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26 February 21012 AD by Pastor Ben Willis

Daniel 10:1-14 [NLTse]

1 In the third year of the reign of King Cyrus of Persia, Daniel (also known as Belteshazzar) had another vision. He understood that the vision concerned events certain to happen in the future—times of war and great hardship.

2 When this vision came to me, I, Daniel, had been in mourning for three whole weeks. 3 All that time I had eaten no rich food. No meat or wine crossed my lips, and I used no fragrant lotions until those three weeks had passed.

4 On April 23, as I was standing on the bank of the great Tigris River, 5 I looked up and saw a Man dressed in linen clothing, with a belt of pure gold around His waist. 6 His body looked like a precious gem. His face flashed like lightning, and His eyes flamed like torches. His arms and feet shone like polished bronze, and His voice roared like a vast multitude of people.

7 Only I, Daniel, saw this vision. The men with me saw nothing, but they were suddenly terrified and ran away to hide. 8 So I was left there all alone to see this amazing vision. My strength left me, my face grew deathly pale, and I felt very weak. 9 Then I heard the Man speak, and when I heard the sound of His voice, I fainted and lay there with my face to the ground.

10 Just then a hand touched me and lifted me, still trembling, to my hands and knees. 11 And the Man said to me, “Daniel, you are very precious to God, so listen carefully to what I have to say to you. Stand up, for I have been sent to you.” When He said this to me, I stood up, still trembling.

12 Then He said, “Don’t be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your request has been heard in Heaven. I have come in answer to your prayer. 13 But for twenty-one days the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia blocked my way. Then Michael, one of the archangels, came to help Me, and I left him there with the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia. 14 Now I am here to explain what will happen to your people in the future, for this vision concerns a time yet to come.”

Many Christians don’t understand prayer; some even believe it doesn’t really matter whether they pray or not. They either believe God’s going to do what He’s going to do anyway (so why bother?) or they see prayer as a last resort after all of their other efforts have failed: They’ll pray a little bit; they’ll throw up occasional appeals; but, in their heart of hearts, they don’t view prayer as making that big an impact on their circumstances or the decisions they make every day.

Does that describe you?

I find that so hard to believe because the Bible shows prayer to be a very simple thing: A personal conversation, interaction, an audience with the King of the Universe, Who is also our Father…

The Bible shows us God visiting and talking with Adam and Eve in the “cool of the afternoon”; challenging Cain about his attitude toward his brother, Abel; Enoch taking walks with God; the Lord and Abraham standing on a hillside overlooking Sodom and Gomorrah discussing those cities’ fate; Moses receiving the plans for the Tabernacle and the words of the Law, and returning from every with meeting with his face shining in reflection of God’s glory; we see the prophets interacting with our Father in all sorts of different ways…

There’s no evidence that these old saints always visibly saw God or necessarily heard His audible voice each time, but the accounts are clear that they knew they were speaking to Him, and that He was speaking to them, and guiding them and helping them…

Daniel (called Belteshazzar by the Babylonians) met with God three times every day. He prayed in his room. He prayed in the lions’ den. He prayed for wisdom. He prayed for guidance. He prayed that God would forgive the sins of His people Israel and return them to their home. And, in this mornings’ reading, we find Daniel has been struggling in prayer for twenty-one days because he’s troubled by a dream he’s had…

Anyone here every prayed for twenty-one days about some matter or concern? Yeah, few Christians hang in with the Lord for that long. We’re a fast-food, instant coffee, microwave kind of people. If we don’t get immediate answers from God too many Christians give up, thinking God doesn’t hear or doesn’t care.

However, Luke writes how “One day Jesus told His disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. ‘There was a judge in a certain city,’ He said, ‘who neither feared God nor cared about people. A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy. The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, I don’t fear God or care about people, but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!

“Then the Lord said, ‘Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to His chosen people who cry out to Him day and night? Will He keep putting them off? I tell you, He will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will He find on the Earth who have faith?’” (18:1-8)

Notice here that the Lord Jesus seems to equate praying – and never giving up in prayer – with faith; that is, if we truly trust God we will keep on asking, keep on crying out, we’ll keep on praying until we get a response from Him.

The Lord spoke of this again when He said, “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7) Unspoken in this teaching is the idea if you don’t “keep on asking” that, perhaps, you won’t receive what you’ve asked for; if you don’t “keep on seeking” that, perhaps, you won’t find; if you don’t “keep on knocking” that, perhaps, the door won’t be opened to you.

Paul Harvey once told a story about a three year old boy who went to the grocery store with his mother. Before they entered the grocery store she said to him, “Now you’re not going to get any chocolate chip cookies, so don’t even ask.”

She put him up in the cart and he sat in the little child’s seat while she wheeled down the aisles. He was doing just fine until they came to the cookie section. He saw the chocolate chip cookies and he stood up in the seat and said, “Mom, can I have some chocolate chip cookies?” She said, “I told you not even to ask. You’re not going to get any at all.” So he sat back down.

They continued down the aisles, but in their search for certain items they ended up back in the cookie aisle. “Mom, can I please have some chocolate chip cookies?” She said, “I told you that you can’t have any. Now sit down and be quiet.”

Finally, they were approaching the checkout lane. The little boy sensed that this may be his last chance. So just before they got to the line, he stood up on the seat of the cart and shouted in his loudest voice, “In the name of Jesus, may I have some chocolate chip cookies?”

And everybody round-about just laughed. Some even applauded. And, due to the generosity of the other shoppers, the little boy and his mother left with twenty-three boxes of chocolate chip cookies!

We ought always to pray and not give up…

But why? Why should we always pray and not give up? I mean, is God deaf? Is it hard to get His attention? Do we have to keep bothering Him until He throws up His hands in disgust and says, “If I don’t grant their request I’ll never get any rest?”

No. That doesn’t seem right considering the God we come to know in the Scriptures. And our reading this morning seems to be saying something else altogether.

Let’s look at Daniel 10:10-12 from our reading. Notice it says, “Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God your words were heard,” and the Man says, “and I have come in response to them.” (vs. 12)

If you’re familiar with Daniel you know this isn’t the first time Daniel has heard this from God’s messengers. In 9:23 Daniel was told, “As soon as you began to pray an answer was given, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed…” (Daniel 9:23)

In the cross of Christ, the almighty God shows us how highly esteemed we are to Him, and every time you and I pray not only does God gladly hear our prayers, but an angel is immediately sent from God’s presence to give us His response.

“Why all the delays?” you might ask. “Pastor, I may not keep on asking and seeking and knocking as God calls us to, but there have been many occasions where I have prayed a whole heck of a lot! And nothing seems to have happened. What about those times?”

We’ll talk next week about prayers that seem to go unanswered, but for today our reading does give us some insights as to why there can be delays between the times of our prayers and the times we see them responded to…

The messenger tells Daniel, “Since the first day you began to pray … your request has been heard in Heaven. I have come in answer to your prayer. But for twenty-one days the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia blocked my way.” The angel is telling Daniel (and us) that when Daniel prayed, demonic forces rose up (this one was called “the spirit-prince of kingdom of Persia”) and battles between angels and demons broke out. So, sometimes, when God doesn’t seem to respond to our prayers – although we may not see it – sometimes it’s the powers of Hell rising up seeking to get in God’s way, seeking to discourage us by delaying the Lord’s response, seeking to harden our hearts and pollute our minds against our Savior by speaking their little deceptions and half-truths in our eager ears. Yet when we keep on praying we see that God’s angels are willing to fight for us to bring answers to our prayers!

Are you praying for someone in your family to become a Christian? Know that every prayer you pray puts more and more pressure on that person to listen to the human and divine messengers God sends to them to share His good news. Do you pray for your friends in their daily struggles? Know that every prayer you pray imparts to them more and more grace and power and opportunities from the Lord. Do you have difficulties with someone at school or at work or around your community or home? Know that every prayer you pray brings God’s power to bear on those difficult people and situations.

Prayer is not a passive act on our part. Prayer is an aggressive, active ministry! The Bible tells us that in Christ we are reigning with Him in the heavenly places. Now, it’s only a foretaste of the authority He has promised us we’ll enjoy after He returns, but when we pray we are moving the very forces of Heaven itself! The powers of greed and lust and pride at work around us are strong. To come against them takes more than quickie, half-hearted prayers. We must know God’s will, and persevere in asking for His will to be done, and be determined to see it through until we see His changes in response.

Maybe you’ve heard the acronym, P.U.S.H.? P-ray U-ntil S-omething H-appens? That’s how Jesus prayed! Mark tells us:  When they arrived at Bethsaida, some people brought a blind man to Jesus, and they begged Him to touch the man and heal him. Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village. Then, spitting on the man’s eyes, He laid His hands on him and asked, “Can you see anything now?”

The man looked around. “Yes,” he said, “I see people, but I can’t see them very clearly. They look like trees walking around.”

Then Jesus placed His hands on the man’s eyes again, and his eyes were opened. His sight was completely restored, and he could see everything clearly. (8:22-25) He kept on praying until something happened.

George Mueller was a Christian evangelist and the Director of the Ashley Down orphanage in Bristol, England during the late 1800’s. Once, while crossing the Atlantic on the “SS Sardinian”, Mueller’s ship ran into thick fog. He explained to the captain that he needed to be in Quebec by the following afternoon, but Captain said that he was slowing the ship down for safety and Mueller’s appointment would have to be missed. Mueller asked to use the chartroom to pray for the lifting of the fog. The captain followed him down, claiming it would be a waste of time. After Mueller prayed, the captain started to pray, but Mueller stopped him; partly because of the captain’s unbelief, but mainly because he believed the prayer had already been answered. When the two men went back to the bridge, they found the fog had lifted. Mueller kept his appointment in Quebec; and the captain became a Christian shortly afterwards.



February 19, 2012 AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

Genesis 12:1-9 [NLTse]

1 The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. 3 I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on Earth will be blessed through you.”

 4 So Abram departed as the LORD had instructed, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. 5 He took his wife, Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all his wealth—his livestock and all the people he had taken into his household at Haran—and headed for the land of Canaan. When they arrived in Canaan, 6 Abram traveled through the land as far as Shechem. There he set up camp beside the oak of Moreh. At that time, the area was inhabited by Canaanites.

 7 Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “I will give this land to your descendants.” And Abram built an altar there and dedicated it to the LORD, Who had appeared to him. 8 After that, Abram traveled south and set up camp in the hill country, with Bethel to the west and Ai to the east. There he built another altar and dedicated it to the LORD, and he worshiped the LORD. 9 Then Abram continued traveling south by stages toward the Negev.

God invited Abraham to join Him on an adventure! The Lord didn’t tell Abraham where he would be going; only that he would need to leave his home, never to return; leave his friends, neighbors, and relatives, never to see them again; and go, where? The Lord never said. He never gave Abraham any region or directions for forwarding mail or carepackages. He simply said, “I’m taking you to a land that I will show you.”

God told Abraham, “Leave everything you’ve ever known behind, follow Me, and I’ll let you know when we get there.”

I know it’s a difficult question to ask (because how can anyone really know), but, if the Lord called you on an adventure, do you think you would go with Him? … For those of you who honestly said, “No”: Would you like to have the kind of faith to perhaps go with Him on an adventure one of these days?

I ask because I believe the Lord is calling all of us to join Him on an adventure. This-coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. It is the beginning of the church-season of Lent. Lent is made up of the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. (Although the Sundays aren’t included in the count.) During Lent the weather gets warmer and daylight-hours lengthen, which is Lent gets its name, from “lengthening”.)

For the past fifteen centuries or more various Christians have celebrated Lent with some sort of fasting or self-sacrifice. Fasting is the practice of abstaining from food for a period of time – only drinking water. But other self-denial observances have also been practiced during Lent: Not eating chocolate is kind of a funny one (as though denying yourself chocolate were some great sacrifice); not watching TV is another (again, hardly a sacrifice, but a difficult practice to break for many modern people); some have abstained from eating meat; others have given up drinking coffee or soda; others have given up smoking or drinking alcohol or some other excessive behaviors. (Again, hardly a sacrifice, since such excesses aren’t good for us to begin with, but, again, they can be very difficult habits to break when they’ve become extreme.)

As I said, I believe the Lord is calling us to join Him on an adventure today. I believe our Lord Jesus Christ is calling us to fast from our entertainments, our hobbies, and all our leisure-activities throughout the 40 days of Lent. Yes, I believe our Lord Jesus Christ is calling us to fast from our entertainments, our hobbies, and all our leisure-activities throughout the 40 days of Lent.

Now you may be asking, “Why would we want to do that? What’s wrong with watching TV or reading to relax at the end of the day? What’s wrong with hanging out and chilling to music or reading a magazine or surfing around the internet or hanging out on Facebook? And didn’t God gift me to be able to do and enjoy my hobbies?”

Of course there’s nothing categorically wrong with any of these pursuits. And yet the truth is that, for many of us, they occupy way too much of our time. Our technological advances here in the West have given us more comfort and free time than any other generation that’s ever lived on the face of the Earth. And many have filled that free time with entertainments and amusements and distractions. Have you ever wondered whether we’re maybe entertaining and distracting ourselves to death?

Again, I believe our Lord Jesus Christ is calling us to fast from our entertainments, our hobbies, and our leisure-activities throughout these 40 upcoming-days of Lent.

Let me paint you a picture: I’m home and I don’t have any commitments. I’m feeling a little itchy to do something, so I ask myself, “What can I do?” And with that question comes all manner of enjoyable, time-filling pursuits. Not all of them are necessarily sinful, and yet not all of them necessarily glorify God (in and of themselves), either.

Now, I’m not talking about doing chores or work that needs doing around the house (although we can be excessive about those kinds of activities, as well). And I’m not talking about activities that strengthen our marriages or families or other relationships, like playing games together or working on various crafts or projects together (although those pursuits can, in reality, not be about building relationships but just being entertained together).

Here’s another picture I have with the 40 days of Lent in mind: I’m home and I don’t have any commitments. I’m feeling a little itchy to do something, so I ask God, “What can I do for You?” And the answers we might get when asking that questions are what I believe the Lord is calling us to throughout these 40 days of Lent! Because it’s one thing to pursue our hobbies for our own enjoyment and entertainment, it is something else entirely to pursue those same hobbies in ways that glorify God and bless others. Can you make crafts that point to Christ and the good news of our faith and give them to others? Can you hunt and give the portions you don’t need to others as a gift to them from Jesus? Can you search the internet for Bible Studies and make plans to start one in your home?

Of course, there are pursuits we’re going to have to give up for these 40 days. For instance, I like to read, especially Christian or fantasy-adventure fiction. I like good writing and good stories. It’s a way I “unplug” and also connect with my kids since they’re usually reading the same books I am.

But this past-time is going to have to go during this-coming Lent, because I believe our Lord Jesus Christ is calling us to fast from our entertainments, our hobbies, and our leisure-activities throughout the 40 days of Lent. Perhaps I’ll replace some of that reading by reading books that would benefit church-life here, or with some reading about spiritual disciplines or other areas of discipleship for myself and/or my family. But I also think the Lord might call me to read the Bible more, enjoy Him and talk with Him in prayer more, spend more time reaching out to family members and folks I’ve fallen out of touch with and others around our church or community through email or personal notes. Having to spend more time romancing my wife and nurturing my relationships with my children (and I say “having to” because I won’t be distracted by my habitual entertainments and I’ll be looking for something to do!) I’m sure the Lord will also lead me to get some projects done around our house that have dragged on. (I can also imagine that might double as a way to romance my wife, since she can get quietly frustrated when I let such things go! J)

How about you?

I’m not trying to say there’s some great biblical reason that we must do this together (other than because I believe God is calling us to do so). And I’m not trying to guilt you into it as though you would be acting unfaithfully to God if you do not. No. But I do believe that, like Abraham, the Lord is inviting us to take a journey with Him: For us to retreat together from our entertainments, hobbies, and leisure-pursuits across these next 40 days. To see what our lives could be like if we intentionally filled our time with activities we know God wants for us, but that we don’t seem to have time for, and with activities that boldly serve others and share Christ with those around us.

Our Father promised Abraham great blessings if he would go. I believe the Lord has great blessings in store for us, and for others through us, as we go.

We’ll be taking some time during Worship each week across Lent to share how and where He’s been leading us. Will you join me?

 



February 12, 2012AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

According to Luke 23:26-42 [NLTse]

26 As they led Jesus away, a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, happened to be coming in from the countryside. The soldiers seized him and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A large crowd trailed behind, including many grief-stricken women. 28 But Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the days are coming when they will say, ‘Fortunate indeed are the women who are childless, the wombs that have not borne a child and the breasts that have never nursed.’ 30 People will beg the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and plead with the hills, ‘Bury us.’ 31 For if these things are done when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

32 Two others, both criminals, were led out to be executed with Him. 33 When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed Him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on His right and one on His left.

34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” And the soldiers gambled for His clothes by throwing dice.

Two weeks ago we were talking about forgiveness, and I was telling you about the careless friend who came for a visit and broke one of the lamps in our home. At that time we talked about how there are two kinds of careless friends: Those who apologize and tell us they’re sorry and perhaps even offer to replace what they’ve broken; and, those who aren’t sorry, and who tell us it wasn’t their fault and that we should’ve placed the lamp some place safer… But either way, because I love God and follow Christ, I have to forgive them, and I will forgive them.

uuuWhether they’re sorry or not, perhaps I’ll say, “It’s alright,” or “of course, I forgive you,” or “don’t worry about it,” or perhaps, even, “yes, maybe we shouldn’t have placed it there.” But either way, I’ll forgive them. And that will be the end of the matter. For them. But I’m still left with a broken lamp! Who will go shop for another? Who will purchase a replacement? I will. I have forgiven them, and so I will pay the penalty they owe for their carelessness.

When someone has wronged you (sometimes we’ll say they’ve “sinned against us”) it means they owe you, they are indebted to you. Forgiveness is Christ’s command for us to absorb the cost of the debt ourselves. We pay the price, refusing to exact payment from the person who wronged us in any way.

As we come together around the topic of forgiveness again, it’s critical for us to know we are not to keep track of every single time we have been treated unjustly or insensitively. uuu1 Peter 4:8 says, “Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.” “Love covers a multitude of sins” because, uuu“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5)

Jesus said our greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. So we are to let many of the offenses against us go, striving to not even think twice about them, simply because of the love we are seeking God’s grace to show those around us. And yet, there are some wrongs and offenses that do need to be acted on and confronted.

Which brings us back to those who offend us who are sorrowful and repentant, and those who offend us who are unrepentant and don’t seem to care…

Forgiving a repentant person is easy. uuuThough forgiving the other means we are not to exact payment from the person who’s wronged us, if you think about it, somebody who’s repentant has already made the payment – or at least a portion of it – just by being sorry and acknowledging they’ve hurt us. Repentant people take much of the work of forgiveness away from us, because there may be very little “payment” left for us to make, or because of their sorrow and concern, we may find the part that’s left to us a joy.

However, we must also forgive unrepentant persons – those who don’t apologize and don’t seem sorry. Because of the resentment and bitterness unforgiveness spreads (we talked about that last time) we must forgive. But how do we actually forgive those who don’t seem to care they’ve hurt us at all?

uuuFirst, we need to realize that forgiveness is granted often long before it is actually felt. Just like love, forgiveness can be a feeling we have or do not have. But forgiveness is primarily a set of actions and disciplines. It’s a promise God commands us to make and to keep in spite of our feelings. So the first step to forgiveness is to promise God we’ll forgive, and then to act on that promise whether we feel like it or not.

uuuSecond, you cannot forgive someone unless you are honest with yourself about what has actually been done against you, what they have truly taken from you. So, step two is to assess the cost and let the facts of the matter stand as history.

uuuThird, it’s critical for us to separate the evil-doer from the evil they have done, and then, recognizing our offender as one for whom Christ died, seek to work for his or her redemption.

When on the cross the Lord Jesus said, “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing,” (Luke 23:34) the Lord acknowledged the peoples’ sin, but He also recognized their need and their weakness (in that they weren’t aware of their sin), and so the Lord Jesus prayed for them.

Seeing “evil” as something distinct from the one committing the evil act helps us recognize that our true enemy is not this or that flesh and blood person, but the evil rulers, authorities, and mighty powers of darkness, and evil spirits in the heavenly places that are using him or her to hurt us. (See Ephesians 6:12) And then, through our acts of forgiveness, the one who offended us may even become softened and helped by our forgiveness and love. It’s an act of the will: We determine to wish them God’s good, and desire His growth and healing for their lives.

uuuOf course, at the heart of forgiveness is our determination to go and shop and pay the price for the broken lamp ourselves. There are many different ways we can make our offender pay, but each and every time we do not, we are absorbing the cost and making the “payments” ourselves.

  • We can make nasty little remarks when talking with them, and bring up their debt and drag out the past in little ways; but when we do not, we are forgiving them.
  • We can demand more from them than we do from others, because “they owe us”; but when we do not, we are forgiving them.
  • We can make a public spectacle of the “mercy” we’ve shown them to make them feel ashamed and small; but when we do not, we are forgiving them.
  • We can avoid them, and be cold to them in bold or subtle ways; and, of course,
  • We can actively plan and scheme to hurt or harm them, getting them back and taking from them something valuable to them. But each and every we do not, we are acting with forgiveness towards them.

Of course, there are ways to make them “pay” even when we’re not dealing with those who’ve hurt us themselves, but when we’re interacting with others.

  • We can try to “warn” others about them, or even ask for prayer, but sometimes we don’t do these things genuinely but use them as an excuse to make them look bad, hurt them, or share our hurt. (And each time we don’t we are forgiving them.)

And, of course, we keep the whole cycle of resentment and bitterness going strong every time we

  • Replay in our memories what they did to us, justifying our anger and feeding our hostility towards them; and every time we
  • Secretly hope for their failure, or their fall, or their pain. And every time we do not do these things we are tempted to do we are forgiving them in word and deed. (And perhaps our Father will grant us the gift of feeling forgiveness towards them over time, as well.)

Forgiveness is our promise to God to never bring the matter up again

  • to the person who hurt us,
  • to others around us,
  • or even to ourselves.

And every time when we are tempted to make them pay but we refuse – even though we may still hurt –we are making the payment ourselves.

Someone once wrote: “Pain is the consequence of sin; there is no easy way to deal with it. uuuWood, nails, and pain are the currency of forgiveness, the love that heals.” (Dan Hamilton, Forgiveness)