Saturday, November 4, 2017

I Thessalonians 5:8-11 – “People of Hope”

As always, here’s my fairly literal translation of these verses:

8but we, being of day, let us be being level-headed putting on a breastplate of faith and love and a helmet, hope of salvation 9because God did not destine us into wrath but into acquiring salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10the One who died on our behalf in order that we might live together with Him, whether we should be awake or whether we should be sleeping. 11Wherefore, be encouraging each other and be building up into the same, just as you also are doing.

Verses 8 tells us the Lord wants us to be level-headed people who live faith, hope, and love, then verses 9&10, in effect, draw back the curtain of God’s heart. And what do we see? He did not destine us into wrath. Note again how, in verses 6&7, He sees us as “children of light” and as being very different than an unbelieving world which is (toward Him) sound asleep and slobbering drunk. We are objects of grace. We know we’re rotten, but He has chosen to make us His children and “children of light,” at that. “Behold what manner of love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God …” We of course are naturally in fact “children of wrath.” In the passage before us, the “wrath” in view specifically is the Day of the Lord. He has already warned that just when the sleeping, drunken unbelievers of this world are mumbling about “peace and safety,” that Day will come upon them very suddenly “and they shall not escape.” “But you …” He says in v4.

There are children of darkness destined for wrath, but God calls you and me “children of light.” And to what are we destined? Verse 9 answers: “Into acquiring salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Salvation. Deliverance. “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain …’” (Rev 21:3,4). And this isn’t based on what we’ve done but it is “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” The entire panorama of grace is an infinitely kind God offering up His own Son to purchase us undeserving, ruined sinners to redeem us out of all this darkness and “translate us into the kingdom of His dear Son.” Someone pointed out that, given all of this, it is unthinkable that the same God would allow us to share in the wrath to which an unbelieving world in destined.

Dispensationalists take this as an assurance that Church-age Christians will be raptured before the seven years of the Great Tribulation. I am persuaded they are right, but whether or not anyone agrees with that particular application, we believers can rest assured our God has good plans for us. He may in fact be planning a Day of the Lord that is to others “sudden destruction,” but for us even that Day will be a day of salvation and deliverance.

Having said all of that, He circles back to the whole discussion at the end of chapter 4 about believers “sleeping” or being “alive and remaining until the Day of the Lord.” There His “sleep” was referring to death, of course, so here when He says “Whether awake or sleeping,” He means whether dead or alive. And whether awake or asleep, our destiny is to “live together with Him.” Note that, in English, those four words can simply mean that you or I will “live together with Him.” However, in the Greek, it is more likely the “together” is referring to “us.” It’s emphasizing that it will be us, that we together will live with Him. I have to say for myself, as hopeful and exciting as it may be to think I will live with Him, it is enormously encouraging and hopeful to know I won’t be alone in it, that we will all be there, together, with Him.

We are people of hope. In a very dark, frustrating, and sometimes frightening world, we are free to live lives of faith, hope, and love because we already know our destiny. And what should we do with that? Verse 11 says we should “be encouraging each other and be building up into the same, just as you also are doing.”

Because we are people of hope, we should be encouraging others and “building up.” I’m sorry to note that most people today are very negative. They can’t seem to say anything positive about anyone. They say things to each other that only discourage. And too many people are experts in tearing down. Us believers, because we are ourselves objects of grace and children of hope, ought to be resolved to be different. We should be the encouragers and the ones who build up, not tear down all the time. It starts with each other. Though we are children of grace, we certainly most days don’t feel it. We all need often to be reminded that we are people of hope. May you and I resolve that even today, we will very deliberately try to say encouraging things to other people, to be people who build up, not tear down. And why not? We are people of hope!

Friday, November 3, 2017

I Thessalonians 5:4-8 – “Living It”

As always, here’s my fairly literal translation of these verses:

4But you, brothers, are not in darkness that the day should take you as a thief, 5for you all are sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night neither of darkness. 6Accordingly, therefore, we should not be sleeping as the rest but we should be being awake and be being level-headed, 7for the ones sleeping are sleeping of night and the ones getting drunk are being drunk of night, 8but we, being of day, let us be being level-headed putting on a breastplate of faith and love and a helmet, hope of salvation, …

Verses 4 & 5 should be very encouraging to us all. The Lord, in this chapter, is drawing a very sharp distinction between believers and the rest of the world. Notice above, in my translation, I underlined the opening word “you.” As I have explained before, I do this because the substantive pronouns are not normally expressed in Greek. They are just naturally included in the verb. When a Greek speaking person actually says the “you,” they are doing so for emphasis. “But you …” “But you … in contrast to them.” And see what is the contrast we are being told about – “… you, brothers, are not in darkness that the day should take you as a thief, 5for you all are sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night neither of darkness.” You are not in darkness. You are sons of light. You are sons of day. We are not of night. We are not of darkness.

Isn’t it interesting to know this is how the Lord sees you? You are not “as others.” You are a child of light. That is what He says. Notice that He doesn’t just see you as a sort of “improved” sinner. That is honestly about all I feel. I know He has saved me. I know He has changed me. But I don’t necessarily feel like I’m all that different. I’m still rotten inside and much too easily drawn to think, and want, and act just as badly as I ever did. I don’t feel that different. But in the Lord’s eyes, there are people who are “of darkness” and there are people who are “children of light.” As a believer, I’m one of those children of light. That is how the Lord sees me. Not just an improved version of them, but something completely different! … and something completely good! As they say, “Put that in your pipe and smoke it for a while!”

Then, of course, “to whom much is given, much is also required.” Knowing that the Lord has made us “different” imparts to us the moral responsibility to actually be different. He tells us we are “children of light,” then the Greek literally says, “accordingly therefore …” And what is the therefore? “We should not be sleeping, as the rest.” The Lord goes on here to basically describe “the rest” as sleeping and drunk. Note that is how He sees them. That is not how He sees us. In His eyes, unbelievers are living their entire lives as if they are sound asleep and slobbering drunk. Note that, in either case, whether asleep or drunk, a person is out of touch with reality. They are quite literally “of darkness.” No wonder unbelieving people say and do such completely idiotic things. We live in this day where you want to open people’s heads and see, “Is there anything inside??” That is horrifically frustrating on the political front, but let us be reminded what is really going on. You’re talking about people who are walking “sound asleep and slobbering drunk.” We see through their idiocy. We see through their facades. But why? Because we are children of light. We aren’t asleep (or shouldn’t be). We aren’t drunk (or shouldn’t be). For us, living in this world, it is just as if we’re in the same room with someone sleeping, or someone drunk. We see clearly what is going on. They, on the other hand, are out of touch with reality. What they say and do is senseless, just like a sleeping drunk.

The problem is, even though the Lord says we are different, we can still act just like them. What I should be asking is, “What can I do to make sure I’m different?” What can I do to make sure I’m “sober,” that I’m “alert,” that I’m “level-headed?” In answer, we could propose all sorts of do’s and don’ts, but what does the Lord say in the passage itself? He says in v.8: But we, being of day, let us be being level-headed putting on a breastplate of faith and love and a helmet, hope of salvation.” Interesting. Putting on faith, hope, and love. How do we stay “alert” in this world? By very deliberately being people of faith, hope, and love.

Does anyone else reading this sense that is not the answer we would expect today? If you sense that as well, pause and consider it all with me. I’ve actually hovered over this passage longer than I usually do. I got my grammar study and exegesis finished, then thought I’d better just linger over the passage for a while. I was afraid I would let it all be nice-sounding Christian jargon and miss the truth of it all. One of the things that perplexed me was reading Jesus’ words that seem to be expressing the same sentiments, as when He says in Mark 13:35-37, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know when the master of the house will return -- whether in the evening, at midnight, when the rooster crows, or in the morning. Otherwise, he may arrive without notice and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” I asked myself, “Do I really know what He means by ‘watch’?” My mind filled with all sorts of ideas but I knew in my heart they were all just my “ideas.” I wanted to be sure I knew what the Lord meant, so I prayed and looked up other passages, and just kept coming back to the passage.

Then I noticed in verse 8 the fact that the Lord actually answers the question Himself. I missed that before, even though I worked through the whole passage. Again, what does He want us to do when He says, “Watch!” and “Be sober, be awake, be level-headed?” He wants us to put on a breastplate of faith and love and a helmet of hope.

Faith, hope and love.

Can I just pause and lament how we make everything so difficult? The Lord tells us to “watch” and “be sober, be awake” and our minds conjure up all sorts of do and don’t lists and who knows what all else – while all He wanted us to do was to very deliberately live a life of faith, hope, and love! Once again, as Jesus told us, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” Loving God and serving Him and being faithful isn’t about all that other junk we conjure up. It’s about the very real issues of faith, hope, and love.

Faith speaks of the very truth-system we build our lives on. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. Faith is building our lives on the truth of who God is and nursing on His promises. That has certainly been a huge part of my life here in the last couple of years – learning to really embrace God’s faithfulness and His goodness and to put away my worrying and constant emotional frenzy.

Hope is the flame that keeps our hearts alive. In this passage it is specifically the “hope of salvation.” We could probably ponder what all that really means to us, but I would offer that, in the big scheme of things, the very fact of our salvation in Christ and the absolute certainty of Heaven with Him means for us that no matter what I face here, no matter how hopeless this world looks, I always still have that hope at least. And because I have that hope, I’m reminded I serve a wonderful Savior who has promised to only do me good here … which means I have hope even here in those things that seem hopeless. David said, “I would have fainted except I believed I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” Based on that truth, his advice to us was “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Hope gives us strength to keep going on.

And of course there is love. I am constantly amazed how many times the Lord says this and how for the better part of my Christian life I missed it. Love. Love God, love people. The first and great commandment. It is perhaps one of the greatest freedoms I have ever known to realize that what the Lord really wants of me, what really, really matters in life at any given second is simply to answer the question, “Am I loving?” If the answer before God is yes, I’m good. If the answer is no, then no matter what I’m doing, no matter how “spiritual” I may think I look, no matter how much others may approve – “though I speak with the tongues of men and angels but have not love, I am nothing.” Of course I need God’s wisdom to even know what love is. It is quite possible to think I’m loving (as in the case of an indulgent parent) and yet be wrong – but then, in a sense that is what the entire Bible is about from cover to cover – how to love wisely.

I’m sure I don’t embrace enough what God has done for me through Jesus, how He really has set me apart and made me one of the “children of light,” but I’m glad that, the more I understand that, instead of making me a religious sour-puss who hates everybody and everything, instead it makes me more and more a person of faith, hope, and love.

He began good work. And it certainly is a good work. May He help us all to willingly cooperate in that work today. May we live each moment as people of faith, hope, and love whether we find ourselves butchers or bakers or candlestick makers – or standing in the line at the grocery store.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

I Thessalonians 5:3 – “Peace and Safety”

As always, here’s my fairly literal translation of these verses:

3When they are saying, “Peace and safety,” then sudden to them is coming destruction, just as the labor to her having [child] in womb, and they absolutely will not escape.

When they are saying, ‘Peace and safety,…’” Isn’t it interesting to look around and realize this is exactly where our world is going? World War I was supposed to be “the war to end all wars,” and Woodrow Wilson championed the League of Nations – which became ultimately the United Nations, whose primary task (supposedly) is to maintain world peace. Their military forces are called “peacekeepers.” We’ve had Hippies and peace-niks and pacifists. We have “Green Peace,” and the Peace Corps. Politicians constantly clamor for “peace in the Middle East.” Barak Obama was elected on a platform of promising to unite the country and end the war in Iraq. His deception was so convincing, he hadn’t been in office long or done anything at all notable and they gave him a Nobel Peace Prize. In his case, of course, it was all hot air, and all he did was divide the country, persecute Christians, and generally leave the world a far scarier place. But our world was clamoring for “Peace and Safety,” and he said he could give it ... and they believed him.

Along with all of this, it is notable that boys are no longer taught to fight. As late as my parents’ generation, practically every boy learned to box. Before that, throughout the ages, a boy just naturally grew up learning to use a sword or a bow or to shoot a gun – all with the understanding that he might need those skills someday to defend himself, his family, or his country. Probably the last generation of fighting men were the guys who served in WWII. Even as young men those guys could take up a gun and walk right into the face of death and ultimately win a world war to defend their families back home.

But not so anymore. Today we’re raising a generation of snowflakes. When world events look threatening, they need a “safe place” to go and hide. I often wonder what the men would have thought about this riding the landing craft right into the carnage of Normandy Beach. A “safe place?” I enjoyed blowing up groundhogs as a kid, shooting them with a gun big enough to drop an elephant, but I’m very aware such activities are frowned upon today. I say to that, “Humbug.” It’s good for a boy to learn to shoot a gun, to shoot a BIG gun, to pull the trigger and turn his “enemy” into a pink cloud, to spread blood and guts all over the place. But, of course, … those are not acceptable thoughts today.

What’s it all about? “Peace and safety.” The entire mental climate of our modern world is becoming obsessed with “Peace and safety.” Isn’t that interesting? Someone predicted it 2000 years ago! The world around is forming exactly into the world the Lord said it would be when He returns. We don’t know “the day or the hour” but we have been told what the world would be like and as Jesus said, “When you see these things, you know that it is near, right at the door” (Mt 24:33).

Are peace and safety bad things? Certainly not. It is precisely any government’s primary responsibility to provide for the peace and safety of its citizens (Romans 13:3). And, as Christians, it is of paramount importance to us that our God provides us with peace and safety. “‘Peace, peace to him that is near and to him that is far, and I will heal him,’ says the Lord” (Isa 57:19). “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you … Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace …” (Gal 5:22). [A godly man] “will have no fear of bad news, his heart is steadfast, confident in the Lord. His heart is secure, he will have no fear …” (Ps 112:7,8).

So what is wrong with a world talking “peace and safety?” The problem is they think they can find it without the Lord. They think they can create their own peace and safety. Like the builders of the Tower of Babel, they are saying, “Let us make a name for ourselves!” Just as the Lord warned in the Old Testament, He can offer blessings and there will always be someone who “… invokes a blessing on himself and thinks, ‘I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way’” (Deut 29:19). That passage goes on to say “… the Lord’s anger will burn against that man” (v20). The fact is this is God’s world and He says, “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.” No peace. It is the very pits of arrogance and presumption to think we can live in God’s world, spurn His grace, and still somehow manage to create for ourselves a world of peace and safety. In fact, the very father of all of that deception is none other than Satan himself who is “a liar and the father of lies.” Just like crooked politicians, he knows people want to hear “peace and safety.” But he himself was “a murderer from the beginning” and the real world he creates is a world of lies and murder.

Although we may enjoy brief periods of good leadership, the general trend of world leadership will from now on be constantly moving toward more and more platforms of “peace and safety,” followed by more division, more persecution, and oppression of anyone who doesn’t play along. In spite of the failures, people will constantly believe the new lies and continue to embrace these leaders who promise them “peace and safety.” The Bible speaks of people believing a “strong delusion of a lie.” And of the AntiChrist himself, it says “and by peace he shall destroy many” (Dan 8:25).

Finally, the Lord will intervene to end all the lies and murder, and, as it says in our passage, “While they are saying ‘peace and safety,’ sudden to them is coming destruction.”  I’ve left the sentence structure awkward to show the emphasis the Greek puts on the word “sudden.” It will be sudden. Like a woman in labor – she may have known it was coming, she just didn’t know when, and when it does come, it comes, and there is no turning back. And then the Lord goes on to warn, “and they absolutely will not escape.” Again, in the Greek, the language is there to emphasize more than just “they will not escape.” It tells us they absolutely will not escape.” Back in 4:15, we were assured that “we who are alive and remain until the Coming of the Lord certainly will not precede those who have fallen asleep.” Same grammatical device. “Certainly will not.” “Absolutely will not.”

Our world will more and more talk peace and safety while the lies and murders only increase. But the God who is the true source of peace and safety will go on offering His grace and mercy – and for those of us who accept it, we can in Him live in real peace and safety.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

I Thessalonians 5:1-2 – “Curiosity”

As always, here’s my fairly literal translation of these verses:

1But, brothers, you do not have a need to write to you concerning the times and the seasons, 2for you yourselves know accurately that [the] day of the Lord is coming as a thief in [the] night.

I’m going to go back to I Thess for a while, then eventually get back to Daniel 3. One thing I must say is that Greek is sure easy to work with! It is so similar to English. After working in the Aramaic of Daniel 2 for a while, I almost can’t believe how easy and smooth the Greek is back in the New Testament. The Aramaic and Hebrew of the Old Testament are almost like working in Chinese. There is seemingly nothing in them even faintly reminiscent of English. That in itself makes it fun to work with them, but, on the other hand, I don’t know if I’ve ever noticed before just how easy Greek is.

To the passage at hand.

Paul at the end of chapter 4 has been discussing prophecy and the Rapture in particular. There, of course, was no chapter break in his letter, so the words before us need to be read as a continuation of chapter 4. It would seem that what Paul is doing here in vv 1,2 is anticipating an (apparently) very predictable human response: curiosity. He’s been talking about the Lord “descending from Heaven with a shout,” and now (apparently) is anticipating the question “When?”

Humans are (again, apparently) incorrigibly curious. When Jesus was teaching the disciples about the end times, their response was: “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?” Then, even after He was resurrected and just before He returned to Heaven, they asked Him, “Lord, are You at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” To the first question He answered, “About that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” To the second He answered, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority.” When Jesus told Peter he would die an old man, Peter immediately looks at John and asks, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”

Curious. People are curious. They want to know. They want to know a lot of things. They generally don’t like to not know. I suppose, if we pondered it for a while, that it has something to do with us being made in the image of God. God Himself, of course, is Omniscient, all-knowing – perhaps our curiosity arises from our desire to be like Him in that way? Hmmmm. I’ll have to think about that one for a while.

At any rate, we do find ourselves curious beings and the subject of prophecy seems to always leave us wanting to know “When?” It is apparently almost irresistible. I say that because Jesus made it very clear, “No man knows the day or the hour,” and yet people all down through the ages have incessantly strove to pin-point that day and hour anyway, and then often have been able to generate large followings of other people, equally willing to completely disregard Jesus’ very clear words, even to the point of selling their property, giving all their money to their charlatan leader, and doing all sorts of other very foolish things.

Paul was able to write I Thessalonians 5:1,2, which I’ll write out in opposition to people’s insatiable curiosity: “But, brothers, you do not have a need to write to you concerning the times and the seasons, 2for you yourselves know accurately that [the] day of the Lord is coming as a thief in [the] night.” Paul says, “You know, very well,” that the Day of the Lord will come at an unexpected time. They already know that. Jesus made it clear. Paul has apparently made it clear. Yet he needs to say it again. “Like a thief in the night …”

The bottom-line of this is, in spite of our insatiable curiosity, this is one question for which we cannot and will not get an answer.

Will not. Period.

No matter how many times we ask. No matter how much we study. No matter how many “secret codes” we think we find in the Bible – this in one question for which we cannot and will not get an answer.

It seems to me that somewhere in my Bible studies I have run across this same issue. We know about the past. We live in the present. But the Lord has hidden from us the future. We all have to live in the present, honestly not knowing what will happen in the next five seconds – much less the next 50 or 100 or 1000 years. We all know it is true and yet there is something in us, this apparently insatiable curiosity, that leaves us yearning to somehow pierce that dark veil of the future.

I don’t think it is a matter that we somehow need to stop being curious. Again, that may be an expression of the image of God in us. But somehow it needs to be a sanctified curiosity. It needs to be a curiosity that humbly accepts what the Lord will not let us know. We must believe that He knows best, and even in what He withholds He is giving us what truly is best for us. And apparently it is best for us to live our lives knowing He will come but not knowing when.

He will come … like a thief!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Daniel 2:48,49 – “Faith in the Real Workplace”

As always, here’s my fairly literal translation of these verses:

48Then the king made Daniel great and gave to him many great gifts and he made him ruler upon the all of the province of Babel and chief ruler upon the all of the wise men of Babel, 49and Daniel asked from the king and he appointed upon the service of the province of Babel to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and Daniel [was] in the gate of the king.

At first glance, this seems like just an “Aw, that’s nice” passage, and then we quickly move on. Apparently that is how almost everyone sees these two verses, as I found very little commentary written on them, and even some commentators said nothing at all.

But to me these two little verses are jewels to sit and ponder, literally overflowing with very, very helpful truth for people who want to live for God in a real world, and especially in the real workplace.

Here are Daniel and his friends. Their entire lives have been blasted upside down. Just three or four years before they were normal teenage boys in Jerusalem thinking about what careers they might embark on and which of their little Jewish girlfriends they might marry. Suddenly Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army appeared on the scene and nothing has been the same since. The boys were ripped away from their families, and the future they had imagined was shattered to dust as they were carried far away to Babylon and placed in the service of that king.

Ever since then, they have modeled for us how to live for Christ in a godless, pagan world. And as I have said before, what I find enormously encouraging and instructive about the book of Daniel is to realize that what we’re reading about is believers in the workplace – believers at their jobs. Babylon is no “Christian” workplace for the boys to thrive in, but then neither are most of our jobs. For 99% of God’s people, we spend all day every day in a world that could care less what God thinks of their practices. As we try to be people of integrity, we’re not in danger of being thrown into a fiery furnace, but we all know our workplaces can dole out some pretty miserable consequences when somehow our faith runs against the grain of their intentions. We also know that our work assignments often seem impossible, just like the boys and the interpretation of this dream of the king’s, and there too our faith is challenged. Finally, as we plod away day after day we are (or should be) very aware that these people we work with desperately need to know this God they apparently don’t care about.

Once again, here we are. Another day in the real world lives of our Daniel and his friends. Once again, they were just minding their own business, doing a good job at whatever they were given to do, when suddenly the decree has gone out they are to be executed because the other wise men can’t do what the king is asking.    Executed.    Dead.    At that point, they didn’t know “the rest of the story.” For all they knew, their heads would soon be in baskets. And how did they respond? In faith. In real, living faith. They continued to be men of integrity; they continued to be polite and make requests properly … and threw themselves into the arms of the Lord. Like Jesus, “When threatened, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly.”

Our friends did exactly what we all should do all day every day at our jobs – be people of integrity and entrust ourselves to Him who judges justly.

It is worthwhile to note, in the very next chapter, they will do exactly that and get themselves thrown into a furnace. Today, it gets them promoted higher than any of them could have ever imagined! Think about it – all Daniel has done is live his faith. All he has done is be humble, pray, invite his friends to pray, and sincerely try to do what his boss has asked, and, in this case, the Lord has honored that faith and, instead of being executed, suddenly Daniel and his friends are promoted to the very highest positions in the king’s service. And what does that mean? It means no doubt very high salaries, palatial mansions to live in, the most expensive chariots to drive – practically everything a young man could ask for.

I take from this the realization that, whenever I am faced with one of these crises at work (and really we face at least small versions of it all day every day), I need to be like Daniel and just be a person of integrity, try to do my best, and trust God with the outcome. I may be successful and be greatly honored. Or I might get thrown in a furnace. But no matter, I can live in the quiet confidence that my God is the Most High and He rules in the lives of men and nations. My job is to serve Him. His job is to run the universe. And I know He’ll do it well – whatever that may mean for me.

That alone is enormously helpful truth for living in a real world. But there is way more in these two little verses. We can ponder why the Lord is doing this. Why promote these young fellows so high? On the one hand, it is no doubt a blessing of the Lord for their faithfulness. Like Solomon they did not ask for riches or long lives but simply wisdom to live today, and the Lord says, “Then I’ll give you both.” But there is a much bigger picture going on here than just some young men and their lives. God has just raised four Jewish boys to the very highest levels of power in the government of Babylon, the ruling power of the known world, and the very place where their fellow Jews have been carried captive. God is no doubt show-casing to the world His greatness and also placing the boys in positions where they can do good to their own captive people. Our good God can accomplish all of that in one miraculous event.

Then stop and ponder too what the boys have been promoted to – the government of Babylon.  Babylon. Not Judea. This is seriously about like an American POW being promoted to serve in the government of Nazi Germany! This is not the country these boys want to be governing. It is not the people they want to serve. And yet how do they handle it? With integrity and faith, like always. We can take from this that we don’t always get the job we want. We may end up in some places we really don’t want to be. Yet, if that is where the Lord has put us today, how should we deal with it? With integrity and faith – just like Daniel and his friends.

To see what I mean, look closely at the two verses and think about it. Where does Daniel get placed? He’s made the head man over all the wise men of Babylon. “Wise men.” And what are they really? Astrologers. Soothsayers. Necromancers. Conjurors. Wizards. Shamans. Fortune-tellers. Tarot card readers. Think about it! The very profession itself is abhorrent to an Israelite. Back in Israel, such people were to be executed! And where is Daniel? Placed in charge of them! It’s about like one of us being “promoted” to head up all of the king’s royal abortion clinics or all of the king’s royal brothels! The job itself would be not only undesirable to us but actually abhorrent! Can you imagine Daniel sending a letter back home to his parents saying, “Guess what? I’ve been made the head of the necromancers!!!” You would think his Jewish parents’ first response would be horror. This is precisely one of those places where I suspect any one of us as normal evangelical Christians would probably think we need to refuse to work in such a position. But Daniel didn’t.

But Daniel didn’t.

He accepted the position.

As they say, “Put that in your pipe and smoke it.”

It’s bad enough that he has to serve in the court of the very king who will destroy Jerusalem. It’s bad enough he had to attend Babylon U. and learn all the vile methods of the “wise men.” Now Daniel and his friends get promoted to the very highest positions in that pagan, godless world.

Yet they took the jobs and no doubt did them well.

I remember years ago pondering in my mind whether it was even possible for a thinking Christian to be president of the United States. My head was so full of legalistic scruples I just couldn’t imagine how one could occupy that position without almost constant compromises. But then I watched Ronald Reagan and I saw that, even though he went to all the dinners and drank their wine and danced with his wife and served over a country that was aborting babies under his very nose, yet it was an enormous blessing to have such a good Christian man serve as our president. I could see that somehow he could disregard all my scruples and yet do tremendous good to this country and to the world itself. It was quite a mystery to me at the time, but I knew something was “right” about it and longed to understand.

And here I see Daniel doing the very same thing.

Of course, what I have learned over the years is that it all comes down to “Love God, love people.” Christianity isn’t about all the scruples. It’s about loving God and people. And the fact is we can do that from almost any position – even as the head of the necromancers or high up in the court of a pagan king. I will even go so far as to suggest, if we had to, we could do it as head of the king’s royal brothels – if that is where we found ourselves.

Can I inject here that, in America, we think we are basically free to work wherever we want to, that we don’t “have to” work at any job. That is true but only to a point. The fact is it is very expensive to live and I can’t just quit a job if I don’t have another already lined up to go to. Even in America, if you quit your job, you have no idea how long it will take to find another and whether it will be any better than what you left any way. My point is that, in the real world, and to a very large extent, we’re no different than Daniel. We don’t really have a whole lot of choice what we do or do not do at work. We’re given assignments and expected to carry them out. And like Daniel, a good Christian will take most of it with a smile and seek to do their best – no matter where they find themselves. And I know – but, but, but …!!! I’m just saying, “Put that in your pipe and smoke it.” I think we can learn a great deal from Daniel, if we only lay aside our traditions and actually listen to what the Lord is telling us through him – and again, especially in our workplaces.

I could say so much more about this, but, in the event anyone stumbles across these feeble scratchings, I hope I’ve challenged you to think very deeply about what it means to be a practicing Christian in a godless, pagan workplace. I will close my thoughts by just suggesting that what the Lord wants of us is very, very different than the impressions we get today. We need to get our truth from the Bible, not from our traditions, and I hope I have at least challenged someone to think that through. Once again, that is precisely why I study the Bible – I find in it a very different “faith” than what we all seem to think it should be. I want to live Jesus’ faith – and that can only come from the Word of God itself.

I want to live a real faith in the real world, in my own very real workplace – just like Daniel.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Daniel 2:46,47 – “Heart Work”

As always, here’s my fairly literal translation of these verses:

46Then the king Nebuchadnezzar fell on his face and worshipped Daniel and he said an offering and incense to pour out to him. 47Answering the king to Daniel and saying, “From truth your (pl.) God He [is] the God of gods and a lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries as you (sing.) were able to reveal this mystery.”

As usual, barrels of ink have been spilt debating this matter of Nebuchadnezzar “worshipping” Daniel and whether or not Daniel allowed it, etc., etc. etc. I guess I would reply to it all two observations: First, it isn’t surprising that the king would do this. To us, it is surprising. To us, there is God and there is man. To us, you worship God, not people. But in Nebuchadnezzar’s world, it was very different. Their “gods” were in a sense nothing but super-endowed people, with the same lusts and passions as mortal people. Also, the ancient peoples often attributed divinity to their kings and worshiped them (as when later, Daniel was forbidden to pray to anyone but the king). We need to realize that, in Nebuchadnezzar’s world, there was no real and clear distinction between gods and people, and so, when a person did something seemingly god-like, it was okay to actually worship them. His response may “surprise” us but we need to realize he lived in a very different world.

The second thing I want to say is that, in the real world, especially at work, sometimes things happen in such a swirl, you may or may not even get a chance to respond to or change something. In other words, here Daniel is, he reveals the dream and, immediately upon finishing, the greatest king on earth is suddenly on the floor worshiping Daniel and giving orders that His attendants make offerings to him. Daniel may or may not even have time to object as Paul and Silas did in Acts 14:15 when the people of Lystra tried to worship them, and they responded, “Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you?” Daniel is not in charge, the king is. Even if Daniel can object, he would have to do it very meekly, as, in doing so, he would be defying the king’s orders. Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t. But, my point is that, in the real world, we often don’t get the chance to control what other people do or don’t do. Sometimes we have to just let them do what they want, right or wrong, while we simply know better and move on with life. In our lives, such things can go one way or the other, and Daniel is no different.

Probably more important anyway is to consider this rather amazing confession coming from an idol-worshipping king: “From truth your (pl.) God He [is] the God of gods and a lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries as you (sing.) were able to reveal this mystery.” To simply read these words, we might conclude that Nebuchadnezzar was here converted to worship of the God of Israel. In fact, in the next chapter he builds a huge idol and demands its worship and in the next has to be turned into a cow before he’ll acknowledge “the Most High rules.” The words before us represent no “conversion” at all. But neither are they frivolous. This Babylonian king has, probably for the first time, come face to face with the living God.

I am trying to remember every day that this is God’s world, that in His world today He is doing a amazing things, that I am only here because He will allow me to be a part of His mighty work. Daniel is in Babylon specifically because the Lord is busy doing amazing things. The Lord wants to draw the hearts of these Babylonian people to Himself, and in particular He would draw this tyrannical, raging, murderous king. The Lord loves Nebuchadnezzar and would have him be His son. But someone once observed it’s almost always true that whatever the Lord does, He does slowly -- and that is particularly true when it comes to His wooing of people’s hearts. I would suggest that, what the Lord is doing here, is, in a sense, introducing Himself to Nebuchadnezzar. After today, there is no question Nebuchadnezzar has “met” the Lord. But much, much, much heart work is still necessary before he will come to that place in his heart of hearts when he not only knows the Lord is there and knows He is powerful, but wants Him to rule in his heart.

In a sense, Nebuchadnezzar today has only graduated to the faith of demons. The demons have met the Lord. There is no doubt they know He is there. And they know He is powerful. But they don’t want Him to rule over them. They still want to do it their way. As James said, “You believe that God is One? You do well. But the demons also believe and tremble!”

What is my point? Only that, as we read this text, what we are seeing is part of the process the Lord uses to draw people to Himself. It is short-sighted to think this event is all it would take to bring about the complete conversion of this idol-worshipping king. It rarely ever happens that fast. On the other hand, we shouldn’t be too surprised or disappointed that in the very next chapter he’s arrogantly building his golden statue and throwing three of the Lord’s servants into a fiery furnace. He is not converted. Like so many of us, there will be a long period between this day when Nebuchadnezzar “meets” the Lord and when His heart finally bows. During that period, we all, just like him, commit grievous sins. We choose laughably stupid paths. We spit in His face and do seemingly everything we can to frustrate His grace. Those of us who love Him today know that is what happened in our lives. We know His calling was a long process. During that time, He showed up in many, many places, sometimes very small and unnoticeable to anyone around us – but we knew it was Him. We just didn’t want to let Him in – yet.

We have to accept in our own hearts that this is the normal path for anyone to come to Him. We all wish we could just pray and see people fall at His feet. But they don’t. It just doesn’t work that way. But we could take from Daniel today this encouragement, that even while people fight and rebel and sin (sometimes grievously – like we did), the Lord just goes on quietly working in their heart. Paul tells us He “determined the times of their lives and the exact places where they should live … that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him …” (Acts 17:26,27). In the meantime and while those people we pray for are fighting against Him, “the servant of the Lord must be kind to everyone … those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance …” (II Tim 2:24,25).

Our job, like Daniel is to be “present and accounted for” every day. This is God’s world and I’m here to be a part of whatever it is He’s up to. And my marching orders? “Love God and love people.” Everywhere I go, everything I do, I want to be humbly, patiently aware that God is doing great things in people’s hearts. I don’t have to understand it. I don’t even have to see it or know it’s happening. But I can, like Daniel, be assured He is at work.

I probably won’t be interpreting any dreams today or find myself in the palace of any great king, but I want to be “present and accounted for” in my world while the Lord is doing His slow quiet work.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Daniel 2:36-45 – “Literally”

As always, here’s my fairly literal translation of these verses:

36This the dream and its meaning we will tell before the king:

37You the king [are] the king of the kings that the God of the heavens has granted to you the kingdom, the possession, and the might and the honor, 38and in all of which dwelling the sons of the mankind, the animal of the field, and the bird of the heavens He granted in the hand of you and He gave authority to you in all of them. You [are] he, the head which is of the gold.39And in the place of you another kingdom will arise, earthward from you, and another kingdom, a third, which [is] the bronze will rule in the all of the earth, 40and a fourth kingdom shall be mighty like the iron; forasmuch as iron crushes and subdues the all, and as the iron which smashes all of these, it shall crush and smash. 41And then you saw the feet and the toes from them clay like a potter and from them an iron, [the] kingdom shall be divided, but from the stability like iron, forasmuch as you saw the iron being mixed in the clay of the mud. 42And the toes of the feet from them iron and from the clay, from the end the kingdom shall be mighty and from it shall be frail. 43Then you saw the iron being mixed in the clay of the mud. They shall be mixed in the seed of the man and they shall not be ones clinging, this with this. Behold! Like the iron not being mixed with the clay.44And in the days of them, these kings, the God of the heavens shall set up a kingdom which to ages. Not it shall be harmed and the kingdom shall not be left to another people. The kingdom shall crush and put an end to all of the these and it shall arise to the ages.45Consequently, all of which you saw where from the mountain a stone severed itself not in hands and it crushed the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver and the gold. The great God makes known to the king what shall be after this and certain the dream and being faithful.

As has been observed before, barrels of ink have been spilt on these passages all down through the twenty-six or so centuries which have passed since these events occurred and Daniel recorded them.

This may seem a strange commentary on these verses, but the most encouraging thing I take from them is the assurance that my study methods are in fact correct. I determined long ago to study the Bible, to discover what it does (and does not) say, then simply let it be, whether I understand it or not. As John warned us, it is a dangerous thing to add to or take away from the Words of the living God.

What is remarkable to me is that, if in fact you simply let this passage say what it says, it has been and is a remarkably accurate account of human history. Babylon was followed by Medo-Persia, was followed by Greece, was followed by Rome. I don’t think anyone would challenge Daniel’s description of Rome as a kingdom of iron that crushed and smashed everything before it.

I also think it was amazingly accurate to say, when the stone cut without hands smashes the statue, it smashes all four of those kingdoms. Historically speaking, each of those kingdoms did not so much destroy those before it but rather absorbed them. To this day we measure time and directions by multiples of six, which was the Babylonian numbering system. The numerical system of land surveying is still based on multiples of six. Greek history and language has carried down through the centuries, along with their architecture, and even much of Greek ideas of government are incorporated into the government of our own United States. In a sense, the Roman Empire never really ended. It just sort of faded into the nations of Europe. We still use Roman numerals. Roman law is the model on which western culture’s laws are based. Latin continued to be the lingual-franca of the civilized world for centuries and of course the languages of Europe to this day are Romanic languages, all just linguistic evolutions of Latin itself. So, when the stone cut without hands strikes the image, it destroys all four kingdoms at once. Only God could have known 2600 years ago that the world would progress as it has, but His Word precisely and accurately predicted it.

This matter of literal translation is also seen in the whole matter of the fourth kingdom (Rome) and the stone cut without hands (Christ). This vision predicted that the Roman kingdom would be strong as iron, that it would crush and devour everything, and yet it would be divided (two legs) and that it would somehow end up including these feet and toes of clay and iron mixed and there being the ten toes. In fact, the Roman Empire broke up into the Western and Eastern kingdoms (probably depicted by the two legs). Then those of us who believe in literal interpretation said for years that someday there would be a European Union, that somehow the nations of Europe would unite to actually reform the Roman Empire. That, of course, is exactly what has happened. But we also said that, when it did, it would be, as Daniel said, a “divided kingdom … the people will be a mixture and will not remain united, any more than iron mixes with clay.” Once again, even though the European Union did come about, yet England has chosen its “Brexit,” and the Union itself is fragile at best – just as God said. We’ve taken His words literally and watched them come about – just as He said.

At this point, we don’t know exactly what He means by the ten toes. Later, in Daniel 7:7 and 24, when Daniel sees the fourth kingdom as a ravenous beast, we’re told of the ten horns and that they will be ten kings. Taking things literally, we can predict that somehow, by the time Jesus comes, the European Union will have developed into a ten-kingdom unity. That is not true today. But, believing in literal interpretation, we are certain that is exactly what will come to pass.

Now about the stone cut without hands, I would suggest this is where we really see the value of literal interpretation. Down through the ages, people have maintained that the stone is Jesus at His first coming and that His kingdom is the Church. People have said that it was Christianity that took down the Roman Empire and that since then Christianity has been progressing to conquer the whole world. This interpretation was particularly attractive in the 18th and 19th centuries when the British Empire was expanding, taking Christianity to the four corners of the earth, and when world missions were progressing with amazing results. During that time, it really did look like Christianity could become the dominant world religion.

And so, interpreters said that was the meaning of the stone cut without hands and the kingdom He would establish.

Today, things don’t look so rosy.

Had those interpreters been more careful with their exegesis, they wouldn’t have made such ill-fated and embarrassing predictions.

What do I mean? First of all, when the stone cut without hands strikes the image, it is clearly an event. It happens at a very specific point in time, not gradually over centuries. When Jesus returns in Rev 19, riding His white horse, a sharp sword goes forth from His mouth, wherewith to slay the nations. His Second Coming is an event. Also, what He establishes is a kingdom. A kingdom is a civil institution with a real physical king, ruling over real people, in a real world. The previous four parts of the great image were kingdoms. No one would question they were real physical kingdoms. It does not make logical sense to then make the final kingdom into something totally different. The Church is not a civil institution. It is not a kingdom. (Probably a lot of people will read this and be saying, “But, but, but … we are the kingdom of God!” – to which I would reply, “No, we are not.” That association is, once again, the result of sloppy exegesis, and is the very error which led to the ridiculous and ill-fated predictions of the 19th century). If we take the word “kingdom” literally, then the stone cut without hands has not yet struck the image and its kingdom has not yet begun.

And that is in fact what we are seeing. The fourth kingdom has not yet formed into ten kingdoms, and we are yet waiting for Jesus to come, to destroy the kingdoms of this world, and in fact rule over this world as our King over an earthly kingdom. The reason why we, as Christians, easily identify with the kingdom of God is because our Savior is the King. As a believer, I accept His kingship, I want Him to be king, I want Him to rule in my heart as King, and I long for a world where He actually physically rules. In a sense, in our world, He is an exiled King. Although He is “exiled,” we ourselves acknowledge Him as the true King, try to live under His rule, as if He was the king, and we long for the day when He returns and does rule. So, it is easy for us to see ourselves as His “kingdom.”

But … His kingdom, as a kingdom, is yet to come.

As Paul said in II Timothy, “In the last days, perilous times will come …” The very clear image the Bible presents is not that the world will get “better and better” until finally Jesus comes to rule over us. Like Daniel’s image, it gets worse and worse, until Jesus comes to smash it all and set up His kingdom.

I believe that, all along, down through the last twenty-six centuries, if people would have simply let the words say what they say, even if they didn’t make sense at the time, they would have saved all the ridiculous interpretations which were eventually proven false. As with the rest of the Bible, we have to resist the temptation to embrace attractive positions which are “close” to the wording of the Scriptures, yet require a little “fudging” here and there. No. No fudging. It says what it says. It says exactly what it says and that is exactly what it means.

I hold great respect for the Reformed theologians of history. When it comes to Bible exegesis, the glory of God, and real Christian living, I’d rather read them than anyone else. But, for whatever reason, when it comes to prophecy, they like to conclude, “We just don’t know. We don’t know what it means. It’s all just allegories.” They just don’t know what to do with things like the “thousand years” of Rev 20. We do. It means “one thousand years” – literally.

And I feel encouraged, studying the prophecy of Daniel 2, and seeing how, in fact, literal interpretation is the only interpretation which has tracked accurately through twenty-six centuries. I am very encouraged to just keep studying the Bible, trying to understand exactly what God says – and doesn’t say – and letting it simply say what it says. I’m very aware that I occasionally say things that probably make other people’s theological hair stand on end, but I don’t care. If that is what the Bible says, that is what it says. Maybe I need to understand it better and maybe I need to understand what to do with it, but it still says what it says – whether anyone likes it or not.

Let us all remember that, in the end, the stone cut without hands smashes the kingdoms of this world – and that same Jesus and His truth will always, in the end smash all our foolish notions. He is the Way and the Truth and the Life. May He be our Truth we live by -- literally.