Ever Felt Like a Spiritual Charlie Brown?

Text: Daniel 9:1-27

“We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy.” —Daniel 9:18

When my wife and I were newlyweds, I tried to impress her with my baking skills—I use that word very loosely! Without going into all the details, let’s just say that my lemon cake was an epic fail. I learned that having all the ingredients doesn’t necessarily lead to success. My lemon cake, it turned out, looked nothing like what was billed on the box cover at the store.

Have you ever assessed your prayer life and thought: My results look nothing like those billed in the Bible?

I have to admit that when I read the Bible and study history, and see the effectual outcomes of men and women who prayed with such seeming power, I sometimes feel like my prayers are just producing botched lemon cake. Perhaps you can identify. Maybe your prayer life has felt like Charlie Brown trying to kick field goals. You always miss the uprights and end up on your back. We don’t have to settle for the Charlie Brown effect because one of God’s greatest promises to us is that even when we are feeble and feeling anemic with our prayers, Romans 8:26 assures us “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Oh how many times I have leaned into this grace!

In our devotional series through the book of Daniel, we would be remiss to not learn from Daniel’s effectual prayer life. In many ways, Daniel’s Prayer in Chapter 9 is a model of intercession for those longing to see God restore a wayward people. Daniel’s intensity, his fervor and sincerity, and the manner in which his prayer really got God’s attention, is striking. Think about it, while Daniel was still praying, the Lord interrupted him by sending Gabriel with a very important message—that famous prophecy about the seventy sevens and the prediction of the coming Messiah. The accuracy and precision in which Jesus Christ fulfilled this particular prophecy is indisputable evidence that the Holy Bible is not just man-made contrivance, but sacredly inspired by God, Who alone holds the future. Sir Isaac Newton once wrote a discourse on this topic, saying we could stake the truth of Christianity on that prophecy alone, which was made five centuries before Christ.

One of the aspects we can learn from Daniel’s prayer life is that he got into God’s Word and grabbed a hold of the promises of God. “Our prayers never exist in a vacuum,” says Ray Pritchard. “The prayer that touches God’s heart must be rooted in God’s Word. As Luther said, we ought to take God’s promises and fling them back in his face. ‘Lord, you said you would do this. You made a promise. Now, Lord, do what you said you would do.’ Spurgeon noted that, ‘God loves to be believed in.’ … The prayer that changes the world begins and builds on what God has already revealed.”

Because Daniel’s prayer life is rooted in God’s Word, Daniel has God’s agenda in mind and not his own. This is what Jesus modeled when he taught his disciples how to pray “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven.” When we are not abiding in God’s word, we tend to pray self-serving prayers with the wrong motives. This is what James warned about in his epistle (James 4:3). Scores of people are praying today, but far fewer are praying God’s word, His agenda, and His kingdom come. What if our prayers became less about our desires and more about His glory?

It’s also important to recognize how Daniel approached the Lord. His confidence wasn’t on the eloquence of his words, the passion in his voice, or the repetition of his pleas. Daniel’s poise in the prayer chamber wasn’t found in his own character or his current hitting-streak; His boldness emanated solely on the basis of God’s character:

“For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.”

Notice the ingredients that shaped Daniel’s prayer life: Your great mercy… Your own sake… Your city… Your people… Your name…” We don’t find Daniel begging God for self-serving outcomes. He wasn’t focused on how the circumstances would affect him personally, but what it meant to God’s glory. We need to pray as Daniel did, not because God needs our prayers to accomplish his purposes, but because we need to submit ourselves to His plans. This is more evident today than conceivably ever in our lifetime. We need His kingdom agenda over our own plans! The world needs His agenda over our own plans. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, teach us to pray your kingdom come and your will be done. Help us to be so saturated in your word that our prayers are nothing less than your promises and your words. Guard our hearts from carnal prayers that leave us manipulative, anemic, and focused on self-preservation rather than your kingdom glory. If we pray rightly, boldness will come naturally as the words will flow from your character and not our own desires. Our confidence in your throne doesn’t come from our goodness, but from the righteousness of Christ alone. In His name we pray, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. If God would grant you one request, what would it be?
  2. What did Daniel come to understand in the first year of the reign of Darius (Daniel 9:1-2)? What did Daniel’s study of the Scripture lead him to do (Daniel 9:3)?      
  3. What was the nature of Daniel’s confession (Daniel 9:4-6)? What was the substance of Daniel’s petition (Daniel 9:15-19)? Why did Daniel receive such a prompt answer to his prayer (Daniel 9:23)?
  4. Why is confession of sin important? On what basis do you make requests of the Lord?
  5. In what specific ways do you need God’s grace and mercy in your life right now?

Subscribe to “Abiding In Him” and get the latest devotional in your Inbox once a week.

This VBS curriculum is based on the Old Testament book of Daniel. The theme teaches children how to live with courage in uncertain times. It was designed as a camp curriculum for children 8-12 years of age. Can also serve as a 5-week Sunday morning children’s ministry teaching series.

Surviving the Crisis, Thriving Post-Crisis

Text: Daniel 6:1-28

“He delivers and rescues; he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, he who has saved Daniel from the power of the lions.” ­—Daniel 6:27

A woman in Jacksonville, Florida had not seen her husband in 114 days after a state order barred visitors to nursing homes due to the coronavirus pandemic. That is, until she landed a job as a “dishwasher” at the nursing home where her husband resides. This woman’s love, it seems, couldn’t be denied! Even a pandemic couldn’t keep her away.

Morgan Freeman is noted as saying, “In the harshest place on Earth… love finds a way.” No matter what dire situation we might find ourselves in, we are never out of God’s reach. Scripture assures us that there is nothing that can separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:38-39). Nothing.

One thing we have seen consistently in our devotional series through the book of Daniel is that no matter how bleak the trials look, God always shows up. When the Jewish people are taken into captivity and exiled to a godless Babylonian empire, they are never out of God’s reach—even though it was their own sin that led to this fate. In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are cast into a fiery furnace for refusing to conform to cultural idolatry. Yet even in the fire, God shows up as the fourth man walking alongside of them, just as He had promised to do long before the fall of Israel (Isaiah 43:2).

In Daniel 3, we saw these Hebrew teenagers standing while everyone else was kneeling. As we come to Daniel 6, we see one man kneeling while everyone else was standing. Why the inversion? Because Daniel is praying three times a day to his God, while his opponents and political opportunists seek out means to harm him. They despise Daniel and the God he worships. So they devise a sinister plan to bring him down. Yet it is in this context that we see the integrity of a godly man, and the power and preservation of our sovereign Lord.

Daniel’s enemies examined his life and found nothing to attack (Daniel 6:4-5), so they had to make something up to trap him. Their plan involved petitioning Darius, the king, by appealing to his pride and his desire for a unified kingdom. So they outlawed prayer in a piece of legislation that was aimed at flattering the king, saying, “whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions.”

Daniel didn’t compromise. He didn’t stop praying. He didn’t stop worshiping. Even after the law was passed, “He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.” The king had no choice but to throw Daniel to the lions. But the Lord showed up in that lions’ den and shut the mouths of the lions. Daniel was rescued alive. And get this: Daniel didn’t just survive the crisis; he “prospered” post-crisis! What should have mauled Daniel instead ended up leading to his prosperity and exalted God’s glory over the entire kingdom. Darius even made a new decree that all the people in his royal dominion were to worship the God of Daniel, attributing that He is indeed the “living God.”

Consider this beloved: Things that were meant to harm you will end up favoring you (Genesis 50:20). Things the enemy intended to kill you will end up prospering you (John 10:10). As followers of Christ Jesus, we don’t just survive a crisis; we thrive post-crisis. All this because nothing can separate us from the God Who loves us. Not pandemic. Not death. Not things present, nor things to come. Not financial hardship. Not persecution. Not sickness. Not aloneness. The God that rescued Daniel from that lions’ den is the same God who bankrupted heaven by sending His Son into this world, to die a criminal’s death in your place for your sins to be atoned. If He disrupted heaven and earth in such a fashion to save you, how much more will He do to thrive you (Romans 8:32)? Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, thank you for the promise of your word, that nothing can separate us from your love. For you have promised: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” You always show up. We are never left to ourselves, even when we are the makers of our own demise. We worship YOU, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. Under what conditions would you consider stepping into a lion’s cage? What would you do if your right to pray in any public setting was legally taken away?
  2. Why did Daniel’s colleagues plot against him (Daniel 6:3-4)? How did Daniel respond to the king’s decree (Daniel 6:9-10)? When have you chosen to submit to God’s authority over you rather than obeying the laws of the land?
  3. What happened to Daniel’s accusers and their families (Daniel 6:24)? When has God honored you for your integrity or faithfulness?
  4. What was the king’s pronouncement (Daniel 6:25-28)? What qualities in Daniel do you most admire?
  5. What steps can you take to trust God to resolve whatever difficult circumstances you face? What can you do to become a stronger, more courageous follower of Christ?

Subscribe to “Abiding In Him” and get the latest devotional in your Inbox once a week.

This VBS curriculum is based on the Old Testament book of Daniel. The theme teaches children how to live with courage in uncertain times. It was designed as a camp curriculum for children 8-12 years of age. Can also serve as a 5-week Sunday morning children’s ministry teaching series.

A Titanic Lesson and The Writing on the Wall

Text: Daniel 5:1-31

“Whoever remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy.” —Proverbs 29:1

On April 14, before that fateful sinking in the Atlantic Ocean, Titanic’s Captain Smith reportedly ignored seven iceberg warnings from his crew and other ships. Many have speculated that this grave negligence was steeped in the belief that Titanic was theoretically unsinkable, in part, due to the fact that the ship had sixteen watertight compartments. We all know how that ended.

Proverbs 29:1 warns: “Whoever remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy.” In the Bible, the stiff neck is used as a figure of speech to speak of the stubborn attitude that resists and disobeys God.

In Daniel 5, we are introduced to such a stiff-necked person. King Belshazzar, the new Babylonian ruler, gathers together a bunch of revelers for a lavish idolatrous feast. They partied like it was 1999—sacrilegiously drinking wine from the same vessels of gold and silver that Nebuchadnezzar had stolen from the temple in Jerusalem. In an open mock and snobbery of the one true God, they offered their worship to “the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.” What happens next feels like something right out of a Stephen King movie.

A magical, mysterious human hand suddenly appears and begins writing something on the wall. When Belshazzar sees the proverbial “writing on the wall,” he quickly turns pale, his limbs grow weak, and his knees tremble. The fact that he freaks out even before the interpretation is given to him shows that Belshazzar’s conscience was active beneath all of his licentious partying. He knew he had blasphemed the Almighty. Anxiously, the king calls upon the diviners of his kingdom to interpret the writing on the wall, but they could not decode the message.

That’s when the queen reminded Belshazzar of Daniel—“There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him, and King Nebuchadnezzar, your father—your father the king—made him chief of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and astrologers, because an excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation.”

God knows how to bring pagan leaders to their knees. He knows how to bring the arrogant low and make them so desperate that they call upon the disciples of God, because these worshipers are the only ones who can rightly interpret the times and “solve problems.” Daniel was such a man in whom was found this “light and understanding and excellent wisdom” (Daniel 5:14). He was brought in to show the interpretation and promised a lavish reward.

But Daniel isn’t there to win the king’s approval, or promotion. He isn’t there to tell him what he wants to hear or pander for popularity. He sees himself as nothing more than an ambassador of Truth, a messenger of God. It reminds me of the old wise man who once told me, “Always preach to an audience of One; never preach for a return invitation.” Daniel tells the king, “Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another. Nevertheless, I will read the writing… and make known the interpretation.” The most effective servants of Christ do heaven’s work without regard for earthly reward. God’s approval alone is enough for them. They speak truth without fear of what it may cost them.

Daniel brings a hard message for the king to hear. He reminded Belshazzar of Nebuchadnezzar’s pride, how God humbled him “animal planet style” until he confessed the power of God (see last week’s devotion). Belshazzar knew of Nebuchadnezzar’s humbling, but failed to learn from his mistakes (Daniel 5:23). He stiffened his neck and opposed God’s discipline. Consequently, the writing on the wall means that God’s judgment is imminent for this blasphemous king. The Grim Reaper was already at the door. Belshazzar’s kingdom was brought to a sudden end as he was unexpectedly killed that very night.

It’s been said that a mighty army and brilliant tactics overcame the Babylonian Empire, yet it still fell from within. The armies of the Medes and Persians could only conquer Babylon because Belshazzar and his kingdom were found lacking in spiritual and moral values. All the water in the world could never sink a ship unless it got inside. Rejecting God after being warned is like the Titanic charging full speed through a minefield of icebergs because she presumes she is unsinkable.

Consider: the dramatically swift and abrupt change in the scene of this chapter. In one moment they are partying with not a care in the world, and in the next moment judgment is at the door. This Old Testament passage connects with Christ’s New Testament warnings in Matthew 24:36-44. We need to remember that God disciplines those whom He loves. He confronts our pride and presumption. Scripture is His tool for correction, reproof, and rebuke, intended to stop us from continuing down a negligent and destructive path. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, teach us to receive your rebuke and correction in humility. Let us not be among those in the book of Proverbs who despise reproof and find themselves to be fools careening toward demise. Holy Spirit, help us to embrace your instruction and guidance to keep our lamps burning in an age of darkness. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What kinds of puzzles or riddles do you like to solve? Do you typically learn from others’ life experiences or mostly from your own experiences?
  2. What was the scene like in the beginning of Daniel 5? (Daniel 5:1-5)
  3. How did the king react to the handwriting on the wall (Daniel 5:6-7)? When Daniel was brought before the king, what did Belshazzar say to him (Daniel 5:13-16)? In his reply to the king, what did Daniel say about God and His dealings with Nebuchadnezzar, and how did he confront Belshazzar’s pride (Daniel 18-24)? What did Daniel decode about the judgment of God, and what came to fruition shortly thereafter (Daniel 5:25-30)?
  4. What makes people proud, or stiff-necked toward God nowadays? What can we do to keep pride from clouding our perspective and reverence for God? When someone asks for your opinion or advice, how honest are you in sharing what you think?
  5. How can you begin this week to act on a piece of good advice you have recently been given? What concrete action can you take to deal with an area of chronic sin in your life? What do you want to remember the next time you are rebuked or being disciplined by God?

Subscribe to “Abiding In Him” and get the latest devotional in your Inbox once a week.

This VBS curriculum is based on the Old Testament book of Daniel. The theme teaches children how to live with courage in uncertain times. It was designed as a camp curriculum for children 8-12 years of age. Can also serve as a 5-week Sunday morning children’s ministry teaching series.

Nebuchadnezzar: The Insanity of Pride

Text: Daniel 4:1-37

“Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything He does is right and all His ways are just. And those who walk in pride He is able to humble.” —Daniel 4:37

There is an old kid’s story about a lion who was very proud and decided to take a walk one day to demonstrate his mastery over all the other creatures. He strutted his way through the jungle until he came across a bear. “Who is the king of the jungle, bear?” the lion asked. “Why of course you are, mighty lion,” said the bear. The lion went on until he found a tiger. “Who is the king of the jungle, tiger?” “Why you are, great lion.” On he walked until he found an elephant. “Who is the king of the jungle, fat elephant?” The elephant immediately grabbed the lion with his trunk, spun him around a few times, and slammed him to the ground. He then stepped on him a few times, picked him up, dunked him in the water, and threw him up against a tree. The lion staggered to his feet and said, “Look, just because you don’t know the answer is no reason to get so upset!”

None of us are immune to pride. Whether it’s assuming we are better than others, boasting in our achievements, holding on to an offense done to us, needing credit from others, demanding recognition or attention for ourselves, or the arrogant critiquing of how the God of the universe should carry out His affairs, pride always goes before a fall (Proverbs 16:18).

Nobody should understand this more than King Nebuchadnezzar of ancient Babylon. In Daniel 4, we see the world’s most powerful dictator of that time “at ease” in his house and “prospering” in his palace when his kingdom was suddenly interrupted by an alarming dream. From our previous devotions in this series, we understand that Nebuchadnezzar knew who to call when a strange dream needed interpretation, so he referred to Daniel’s business card.

As an unchallenged tyrant, anything the king saw or desired, he simply took. He was forceful, selfish, brutal, and egotistical. Nebuchadnezzar didn’t answer to anyone, or so it seemed. But boy was he in for a rude awakening! Daniel pointed out that the “tree” which Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream, noted for its size, strength, prominence, beauty, and visibility to the whole earth, was about to get “chopped” down. Daniel makes it very clear, “it is you, O king, who have grown and become strong… you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field.”

Nebuchadnezzar learns a powerful lesson about the insanity of pride. His madness drives him into the wilderness to live in isolation and eat grass on all fours like a wild animal, “till you know” WHO really is in charge—“that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” His hair grew as long as eagle’s feathers and his nails were like birds’ claws. Thus Nebuchadnezzar became the original “Beastie Boy.”

After a period of time, something transformed in Nebuchadnezzar. “I lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me.” If ever we lived in a time when “reason” desperately needed to be returned, these are the height of those days. We have yet to mitigate the curve of unreasonableness in this hour! Our reasonableness is found in direct correlation with our turning, or returning to God—it could cure all of society’s ills. A narcissistic king regains his sanity when he distinctly confesses that God is supreme. He concludes, “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”

This ancient king teaches us the importance of replacing our pride with humble praise to the King of kings and Lord of lords. Where might you need to let humility guide you into dependence on His grace in this hour? Your reasonableness is very much at stake. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

Father, you are sovereign and true. Your dominion is an everlasting dominion, and your kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are subject to your mercy. We humble ourselves under your mighty hand. This is our reasonable act of worship. Forgive us of the pride of thinking we can go about this life in our own power. Help us to confront our pride and learn submission to your kingdom reign in our lives today. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What does the term “temporary insanity” mean to you?
  2. What was the meaning of the tree in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Daniel 4:20-26)? What happened to the king twelve months after the dream (Daniel 4:28-33)? What happened at the end of the king’s illness (Daniel 4:34-37)?
  3. When has pride brought you low? In what ways can our view of ourselves hinder our spiritual growth? When have you ignored what you felt was a warning from God about specific sinful behavior?
  4. What recent insight, revelation, or reminder about God has given your faith a boost?
  5. Where does humility need to take you this week in submission to the supremacy and authority of God?

Subscribe to “Abiding In Him” and get the latest devotional in your Inbox once a week.

This VBS curriculum is based on the Old Testament book of Daniel. The theme teaches children how to live with courage in uncertain times. It was designed as a camp curriculum for children 8-12 years of age. Can also serve as a 5-week Sunday morning children’s ministry teaching series.

Cancel Culture and a Fiery Furnace

Text: Daniel 3:1-30

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” —Isaiah 43:2

In the 1920’s, Eric Liddell was one of the greatest 100m sprinters Scotland had ever produced. Known as the “Flying Scotsman,” Liddell was in the spotlight and poised to bring home the gold medal during the 1924 Olympics. That is, until his convictions got in the way. Oh, how faith can sometimes be inconvenient! The 100m finals in Paris were scheduled on a Sunday and Eric believed that running on the Sabbath was dishonoring to God, so he refused to participate in the 100m. As the media can so readily do, they pounced on Liddell by vilifying him and labeling him a traitor. He found himself the brunt of “cancel culture” long before the phrase was ever coined.

Has your faith ever caused you to act on principles or convictions that got you into trouble with the culture or social norms? When I read the Bible I see countless heroes who sacrificed everything, not just social vilification, but their entire lives to remain obedient to God in the face of intense persecution. Hebrews 11 gives us a summary of the many who faced suffering, torture, and death for their faith. If we think that we can somehow skate through this world without paying a price for our faith in one way or another, we might have the wrong faith! The Bible makes it unmistakably clear that our faith—if genuine—will cause us to be canceled or vilified in some way (John 15:18-25).

In our current devotional series from the book of Daniel, we come to chapter three, where King Nebuchadnezzar erects a golden statue to which he commands all the people to bow down and worship. Here we see a discernible link connecting to Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2 (last week’s devotion) and the image he made in Daniel 3. As God gave Daniel the interpretation for the king’s dream, we saw that only the head was gold (symbolizing that Babylon was a temporary kingdom). When Nebuchadnezzar deliberately made an entire statue of gold in chapter 3, it appears he is arrogantly portraying his reign and authority as one that would never end—in defiance of God’s clear interpretation of his dream.

Nebuchadnezzar goes into full-scale tyrannical mode. He sends for all the prefects, governors, and public officials to come and gather for the dedication of his statue. The mandate to attend the ceremony indicates that he is using the worship of this image to test the allegiance of his people. Orders were given that when the musicians and party DJ began to play the music, “you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.” Anyone who didn’t conform by bowing down to the golden image was to be immediately thrown into a burning fiery furnace. No mercy!

When it all went down, there were three young men standing in defiance of the king’s orders. They are the same youths we read about in Daniel 1 who declined to conform to the king’s defiled meal plan. Now Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down to the king’s statue. They understood what this kind of idolatry yielded. Their knees wouldn’t bow for anything except the one true God of heaven and earth. They counted the cost of their faith and determined to obey God rather than man.

The young lads’ refusal to participate in Nebuchadnezzar’s sin party caught the eye of some Chaldeans, who had obvious political motivation, and reported these Jews to the king. This was ancient Babylon’s way of appropriating cancel culture—a heated furnace was typically involved! Nebuchadnezzar was furious, threatening to throw the boys into his fiery furnace. He challenged the young men, “who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” Their response is unflinching: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

These boys were ready to die for their faith. They were determined that even if God didn’t physically rescue them, they still weren’t going to bow down to the bullying tactics meant to compromise their faith. If they were to burn, they would burn in honor of their convictions and not selling out to cultural conformity.

You’ve probably read this story before and know how it ends. Nebuchadnezzar ordered the furnace to be heated seven times more than it was usually heated, meaning “as hot as possible.” But after these guys were thrown into the furnace, a fourth person surprisingly accompanied them in the fire, described “like the son of the gods.” This manifestation has been explained as a Christophany (a physical appearance of Christ before his incarnation) or an angel. Either way, this is a physical demonstration of God’s presence with believers in their distress, a graphic fulfillment of the Lord’s promise in Isaiah 43:2. The Lord promised his presence with his people, ensuring that their trials and difficulties would not utterly overwhelm them. He always walks with us through the fire. We are never alone!

Nebuchadnezzar is amazed that the fire has no power over these young men. He pulls them from the fire and is so impressed with the witness of their faith that he changes the laws of the land to honor their God.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego never flinched. They never tried to hide their convictions. They didn’t pick a fight, but when it came to them, they were ready to contend for the faith (Jude 1:3). They understood that blending into culture for the sake of approval or acceptance wasn’t an option. Only God was worthy of their allegiance. As Charles Spurgeon wrote:

“You will not be able to go through life without being discovered: a lighted candle cannot be hid. There is a feeling among some good people that it will be wise to be very reticent, and hide their light under a bushel. They intend to lie low all the wartime, and come out when the palms are being distributed. They hope to travel to heaven by the back lanes, and skulk into glory in disguise. Ah me, what a degenerate set!… If you cannot be true to Christ, if your coward heart is recreant to your Lord, do not profess to be his disciple, I beseech you. He that is married to the world, or flinthearted, had better return to his house, for he is of no service in this war.”

If you choose to be obedient to Christ, you too may have to take unpopular stands that may pit you against the culture. You may be mocked, ostracized, unfairly treated, and even vilified. But in the midst of such treatment, we are called to “live such good lives among the [unsaved] that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds” so that they may “glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12). Are you ready for what your faith might cost you? Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

God, you alone are worthy of my allegiance. You are the one who bankrupted heaven to pay the ransom for my sins. You sent Jesus to this earth knowing that He would be flogged by an angry mob, beaten and crucified, so that I could be rescued from the dominion of darkness. You already went to hell and back for my redemption, so there is no fiery furnace in which you will abandon me to myself. Thank you for that assurance. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What spectacular fireworks display stands out in your memory?
  2. What did King Nebuchadnezzar make and what were the people commanded to do? (Daniel 3:1-6)
  3. How did Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego respond to the king (Daniel 3:16-18)? What do you think gave them that kind of boldness?
  4. What did the crowd observe when the men came out of the fire, and how did the king respond to God’s deliverance of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? (Daniel 3:26-30)   
  5. What would make you confident or afraid if your safety were threatened because of your faith in God? If God chose not to rescue you from intense personal suffering, how would this affect your faith? What are you willing to risk in order to obey God’s clear commands?

Subscribe to “Abiding In Him” and get the latest devotional in your Inbox once a week.

This VBS curriculum is based on the Old Testament book of Daniel. The theme teaches children how to live with courage in uncertain times. It was designed as a camp curriculum for children 8-12 years of age. Can also serve as a 5-week Sunday morning children’s ministry teaching series.

When Will We Have Justice and Peace?

Text: Daniel 2:1-49

And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed… it shall stand forever.” —Daniel 2:44

Have you ever had a troubling dream? One that left you unsettled or perplexed in your spirit? I sometimes get in trouble for things I did in my wife’s dreams. Something about that just doesn’t seem fair!

In the ancient world, dreams were thought to be shadows of future events, not just aftereffects of bad pizza! For a king, his dreams might have significance for the nation as a whole, and the interpretation would be critical for steps to be taken in order to prepare for the events the dream anticipated, or even to counteract them.

As we continue in our devotional series in the book of Daniel, we find King Nebuchadnezzar deeply troubled by some dreams he was having. He knew that one in particular was unusually significant. So Nebuchadnezzar called upon his staff of specialists over the DODI—Department of Dream Interpretations. These were the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans. The name “Chaldeans” initially referred to a part of the Babylonian Empire, but it developed into a descriptive term for a special group, known for their expertise in magic lore and interpreting dreams. He told them if they weren’t able to make known the interpretation, they would be “torn limb from limb,” and their “houses would be laid in ruins.” Perhaps he sent it out in a Tweet!

The Chaldeans found the interpretation too difficult, saying that no one could reveal the meaning “except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.” Despite all their wisdom—real or imagined—these wise men had no answer for the king, because it could only come from God. The king was enraged, and commanded that all these “wise men of Babylon” be executed, which would have also included Daniel and his friends. But Daniel intervened, responding with “prudence and discretion,” and petitioned the king to give him time to make the interpretation known.

Daniel and his three amigos (Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah) prayed and sought the God of heaven concerning this mystery. Then it was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night. Probably quite relieved that he would be spared from execution, Daniel takes time to praise God with a hymn of worship—a beautiful declaration of God’s sovereignty and control over the troubling situation (Daniel 2:20-23). He then advocated for the other wise men’s lives to be pardoned and announced that he would come before the king and show the interpretation of the dream.

It turns out that Nebuchadnezzar’s dream didn’t just concern himself and his kingdom, but it also spoke of future kingdoms and “the latter days.” Daniel prophesied that four powerful human kingdoms would have their dominance then ultimately be shattered by “a stone cut by no human hand” (v.45), referring to the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ (Psalm 118:22, Isaiah 8:14, Isaiah 28:16, Zechariah 3:9): “And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever…” (Daniel 2:44).

At that time, God will establish a kingdom that shall never be destroyed. It will never be toppled. It will never be overthrown. It will start small but grow to fill all the earth and, unlike the earthly kingdoms, it will endure forever. From humble beginnings—think of a lowly king riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and a small band of misfits turning the Roman empire upside down with their Gospel message—to ultimate, united glory as a single kingdom that fills the whole earth forever.

The kingdoms of this world do not have the degree of power they surmise. Rest assured, beloved, that every human society—whether dictatorships, democracies, or anarchists—will ultimately yield to the reign of Christ (Revelation 19:11-16). True justice and sustained peace will one day be realized when every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11). The Bible describes it as an age when “the lion and the lamb will lay down together” (Isaiah 11:6). No more war. No more hostilities. No more division. No more suffering. No more pain, and can you imagine… no more political bickering? Our hearts don’t need to be unsettled by troubling times when we know what the Almighty has already revealed about the future. The Bible proved to be accurate in its ancient prophecies, and will hold true for this generation as well. God’s historical track record should give us great confidence over the affairs happening in our world today.

Christ is that “stone” that will break in pieces all these other little earthly kingdoms (Luke 20:18). He is the mystery of the ages, the one in whom God plans to unite all things in his glorious kingdom (Ephesians 1:9–10), and His is a kingdom from everlasting to everlasting. Rest in this promise as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

God, you are sovereign over all the affairs and kingdoms of this world. You haven’t left us to ourselves in all this madness. You are actively advancing Your kingdom, and we understand there is a human rebellion against that kingdom that cannot succeed. Remind us that the culture wars all around us are not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Keep us vigilant, and may our lives continue to be active agents of Gospel fluency for the lost you are seeking to save in this hour. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What has been your happiest dream or your strangest nightmare? If you knew that our nation would come under the control of another world power within a week, what would you do?
  2. What did Nebuchadnezzar do about his troubling dreams and what did the king expect from his wise men (Daniel 2:1-9)?
  3. What contrast do we see in how the astrologers approached the situation and how Daniel responded (Daniel 2:10-18)? What did the king do in response to Daniel’s interpretation (Daniel 2:46-49)?
  4. What can we learn from Daniel about how to deal with unreasonable or demanding people? Why do you think the Bible says it is better to get wisdom than gold (Proverbs 16:16)?
  5. How can you trust God with an unreasonable or difficult person in your life? What can you do this week to seek God’s kingdom above the kingdoms of this world?

Subscribe to “Abiding In Him” and get the latest devotional in your Inbox once a week.

This VBS curriculum is based on the Old Testament book of Daniel. The theme teaches children how to live with courage in uncertain times. It was designed as a camp curriculum for children 8-12 years of age. Can also serve as a 5-week Sunday morning children’s ministry teaching series.

Rising Above the Hostility of This Age

Text: Daniel 1:1-21

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” —Romans 12:2

It’s one of my son’s favorite workout songs—one I often hear blaring from the garage when Zach is lifting weights. “Rise Above It” is the theme from the movie Cool Runnings, the story of four Jamaican athletes who set out to make history by becoming the first Olympic bobsledding team from their nation. They must overcome extensive adversity and malicious opponents to attain that glory.

“Rise Above It” was the idea behind the conversation I had over lunch last week with a couple of inner-city boys I’ve been mentoring, one twelve and the other fourteen. We talked a great deal about current events and the turmoil in our nation, and most importantly, how to rise above the fray of all the social propaganda and political divisiveness, so we can truly see the world’s deepest need from the lens of biblical truth and gospel-centered justice and reconciliation. It is through this corrective lens that we realize the greatest virtues we can contribute to any society don’t come from merely “conforming” to what the culture demands that we be, but by becoming what God—the Almighty Creator—divinely “purposed” us to be “for such a time as this.”

God never puts us in a time and place to merely conform to our environment, but to “come out and be separate,” as a people who look, live, and think different than the world’s system. We are not here by accident or coincidence. We are not here to evolve into hostile people simply because hostile people want us to conform to their image. We are here to stand out in this historic moment, and reflect that we serve a greater Kingdom than this world’s man-made institutions. Romans 12:2 instructs believers: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

The difference between conforming to this world versus discerning and fleshing out “the will of God” is fought on the battleground of the mind. Our minds are under a constant daily barrage to think a certain way, which in this hour often evokes conforming to malice. We must rise above it. If we are to “shine like lights in the middle of a crooked and perverse nation” (Philippians 2:15), we need to think differently than a society that is in defiant rebellion against God. We see a perfect example of this in today’s devotional text. It’s a short history lesson about Daniel and his three friends, teenage exiles, trying to faithfully serve their God in the midst of a godless society in Babylon—a land of tyranny, pagan idolatry, and cultural conformity.

In Daniel 1, we see a brainwashing strategy in motion. The narcissistic King Nebuchadnezzar sought to assimilate these exiled youths into Babylonian culture by obliterating their religious and cultural identity and creating dependence upon the royal court. He ordered that these Hebrews under his subjugation must attend Pagan University. The goal of Pagan U was to strip these guys of their former identity—national and cultural heritage—while indoctrinating them with Babylonian language, customs, and beliefs. Their birth names, which once reflected their faith in Jehovah, were changed to reflect the gods of the land. They were schooled in the language and mythological literature of the Babylonians. The bullying and intimidation tactics of Pagan U would’ve been more than enough to cause any faint of heart to compromise, but these were no faint-of-heart teenagers. They didn’t just go with the flow and give in to what social psychologists of our day define as the “groupthink” mentality. It wasn’t easy, yet these bold young people didn’t abandon their faith and convictions for cultural conformity.

Though they were appointed a daily provision of the king’s delicacies, Daniel and his friends resisted them. Why? Verse 8 says: “But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food…” They considered the king’s food defiled for at least three reasons. First, it wasn’t kosher. Second, it was very likely sacrificed to idols. Third, eating the king’s food implied fellowship and conformity with Babylon’s institutional and cultural defiance of God. Surely this would label them as being uncooperative and bring them under threat of punishment. Nevertheless, Daniel didn’t do what the culture demanded of him because his priorities weren’t about staying relevant, preserving his social status, or amassing likes on his social media posts; Daniel’s first order of business was an unflinching conviction that he would not “defile himself” by compromising what was all-important to His God. He and his friends risked everything, reputation and livelihood, to remain faithful to their God-given purpose.

But we see another principle at work here. While Daniel and his friends refused to conform, they also showed respect to the pagan authorities in the king’s court. This undoubtedly worked in their favor when Daniel proposed to them a “better” meal plan. His solution was embraced because their stance wasn’t one of hostility and vitriol. God gave them favor with those in power, and those in power not only listened to them, they were influenced by the youths’ faith and wisdom. “They stood before the king. And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom.”

Imagine if their whole purpose or agenda in life became relegated to the triviality of just fighting King Nebuchadnezzar. They would’ve missed their whole mission. What a shortcoming of their destiny that would’ve been. Instead, God had a much bigger plan. It was to focus on His agenda and for them to become grace-filled agents of light in a dark world. They couldn’t do that with malice in their hearts. They had to recognize that their battle wasn’t against flesh and blood, or other human beings, but against “the god of the age that was blinding the minds of unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 4:4). We see this unfold throughout the entire book of Daniel.

Consider that this world is transitory and not your home—you are just passing through. Know that there isn’t time for conformity for the sake of preserving social status. God put us here in this specific time to shine as lights in a dark place, and like Daniel, we have a small window of opportunity to make a difference—to be an agent of grace and not an ambassador of malice. Make the days count. Reconsider your diet—instead of feasting daily on a buffet of negative media, turn to God’s Word for a healthy nourishment of Good News. Remember that there is a wrong way to be right. Standing up for God’s truth in a wrong spirit (vitriol, animosity, disrespecting and disparaging your opponents) is toxic to movements of grace. Learn from Daniel and his friends. God favored them because they had character to resist, courage to stand, and gentleness and respect for those of pagan worldviews (1 Peter 3:15-16). That’s why their legacy is enduring. What will be your legacy? Think about that as you seek to abide in Him in these times.

PRAYER

Dear God, help us in our struggle to resist conforming to this world’s pattern. The lure of conforming to the agenda of human malice is so powerful in these times. Let our heavenly mission not become hijacked by earthly motives. Holy Spirit teach us to discern your perfect will, that we would know how to shine as lights in a dark time. Renew our minds with discernment and understanding, guard our hearts with compassion and mercy, fill our words with grace that speaks truth along with dignity and respect. Keep us about our Father’s business and let us not get tripped up by cultural conformity. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. How might a non-Christian acquaintance describe you? When have you taken a Christian stand in a non-Christian setting?
  2. What were the characteristics of the teenage captives? (Daniel 1:3-4)
  3. What was Daniel’s resolve and how did the chief official respond to Daniel’s request? (Daniel 1:8-14)
  4. What was the result of the test? (Daniel 1:15-16) What did God give to the four men and what did Nebuchadnezzar conclude concerning them? (Daniel 1:17-20)     
  5. This week, what is something you can do to rise above the cultural hostility and toxic malice of our times? How can you win the battle of the mind—to resist fighting against flesh and blood and turn your focus toward the spiritual warfare that exists with the “god of this age”?

Subscribe to “Abiding In Him” and get the latest devotional in your Inbox once a week.

This VBS curriculum is based on the Old Testament book of Daniel. The theme teaches children how to live with courage in uncertain times. It was designed as a camp curriculum for children 8-12 years of age. Can also serve as a 5-week Sunday morning children’s ministry teaching series.

Redemption: Our Only Hope is Not Just a Cliché

Text: Ruth 4:1-22

“Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer…” —Ruth 4:14

What do you think it will be like to experience redemption from all of your pain, suffering, and hardship? What will you do in the climax of that moment—when every sorrow is turned to joy, every hurt is healed completely, every loss is swallowed up by triumph, and every injustice has been rectified? That day will surely come, beloved, and we do well to picture what our response will be when it happens. It can remedially shape how we “patiently endure evil” in this present time (2 Timothy 2:24).

As we conclude our final devotion in this series from the book of Ruth, we see that God is still at work even in troubled times. The book of Ruth has been described as the story of God “through the eyes of women.” One of its characters, Naomi, has been compared to a female Job. She suffered from a severe famine and the tragic loss of her husband and two sons. It’s plausible she lost even more than Job did—her essential livelihood. She dwelt among society’s most marginalized: the poor and the widowed. Bitterness had taken such a root in her soul that she chose to redefine her existence (“Mara”). What she didn’t realize is that God wasn’t finished writing the story of her life—an epic chapter was still to come!

Naomi’s faith might’ve been wounded, but it wasn’t dead. Even when we have a crisis of faith, God remains faithful. He never abandons us in our distress, or when we struggle with doubts. He never stops rescuing us from ourselves! His extended grace enables Naomi to take those difficult next steps even as her soul is ailing and everything in her says ‘give up.’ It’s likely a pure ‘faith over feelings’ moment when she urges Ruth to boldly propose to Boaz, who was a legitimate kinsman redeemer in accordance with their ancient cultural laws. This was an act of faith rooted in God’s Word. Naomi finds a way to take a “faith step” despite overwhelming feelings of grief, bitterness, and sorrow.

The outcome was favorable. Boaz and Ruth were married and soon had a son named Obed. Naomi’s misfortune turned to joy when she held that little grandchild in her arms. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him” (Ruth 4:14-15). Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. It’s a glorious redemption moment. The child brought great joy to Bethlehem, became the grandfather of a godly king (David), and ultimately the ancestor of the Lord Jesus Christ himself.

We can learn much from Naomi. Even when we can’t see the bigger picture and life is under duress, God’s plan is still perfect and filled with love. He knows what He is doing. All things do work together for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

We must also understand who the main character is in this story. It isn’t Naomi. It isn’t Ruth. It isn’t Boaz. The real Hero is Christ, the Redeemer. He is the protagonist in the story of our lives as well. Our stories are not fundamentally about us; our lives are simply a canvas for God to write out His redemption for the world to see His glory. He is the One Who provides a future for Naomi and Ruth, two widows with such little prospects for a future. It is through the canvas of their lives that we see how God cares for the marginalized, just as He commands us to do (Jeremiah 22:16; James 1:27).

The final takeaway is that we need to keep our eyes on our Redeemer, not the bleakness of the moment. It is not a cliché to say that Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, is the only hope for our world today. Social and systemic injustices will never be remedied without true humility and repentance. Bigotry, bitterness, and hatred in the hearts of people will never be holistically remedied apart from the love of Christ. Violence, vitriol, and vindictiveness will never usher in real justice. Legislation will never change a heart. Only God can do that. Our only cure is looking to Jesus.

We must recognize Jesus not merely as some historical figure, but as the living Redeemer of all the restoration and reconciliation God wants to bring about in our world today. Ignoring Him leads to pride. Looking to Him is what humbles us (Philippians 2:1-11). As Laura Gallier, one of my daughter’s favorite authors, said, “Of all the countless acts of injustice committed throughout mankind’s history, none compares to the atrocious beating, scourging and crucifixion of Christ, which he willingly suffered on our behalf, motivated solely by God’s love for humanity. This revelation becomes our foundation for repenting of our own sinful actions and also forgiving acts of injustice committed against us.” Looking at Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice on the cross for our sins humbles us. That’s why so many people ignore the cross—they don’t want to humble themselves. Thus they remain poisoned by their pride, bigotry, hatred, bitterness, and animosity toward other human beings.

Our hope begins at the cross. It is here that we humble ourselves at the feet of Jesus, allow His revelation to transform our hearts, and let him replace our Mara (“bitterness”) with healing. It is here that we find forgiveness and restoration. The cross is where hate is overcome by love, vengeance overcome by mercy, and animosity overcome by reconciliation. It’s where we recognize our humanity with all of its flaws, see a God Who created every person in His very own image, and willingly laid down His life so that His creation can be saved, healed, and redeemed.

Just like Naomi and Ruth in their distress, God has not left you without a Redeemer. He is still writing on the canvas of repentant lives today. Will you trust Him? Will you turn to Him? Will you view your broken world through the reconciliatory lens of the cross? Will you walk, love, and serve others in humility? Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

God, sometimes there are no words to describe the sorrow, the injustices, and the evil that we experience in this fallen world. It is impossible for us to make sense of it all. People need hope. And the only path toward a redeemed future begins at the foot of the cross. Our bitterness doesn’t engineer a favorable outcome. Thank you for your grace, which leads us to that place of surrender so that we can see you write a better story than we could ever imagine. Grant us humility to turn to you, to release our angst, our grief, our sorrow, and all of our fears and doubts. Save us from ourselves. Holy Spirit, reveal to us the path forward. Though often assaulted and sometimes faltering, may our faith be found trusting you to bring about the ultimate redemption in this story we are living. In Jesus’ name, and for His glory, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What are some of the etiquette or unwritten social rules in your family? What is essential to treating others with dignity and respect?
  2. What is the central event in this chapter (Ruth 4:1-12)? How is the elders’ blessing on Boaz and Ruth’s marriage significant in light of the rest of the chapter? (Ruth 4:11-13)
  3. How is this chapter an example of God’s providence in our lives? What can this story teach us about God’s redemption plan for our world today?
  4. Why do we tend to overlook or ignore the power of the cross in our daily lives? Like Paul, how can we “die daily” so that we can serve the Lord faithfully (1 Corinthians 15:31)?
  5. What feelings of bitterness, anger, grief, sorrow, vindictiveness, or animosity might you need to bring to the cross today?

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Desperate Faith: “We Bought a Zoo”

Text: Ruth 3:1-18

“In whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.” —Ephesians 3:12

When was the last time your faith moved you to do something bold… even seemingly crazy? When was the last time you were moved out of your comfort zone and into unfamiliar territory, taking a necessary risk because you were desperate to follow the way of Jesus?

“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” refers to actions that might seem extreme under normal circumstances but are more appropriate in times of adversity, distress, or when duty calls. “We Bought a Zoo” is a film about such measures. It tells the true story of a widowed father, Benjamin Mee, who desperately tries to pick up the broken pieces of his life and lead his grieving children forward after they lost their mother to cancer. He does something quite “ridiculous,” and it ends up being the remedy his ailing family needs in their journey to recovery. Yep, you know where this is going… they bought a run-down zoo and worked to renovate it and restore its faded glory. Benjamin, who had to get unstuck from his depression, later told his struggling teenage son:

“You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of embarrassing bravery. And I promise you something great will come of it.”

In our continued devotional series through the book of Ruth, we come to a place in the story that is a fitting picture of Benjamin Mee’s thesis on life. Here we find twenty seconds of insane courage and vulnerable bravery. Naomi coaches her widowed daughter-in-law, Ruth, to put on some perfume, go down to the threshing floor where Boaz is sleeping, snuggle right up next to his sleeping bag, uncover his feet and tickle them. When he wakes up, propose to him. Okay, that is a very loose translation but there’s not a scholar alive who can convince me that it didn’t tickle his feet! Boaz was startled.

“At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! He said, ‘Who are you?’ And she answered, ‘I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.’” What a proposal! Talk about the possibility of looking like an idiot. What if he rejected her?

Ruth and Naomi are desperate. It pays off. The sounds of wedding bells are in the future. Ruth’s twenty seconds of courage is more than just scheming to attract the attention of Boaz. Her actions reveal a bold faith in the promises God. Both Naomi and Ruth knew that Boaz was, according to Jewish law, a kinsman-redeemer as instituted in Leviticus 25. They weren’t following blind or random courage; they were taking God at His Word and acting out of a desperate trust in His decreed faithfulness. Boaz was the man fitting to bring about their redemption story according to scripture, and in the much broader picture, he also foreshadows Jesus Christ, the ultimate Kinsman Redeemer who will redeem a bride for Himself—the church.

Where do you need twenty seconds of bold faith right now? Where do you need to dig down deep and pull out that last ounce of courage you have, and act faithfully in obedience to what Jesus tells you to do—renouncing your fears, your comfort, your vulnerability, and your trepidation? Maybe it’s in choosing to focus on the size of your God rather than the size of a pandemic. Maybe it’s a deliberate choice to forgive that person who wounded you. Perhaps picking up the phone and reconciling a severed relationship, apologizing to your spouse or children, or praying for enemies and political personalities you despise. It might be an act of advocacy, or starting a new ministry to serve the needs of others.

It might only take about twenty seconds of courage to set in motion a series of events that revives something in your life and opens up the floodgates for God’s kingdom to breakout all around you. Where can you flesh out that courage in your life? Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

Dear Jesus, our Kinsman Redeemer and Lord over all, lead us by the guidance of the Holy Spirit to know where we need to enact courage and bold faith in the days ahead. There is bitterness, darkness, and unrest all around us. Desperation hovers over many. Move us to make a difference, taking that first bold step of faith, then seeing you open the floodgates of heaven upon our obedience. Lord, thank you for your faithfulness.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. When have you ever found yourself in a “desperate” situation like Ruth?
  2. What motivated Naomi to tell Ruth to go to Boaz (Ruth 3:1-2)? What specific instructions did she give to Ruth (Ruth 3:1-4)?
  3. How did Naomi refer to Boaz, and why is this significant (Ruth 3:2)?
  4. What does Ruth’s obedience to Naomi reveal about her character? What does Boaz’s willingness to fulfill his obligation reveal about him? What positive character traits stand out in this story?
  5. Judging from this passage, what does God want you to do when you cannot see the solution to a problem in your life? Where is God beckoning you to act boldly and courageously—even desperately?

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The Last Dance: What Will Yours Look Like?

Text: Ruth 2:1-23

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” — Romans 8:18

Like millions out there today, I was inspired by “Air Jordan” in the 80s and 90s, and often dreamed I could “be like Mike.” I loved to come home from school and play hoops for endless hours. When Cindy and I were newlyweds, some of our date nights involved going to the local park where I would practice “fade-aways” for an hour and she would grab my rebounds. Yep, that girl is pretty amazing!

Though I never was able to dunk a basketball—I don’t think I drank enough Gatorade!—the sport has been a meaningful part of my life. Basketball was one of our first sports ministries to at-risk youth in Florida juvenile detention centers during the late 90s, and it’s a big component of our summer camps for prisoners’ kids and disadvantaged children in East Tennessee. It’s also been a touch of heaven bringing mission teams to the Dominican Republic to do sports ministry with the kids on a basketball court we built for an orphanage a few years ago.

Because so much of my basketball passion was fueled by Michael Jordan, the hype surrounding ESPN’s new documentary The Last Dance has stirred many hoop memories for me. In 1995, When MJ returned to the NBA after a brief retirement, I mused along with the rest of the world: Can he still compete at the same level? Can he still win? Could he silence all the critics who doubted the possibilities? Well, not only did he win, his team dominated the league while showcasing one of the greatest basketball teams to ever take the court. The “Last Dance” revealed that the best was still to come, despite all the tension coming from the skeptics and doubters.

Are my best days behind me, or in front of me?

This internal question is something many of us ponder as the drama of our lives continues to unfold. In this devotional series, we’ve been looking at the book of Ruth the last couple of weeks. During a time of famine, Naomi and her family had left the Promised Land and went to Moab, where she would face unimaginable tragedy—losing her husband and her two sons. It was a season, surely, when the widow must’ve questioned whether her best days were now behind her. She even renamed herself “Mara” (meaning “bitter”), describing what her life now felt like. Her homecoming is one of sorrow and grief. What she didn’t know was that God was orchestrating a “last dance” that would give rise to a redemption story for the ages.

Naomi and Ruth faced agonizing hardship, but with God, hardship never spells hopelessness. As widows, they benefited from an ancient tradition that helped those affected by poverty (Leviticus 19:9-10). The law commanded farmers in Israel to “cut corners” in harvesting, for the purpose of leaving behind some bundles of grain for the less fortunate in the land. It was a win-win social assistance program intended to help farmers have a generous heart while giving the poor an opportunity to actively work for their food in a way that restored their dignity.

Ruth, demonstrating a hard-working spirit, set out to glean in the fields to support Noami and herself. Whether directly from God himself (Ruth 2:12), or through a human channel “in whose sight I shall find favor (Ruth 2:2),” her faith expected to see God show up (Hebrews 11:6). Despite being a Moabite and a foreigner, she was wiser than many in Israel when it came to recognizing the Lord’s hand in her labor (Colossians 3:23-24, Galatians 6:9, Psalm 128:2, Psalm 90:17, Proverbs 14:23). Her faith is seen in the way she works. James would be proud! (James 2:14-26)

The beauty in Naomi and Ruth’s last dance is seen where faith and hard work intersect with divine intervention. Their story—as does the story of your life—has a redeemer. As Ruth’s faith is thrust into action in the barley fields, she “happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech” (Elimelech was Naomi’s deceased husband). The odd construction of this sentence in the original text is deliberate. In colloquial English, we would say, “As her luck would have it…” But the statement is ironic. The storyteller intentionally uses an expression that forces the reader to sit up and muse how Ruth just “happens” to land in the field of a man who was not only gracious (Ruth 2:2) but also a kinsman who had the right to marry Ruth after the death of her husband (according to Jewish law). As the story plays out, we see that Ruth’s arrival at Boaz’ field has nothing to do with sheer coincidence or happenstance, but indisputable fingerprints of God’s providential hand.

Suddenly, the future is looking much different for these two women who have suffered agonizing misfortune. Why? Because a redeemer is now in the picture, and this changes everything, as we will conclude next week.

Tragedy. Loss. Unemployment. Financial hardship. Sorrow. Grief. Depression. Addiction. Anxiety. Sickness. Pandemic. These stories are all told differently when a redeemer is present. Your Redeemer lives, beloved. No matter what kind of hardship or setbacks you have experienced, be assured that your best days are still to come. Your next dance—last dance, or whatever you want to call it—will be full of favor and beauty, but not due to luck, coincidence, or human sufficiency; it will be brilliant because of the fact that The Almighty is the Choreographer and HE upholds you. He will never leave you nor forsake you in this dance. You can trust His next steps!

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, what a picture of hope for the battered and weary soul. You always have a plan and a process. It’s a process that we can trust because we know Your heart. Remind us this week that the best is still to come. Our redemption draws nigh because You purpose for the world to see Your glory—not just in some abstract way, but very directly and specifically on the canvas of our lives. Increase our faith. Stretch our hope. Ignite our prayers. Kindle us with a passion to serve you in this hour with great expectancy of the redemption to come. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. When have you ever faced danger in doing what you thought was right? When has your faith put you in a vulnerable situation?
  2. How did Boaz’s foreman describe Ruth (Ruth 2:6-7)? What character traits of Ruth stand out to you?
  3. What specific instructions did Boaz give to Ruth, and how did she respond to him (Ruth 2:8-11)? In what ways is faith different from optimism or mere wishful thinking?
  4. Judging from the events in this story, what character traits does God honor in His people? What is a step you can take this week toward developing your character?
  5. How have you seen God’s providence at work in your life? How could you demonstrate your thankfulness to the Lord for His provision for you?

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