Three New Year’s Resolutions for the Beloved

“But we ought to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this He called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thess 2:13-14)

As we take the time to reflect over the past year, and make resolutions we will inevitably break in the next, this New Year gives opportunity for us to freshly grasp old truth. To be “resolute” means to stand firm or be particularly determined about something. Instead of using our feeble resolute-ness on the shaky ground of P90x and Hollywood diets, maybe we need to stand firm on some truth that will build up our souls for an eternity.

My wife's New Year Resolution : )

The early Thessalonica church was in a dungeon of doubt concerning their salvation and the second coming of Christ.  As Paul gives this fragile church encouragement regarding their salvation, there are also are some ancient gems for us to unearth. If we are to stand firm on anything this New Year, let it be on the undying promise of God that we are loved, chosen and set apart for His glory:

  1. We are loved by the Lord Jesus. Paul calls us the “beloved” (agapao) in verse 13. Agape love is the deepest most costly love one could express, and it is given to us in the Son’s self-sacrificial life and death on the cross. In the Christian faith, we can never get past the love of Christ and on to deeper things. It is our privilege and honor to spend our time plumbing the depths of His love (Eph 3:18-20). The Son has accomplished our salvation with His wrath bearing sacrifice for our sins. This is a particular love for a particular people, His “beloved.”
  2. We are chosen by the Father. Because of grace God selected us to be saved “from the beginning” (v.13), or from foundations of the world (Eph 1:4). The Father has appointed for us to experience this love even though He knew we were undeserving and unlovable enemies to Him (Romans 5:8-10). If our destiny is in the hands of the all Loving all Powerful Creator of the universe, then any fears regarding our salvation are a foolish wasted exercise. Christ came to die for us 2000 years ago, because the Father had already chosen us in eternity past.
  3. We are set apart by the Holy Spirit. Our election has real results in real-time for us. The Holy Spirit applies the saving work of the Son and Father to our lives by making us born again (Titus 3:5-6) and giving us a new heart to love, fear, and follow after God in righteousness (Ezekiel 36:26-36). That is what “sanctification” is. It is something that has happened and is happening until we die. This “setting apart” has lasting lifestyle implications as the Holy Spirit continues to convict, encourage, illuminate and make us progressively more like Christ (Romans 8:29).  Notice, the primary result of us being set apart by the Holy Spirit is that we would have an unwavering “belief in the truth”, the word of God (v. 13).

In the light of all this, why should we never doubt our salvation?  Because the total Triune God has a vested interest in it: The Father appointed it, the Son accomplished it, and the Holy Spirit applies it to us. No wonder Paul asks rhetorically elsewhere: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” (Romans 8:33) The obvious answer is a resounding “NO ONE!”

In conclusion, I hope any newfound New Year’s resolve we may have this time of year will direct itself towards knowing this: The Father has sovereignly chosen you, Jesus has agape loved you, and the Holy Spirit is setting you apart to “obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus” (v. 14).

If we are resolute to hold these truths, this holiday season could bear fruit to eternity for our lives.

Happy New Year’s peeps!

Bryan Daniels

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Have a Very Merry and Disturbed Christmas!

1 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

6 When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. (Matthew 17:1-8)

Sometimes we need to be a bit disturbed by Jesus Christ. Maybe even more-so at Christmastime.

Jesus didn’t have a problem shaking his earthly disciples to their core, especially his inner intimate three: Peter, James and John. He did just that on the Mount of Transfiguration with “The Rock” and the “Sons of Thunder” (an excellent name for a  WWE tagteam duo).

High on the mountain top it says Christ was “transfigured” (metamorphoō), which means transformed or metamorphisized. His humanity is peeled back for a time and the three are given the opportunity to peer into his preincarnate (and future) glory. Christ’s countenance blazes like the noon day sun and his clothes give off the radiance of white-hot light. Moses and Elijah appear on the scene to counsel with Christ; their appearing is meant to show that Christ is the culmination of all the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah). (verse 3)

The disciples have seen glimpses of His glory before; on the raging sea when Christ halted the hurricane in a word, they wondered, “What manner of man is this, that the wind and the waves obey him?” Since then, it had been progressively revealed what manner of man they were dealing with: a God-man. But none of the miracles and signs were quite so overt as this mountain top display.

Peter, the zealous and misguided one, offers to pitch a memorial tent for all three: Jesus, Elijah and Moses. Peter has missed the mark again, because the Father interrupts him with a booming public glowing endorsement of Christ from a bright cloud: “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased; listen to him!” (v. 5) Like the announcement at His baptism (matt. 3:17), the Father lifts up Christ as His only unique Son, superior to both Moses (the Law) and Elijah (the Prophets). God seems to intimate: Three altar tents aren’t needed, Peter, only the God-Man deserves all our worship and fear. To be able to rightly interpret the Scriptures stop listening to traditions of man, you must “listen to Him!”

With the surreal experience and command from God the disciples fall down like dead men and are literally “terrified.” With their faces to the dirt they are crippled with mingled fear and amazement. We know little about such godly terror in the contemporary church. But when humanity and holiness meet in such a way the disciples knew there was only one correct posture to assume. (v.6)

So from the mysterious cloud the Father demands absolute undivided obedience to Christ. As a result, the three men melt like a watered down witch before Christ. And at the very next scene, this Holy God-man is approaching the poor wretches with a reassuring touch and these words of compassion : “Rise, and have no fear.” (v.7) What does Christ do with the disciples newfound revelation of His power and glory? In their (and our) terror and fear he makes this first simple command: “Rise, and have no fear.” Did ever such holiness and tenderness meet?

The disciples lift their troubled eyes to see “no one but Jesus only.”

At Christmastime, with visions of mangers and jolly fat men dancing through our heads, I hope we take to the time to be terrified. Not terrified at wars, depressions, sickness, or natural disasters, but terrified with a right vision of Christ. In the midst of the festivities and gifts maybe we should stop and be disturbed a bit.

After all, He is not coming back as a baby, but as a lion. What manner of man is this baby in the manger?

And once He has struck us down with the trembling epiphany, He will also soon lift our eyes to meet His loving gaze. With gentleness in his voice all our terror will wash away in the flood of His love. The words He speaks will finally resonate in all areas of our life “Rise, and have no fear.”

Once Christ has shattered all our long-held traditions and suppositions about Him He can give us a new vision: A vision where we can look past the challenges before us with confidence because we see “no one, but Jesus only.”

Have a very merry and disturbed Christmas peeps!

Bryan Daniels

The Daniels Family: Awkward Family Photo Christmas Edition

A Snowman infatuation never looked so awkward

Perfecting the perfect awkward family Christmas photo is harder than it looks. (in the spirit of the hilarious website “Awkward Family Photos”)

This is mainly because of the difficulty of finding a satisfactorily atrocious Christmas sweater during Christmastime.

I traversed two JC Penney’s, two Goodwill’s, Kohl’s, Sears and a Humane Society Thrift Shop for the holiday fashion faux pas.  None of them were quite offensive enough for what I had in mind. At the end of the night, I finally struck gold at a Big KMart. It may be a Christmas conspiracy of sorts, but I had an extremely hard time finding any Christmas sweaters for men at any of the stores (much less cheesy ones). Women have an embarrassment of riches to choose from regarding their Christmas attire, but men have a woefully limited selection of holiday ugliness in most stores. This was the case with KMart too. After finding exactly nothing in the menswear section, a certain blue sweater-vest with ice skating snowmen, cotton/snow balls, and sparkly sequins caught my eye…..in the women’s section.

That’s right, in our Christmas cards I’m wearing a sweater-vest for women…from K Mart. It had a return receipt stapled to it and it was marked down half off. You know what they say: One woman’s trash is another man’s Christmas sweater.

Jessie is wearing a bit of a gem herself in the card. Instead of going on another sweater hunt for my wife, I decided to call my very own connoisseur of Christmas cheese: my mom. She was up for the challenge and her closet bore considerable fruit for our cause. After laying out a lineup of awesomely bad Christmas attire for me one caught my eye right when I walked in the door. It was another snowman sweater, but this beauty was made up of super glued doily’s on a black sweatshirt. When we threw that bad boy over one of mom’s festive jumpers, well, you see the glorious end result.

Josiah is probably the least cheesy victim of the three. In order to maintain a continuous snowman theme we put him in a snowman sweatshirt he had from the previous year. We also slicked his hair down like Opie, and for those of you given to detail you should also notice he’s wearing sandals with socks.

In the main photo (above) I’m doing what I like to call the classic “Burt Reynolds” pose; you know the one where the leading family man’s body language seems to be saying about the rest of his family, “Yeah, that’s the fruit of my loins right there.”

Jessica thought a garbage bin should be the backdrop for the other pictures. We chose this solely for the amusing thought that when people view the card for the first time they might say out loud, “Is that a dumpster behind them?”

Christmas never smelled so good

Also, we included a quick Spanish Christmas message (“Feliz Navidad!”) for our text. Why? Not because Jessica is one-fourth Mexican I assure you. But simply to add to the confusion and incoherence of the card at hand. The more ridiculously uncomfortable the whole card viewing experience the more entertained we are as a family.

In conclusion, the Daniels family offers a very Merry and awkward Christmas to you. But seriously, don’t take yourselves too seriously this Christmas. God gave us laughter as a gift, let’s unwrap it with a joyful passion this season.

Bryan Daniels

Naming Your Child: A Prophetic Declaration?

Names were rich in meaning in the ancient days. You didn’t just name your children wily nily whatever-sounds-good-at-the time names.

A hodge podge assimilation of syllables or fleeting cultural icons would never do for a child’s name way back when (ie I’ve ran across more than one “Nike” or “Mercedes”). A regrettable upward trend in 2010 girl baby names shows that “Kendra” and “Kourtney” with a “K” are becoming more popular among young parents. Why? Because of the notorious reality shows of Kourtney Kardashian and Kendra Wilkinson (former playmate).

In the olden days of biblical history, a child’s name held a certain foreshadowing weight to it. Bestowing a name on a child was a prophetic declaration, a visible sign of God fulfilling his covenant promises to the individual families of Israel.

Biblical names revealed much about a person’s past, expected future character, or life in general:

Adam means “man, clay or dust.” Eve means “first woman.”

Abraham means “father of multitude,”; after billions of “children” have come from his seed I would say that prophetic name has rang true. Abraham named his son “Isaac”, which means “laughter” (which is what the elderly Sara did when she found she would be pregnant with him!)

Biblical names didn’t always have endearing overtones attached to them. Look at the tragic names of the children of prophet Hosea for more on this (the boy named “Sue” was lucky compared to them). Isaac’s son, Jacob, name means “trickster or deceiver”, which is what he ended up doing to Esau to obtain his birthright. Jacob later wrestled with the Lord to obtain his new name, Israel, which means “straightened by God” (Genesis 32). So in the case of Jacob, his respective names reflected that a deceitful crook got straightened out by the Holy One of Israel.

“Samuel” means “heard from God” which is what he did as a prophet to Israel.

Peter’s name means “The Rock”, as in one of the foundational apostles the early church would be built on.

So in many cases, biblical characters are given names (prophetically and retroactively) that reflect their personal qualities.

My wife and I are not trying to be hyper-spiritual, but we do believe our son’s names should be meaningful to us, just as a baby’s name was meaningful to the biblical families of old. We decided on the names “Josiah” (our two-year old) and “Gideon” (due March) for various reasons. Though most people complement the uniqueness of the names, we do get some semi-puzzled looks that seem to intimate certain questions such as “Are you Jewish?” or “Are you Amish?” or “Are you weird?”

“Josiah” was one of the few righteous kings in Israel’s history in a long line of royal charlatans and chumps (2 Kings 22:2). “Josiah” means “Jehovah heals/saves” and in the anglicized version of the Hebrew it means “Fire of God.” He became king at the ripe age of eight after his father, Amon, was assassinated. He was the last good thing to happen to the nation of Israel before it was utterly destroyed in 586 B.C by Babylon. At the young age of 20, King Josiah began a building campaign to restore and repair the Temple which was neglected by kings past. During construction the “Book of The Law” was discovered and its commands struck the young king like a knife in the heart. By repenting of idolatry on behalf of his nation, and preaching the newly found word of God, the bold Josiah began a massive reformation in the life of Israel (2 Chron 34:21-33).

"King" Josiah on horseback....with his mom

Gideon was a “mighty man of valor” and a warrior judge for the nation of Israel. “Gideon” literally means “mighty warrior.” By trusting in God he carried out great exploits for his nation even when the odds were stacked ridiculously against him (Judges 7:4-7). Through supernatural means, Gideon led the outnumbered Israelites to victory over the Midianite forces, and purged the Israeli camp of Baal worship. After 40 years of relative prosperity and peace under Gideon Israel tried to coronate him king, but he refused, insisting only God should hold such honor.

We hope and pray our son’s names are like prophetic declarations that bear fruit similar to the lives of the biblical Josiah and Gideon. I hope Josiah is not necessarily political royalty, but rather a zealous repentant leader who preaches the word and longs for revival. I hope Gideon is not necessarily a military leader, but rather a courageous and humble spiritual warrior who fights for the soul of his family and community while violently destroying the idols in his own life.

But more than anything, I want them to fall in love with Jesus (or “the one who saves”), and make it their aim to know Him and make His name known (Matt 1:21). Ultimately, Jesus is the name above every other name, and all who confess Him will find true significance, and most importantly, salvation in His mighty name (Phill 2:9-11).

Bryan Daniels

The Reign of Christ at the Foodcourt

Overt public displays of Christ’s rule (present or future) are not a common form of expression during Christmastime.

Even when Jesus is mentioned in a public setting during Christmas it is more of a nod to his beatitude teaching or maybe to the precious baby in a dingy manager. The Messiah as an effeminate university professor or a blubbering babe who needs his butt frequently wiped doesn’t necessarily bring us trembling to our knees in awe. At least not if we want to keep him merely a man or babe.

I promise, this is not a “War on Christmas” rant. I don’t think it should shock the church when people feel more comfortable with a jolly fat man who gives them presents than with a bloody bludgeoned God-man who gives them forgiveness for their sins. The more glib our cultural icons the safer we feel in our self-justified sinful state. A sword is not meant to feel too pleasant when it crashes down on our relationships, dreams, plans and life as we know it (Matthew 10:34).

That’s why I am so intrigued by the recent resurgence of interest toward Handel’s Messiah this season. Messiah‘s lyrics are thoroughly biblical and glorious as they depict King Jesus and His incarnation, suffering, resurrection and coronation in song. It is a God centered Christ exalting bible saturated and emotionally moving piece of choral art.

In this video, a “Christmas Food Court Flash Mob,” busts out in the “Hallelujah” chorus portion of Messiah. The crowd seems a bit surprised but mostly pleased by this seemingly random performance. I enjoyed seeing the banner of Christ raised in this unlikely setting. The tribute made me long for the future reign of our perfect King, where every knee shall bow and every tongue confess His glories (Phill 2:11-12). Christ is alive and well, and He can get His glory, even in a mall food court where materialism is king.

Enjoy!

Mrs. Irony and Her Children

Said the angry agnostic Mother of three to me:

“My children are not brainwashed!”

Was her sanctimonious plea

“We treat them as humans, not subjects at all”

As she looked down her nose, she stood proud and tall

“We don’t raise them as a Baptist or a Catholic or a Jew

No, not as the close-minded fundamentalist would do;

We teach them ‘green’ virtues, and the Herbivore diet,

and Nietzsche and nihilism, you really should try it!

They will defend sexual freedom with an apologetic passion

and preach Marxist dogma in an evangelical fashion”

So said the angry agnostic mother of three to me

“My children are not brainwashed!”

Was her sanctimonious plea

Bryan Daniels

Baby Bedtime Prayers and God’s Sovereignty

I sometimes wonder if the Nike Marketing Group has had a hand in influencing the modern American church’s gospel message. There is a certain level of “Just Do It” fervor in the sermons and Sunday school lessons of evangelical churches.

In our zeal to get God’s work done we tend to lead and end with an exhortation for every man, woman and child to go “invite, tell, contextualize, evangelize, and do whatever you can” to get the gospel out. Just do it, just do something, because doing anything with a Christian flavor is better than nothing!

There may not be anything wrong with this.

In a sense this can be a very biblical exhortation (Colossians 3:23). A little bit of Bible study can quickly show us that the Great Commission is the last charge Christ made to all who would claim to be His followers (Matthew 28:19-20).

But a little bit of truth with no context can be a dangerous thing; If we preach the gospel mission as mainly an emphasis on doing, trying, and moving for God, an ungodly deduction could be made in the mind of the listener: “If I don’t move, God can’t. God is dependent on me. God is impotent to get glory if I don’t go get it for Him.”

If we are not careful, in our mind the cosmic tables can be turned. And in a very real sense I can believe with all my heart not that I desperately and daily need God above all else, but that now that I’m a Christian:

“God needs me.”

Jesus is the antidote for this natural man-centered bent of our heart’s. When He spoke and acted, Christ placed the emphasis of evangelism back at His Father’s feet:

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:36-38)

Here is how modern evangelicalism has rendered this verse in so many ways: “The harvest is plentiful and the laborers are few; therefore GO! Can’t you see? The lost need you! God needs you! The world needs you now! It’s your destiny!”

But this isn’t how Jesus appeals to the blind and hurting world he saw around him. He was driven to tearful compassion for His shepherdless sheep, and the response He wanted us to have was not to hastily run out and use any means to reel them in (JUST DO IT!). The first compassionate biblical command Jesus gave us for a world going to hell with out a Savior was to

“Therefore, pray.”

This seems so counterintuitive to our über busy lives and the works based gospel we have quietly submitted to in the name of church attendance and behavior modification.

Jesus knew without divine unction and calling, mankind could do nothing of eternal value for mankind. Without the Father first preparing vessels for His glory, the sending out of laborers would be in vain. And as a result, all meaningful evangelism efforts must be rooted in humble fervent prayer before the Father asking Him to graciously give what we can never produce:

A harvest of souls.

Revival doesn’t necessarily begin in big tents or rousing services, it begins with us in our prayer closet on our knees tearfully pleading for the Sovereign Ruler to have mercy on us (2 Chronicles 7:14). It is not first about doing, it is first about depending.

I believe this is true even for those seemingly hum drum daily routine prayers we unload hastily at the end of a busy day.

The way a person prays may betray their true theology.

In my bedtime prayer with my son I don’t appeal directly to his will (or his inherent ability to turn to God), I appeal to the God of Justice and Mercy to make Himself known to him based on the righteousness of Jesus Christ. In reality, almost every parent I know prays for their child this way, regardless of the theological system they claim.

In a word, I pray God will make him willing (Psalm 110)

Would anyone be motivated to pray for another’s salvation otherwise?

If I am not convinced that God can accomplish my son’s salvation and prepare him for an apprehension of grace, what motivation for prayer is there?

This is a weighty privilege and responsibility for parents. Our supplications can be one of the many tiny levers that has helped set the great wheel of God’s sovereignty into motion for our child’s salvation. In prayer, we place our child’s destiny into the caring hands of the merciful Father, for God forbid these precious ones be left up to their own fallen devices.

I know there is tension and mystery on the subject of human responsibility and divine sovereignty. His sovereignty does not negate our responsibility, but rather should motivate and empower it. The God who can be trusted on as a loving Father, can also be depended on to carry out his purposes as a powerful King.

So I pray over my son every night. Standing on the undying promises of a King who can never be thwarted (Eph 1:11):

“God you make Josiah a man of God, You make him a man after Your own heart…You give him a heart of flesh to know You and fear You, and You save him by Your grace.” (Ezekiel 36:26-36).

I know without the Holy Spirit moving on his little heart he will have no inclination to repent and believe the gospel in his lifetime (Eph 2:3-5).

At the conclusion of our bedtime prayer Josiah looks up at me as I say “In Jesus Name.” And he always responds with a hearty drawn out, “Aaaaamen!!!” or, as the word means, “So be it!”

A three year old knows his utter dependence on the Father’s mercy. Let us find that same childlike dependence in prayer, and our interceding and going and preaching will not be with vain appeals of man-centered movement, but with the Father’s blessing and divine power.

Bryan Daniels