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Peer pressure, pride and regret. When most people read Daniel 6, they admire Daniel’s integrity or consider what they can learn from him. But what can we learn from Darius? Darius was a new king who greatly respected and trusted Daniel and appointed him as one of the top leaders of the land. He knew that Daniel was a man with an extraordinary spirit—wise, honest and full of integrity. Darius intended to appoint him over the entire kingdom. (Daniel 6:3) We will see when we get to Daniel 6:16 that Darius knew that Daniel served God continually. Daniel was dedicated; his faith was not something that he took lightly.

The other leaders knew this too, but they didn’t admire Daniel; they were envious of him. So they conspired against him. However, they could find nothing to charge him with because all his ways were upright. They knew that the only way they could entrap him was to make a law that contradicted a law of God. They lied to Darius, telling him that everyone was in agreement with their proposal. Since Daniel was one of the top leaders, Darius would have assumed that Daniel was included in the “everyone”, but he obviously was not. Daniel would never have agreed to a plan that would make it unlawful for him to pray to his God. What made Darius agree to such a thing? His pride allowed him to be deceived by the flattery and false promises of men who had ulterior motives. Interestingly in Daniel 4:37, Nebuchadnezzar recognized God’s power to bring down those who live in pride. Daniel had explained that very thing to Nebuchadnezzar’s son just before Darius became king. (Daniel 5:18-20) Now Darius was falling into the same trap, and would risk the life of the man whom he trusted to oversee his entire kingdom.

When Darius learned that Daniel was to be convicted, he immediately regretted his actions. There was no doubt that Daniel was guilty; Daniel did not deny it. Nor did he do anything to try to save himself. Though he had no assurance that God would save him, he trusted God to do whatever He deemed best. Darius did try to do something, but unfortunately there was nothing he could do. The best he could offer was to encourage Daniel with the words that his God would rescue him. Darius would certainly not have signed this edict if he had considered the possible consequences of his actions, but he only realized them when it was too late. For some reason the Medes and Persians trusted their kings to make such good laws that there was no recourse or appeals process to change them. (Esther 1:19, Esther 8:8) Was this pride too? In both Esther and Daniel, the result was regret. Thankfully, in both cases there were people who prayed to God, and God demonstrated that He was more powerful than the most adverse circumstances.

God saved Daniel from the lions, and He gave Darius a second chance. His next edict was that throughout his kingdom the God of Daniel was to be worshipped. If Daniel (and Darius) had not gone through this hardship they would have missed the opportunity to testify to God’s power and glorify Him. So what can we learn from Darius? 1. Consider people’s motives when they pressure you to do something. 2. Consider the consequences before you make a decision. 3. Don’t let foolish pride sway your choices. 4. Trust God to take care of things when you can’t.

Stress, stress, so much stress. Every day seems to bring a new problem that I don’t know the solution for. I know I am not alone. Lamentations 3:1-20 (and for that matter Lamentations 1-2) recounts the stresses, the devastation really, that Jeremiah faced. The people of Israel had been taken captive and Jerusalem had been destroyed. Jeremiah lamented his situation, dwelt on it and was completely depressed and hopeless. When I look at what Jeremiah was facing, and what others around me are facing it helps to put my problems into perspective. But as long as I focus on my problems, I, like Jeremiah, will be downcast.

The people of Israel were being punished for their acts of rebellion. That is not the reason for our trials. Romans 8:1 tells us that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. But the Lord still uses these trials to restore us to righteousness when necessary and also to teach us and shape us into the people that he wants us to be. Romans 5:3-5 tells us that we can rejoice in our sufferings, because they will produce endurance, character and hope. Hope is not merely wishful thinking; it is a confident expectation that God will keep His promises to us just as He kept His covenant with Israel.

In Lamentations 3:21, Jeremiah changes his focus. He looks instead to God and realizes that it is because of God’s mercy that the tribe of Israel was not consumed altogether. And because of God’s mercy the same is true for us. The stressful situations may be endless, but the loving kindness and compassion of the Lord never end either. Every day He has new mercies for us. (Lamentations 3:22-24) Let us, as Jeremiah did, put our hope and trust in Him.

The Israelites were slow learners. They had witnessed many signs and miracles attesting to the power of God, and yet they still had trouble believing. Exodus 7:14-11:10 recounts the ten plagues that God brought on Egypt to convince Pharoah to let the Israelites go. God led them out of Egypt, and yet when they got to a place where they appeared to be trapped on all sides (Exodus 14:2-3) they forgot that they could rely on the power and the love of God. We do the same thing all too often.

When the Israelites felt the Egyptians closing in on them, they became afraid and cried out. But they did not cry out for help in prayer to God; they cried out in sarcasm and complaint against Moses. (Exodus 14:11-12) They would rather continue to live in slavery to the Egyptians than to face the unknown and trust God to keep His word and bring them to the land He had promised them. (Exodus 13:5)

What was Moses’ response to this outcry? He comforted and encouraged them. He told them not to be afraid, and that God would surely deliver them. God would fight for them; they needed only to be still. (Exodus 14:13-14) The end of verse 14 has been translated a few ways that give a slightly different interpretation. The NET Bible says, “and you can be still”. This is a privilege: you don’t have to worry or fret; everything is taken care of. The New Living Translation says, “Just stay calm.” The New Revised Standard Version says, “you have only to keep still”. Other versions say that they needed to be quiet or silent. In any case, the Israelites just needed to stand there and keep their mouths shut. It doesn’t really seem like so much to ask, considering the solution that the situation called for, but you can bet that it was a challenge for them.

There are other passages in the Bible that tell us that we must be prepared, and that we need to not be lazy, but to earn our own way. (Proverbs 21:31, Proverbs 24:27, Proverbs 24:33-34, II Thessalonians 3:11-12) How do we know when we need to act or just wait on the Lord? The key, I think, is where we have put our attention. If we are focused on God instead of our circumstances, He will guide us, and He will give us peace. If we have ended up in a situation through our own bad choices, we need to ask Him for mercy and forgiveness, but if He has brought us into a situation, we can be sure that He already knows the way out. We need to trust Him. Remember that Peter was able to walk on water as long as he was concentrating on Jesus, but as soon as he started thinking about the strong wind, he began to sink. (Matthew 14:28-30) As my friend Ann Mainse would say, “Keep your eyes on Jesus; it’s all about Him.”

“My grace is sufficient”, Christ says. Sometimes I repeat this promise over and over to myself. Some days I need it more than others. We find this promise in II Corinthians 12:7-9. The apostle Paul had prayed three times that God would remove a thorn from his flesh. It is never specified what this thorn actually was, whether it was a physical ailment, temptation, opposition from his enemies or anything else. Perhaps it was not specified so that we would feel free to apply the principle to our own thorns. No matter what our trial is, God’s grace is sufficient.

According to Paul, the thorn was a tool of Satan to make him suffer, but in the end God used it for good, just as he had with Joseph. (January 31, 2011) God didn’t answer Paul’s prayer the way he had wanted it answered, but God did answer, and He gave Paul something better. Paul was given the power of Christ, the grace of Christ, to endure whatever struggle he was going through. Just because God doesn’t take our suffering away, doesn’t mean that He doesn’t have the power or that He doesn’t care, or that as some think, He doesn’t exist. Sometimes there is a purpose for our suffering, a greater good, even if we can’t always see it.

In the garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus was facing death on the cross, He also prayed three times for the Father to spare Him from the pain. But He endured death on the cross because He knew that the Father had a greater purpose. He endured it with joy (Hebrews 12:2), not because He wanted to go through such torture, but because He trusted God to do what was best.

In Paul’s case, the constant thorn in his side was a reminder that he couldn’t accomplish his ministry as effectively, if at all, without the power of God working through him. If Paul had been able to do everything in his own strength he would have become arrogant, and I think it’s safe to say that many of the rest of us would as well. Paul’s thorn kept him humble, and it kept him relying on the grace of God. What is God teaching you through your thorns? If you don’t know, ask Him. Instead of complaining about your struggles, ask God what He wants you to learn from them. Ask Him what He will do through you because you have surrendered yourself to Him. By all means, ask Him to take the pain away too, but realize that He might have a reason for leaving you in it.

“When the world says you’re not good enough, get a second opinion.” These words were spoken by Nick Vujicic, a man who was born without arms and legs, and who now spends his time travelling around the world speaking to audiences that range from high school students to prisoners. He tells them how much God loves them and how valuable they are in God’s eyes. (Nick’s website is: http://www.lifewithoutlimbs.org)

In Psalm 139:17-18, David cannot fathom how much God cares for him. Think about this. The creator of the universe cares for each one of us so much that we could not possibly count the number of thoughts He has about us. You might think that those thoughts were just for David, because after all God chose David to be king, and David was a man after God’s own heart. Perhaps you think that these verses don’t apply to you. They do. So many other verses in the Bible reinforce this point. (John 3:16, Ephesians 2:4-5, I John 4:10, Romans 5:8, II Thessalonians 2:16, Romans 5:5, I John 3:1, Romans 8:38-39)

The psalmist elaborates in Psalm 139:1-16 how well and intricately God knows him. This is how He knows us too. God is aware of everything you do, everywhere you go, every word you say. He is with you each step of the way, and He is there to steady and guide you (verse 10). He knew you before you were born, and He is the one who formed you in your mother’s womb. (Jeremiah 1:5) He knows us this well, better than we know ourselves, and yet He still loves us. Realizing all this prompted David to give thanks to God. (Psalm 139:14) We might not always understand how awesome and amazing God is. We might not be able to get our heads around His power that is so much greater than ours, but even then God is with us every step of the way, and we should remember to thank Him for it.

On Monday, we looked at Jeremiah 17:5-6, and saw that those who do not trust in the Lord will be cursed. They will be like a shrub that lives in a barren land, unable to thrive. I promised that today I would show you the other, more encouraging, side of the coin. It is found in Jeremiah 17:7-8.

Those who are blessed by the Lord will be like a tree planted near streams of water. They will have a constant supply, and they will develop a good root system. They will not need to fear the heat or the occasional drought. When hard times come they will have the strength to face them, and come through to the other side. They will always be vibrant, and fruitful. Despite whatever is going on in the climate around them, they will be able to be productive because they are well rooted to their source of life.

What must we do to be blessed this way? We must trust God, put our confidence in Him. This is so much easier to say than to do. Recently I was involved in a Bible study on the topic of trusting God, so I have become much more aware of the fact that I usually don’t. Yes, I pray for help, especially when things get really tough, but generally I try to do things on my own. I try to work things out, plan for the future, prepare. I have found that things don’t always turn out the way you plan. And sometimes, when God is trying to teach you how to trust in Him, they seldom turn out the way you plan! But since I’ve been doing this Bible study, I’ve been learning to say, “Okay, God, I trust you. I am leaving this in your hands. Please let me know what I need to do, and I will let you take care of the rest.” It is amazing how well circumstances can work out when you leave God in control. Try it. I believe that the more you consciously give control over to God and trust in Him, the easier and more habitual it will become, and you will be blessed.

In my last post, I mentioned that God wants us to rely on Him. The prophet’s words in Jeremiah 17:5-6 make that clear. Those who rely on themselves or on other humans will be cursed. In Jeremiah 17:1-4, we see that the people of Judah were worshipping and relying on idols. They provoked God to anger which resulted in them being carried off into captivity. In verses 5 and 6, Jeremiah is warning the people that those who trust in any human, including themselves will not succeed. When you trust in others, you will be let down. When you trust in yourself, you will be let down. In fact, God’s words through Jeremiah are so much stronger than that. Only God is infallible. When you don’t trust in Him, you will be cursed.

You will remember, I hope, from a previous post (February 28, 2011), that God is slow to anger. (Nahum 1:3, Exodus 34:6, Psalm 145:8, Joel 2:13). It is not that the people of Judah slipped up just once. They repeatedly rejected the Lord their God who brought them out of Egypt into the promised land. If you read about their journey, you will see the pattern repeat itself over and over again.

God is patient with us too, but what Jeremiah said to the people of Judah also applies to us. When we don’t invite God into our lives, not only our hearts, but our everyday activities, we will be like a shrub in a dry land. Our roots won’t be strong enough to get to the water, and we won’t be able to grow. We may get along for a little while, but we will not thrive.

I think the reason that many people reject God is that they want to be independent; they don’t want to give up control of their lives. They somehow think that if they surrender themselves to God, they will be giving up their freedom, and their lives will be dreary and dull. In fact, the opposite is true. Come back on Wednesday to see the other side of this coin.

There are so many scary things happening in our world lately: earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes erupting, civil wars, governments being overthrown…. It is not surprising that people would be afraid, but the encouragement of II Timothy 1:7 came to my mind. I think we need to understand what is meant by fear in this verse. There is certainly a place for being cautious when we are facing dangerous situations, but we also need to be brave and trust in God’s power. Words like “Fear not” and “Be strong and courageous” are used often throughout the Bible. (Matthew 14:27, Luke 1:30, John 6:20, Jeremiah 1:8, Deuteronomy 31:23, I Corinthians 16:13)

When Paul wrote to Timothy, it was not in the context of natural disasters or political upheaval; he was exhorting him and encouraging him not to be timid or cowardly when facing people who would disagree with his ministry. In II Timothy 1:5 Paul expresses his confidence in Timothy’s faith, then in II Timothy 1:6 reminds him to make use of the gifts that God has given him. Paul knew that the spirit of fear did not come from God. This wasn’t just a theory for Paul; he had been through enough trials (II Corinthians 11:24-33) that it would have been perfectly understandable for him to be afraid. Instead he relied on the power of God.

You, too, have access to God’s power. That doesn’t mean that you won’t face hardships; it means that you have a source of strength and courage to get through them. If God has called us to do something, He will give us everything we need to do it. (Philippians 4:13). He desires for us to rely on Him. (Psalm 27:14) As Paul told Timothy, there is no need to be afraid.

The question asked in Psalm 119:9 is asked about a young person, but the answer would certainly apply to anyone at any age. The sooner you start the better, but it's never too late.

Psalm 119 is the longest psalm and the longest chapter in the Bible. It is divided into 22 sections, each with eight verses. Each of the sections is represented by a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and each of the verses begins with the letter of that section. Psalm 119:9-16 is the second section and answers the question, “How can a young person maintain a pure life?” The answer is by following God's Word.

God gave us His Word as a gift. In this psalm, as elsewhere in the Bible, God’s word is sometimes also referred to as “law”, “testimonies”, “ways”, “precepts”, “statutes”, “commandments”, “judgements” and “ordinances”, but He did not give it to us to make our lives harder. He gave it to us so that things would go well with us, our days may be prolonged and that we may be blessed. (Deuteronomy 6:1-3)

Its mere existence is not enough however; we must have a part in making it useful in our lives. The psalmist sought the Lord with all his heart, prayed for the Lord’s help to keep His commands (Psalm 119:10), stored up His word (Psalm 119:11), praised the Lord (Psalm 119:12), proclaimed (Psalm 119:13), rejoiced in (Psalm 119:14), meditated on (Psalm 119:15) and delighted in (Psalm 119:16) His word. We need to do more than have a Bible sitting on our bookshelf. We need to read it, meditate on it and apply it to our lives.

Some people get a little confused about meditation because its meaning varies according to context. To meditate on the Word of God is to think about it, mull it over, keep it in our minds. It is a very good practice to memorize it. Then you will have it with you whether you have a Bible with you or not. Jesus didn’t have a scroll with Him when He was tempted in the desert, but He answered the devil by quoting scripture. (Luke 4:1-13) No matter what situation you are in, if you have God’s word in your heart, you will have a source of encouragement, hope and guidance. (Psalm 130:5, Psalm 119:11)

Tips for Memorizing Scripture
(This is my paraphrase of tips given by Robert J. Morgan, author of 100 Bible Verses Everyone Should Know By Heart.)

Choose your verse, decide how long until you want it memorized--a week, three days, whatever--then memorize one word at a time. The first word will be pretty easy. For example, John 3:16, the first word is "For". It won't take you long to memorize that! Then add the second word, the third, etc. Repeat each for however much time you've allowed yourself depending on your goal for completion and keeping in mind that successive words will need more time. The first word might only need a minute. By the time you get to "For this is the way God loved the world", you might need several hours. Keep repeating each section until you have it; then add the next to what you already know. Anyone can memorize anything if they do it one word at a time.

I often hear my friends say that they feel guilty about one thing or another. Why is it that we feel guilty? Are we brought up that way? If we are in Christ Jesus, there is no reason to feel guilty. (Romans 8:1)

Romans 8:33-34 asks us who can bring any charge against us. Who can condemn us? Since it is God who justifies us, no one can bring a charge against us. No one can overrule His verdict. There is no higher court of appeal. Since it was Christ who died as a penalty for our sins, and since the power to judge us has been given to Him, (John 5:27) only He can condemn us. But He does not. He is interceding for us. He is taking our requests to the Father even when we can’t articulate them. (Romans 8:26)

Don’t get me wrong. There are consequences to our actions when we do things that we shouldn’t, and we do still have to abide by the laws of our land. We have, however, already been forgiven for all of these things. The price has been paid, and there is no eternal condemnation. Yes, there will still be trials and struggles, but God has overcome all of these things, and they are temporary. We can have hope and assurance of salvation.

If we do our best to make decisions with a pure heart and right motives, we should have no reason to feel guilty. It is the forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12) that are fighting against us and trying to make us less effective by deceiving us this way. If you are feeling guilty about anything, examine your reasons. Have you done something that you need to rectify? Do you need to ask forgiveness of someone? If so, remember that you are already forgiven by God, but you need to take the necessary steps to fix things with your friend or family member. (Matthew 18:15) If not, tell Satan to get out of your face. (Mark 8:33)