A Lenten Prayer

Father,
I gave up nothing for Lent this year.

I went on a “weight-loss” plan because my doctor said I should.
Even so, I didn’t give up meat or chocolate,
Or sweets, or even television, like some others did.

I didn’t give up shopping.
I didn’t give up social media.
I didn’t give up…anything for this short season.

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But today I acknowledge that Lent isn’t really about
What I have or haven’t given up.
It’s about what YOU gave up.
You gave it all:
Your Glory;
Your Power;
Your Majesty.
You became a simple man.
A servant of men.
A man without a home;
Without prestige;
Without a title.

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You were betrayed;
Falsely accused,
Corruptly tried,
Shamefully condemned,
Brutally beaten,
Crucified.
So that I might gain eternal life.

You do not judge me for what I haven’t given up for a season.
You do not withhold your love and forgiveness;
Waiting for me to learn the disciplines of Lent.
You ask for more than that– and less.
You ask me to follow you–to leave it all behind.
You ask me to give up my life– only to find it again in You.

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Let me reflect today on what more I need to give up:
My pride.
My apathy.
My selfishness with time and money.
My need to have my own way;
My own comforts.


May I be free to serve you;
To serve others.
May I be ready to give up whatever is
Keeping me in thrall;
Keeping me enslaved;
Keeping me from serving you with abandon.

Show me how to let go
Of all but You–
That You may be my All.

The Measure of Success

My senior year of high school, I was voted “Most Likely to Succeed.” I’m not sure what that meant to most of my classmates, but it was both an honor and a burden to carry. While I was honored by my classmates’ faith in my ability to become some sort of “success,” I was also daunted by the mantle I felt I had to bear. Would I become famous? Wealthy? Important in public affairs or business? My immediate and modest goal was to become a teacher. But I had visions of becoming a well-known author. I also dreamed of becoming a wife and mother; of having a loving, happy family, and a nice home.

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God’s plans are not our plans. God has placed many opportunities in my path– opportunities to serve myself and “get ahead,” and opportunities to serve others. I can say from experience that serving others brings more satisfaction in the long run, but it doesn’t feel like “success” as defined by most of our society. I’ve never achieved what most would consider “success.”

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Some days, I feel wistful and even a bit resentful about some of life’s circumstances– children I was never able to have, or jobs I might have pursued with more ambition. But then, I think of all I might have missed– friendships, victories over certain struggles, lessons learned. My life isn’t finished– God may yet give me the opportunity to do “great things.” But already, He has given me the privilege of doing small things for Him over the course of many years. And it is more than enough.

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One of the greatest measures of true success is to look at the life of Christ. After all, His life, death, and resurrection changed the entire course of history! Time is measured by His arrival on this planet– everything happened either before or after His birth. Billions of people have called themselves “Christians” after Him, and lived their lives in His service. But what did He actually accomplish in human terms? He was not a ruler or political powerhouse. He never owned a house, let alone villas and mansions. He never wrote a book (even though thousands of books have been written about Him). He didn’t invent anything, or found a corporation, or make a monumental scientific discovery. He never led an army. He healed several people, but He didn’t cure cancer or wipe out leprosy, or put an end to blindness. He didn’t rid the world of poverty, hatred, greed, or injustice. At the time of His death, He owned only the clothes on His back– and they were taken from Him! His friends deserted Him as hundreds shouted for Him to be crucified. He was nailed to a cross between two nameless malefactors, and died. He was placed in a borrowed grave. People who had expected great things of this Messiah ended up turning on Him and thinking Him a failure and a blasphemer.

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Jesus did not pursue worldly success. He told parables. He dined with sinners and saints alike. He laughed. He cried. He prayed. Jesus served others, and yet He challenged authorities. He drew crowds, and performed miracles, but He died alone. Jesus did not come to show us how to “get ahead.” He came to show us how to live more abundantly, not more successfully. (See John 10:10)

 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2: 1-11
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God can use our worldly success, if we achieve any. But He delights in our humble prayers, our small acts of service, and our obedience. Jesus lived a humble life. He could have done anything He wanted, fulfilled the loftiest of ambitions, and crowned Himself King of the universe. But His success came from the unlikeliest of lives, and the most humiliating death. He lived the perfect and abundant life He offers us.

I don’t live a perfectly humble life. I chafe at my own weakness, sometimes. Yet it is when I stop chasing “success” and perfection that I find it –in Christ.

My prayer today is that someone reading this will be encouraged. If life feels like a series of missed opportunities to find success and fulfillment; if you feel like your life has let you down, and that God cannot use you for some great purpose– take heart! He loves to pour His love and holiness into broken vessels and exalt those who are humble and weary and “not enough.”

An Empty Cup

Sometimes, I come to God full– full of joy, full of worry, full of praise, full of confession. But sometimes, I come to God feeling very empty. I am worn out, tired, depressed, inadequate, and lacking. My cup is very empty.

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The Bible is filled with images of cups and pouring out– have you ever noticed? “My cup runneth over” (Psalm 23:5) “Let this cup pass from me.” (Matthew 26:39) “Take this cup..” (Luke 22:19-20) “I am being poured out like a drink offering..” (Philippians 2:17) (and many others).

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My husband and I went out to lunch recently. The hostess took our drink orders while we looked at the menu. By the time we were ready to order our food, there were glasses of ice water, lemonade, and hot coffee already at our table. Our waitress came over often to check on our food and drink. Before I had finished my lemonade, there was another glass waiting! Before David had finished his coffee, there was more– fresh and piping hot! We came into the restaurant hungry and thirsty– we left refreshed and full. Imagine if our hostess had brought us cups with only a small amount of water or drink, and refused to give us more. We would be disappointed, even surprised. And often, the hostess would come around to a table to find that no one wanted or needed a refill. There was plenty of water to satisfy thirst, yet some people drank sparingly, or left their drink nearly untouched. We take for granted that there will be plenty to drink at the restaurant, yet we often come to God expecting only a little of His rich blessings.

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When we come to God empty, He is always ready to fill our cup to overflowing. God’s blessings are abundant. He fills us to overflowing, so the blessings can be shared. Jesus said to the woman at the well, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14 NIV via biblegateway.com)

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I feel guilty when I come to God feeling empty and needy. I don’t deserve a full cup of God’s blessing. But I must come willing to accept, not what I think I deserve, but what God is pleased to give. Even if I feel empty, I may be ignoring a cup filled with pride, shame, guilt, or self-dependence. God cannot fill a cup already full of such things. But God is pleased to fill to overflowing the cup that is ready to receive Him! And He is not just filling my cup to overflowing– He is filling my cup so that I have something to pour out to others!

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Sometimes, my cup seems empty because I have been pouring myself out. I can do this in good ways or bad, for the right reasons or in self-abasing ways. But Jesus poured Himself out for others–figuratively and even literally, spilling His blood for our atonement. We are to share our lives and resources with others– to pour out of our abundance. Sometimes this leaves us feeling empty–temporarily. God does not mean for us to live in emptiness, but He also doesn’t mean for us to hoard His blessings. The more we pour out, the more there is to refill our cup!

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But there is another blessing– the blessing of another empty cup. There is a cup of wrath that should be ours– a cup filled with bitterness, regret, punishment, and pain–a cup of eternal thirst for justice and salvation–one that Jesus willingly drank for us. The cup He extends is the cup of blessing and joy that was His from the foundation of the world; a cup we could never have tasted but for His sacrifice.

Before us are two cups– one that can be forever filled to overflowing, and one that can remain empty of the bitter dregs of sin.

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Prayer and Pizza-making

Maybe it’s just because I was hungry, but I started thinking about making a pizza from scratch, and how it can be like praying…I know it’s kind of a stretch, but stay with me..

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  • Faith/Crust–every pizza has to have a solid crust–and making crust from scratch usually involves stretching and pulling, flattening and forming it to make a round(ish) base for the toppings. Prayers rely on a solid foundation of faith. Even if it is a “thin” crust, faith is what gives us the confidence to approach God with our thoughts and thanks, our confessions and our concerns. Our faith is often stretched and pounded by circumstances, and it gets strengthened in the fires as God refines us.
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  • Salvation/Sauce– right there with the crust comes a sauce. It is usually red (tomato-based) or white (cream-based). I am reminded that our faith, and our ability to approach God freely is “covered” by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Our sins, though scarlet, are made white as snow. Whatever weaknesses we have– even our small or weak faith, are “covered”– God pours and spreads His grace and salvation over us. Jesus advocates for us every time we pray.
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  • Content of our Prayers/Toppings–pizzas come in all types of varieties. I’ve had pizzas with goat cheese, tomatoes, onions, shrimp, smoked sausage, carrots, blueberries, ham, scrambled eggs, spinach, olives, gravy, cornmeal, mushrooms, grilled chicken, dried beef, taco meat, cocktail sauce…just not all on the same pizza! My point is that our prayers are as unique and individual as we are. Some of us pray “single topping” prayers– raising a special concern that God has laid on our heart– all day long, or for days or years on end. Some of us pray “scattershot” prayers– a little of this and a little of that as things come to mind. Some of us pray “house favorite” prayers– we follow a formula or a pattern in many of our prayers. But each prayer gives off a delicious aroma– each one has a unique combination of flavors, textures, and pleasing smells as they are offered up to the Father.
    And we prepare our toppings/our individual prayers…our thoughts may be chopped up, diced, sliced, and spread around. They may get layered and mixed up and melded.
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  • Meditation/Baking– I’ve had fruit and vegetable pizzas that are served “uncooked” (except usually the crust has been pre-baked), but most pizzas have to go in the oven before they can be eaten. Some prayers are spoken in public or “in the moment,” but God wants to spend some time alone with us– even if it is in a “hot” oven for just a few minutes! Taking time to immerse ourselves in God’s presence not only refreshes us, it gives us time and space and openness to hear God’s voice; to catch a glimpse of His vision for our day; to close our eyes and ears to distractions and false promises, guilt and self-justification.
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  • Reading/Recipe–great pizzas don’t just happen by trial and error. Even though I love to experiment with different toppings and different seasonings–even different crust variations–if I don’t follow a recipe, I can ruin an otherwise great pizza. If we’re not reading the Bible regularly, we can begin to fall into bad prayer habits– selfish or prideful prayers, praying in the wrong spirit (bitterness or anger), even praying in ways that don’t recognize God for who He is.
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  • Serving/Serving! Pizzas are not meant to be created and left to sit and grow cold or moldy. Prayers offered up without obedience and active service don’t nourish anyone. Prayer should nourish our souls– we should be strengthened, changed, and experience growth. And God is gracious. Even if our prayer life has grown “cold”– well, cold pizza is still really good!
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So build a great pizza/prayer today (and throughout the day). “Taste and see that the Lord is Good” (Psalm 34:8)! Come back tomorrow and repeat!

At the Impulse of Thy Love

Sometimes, I am impulsive. I blurt out my thoughts and emotions; I end up buying a candy bar as I finish checking out my groceries; I decide to turn left at the intersection instead of going straight. Generally, impulsive actions are frowned upon. They can be foolish, wasteful, even dangerous. God does not call on us to be foolish or thoughtless, but there are times when He wants us to act on HIS impulse– to obey without stopping to weigh the pros and cons, without stopping to consider how we will appear to others or how obedience might “mess up” our carefully planned day.

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Have you ever felt the “impulse” of God’s love moving you to an unexpected action? Maybe you had a sudden urge to speak to a stranger on a train, or get in touch with an old friend. Maybe you felt compelled to give a gift to someone or stop and offer to help carry a load for them. Maybe you saw a news story and it caused you to pray– and to remember someone’s need and pray some more!

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Our own selfish impulses can get us into a lot of trouble. But God’s impulses can lead to blessing beyond our understanding. Just remember:

  • God’s impulses will never cause you to act contrary to His word. Buying things you know you can’t afford (especially for yourself!), or blurting out judgmental and hurtful comments– such impulses are NOT Godly. “Speaking the truth in Love” is not the same as spewing finger-pointing condemnation and self-righteous justification. Trusting that “God will provide” is not the same as assuming He wants you to have everything you desire.
  • Delayed obedience is the same as disobedience. God’s impulses are meant to be spontaneous moments of joyful service– not grudging acceptance of an imposition. That doesn’t mean that we can’t take a split second to discern God’s voice (see above) and respond appropriately. But God wants our “moments” as well as our “days”–He knows our plans. But He also knows His plans are better. If we are not willing for our plans to be redirected, then God is not really our Lord.
  • God’s impulses almost always involve others. God is LOVE. His impulses, therefore, are all about showing love–HIS LOVE–giving, serving, listening, helping, sharing, encouraging! God’s impulses will be directed outward, either toward others or toward God on the behalf of others. Amazingly, in God’s economy, we often reap a residual reward when we put aside our own plans. Sometimes the reward is not immediate or obvious–we may seem to meet with rejection, or even failure at first. Our actions may be misunderstood; our offers to help may fall flat; our prayers may seem to go unheard. But the love we show is not empty or worthless. We may never see the fruit of our actions or prayers, but we can still plant the seeds and water them!
  • God is a God of Grace and Mercy. Did you fail to act on a Godly impulse today? Stop. Take a moment to repent. Learn from today. Ask for wisdom to do better at the next opportunity!
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I’m always amazed at the miraculous opportunities God has given me to bless others, and to learn more about His amazing Love. From unexpected encounters in faraway places, to reminders and prayer requests on Facebook or local news stories, to a sudden urge to do a random act of kindness– God’s impulses give us the opportunity to participate in His miracles!

Thou Preparest a Table Before Me

Mighty God,
You could demand…
Anything.
You need nothing.
You are worthy of
Endless adoration.

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Yet You prepare a table–
Lavish with blessings,
Personalized to the last detail–
For me.

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You, who could reserve all the
Wonders of nature for your own pleasure;
Cause the sun to rise, the birds to sing
For me.

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You lay the plates,
Polish the silver,
Serve out the banquet with
Flourishes, garnishes– All the best
For an unworthy beggar–for me.

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You pour the wine,
Wash my feet,
Break the bread
(Even give your body and blood),

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All for me.

Merciful and gracious God,
Humble and victorious Savior,
Mysterious and mighty Spirit–
I am undone by Your invitation to
This eternal banquet.

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“Do This in Remembrance of ME”
Remember My Creation.
Remember My Life.
Remember My Humble service.
Remember My Death and Resurrection.
Remember My Victory.
Remember I am Coming Soon!

Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes

I worked for many years at a public library doing pre-school story time programs. One of the favorite songs among the children was “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” Children love rhymes, music, and movement, and this song involved all three. Children stood, ready to stretch and bend, point, and sing: “Head and shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes.” Their hands flew from one body part to another as we sang, faster and faster. “Eyes and ears and mouth and nose; head and shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes.” Faster and faster, louder and louder, the excitement growing, until the song ended in a breathless shout, “Knees and toes”!

Another favorite was the “Hokey Pokey”, in which we formed a circle and took turns “putting in” and “putting out” various limbs and body parts, “turning (ourselves) about” and clapping. We “put in” our right arms, our left legs, our heads, and “our whole selves.” From the earliest of ages, we become aware of the various parts of our bodies, their names and functions, and how they work together.

As God’s people, we are to be the “Body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12-14) and our bodies are to be His temple(1 Corinthians 6:19). It is important that we recognize how every part of our body needs to be consecrated and ready to serve, to worship, and to reflect God’s Glory.

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This is not a new concept. In fact, much of the book of Leviticus is given over to consecrating every aspect of the worship of God by His children. There are detailed instructions for the priests– how and when to enter the Tabernacle; what to wear, what kind of offerings to bring and how to prepare for service. One set of details involves the installation ceremony for the priests. They were to wash from head to toe, before putting on the sacred garments. They were to offer a blood sacrifice, and some of the blood was to be placed or smeared in three places– the lobe of the right ear, the thumb of the right hand, and the big toe of the right foot (Leviticus 14:28).

Scholars through the years have given us many reasons for these detailed instructions (see this link for a terrific overview) https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/ears-thumbs-and-toes/, and most of them bring out the idea that God wants us to worship and be consecrated “from head to toe.” God has authority over how we choose to use our ears, hands, and feet– He wants purity in our words and deeds. He wants us to listen to Him, obey Him, and follow Him.

The smearing of blood in these three areas also demonstrates a need for atonement– only blood can cover or atone for our lack of attentiveness, our lack of obedience, and our open rebellion against God’s authority. The blood of the ritual sacrifices in Leviticus are a foreshadowing of the ultimate atonement we receive from the sacrifice of the Only True Lamb, Jesus Christ. Christ takes away our sin, and consecrates us to His service and worship– from head to toe!

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And, unlike the Hokey Pokey, THAT’S what it’s all about! God gives us His life and purity, His Grace and forgiveness, His divine purpose and eternal Glory when we “put our whole selves” in His hands, and He “turns us all about,” to become more than conquerors (Romans 8:37), a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9), and the sheep of His pasture. (Psalm 100:3)

Making God Look Good

A few years ago, I worked for a boss who told our staff that our number one job was to “make her look good”. This came as a shock to all of us. It was nowhere in our employee manual, this idea that her status was more important than our work ethic, or our customer service, or our ability to work together as a team. What I’m sure she meant to convey was that everything we did reflected on her, and, by extension, all of us, our library, and our community. It should have been our priority to work, look, speak, and interact with patrons in a way that brought honor and respect to everyone in the building–not just her–so that she could concentrate on making an already great library even better. But that’s not the way it was expressed or understood. And the results were unfortunate.

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It WAS our job to respect her leadership, and do our best work, allowing her to guide the direction of the library’s growth and service. I’m ashamed to say that I did not do this– I fought her leadership, complained about the way she treated staff and patrons, criticized her ideas and her management style, and finally quit my job there.

I start with this story as a contrast to the story of Daniel, as we’ve been following it the past couple of weeks. Daniel’s job was to make his bosses–kings and emperors who had conquered his nation, exiled and enslaved him, and destroyed his home and culture–“look good.” He was an adviser to kings who were powerful, ruthless, vicious, and often petty, vindictive, and even edging on madness. He did not have the freedom to “quit” or to harbor pride or criticism.

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Daniel’s ability to work under such circumstances sprang from his conviction that his number ONE priority was not to make his bosses look good, or to be the best administrator or adviser he could be. His number one priority was to seek and to serve Almighty God. All the rest would fall into place if only Daniel would keep the right priorities.

The truth is, we cannot make someone else “look good”. We can try– we can sing someone else’s praises, brag about them, work hard to gain their approval, promote them and honor them, even worship them. And, in a superficial way, these things can make the other person appear important, wise, popular, or even “good.” But it can’t make someone else BE good, or important, or wise. And, often, our efforts are not really about making the other person look good. Our efforts are about making ourselves look good in another person’s eyes

Throughout his life, Daniel made God look good. He made kings, from Nebuchadnezzar to Darius, acknowledge God’s power, His authority, His grace and mercy, and His goodness. But at the same time, Daniel could not “make” God look good– unless God was (and IS) all the things Daniel said He was. Daniel’s job was never to “make” God look good. His job was to point away from himself, and “let” God be God–awesome, mighty, loving, eternal, and Holy. In return, Daniel was used in amazing–even death-defying– ways that continue to astonish and teach us today.

My attitude toward my boss didn’t make her look good– or bad. It didn’t make me look good, either. It just made me look spiteful, arrogant, and uncooperative. Worse, it made my walk with Christ look bad. I wasn’t pointing people toward Him; I was pointing to the negative (and being negative) about a situation that was so much smaller than the God I serve. What a missed opportunity to demonstrate, as Daniel did, what obedience and faith look like. What a missed opportunity to make God look good!

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Today, as we pray to this same awesome, mighty, loving, eternal and Holy God, let us not waste time trying to “make God look good.” No amount of fancy rhetoric, holy elbow grease, finger-pointing, or pious posturing can make God better than He already is. Instead, let us come before Him humbly and with a contrite heart, ready to obey, honor, and worship Him with our whole being as Daniel did. Not in pride or arrogance, sounding like an advertisement for a new “super” product or exercise routine, or like an expert on spiritual living, but in awe that the God of Jacob, the God of Daniel, the God of the universe(!) wants to extend grace even to the least of us. God sees us in our troubles– exiled and oppressed, alone and in danger, surrounded by rivals, enemies, madmen, and beasts. God will provide; He will defend; He will bring justice; He will never leave us.

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Daniel– A Life of Dangerous Prayer

When we hear about the Biblical story of Daniel, we usually hear only the small story of Daniel and the den of lions. Daniel was thrown into a den of lions for refusing to obey the king. God shut the mouths of the lions and Daniel was saved. It is an amazing, miraculous, even incredible story. But what makes Daniel’s story truly amazing is to see it in perspective. I’d like to spend a couple of days looking at the larger picture of Daniel’s life.

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Daniel, like Jacob or Hannah, was an ordinary person– yet he was different, too. Daniel was from the line of kings and the royal household of Israel. He was strong and intelligent, among the elite young men of the land. According to the Bible, he was also gifted with the ability to interpret dreams and visions– a gift of extraordinary importance that set him apart from others. In that sense, he is more of a “Bible Hero” than those we have looked at in the past few weeks.

But Daniel was also a slave– a captive who was ripped from his homeland and taken by force to serve in the court of the Babylonian king. He was a stranger in a strange land; he walked a very dangerous line of trying to keep the favor of the king while dealing with very powerful and resentful enemies among the king’s other courtiers. Daniel stood apart–there is little mention of a family in Daniel’s story– Daniel faced many of his trials alone (except for God). And, while Daniel survives many extraordinary trials, he never receives the kind of promise or fulfillment that we saw in the lives of Hannah or Jacob. Daniel spends most of his life as a captive. He never gets to go back to his homeland. He never gets to see the fulfillment of his great vision– in fact, he asks for clarification, and is simply told to go his way–he will understand at the end of time.

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But Daniel has a lot to teach us about prayer– it’s power, it’s peril, and it’s promise.

In the first chapter of the Book of Daniel, we are told a very little about Daniel’s background and how he ends up in the service of the king. https://biblia.com/bible/esv/Dan%201 One little detail that stands out today, in light of our recent study of Jacob, is that Daniel is given a new name– not by God, but by the Babylonian official who is his new “boss”. Daniel is to be known as Belteshazzar– “Protect the life of the King”. Daniel is used by God to protect, and even warn, the foreign kings who have taken him captive. Daniel faithfully serves his oppressors– he does not seek to betray them or plot revenge against them. But the new name doesn’t stick– just as we still know Jacob by his old name (and the nation he founded by his God-given name), we know Daniel by his original name–“God is my Judge.”

Daniel’s first trial comes when he and his friends are selected for potential service to Nebuchadnezzar. They are to be trained and fed at the king’s own palace. They are to be assimilated into Babylonian culture, history, laws, etc. But Daniel refuses to be “defiled” by the royal food and wine. Instead, he and his companions ask for a diet of plain vegetables and water. Much has been made of this– entire diets and healthy living books have been based on just this simple request. I think such plans miss the bigger picture. Daniel’s request wasn’t about veggies or “strength training.” It wasn’t about eating smarter or being stronger and healthier than the other captives. It was about obedience to God AND to the very authorities who were offering the food from the king’s table.

There was nothing nutritionally “wrong” with the king’s food or wine, nor any particular virtue in the vegetables Daniel requested. But there were at least three good, Biblical reasons why Daniel may have refused to eat the king’s food. First, the Babylonian customs called for sacrifice to their gods–even human sacrifice in some cases! But much of the meat, fruit, and grain offered at the king’s table may have come from the temples. Food that had been ritually “offered” to the gods would be fit for the table of the king. But Daniel would not want to eat the food offered to these other, false gods– it would suggest that Daniel agreed that these gods were worthy of the sacrifices that had been offered– including infants. Better to eat plain food of any type than food that had religious implications. Second, the food was likely to be non-Kosher. God’s people were to be distinct, including in their diet. There were several types of foods forbidden to the Jews that would likely be on the daily menu of the palace–not just the foods themselves, but the way they were prepared. It’s not that these foods were not edible or nutritious, but God wanted his people to demonstrate discipline and obedience. Daniel did not want to compromise or cause trouble on a daily basis rejecting first this dish, then questioning that one…easier by far to simply request what he knew was in line with God’s ways. Finally, Daniel was being offered rich and decadent food while many of his fellow Israelites were starving in their captivity. To stuff himself full of the best food in the land would not change their circumstances– but it would change Daniel’s heart. This was more important than any particular diet. Daniel did not claim that his requested diet of vegetables would make him stronger or wiser or healthier than the others– he trusted that God would sustain him to be at least as strong and healthy as anyone else. And God did more!

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It is important, also, to note that Daniel did not defy the king or demand special treatment. He won the respect of the official in whose charge he was being kept. He even helped the official overcome his fear of the king. Why is this important? Daniel was in a difficult and dangerous position. He was a captive– a slave in a strange land– with a golden opportunity. He was chosen to be in the elite group of young people who could serve with power and influence in the land of their oppressors. Daniel, in fear or seeking his own advancement, could have trusted to his own wits and the favor of the Babylonians. He could have abandoned his commitment to serve God in favor of serving the immediate whims of those around him. He could have determined that in his new situation, he should adapt to the new rules, even those that contradicted God’s word. Or, he could have been defiant and arrogant–demanding that the Babylonians recognize all the customs of his native land, including his Kosher diet. He could have encouraged his friends to lead a rebellion; he could have gone on a hunger strike to protest the king’s food. But the king had never commanded that the young people eat his food– he had merely offered it as an incentive. Daniel used wisdom and tact. He won the trust of the official by suggesting a trial period of ten days to see if the “alternative” food plan would prove acceptable. He didn’t place his trust in his own actions– he placed his trust in the true Judge, and offered faithful service– both to God and to Nebuchadnezzar.

No matter our circumstances today– whether we are in a palace or a prison; whether we are free or enslaved– God sees us. He will judge, not only the actions of our oppressors, but our response to oppression and hardship, and mistreatment (or our oppression and mistreatment of others). May we, like Daniel, turn to the true Judge, and walk worthy of His Name today.

How’s My Serve?

“Life is so unnerving for a servant who’s not serving–
He’s not whole without a soul to wait upon…”
(Be Our Guest from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast)

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Philippians 2:3-8 King James Version (KJV)

Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

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1 Peter 2:13-19 Revised Standard Version (RSV)

13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution,[a] whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing right you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. 16 Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil; but live as servants of God. 17 Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

[a](or,  every institution ordained for men)

  

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The English word serve has at least seven different definitions, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary see here, and that’s just the intransitive verb form!  The concept of service and serving is often misunderstood and denigrated.  Our culture (especially American culture) in general has a low opinion of servants.  Value is placed on independence– neither needing service nor being required to give it to others.  But service is much broader then “servitude”, and good service requires that we place our value on interdependence, rather than independence.

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Good service requires a lot, but I think there are three key ingredients–obedience, humility, and love.

I don’t normally recommend Disney as a source of moral instruction, but just in the short two lines of lyrics above there is a great example of a servant’s heart.  A good servant isn’t reluctantly or resentfully dragged into service.  (Oh, there are days or circumstances that are trying and tiring, but that’s the exception, not the norm.)  S/he is eager to serve, and even restless when unable to be of service.  A good servant is also personal.  Their service is not given by rote, but with attention to the individual “soul” they are serving.  It’s hyperbole, of course, but the verve and giddiness found in the singing and dancing dishes of a Disney movie should be reflective of the kind of service we provide at work, at home, and at church– “Be our Guest!”

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As followers of Jesus, we should also look to His example.  Paul reminds us that Jesus did not seek fame or attention or demand respect or recognition during His time on Earth.  Instead, He gave up all the glory of Heaven to become a man– and not just a man, but a helpless baby born in obscurity and growing up without entitlements and comforts; the child of a working-class family  in a small town under foreign occupation.  He lived as a homeless itinerant teacher, and died as a common criminal under shameful circumstances– naked and bloody, displayed in public, to be mocked and used as a warning for others.  But Jesus wasn’t a doormat–he was humble, he was meek–he CHOSE to submit to the pain and humiliation and even the injustice of a rigged trial and a death sentence by mob rule.  He had opportunities to grab the glory, to turn the tide, to escape his unfair fate, and/or to become a great political or military leader.  He didn’t take those opportunities– instead, he was obedient to the Father.  He showed love and compassion even to those who mocked him, betrayed him, and murdered him.

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It’s frightening to serve with that kind of abandon.  It’s not humanly possible to let go of one’s life with joy for the sake of those who have taken it from you.  My human desire is to grab hold of life and get as much out of it as I can.  Even when my intention is not to hurt anyone else, it is not in my nature to put someone else’s needs and comforts ahead of my own.  But it needs to become part of my nature.

I want to serve like Serena Williams–slamming my passion at the speed of a bullet train and earning trophies.  (And this is not meant to be disrespectful– I am a great admirer of Serena’s talent and drive, and I think there is much to learn from her perseverance and excellence.)  But tennis, while fun to watch and good for exercise, does not teach good “service”.

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I’d like to serve like a CEO– guiding a company to greater success and huge profits.  I might even help hundreds of people by creating more jobs and increasing their wealth.  But in the end, this is not the kind of service that has everlasting consequences, or “soul” benefits.

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I honor those who have served in the military; those who work in service industries, or provide emergency services.  And those who have served in government, whether local, state, national, regional, provincial, or other.  Many have served selflessly and given their lives, willingly, in combat or rescue missions.  For every story of someone who has abused their office, or fled in the face of personal danger, there are many more stories of courage, compassion, and sacrifice.  Such service should also “serve” as an example to all of us.

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I enjoy serving customers at work– helping them find something they want or need, or answering questions.  But that’s my job.  I get a certain gratification, and a paycheck, that help motivate such service.

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God wants me to learn to serve from the pure joy of service– pouring myself out with abandon to help others succeed– rejoicing with them when they reach their goals; grieving with them in their loss.  And, like Jesus, God wants me to do it, not in my own limited strength and wisdom, but in obedience to His will– not becoming a dupe or a doormat to anyone who wants to step on me, but discerning what is best for others and cheerfully doing what I can to bring it about.

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That’s a tall order, and it requires that I take time to ask God and trusted friends– How’s my Serve?

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