I have just finished reading Dale Ralph Davis’s commentary on Daniel in the “The Bible Speaks Today” series. It is a very inspirational read. In the last chapter of the commentary, Davis asks the question:
“Will the people of God endure when evil does its worst? Will they endure to the end, in the very last and most severe period of suffering? The answer is positive, because of what we have or will be given.”
Really, history gives us the series of trials that are meant to show all the worst that Satan and mankind bring to bear on God’s people and this will increasingly continue to be the case until the very end of this last age. And in Daniel and the New Testament, the faithful who endure until the end are not focused on the personal rewards of “the good life” as the world sees it — a life consisting of things going one’s way, good health, a large and close family, a lucrative profession, and plenty of money in reserve — that is, God’s people are not looking for personal benefit; but they are following God because they love God and because of how Jesus has demonstrated and presently expresses that love to us. Part of the reason Gabriel came to Daniel in Daniel 9:23 was to tell him that he “is deeply loved.” Davis was keen to bring this point out and to elaborate on how much it cost Daniel to do his part in bringing us the word from God that shows that love. It occurs to me then, that the end-times scenario in the book of Daniel is previously pictured for us in the life of Job who was tested to see if this kind of disinterested discipleship — disinterested in personal gain — is really the motivation for his faith. And then when it is in fact pure in its motivation, God affirms and restores Job out of his love.
“Then Satan answered the LORD and said, ‘Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.’” (Job 1:9-10)
Job passes the test. At the end God addresses Job’s “comforters” with an affirmation of Job, “For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” God says this twice (see 42:7-8) as if to make sure that the four comforters (and us) do not miss it.
In the next to the last chapter of Daniel we have an unnamed king who is worse than any before mentioned in the book of Daniel. This king is the epitome of what to expect at the very end of time. If we were to live into the last of the days of history we will indeed get the chance to show how sincere our faith really is. And it will be the kind of trying time that matches those described in the sobering visions of Daniel.
W. Stephen Williams
© June 12, 2023 All Wrights Reserved
When illness strikes, we find ourselves in the doctor’s court room and we are the expert witness. In the interrogation, we present all the information we have on what we know better than anyone else: how we feel, where it hurts, what has changed in our health, and so on… and so on… and on… and on. John Donne captured the image in the following sentence from his journal.
“Arraigned in these fetters, I have presented my evidence, as if dissecting my own anatomy for a court trial, now the doctors deliberate on my fate” (A Companion Crises: A Modern Paraphrase of John Donne’s Devotions by Philip Yancey).
The humor — or horror — whichever it is, cannot be missed. The irony of it is in the question, “Who is the expert in this little story of life?” The doctor? The patient? Somebody else?
In the incident that took place one day in Jesus’ life, a woman approached him and touched the hymn of his garment believing she would be healed (Mark 5:25f). She was! The interview followed and all the questions asked were answered and all the evidence was presented. When the trial was over, it was confirmed and the truth was clear to the jury. There are many experts that influence the way our days play out; but in the end, the expert of experts is the one who has our fate in his hands. His name is Jesus.
By W. Stephen Williams © August 31, 2022
John Donne was “lead pastor” (the title was “dean” in 17th century London) of St Paul’s Cathedral during the devastating bubonic plague that kept funeral bells tolling. Later in life, he himself fell into a life threatening illness. During this time on his sickbed, in his prayer journal, in one of the devotions, he offered thanksgiving for his king — the king of England. The act of kindness by his king that brought him to offer this thanks to God in prayer was that the king had sent his personal physician to care for Donne. But the devotion praises this thoughtful king for two acts of kindness. The first was the sending of the physician — “when he can’t heal with his own hands, he sends the gift of his physician” (A Companion in Crises p56). The second act of kindness on John Donne’s mind was a much deeper rooted act of kindness — an act that had a taproot that was buried into the very center of his heart.
This is Donne’s prayer to God about his king. “Before anyone else, he saw potential that I might be of use in Your church, and hinted, persuaded, and nearly ordered me to embrace that calling. You, who put that desire into his heart, also put into mine an obedience to his call. At a time when I was sick with dizzy indecision, it was this man of God (this king) who set me straight.” John goes on to pray, “Not only has he sent a physician for my bodily health, he has sent a physician for my spiritual health.”
What a king! This king gives us a reflection of our King Jesus (Revelation 19:16). Jesus is truly king — a king with all power. He has nothing to compel him to love me. But, not only has he sent a physician to meet my material needs, he has sent a physician to minister to my soul. King Jesus offers the same thoughtful kindness to you as well.
Donne’s devotion reflects on the limitations of his king. His king was susceptible to sickness. His king was susceptible to death. His king’s hands were limited on how much help they could offer. But our King’s hands are not! Our King’s hands are more than capable of bringing both our physical needs into His purposes (Romans 8:28) and our spiritual welfare into a perfect state of deliverance. Nothing is impossible!”
By W. Stephen Williams © August 29, 2022
“What is impossible with man is possible with God.” Luke 18:27
“The gracious king has sent me his own physician” (A Companion Crises: A Modern Paraphrase of John Donne’s Devotions by Philip Yancey)
“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.” James 4:10 (NLT)
Yes, we are to practice humility; but it simply must be true. It can not be false humility. False humility is for show. They say, “ Nothing is done in secret.” But, if you think there is any way — when you can choose — do what you do graciously and do it as if hiding in a field of purple sage. Let the aroma of the flower have the floor. Do not take the stage. Do it as if crouching behind the door. Do not enter but release the treasure which will announce itself with its own power and pleasure. The gift will adorn your soul in secret (Matthew 6:4) like apples of gold on platters of silver (Proverbs 25:11).
Your mind will go crazy with justifications for doing it the public way. It will question you, “What does it matter?” If you take that option, your brain will push out like a man bearing his big chest and flexing his muscles; but it will just as rapidly deflate and the air will escape. The mind has its own scheme. It will object, “If I hide it, but hide it for reward it matters not!” As the mind fills with its irrefutable logic, the disciplined way of humility will crown you with grace if you dispute that glittering project. The shinning logic will grace you with a garland; but the sensation is fleeting. It’s green will wither. The vine will dry like dust. While the gracious gift given, wrapped and tied with the ribbon of humility, will expand the size of your heart eternally and in the intimate company of God you will share its beauty.
By W. Stephen Williams © 8/26/2022
“Those we esteem express their likeness to God better in their humility than in their highness.” (p 55, A Companion in Crisis: A Modern Paraphrase of John Donne’s Devotions paraphrased by Philip Yancey.)
Donne is reflecting on how vulnerable a king is to the threat of sickness. Of course John Donne was surrounded by the persistent and truly devastating pandemic that belonged to his time. His refection comes from his own personal sickbed. Since everyone is equally situated in the same pool of vulnerabilities, then “highness” is such a tenuous position to happen to have. We are vulnerable to all kinds of weakness. Humility must be the most secure place we can hope to be. Thanks be unto God that He treasures humility as His home-place with a fire blazing with His bright and warm presence.
Matthew 11:28–30 “Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is comfortable, and My burden is light.” NASB
by Stephen Williams © 8/25/2022
The Lord has already graciously blessed me with the sermon for Sunday. Sometimes it takes all week and I am still struggling with the scripture text. The heart is so warm when God opens the ears of our soul to his tender voice and this is especially true when he opens a floodgate and releases eternal hope. Hope is like a rest that comes without the need of sleep. Hope is like cold water that comes without the need for quenching. Hope is like the rescue that is long in coming but comes in a way you would have never guessed it would.
“Come, everyone who is thirsty, come to the water; and you without silver, come, buy, and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without silver and without cost!” Isaiah 55:1
The chickadee sings over sunflower seed. The cicada flexes its “tymbal” for the sake of its descendant. The dove calls for its lifelong mate. The hummingbird buzzes and wars to be dominant. The wasp is swooshing down to carve pulp for its massive place. The dragonfly hovers to consume mosquitos in mass. The cricket strikes its musical legs — sawing forth in resonance.
The sounds of summer are prone to stir. Its lazy days take us back into time. The hazy days of childhood summers come to mind. Time to daydream about late seasons of life when the summer sounds tend to time-travel us back — thoughts flowing like sound waves — pushing air onto air across tall oceans of grass that bend back and forth greeting us or bidding us goodby.
The cicada nymph hides for seventeen years — burrowing through its grave as if buried alive. It emerges through its metamorphosis with just six months to live; and I delve through summer days — plenty — into my resurrection on to infinity.
By Stephen Williams, August 13, 2022 © all rights reserved
1 Peter 1:23–25 (NASB): “…for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable, but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. For, “All flesh is like grass, And all its glory is like the flower of grass. The grass withers, And the flower falls off, But the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word which was preached to you.”
I heave my worries, imprisoned in my prayers — resistant, reticent, rebellious — onto the morning like a blight. Twenty blackbirds are holding vigil with me as a choir of songbirds sing. One takes flight and its path flees any known hindrance. The mind of a bird is as free as its will to fly. She just finds herself flying. There is no consternation, no concentration, no thoughts contradicting. With slippery ease, she slips into the sky with no notice of gravity pulling downward. No strain. No acknowledgment of pain. No question of successful upward gain. In her wake, all hazards wane.
Written by Stephen Williams on July 30, 2022 (c) all rights reserved
I will remember my song in the night;
I will meditate with my heart,
And my spirit ponders
Psalm 77:6 (NASB 2020):
I noticed that after sitting and reading silently for an hour that the birds were too timid to come to the full tubular-shaped feeder nearby. The sunflower seed were not enough to overcome their fear. Their need was not elevated enough on this hot summer morning when nature offers its own buffets. But when I began to read a devotion into my iPhone in order to send it to a friend, my voice became a song to comfort the fear of the goldfinch. The sparrow felt safe to flutter over to the feeder. The chickadee sang back its own song in harmony with my voice. And when I heard it, I looked up from my dictation. The chickadee fled. But in my experience — the most timid of all — the goldfinch, kept on intently about its work of feasting. I paused my reading and actually said out loud — recorded into the microphone for perpetuity: “The birds are responding to my voice!” and then I thought, “They must hear as music — like a birdsong.” And then, as the Spirit ministered to me in that moment, I wrote this devotion you are now reading.
Of course — to the bird — these were but the sounds of some strange creature — a human song. But as the devotion rang out its true words of wisdom from holy script, I felt comforted, too. I felt safe as well. And for good reason; the music of Scripture soothes my soul.
“The voice of the LORD is powerful;
the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.” Psalm 29:4
“When he (Jesus, the Shepherd) has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” John 10:4
By Stephen Williams © June 25, 2022
The streaks of film cover the pond partly — like dust glittering beneath the reflection of the willow and weed. The brush blocks the breeze that disperses this glaze into patterns in motion. On top of the still water the fragile membrane breaks and scatters apart as the air drops into its basin. The wind is the artist that gently smooths her brush across the fluid canvas where snapper turtles split the seems by bobbing their heads from beneath. Hungry perch are peering for long legged spiders dancing across the grainy surface like splattered dark specks of paint. And God speaks through the sounds and sights of life.
Springing off a low hanging cypress limb, two sparrows soar, dancing in the air and flirting with the prospects of their future nest egg. A rabbit returns to the same spot it frequents each dawn. Its nest is near where vulnerable offspring nurse. Bashful doe hide behind the fence row and this one fowl squeaks out her song. Bees dart into yellow blooms. A hummingbird hovers over sweet nectar. And God speaks through the sounds and sights of life.
The weathered cocoon still hangs on the twig but it vibrates from turmoil deep within the chamber of its heart. It shivers and splits, opening the gate. It draws on unknown strength to burst out. Orange, lined in black paisley wings, it floats gently into the cloud and the dreams of a green thing glued to the dusty earth come true! And God speaks through the sounds and sights of life.
© W. Stephen Williams
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