what God is doing before we’ll trust Him. “God, if you want me to trust you, You’ll have to show me what’s going on.”

Ecc 11:5  Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things. 

We can’t place criteria on God for what He must do in anything. Neither must we know the activity of God to know He is active.

Look how Daniel resolved his confusion and frustration.

Dan 9:1-3 In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of Median descent, who was made king over the kingdom of the Chaldeans—in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, observed in the books the number of the years which was revealed as the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet for the completion of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years. So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes. 

The first year of Darius the Mede is 538 B.C. Realize for Daniel, his captivity had gone on for right at 60 years. Add that to him being captured as a teenager, and by standards of that day, Daniel’s an old man and doesn’t know any details about this captivity until he gets a copy of Jeremiah and finds God had placed a limit on the captivity at 70 years. But that didn’t fully satisfy Daniel.

Jeremiah explained the why for the captivity and the length of the captivity but not how God would end the captivity. Was this when his visions get fulfilled? Again, Daniel was having a hard time handling what he doesn’t understand.

He undoubtedly read: Jer 29:12-13 Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. 

Dan 9:4-10 I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed

Daniel begins his prayer for understanding after confessing the sins of the nation.

Dan 9:18-19 O my God, incline Your ear and hear! Open Your eyes and see our desolations and the city which is called by Your name; for we are not presenting our supplications before You on account of any merits of our own, but on account of Your great compassion. O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and take action! For Your own sake, O my God, do not delay, because Your city and Your people are called by Your name." 

Dan 9:20-23 Now while I was speaking and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the LORD my God in behalf of the holy mountain of my God, while I was still speaking in prayer, then the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision previously, came to me in my extreme weariness about the time of the evening offering. He gave me instruction and talked with me and said, "O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you insight with understanding. At the beginning of your supplications the command was issued, and I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed; so give heed to the message and gain understanding of the vision. 

Note: God sent the answer when Daniel started praying. He didn’t have to wait until Daniel signed off. Amen doesn’t activate the prayer. It’s not the words of our prayers or the length of our prayers or the fervency of our prayers that gets God’s attention, it’s the fact of our prayers. God is listening to our hearts cry out to Him.

Realize this was 15 years after the first vision, 13 years after the second. At this point, all God had told him was, his visions relate to things in the future. But Daniel didn’t know how long into the future God meant. Can you imagine having to wait 15 years to understand something? Yet, when it was time, God gave Daniel the understanding he asked for.

We’re obsessed with time. God isn’t. We have to kick our demand of urgency into neutral and stop trying to force some answer to come before its ready.

So, what do you do when you don’t understand what’s going on?

  • You keep on going.
  • You keep on praying.
  • You keep on trusting.
  • You keep on expecting.
  • You quit watching the clock. 
  • You don’t let what you don’t know rob you of what you do know.

Just because you don’t see God at work, He’s still working.

Just because you don’t hear God’s voice, He’s still speaking.

Just because you can’t feel God’s touch, He’s still present.

Just because you don’t understand what’s going on, He does.

So, when the fog is too thick to see the shore, just keep swimming.

And when you can’t see God’s hand, trust His heart.

Hunter’s Hope:

 I don’t understand why all of this is happening.

I can’t fight this battle.

I hate suffering.

I cannot bear to walk through this one more day, one more hour, one more minute.

My heart aches!

We need You now, Lord.

How long, God?

Please do something!

We are desperate for You.

Please intervene!

Strengthen us for this journey.

We cannot endure without You.

Please reveal Yourself right now, Lord.

Perform a miracle in our day.

Show us that You are in the midst of all that is going on and that You care.

Please, Lord, bring healing, hope, and restoration.

Reach down, Father, and rescue us.

Thank You, Lord, for life!

Help me trust You.

Help me trust You when I don’t understand Your ways.

Please help me to trust You in everything.



 1.      It’s hard to live with more questions than answers.

2.     It’s even harder when we think we deserve to know or ought to know what’s going on.

3.     But God works best within the mystery of the time between question and answer.

4.     It’s the space where trust is demanded and rest is required.

5.     Be convinced, God can be trusted with the unknown and when we need to know, He’ll let us know.

Monday, March 15, 2021

When the Stakes are High

Ever been thrown under the bus. It’s a modern expression of being hung out to dry or stabbed in the back or blamed for something someone else did. It’s the sacrificial lamb in a group setting. You may have all had the same idea or been in on the same plan but when the temperature rose and things looked uncertain, everyone else backed away and left you to take the blame and face the consequences.

Sometimes it’s done intentionally. Maybe someone within the group or the group itself wants you out. Maybe they’re jealous or maybe they consider you inferior or you make them feel inferior. Maybe they don’t like what you stand for. Removing you or taking you down a notch or two are often their only ways of coping.

If you were the youngest in the family you understand this. If you were low man on the totem pole at work you understand this. If you were recently placed in a position superior to others who doubt your abilities or resent your promotion you understand this.

Daniel was among a small group of three men who were over the satraps of all the provinces of Persia. Three men oversaw the work of 120 governors, who were directly accountable for the work they did on behalf of the king.

Then, one of the group of three began to rise in importance above the other two.

Daniel 6:1-3 It seemed good to Darius to appoint 120 satraps over the kingdom, that they would be in charge of the whole kingdom, and over them three commissioners (of whom Daniel was one), that these satraps might be accountable to them, and that the king might not suffer loss. Then this Daniel began distinguishing himself among the commissioners and satraps because he possessed an extraordinary spirit, and the king planned to appoint him over the entire kingdom

Daniel was distinguished and operated at a level unachievable by the other two. Darius was ready to make him the sole overseer of the Kingdom, second only to the king. And therein lies the problem. If the favor given to one person makes someone else feel inferior, a nasty environment develops within their heart and gives rise to jealousy. Jealousy is a worldly response to someone else’s success. It creates strife that can destroy relationships, families or organizations.

1Cor 3:3 For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? In the Bible, worldly and fleshly are synonymous. We’re acting our of character of who God has made us to be and taken up the world’s characteristics for now we live.

Gal 5:19-21 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing

Prov 27:4 Wrath is fierce and anger is a flood, but who can stand before jealousy? 

Wrath and anger are explosive responses. Jealously is the vindictive response.

There is a distinction between jealousy and envy. To envy is to want something that belongs to another person. Jealousy is the fear that what we possess will be taken away. Both are driven by insecurity.

When my security is wrapped up in what I have and that’s taken away, I’m at a loss at how to feel secure again and may take desperate measures to get it back. If what you have makes me feel inferior to you, I may want to take that away from you. Both envy and jealousy come from an insecurity that I don’t have what I need to feel complete. And if I don’t have it or someone takes away what I think should be mine, I feel inferior.

You see this in the politics of wealth distribution. Some see wealth as a single pie with the crust forming the boundary how much wealth there is. They think when you get your portion of that pie it leaves less for them to get. That’s the cry for taking away from the rich and giving to the poor. But that’s not the way economics works. What I get has nothing to do with what you get and what you take doesn’t take anything away from me.

But in Persia, these two men saw Daniel’s favor taking away from theirs. They blame his advancement as the reason they feel inferior. Instead of enjoying what they do have, they feel they must take away what he has. So, they create a plan to throw Daniel under the bus.

Daniel 6:4-5 Then the commissioners and satraps began trying to find a ground of accusation against Daniel in regard to government affairs; but they could find no ground of accusation or evidence of corruption, inasmuch as he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption was to be found in him. Then these men said, "We will not find any ground of accusation against this Daniel unless we find it against him with regard to the law of his God." 

There was no accusation against Daniel they could take to the king, so they created one. They watched how Daniel practiced his faith then decided to create a scenario where what he did habitually would violate an edict from the king.

Daniel 6:6-9 Then these commissioners and satraps came by agreement to the king and spoke to him as follows: "King Darius, live forever! All the commissioners of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the high officials and the governors have consulted together that the king should establish a statute and enforce an injunction that anyone who makes a petition to any god or man besides you, O king, for thirty days, shall be cast into the lions' den. Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document so that it may not be changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which may not be revoked." Therefore King Darius signed the document, that is, the injunction. 

Do you recognize this as the same approach the Philistines took with Samson? He is much too strong for us. He’s more powerful than we are. We can’t attack him at the point of his strength. Let’s find his weakness and exploit that. And in walks Delilah.

It's finding a person’s vulnerability. Like discovering Superman’s sensitivity to Kryptonite. Do anything you want to attack him, only Kryptonite will hurt him. That’s his weak point.

However, in Daniel, they picked an area to attack that wasn’t a weakness but a strength – his faith. But they plotted to turn the practice of his faith to their advantage to take him down. There was no way they could disconnect him from his God, or get him to stop his daily prayers, which wasn’t the goal in the first place. But if they used that, they could to set up a prohibition that would produce a rule he would inevitably violate. They used his prayer life to set up an ambush.

Realize why such a decree would interest Darius. The Persians had just conquered Babylon and a test of loyalty was a good idea. Would the Babylonians submit to him as they had to their kings and would this requirement bring them under his control? Worshipping him would elevate Darius to god-like status over the people. It could pay great dividends.

Daniel 6:10-13 Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously. Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and supplication before his God. Then they approached and spoke before the king about the king's injunction, "Did you not sign an injunction that any man who makes a petition to any god or man besides you, O king, for thirty days, is to be cast into the lions' den?" The king replied, "The statement is true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which may not be revoked." Then they answered and spoke before the king, "Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the injunction which you signed, but keeps making his petition three times a day." 

Remember what their goal was. They weren’t offended by his religious practice. They were planning to use it to throw him under the bus and get him out of the way. Jealousy, when left unchecked, takes matters to the extreme.

Daniel 6:14-16 Then, as soon as the king heard this statement, he was deeply distressed and set his mind on delivering Daniel; and even until sunset he kept exerting himself to rescue him. Then these men came by agreement to the king and said to the king, "Recognize, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no injunction or statute which the king establishes may be changed." Then the king gave orders, and Daniel was brought in and cast into the lions' den. The king spoke and said to Daniel, "Your God whom you constantly serve will Himself deliver you." 

It was obvious that the king was also caught in their trap and realized he could do nothing about it. The law of the Medes and Persians established the groundwork for how life was lived in Persia. Once the king spoke, whatever he said was law and could not be revoked, even by himself.

You have this in the book of Ester when the decree by Haman to kill all the Jews on a certain day could not be changed even by the King, since it was made law using the king’s authority delegated to Haman. All they could do was make a counter-law. They could not change the original.

If Darius had asked me, I would have told him to remove the lions. Throw Daniel into the lions’ den but the lions wouldn’t be there. The law didn’t say the lions had to be present. Just thrown that person into their den. But nobody asked me. And of course, that would have ruined the whole story.

But what the king said is significant. "Your God whom you constantly serve will Himself deliver you." The words are He will deliver you. It wasn’t a question: will your God deliver you? Or a petition: I hope He will deliver you. It was a statement: He will deliver.

Darius was a pagan king. Even pagans believed in the intercession of the gods at certain times to do favors for their faithful worshippers. Maybe that’s what Darius had in mind for Daniel. Your God whom you constantly serve. “Surely your God will reward your faithfulness.” Perhaps, Darius knew the history of what God did during the time of Nebuchadnezzar. “Daniel, the God who did all those great works in the past, surely He can deliver at times like this.” See, knowing what God did in the past gives confidence for what He is capable of doing today.

Honestly, that’s a good approach for our own struggles. The same God who has helped us in the past, who has done great and amazing things for us and has filled the Bible with examples of the kinds of things He has done, can do and is willing to do, is the One we trust now in this moment.

Daniel 6:17-20 A stone was brought and laid over the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the signet rings of his nobles, so that nothing would be changed in regard to Daniel. Then the king went off to his palace and spent the night fasting, and no entertainment was brought before him; and his sleep fled from him. Then the king arose at dawn, at the break of day, and went in haste to the lions' den. When he had come near the den to Daniel, he cried out with a troubled voice. The king spoke and said to Daniel, "Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you constantly serve, been able to deliver you from the lions?" 

Now here’s the all-important question. “Daniel, did your God come through for you?” But notice how the king spoke it – trembling. The king had no genuine confidence in God coming through. Honestly, how could he? He didn’t know God. All he had was the natural reality of what should happen if someone is thrown into a den of lions. He had no understanding of the supernatural possibilities of a faithful God. He let what should happen rob him of any since of what could happen when God intervenes. He cried out with a troubled voice – a shallow voice of unbelief. But God was at work in Daniel’s life.

Daniel 6:21-24 Then Daniel spoke to the king, "O king, live forever! My God sent His angel and shut the lions' mouths and they have not harmed me, inasmuch as I was found innocent before Him; and also toward you, O king, I have committed no crime." Then the king was very pleased and gave orders for Daniel to be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den and no injury whatever was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. The king then gave orders, and they brought those men who had maliciously accused Daniel, and they cast them, their children and their wives into the lions' den; and they had not reached the bottom of the den before the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones. 

This is the point in the movie where everyone stands to their feet and cheers. I remember seeing Apollo 13 in the movie theater years ago. Everyone there knew the story. But when the silence of re-entry was broken by the voice of the astronaut, everyone in the theater clapped and cheered. It was the evidence of a safe return, the end of a miraculous journey. That was this moment for Darius. Not so much for the two guys who plotted against Daniel or for their families. (Sometimes jealously takes out the jealous person and destroys what he hoped to protect.)

Daniel 6:25-28 Then Darius the king wrote to all the peoples, nations and men of every language who were living in all the land: "May your peace abound! I make a decree that in all the dominion of my kingdom men are to fear and tremble before the God of Daniel; for He is the living God and enduring forever, and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed, and His dominion will be forever. He delivers and rescues and performs signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, Who has also delivered Daniel from the power of the lions." So this Daniel enjoyed success in the reign of Darius and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian. 

By delivering Daniel, God convinced Darius He was the real God. Now how does that work out historically? Daniel continued to play a prominent role throughout Darius’ reign and continued into Cyrus’. Cyrus was the king who decreed the Jews could go home.

Now, look at this. A moment of terror became the necessary, convincing factor that established favor for the Jews. It reminds us of the truth Joseph spoke to his brothers that is now a promise for all God’s children: Gen 50:20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. 

When the stakes are high, faith must rise higher. Rarely do we know what God intends to do through our own struggles. There is always a bigger picture.

What we’re going through may not even be about us but as an example for someone else.

2Cor 1:3-4 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 

Someone may need to know that when life gets critical, they can trust God with their crisis. But they may also need to see how that’s done. How does a believer deal with cancer, covid, an accident or even death? How we handle the intense moments of our life can help someone else do the same in their own struggles. It raises the stakes for what we’re going through.

A high-stakes game or decision is one in which the people involved can gain or lose a great deal. Investments can be high-stakes, oil exploration can be high-stakes, relocation can be high-stakes. Life becomes high-stakes when we face a challenge that requires a level of faith we didn’t even know we had. It requires a faith that places our life into the hands of God knowing what we face is beyond our ability to do anything about. It is a moment where God uses circumstances to reveal something about Himself we’d otherwise never see.

Are you facing a lion’s den?  Does what lies ahead have the ability to overpower you and even consume you if you don’t get help from the Lord? There is a purpose for what you are going through. Ultimately, to point you to what the Lord can do.

David wrote: I look at the mountains but they make me realize, my help doesn’t come from the mountains but from the Lord.

When the stakes are high, we may look everywhere we can for help, but our answer is to look to the Lord. When we do, we’ll find only He can close the mouths of lions, open the door to the den and set us free.


  1. Not all crises are comparable to being thrown into a den of lions.
  2. But in all crises the stakes are high.
  3. We can become absorbed by the natural reality of what should happen or we can submit ourselves to the supernatural possibilities of our faithful God.
  4. Our answer is to look to the only One who can close the mouths of lions, open the door to the den and set us free.

Monday, March 8, 2021

When Persecution Comes

In the news articles I read daily, there’s a lot of talk about Christian persecution. In my mind those words form images of tyrannical governments or radical religions stamping out any Christian influence in their countries, illustrated by pictures of torture, imprisonment or burned-out churches and homes, even murder.

And yet, Christians throughout much of the world, who live under a cloud of terror, continue to survive, worship and even serve the Lord – many out in the open, others meeting in secret within an oppressed nation.

Being discovered as a Christian in North Korea is a death sentence. If you aren’t killed instantly, you will be sent to a harsh labor camp where death comes much more slowly. It is estimated 50,000 to 70,000 Christians are currently imprisoned there. Yet behind the headline of persecution, a massive underground church exists in North Korea, estimated to be around 500,000 believers and growing.

In every country controlled by a primary religion, that religion determines who is legitimate and who must be minimized or removed. If their harassment can’t get Christians to leave or stop their practice, they must eliminate them. That religion may be Islam, Hinduism or any other traditional religious practice, or it may be atheistic socialism or communism. Or, as in North Korea, emperor worship.

In America, most persecution comes from the current socialist movement which redefines the Church as non-essential. We’ve been told to change our beliefs to fit into the progressive agenda which includes accepting abortion, alternative lifestyles and exclusion when it comes to national affairs. The goal is to diminish the influence of the Church forming the moral fabric of our nation.

Though it is hard to place what we experience in the same category of the types of persecution others face, it remains a growing factor of American life. By social conflict, to restrictions, to removing 1st Amendment rights, the church is being silenced by insult, harassment or humiliation.

At this very moment, lawsuits are under way to determine whether the measures of reinstated Obama Care can place social restrictions on the medical field. One attorney said, “The harmful Transgender Mandate undermines the federal government’s own medical experts’ advice on treating children with gender dysphoria, yet, politicians and activists are trying to force private doctors, on pain of severe punishment, to perform controversial procedures that can be deeply harmful to patients.” Another attorney fighting against this says, “The transgender mandate threatens to drive religious doctors from the profession.”

California passed a bill this past week that will fine any retailer $1000 who has separate sections for girls and boys clothing. The push is to create a non-gender society.

Last week, the New Mexico legislature removed the protection from any doctor or hospital who refuses to perform abortions on demand because of personal ethics. This push, on the larger scale, is to disconnect Christians from their convictions.

The Equality Act recently passed by the House is so dangerous to our society, it is like an engineered social virus that will steal, kill and destroy the very substance of life in America from women’s sports, to little girls having to share bathrooms with grown men, to who you can hire at your own business, which will even affect churches and Christian schools if the Senate supports it. Pray they don’t.

During last Thursday's House Debate over the Equality Act, a Congressman opposed the measure by pointing to God and the Bible to direct legislatures to God’s expressed will. Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York asserted that “God's will is of no concern to this Congress.”

What do you do when you oppose what’s handed down from the governmental leaders who contradict what you know the Bible speaks against? Do you hide your beliefs and hope you never have to face a choice to live or die because of what you know is true? Or do you stand firm in your convictions, regardless of the consequences?

Which takes us to the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. How do you stand firm on the basis of your knowledge of God’s will when it may cost you your job, your freedom or your life?

Their story actually begins in Daniel 2 with Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. In the dream, he saw a huge statue with various materials combined to represent the nations that would follow to control the world. Babylon was represented by gold, Persia, silver. Bronze, Greece. And the Iron was Rome. So, being inspired that Babylon was represented by the gold, Neb. created a golden statue, probably of himself, for the people to worship.

Dan 3:1-6 Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, the height of which was sixty cubits and its width six cubits; he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent word to assemble the satraps, the prefects and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates and all the rulers of the provinces to come to the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. Then the satraps, the prefects and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates and all the rulers of the provinces were assembled for the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up; and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Then the herald loudly proclaimed: "To you the command is given, O peoples, nations and men of every language, that at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe and all kinds of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king has set up. But whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire." 

Now for three Hebrew men, this was a direct violation of the first two commandments: you shall have no other gods before Me and you shall not create an image to worship. To honor God, what else could they do but refuse.

Dan 3:7-12 Therefore at that time, when all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe and all kinds of music, all the peoples, nations and men of every language fell down and worshiped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. For this reason at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and brought charges against the Jews. They responded and said to Nebuchadnezzar the king: "O king, live forever! You, O king, have made a decree that every man who hears the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, and bagpipe and all kinds of music, is to fall down and worship the golden image. But whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire. There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the administration of the province of Babylon, namely Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. These men, O king, have disregarded you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up." 

Persecution usually comes at a point of disagreement. When someone cannot tolerate another person’s viewpoint or practice, that person must be forced to change or be removed. This is the practice of Islam and Hinduism. But it is also the demand of atheism. Threatened by those whose beliefs not only contradict but expose the fallacy of those religions, they will do whatever is necessary to remove the threat whether it’s from individuals or whole communities of infidels.

This is what the Nazi’s did to the Jews during the holocaust. It was what Rome tried to do with both Jews and Christians. It’s what the Catholic Church did during the Spanish Inquisition. It’s what the Serbians did to the Albanians. It’s what the Iraqis tried to do to the Kurds. It’s what Russia used to do and North Korea now does to all Christians.

Why would the Chaldeans (the wise and influential men) bring charges against Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego? Partly, jealousy. Remember at the end of Chapter 2, Neb. placed these three men into important positions of his government. That’ll chap some hides. Uncontrolled jealousy leads to personal vendettas. But these three also stood in opposition to the common narrative of the day. Everyone must worship the image. Had Nebuchadnezzar found out that the Chaldeans knew of these three men and didn’t report them, they would all be thrown into the furnace.

Sound familiar? Everyone must do this or believe this or practice this or else. And if you see your neighbor or a business or family member not complying, turn them in. That’s been the policy of the city of Houston and Harris County during Covid.

That’s the heart of persecution. Persecutors persecute to protect themselves and their agenda. Anyone who disagrees is a threat.

Dan 3:13-15 Then Nebuchadnezzar in rage and anger gave orders to bring Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego; then these men were brought before the king. Nebuchadnezzar responded and said to them, "Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? Now if you are ready, at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery and bagpipe and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, very well. But if you do not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?" 

It’s hard for us to imagine having a knife to our throat or a gun pointed at our head or be forced to watch our family killed to force us to deny the Lord. But, according to Open Doors, every day, thirteen people are martyred for their faith. For no other reason than they are Christians. They are not revolting or raising up an army or planning to overtake the government. They are simply Christians practicing their faith.

But Jesus said: Matt 5:10-11 "Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 

How can there be blessing on the other side of persecution? 1Sam 2:30 the LORD declares, those who honor Me I will honorStanding firm means honoring God is our ultimate objective and is more important than our own lives. This cuts across the grain of every one of us. Preserving our own life is our highest priority. And in defense of that, some will say, “Beliefs don’t matter. When they tell me they’ll let me live if all I have to do is deny the Lord, I’ll do it. They’re just words. In my heart God knows what I really believe. I’ll say what they want and keep my fingers crossed behind my back.”

From a report by witnesses of Polycarp’s death: As Polycarp was being taken into the arena in Smyrna, a voice came to him from heaven: “Be strong, Polycarp!” No one saw who had spoken, but our brothers who were there heard the voice. When the crowd heard that Polycarp had been captured, there was an uproar. The Proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp. On hearing that he was, he tried to persuade him to apostatize, saying, “Have respect for your old age, swear by the fortune of Caesar. Repent, and say, ‘Down with the Atheists!’” Polycarp looked grimly at the wicked heathen multitude in the stadium, and gesturing towards them said, “Down with the Atheists!” “Swear,” urged the Proconsul, “reproach Christ, and I will set you free.” Polycarp answered, “86 years have I have served him and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?” Polycarp was then burned alive. To Polycarp, they weren’t just words.

Do you think Peter’s denial was just words? Matt 26:74-75 Then he began to curse and swear, "I do not know the man!" And immediately a rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, "Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times." And he went out and wept bitterly. 

We can’t play a game with honoring God. We will either honor Him or we won’t. A lie to escape death does not honor Him. And it costs us the blessing of the persecuted.

Listen to Paul’s encouragement to those experiencing persecution: 2Cor 4:7-10 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 

All we need is always provided for whatever we face. But what about those who die or are tortured or whose house gets burned? Did God fail to provide for them? No. God never fails His children. He blessed them in ways we cannot understand on this side of Heaven.

So, before the persecution reaches desperate proportions, we need to decide what we are willing to stand for and even, if necessary, to die for.

Dan 3:13-18 Then Nebuchadnezzar in rage and anger gave orders to bring Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego; then these men were brought before the king. Nebuchadnezzar responded and said to them, "Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? Now if you are ready, at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery and bagpipe and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, very well. But if you do not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?" Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up." 

Dan 3:19-27 Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with wrath, and his facial expression was altered toward Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. He answered by giving orders to heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated. He commanded certain valiant warriors who were in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego in order to cast them into the furnace of blazing fire. Then these men were tied up in their trousers, their coats, their caps and their other clothes, and were cast into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire. For this reason, because the king's command was urgent and the furnace had been made extremely hot, the flame of the fire slew those men who carried up Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. But these three men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, fell into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire still tied up. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astounded and stood up in haste; he said to his high officials, "Was it not three men we cast bound into the midst of the fire?" They replied to the king, "Certainly, O king." He said, "Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!" Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the furnace of blazing fire; he responded and said, "Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, come out, you servants of the Most High God, and come here!" Then Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego came out of the midst of the fire. The satraps, the prefects, the governors and the king's high officials gathered around and saw in regard to these men that the fire had no effect on the bodies of these men nor was the hair of their head singed, nor were their trousers damaged, nor had the smell of fire even come upon them. 

Here is our assurance: When we face the fire, we’ll not be doing it alone. God’s promise to not forsake us doesn’t mean we’ll not die, or go to prison or suffer some measure of indignity. It means, in whatever we face He will be with us. The greatest promise we can hold onto is God will never leave us nor forsake us. What was the last thing Jesus said before He ascended back into Heaven? I am with you, always.

That is the hope I try to give during a funeral. I use Ps 23 a lot because even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we do not need to be afraid, for our God is with us. He walks with us through that valley. It’s what we can count on.

Isa 43:1-3 But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you. For I am the LORD your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Deliverer;

Sometimes he takes us out of the fire. At other times He takes us through the fire. But at all times, He is with us in the fire. Because He is our Deliverer.

The result: Dan 3:28-30 Nebuchadnezzar responded and said, "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who put their trust in Him, violating the king's command, and yielded up their bodies so as not to serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation or tongue that speaks anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego shall be torn limb from limb and their houses reduced to a rubbish heap, inasmuch as there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way." Then the king caused Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego to prosper in the province of Babylon. 

When I was in college, the cry was for tolerance. Allow people their own beliefs and practices. Who are you to impose your standards on other people? You don’t have to approve of what they do, just tolerate them. Yet, today that has turned around and those who cried for tolerance are now intolerant of us who have practices and beliefs they can’t tolerate. Where do you draw the line between a person’s convictions and society’s persecution of those who disagree?

For Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, the line was drawn inside a furnace of blazing fire. Where is our line drawn? This is where I stand. Upon this truth, I will not be moved. I will not bow down and worship the golden statue.

If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up. 

I believe that day is coming. I believe from here on out to the return of Jesus, we will experience more and more persecution for what we believe. Choose with me, that when it comes, we will honor God.


  1. It’s best to decide in advance how we choose to act before the challenge comes.
  2. If we wait until the moment to decide, pressure to conform will press us beyond our ability to stand firm.
  3. Convictions are truths we will stand on regardless of what’s going on.
  4. Without convictions, our beliefs are not enough.
  5. To stand firm, we need a higher calling – to honor God above self.