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God at Work Within the Unchangeable

If you are faithful, expect enemies. The sixth chapter of Daniel opens with this in-your-face truth. If you’re a child of the King, you are a threat to the kingdom of darkness. Daniel’s enemies were accusers, and so is ours.

We’ve been studying the book of Daniel at church all summer long. Week after week, every story narrated, every vision revealed, every dream interpreted points to the rising conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world. This tension will reach a fever pitch at Christ’s first coming, and again at His second coming.

We live in the space between. 

King Darius, desiring power and position, made a rule that all must bow and worship him for thirty days. Daniel continued praying, worshipping, believing and trusting the living God. Daniel did what he’d always done, and the story reaches its climax as he stands accused and gets tossed into a den full of hungry lions.

I tend to read through this story and forget it really happened. These were real lions, real hungry lions that had their mouths shut by God. Scripture doesn’t say God filled their stomachs and satisfied their appetites. It only says He shut their mouths. These weren’t sweet cats purring all night long. They were angry and frustrated and confused. And still very, very hungry.

We live in a metaphorical lion’s den.

Daniel, prompted by prayer, exhibited gratitude in the middle of a horrible life-or-death situation. King Darius, stressed out and anxiety-ridden, decided in his own strength to try and rescue Daniel himself.

Before you get all tender-hearted for this hero-wanna-be, I’m pretty sure Darius’ rescue mission had to do with losing his best man, a key figure in his administration. The chapter opens with his great plans to promote Daniel to an even higher position. So, this had nothing to do with Daniel; this was about Darius and all he stood to lose if Daniel became dinner for some lions.

Darius could not deliver Daniel. In the meantime, Darius began spinning out of control. He was not only sleepless and peaceless, he was flat-out hopeless.

Daniel exhibited hope and peace. Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, “We do not grieve as those without hope.” We still grieve, but we have living hope. Faith helps us recognize the character of God when the all the world can see are the circumstances.

Our response is evidence of our faith.

When Daniel received bad news, he gave thanks. Daniel wasn’t thanking God for the bad news; he just knew there were plenty of reasons to give thanks based on God’s character rather than his circumstances. Gratitude prompted peace in his heart.

But if we walk away only hearing a try-harder, have-more-faith pep talk, we’ve missed the point entirely. These things—hope, peace, gratitude, faithfulness—aren’t ingredients for the perfect recipe for righteousness or a remedy for sin.

The recipe for righteousness and the remedy for sin has always been and will always be Jesus. Just Jesus.

These characteristics represent the visible fruit that comes from an invisible but thriving faith in a God who is greater than our circumstances. They depict how deeply our character changes when we put on the righteousness of Christ. Hope and peace and joy point to Christ within us.

It’s not about the size or the quality of our faith; it’s about the object of our faith. Mustard seed faith is all we need, Jesus says, as long as that faith is fixed on Him. As long as long He is the object of our faith.

As a young man Daniel relied on God not his circumstances. He is an old man at this point in his life, and this chapter reminds my heart that fruit takes time. Transformation is a gradual process.

Faith in God may not change every set of circumstances, but our faith in Christ over time changes us.

I remember when we got pregnant for the first time. We had tried for over three years at that point to conceive and infertility had left battle wounds all over my heart. My faith felt shaky, but we celebrated our hearts out, clueless that more heartbreak was right around the corner. We told everyone our news.

And then I miscarried.

Sitting in our living room, surrounded by devastation, my husband and I discussed how we would un-tell all these people. I remember so vividly this conversation with my husband, because God used him to speak truth into my life. I asked him, “What are we going to tell people?”

He looked right at me and said, “We’ll tell them God is good.”

My husband’s words to me were evidence of God at work within his heart, at work within our heart-breaking circumstances. His response was evidence of his faith. What will we tell them? We will tell them that God is good, because He is.

Even when circumstances aren’t good, God is still good. God’s goodness does not fluctuate because He does not change; He cannot change. God is constant.

Daruis’ signature on the decree meant Daniel’s situation could not be altered. Irrevocable. The stone at the mouth of the lion’s den and the king’s seal also indicated an unchangeable situation.

Daniel recognized His unchangeable God in the middle of his unchangeable circumstances.

Daniel knew nothing could change God. Nothing.  Not persecution or slander or oppression or rejection or accusation or life in a hostile culture. Not even a den full of lions. This incredible story highlights three aspects of God’s character that will never change.

God’s plan to rescue and redeem and restore cannot be altered.

King Darius was a powerful king, but he was powerless to change Daniel’s situation. The king’s plan involved keeping Daniel from the lion’s den altogether, but God’s rescue mission involved entering the lion’s den Himself.

God’s pursuit of us will never diminish.

God’s love fuels His plan. We are pursued and lavishly loved by God. Love prompted Jesus to willingly enter the dark, sin-infested pit of this world to suffer and serve and confront the lion. It was for love—so that we might live with God in an ongoing relationship forever and ever. Moved by a love that’s unchanging, God paid the price that we never could.

The power of the Holy Spirit within us cannot be revoked.

God promises the gift of His Spirit to all who believes in Jesus as an irrevocable deposit. His Spirit within us is proof of His promise. No matter how hard life gets, no matter how far we fall, God has promised He will never remove His Spirit.  This same Spirit was strong enough to shut the mouths of hungry lions and raise Jesus from the dead.  That’s the power at work within us!

God didn’t remove the threat from Daniel’s life; He rendered the threat powerless over Daniels’ life. The lions remained a part of Daniel’s story, but the lions could never overpower God.

We live in a metaphorical lion’s den. 1 Peter 5:8 says that our “enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Our enemy will try to scare us into compromise, or get us to settle, back down, or stay in bondage, but he can’t touch our souls. He cannot harm us.

The lion is part of our story, but God has revealed how the story will end.

The conclusion of Daniel’s experience in the lion’s den mirrors Paul’s description of the very, very end for all who have claimed their salvation in Christ:

So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. Daniel 6:23 (emphasis mine)

Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 4:17

Jesus will return, and when He does, we will be lifted out of the lion’s den. Until then, God’s unchanging plan, pursuit, and power remind us that He is with present, working all things together for our good and His glory.

May we embrace the promises of a God who never changes even as we are dealt heartbreaking disappointments. Let us give thanks, in all circumstances, especially the unfavorable ones.

May we cling to the One who holds in His hand the whole mess of our lives and every broken way we take, the only One able to rescue and deliver us. May we rest in the companionship of Jesus, knowing that no matter what unfolds in the here and now, His love will usher us into eternity blameless and unscathed.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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Two Words That Secure Your God-Given Identity

One of the sweetest parts of being a parent is choosing a name for your child. Each of my children’s name tell a story. Because I believe God knew their names before we even knew about them, I also believe their names intricately connect with their God-given identity.

The beginning scene of the book of Daniel is a historical prologue to the struggles four young men faced while living in a hostile culture far from God. Their Hebrew names reflected the glory of God and represented their identities.

Their names told the story of a God who set them apart as His chosen people.

When God’s people quit listening to His commands and rejected His love, they were hauled off into exile in Babylon under a king who did not believe in the one true God. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were among them.

If you grew up hearing this story as a kid, you might remember them by the names their captors gave them instead: Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. These names were a failed attempt to replace each reference to God with a reference to the gods Belte, Aku, and Nabu.

The leaders of the Babylonian empire intended to strip them of their God-given identities. They thought that by removing God from the names of these young men, they would in fact erase God’s story.

God’s story cannot be silenced.

His story cannot be changed either, as Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah’s stories show. He is—and always has been—in control.

The enemy comes after our identities just as he came after theirs, because his goal is to steal, kill, and destroy. God does the opposite; He gives, resurrects, and restores.  Daniel chapter one tells the story of the Giver.

God gave Judah over to her sin.

And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. Daniel 1:2

God warned His people that if they disobeyed Him, He would scatter them and destroy their cities. God allowed his people to follow their own stubborn hearts.  The Judge is just in all His rulings.

God gave these men compassion and favor with the king.

And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs… Daniel 1:9

When King Solomon dedicated the temple, he prayed and asked God to listen to the prayers of His people—the ones who turned to Him—no matter where He sent them.

Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah chose not to conform to the culture around them, by trusting in God and seeking His help, they prospered, an amazing display of what it looks like to be in the world, not of it. God listens, because God is faithful.

God gave knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.

As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. Daniel 1:17

These four men demonstrated that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were found ten times better than any of the other men in the king’s service. God placed distinguished and excellent qualities in each of them, qualities that reveal His character.

God gave a foreshadowing of His plan to free His people.

And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus. Daniel 1:21

Cyrus was God’s chosen instrument to bring His people out of exile. God chose the deliverer, and God chose the timing. God would eventually send a Redeemer that would free His people from the enemy’s grip forever.

The word ‘gave’ in the Hebrew language is nathan, and it shows up over eighteen hundred times in the Old Testament books. It means to grant, deliver, appoint, make, or cause to be. The New Testament continues the story of the Giver, as God reveals Jesus as the promised Messiah after four hundred years of dark silence.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (emphasis mine)

When Your Identity Seems Compromised

When the enemy comes after your identity, remember these two words: God gave.

Through the names of four young men, God tells His story. Daniel means “God is my judge;” Hananiah means “God has favored;” Mishael means “Who is like God?” and Azariah means “Jehovah has helped.”

God longs to tell His story through us, through our wounds, our failures, our fears, and through our dependence on Him. The enemy has attempted to silence God’s story that my life tells by coming after my identity, too.

As a shy, fearful little girl, I always assumed there was a mix up when names were being passed out. Kelly means “warrior,” but I was the opposite of bold and courageous. My middle name, Leigh, means “field.”

Years ago, God invited me to see what He saw in me, despite my brokenness. He saw a warrior on the battlefield, strong, courageous, and victorious. But this warrior on the battlefield? It’s not me; it’s Jesus in me. The battle all around me belongs to God, and He has already defeated the enemy.

God reclaims our identities and our names and our hearts through Jesus.

Though God has set us free from the power of Satan’s lies, this doesn’t mean he keeps quiet. No, he still whispers his lies; sometimes he shouts them. The only way the accuser knows how to communicate is through lies.

The most recent lie he’s used against me is, “You have no influence.” When I remember that I am an image-bearer of God, and I trust that my life in Christ has meaning, this lie loses all momentum. Truth silences lies every time, because the accuser is no match for the Giver.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 (emphasis mine)

When your life is hidden in Christ, your story tells His story. 

When your identity feels under siege, remember these two words: God gave. He gave us everything we need to live victoriously; He gave us freedom, purpose, and life—abundant life through Jesus Christ.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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Why Memoir Is My Favorite Genre

WHAT I'M LOVING: Spring EditionWhat I’m Loving… About Memoir

Memoir story-tellers quietly invite us to examine our own stories in light of the one they’re sharing. The unveiling of universal truth is the essence of memoir. Listening to someone else’s story helps us better understand a piece of ourselves.

This past year, my HER STORY series has both stretched and inspired me. As I’ve practiced story-listening, God has given me a better ear to hear the melody of my own.

I’ve learned this crucial truth: my story is not about me. 

Marion Roach Smith, author of The Memoir Project writes, “Most people think that memoir is a story about me—or in this case, you. Most people are wrong. Memoir is about something and you are the illustration.”

Back in January, God led me to ONE VERSE for 2017…

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. 1 Peter 3:15

God has wasted no time defining gentleness and respect; He’s revealed how far I fall from true humility. I’ve struggled, though, with the word defense. Preparedness is an integral part of my faith, but defense seems so defense-ive.

A defense isn’t an argument I defend my way out of, but a story I choose to tell.

According to Marion Roach Smith, the three essentials parts of memoir are:

  1. The answer to the question: “What is this about?”
  2. Your argument
  3. The scenes from your life that will be deployed to prove that argument

God uses our stories to communicate His character. Does your story illustrate His love, kindness, forgiveness, protection, provision? Which scenes from your life defend that argument?

What defense does your story make?

Jesus is Master over our lives, and He is the Master of our stories. When He rode into Jerusalem as King, Jesus didn’t enter as a mighty king ready for war; He entered in humility and in peace. Though a significant element in Jesus’ first coming, the donkey wasn’t much on its own. The spotlight wasn’t on the donkey; it was on Jesus.

God used the donkey as a vehicle for His glory. Our stories, like that donkey, aren’t much on their own, because Jesus is the hero of every redemption story.

God can use our stories as vehicles of His truth.

He is Master over all. Supreme. And yet He whispers to our hearts, “Loosen your grip on this. Trust Me with it.” We have nothing to offer that He has not given us. Our stories belong to Him.

Let your story tell God’s story,

Kelly

 

Something else:

I set a goal to read ten memoirs over the course of this year. Though my favorite genre, it’s the one I read the least. I’m making my list of memoirs to read next, and I’d love your help. If you have a favorite memoir, please share the title in the comments below.

I’d love to hear about your own reading goals, too. As always, you can check out what I’m reading over on my Good Reads page, or the What I’m Reading posts I update every season.

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{GIVEAWAY} The Power of Story

I am over the moon excited to share this surprise with you… Remember Dream Weeper? If you didn’t read her story last week, then quick—go do that, then come right back here. I promise it will put that plump red cherry right on top of this sweet deal…

Every single time I hear someone tell their story, even just a small snippet, I learn something about God.

I see Jesus in a whole new light through the lens of her story. 

This week God taught me something about my story and our stories collectively. Revelation 12:10-11 breaks down the power of story:

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.”

When we share our stories out loud, we can’t help but remember our need and God’s faithfulness to meet that need. Our accuser loses his momentum to convince us otherwise. After all, his primary goal is to get us to doubt that God is who He says He is.

Reminiscing strengthens our faith… and that is some powerful ammo in this spiritual war.

Our story—the intersection Jesus’ blood and our brokenness—is our testimony. The Greek word for testimony is martyria. Do you see it? Martyr. Our testimonies are characterized by a willingness not to shrink back from death.

It reminds me of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

Here’s the thing: sharing God’s story of redemption through our own personal testimonies will always highlight Jesus as the hero. And really, deep down, on my most selfish (and also my most honest day), I want to be the hero of my story. And I’m just not. I’ll never be.

Jesus is the only thing good and holy and perfect in me.

Jesus invites us to come and die to ourselves so that He might live in and through us. Without the cross and empty tomb, my story falls flat. My need for Him is what makes my story worth telling. Because God has met every single one of my needs—past, present, and future—through Jesus Christ.

Telling our story—our martyria—must be driven by a desire to die … to make Christ the hero of our stories, to tell His story through our brokenness and need.

When I tell my story, I pray I’m telling His.

That’s why I’m so excited about this Giveaway! Alix Carruth created this beautiful canvas to remind us that our stories extend so much farther than ourselves. It’s an 11 x 14 hand-lettered white canvas with gorgeous black letters and gold trim. I just love everything about it!


Already envisioning a spot in your home or workplace for this beauty? I’m going to tell you all about how you could win this amazing piece of art.

To check out more of Alix’s work, visit alixcarruth.com

The winner is . . .

Jeanne Youngblood

Congratulations, Jeanne! This Giveaway is now closed…

Thank you to all who entered!

 

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