Thursday, September 17, 2020

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 absolute hopelessness. The psalmist seeks God, yearns for God, pleads with God, all to no avail. There is no word from God, not answer, no relief. No one but God can bring comfort, and God is not comforting. Psalms 77:3-4 express his despondency and despair:

[3] When I remember God, I moan;

when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah

[4] You hold my eyelids open;

I am so troubled that I cannot speak.

 

Nothing changes until the perspective of the Psalmist changes. Verses 10-11 pivot from a self-perspective to a God-perspective. They move from “Woe is me! When will God fix this?” to “I will remember the deeds of the LORD.”

[10] Then I said, “I will appeal to this,

to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”

[11] I will remember the deeds of the LORD;

yes, I will remember your wonders of old.

 

In our dark hours it is amazing what changes occur when we simply stop thinking of ourself and center our thoughts on who God is rather than what he can do for me. I fear that I sometimes treat God more like a medicine cabinet than an eternal God. He is there to fix things, or to make me feel better when I have a pain or problem. When our thoughts turn from “When will God fix this and make me better?” to “Oh God, how mighty you are!” something changes in us.

 

Psalm 77 ends with the psalmist reflecting on the power of God. The very next psalm, Psalm 78, begins with these words, “Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth!” Now, we cannot know whether those two psalms were written together, but God intentionally put them together in our Bible. The Psalms move from despair, to reflecting on who God is, to teaching others about the “the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done” (Ps 78:4).

 

Today, whatever darkness you are walking through, I challenge you to turn your thoughts from you to God. Don’t look to him to fix anything. Simply meditate on who he is. Reflect on his past works, and on the expressions of his greatness that surround us. Let your thoughts turn from you and your condition to the Majesty of God that shines through the darkest night. You might find that you even feel better. Or, to use C. S. Lewis’s words, you might find that you are even surprised by joy.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Galatians 4:22

Galatians 4:22 ESV

For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman

 

God’s promises are often not realized in a way that is expected. Israel was looking for a deliverer in Messiah. He came as a middle class teacher who offered deliverance by dying. The surprise, of course, was that he rose from the dead. About 2000 years earlier Abraham received a promise. God told him, “I will make you a great nation” (Gen 12:2). When Abraham began to doubt God’s promise because he had no children, God said, “Your very own son shall be your heir” (Gen 15:4).

  

Imagine the distress of Abraham and Sarah as year after year they got older, yet they remained childless. Maybe God needed their help. Maybe he meant for them to use alternate means. Finally, Sarah came up with a plan. Culturally, if her handmaid had a child, and if that child was born on Sarah’s lap, then the child would be considered Sarah’s. Maybe that’s how God would fulfill his promise. Sure enough, it worked. Abraham had a son. He slept with a woman; she got pregnant; he had a son. Thirteen years later, when Abraham was ninety-nine years old, God visited him again. God changed Abram’s name to Abraham. He changed Sarai’s name to Sarah and said, “I will give you a son by her.…Sarah your wife shall bear you a son” (Gen 17:16-19).


For thirteen years they thought they had helped God. Now, he said that he would do something impossible. At ninety-nine, with a wife at ninety, God said he would give them a child. Four chapters later Isaac was born. God kept his word. Paul uses this story in Galatians to illustrate the Christian life. Often we live as though we need to somehow help God. Rules help. There’s nothing wrong with rules. Accountability helps. There is nothing wrong with accountability. Safeguards help. There is nothing wrong with setting up safeguards in our lives. Yet, ultimately these all amount to self-effort. If we act as though these are the means to holiness, then we are no different than Abraham and Sarah trying to help God by using Hagar. God promised holiness, but self-effort will never produce holiness.

  

It is the Spirit of God that produces holiness in us, not our self-effort. The promise of holiness from God is fulfilled in us as we believe him, not as we add rules upon rules to guarantee purity.

 Galatians 4:30 (ESV)

But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery (Gal 4:30-5:1 ESV).

  

But how does that work? “For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” (Gal 5:5-6). Holiness works out in our lives “through the Spirit.” What is our part? “By faith.” Law, rules, self-effort, count for nothing. Following Christ is all about the Spirit of God working out the life of Christ in us by his grace, through faith. For Abraham the only thing that counted was the child received by faith, not the child received by human effort. For us the only thing that counts is faith as it works its way out in us through love. All of that is by the promise of God, in the power of the Holy Spirit, by means of faith. Why then would we go back to self-effort to try and accomplish what only God can do? It is “for freedom Christ has set us free.” Never move away from that truth.

 

Monday, September 14, 2020

Reflections on Psalm 73 & 74

 Psalms 73:26-28 (ESV)

[26] My flesh and my heart may fail,

but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

[27] For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;

you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.

[28] But for me it is good to be near God;

I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,

that I may tell of all your works.

 

I recently watched a television show that demonstrated the ability of people to push past their physical limits and do incredible things, but it also demonstrated that truth that people do have limits. We get sick. We get old. We are subjected to viruses like Covid-19, and diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s. We are even affected physically by things like hopeless and loneliness. As indomitable as we like to think of ourselves, our flesh and our heart fail us as Psalm 73 says.

 

In this Psalm it is not disease that had stricken the Psalmist, it is was the feeling that he had given himself to something that turned out to be pointless. “All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence” (Ps 73:13). He had done all the right things, yet those doing all the wrong things prospered.

 

I find myself reading the Psalms differently these days. Psalms of grieving, lamentation, and confusion are more real. I have been through some dark times in my life and ministry, but today I see a world I no longer recognize. Psalms 74:7 says, “They set your sanctuary on fire; they profaned the dwelling place of your name, bringing it down to the ground.” Verse 8 goes on, “They said to themselves, ‘We will utterly subdue them;’ they burned all the meeting places of God in the land.”

 

In my youth I was drawn to the nature psalms, the passages that celebrated the greatness and grandeur of God as demonstrated in the created world. Today I find these psalms of lament coming alive. Our world seems to be on fire both literally and figuratively. Between wild fires threatening thousands, riots, looting and destruction, politics gone mad, wars and rumors of wars, stories of Christians slaughtered and churches burned in China and elsewhere, our world seems to be on fire. In the midst of all that Psalm 73:26 takes on a whole new meaning for me. “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

 

As indomitable as we like to think of ourselves, our flesh and our heart fail us. We need to learn to find our strength in God. It is his strength that will survive the dark times in life. It is his strength that will strengthen us when we have no strength. It is his wisdom that will guide us when we have no wisdom. It is his promises that sustain us when life feels hopeless. Our hope is not in this world. It will one day all burn. We serve here, but look beyond here for our hope and expectation. When our world is on fire we must embrace the truth that as indomitable as we like to think of ourselves, our flesh and our heart fail us. God never will. I encourage you to take a fresh look at the psalms of lament. You just might see God in places you never saw him before.

 

Friday, September 11, 2020

Reflections on Psalm 71

 Psalms 71:8-10 (ESV)

[8] My mouth is filled with your praise,

and with your glory all the day.

[9] Do not cast me off in the time of old age;

forsake me not when my strength is spent.

[10] For my enemies speak concerning me;

those who watch for my life consult together

 

One of my students shared a list of the top six things people fear. One of the six is a fear of old age and death. Yet these come to us all. Death is inevitable. Old age is inevitable unless death comes early. We fear that which must come to us all. The Psalmist starts Psalm 71 with these words, “In you, O LORD, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame!” (Ps 71:1). As many have said, “Old age is not for wimps,” but my fear is not old age as much as the fear that in my old age I might shame God.

 

In our youth everything seems possible. As we age we realize that we have limits. The Psalmist seems to have the same fear. Psalms 71:18 says, “So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.” As we age, many talk about leaving a legacy. We talk about how we want to be remembered. When I was young I wanted to be remembered as one who tried to do what is right. That’s not a bad legacy. But the Psalmist was not concerned about how he would be remembered. He was concerned that the next generation hear about the might and power of God.

 

Maybe we should be less concerned about our legacy, and more concerned about God’s legacy. I recently watched a television show hosted by Bear Grylls called World’s Toughest Race. It ran over 400 miles of some of Fiji’s toughest terrain. One of the contestants has been running races like that for much of his life. Now he has the beginnings of Alzheimer’s, but he ran the race with his son. His biggest concern was that his grandchildren would know what kind of person he was. I get that. We all want to leave a piece of ourselves behind in our grandchildren. But how much better if our hearts desire is to leave a clear vision of God to our grandchildren?

 

Maybe I never saw the old age reference in these verses before, or maybe they just never stood out to me like they do now. But the Psalmist is facing one of the top six fears we all have, old age and death. His heart is not to be remembered, but to make sure his grandchildren know God. May that be my heart as well.

 

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Reflections of Psalm 70 and 100

This morning I read Psalm 70 and Psalm 100. What a contrast! Psalm 70 is five verses of David crying for help. The last two verses are indicative of the whole psalm.

Psalms 70:4-5 (ESV)

[4] May all who seek you

rejoice and be glad in you!

May those who love your salvation

say evermore, “God is great!”

[5] But I am poor and needy;

hasten to me, O God!

You are my help and my deliverer;

O LORD, do not delay!

By contrast, Psalm 100 is five verses of, “Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!” (Ps 100:1). In Psalm 70, David is crying out for deliverance. He knows that God is his only hope, but he can see no deliverance on the horizon. Psalm 100 is only praise and worship. There is no hint of problems, difficulties, or threats anywhere. Which one is right?

 

The answer, of course, is both of them. We want to experience only the worship and praise times in our lives. We are willing to pray for those in the depths of despair. We are sometimes even willing to help those in the depths of despair, but we don’t want to go there ourselves, which is natural. In the pattern for prayer that Jesus gave his disciples, one of the lines is, “Lead us not into temptation.” The word temptation means troubles, testing, or adversity. We don’t want to go there, but when our path leads through the dark places, we need to have a way to express ourselves. That is the purpose of Psalm 70.

 

It is not sinful to feel fearful, anxious, or despairing. The question is: What do we do with that fear? We can try to be strong, act like we have it all together, and pretend that we are not fearful. When I was about 5 years old we lived in a one room log cabin with no bathroom. I recall one night when my brother said he needed to use the bathroom, but he was scared to go outside and down the path to the outhouse. My mother told me to take him. I responded, “I’m scared too.” To which she replied, “No you’re not. Take your brother.” So two scared little boys went to the outhouse in the dark of night. I didn’t know exactly what to do with my fear, but I knew I had to be the brave one. I wonder though, whether that is not what many of us are doing right now.

 

Our world seems topsy-turvy. It is not safe anymore like it used to be. We may need to be taught what to do with our fear. Psalm 70 can help us express it, while Psalm 100 is waiting for us when we exit the dark valley. Both Psalms have their place, but the lesson of Psalm 70 is to be honest with God about our angst. Don’t try to pretend you are brave, like that 5 year old boy leading his brother through the dark. Don’t respond by lashing out at those around you, releasing your fear on them. Learn to honestly express your fear to God. You just might find his calm assurance in the darkness.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Busyness

I wrote the following eighteen years ago. The technology has changed. Some of the challenges we face are new. But the truth remains. Even in the midst of Covid-19, busyness still plagues us. May we learn to truly listen to the Spirit of God.

 

If I were to choose an icon to represent our modern culture I think it would be “Instant Messenger.” I can think of nothing that so encapsulates the essence of the early 21st Century United States as well as IM. First, it is “instant.” We live in a time where “fast food” is considered slow, where three minutes at a traffic light is an eternity, where a 333 megahertz computer is considered outdated, where waiting is equivalent to the unforgivable sin, where we can’t live without a cell phone because it is unthinkable to have to wait until we get to a phone to make a call, where busy signals are anathema and yesterday is too late. How difficult it has become for our instant society to learn to wait on the Lord, to trust Him when we don’t see the answers immediately. We are an “instant” society.

  

Second, Instant Messenger is busy. How many young people do you know that only chat with one person at a time when they are on IM? I caught my son online awhile back and began chatting with him. It didn’t take me long to realize that he was also in a chat with someone else. Even I have ended up chatting with two or three people at once. It is busy, almost dizzying, to try to keep track of three separate, unrelated conversations going on at once. Even when you are chatting with only one person the chat can take on the semblance of two unrelated conversations as one person shoots off a second question or statement before the first is answered. Busyness characterizes our culture. We have a generation of children who are audio-visually over stimulated with no real physical release. We have a generation of adults who are over committed, under rested, wearing several hats at once and juggling multiple responsibilities. How difficult it has become to “come apart a rest awhile” in the presence of the Lord.

  

Third, Instant Messenger is often quantity rich and quality poor. I have “listened in” on several online forums, followed the threads of online “conversations” and IM’ed enough to realize that most of them have very little depth or quality. Most theological discussions I have followed online get mired in misunderstandings and petty differences before they ever get to the real issues. In my experience, most Instant Messages deal with trivia: “How are you?” “How’s the weather there?” Did you hear what Johnny did?” “Have you seen my Internet pet?” Lots of “conversation” goes on, but precious little rich depth of communication. How like our world, where we are too busy and overwhelmed to really listen, we are too scared to open up and share our hearts, and we are too isolated in the midst of the crowd to really connect. How difficult it is to practice the community God has called us to in the church.

  

We are an “Instant Messenger” society. It works against everything we say we believe as Christians. Yet, perhaps the very things we find so difficult are the things that will provide us relief from our IM world. We need to turn off the TV, shut down the computer, power down the cell phone, and come apart, learning again to wait on the Lord, listening and pouring out our heart to Him. Perhaps the solution to an “Instant Messenger” lifestyle is Psalm 46:10 "Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." (NAS)

  

Let us refuse to be squeezed into the mold of an “Instant Messenger” society. Rather, let us pray that we will learn what it means to cease striving and know that He is God, or as Jesus said to his disciples in Mark 6:31, "Come away by yourselves to a lonely place and rest a while." (NAS)

Friday, September 4, 2020

Daniel 5 (Pt 3)

Daniel 5:2-4 (ESV)

[2] Belshazzar, when he tasted the wine, commanded that the vessels of gold and of silver that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem be brought, that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them. [3] Then they brought in the golden vessels that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. [4] They drank wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.

 

Belshazzar took that which was holy, golden vessels from the temple, and used them for common and unholy purposes. I had a conversation recently in which we were talking about holy places. Some churches and some forms of Christianity consider their buildings to be holy places. The architecture of the old cathedrals is designed to draw the worshiper’s attention upward to God. It is considered a holy place where one comes to meet God. For the Jews, the tabernacle, and later the temple were holy places in which the presence of God dwelt. More recent evangelical churches tend to have more utilitarian architecture. Part of the reason for that is theological. We believe that with the resurrection of Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in every believer, the holy place is now the believer.

 

Romans 12:1-2 calls us to present our bodies to God as a holy act of worship. 1 Corinthians 6:19 says that our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. 1 Peter 1:15 instructs believers, “but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.” 1 Peter 2:5 says that every believer is a living stone and that as living stones we are “being built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood.” Matthew 18:20 says that “where two or three are gathered” in Jesus’ name, he is there among them.” Psalm 139 reminds us that wherever we go, God is there. In other words, wherever we are is a holy place.

 

 

Belshazzar came under the condemnation of God because he used holy vessels for a common purpose. He partied by using the vessels of the temple for drunken reveling. If God takes holy vessels seriously, how much more does he take holy people seriously? To be holy does not mean to be perfect. Holiness is conveyed not earned. The word holy means to be set apart for special use. The vessels of the temple were set apart for use only in the temple in worship of the holy God. As believers we are set apart for God’s purposes. We are called to live a set apart life because God, whom we serve, is set apart from the world. God is holy by his very nature. We are holy because God has made us holy. When we gather together, wherever we gather, that place is holy.  A hymn by Geron Davis starts out, “We are standing on holy ground.” The hymn talks about entering into a building, but the truth is, we are standing on holy ground whenever and wherever two or more come together in Jesus’ name.

 

How would it make our fellowship, our worship, and even our daily living different if we realized that wherever we are is holy ground because we are in the presence of God who dwells within each believer. How would it change our attitude toward others to realize that they are holy because the Spirit of God dwells in them? How would it change our attitude toward unbelievers to realize that there is a sense in which they too are holy because they were created in the image of God? Have we been guilty of treating someone holy as though they are unholy? Have we been guilty of using something holy for common purposes? Have we been guilty of Belshazzar’s sin?

 

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Daniel 5 (Pt 2)

Daniel 5:22 (ESV)

And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this,

This is not an easy blog to write. There comes a time when God says, “Enough is enough!” God had blessed Nebuchadnezzar, but when his son, Belshazzar took over leadership of the kingdom something changed. God had warned Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 2 that his kingdom would not last. Because of Nebuchadnezzar’s arrogance, God had humbled him in chapter 4. Now, years later, his son, Belshazzar, took that arrogance too far. He partied using the gold and silver vessels from he Jerusalem Temple. That which had been dedicated to God was used for drunken reveling. There comes a time when God says, “Enough!”

 

We don’t always know where that line is, but we need to be very aware that it is there. When we were first married, we had a dog that was allowed on the tile in the house, but not on the carpet. He knew exactly where the line was. He would lay on the line with his paws over. When we were not looking, he would sneak over the line and eventually he would be sitting clear across the room on the carpet. He knew where the line was, but hoped he could get away with it.

 

God is a God of love, mercy, and grace, but he is also a God of justice, righteousness, and holiness. When an individual, a group, or a nation flaunts their sin and celebrates it, they are very close to the line. The lesson Nebuchadnezzar had been taught in chapter four was that Gods “works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble” (Dan 4:37). We may not know where the line is, but we can be assured that it is there and we will not escape judgement.

 

In Revelation 2:21 God said of the church in Thyatira, “I gave her time to repent, but she refuses.” The Apostle Paul warned in Romans 2:4, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” Too often we take God’s kindness to mean God’s approval. His patience with us is meant to lead us to humility and faith, not justify our sin.

What makes this truth hard is that we are quite willing to embrace it, teach it, and even cheer it because we assume it is about someone else. Or, we look at those who seem to be prospering in their wickedness and it causes us to doubt the truth of God’s judgment. Solomon wrote, “There is a vanity that takes place on earth, that there are righteous people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked, and there are wicked people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous” (Eccl 8:14). David wrote in Psalms 73:3, “For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” But he concluded in verse 27, “For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.”

There is always room for repentance. When Nebuchadnezzar was warned in Daniel 4, Daniel said, “Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity” (Dan 4:27). But when Belshazzar was sent the warning in chapter 5, there was no such offer. He had stepped over the line. He had gone too far. There is always room for repentance, until we go too far.

For individuals, I believe that as long as they have breath they have the opportunity to repent and believe. For kingdoms and nations that may not be the case. Jesus taught in Luke 12:48, “But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” The more blessing we have received, the more access to the truth we have had, the more serious the judgment.

When that which is holy is treated as unholy God says, “Enough!” In Romans 14:11 Paul quotes the prophet Isaiah, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” That day is coming. The Apostles expected that day to come in their lifetime. My grandparents expected that day to come in their lifetime. To many, it looks as though that day will come in our lifetime. The Apostle Peter warned, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:10).

When that day is we do not know, but it will come when the world has crossed the line, and God says, “Enough!” How should we live until then? Colossians 3:2 tells us to, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Jesus instructed us to, “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Hebrews 12:2 tell us that we should be, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” So let me ask you, what are you giving your life to?

 

Monday, August 31, 2020

Daniel 5 (Pt 1)

Daniel 5:29-31 (ESV)

[29] Then Belshazzar gave the command, and Daniel was clothed with purple, a chain of gold was put around his neck, and a proclamation was made about him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.

[30]  That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed. [31]  And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.

The glory of man is short-lived at best. Daniel was clothed with royal clothing, given a gold chain to wear, and made third in the kingdom. He would have been the envy of every wise man, counselor, and noble in the kingdom. Yet Daniel knew that it meant nothing. By morning it was all gone. Babylon had fallen to Persia. Whatever glory the Babylonian king had conferred on Daniel was meaningless. There was a new king in town.

The world has not really changed. People are still vying for wealth and attention. But it is short-lived. The idols of my youth are now dead or old. There are new idols, new gods of the media, new “beautiful people.” But it won’t last. So many die young. The few that live to old age often live in emptiness with little hope or meaning. The glory of this world is fleeting. The wealth of this world cannot stop the process of death that grips us all. We strive for a big house only to discover that we don’t need all that room anymore and it is too much to take care of. We strive for wealth only to give it all to the medical professionals. We work hard to stay healthy only to discover that eventually our health fails us. The glory of this world fades, and it fades quickly.

Belshazzar was king. Much of the known world was under his control. He felt secure in his position. He reveled in his glory and wealth. Then a hand wrote on the wall, and by morning he was dead. Ecclesiastes is right. In Ecclesiastes 2:17-19 Solomon wrote,

 

So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind. I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity.

If the wealth and glory of this life are all that we have then what is the point? It will all turn to dust one day. Someone will sort through our stuff. They will hoard it, sell it, or throw it in the trash. One man told me he was buying stuff and storing it in his garage so that when he died his kids would have to get rid of it. If that is the biggest goal we have in our hearts, to amass stuff in order for someone else to get rid of it, we have too small a goal. If that is all our lives are about then we have too small a life. We have learned nothing from Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Daniel.

What are you giving your life to? Temporal stuff or eternal value? Learn from Daniel. Let us humble our hearts before God and pursue only that which lasts for eternity. What are you giving your life to?

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Daniel 4 (Pt 3)

Daniel 4:37 (ESV)

[37] Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

 

Of all the people in the world, who would have expected Nebuchadnezzar to say the words in the verse above? Not only was he a pagan king, not only was he the king who built an image that he required everyone to worship, not only was he the one who ransacked Jerusalem and worked to convert young Jewish boys to his own culture and religion, but he had been clearly and specifically warned by God, and he hadn’t listened.

 

Nebuchadnezzar saw the power of God in Daniel 3. He was deeply shaken by a dream in chapter 4 that Daniel interpreted. The dream indicated that Nebuchadnezzar would lose his mind for seven years. Daniel specifically warned him, “Break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity” (Dan 4:27). Still, King Nebuchadnezzar continued in pride and arrogance, not submitting to Daniel’s counsel.

 

I wonder how many people we have written off concerning the Faith. How many people have we pre-judged, assuming that they would never come to faith? How many times have we shared the gospel with someone only to have them reject it and we give up on them? I remember an old pastor challenging me as a young pastor. He had asked about a common acquaintance and I responded that I thought his family had given up on him. He pointed his finger at me and said, “Never give up!”

 

Only God knows a person’s heart. Only God knows what it will take to bring a person to their knees in faith. Only God can change hearts. Who would have thought that Nebuchadnezzar would have uttered the words of verse 37? Who would have thought that the alcoholic man who walked out of the room when he found out I was a pastor would one day sit in my church office surrounded by the elders of the church and say, “All I know is that God loves me and I love him.” Who would have thought it? But it happened!

 

Never give up! Don’t hound people. Don’t stalk them with the gospel. But never give up. Keep praying for them. Keep watching for God at work in their life. Keep connected. Love them no matter what, and you just might see God bring them to their knees as he did Nebuchadnezzar. Never give up!

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Daniel 4 (Pt 2)

 Daniel 4:28-31 (ESV)

[28] All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. [29] At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, [30] and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” [31] While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you,

 

Daniel 4 is unique in that all but a short paragraph is written by Nebuchadnezzar. Verses 28-33 describe what happened when Nebuchadnezzar’s pride brought about his downfall. The rest of the chapter is a description of the events leading up to his downfall, and the events following his downfall written in the first person by Nebuchadnezzar. After losing his mind for seven years, his sanity was restored. Along with his sanity, his “majesty and splendor” (vs 36) were restored as well. He wrote, “I was established in my kingdom and still more greatness was added to me” (Dan 4:36). But notice the change. In verse 30 he said, “Is not this the great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power.” In verse 36 he recognized that his greatness was given to him. He concluded, “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble” (Dan 4:37).

 

The King moved from “Look what I built” to “Look how great God is.” He recognized that all he had was a gift from God. James 4:6 quotes the Septuagint version of Proverbs 3:34, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” That is exactly the lesson that Nebuchadnezzar learned, and it is exactly the opposite of what the World would have us learn. The World says, “Be proud of who you are. Recognize your greatness. Strive for greatness.” God says that we need to realize that all we have is a gift from God that he can add to or take away at a moment’s notice. Our greatness is not in ourselves, but in our identity with Christ.

 

The Apostle Paul had to learn the same lesson. In Acts 23:6 Paul was described as, “A Pharisee, a son of Pharisees.” He in Philippians 3:4-7 he wrote that,

though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Regarding the Law, Paul was blameless. From the perspective of the Pharisee, Paul had much to be proud of. Paul concluded something very different. At the end of the verses quoted above, He concluded, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” In Galatians 6:14 Paul wrote, “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” He learned that his greatness was not in himself, but in his death to the world and in the resurrection life he had through faith in Christ.

 

It seems that in a world where pride and self-exaltation are prized, there is more insecurity and feelings of insignificance than ever. In a world that exalts the beautiful people, actors and actresses, Social Influencers, and media stars, a close look at their lives will reveal that many of them have a fa├žade of beauty and an inner life of emptiness or even self-destruction. Facebook, Instagram, and other social networking platforms have not helped any. For the most part people post images that give the impression of beauty, accomplishment, and having it all together. That is the lie that leaves them and everyone else searching for accolades while withering inside.

 

It is time we listen to Nebuchadnezzar and the Apostle Paul. A pagan king and a Christian Apostle both have the same message for us. “All [God’s] works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble” (Dan 4:37). You can either come humbly before God, or you can be humbled by God. It’s your choice.

Daniel 4 (Pt 1)

 Daniel 4:1-3 (ESV)

[1] King Nebuchadnezzar to all peoples, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you! [2] It has seemed good to me to show the signs and wonders that the Most High God has done for me.

[3] How great are his signs,

how mighty his wonders!

His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,

and his dominion endures from generation to generation.

 

We are always enamored with our own creations. We are intrigued by our own photographs. When we look at a group photo we always look for ourselves. We want to know what we look like. Let’s face it, we are a narcissistic people. The same is true in politics. Leaders from around the world brag, boast, threaten, and insinuate, jockeying for positions of power. All the time they are unaware of the truth Nebuchadnezzar learned the hard way. They have no power but that which has been granted them by the Most High God.

 

Nebuchadnezzar was impressed with his own greatness. God took his mind from him for a period of time in order to show him that it is only God who is great. Anything Nebuchadnezzar accomplished was at the mercy of God. “(God’s) kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation” (Dan 4:3). Our present-day politicians, business leaders, and spiritual leaders would do well to remember that.

 

Whether or not we are in positions of power and influence, this is a truth we must never forget. We talk and act as though the President of the United States has some power to change the world. We talk and act as though terrorists and warmongers offer a real threat. We talk and act as though the economy is out of control, and business leaders have the ability to control the economic and political outcomes of nations and peoples. But the truth is, “There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Rom 13:1).

Daniel 4:34b -35(ESV)

His dominion is an everlasting dominion,

and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;

all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,

and he does according to his will among the host of heaven

and among the inhabitants of the earth;

 and none can stay his hand

or say to him, “What have you done?”

 

 

“All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will” (Dan 4:35). What if we thought, talked, lived, and acted as though that is actually true?

Friday, August 21, 2020

Daniel 3 (Pt 3)

 Daniel 3:13 (ESV)

[13] Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought. So they brought these men before the king. [14] Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? [15] Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”

 

Nebuchadnezzar had an image made that was 90 feet tall and 9 feet wide. He then called everyone together for a dedication of the image. The dedication was apparently not the issue for Daniel’s friends. They appear to have been at the dedication. The issue came when they were instructed to worship the image. We might be tempted to think that this is just semantics. The word worship means to bow down. Maybe he wasn’t asking them to actually worship the image, but just to honor it. But the chapter clearly connects the image with the other gods of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar says to Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego, “You do not serve my gods or worship the golden image” (Dan 3:14). Further, he claims that there is no god capable of delivering them from his power. This is a battle of the gods.

 

This is not about protecting these three friends. They are willing to die for their faith. What is at stake here is more than their lives. It is the reputation of their God. It is fascinating that Nebuchadnezzar has men throw them into the furnace for him, but when he sees them walking unharmed in the furnace with a fourth individual, he personally goes to the furnace and calls them out. Nebuchadnezzar realized that their God is a god like he has never seen or heard of before. The gods of the world, the gods of the Babylonians are only as powerful as their ruthless kings, but here is a God who is more powerful than fire, which destroys everything. Here is a God over whom Nebuchadnezzar has no power. This was a battle of the gods, and his gods lost royally.

 

He did not respond by requiring everyone to worship their God, but he did make a law that no one was allowed to disrespect their God. God’s reputation was on the line. In the end God was glorified. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were more concerned about the reputation of their God than they were about their own lives. It reminds me of Paul’s words in Romans 12:1-2,

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.   Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Or his words in Philippians 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego put their lives on the line for the reputation of their God. We, on the other hand, have a hard time missing a meal for the reputation of our God. Perhaps we do not know our God as well as we would like to think. My Ukrainian friend in Odessa grew up with a father in Russian prisons because he was a Baptist minister. He spent 17 years in prison because of his faith. Believers in many countries around the world put their lives on the line daily for the sake of their faith. We complain if the heat is to high or to low, or the music is too loud, or too slow.

 

Sometimes I wonder if we really know the God of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego at all. At the end of Daniel 2 Nebuchadnezzar recognized that there is no god like Daniel’s God. At the end of chapter 3 he made a law that no one was to disrespect their God. How often does our attitude, words, or lifestyle disrespect the God who revealed dreams to Daniel and spared his friends from the fiery furnace. Have we forgotten that we worship the same God they did? May our lives glorify him today rather than disrespect him, as is too often the case. The reputation of our God is on the line every day. May people see Jesus in me today. May he be glorified.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Daniel 3 (Pt 2)

 Daniel 3:8, 9, 12 (ESV)

[8] Therefore at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and maliciously accused the Jews. [9] They declared to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live forever!

[12] There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men, O king, pay no attention to you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not set out to make a name for themselves. They did not even disobey the King’s orders as a means of rebellion and protest. When I was a child I would envision the scene taking place on a large plain. Everyone was standing as a group around the image. When the music played and everyone bowed down, there in the middle of the group stood these three men. The King saw it at once and was enraged. But that is not how it happened. The King seems oblivious to their disobedience until “certain Chaldeans came forward and maliciously accused the Jews” (Dan 3:8).

 

Sometimes we are thrust into the forefront of a controversy, but we should never go looking for one. The three friends were not trying to start a revolt. They were not defiantly standing for all to see. The real conflict came because of the malicious accusation of some Chaldeans who were likely jealous of their promotion in the previous chapter. How does one respond to malicious accusations? They did not respond in kind. They do not appear to be angry, or defiant. They simply spoke the truth no matter what the consequences. The King asked them three questions. Is it true that you do not bow before my image? Are you ready not to bow before the image? What god can possibly deliver you? Their response was simple, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us . . . he will deliver us . . . But if not, . . . we will not serve your gods” (Dan 3:17-18). They did not try to explain themselves or defend themselves. They simply spoke the truth in a non-anxious manner and accepted the consequences.

 

So often we are quick to defend our rights. We get angry when our rights are violated. We post angry messages. We react rather than respond. We demand to be treated equitably. But as Christians we are called to die to our will, not demand our rights. We are called to love others, not defend ourselves. We are called to peace, not anger.

 

False or malicious accusations make me angry. I feel that I have the right to have people speak the truth about me. I have the right to quietly practice my faith. When people challenge that, accuse me of things I did not say or do, twist my words to make them mean something other than I intended, or attack my faith and practice, my first response is anger. I imagine that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were no different, yet their faith in God allowed them to respond without fear or anxiety.

 

As Christians, we say that we believe in the one, true God. Do our actions betray us? How do we respond to false accusations? How do we respond when people twist our words into something we did not intend, or take them out of context? How do we respond when we are maliciously accused and attacked? How do we respond when unreasonable demands are made?

 

When Nehemiah was questioned about his demeanor by the king in Nehemiah 2, it says that he was “very much afraid” (Neh 2:2), but he “prayed to the God of heaven” (Neh 2:4), and spoke to the king. When anxiety arises, when fear or anger begins to well up within us, may we learn to pray to the God of heaven and then respond in faith and peace. We can trust God even in the midst of malicious attacks. It is in that non-anxious response that people see Jesus in us. May we learn to practice these words of Jesus in Matthew 16:24-26,

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”


 

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Daniel 3 (Pt 1)

Daniel 3:1 (ESV)

[1] King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its breadth six cubits. He set it up on the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon.

In the previous chapter of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar saw an image in a dream. Daniel’s interpretation was that Nebuchadnezzar was the golden head. He would be replaced by three other kingdoms successively, followed by the Kingdom of God which would do away with all other kingdoms. The chapter concludes with Nebuchadnezzar acknowledging, “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings” (Dan 2:47). Then he builds an image of gold in the very next chapter.

 

What the image was has been debated. Some think that he tried to recreate the image from his dream. Because Nebuchadnezzar was the head of gold in chapter 2, and because the image he builds in chapter 3 is gold, others suggest that the image is an image of Nebuchadnezzar himself. Either way, it reveals something about human nature. He required all his officials to pay homage to, or worship the image. It involved falling on their faces before the image just as Nebuchadnezzar fell on his face before Daniel in chapter 2. It seems that we are always trying to put our personal spin on God.

 

One person says, “I like to think of God as Daddy.” Another says, “No, God is the great Lawgiver. We must respect his authority.” A third says, God is my buddy. He is always there for me.” Each of these individuals have some truth about God, but they miss the bigger picture. God is an intimate Father. He is the great Lawgiver. He is a personal friend who will never leave us or forsake us. Each of those images or titles tells us something about God. None of them tell us everything about God. When we settle on one image, and only refer to God in that way, we make God less than God. He becomes only our loving, intimate Father, only the Lawgiver, or only our personal friend. When we make God less than God, then we begin to use him for our purposes. We lose sight of the truth that we were created for his purposes.

 

Nebuchadnezzar made an image of Gold. In Acts 8, Simon the magician wanted to use God to retain power and influence. In the gospels, the Pharisees wanted to use God to maintain a life ordered by the Law of God rather than realizing that the Law pointed to something greater. Jesus said of the Law in Matthew 5:17 “I have not come to abolish [the Law or the Prophets] but to fulfill them.” The Law was intended to point to the one who would fulfill the Law. In 2 Kings 5 Naaman had leprosy. Elisha told him to go wash in the Jordan River seven times to be healed. He was angry. The rivers at home were better rivers. Why should he wash in the Jordan? His servants reminded him of the source of the command. He washed in the Jordan and was healed. He learned that he had to come to God in God’s way rather than demanding that God work his way.

 

In about 1971 I remember a former druggie walking down the middle of a deserted street at night shouting out, “Jesus is the ultimate high!” But if that is all Jesus is, then he is nothing more than another way to feel something. He is just another way to an experience. Our theology becomes very small when we attempt to fit God into our pet view of God. There is an old children’s chorus that said, “He’s big enough to fill the mighty universe, yet small enough to live within my heart.”

 

Nebuchadnezzar reasoned from his dream to an image to be worshipped. Daniel’s friends reasoned from God to the image, and refused to worship the image. Our starting point changes our perspective. Too many times I have heard people say something like, “I like to think of God as . . ..”  They reason from an experience or a need in their life and develop their theology from there. That is backward. Rather, we should start with who God is, and interpret our needs and experiences in light of that truth.

 

Human nature wants a God we can hold, inspect, and control. We will worship a God like that because it is a god created in our own image. The Forest Service used to call fires that they started on purpose Controlled Burns. They don’t call them that anymore. They are now called Prescribed Burns because they realized that no fire is really controlled. I wonder how often we view God as a controlled god who is there to grant us our wishes and keep us happy. Nebuchadnezzar created an image that he could see and control.

 

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego worshipped a God who is greater than they. They could not control him, they could only trust him. When commanded to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s image, they responded, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Dan 3:17-18). Whether God saved them or not, they would worship no other god because a God you can manipulate and control is no god at all.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Daniel 2 (Pt 5)

 Daniel 2:44 (ESV)

[44] And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever,

There is a lot of corruption in government today. There are oppressive governments, corrupt governments, and anti-Christ governments. There are governments that lie to their people and governments that lie to the rest of the world. There is oppression, chronic poverty, genocide, and more. The good news is that these governments will not stand forever. “The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed” (Dan 2:44).

 

How do we live in light of that truth? What difference does it make to us now? There are at least three ways in which this truth should affect our lives today. First, as believers in Jesus Christ we submit to those governments under which we live, knowing that today’s systems are only temporary. We submit with discernment. We recognize that if the authorities demand something of us that is against the truth of the Scriptures then we can no longer submit. There is a line that we cannot cross. Sometimes it is difficult to know exactly where that line is, but there is a limit to our submission,. We live under a human government, but we are primarily subjects of a higher king.

 

Second, we live as citizens of the Kingdom of God that is here and is yet coming. There is a now and not yet aspect to the Kingdom. Believers in Jesus Christ are citizens of Heaven and subjects of the King. As such we are ambassadors to a broken world. We submit to local governments not because they are the ultimate authority, but because as ambassadors we respect the laws of the land in order to represent our King well. Our primary goal, as believers in Jesus Christ, is not to be good citizens, but to be good representatives of a higher authority.

 

Third, we live in expectation of God’s fulfillment of his kingdom. Believers are citizens of that kingdom already. We have free access to the king at any time. But we also recognize that this is not the end. There is coming a time when Jesus will return. There is coming a time when all the kingdoms of this earth will end. There is coming a time when “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Php 2:10-11). We live in anticipation of that day. We recognize that we are but stewards of all that we have. We understand that we will one day answer to God for how well we represented him on this earth. Jesus said it like this in Luke 12:32-24,

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

 

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Daniel 2 (Pt 4)

Daniel 2:46 -47 (ESV)

[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.”

 

Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had a dream that disturbed him. It so disturbed him that to make sure he had the correct interpretation, on threat of death he required the wise men to tell him the dream first and then the interpretation. God revealed the dream and its interpretation to Daniel, who then went to the king. Daniel’s prayer, before revealing the interpretation, included these words, God “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). The king’s response after hearing the interpretation was, “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” (Dan 2:47).

 

In the dream God revealed that after Nebuchadnezzar there would be three more kingdoms. Each kingdom would be lesser in value. The final kingdom would be destroyed by the Kingdom of God. Historically that proved true. The Persians followed Nebuchadnezzar. The Greeks eventually conquered Persia. The Romans came next. During their reign Jesus came to say, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Mt 4:17). Thirty-one times Jesus refers to the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew. Where Jesus is, there is the Kingdom.

 

Why did God reveal this to Nebuchadnezzar? There may be many reasons. Only God knows the mind of God. There is, at the very least, one primary reason for the revelation. God was demonstrating to Babylon, and to the Jews in captivity, that the world was not out of control. God sets up kings and he brings down kings. He set Babylon in power. He would replace Babylon with Persia. That happens at the end of chapter 5. He would replace Persia with Greece, who would be replaced by Rome, who would be destroyed by the Kingdom of God. Even though the People of God were in exile, their temple destroyed, and their capital city in ruins, God was in control.

 

It seems that we are so fickle that when anything bad happens we say, “Where is God?” God never stops being God. He has gone nowhere. We are so me centered that we lose the big picture. When President George W. Bush on in the White House, God was in charge. When President Obama was in the White House, God was in charge. With President Trump in the White House, God is in charge. Whoever the next president will be cannot change the fact that God is in charge. As Daniel said, “He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings” (Dan 2:21). As Nebuchadnezzar said, “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings” (Dan 2:47). As Paul wrote in Romans 13:1, “There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” That was written when Nero was Emperor. As a friend recently pointed out, Nero’s wickedness and immorality makes our politicians look like Sunday School children. Despite Nero’s depravity, Paul still wrote, “There is no authority except from God.”

 

I have been disturbed recently by the attitude of some Christians. The disrespectful, angry, violent, vile things they have to say about some of our politicians makes me wonder if they really believe Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar, and Paul. I have not approved of all that our presidents and governors have done, but I am called to respect them and to recognize that they are there by the hand of God. I can trust him to accomplish his purpose. It may not be comfortable. It may not be a future I would choose. It may not be a president or governor I like. But God never stops being God. It is time we started living as though that is true.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Daniel 2 (Pt 3)

Daniel 2:14 (ESV)

[14] Then Daniel replied with prudence and discretion to Arioch, the captain of the king’s guard, who had gone out to kill the wise men of Babylon.

Daniel 2:17-18 (ESV)

[17] Then Daniel went to his house and made the matter known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions, [18] and told them to seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his companions might not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.

 

How should a believer in Jesus Christ respond to a crisis? In Daniel 2 Daniel and his friends were facing execution along with all the king’s wisemen, enchanters, etc. He responded in two ways. First, “Daniel replied with prudence and discretion” (Dan 2:14). The word “prudence” is the translation of an Aramaic word that means prudence, counsel, or discretion. Daniel 2:4 is the only place in the Bible this word is used. The word “discretion” is the translation of an Aramaic word that refers to good judgment. Daniel didn’t panic. He didn’t react. He used good judgment and  wisdom in responding.

 

Too often our first response is to react. I heard someone recently say that if you react to critics you are not leading, you are following their lead. Panic causes us to do strange things. It will cause a person just a few feet from safety to drown. It will cause a person lost in the mountains to cross roads rather than follow them to safety. Reaction is proper in its place. When we touch a hot surface we react by jerking our hand away. But reacting to spiritual danger often leads us in the wrong direction. Daniel didn’t lash out at the king. He didn’t try and rally the wisemen against the king. He responded with wisdom and good judgement. He remained a non-anxious presence because he trusted God.

 

Daniel’s first response to the crisis was to use wisdom and good judgment. His second response was to call his friends to prayer. He “told them to seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery” (Dan 2:18). Too often prayer is considered a last resort. A crisis arises and we react. We feel pressured to respond quickly before it is too late. We call an emergency meeting and talk the issue to death. When all else fails we ask people to pray. What if prayer was our first strategy rather than our last strategy? What if, in the face of a crisis, we called people to prayer and then sought an solution?

 

In these days of instant communication it is easy to post a Facebook call to prayer, or start and email chain letter requesting prayer. Before long there are hundreds, or even thousands praying. I find it interesting that Daniel didn’t tell his friends, “Run quickly and call everyone you know to prayer.” He simply asked his three closest friends to pray that God would reveal the mystery. This may suggest that there is something relational about prayer. It clearly demonstrates the truth that the effectiveness of prayer is not increased by the sheer numbers of people praying. The power of prayer is not in the number of people praying, it is in the God to whom we are praying. Daniel’s faith was not in his friends or in his friend’s friends. It was in God.

 

This chapter is about the superiority of God over the gods of this world. Sometimes I wonder if we really believe that. If we did, we wouldn’t panic at every apparent threat. In faith we would seek to respond with wisdom and good judgment. We would seek God’s answer in prayer. We would keep our eyes on the Almighty and remain a non-anxious presence in an anxious world. When panic rises and begins to cloud our judgment, when fear causes us to react, when crises demand a response, may we learn to turn our eyes to God. May we learn to truly trust Him and respond in wisdom, good judgment, and prayer.

 

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Daniel 2 (Pt 2)

 

Daniel 2:11 (ESV)

[11] 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.”

Daniel 2:27-28 (ESV)

[27] Daniel answered the king and said, “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked, [28] but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days. Your dream and the visions of your head as you lay in bed are these:

 

In Daniel 2 King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that disturbed him. He called together all “the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans” (Dan 2:2). He was so disturbed by the dream that he made a request no king had ever made. In order to make sure that he had a correct interpretation of the dream, he requested the interpreters to not only tell him what the dream meant, but to first tell him what the dream was. Their response was, “No one can show it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh” (Dan 2:11).

 

Daniel’s response was quite different. In a non-anxious manner he simply requested an appointment to tell the dream and its interpretation. Then he went to his friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, and asked them to pray. When we came back to the king with the interpretation he said, “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries” (Dan 2:27-28). The word “God” that Daniel used is the same word the wise men used when they said that only the gods could answer the king’s request. The difference is that they had no way to hear from the gods. Daniel knew God as one who speaks to and interacts with men.

 

The name used in these verses is Elohim. It is the generic name for God that can either refer to the gods of the world or to God of Heaven whom the Jews served. For the world, the gods are inaccessible. If they speak at all, they speak in riddles that must be interpreted. Thus the wise men said, “Tell us the dream and we will tell you what it means.” They were good at bluffing their way through an interpretation that may or may not be correct. For the Jews, God is accessible. He speaks to people. He answers prayers. He demonstrates power. He spoke to Moses. He demonstrated his power on Sinai. He spoke to Elijah, sent fire in response to his prayer, and answered his prayer for rain. He showed Daniel Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. God is the God who interacts with people.

 

God is a God of relationship. He is the God who became flesh, lived among us, died in our place and raised from the dead. God is not a distant, inaccessible god. As believers in Jesus Christ, he is with us, his Spirit dwells within us, and he has invited us to come confidently before his throne at any time. God is not a god who must be begged and pleaded with in order to hear us. He is not a god who must be cajoled, enticed, and flattered in order to answer our prayers. He is the God who took the initiative to restore relationship with us through the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. We do not serve a god who is one of the gods of this world. We do not serve a god who is a truth among many truths. We serve the one who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn 14:6). There are not many roads to God, nor many truths from which to choose. There is truth and there is lie. The truth is that Daniel was a non-anxious presence in an anxious time because he served a God of relationship who answers prayer.

 

God did not answer Daniel’s prayer because Daniel was somebody special. He heard Daniel’s prayer because God is a God of wisdom and might, as well as a God of mercy (Dan 2:18ff). That is the God we serve. In times of high anxiety, God is a God of peace. May these verses speak to us today as we face anxious times.

Philippians 4:4-7 (ESV)

[4] Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. [5] Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; [6] do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. [7] And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Monday, August 10, 2020

Daniel 2

 

Daniel 2:46-49 (ESV)

[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. Having someone fall on their face before you in homage or worship is 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 Muslim immigrants moving to our country. We are dazed with fear because of violence in our streets. We are an anxious people talking about God, but living as though he does not exist.

 

Daniel and his friends watched their homes destroyed, 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?

 

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...