Blog Archive

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Long Road

How do I apologize for being MIA these last several months—“missing in action” on this blog, online, via e-mail? This long road I’ve traveled grows longer by the day, stretching out just a little farther every time I sigh with relief to think I’ve glimpsed its end. It’s a road of growth that and discipline that makes me think boot camp must be easier.

If you endure discipline, God is dealing with you as with His own children. For who is the child whom a father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become sharers, then you are bastards, not sons and daughters.
Hebrews 12:7-8

Excuses come readily. I might say that there’s been an unrivaled degree of stress in my life. Certainly I’ve endured affliction. More than once, I’ve simply offered (truthfully) that I’m struggling with health issues. With those closest to me, I’ve shared details of stresses and afflictions enormous enough to provoke those health issues.

But when all is said and done …

When I look at the last 51 months through spiritual lenses …

When I’m honest with God, myself, and others …

I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are right,
And that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.
Psalm 119:75 (NKJV)

This road has been long because I still have far too much pride and my good Father is working it out of me. He is my Father, and my Maker, and my Lord. He is wise and loving and knows the means by which He may best change and break and rebuild me. I’ve thought Him too tough on me and have foolishly shrunk back from His hand, insisting on a bit of relief from the furnace of refinement.

Unless Your law had been my delight,
I would then have perished in my affliction.
Psalm 119:92 (NKJV)

The end of this long road is not yet in sight. I don’t say that I’ve learned or grown enough to have gained the privilege of travelling a new road. I make no promise of when I’ll find sufficient spirit to write again. (There’s been no “writer’s block”—my fingers often punch out black words against white, but then my heart withers before finishing them.)

But as long as I have breath, I shall continue to declare the goodness of my beloved Lord.

This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
Through the LORD's mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:21-23 (NKJV)

Comments are welcome (including respectful disagreement) and will receive a reply.
You may also contact author via Twitter – @anne4JC
or e-mail – use *after* buildingHisbody
Copyright 2013, Anne Lang Bundy, all rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Why Believe in God?

Note that the question here is "why believe in God?" and not "why believe of God?" Demons believe of God (James 2:19), creation testifies of God (Romans 1:20), and conscience—conscience which defies humanity's nature for self-indulgence—could not exist outside understanding of right and wrong ("do not steal," "do not murder") which is of God (Romans 2:14-15). God provides ample, visible proof of His existence to those who are unpretentious enough to look. (A mortal may possess sufficient arrogance to refute the existence of God, but no mortal possesses the infinite knowledge required to make such an assertion with credibility.)

The "why believe in God?" question is one we all ask at some point, regardless of whether or not we think ourselves spiritual, religious, intelligent. It is likely asked most often by those who cannot reconcile the stark reality of human suffering with the idea that God worthy of acceptance. It is asked in every act of disobedience to morality or honor. It is asked by the most devout of God-believers in moments when we comprehend Him least.

Perhaps, in these moments, we are being most honest with ourselves and with Him. We had caught a glimpse, a whiff of divinity, and we thought with delight that we are, after all, capable of understanding with finite minds the reaches of infinity. We presumed that God is reasonable and our faith can therefore be solidly planted on a rock of reason.

But consider the man whom God Himself once upheld as a model believer:

Then the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?"
~ Job 1:8 (NKJV)

The horror to follow seems to have no limit. When all he owns and all he loves are lost, as Job writhes in agony of body, he is at last betrayed by wife of his bosom and comrades alike. How reasonable of God is it to allow His finest servant most extreme suffering for best behavior?

Stretched to his breaking point, Job, the quintessential God-believer, comes to the moment when he comprehends God least.

But I would speak to the Almighty,
And I desire to reason with God.
~ Job 13:3 (NKJV)

Job, man of reason, asks "Why believe in God?" What reason can God give Job to reconcile all the suffering and evil to befall him with the God he has previously deemed worthy of acceptance?

Yet even as Job questions the "why" of believing in God, Job does not stop believing in God.

Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.
~ Job 13:15 (NKJV)

If Job had ceased believing God as good, there would be no purpose in the question. As he languishes in misery, longing for its explanation, Job holds faith in the One allowing the misery. For every cause we find to ask, "Why believe in God," there is a God bigger than the question.

be•lieve /biˈlēv/ verb 1 a : to have a firm religious faith b : to accept something as true, genuine, or real 2 : to have a firm conviction as to the goodness, efficacy, or ability of something

The mind may find a reason to believe in God—to accept Him—but He will eventually defy puny human intellect. The heart may encounter a feeling to believe in God—to put confidence in Him—but He will eventually push us out of our comfort zone and maybe even break our hearts. The physical senses may discover created beauty which inspires belief—conviction—of a good God, but He will also allow us to experience the evil conceived apart from Him.

When belief is challenged in every way, the humble soul may simply ask for the faith which is a gift from God.

Jesus said to him, "If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes." Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!"
~ Mark 9:23-24 (NKJV)

Comments are welcome (including respectful disagreement) and will receive a reply.
You may also contact author via Twitter – @anne4JC
or e-mail – use *after* buildingHisbody
Copyright 2013, Anne Lang Bundy, all rights reserved.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Sorrow Turned Into Joy

"Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy."
~ John 16:20 (NKJV)

This world is filled with sorrow—sorrow that runs long and deep and wide. Although the Word of God and faith testify that "all things work together for good to those who love God" (Romans 8:28), deepest sorrows bring us to the place where "good" seems inconceivable and joy seems irretrievable. In such a place, we may think the best we can do is hang on and wait for Heaven.

Jesus speaks of a different hope.

"A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world."
~ John 16:21 (NKJV)

After carrying five children, I feel qualified on the subject of labor and childbirth. All five deliveries were thoroughly different experiences, with three common factors.

First, the misery of pregnancy went on for an excruciatingly long time. I stand 5'1" tall (154 cm.) and have a short waist. With little other space to fill, my babies pushed into my chest and against my ribs, making breathing difficult. Three trimesters of nausea didn't help. As I neared the end of nine months, each day became agony.

Then there's the extreme pain of delivery. The first time around, a failed epidural added to pain rather than relieved it, so I opted out of medication the remaining four times. I've heard passing kidney stones is worse than childbirth, but all my kids were bigger than my husband's biggest kidney stone, and he never reached the point of crying and exhaustion and screaming that I did.

The third common factor? Extreme exhilaration utterly obliterated all the preceding anguish. I've done some crazy thrilling stuff like skydiving, rappelling, high-speed driving on a track. But seeing a new human emerge from my own body and draw breath—bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh with a life of its own—? Nothing else comes anywhere close to the elation of giving birth.

In retrospect, all the agony was trivial. Each life is worth exceedingly more than the pain to birth it.

Weeping may endure for a night,
But joy comes in the morning.
~ Psalms 30:5 (NKJV)

When I consider that the Holocaust re-birthed the nation of Israel in 1947, I wonder if anything less could have produced this miracle—a people surviving 1,877 years of exile and returning to their homeland as a sovereign nation. Hostile neighbors have threatened their existence for every one of the sixty-six years since, and the "Day of Jacob's Trouble" lies in the not-too-distant future. Israeli suffering persists. Yet the Jews persevere, their life and land worth the cost after centuries of persecution.

This world is filled with sorrow—sorrow that runs long and deep and wide. Longer than pregnancy, more painful than childbirth.

But just as pregnancy and childbirth are necessary to the resulting joy of a new life, the sorrows of this life are used by God to birth in us the life of His Son. While God is saving the greatest joys for Heaven, He may be relied upon to bring us joy each day on Earth. The people of God can ground our hope on the greatest joys following the greatest sorrows.

This is not a "hope," of the wishing variety. This is the hope, assured by Word of God.

"Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you."
~ John 16:22 (NKJV)

Wherever else it may appear, joy is found in seeing Jesus near us, with us, in us.

God Almighty, Giver of life, You are good and faithful. Through dark nights, please let us feel Your life stirring within us. In the longest last hour, please enable us to persevere unto the first strains of dawn. When we are utterly spent, please carry us through to fullness of joy.

Comments are welcome (including respectful disagreement) and will receive a reply.
You may also contact author via Twitter – @anne4JC
or e-mail – use *after* buildingHisbody
Copyright 2013, Anne Lang Bundy, all rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Answers for Religious Persecution

From the last post, "Religious Persecution," (which looked particularly at "in-house" persecution):

Persecution for displaying faith in Christ can be public or private. It may be physical, verbal or emotional abuse. It may be as serious as being killed, as simple as demeaning looks and snide remarks, as intimidating as threats to those we love. It comes from stranger and loved ones alike—and even from misguided Christians with whom we share faith.

Though it's the longest post I've ever offered, what I present here as a five-part answer to persecution only begins to address the suffering a person might endure for choosing to follow Christ. I nonetheless submit it with a prayer that God will use these words to strengthen—to "build up"—every one of His precious people being persecuted; to encourage anyone facing suffering of any kind.

~ ~ ~

1. Choose Jesus

"But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her."
~ Luke 10:42 (NKJV)

To choose Jesus is always to choose the good part. Whatever temptation there may be to "smooth things over" and simply quench faith, the better blessing will be found in Jesus every time. To choose Jesus is to follow both His example and His Spirit's guidance in each situation. Following Christ sometimes means holding our ground, and sometimes means yielding a right.

If persecution arrives as spousal abuse (physical, verbal, or emotional), it's especially painful to be mistreated by the person we love most, from whom love is most expected, with whom God unites us body and soul. It can be particularly difficult to discern when to stand up and when to stand down. If we cling first to Him, we can walk with God through even this.

However and whenever we are confronted face to face with immediate affliction, true faith remains fixed on the unseen (Hebrews 11:1) and the eternal (2 Corinthians 4:17-18) through the moment at hand.

2. Seek Relief from God

Give us help from trouble,
For the help of man is useless.
~ Psalms 60:11 (NKJV)

Do not put your trust in princes,
Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help.
~ Psalms 146:3 (NKJV)

If physical violence is present or threatened, or if persecution violates civil rights, relief is sometimes sought through the courts, police, or other government agencies. Temporal relief is occasionally found, but government too often stands on the side of persecution.

Ideally, the church would never contribute to religious persecution, and would provide a measure of relief through all of life's trials by coming alongside its suffering members in support. But our churches are as imperfect as the humans who fill them, every Christian a work in progress. Whether or not church community lives up to the exhortation, "Bear one another's burdens" (Galatians 6:2), reality is that "each one shall bear his own load" (Galatians 6:5).

In cases of maltreatment from a spouse, our local church might provide immediate encouragement and advice (including biblical information on separation and divorce), perhaps some short-term counseling, and maybe even appropriate confrontation. Maybe. More often, spousal abuse may be seen as marital conflict that's too private (or too messy) for involvement of the church, particularly without the cooperation of the spouse, or in the absence of adultery or civil law violation.

Especially in the USA, we seem to expect quick relief from trouble, via everything from pharmaceuticals to FEMA. Persecution defies remedy through assistance from others. True relief is available from only one Source. The Lord is sovereign over all the suffering He allows in our lives until it has accomplished His intent for it. God alone is able to deliver, whether He sends human assistance, calls His people to come alongside us as support, or works a heart change in a persecutor.

3. Ask for God's Sustenance

"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.
For I am the LORD your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior."
~ Isaiah 43:2-3 (NKJV)

Though God may not grant our request for relief from persecution, we can rely upon Him to sustain us through persecution. While we can count on God's strength to sustain us through any and all suffering, we can especially expect it when we suffer on His account.

Withdrawal is a common reaction to intense pain. We can become weary in prayer when the Lord does not grant, in our timing, requested relief from persecution. But may we never withdraw from prayer! We absolutely need divine strength to stand in the face of persecution. Whether or not He provides relief, He is ever faithful to provide strength in the needed hour if we will but ask.

We are never alone in persecution. The Lord promises to be with us. This is not merely a standing-next-to "with." Through His Holy Spirit, God lives inside of us. And being on the inside, He feels and experiences and goes through everything we go through, as fully as we do. When God says, "I will be with you," He and His sustenance are with us more completely than our finite minds comprehend.

4. Allow the Master to Own the Debt

For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord's freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ's slave.
~ 1 Corinthians 7:22 (NKJV)

Persecution hurts. And the more we have invested in the life of persecutor, the more persecution for faith hurts. The pain of persecution can be accompanied by the pain of anger, or the pain of anger grown stale—bitterness. Full forgiveness is difficult, especially when we continue to face persecutor on a regular or even daily basis.

God owns persecutor and persecuted alike. When we willingly give ourselves to the Lord, we are blessed to know Him as a good and loving Master.

No slave owns himself or anything he holds. All belongs to the master. In the case of a debt, anything owed to the slave is actually owed to the slave's master.

In the case of offense or injury from persecution, our Master owns the debt. We can freely forgive persecutor without being burdened by the debt owed for his sin.

(For more on this thought, see "Forgiveness.")

5. Remember: Witnesses, Jesus, Joy

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every weight, and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Look unto Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross—despising its shame—and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners, lest you become weary and lose heart.
~ Hebrews 12:1-3

• Whether or not actively persecuted for faith, every Christian is on trial, to prove the genuineness of faith in Jesus, every day. Our lives are lived out before human and heavenly witnesses alike (both the good and the evil), our words and actions testimony to the power of God. (For more on trial / temptation / testing, see "Deliver Us From Evil.")

• Endurance can be passive. But persecution begs active perseverance, like running a race—or violently fighting a war (Matthew 11:12). And perseverance requires focus. A runner sets his sights on the finish line. Our focus is on Jesus, seated at the right hand of God's throne, who holds His arms out to us, spurring us onward.

• With our fixed eyes on Jesus, we can push through this life's afflictions. We can be renewed in the past joy of the salvation He's given (Psalm 51:12); we can express joy that we are counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Jesus in the present (Acts 5:41); we can have joy in complete assurance of the future reward awaiting us.

" 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.' "
~ Matthew 25:23 (NKJV)

Comments are welcome (including respectful disagreement) and will receive a reply.
You may also contact author via Twitter – @anne4JC
or e-mail – use *after* buildingHisbody
Copyright 2013, Anne Lang Bundy, all rights reserved.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Religious Persecution

Especially in America—a land settled centuries ago by pilgrims fleeing religious persecution, where freedom of religion and speech are held dear—we tend to think of religious persecution as something occurring far away or long ago. If you are among my readers who lives abroad, or if you are familiar with Voice of the Martyrs, you are likely aware that suffering for faith is still prevalent.

The devil has neither disappeared nor slowed with age, and he is personified contempt for God and truth. God's Word warns of our enemy's increasing activity in these last days, and of the many ways we can expect religious persecution to appear near at hand—nearer than we ever thought possible.

"Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.… and 'a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.' " ~ Matthew 10:34,36 (NKJV)

I've been asked what words I might have for a local woman being abused by her husband for her newfound Christian faith. Another woman with growing faith attempted suicide after her well-educated father made a case against the Bible, persuading her that faith in Jesus for help with her problems was foolishly misplaced. From my own family members, I've repeatedly received ridicule, profanity and contempt because I cling to Christ.

…'a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.'

Shamefully, the household of Christ is not immune to the devil's lies, and too often allows itself to be his agent of religious persecution. Denominational differences in particular are fertile ground for abuse.

I know of a family that began attending church. The wife and children didn't read the Bible much, because they had difficulty understanding the King James translation. When a friend gave them Bibles written in their native English tongue, they began reading with enthusiasm. But the husband and father threw the new Bibles away, telling his family they would read King James or nothing at all, threatening punishment if they defied him behind his back.

I know a man raised in a denominational church, who found faith as an young adult in an non-denominational church. On Sundays he comes home from church and is asked by his father and family what he learned from the sermon he heard, and is then ridiculed on every point made from the Bible that doesn't line up with their denominational bias.

I know of a group on Facebook called "You know you're a [denomination name] when …" Though I don't identify myself as anything but "Christian," I didn't give much thought to their adding me to the group since its denomination's traditions are grounded in the Bible. I began receiving notifications of their frequent postings, some of them intended to be amusing. When a quite serious and particularly divisive post came to my attention, I added a comment exhorting biblical unity and love in Christ. Other members of the group zeroed in for attack, giving me the most sound verbal thrashing I can ever recall receiving. When another member supported me, they also attacked her. (Since I'm not on Facebook much, I couldn't figure out fast enough how to exit the conversation and the group.)

"Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me." ~ John 15:20-21 (NKJV)

Persecution for displaying faith in Christ can be public or private. It may be physical, verbal or emotional abuse. It may be as serious as being killed, as simple as demeaning looks and snide remarks, as intimidating as threats to those we love. It comes from stranger and loved ones alike—and even from misguided Christians with whom we share faith.

If you are a Christian, this affects you. No Christian stands alone or suffers alone. Every Christian's strengths and gifts benefit the entire body of Christian believers. And when any individual member is weakened by suffering or attack, the entire body is weakened.

For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body … there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it … ~ 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 25-26 (NKJV)

Remember that first example, of a woman abused by her husband for her newfound faith? When I was asked what words of encouragement might be passed to her, I regret that I found myself unequal to a response, being overwhelmed by my own suffering at the time. The question has haunted me ever since.

How God's Word has encouraged me and what I would share with those undergoing any form of persecution for faith in Jesus Christ will be the subject of the next post.

Lord Jesus, make us worthy of whatever persecution we may face. Enable us to rejoice that You make us worthy. Strengthen us to stand for Your name and Your Father's name, whatever the cost.

Comments are welcome (including respectful disagreement) and will receive a reply.
You may also contact author via Twitter – @anne4JC
or e-mail – use *after* buildingHisbody
Copyright 2013, Anne Lang Bundy, all rights reserved.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Chronic Pain and the Weak Optimist

Acute pain often accompanies injury. Given enough time, acute becomes chronic. Sometimes, despite doctors and their treatments, defying nutrition and prayer, chronic pain persists.

… a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me … I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." … Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses …
~ 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (NKJV)

A familiar passage—yes? "My grace is sufficient" is oft quoted, a talisman to convey strength amid suffering. It's right up there with "God works all things for good to those who love Him" (Romans 8:28) and "the joy of the LORD is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10).

… I take pleasure in infirmities …

But how often do you hear a Christian quoting that phrase?

[C'mon, Paul—are you for real? (And people say Jesus has some hard sayings …)]

~ ~ ~

My default setting is optimist. When inconvenience strikes (like the dead car battery this morning), I try to remind myself that my time belongs to God (and then give Him thanks for car #2 while trusting Him for how to push a full sized van out of the garage to jump start it later). When something is damaged (like water ruining the basement carpet), I remind myself that it all belongs to God (and then rejoice at His gift of new indoor/outdoor carpet at a ridiculously low price). I consistently maintain a "can do" spirit when plans go awry (usually because I forgot to put something on the calendar and either I or our household's vehicles are double booked).

As a parent, I regularly look for the affirmative way to state directions rather than give a negative prohibition. "HEY! Finish your school work and then you can go outside" instead of "don't run in the house." "PLEASE speak kindly!" rather than "don't talk to your sibling that way." "Take a break from your chore so you can get some time by yourself for a little bit" seems more constructive than "your attitude stinks."

But Paul, through God's Word, pushes me toward a place the optimist has absolutely no desire to visit—a place where optimism wanes.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
~ 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NKJV)

Looking at this passage, I find comfort seeing "in" rather than "for" preceding "everything." There's sufficient struggle in thanking God for whatever good persists in the "everything" rather than for the everything that includes suffering. I readily confess that I'm not quite at the place where I "take pleasure" in a visit from Infirmities et al.

When speaking of that satanic messenger, the translators of 2 Corinthians 12:7 (above) take a little liberty in translating the Greek kolaphízō as "buffet." Surely they're simply trying to convey the buffeting implied by a strong wind. Perhaps the more literal meaning of "a blow, to strike with the fist" seems a little too physical when speaking of warfare that's spiritual.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
~ Ephesians 6:12 (NKJV)

(If you picture a wrestling match, it's about as physical as physical gets.)

We do not wrestle against flesh and blood …

(True enemies are not human, no matter what any human may be responsible for.)

We do not wrestle against flesh and blood …

(But we do wrestle while occupying flesh and blood that experiences chronic pain.)

~ ~ ~

This optimist occupies a human body that just three years ago felt like 25 (see "How Old?"), which has since then taken a … (ahem) "buffeting" [trying not to roll my eyes here]. The optimist makes jokes and laughs about the warranty running out when you turn 50.

Then I stop laughing and look for something deeper. I look for the strength found not in a 25-year old body, nor in a body that feels like 25—strength found only in weakness.

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
~ 2 Corinthians 12:10 (NKJV)

I ask God to renew the joy of my salvation (Psalm 51:12). And I reach for the joy of YHWH that transcends chronic pain and makes me stronger than I've ever been before.

"Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."
~ Nehemiah 8:10 (NKJV)

Comments are welcome (including respectful disagreement) and will receive a reply.
You may also contact author via Twitter – @anne4JC
or e-mail – use *after* buildingHisbody
Copyright 2013, Anne Lang Bundy, all rights reserved.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Epic Failure

One of the most beloved Bible stories for people of all ages is Daniel in the Lion's Den. We are inspired by the great faithfulness Daniel showed to prayer and to God, and by God's response of deliverance by sending an angel to be with Daniel.

Often overlooked is the other key player in the story—King Darius. The sixth chapter of Daniel contains his example as a biblical outline for resolution of epic failure.

1. Snare

So these governors and satraps thronged before the king: "King Darius, live forever! … establish a royal statute and to make a firm decree, that whoever petitions any god or man for thirty days, except you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions." … Therefore King Darius signed the written decree. (v. 6-7, 9)

Fear or lust can be the snare that sets us up for an epic failure. But they are rooted in what is surely the number one reason we fail: pride.

2. Disaster

"That Daniel, who is one of the captives from Judah, does not show due regard for you, O king, or for the decree that you have signed, but makes his petition [to his God] three times a day." (v. 13)

Do we ever see them coming—the consequences of those failures that rise to being called "epic"?

3. Acceptance of Responsibility

And the king, when he heard these words, was greatly displeased with himself … (v. 14)

When faced with epic failure, our first temptation may be to deflect blame. Accepting appropriate responsibility and repenting of the sinful action that set up the disaster isn't just the right thing to do. It also puts us in the best position to seek solution.

4. Immediate Remedy

… and set his heart on Daniel to deliver him; and he labored till the going down of the sun to deliver him. (v. 14)

Our failures affect those around us. Honest repentance will immediately look for a way to remedy the injury we've done to another.

5. Adherence to Righteousness

"Know, O king, that it is the law of the Medes and Persians that no decree or statute which the king establishes may be changed." So the king gave the command, and they brought Daniel and cast him into the den of lions. (v. 15-16)

The temptation may arise to obtain remedy by any means possible. We may rationalize that a new sin remedies the greater evil of the first. To plot the course away from sin and all its evil consequences, we must adhere to paths of righteousness.

6. Release to God in Faith

But the king spoke, saying to Daniel, "Your God, whom you serve continually, He will deliver you." (v. 16)

Whatever remedy we are able to effect, we are completely inadequate to restore the damage that results from sin. But we serve the Lord YHWH, our Deliverer from death and sin. We can turn to Him for remedy and restoration of anything.

7. Persistence in Prayer

Now the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; and no musicians were brought before him. Also his sleep went from him. (v. 18)

Perhaps King Darius did not spend the night praying. And our prayers need not include fasting from food and sleep. But when we are desperate, emptying ourselves is one way of inviting God to step into a situation in a much bigger way than He might otherwise.

8. Expectation for Good Outcome

And when he came to the den, he cried out with a lamenting voice … "Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?" (v. 20)

God works all for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28), even their own failures. No matter how "epic" our failure, God's ability to effect good through it is greater yet.

9. Action to Prevent Future Failure

And the king gave the command, and they brought those men who had accused Daniel, and they cast them into the den of lions … (v. 24)

King Darius held the position to rightly execute those who conspired to use him in the effort to murder Daniel. We should be as ruthless in rooting out of our lives all evil that leads to sin.

10. Glory to God

Then King Darius wrote:
To all peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth:
Peace be multiplied to you. I make a decree that in every dominion of my kingdom men must tremble and fear before the God of Daniel.
For He is the living God,
And steadfast forever;
His kingdom is the one which shall not be destroyed,
And His dominion shall endure to the end.
He delivers and rescues,
And He works signs and wonders In heaven and on earth,
Who has delivered Daniel from the power of the lions. (v. 25-27)

May we never fail to give thanks and glory to our Lord, Deliverer from epic failure!

~ ~ ~

"And some of those of understanding shall fall, to refine them, purify them, and make them white, until the time of the end."
~ Daniel 11:35 (NKJV)

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Friday, April 5, 2013

Call from Jesus

Every Christian has heard the call from Jesus. His call comes not just once, but is heard each time the Lord asks us for a deeper commitment.

I. "Follow Me"

The following day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and He found Philip and said to him, "Follow Me." (John 1:43, NKJV)

Followers of Jesus might be likened to the followers we collect on blogs and Twitter. Jesus crosses our path and captures our attention, asking us to follow and listen to what He shares. He is interesting and comforting and challenging to hear. Some followers hang on His every word. Other followers accept Jesus' words only until deemed inconvenient or offensive, at which point they either fade from His scene or un-follow Him outright.

From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. (From John 6:60-66, NKJV)

II. "Be My Disciple"

"It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master." (Matthew 10:25, NKJV)

If the follower tags along long enough, and decides that the challenge of following Jesus is a small price for His life-giving words, a new call from Jesus is heard: "Be like Me; be My disciple." The way to be like Jesus is to be yoked with Him (Matthew 11:28-30), increasingly know Him, and rely on His strength to sustain us in what will prove to be a difficult journey.

"If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own.… Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' " (John 15:18-20, NKJV)

III. "Go"

He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles. (Luke 6:13, NKJV)

And He called the twelve to Himself, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them power … (Mark 6:7, NKJV)

After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. (Luke 10:1, NKJV)

Once disciples have been adequately prepared, Jesus sends them ahead of Himself as His ambassadors (Greek apostolos, meaning "sent"). As is true of government ambassadors, Jesus' sent ones are diplomatic messengers, teachers, or ministers representing the interests of Another rather than of themselves. Occasionally referred to as an "apostle," Jesus' ambassadors may be employed in full time ministry or minister at their own expense. While they may carry the authority of a pastor or elder—(and such authority is always as leader and example, not as lord or ruler [1 Peter 5:3])—most of the ambassadors sent by Jesus to others hold no status or title whatsoever. Some are sent far and wide, but many are sent no farther than their own backyards; all are sent in fulfillment of the great commission:

"All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations …" (Matthew 28:18-20 NKJV)

IV. "Come"

"Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." (Mark 8:34, NKJV)

Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. (2 Timothy 3:12 NKJV)

The final call of Jesus is evocative of His first call, "Come, follow Me." If we follow Jesus long enough, we follow Him into death. Yes, every single Christian is daily called to be a "living sacrifice" (Romans 12:1), "crucified with Christ" (Galatians 2.20). But there is yet another "come after Me" in the call to martyrdom.

Though martyrdom is occasionally prominent and heroic, private persecution is more commonplace. Any Christian may face a day when, in His perfect will and timing, Jesus issues the call to come after Him and suffer in testimony to faith. The only witnesses may be tormentor and angels. Death may be of status, employment, or relationship rather than of life.

In answering the call to glorify God through whatever death accompanies persecution, we not only receive cause to rejoice that we are "counted worthy to suffer to suffer for the name of Jesus" (Acts 5:41), but also come to know a fellowship with Jesus found only in suffering (Philippians 3:10).

"When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die."
~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

No matter our present place in life, no matter the call from Jesus, we need not fear. We are promised that Jesus only calls us to do what He also enables (2 Corinthians 3:5). We have confidence that the call to suffer is faced not in our own power but with divine power (Mark 13:11-13).

We have confidence that we are never alone.

"And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:20 NKJV)

(The four point outline of this post was presented by a guest preacher whom I heard several years ago. I apologize to him and to you that I failed to note his name. Exposition on the outline is mine.)

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Copyright 2013, Anne Lang Bundy, all rights reserved.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Does the Resurrection Matter?

… how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? … For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! … If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.
~ From 1 Corinthians 15:12-19

This life is but a vapor. Our hope lies not in this world.

Because Jesus Christ is risen Lord, God and King, we have hope;
because Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead, we live.

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Friday, March 29, 2013

Jesus' Last Days VII –

Today, in joining with people across the globe to observe Good Friday and remember our Savior's last day, I am reminded that my kind and gentle sister Mary once pointed out to me that an explanation is not necessarily an excuse.

Then Jesus said,
"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do."

~ Luke 23:34 (NKJV)

It seems to me that in asking for mercy on behalf of sinners He loved, Jesus offered His Father an explanation with making excuse.

We tend to confuse the two and too easily offer explanation for how we come to commit sin. We may take a measure of solace in knowing that "to err is human." When placing blame, it lands comfortably upon the provocation of someone else, whether mortal or demon.

Whatever explanation we might offer, God's Word says we "are without excuse" (Romans 1:18-21).

Perhaps worse, none of us even begins to comprehend the severity of our sin or the extent of its effects.

It's been said that the surest proof of the existence of Hell (and therefore how very bad sin is) may be found in the fact that Jesus died horrifically to save us from God's wrath against sin.

It stands to reason that the death of Jesus, extreme as it was, is of greater magnitude than even such immense sin. And it follows that the love of God outweighs them both.

"And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' "
~ Luke 18:13 (NKJV)

Putting faith in Christ is to be excused for inexcusable sin and discover a chasm of gratitude. Growing in Christ is both learning how to sin less and seeing our sin all the more.

Dear Father, thank You for Your great love and mercy and perfect justice. Lord Jesus, thank You for revealing this to us.

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Jesus' Last Days VI –
Preparing for Passover

Today is Wednesday. On a Wednesday nearly two thousand years ago, the disciples of Jesus were preparing for Passover, not knowing that Jesus, "Lamb of God," was about to become the true Passover Lamb.

Twenty-some years ago, someone rocked my preconceptions about Good Friday, asserting that Jesus actually died on Thursday. Today is your turn to be challenged. (If you wish to bypass the relevant details of the Jewish calendar, skip down to the red letters.)

" 'The Feast of Unleavened Bread begins on the fifteenth day of the same month. You will eat bread made without yeast for seven days. On the first day of this feast you will have a holy meeting, and you must not do any work. For seven days you will bring an offering made by fire to the Lord. There will be a holy meeting on the seventh day, and on that day you must not do any regular work.' "
~ Leviticus 23:6-8 (NCV)

Although our society changes the calendar date at midnight, the Jewish day begins a few hours earlier at sundown. Our month is aligned with the sun, according to the Gregorian calendar. The Jewish month is aligned with the moon, beginning on the day when the new moon is visible at dusk. (A lunar month is 29.6 days long, so the Jewish calendar month is either 29 or 30 days long, and a "leap month" is added when necessary.) The first month of the year, Abib (Exodus 12:2 & 13:4; also called Nisan, Esther 3:7), began with the first new moon of spring. Important to note is that the New Moon is among numerous biblical feast days celebrated as a Sabbath, in addition to the regular Sabbath on the seventh day of the week.

During the week of Jesus' last days, the tenth of the Abib was on a Sunday, when each Passover Lamb was selected and brought to the household, in accordance with Exodus 12:3-5. (Sunday was also the day when Jesus was brought to Jerusalem.)

The fourteenth of the month—Passover—was on a Thursday, which began at dusk at the end of the day on Wednesday. The fifteenth of the month was the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:6, above), which occurred on a Friday and was an additional Sabbath. Saturday was also the regular Sabbath. As commonly occurred, that Passover included back-to-back Sabbaths, so no work could be done for two days straight.

Why does any of this matter?

But He answered and said to them, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."
~ Matthew 12:39-40 (NKJV)

Our traditions observe the Last Supper at the end of the day on Thursday and our Lord's crucifixion on (Good) Friday. But all four Gospels attest that the resurrection occurred on the first day of the week, Sunday. No matter how you count the days and nights, Jesus could only fulfill His own prophecy by being killed on Thursday—His tomb undisturbed for three nights (not two) because of a "double" Sabbath.

Thus Wednesday was the day of Jesus and His disciples preparing for Passover, and Scripture describes only that activity on this day.

When this was first explained to me, I resisted the notion that Good Friday could be any other day of the week. It seemed blasphemy. Christian tradition held me tight. Then Jesus—the Word of God—started challenging just about every area of my life, including things held dear. And I learned to let God's Word and Spirit trump my preconceptions.

One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.
~ Romans 14:5-6 (NKJV)

I still observe Jesus' death on Good Friday with fellow Christians. I love celebrating a Maundy Thursday meal when I get the opportunity. I believe with all my heart that Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead. The day is honestly no big deal. What's important to me is the life of my Lord Jesus, not the day of the week.

More important yet is that I have hope because I have faith in Jesus. Because there is no hope at all in this world apart from believing that Jesus means what He says, and trusting Him to fulfill His every Word.

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Dependence on God, Hope, Word of God

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Jesus' Last Days V –
Feast of Words

Today is Tuesday. Scripture records more of Jesus' teachings for this single day than any other. Just over five percent of the entire New Testament relates the words of Jesus spoken on the Tuesday before His death.

"Have faith in God. For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them."
~ Mark 11:22-24 (NKJV)

Jesus begins the day with the above exhortation. He goes on to verbally spar with and utterly vanquish various members of Jewish leadership. He rebukes religious hypocrites. He affirms both a scribe who understands the heart of the law—love the Lord and love neighbor (Mark 12:28-34)—as well as the destitute widow who gives more with two mites than any rich man (Luke 21:1-4). He describes in detail for His disciples (and us!) the signs to accompany His second coming. He tells numerous parables.

The day is a feast of words like no other.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
~ John 1:1,14 (NKJV)

Here is the Word of God in all His glory, wielding truth and displaying grace.

The Word of God made flesh closes His last day of public teaching by describing one of the final events humanity will experience as our era closes. It well sums up the heart of all else Jesus has taught.

"Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.' Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry … thirsty … a stranger … naked … sick … in prison …?' And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.' Then He will also say to those on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels … Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' "
~ Matthew 25:34-41, 45 (NKJV)

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Jesus' Last Days IV –
King Jesus

Today is Monday, the beginning of our work week. On His last Monday before His death, Jesus set about His work as King Jesus.

So they came to Jerusalem. Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple. Then He taught, saying to them, "Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it a 'den of thieves.'"
~ Mark 11:15-17 (NKJV)

(As mentioned in yesterday's post [Acclaim], according to Mark's Gospel the temple cleansing occurred on Monday rather than Sunday, as is traditionally held.)

Random observations about Jesus' first day as King and some implications for us:

• On His way to Jerusalem, Jesus passed a fig tree. It's covering of leaves indicated fruit should be present, though it was the season for neither leaves nor figs—and the tree indeed proved to be naked of fruit. The Bible's first mention of fig leaves is their covering of Adam and Eve's nakedness, when they shouldn't have had fruit. On both occasions, God's investigation results in His curse upon His creation, a rare occurrence. (I've no idea how to make an application for this, but the connection interests me.)

• At the beginning of His ministry, on a previous Passover, Jesus fashioned a whip of cords to drive sellers from the temple (John 2:14-17). But in this temple cleansing, no mention is made of a whip, suggesting that perhaps His coming as King was now sufficient authority.

• Jesus did not simply "clean house" and drive out the sellers as a single event, but continued to turn away anyone else who might carry wares through the temple (Mark 11:16, above).

• Preachers and commentators usually surmise that Jesus called the sellers "thieves" because of unfair rates on money exchange and exorbitant prices on sacrificial animals. But since Jesus refers to the temple being a house of prayer, He may have been even more offended about the praise and attention being stolen from God.

• Jesus spent His final days in Jerusalem, but He did not make Jerusalem His dwelling place and stay there at night.* He knew the Jewish crowds had offered only a superficial welcome to their King, anticipating a kingdom of their choosing. King Jesus will reside in Jerusalem on a future day, when the people of Israel have accepted the kingdom He offers (Ezekiel 43:6-7).

• We no longer live in an era when sacrifices are offered to the Lord our God in a temple. Now, our bodies are both living sacrifices (Romans 12:1) and temple of God:

Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.
~ 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (NKJV)

* Sunday and Monday nights were spent in Bethany (Mark 11:11, Matthew 21:17. Tuesday and Wednesday nights were spent on Mount Olivet (Luke 21:37, Luke 22:39).

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Jesus' Last Days III –

It is the first day of the week. Today Jesus enters Jerusalem riding upon the foal of a donkey, a path of palm branches and cloaks laid before His feet. The crowds acclaim Him as King. It might be seen as the pinnacle of His mission thus far.

But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.
~ John 2:24-25 (NKJV)

I cannot imagine what Jesus felt inside on that first Palm Sunday as people showered Him with praise. For He has just wept over Jerusalem (Luke 13:33-35), knowing that the same people who today shout "Hosanna!" shall soon yell "crucify!"

"Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name." Then a voice came from heaven, saying, "I HAVE BOTH GLORIFIED IT AND WILL GLORIFY IT AGAIN." Therefore the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, "An angel has spoken to Him." Jesus answered and said, "This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake."
~ John 12:27-30 (NKJV)

This is the only acclaim Jesus sought—that His Father's name be glorified. Just as the very will of His Father nourished the soul of Jesus:

Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work."
~ John 4:34 (NKJV)

And zeal for His Father's house will compel Jesus to clean it of thieves and robbers.

But that is for tomorrow, Monday—not Sunday, as is commonly thought. Our Lord has need of neither impulse nor haste.

And Jesus went into Jerusalem and into the temple. So when He had looked around at all things, as the hour was already late, He went out to Bethany with the twelve.
~ Mark 11:11 (NKJV)

Isn't our God merciful to make His appearance as King, and then patiently give everyone one final night to repent?

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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Jesus' Last Days II –
Fragrance of Love

Today is Saturday. Jesus dines intimately with loved ones in Bethany before His very public entry of Jerusalem tomorrow. The twelve disciples and Lazarus sit at the table with Jesus. Once again, Martha serves while Mary is at Jesus' feet. But Martha is not the one to complain about Mary this time.

Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.
~ John 12:3 (NKJV)

This is apparently the same woman mentioned in Luke 7:36-50. (See "This Woman" post for an explanation.) Mary has not forgotten the "much" she has been forgiven, and she continues to love much.

Perhaps, because of her sinful past, Mary does not feel she deserves a place any higher than the ground. Who better, in the eyes of Jesus, to be exalted (Matthew 23:11-12) than one who humbles herself from the depths of love?

Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head.
Mark 14:3 (NKJV)

Israel's kings received an anointing to mark them for the throne. The King of kings also receives an anointing on the day before the crowds shout "Hosanna!" and proclaim Him their King. The honor of anointing Him is bestowed upon a woman of so little esteem that two of the Gospel writers don't even record her name.

The fragrance of her love is caught up in the aroma of spikenard, poured upon Jesus in an anointing of honor—and an anointing for burial (Matthew 26:12; Mark 14:8; John 12:7). As modern day users of essential oils well know, an entire pound of spikenard, poured over Jesus' head and into His hair, would leave a scent that stayed with Him throughout the week.

And so, as He wept over Jerusalem, Jesus smelled the fragrance of love. As He rebuked the Pharisees, Jesus smelled the fragrance of love. As He washed His disciples' feet, Jesus smelled the fragrance of love.

As He prayed so intensely that His sweat became the first drops of blood He would shed, Jesus smelled the fragrance of love. As He was flogged with metal scourges, Jesus smelled the fragrance of love. As He asked His Father to forgive the men driving nails into His flesh, Jesus smelled the fragrance of love.

As He triumphantly declared, "It is finished!" and drew His final breath, the last thing Jesus inhaled was the aroma of spikenard—the last thing He exhaled was the fragrance of love.

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