Purr-fect Peace

You will keep in perfect peace

    those whose minds are steadfast,

    because they trust in you.

Isaiah 26:3 NIV (via http://www.biblegateway.com)

For many years, I owned a cat named Galahad. He was not, as his name suggests, a brave, noble sort of cat. He was often skittery, nervous, demanding, or absent. As he got older, he was sometimes irascible, and hissed at strangers and children. But he could also be cuddly and engaging, playful, and present.

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Like many pet cats, Galahad would “meow” when he wanted attention–if he wanted to play, or wanted more food, or wanted me to stop singing along with the radio (or wanted the radio to be silent). Recently, I read an article that analyzed the different types of “meows” of a pet cat, and claimed that cats do not “meow”, except to communicate with humans. See https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/all-dogs-go-heaven/201809/why-do-cats-meow-humans for more details. Cats have an entire language of “meows”– a language meant just for humans–to communicate their needs and moods more effectively. With other cats or other creatures, they communicate through scent, movement, growls and purring.

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Galahad liked to “speak” to me, and I tried to respond to his needs and understand “his” language. But when Galahad was very happy, well-fed, content, or, late in life when we was in pain from arthritis, he would purr. This was intimate communication of a kind reserved for other cats and trusted humans. He would curl up in my lap, or near my feet, or on the bed by my side, and purr. Sometimes, he would lie, belly exposed, feet drawn up, head flopped back– completely vulnerable; completely relaxed–purring, snoring, drooling with absolute abandon.

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When we pray, we often “meow”– we use formal prayer language, and try very hard to get God’s attention and express a variety of needs, as though God cannot understand an other expression. But God’s understanding goes beyond language. “26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27 NIV via http://www.biblegateway.com).

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We don’t need to “meow” to get God’s attention. We can purr, content in the knowledge that God hears us, loves us, and knows our needs, wants, and moods– better than we know ourselves! In fact, God promises to keep “in ‘purr-fect’ peace” those whose minds are focused on Him; those who trust Him faithfully.

A Bulwark Never Failing…

“A Mighty Fortress is our God; a bulwark, never failing..”
These words are known and sung (in various translations and languages) around the world. But Martin Luther wrote this song over four hundred years ago. What relevance can these words have in an age of nuclear bombs and globalized economies and climate change? What do they mean to us today?

I don’t live in a nation of many castles. There are two stone “mansions” in the small town where I live. They seem tiny compared to mansions in other parts of the U.S. and the world. And we have a small armory; home to a National Guard outpost. But a mansion (or even an armory) is not the same as a castle or a fortress. Mansions are built to be impressive; armories are built to be immediately prepared for disasters or attacks; castles are built to be impregnable and permanent. Our God is not just a fortress; one outpost among many mighty gods– He is The Mighty One–uniquely sovereign, eternally victorious, and perfectly protecting all within His power.

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And this protection doesn’t depend on my might or fighting ability, or my weapons or strategies. It depends on my being inside the fortress, safe and sound. The war rages all around, but it cannot defeat me, so long as I am in the fortress.

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There are mighty castles, forts, towers, citadels, and walls around the world– all built by people and victims of the ravages of war, time, weather, fire, bad management, etc. Over the years, types of fortresses have given way to new weapons designed to bring them down. Wooden forts are susceptible to fire; stone castles can be brought down by catapults, battering rams, and bombs. Underground bunkers can even be ruined by earthquakes or nuclear assault. And yet, we are still amazed at the power and legacy they represent. Many have stood for hundreds or even thousands of years. But God is eternal; His might and protection will never fail. No weapon forged or imagined can triumph over His power and sovereignty.

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Prayer brings us into the safe and powerful presence of God Almighty. There is nothing of our worries, our guilt, our doubts, or the accusations of the enemy that can shake the foundations of God’s fortress. And the cornerstone is none other than Jesus Christ– unshakable, victorious, and eternally one with the Father and the Spirit.

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That doesn’t mean that we won’t ever find ourselves in battle, trusting in God’s armor against the arrows of the enemy. But the war is already won– His Kingdom is forever! And ever!

Great Is Thy Faithfulness

I generally write on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday each week. I missed Friday of last week and Monday of this week. I got busy with holidays and housework and mundane things. I was not faithful in my writing.

God is never unfaithful. There is never a day when the sun doesn’t rise, when the ocean waves don’t roll, when gravity suddenly stops, or when God stops answering prayer.

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There may be days when we don’t “see” God, or feel His presence; days when we don’t understand the way He works or why He chooses to answer, “No,” to our heart’s desire. But there is never a time when He simply stops caring, or takes His hand away from creation or removes Himself from all contact, leaving us alone and without hope.

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life…” (John 14:6 a) and the writer of Hebrews said, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, yes, and forever.” (Heb. 13:8) We never have to worry or wonder about God’s Spirit leaving us, or disappearing; we don’t have to consider that God will suddenly change His character or that His love will grow cold.

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People will ultimately disappoint us–in small or big ways, or at surprising moments–not always because they are vicious or unfeeling. Most of the time, they will let us down because not one of us is perfect. We get tired, cranky, sick, or forgetful. We get delayed, distracted, or depressed. But God is Love, and “Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:8a). God is sovereign and eternally unchanging.

So even when I fall short, I can call out to God for forgiveness, and strength to begin again. I can come to Him in confidence, assurance, and hope, knowing that His Grace is boundless, His love is limitless, and His arms are always open wide to receive me. All I have to do is run to Him and accept Him for who He is– My Faithful Redeemer, My Lord, and My Heavenly Father.

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And in this pursuit of Prayer, and daily walk with Him, my goal is to become more like Him– including being more faithful.

This is My Father’s World

Yesterday, in our Bible Fellowship class at church, we continued our series on a Christian view of “Hot” topics: we focused on Environmental issues.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth.” (Genesis 1:1)
“The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.” (Psalm 24:1) KJV

Our environment can become a politically and emotionally charged subject. How should we as Christians, view our environment, our environmental impact, and our attitudes toward dire reports about climate change, extinction rates, emissions, pollution, habitat reduction, natural resources, and energy needs?

The Bible gives us guidelines, warnings, and even hope!

  • Ultimately, the fate of the world does not rest on my shoulders, or yours, or our generation’s…This is MY FATHER’S world. He created it, He inhabits it, and He has a plan for it. That does not give me an excuse to ignore the problems facing our planet. It does not give me the right or the privilege of passing the problems along to someone else, where action can and should be taken. But it does remind me that God has not left us alone and helpless to stop an environmental apocalypse left to us by previous generations and accelerated by our own.
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  • GOD created the heavens and the Earth. God, who knows the end from the beginning. God designed our planet, our atmosphere, our universe. What even the best of our scientists know about our planet is infinitely smaller than what God knows, and what even the boldest plans of man propose are nothing to the power of God to heal and restore. That doesn’t mean we don’t need to be concerned about things that are happening– but we can’t let our concerns turn to despair and doubt. When the nation of Israel first entered the promised land, God gave them a list of blessings and curses. (Deuteronomy, chapter 28) If they obeyed, they would be blessed. If they were disobedient, they would be cursed. Many of these blessings and curses relate directly to the land and weather. God is still in control of nature, but this leads me to…
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  • God gave stewardship of the Earth to mankind. We are to be the daily caretakers of God’s Earth. That there are so many problems with our environment shows that mankind as a whole has failed to obey God in this matter. We are not under the direct blessings and curses that came to Israel in the promised land, but there is still a correlation–as Sin proliferates, so does death and destruction– including that of the world around us. That doesn’t give me the right to point the finger at others and justify my own disobedience because “at least I don’t…,” or “at least I do…”
    God expects me to act in ways that protect, preserve, or develop the environment to benefit those around me and give glory to Him. This includes the way I interact with the land, water, air, plants, animals, and other people. It includes the actions I take to destroy harmful plants and animals; to protect the soil and water; to dispose of waste; to eat; to build, or heat, or cool buildings; what I eat and drink and wear. It even includes being informed about second-hand resources that I buy and use, and whether or not those resources are being stewarded well by others. This doesn’t mean becoming an environmental Pharisee– publicly calling out all my neighbors who still use plastic bags or buy products from “that” company. And it doesn’t mean I must become a vegan, or a homesteader or give up my computer or cell phone. But what can I do to become a better steward?
  • Is it possible that my attitude toward the environment is coming from a lack of exposure to both the environment itself and its maker? Am I spending more time reading about climate change than I am spending in the climate itself? Have I thanked God for the world He created? Do I take the time to notice the beauty in a blade of grass, or the colors in a sunset, or the mystery of running water, and marvel at God’s handiwork? How would my view of Nature change if I developed my relationship with its maker?
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  • Lastly, I need to engage with others to find ways we all can become better stewards– not (necessarily) by bashing people over the head with statistics and mandates, but getting the facts– not just the hype or the denials–and sharing practical ideas.

I don’t have to save the world– that is God’s job; He’s the only one who can. But I CAN do my part to protect, preserve, develop, and enjoy all the beauty He created. And in doing so, I pray that I can help others see the One who loved us all enough to create such a beautiful home!

I Surrender All?

I have been revisiting old hymns lately as I write about my pursuit of prayer. This is partly because I believe that prayer is a form of worship, and is closely tied to other forms of worship– meditation, singing, etc.. Sometimes, it can be helpful to pray songs or to sing prayers– look at the entire book of Psalms!

Our church has recently been involved in revival services– two weeks of time set aside to evaluate our daily walk with Christ. We need periods of revival and refreshment, conviction and confession, repentance and reflection. Without them, we will wander; without them we will wither and grow cold, and lose sight of our first love.

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One of the first nights, we explored the idea of surrender. We say that we trust God; that Jesus is Lord, that we are followers of Christ…but do we really demonstrate those truths by the way we live? Have we really surrendered our will, our lives, our futures to God? We claim that He is sovereign over big things– all of creation, world affairs, and such–but is He Lord over the little things? Do I trust Him with my reputation when someone misrepresents me to others? Do I trust Him with my diet when I am tempted to overeat? Do I trust Him with my time when someone asks me to help them on my day off?

One of the keys to this hymn (and to prayer) is in the first verse– “..in His presence daily live.” There are times when I feel the need to surrender; times when I feel wholly surrendered and devoted. But there will be other days when the feeling just isn’t there. My surrender needs to happen daily– in the “good” times and in the “difficult” times. Sometimes, I just need to pray that the Holy Spirit will guide and empower me to recognize and surrender those areas that I have tried to “take back” from Him.

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And then, I need to be intentional about letting go–one piece at a time, if necessary–each day saying, “Yes” to God instead of “Yes” to those things that pull me away. It’s not always easy to say, “I surrender all.” It’s even harder to actually follow through. We want to hang on to things that are comfortable, familiar, even “good.” We want to hang on to things that seem to promise safety, success, or fulfillment– even when God offers more.

I’m not writing this because I have mastered the discipline of surrender– I need to learn to let go, to trust God more, to risk what I cannot keep to gain what I cannot lose (paraphrasing from Jim Elliot–https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/jim_elliot_189244.
That is my prayer today, for myself, and for others.

I Am..

There are many ways to describe who I am (or who you are). I can describe myself in terms of my appearance, my social status, my occupation, age, familial role, or any number of other labels. These labels help distinguish me from other people around me, while also grouping me in with still others. Even my name functions in this way. My surname connects me with my current family; my maiden name with my birth family–my first name distinguishes me from my siblings within the family. However, there are many others in the world with either the same first name, surname, or both!

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I know that I am a unique person, but I am not singular. That is to say that while I am a unique combination of genetic materials, with unique hopes and dreams, I still belong to the human race, to my family group, and to the culture and time in which I live.

Only God can say “I AM!” and not have to add any modifier. God is..God. There is no one like God–no label that can be applied to Him and to anyone or anything else. We use words like “King”, “Father”, “Lord”, “He” even “God”, but none of them convey the fullness, the enormity, the eternity of the great “I AM.” Many ancient cultures worshiped gods; supernatural beings who ate and drank, married and had families, ruled the skies or waters or land or underworld, fought, loved– some even died. But none of them could say they were “I AM”. I AM stands in the face of doubt and unbelief; I AM remains unchanged and unchanging in the face of progress and technology; I AM defeats our attempts to shrink Him into our own limited understanding and our own limited lifespan; I AM is ever present, ever aware, everlasting.

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And this I AM created each of us to BE. Because of I AM, I can say that I am, too! And my purpose is to be, and to become more like He is, to the glory of I AM, and the fulfillment of what I am in Him.

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Lord, Father, and the great I AM– help me to see you more clearly for who you are. Help me to become more like you, and more like the person you created me to be. Help me to reflect your glory in the words I speak and the actions I take today.

Panic, Prayer, Praise, Peace!

Philippians 4:6 New International Version (NIV)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Philippians+4%3A6&version=NIV

I hope that today will be filled with peace, joy, and blessing for anyone reading this. But I know that today will bring bad news for some, pain for others, and hardship for many. Life is filled with struggle, disappointment, failures, and loss. Our first reaction is often to worry, which can lead to more worry, and a sense of urgency, even panic. In many cases, we have neither the resources nor the wisdom to overcome our struggles–even sustained effort or a “lucky break” may leave us without much hope. And the more we worry, the less we accomplish. But telling ourselves (or others) to simply “stop worrying” doesn’t banish worry; sometimes it increases it! Now we worry about worrying too much, or we find new things to worry about.

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But there is a time-honored and proven pattern that can help. Jesus spoke of it in His “Sermon on the Mount.” In Matthew 6, He gives us this advice:

“So do not worry, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or “What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Matthew 6:31-34 (NIV)
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The Apostle Paul expanded on this in his letter to the Philippian believers. He told them to be anxious for nothing–that regardless of our situation or circumstances, we should not panic, but pray (seek God’s grace, righteousness, wisdom, and help). But more than that, we should present all of our prayers, petitions, and requests with thanksgiving and praise!

This is not the same as pretending that our struggles don’t exist, or that they are not important, or that we are glad about the pain, uncertainty, or hardship that they bring. Instead it is lifting our eyes to Heaven and finding that God is bigger than it all; that His grace, His strength, His wisdom is sufficient for the next step– for today’s worries–for today’s battles and burdens.

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This doesn’t happen naturally or automatically–we must seek, pray, pursue righteousness, ask for help, and continue to stand firm. There are some who point to the words of Jesus, or of Paul as a kind of “magic formula.” If we repeat a few promises from the Bible, or if we pray certain prayers, or convince ourselves and others that we have “enough” faith, God is obligated to change our circumstances and give us the resolution or relief we want. God is not primarily interested in our relief– He is interested in our redemption, our renewal, and our eternal reality. In following this pattern of turning our panic into prayer, and our prayer into praise, He promises that we will experience His peace. Our panic will be transformed–even if our situation stays the same; even if it gets worse before it gets better!

So how do we practice this pattern; how do we train for this transformation?

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Here are a couple of suggestions:

  • Start by seeking God with abandon–pursue Him with your whole heart– thank Him for who He is, and for all He has done. It can be helpful to review some of the names of God–I AM, Almighty, Creator, Lord, King of Kings.. Or read a Psalm or find a song that reminds you of God’s character and power. Think of the times when God has been faithful in your own past.
  • Find something about your situation for which you can be thankful– genuinely thankful. Years ago, when I was young and single, I was laid off from my first full-time job after nine months. Was I worried? Yes! Where would I find another job? How would I pay my bills? But I resolved to start being thankful about all I had learned on the job– I had met new people, learned new skills, purchased a car…God knew my needs for the future, and even though I had to wait another eight months before I found a full-time job, I was able to find temporary work and interview for other jobs in the meantime. And I had friends and family who offered good advice and encouragement along the way. I know some situations are more painful and perplexing than the loss of a job. When I my father died, nothing made the pain less, but I could thank God for Dad’s life and the time we had with him. This is NOT easy, nor is it meant to be…It may not happen for days, or weeks–don’t give up!
  • Cry out to God– in praise, but also in petition, pain, confusion, confession, and raw emotion. God wants a real relationship with us, and that includes walking with us in the “valley of the shadow of death.” We don’t have to fear evil, or worry about the future, not because it holds no danger or dread, but because we never have to walk alone and defenseless!
  • Remember this is a pattern to follow, not a pill to swallow–none of this comes easy, and God’s peace is not an instant “fix.” Instead, it is a growing conviction that God is who He says He is– faithful, loving, victorious, eternal, and sovereign. Such peace defies our panic and erodes our worry, leaving us ready to face the battles before us, and move forward through the struggles.
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It is not will power or a change of circumstances that brings incomprehensible peace. It is not magic– it is Majesty!

Prayers for Harvest

I love the autumn harvest season, and I believe it has many lessons for us about prayer:

  • There is a time and season for harvest. We cannot harvest at our convenience; neither should we expect God’s answers and our circumstances to arrange themselves around our wishes. Instead, as we pray, we should watch and wait, ready to do what is necessary in the meantime, and ready when the time is right for harvest. Too soon or too late, and we will miss the best of the crop, or lose it altogether. If we pray for a harvest, we must be willing to wait on God’s timing.
  • Harvest is a season among other seasons– not a single event. If I pick apples this fall, that is not the end of apples. There will be more apples to harvest next autumn, and the following year. Sometimes, we must wait through several seasons to see the harvest; seasons of rain, sun, even snow and cold dark days. We must be faithful to keep praying for the next harvest, and the next…
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  • The harvest bears little resemblance to what we planted. If I plant an ugly bulb in the ground this fall, I may see a beautiful tulip next spring–unless I plant an onion bulb! If I plant some tiny black seeds in the spring, I may harvest a large orange carrot later in the summer. If I plant kernels of corn, I will get new kernels, but they will be on an ear on a tall stalk. If we are praying for a harvest, it may come in ways and shapes and circumstances that will surprise, or even mystify us. Often, we pray for what we imagine we could do– instead, we need to learn to ask for what only God can do!
  • We cannot control the harvest– we can plant the seeds, fertilize them, tend them, weed them, water them, prune them–but we cannot predict or guarantee the results. But if we do nothing, we will not see any harvest at all. Similarly, we do not control God’s answers to our prayers, but we will see no growth, no harvest, if we do not pray at all, or if we give up.
  • Harvest is gathering the crop (and the seeds for a new crop). We need to gather prayer requests, thanksgiving lists, areas of conviction, songs of praise; we need to present a bountiful harvest of prayer–an offering and a fragrant sacrifice to the giver of all good things!
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From Fiery Furnace to “The Dew of Heaven”

God is all-powerful. He is sovereign over all the universe for all eternity. He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. Yet, in His majesty, He is merciful; unwilling that any should perish.

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In the book if Daniel, we encountered the familiar story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who were thrown into a fiery furnace for failing to bow down to a giant statue commissioned by King Nebuchadnezzar. The mighty king of Babylon was an absolute ruler, and failure to obey one of his decrees could result in death. That it did not end in death for the three young men baffled and impressed their king. But it didn’t change him.

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The very next story in the book of Daniel is one that is less familiar– it is another curious interjection into a book of (seemingly) disjointed stories. In chapter three, Daniel narrates his friends’ story, in which he is curiously absent. In chapter four, Nebuchadnezzar is the narrator, Daniel is one of the characters, and his three friends are never mentioned. (Because Nebuchadnezzar is narrating, he uses Daniel’s Babylonian name, Belteshazzar.)

The chapter begins almost as a mirror image of chapter 2, except the writing style is very different–more formalized, and written more as a proclamation. (https://biblia.com/bible/esv/Dan%204) Nebuchadnezzar is being troubled by a recurring dream. Once again, he calls in all the astrologers, sorcerers, etc., to interpret the dream. However (whether because Nebuchadnezzar is narrating, or because he has learned a little self-control), this time there are no threats involved, and when the lesser wise men fail, Nebuchadnezzar himself sends for Daniel, confident that Daniel can provide an answer. Nebuchadnezzar actually flatters Daniel as he asks for an interpretation, but Daniel is still cautious. This dream is more disturbing than the first, because it is more personal and immediate. God is warning Nebuchadnezzar directly that his pride has gotten out of control and God is about to step in a pronounce judgment on it. God will teach Nebuchadnezzar about humility by causing him to lose everything, including his mind!

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Daniel carefully gives Nebuchadnezzar the interpretation and the warning from God, and adds his own wish that his king might escape punishment by humbling himself before the Almighty God. But in a year’s time, Nebuchadnezzar forgets. In the very act of praising himself, Nebuchadnezzar hears the voice of God, who drives him away from his kingdom, from society, and from rationality. For seven years, Nebuchadnezzar lives as a beast, eating grass, roaming outdoors, and covered with “the dew of heaven”. At the end of that time, he comes to his senses and is restored to his mighty kingdom a wiser, humbler, and grateful monarch.

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What a contrast between these two rulers! Nebuchadnezzar demanded total loyalty and obedience. When it wasn’t given, the reaction was instant fury and a sentence of death. God is the One who ultimately deserves our total loyalty and obedience. When it isn’t given, the sentence is death (Romans 6:23a). But God, who has the complete authority to pronounce the death sentence, is more interested in deliverance than in destruction. Make no mistake, God will punish Sin; God will destroy those who persist in evil and rebel against Him. But God’s heart is reconciliation and redemption. God did not kill Nebuchadnezzar; He didn’t strike out at him in fury and cast him immediately into the fiery furnace of Hell–though He had the power and authority to do so. God had given Nebuchadnezzar his life, his power and his kingdom. He took it away. And then he restored it. God took away Nebuchadnezzar’s ability to reason– and he restored that too. And while Nebuchadnezzar was living as a brute beast– in the middle of his punishment– he was covered with “the dew of heaven.”

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Curiously, this phrase, “the dew of heaven” is used all the way back in the book of Genesis. It is used by Isaac as he blesses his son Jacob (disguised as Esau). https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+27%3A+27-29&version=ESV Even as Jacob was practicing deception that would have dire consequences, God’s blessing was being poured out on him by his father. And centuries later, in his midst of punishment, Nebuchadnezzar was blessed by God, who provided for his needs, and ended up giving back all that had been lost because of Nebuchadnezzar’s pride.

God punishes– He punishes those He loves! He teaches, humbles, and disciplines. But He is not in the business of destruction. He was with Nebuchadnezzar throughout his period of madness and humiliation, ready to restore (and even increase) all that he had lost.

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May we honor this God of grace and mercy– his mercies are greater than his wrath, and his grace is greater than all our sin! Nebuchadnezzar finally learned to praise, worship, honor, and obey the “Most High God.” May we do the same.

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