Saturday, November 25, 2017

Daniel 2:46 (ESV)

Daniel Is Promoted
[46] Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face and paid homage to Daniel, and commanded that an offering and incense be offered up to him. [47] The king answered and said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery.” [48] Then the king gave Daniel high honors and many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon. [49] Daniel made a request of the king, and he appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon. But Daniel remained at the king’s court.

This is not the behavior of a king. In these verses the king falls on his face and showed honor and respect to Daniel. The word translated “homage” is sometimes translated worship. It is the same word used in the next chapter when Daniel’s friends are instructed to worship the golden image. Here is a king on his face before Daniel. This is behavior fitting only for a king or a god, yet the king falls before Daniel.

The wise men and magicians had told the king that, “The thing that the king asks is difficult, and no one can show it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh” (Dan 2:11). Yet here is Daniel, a man who apparently hears directly from the gods. Or, as Daniel would say, “There is a God in Heaven who reveals mysteries” (Dan 2:28). God in Heaven is a God who “changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise  and knowledge to those who have understanding” (Dan 2:21).

We celebrate those words: God is a God who “changes times and seasons, he removes kings and sets up kings,” (Dan 2:21). We swear that we believe those words. We cling to those words, yet we often act as though they are not true. We wring our hands at every election. We are filled with anxiety because of the Muslim immigrants moving to our country. We are dazed with fear because of the church shootings. We are an anxious people talking about God, but living as though he did not exist.

Daniel and his friends watched their homes destroyed, and their family and friends killed, and their temple raided. They were dragged off to a foreign country where people speak a foreign language and practice foreign customs. They were threatened, and then trained in a foreign culture. Their names where changed. Their identity was robbed. Their system of worship made impossible. Yet they lived as though they truly believed that God is God of gods, and Lord of kings. We sit in relative peace and prosperity. Even those living in poverty in America are the envy of many in the world. Still, we wring our hands and live as though God were dead, all the while singing, “King of kings and Lord of lords; Glory, Alleluia.” Our words do not match the anxiety of our emotions. There is a disconnect between our tongue and our heart.

It is convicting that a Babylonian king gets that truth better than we do. God is working his purpose and will. He sets up kings and brings them down. The Apostle Paul reminds us that, “There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Rom 13:1). Daniel understood and believed that. Daniel’s friends understood and believed that. King Nebuchadnezzar understood and believed that. Why don’t we?

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Daniel 1:17-21 (ESV)
[17] 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. [18] At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. [19] And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king. [20] And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom. [21] And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus.

Jeremiah wrote about the Babylonians, and about how God’s people were to respond to them. He said, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jer 29:7). This is exactly what Daniel and his friends did. In order to protect their overseer, they offered a test. “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see” (Daniel 1:12-13). They made their overseer look good. When they were presented to the king, they were found to be “…ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom” (Dan 1:20). As a wise man, Daniel stayed in the service of the king “…until the first year of King Cyrus” (Dan 1:21).

Daniel and his friends could easily have worked against the system. They could have served as spies. They could have undermined the king’s authority and influence. They could have functions as subversives, working to bring down the people who destroyed their city. But they didn’t. Following Jeremiah’s instruction, they worked for the welfare of the city into which they had been brought.

Because of our theology (what we believe about God), and our eschatology (what we believe about the end of the world), we have often assumed that this world was unimportant. “It is all going to burn up anyway” (see 1Pet 3:11-13, and Rev 21:1). But that ignores the fact that in the meantime God made us stewards of his creation. That ignores the fact that while it will all burn one day, we do not know when that will be. It ignores his instructions for how we are to live in the meantime. We are often more interested in the politics of our world than we are in goodness, justice, and righteousness. It is more important that we work for the good of the city, country, and people God has placed around us, than that we work to ensure that the right party remains in office. If God loved the world so much that he sent his son to die for it, does that not suggest that we ought to love the world as well?

Yes, I know that John wrote, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1Jn 2:15). But John defined what he meant by the world as, “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” (1Jn 2:16). When he wrote that God “so loved the world” (Jn 3:16) he was referring to something different. He was referring to the people of the world. He was referring to his creation. We should never love “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life,” but we should certainly love the people whom God created in his own image, and the creation he designed for them.

I fear that in our focus on eternity we have failed to understand Jeremiah’s advice. Daniel was to seek the welfare of Babylon. Babylon, throughout the Bible, is considered the seat of evil. This is where the Tower of Babel was first built, yet Daniel was to seek its welfare. How can we do any less? Is it not through works of creation care, justice, and care for the poor and needy that the love of Christ is most evident in us? Is it not through seeking the welfare others that we best demonstrate the character of God? Jesus did not say, “There will always be poor, so don’t worry about them.” He did not say, “They are going to die anyway, don’t worry about the sick.” He did not practice avoidance of sinners in order to stay pure. The people he got truly upset with were not the sinners, but the hypocritical religious elite, the church goers. Jesus loved the poor, cared for the sick, and spent time with sinners. Jesus so loved the world−the broken, lost, sinful world−that he gave his life for it.

God is calling us to love as Jesus loved. He is not calling us to be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good. He is calling us to follow Daniel’s lead, and seek the welfare of Babylon. What a challenge! May the mind of Christ and the love of the Father be seen in us each day.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Daniel 1:3-6 (ESV)
[3] Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, [4] youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. [5] The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. [6] Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah.

When Jerusalem fell to Babylon, young men were carried away and brought to the king’s palace to be trained. The plan was to turn the cream of the crop from Israel into good Babylonians. They were to be taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans (Babylonians), and given the best food from the king’s portion. They also changed their names. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were to be known as Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Daniel means “God is my judge.” Hananiah’s name means “God has favored.” Mishael means “Who is what God is?” Azariah means “God has helped.” Their names were related to Israel’s God. Their new names were related to different Babylonian or Persian gods.

This is what the enemy always tries to do. When we trusted Christ, the scriptures say that we became new creations, “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2Cor 5:17). The Enemy wants to change our identity. He wants to rob us of our identity in Christ, and try to convince us that we are no different, that we are unchanged. If he can change our identity, if he can convince us that we are still broken sinners bent toward sin and away from God, then he has undermined our faith. When we believe that we are new creations in Christ, we live as new creations in Christ. When we believe that we cannot help but sin, we quickly give in to sin. Fear only takes us so far.

Understanding our new identity in Christ is foundational to a walk of faith. Babylon tried to change the identity of Israel’s God-worshiping young men. Daniel and his friends refused to accept this new identity. They worked for the good of their captors, as Jeremiah had warned them to do, but they never lost their identity as God’s people. I am convinced that many of our failures as believers is because we do not truly believe that we are new creations in Christ. We do not really believe that the Holy Spirit, who dwells within each of us, is able to keep us from sin. We do not believe that we are crucified with Christ, buried with him, and raised to new life. We believe that we are forgiven. We believe that we will be new a new creation in Christ when we see him. But, we have bought into the Enemies lies as to our identity now. We walk by sight, and not by faith. We fail because we do not believe that we can do anything else.

What kind of life is that for a child of God? With Daniel, we need to resolve that whatever the Enemy calls us, whatever mold the World tries to squeeze us into, we will never forget who we are. We will not defile ourselves with the lies of the World, the Flesh or the Enemy. We are new creatures in Christ and we rest in that truth.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Isaiah 66:18-21 (ESV)
“For I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory, and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory. And they shall declare my glory among the nations. And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations as an offering to the LORD, on horses and in chariots and in litters and on mules and on dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the LORD, just as the Israelites bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the LORD. And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the LORD.

God’s promise to Abraham was that through him God would bless all the nations of the earth. Being a people of God was never about being Jewish. It was always about faith and humility. As Judah faces deportation because of their sin and disobedience, God, through Isaiah, promises restoration. His restoration is not a restoration of Jewishness, but a restoration of all people to God.

Isaiah 66:21 is telling. “And some of them (the nations) also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the LORD.” How can God take people from the nations and make them priests and Levites? Isn’t that about birthright? Clearly the answer is “No!” God is not as interested in birthright, and ancestry as he is interested in humility and faith. God will call people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev 5:9).

This has significant implications for the church. Pentecost (Acts 2) brought together people from a variety of languages and backgrounds. The Church has always brought together as one people those of diverse backgrounds, colors, ethnicities, languages, and cultures. Unfortunately, the local church has not always been as accepting. We are often fearful of those who are different, and accepting of those like us. We often feel comfortable to those of our color, background, interests, and political persuasion.

Within the local church, we feel not only uncomfortable, but too often downright hostile toward those who are unlike us. God forgive us! When we ought to be extending open arms, we are more often welcoming with reservation, accepting with fear and uncertainty, or outright rejecting those who are different. The very Lord we profess would likely have felt very unwelcome in many of our congregations. I fear that we are often more like the Pharisees whom we love to castigate, then like the Lord who we claim to worship.

One day we will see the Church through the eyes of God. One day we will see God use the most unlikely people as priests and Levites. One day we will fall on our faces before God along with those we feared. One day we will embrace and worship with those we held at arm’s length with distrust. Maybe we should start practicing today.

Reflections on Psalms 77-78

Psalms 77:7 (ESV) [7] “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?   The first nine verses of this psalm express abso...