It’s getting hot in here

Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah all sought to remain true to God even in the midst of dire circumstances and a culture that sought to conform them to its image. When they first arrived in Babylon (exiled from Jerusalem because of the nation’s idolatry and disobedience), it started with a name-change. The names of all four boys reflected the God whom they worshiped and served. The first move of cultural re-education was to give them names that reflected the Babylonian pantheon of gods. So Daniel became Belshazzar, Hananiah became Shadrach, Mishael became Meshach, and Azariah became Abed-nego.In addition to new names, the boys were immersed in Babylonian customs and learning. The food that they were told to eat violated what their consciences dictated, so they asked for a pass, and God was merciful. Their decision to follow Him was rewarded.

Nebuchadnezzar had a dream. No one seemed to be able to interpret it for him, so he pronounced a death sentence on all his wise men (which included Daniel and his three friends). When Daniel and crew were made aware of the king’s edict, they asked for time, and God was merciful once again and granted Daniel insight and wisdom to know the dream and its interpretation. Daniel was promoted and secured high offices for his three friends. Up to this point, God seemed to be prospering Daniel and his friends in captivity. Following Him had been relatively easy.

Daniel 3. Everything changes. After Daniel interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a statute representing successive world kingdoms (aka The Times of the Gentiles) and the subsequent destruction of those kingdoms by God’s eternal kingdom, Nebuchadnezzar took to heart Daniel’s statement that he, Nebuchadnezzar, was the head of gold and king of kings. He set up a huge golden image to which he commanded all of his officials to bow down and worship (likely both political and religious significance). Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah all refused. Nebuchadnezzar was not happy and threatened certain death for the three boys unless they complied. And now their faith was on the line…what would they do? These guys made an amazing statement, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” But even if He does not… wow. What faith. Regardless of the outcome these young men were willing to remain true to God. For them, death was not the end. But God once again was merciful and spared their lives.

These three are a stark contrast to the nation. The nation went into captivity because they continually bowed down to idols, yet these three refuse idolatry even though their lives are on the line. And they become examples for believers going through this time of Gentile domination when doing the right thing seems to bring a negative consequence…the world system is vehemently opposed to the things of God. Jesus said, “If they hate you, know that they hated Me first…” Death is not the end, but just a transition. As the author of Hebrews says, we are looking for a better kingdom than what the world has to offer, an eternal kingdom that will never be shaken and will not fade away.

Until next time…stay salty.

 

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The Long View

This was not what Joseph expected his life to be like. The favorite son of a wealthy man, things were supposed to come easy. He even dreamed that his brothers would bow down to him. He was voted most likely to succeed. And now here he sits in prison. Waiting. Let’s back up. Genesis 39-40.

Joseph is the eldest son of Jacob’s most loved wife, Rachel. And Jacob made it painfully clear that Joseph was his favorite, even giving Joseph a multi-colored tunic to distinguish his place of honor in the family. The LORD gave Joseph a series of dreams confirming that he would one day have prominence within the family, a prominence that would be recognized by all. He proves to be the faithful, obedient son going beyond Jacob’s express directions to find his brothers. His reward for obedience? Hijacked by his brothers and sold into slavery to traders on their way to Egypt. Not what he expected.

In Egypt, Joseph is sold to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s bodyguard. Joseph once again proves to be faithful and obedient, now as a slave. And we’re told that God blesses Potiphar on account of Joseph, and Joseph finds favor with him. He works hard for his master, and Potiphar prospers. His reward for obedience? Falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife of attempted rape…thrown into prison, awaiting punishment. Not what he expected, but God protects his life.

In prison, Joseph once again distinguishes himself as faithful and obedient, now as a prisoner. And God blesses the jailer on account of Joseph, and Joseph once again finds favor with his master. His reward for obedience? Forgotten and left for another two years in prison. Definitely not what he expected. But in every circumstance the one thing the reader can’t miss is: God’s presence, provision and protection of Joseph. He has not been left alone. And although making the right decision seems to have yielded the wrong consequence these three times, Joseph held on to his integrity. He continued to trust God. Even when life didn’t turn out the way he expected…in fact the exact opposite. Instead of ruling, he was both a prisoner and a slave seemingly forgotten. But God had not forgotten him.

That’s the lesson for us…for me. It would have been easy for Joseph to give up, to blame God, to choose a different path; but he did not waver, and suffering prepared Joseph to be the leader that God desired him to be…a deliverer who would rescue his people. It also strikes me that Joseph was not content to just sit and wait for his destiny to be fulfilled, he was faithful in the situations that God put him in. He gave himself fully to serve, and God rewarded him for it.

I believe that God has a purpose for each one of us. Some will realize it sooner than others…Abraham waited twenty-five years, Moses forty…and some will never realize it because of the choices they’ve made along the way. But what God calls us to is the long view, to be faithful in the circumstances He’s placed us in right now, so that we are ready when the moment of destiny comes. I pray that He finds us faithful my friends.

Until next time…stay salty.

Sign of the Times

The king had a dream. A very disturbing, seemingly ominous dream. The dread that he felt upon awaking only confirmed the magnanimity of the omen. So he called in his wise men – astrologers, magicians, practioners of the arcane arts – seeking to discover the meaning of the dream. The assembly was brought together, and then a very peculiar request was made. “Tell me the dream and its interpretation,” demanded the king. The sages stood dumbfounded. Such a request had never been made before. Sure they had been asked to interpret dreams, but never to rehearse the dream itself before hearing it. But the king’s word was law, and his resolve was firm. Tell the dream and its interpretation or die! The wise men astutely answer that the giving of dreams and revealing of mysteries was beyond mortal man. Nevertheless the king pronounced the death sentence. Daniel 2

The first that Daniel heard of the king’s decree was at the moment that the guards show up for him. Apparently he wasn’t invited to participate with the others although we are told that he surpassed them all in wisdom and knowledge. Daniel asked for time from the king and asked his friends to pray that God would grant the interpretation. God graciously revealed the dream to Daniel. And then Daniel made a profound statement about God – “Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, For wisdom and power belong to Him. It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men And knowledge to men of understanding. It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, And the light dwells with Him. To You, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, For You have given me wisdom and power; Even now You have made known to me what we requested of You, For You have made known to us the king’s matter.”

Daniel reported to the king. In the dream, Nebuchadnezzar saw a huge statue – head of gold, arms and chest of silver, trunk of bronze, legs of iron, and feet of iron mixed with clay. He also saw a huge stone cut without hands that crushed the statue and filled the earth. “You are the head of gold,” Daniel told the king. Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom would be followed by a series of successive kingdoms, each one inferior to the one before until the kingdom set up by God was established which would supersede them all. Nebuchadnezzar was ecstatic and gave gifts to Daniel and made this amazing statement: “Surely your God is a God of gods and a Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, since you have been able to reveal this mystery.”

Both Daniel and, more importantly, Nebuchadnezzar recognized that God is sovereign…very significant considering that in chapter 1 the king’s actions symbolically show the defeat of the God of Israel by Marduk, the Babylonian god. The importance of this story for the Jews is two-fold. One, it sets expectations as the Times of the Gentiles formally begin. Israel should not look for a king on the throne until God sets up His kingdom…a kingdom which is very physical (“crushes” all the others). Two, those who follow God are to be faithful during this time. God has not forgotten His people even though following God may look like losing, especially from the world’s perspective. Hold the course. Keep the faith.

Until next time…stay salty.

I Had a Dream…

Joseph came from a long line of dreamers. Abraham had a vision of God passing through severed animals as a smoking oven and a flaming torch. Isaac was told not to go down to Egypt. Jacob saw a ladder with its top in the heavens and angels ascending and descending upon it. And now Joseph is given a dream. Well actually two dreams. Gen 37

We should probably back up a bit. Joseph is the eldest son of Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel. He’s the youngest in the clan next to his brother Benjamin (also Rachel’s son) who is born some time later. As the son of Jacob’s favorite wife, Joseph always had a special place in his dad’s heart; and Jacob was none too discreet about it. In fact, Jacob (now Israel) had an elaborate coat made for Joseph to highlight his status within the family. It appears that Israel’s intent is to give Joseph the right of the firstborn and his blessing. This does not sit well with his brothers who would all be passed over, and so they hated Joseph. And then Joseph has a dream.

In Joseph’s dream, he sees eleven sheaves of grain bowing down to his sheaf. He can’t wait to share the good news with his brothers…they are all going to one day bow down to him! Probably not a good idea given their hostile disposition toward him. Then he has a second dream: the sun, moon and eleven stars bowing down to him. Somehow Israel and Joseph’s mother are included in this sign of obeisance (although Rachel is gone). Joseph once again is compelled to share his dream, and once again the brothers are angered. This time Israel rebukes Joseph, although he keeps the matter in mind. You see Israel, too, has a had dreams in the past where God had made fantastic promises.

So, what are these two dreams? The first dream looks to be the first hint at the famine that will come upon Egypt and the circumstances under which the brothers will come and bow down to Joseph. The second dream is a little trickier. It’s not clear who the woman is who represents the moon. Could be Rachel, but she has already died. Maybe Leah or one of the maids? It’s interesting that John picks up the same imagery in Revelation 12 when he writes, “A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; and she was with child; and she *cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. And his tail *swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child.  And she gave birth to a son, a male child…” Could it be that Joseph is given a vision of the ultimate Seed of the Woman who will rule over Israel, making Joseph in this instance a type of Christ? It is interesting to consider that not only is there a promise of near-term deliverance through Joseph, but also far-term, final deliverance, not only for Jacob and his family, but for all Israel (and for all who would believe) through Jesus. Something to ponder.

And so God continues to carry out His plan of redemption. Although the road seems a bit winding and treacherous, and the end is not all too clear, God will be faithful to His promise and will deliver His people from bondage to sin and death through the Seed of the Woman, the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world, the Conquering Warrior King of Revelation 19, Jesus of Nazareth.

Until next time…stay salty.

Game Changer

A group of friends and I started studying the book of Daniel last night. By way of introduction I referenced a sermon I preached on the book of Daniel called Resetting Expectations. What follows is a recap of that sermon written by a friend of mine and long-time missionary Betty Snell. Enjoy.

Last Sunday, Matt Dumas began his message “Resetting Expectations”, based on Daniel’s vision of the four beasts in Dan. 7, by asking: “What do you remember from the book of Daniel?” “The three guys in the fiery furnace.” “Daniel in the lions’ den.” Over on the far right a sweet little voice said very clearly: “Daniel and the giant.” The barest flicker of “How do I respond to this one” passed over Matt’s face but without missing a beat he said: “Right! The great big statue of gold the King made!”  None of us mentioned Daniel’s vision of the four beasts but that’s where we’re going right now!

So come in and have a seat over in the far right section of the Worship Center. As you see, it’s divided into four sections. Those folks over in the extreme left section under the banner of the winged lion are the ancient Babylonians whom God sent to conquer, kill and carry into captivity His chosen people. Move over to the section left of center where the Medes and Persians who conquered the Babylonians are gathered under the banner of the bear with the three ribs in its jaws. To the right of center under the banner of the leopard with four wings and four heads are the Greeks made most famous by Alexander the Great who conquered the known world and wept that there were no more kingdoms to conquer. And you and I, over here on the extreme right under the banner of the fourth beast “different from all the others”, are living among the leftovers of the mighty Roman empire which crushed and trampled and devoured the whole world but was never taken over by another power.

Now turn around and look up at the balcony.There, Daniel tells us, the Ancient of Days sits enthroned on high, his throne flaming with fire with thousands upon thousands attending him. “One like a son of man” approaches Him and is “given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worship him. His dominion [will be] an everlasting dominion that will not pass away and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” But it hasn’t happened yet!  And that’s why we’re still sitting here in our section of the broken world left crushed and trampled by the “beast different from all the others”

When the children of Israel lived in the land Yahweh had given to them, they lived under a theocratic rule. Things made sense. Do the right things and good things happen. Do the wrong things and bad things happen. It’s the whole premise of Deut. 28: blessings follow obedience; curses follow disobedience. Over here  where we’re sitting, things don’t make sense. Doing all the right things is no guarantee that good things will result. In fact, doing the wrong things often looks like a quick trip to prosperity. [Reminds one of Psalm 73!]  So why this vision to Daniel and why at this time in his life? Daniel had been used to living in a theocratic kingdom and now he’s living in a kingdom ruled by a beast. He had his own version of the American Dream. The 70 years of captivity were almost over and he’d get to go back to the land from which he’d been carried away. But God had to reset Daniel’s expectations. He had done all the right things and now he’s told he’ll die in captivity and never see Jerusalem again. That his hope lay only in a resurrection!

We have our own versions of “the dream”, too: Go to the right school > get the right job > marry the right person > have great kids > live in the right house and drive the right cars > have the world’s greatest grandkids > live happily ever after. We baptize it and call it Christianity. And when we’re crushed and trampled on we’re surprised! How could this happen to me? Why didn’t it work? Why does it all blow up in my face? What did I do wrong? We forget that we live under the dominion of the 4th beast!  Suffering is a part of the deal and the more we follow Jesus, the more intense the suffering. When we sign up to follow Him, we’re thinking we’re signing up for the party at the end! For winning the game! Daniel gives us a picture of what it means to follow Jesus!
1) Don’t give up! Even if we die, it’s worth it. The eternal Kingdom will last!! 2) Don’t give in! Daniel did not give in to the culture around him. Every time he and his friends did something right, they got punished for it—and God got praised! In the 4th kingdom, when your light shines, men are going to hate you! 3) God wins! When we look around at the 4th kingdom it looks like we’re losing but one day it’ll be evident to the whole world that Yahweh wins! Matt’s final Q.: “How is life going for you under the 4th beast?”

I came away with a most welcome perspective on the current world scene. (If it’s a mis-application, Matt or someone, please correct me!): a) Regardless of whether the economy is weak or strong, the so-called American Dream, properly understood, is a fantasy that never has been and never can be a reality in a 4th kingdom world. b) Properly exercising our right to vote, serving honorably in public office and seeking to use our influence for good (aka being salt and light) in our 4th kingdom world, just as Daniel did in his 1st kingdom world, are good things, but trying to use secular means to set up a theocratic climate in a 4th kingdom world is a mis-guided exercise in futility. To say nothing of expecting 4th kingdom subjects to act like subjects of the Ancient of Days until they, too, worship Him in spirit and in truth!  May you have a God-blessed weekend!  Betty

Until next time…stay salty.

 

Just a Reminder…

Gen 35.

Jacob’s life was a mess. Four wives, thirteen children, strained relations with family, a daughter who was raped, two sons who slaughtered an entire town…some of it inflicted upon him, but most the result of his own selfish, sinful choices. But there is one constant in Jacob’s life. God has been faithful to provide and take care of him and has even promised great things to come about through him and his progeny. He has brought Jacob back into the land and given him a new name: Israel, a reminder that God is the One who fights for him. Clearly God has blessed him…not for anything that Jacob has done, but because of who He is and His choice to bless. And although Jacob is back in the land and has built an altar and called God his God, he seems to forget his promise to return to Bethel, and instead buys a plot of land to settle in Shechem.

On the surface, it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but Jacob had promised on oath to return to Bethel. In narrative literature, the lesson is learned through the characters…by what happens to them and by the consequences of their actions. In the case of the trip to Shechem, Jacob’s daughter is raped and two of his sons commit mass murder. We find out also that Jacob’s clan has picked up foreign gods as a result of their excursion. Probably not a good decision to go to Shechem. Fleeing from there, the terror of God is on the inhabitants of the land (God fighting for Jacob). And God reminds Jacob to return to Bethel to fulfill his oath.

Seeing Jacob’s life displayed in all it’s tragic glory is…encouraging. You see, I’m a lot like Jacob in many ways. I too tend to want to take matters into my own hands, to “grab the heel” and gain the upper hand. I too have a hard time trusting that God will fight for me and remembering that He has done so in the past. I too face the consequences of selfish, sinful choices that I have made. But God, in His infinite wisdom, chooses to use broken vessels to accomplish His purposes. And I too am thankful for that.

Until next time…stay salty.

Retribution

One of my favorite “dad” books is called Raising a Modern-Day Knight: A Father’s Role in Guiding His Son to Authentic Manhood by Robert Lewis. A phrase that was particularly meaningful for me that Lewis uses in defining authentic manhood using medieval imagery was, “A knight (man) rejects passivity, accepts responsibility, leads courageously, looking to the reward.” It was impactful and easy to remember. And although it’s been a couple of years since we’ve done our “knight’s training”, the boys still remember the phrase. It makes me wonder about Jacob and his sons.

Gen 33-34. After two decades of being absent, Jacob finally returns to the land. As he does so, Esau comes with a band of 400 men to meet him, and Jacob is afraid. Never mind that God continually reminds him that He is on his side, Jacob still tends to see the world from a very earthy perspective. The meeting with Esau is a non-event, and Jacob ends up settling in Shechem where Abraham first settled in the land.

Life seems normal enough at first as Jacob buys a piece of property to settle on, but the situation sours quickly when his daughter, Dinah, is raped by Shechem, the prince of the land. When Jacob hears about it, he’s silent, waiting for his sons to return from the field. Meanwhile, Hamor, Shechem’s father, approaches Jacob to negotiate a marriage proposal between Shechem and Dinah. Hamor attempts to convince Jacob that a wedding would create a favorable alliance for his family and give them access to the land. Jacob remains silent as his two sons, Simeon and Levi, present terms…all the male Shechemites must be circumcised. Hamor tries to convince the townsfolk that circumcision is a minor concession given that the Shechemites will have access to all of Jacob’s property. An agreement is made, and all of the males are circumcised. Three days later, Simeon and Levi wipe out every man in town and take the rest as spoil. Finally Jacob speaks and rebukes his sons for putting the family in a precarious place in regards to the surrounding peoples.

This story is disturbing. Not only for the rape and the ensuing slaughter, but also for the actions, or better the refusal to act by Jacob. In this story, he is the epitome of passivity. Strange for the “heel-grabber” who is constantly fighting for himself to refuse to fight for his daughter. Had he stepped in, the outcome may have been exactly the same…it’s unlikely that Hamor would have handed over his son, or that the inhabitants of Shechem would have allowed harm to befall their favored prince…but the means would have been different. Instead of deception and murder, Jacob might have had the opportunity to see God fight for him and through him, much like He did with Abraham against the four kings. But now his sons Simeon and Levi will have to realize the consequences of their hot anger and merciless retribution. Makes me wonder what I’m teaching my own boys through my activity and inactivity…

Until next time…stay salty.