Wednesday, April 19, 2017

I Thessalonians 3:6-8 – “Real”

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

6But now, Timothy coming to us from you and bringing good news to us [about] your faith and love, and that you always have good memories of us, longing to see us, just as we you. 7Brothers, because of this we are comforted upon you upon the all our distress and affliction because of your faith, 8because now we live if you stand firm in the Lord.

“…because now we live if you stand firm in the Lord.”

As I have been pondering these verses, I am struck by just how much Paul really did love these people. Really. I’ve said before, if this were a parent writing to one of their children, it would be more understandable. But it is not. Here Paul is talking about longing to see these people, about not being able to stand it not knowing how they’re doing, about how he actually finds great comfort in his own hardships just knowing that in fact they’re doing okay, and being able to say, “now we live if you stand firm in the Lord.”

Is this kind of intense love normal? For parents toward their children, yes. Toward other people? I don’t think so. Someone may say, but this is the love of a spiritual father toward his children – a minister toward the people he has led to Christ. That sounds ideal but have you ever seen it in the real world? Do you honestly know anyone like that?

As I turn the gun of conviction on my own heart, I know I don’t love people like that. I like people. I certainly wish and pray the best for other people. I’m glad when they succeed. And I can be sincerely saddened to see them suffer. But Paul’s kind of parental love – a heart that rises and falls on others’ well-being – is not what I find in my heart.

I pondered this same observation back when I was studying 2:7,8. I noted there and will say it again, what is this powerful love that this man Paul had? Is it not simply the love of Jesus? Is it not simply the love of our God for each and every human being? I think the obvious answer is yes. It is His love. And how did Paul get it? By drinking deeply of his own relationship with Jesus – so much so that he actually loved like Jesus. Really.

Which brings me back to myself. The thought is both convicting and encouraging. It is convicting because the lack of love I find in my own heart tells me I need to drink more deeply of my relationship with Jesus. It is encouraging because I know that is exactly what does happen – the closer I get to Jesus, the better I know Him, the more He moves me to see other people through His eyes – and to love them. I’m not “there” yet. But He is moving me that way.

I know He said in the last days “the love of many will wax cold.” I wonder if that isn’t what we’re living. If that is the spirit of our age, then all the more I pray He will deliver me from it. He is our hope. “Beholding His image, we’re changed into that image, from glory to glory.”

I also want to note that what particularly encouraged Paul in the Thessalonians was their “faith and love.” It is well to be reminded those are the cornerstones of life itself. In Galatians 5:6, he wrote, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” If we would have more of anything, would that it were faith and love our hearts desired. Then no matter what else we gained we could say, “It is well.”

I will close this by saying the Lord has used these verses to show me how little love I really have in my own heart, but He also greatly encourages me because He reminds me the way to “fix” that problem is to know Him better. To know His heart is to change mine.

Lord, as we go out to live, even if this is an age of “cold love,” may Your love truly find a home in our hearts, and may it somehow touch the hearts of all these people You love.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

I Thessalonians 3:3-5 – “Life is Hard”

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

3No one to be disturbed by these afflictions for you yourselves know that we are appointed into this, 4for we were also telling to you beforehand when we were with you that we are going to be being distressed, just as it happened, as you know. 5And I, holding out no longer, because of this sent to know your faith, lest the tempter tempted you and our fruit had become into emptiness.

Life is hard.

For everyone.

But for believers, we actually have the privilege of knowing it’s all for a reason. “No one [should] be disturbed by these afflictions for you yourselves know that we are appointed into this…” Pain doesn’t “just happen” to us. We are “appointed into it.” We are destined for it. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Immaturity may make us think as Christians that somehow we should be exempted from pain, but that simply isn’t the case. This should be apparent in the Bible from cover to cover, from the lives of believers who’ve gone before us, and certainly from our own experience. It should be. But this delusional presumption of favored exemption seems to be a weed that dies hard in our hearts.

Peter warned us, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you” (I Peter 4:12). He had said earlier in that book, “These [troubles] have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold – may be proved genuine …” (1:7).  His words sound like James, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you fall into various troubles, knowing that the trying of your faith develops endurance” (1:3). Jesus Himself warned us, “In this world you will have trouble…” (John 16:33). The psalmist complained, “The enemy pursues me, he crushes me to the ground … so my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is stunned” (Ps 143:3,4).

I remember someone who suffered a terrible loss then later confided in me they were really struggling with it all because they thought God had promised to protect them from such horrors. They said, “I know we have to suffer, but I didn’t think God would allow something this bad.”

I suppose we should remind ourselves that Jesus never did anything but love God and love people and He got crucified. How we get it in our heads that we deserve better is perhaps a mystery of our sinful pride. But, as Paul is telling the Thessalonians, rather than playing all our mind games and dreaming of our favored exemption, we instead need to acknowledge that troubles – and even really painful ones – are simply part of the plan. We’re destined for them.

And, again, that may seem a strange way to encourage people – to tell them the faith to which you’re inviting them will come with pain and sorrow – as Paul said, for we were also telling to you beforehand when we were with you that we are going to be being distressed, just as it happened, as you know” – but the reality is that, in this world, you will suffer with or without faith. Life is hard. For everyone.

The difference for us lies in the greatness of our God and the wonder of salvation. While a believer goes on living in this world of trouble, suddenly he finds those troubles have been divinely commandeered for his greatest possible eternal good – that they become one of the primary means by which the Lord prunes away my pride and selfishness. In this there is great hope and encouragement. I don’t want to be who I was. I don’t want to be who I am. I want the Lord to do what He has to in order to change me. I’m glad He isn’t deterred by all my whining!

On the other hand, the certainty of trouble moves us to holy fear and humility, knowing how easily I fail. Paul worried over the people, “lest the tempter have tempted them and his fruit turn out to be empty.” “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Jesus told Peter, “Watch and pray lest you enter into temptation.” In his pride, Peter boastfully responded, “I’m ready to die for you!” then when he should have been praying, he was sleeping, and failed horrendously. This is a sad thing to say, but I think I have just recently learned the truth of Jesus’ warnings. I fear my whole Christian life I have arrogantly thought somehow I could “do it.” But now some 40 years into it, I look back and see how completely I have failed the Lord almost constantly. I have of course done a few things right, but overall, my life is just another version of Peter’s failure.

I am finally now learning all day every day to be praying, “Lord, help me not to fail you.” The plain simple fact is that I will. Even as I imagine somehow I “can handle it,” I’ll be failing at whatever it is the Lord is really trying to accomplish. I ought to live in holy fear of myself! I ought to the have the humility to lean constantly on the Lord. Jesus didn’t say, “For without Me you can’t do much.” He said, “You can do nothing.”

Paul had this holy fear for the Thessalonian believers – that, like Peter (and me), when the challenges and hard times came, they might not be ready, they might not be found “watching and praying,” and one way or another, they’d fail in the temptations. His fear was so strong that he chose to be left alone in Athens and sent his helper Timothy to find out how they were doing.

From this passage, we learn that, in this hard life, we believers of all people should not be overwhelmed by the troubles that come –we’re actually “destined” for them. We have been told beforehand we’ll have to face them. We’ve been warned there is a strong likelihood we’ll fail in them. We’ve been warned that “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” We’ve been warned to “watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.” But the Bible also reveals to us that our God is a strong Deliverer. His name is Jesus, “for He shall save His people from their sins.” Our great and sovereign God has promised “to make all things work together for good” and never to give us “more than we can bear.” He is a “very present Help in trouble.” He is the One who said, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to do you good and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope.” Like the old hymn said, “The fire shall not harm thee, I only design thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.”

Life is hard.

For everyone.

But we are a people of hope.

Even while it’s hard.

We are “the people who know their God.”

Sunday, April 9, 2017

I Thessalonians 3:1,2 – “Selfless”

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

1Therefore, holding out no longer, we were happy to be left behind alone in Athens, 2and we sent Timothy, our brother and fellow servant of God in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage [you] concerning your faith.

I’ve been working in the book of Daniel for a while, but want to take a break and go back to the book of I Thessalonians. It’s been fun working in the Aramaic of Daniel 2, but I need to give my Greek muscles a little workout for a while.

The context here goes back to chapter 2 and the love relationship between Paul and the Thessalonian Christians. He related back in 2:12-20 how intensely he had wanted to see the Thessalonians but Satan had hindered him.

In just these two little verses, we can observe the selflessness of this man named Paul. First notice how he says, “… when we could stand it no longer...” What is this? Is it not the parental love of a man who longs to know how his children are doing? It is not just business associates “keeping up” their contacts. It is a parent’s heart earnestly longing over their children’s lives. Anyone who is a parent knows how their heart’s sun rises and falls on their children’s well-being. When our children suffer, we die. When they’re okay, our hearts soar. And that is how it should be. But note these are not Paul’s children.  He had no wife or sons or daughters. This isn’t the natural love we feel for our biological children. This is the love of a man for other people.

Of course it is true he is a pastor. Of course it is true that he was their “father” spiritually speaking – it was his instrumentality God used to lead these people to Christ. Of course he had an “interest” in their welfare. But the Roman Empire was a big place and Paul had a whole world to reach for Christ. He easily could have just said “God bless you all” and moved on. But his was not just a vocational relationship. He actually cared. Deeply. And so deeply, it was painful for him not to know how they were doing. Someone might say, “Well, of course he feels this strongly. That’s just what pastors and missionaries do.” But is it? Do they all? Obviously no. And that is exactly my point, whether someone is a pastor or missionary or a candlestick maker, deep love for others is not “natural.” There is a sense in which love for one’s physical children is “natural,” but real love for others is a fruit of the Spirit. It comes from His heart. Those who truly draw near Christ cannot help but also grow in His love for others. To see them through His eyes is to love them. “And having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (John 13:1). May our hearts, like Paul’s, be found sitting at Jesus’ feet, drinking in His words and His heart, so much so that we actually love others with the same selfless love Paul had. “…when I could stand it no longer …”

Then we see his selflessness in his words, “…we thought it best to be left behind alone in Athens, and we sent Timothy …” Too many people’s lives echo with the words, “What about me?” Though they may be nice people in many ways, when it comes down to it, they simply will not happily defer to other peoples’ needs. Paul wasn’t like that. He was willing to give up his young helper out of his concern for the Thessalonian people. Giving up self is of course a Jesus-thing, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing …” (Phil 2:6,7). Interestingly, the way in which He was able to do that is revealed in many places like I Peter 2:23, “… He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly,” and “Into Your hands I commend My spirit” (Lk 23:46).  One of the greatest benefits we enjoy as Christians is the opportunity to trust that the Lord will take care of us, and that then means we won’t need to be asking, “What about me?” We certainly shouldn’t be irresponsible with our time, our finances, our health, etc., but, by God’s grace, we can address all of those things as part of our service to God, while we’re free ourselves to give and love.

Next we see Paul’s selflessness in how he refers to Timothy as “our brother and fellow servant of God.” Paul was a great man doing a great work, yet he never lost sight of the people who helped him. He wasn’t the “big I” in his own world. He didn’t suffer from in-grown eyeballs. He knew he was doing an important work, but he also knew he couldn’t do it without the help of the people the Lord put around him. His letters are full of acknowledgements of other people. And in Timothy’s case, he isn’t just a fellow helper. He was the young fellow that “Paul would have go with him” (Acts 16:3). Timothy is the young fellow that Paul has been training. Yet he isn’t “my trainee.” He’s “my brother and fellow servant of God.” As you and I go about our lives, we need more and more to value all of the people the Lord places around us, and not be afraid to say so.

Exegetical sidenote: There is a textual variant around whether Timothy is a fellow “servant” of God or “worker” of God. Looking at the evidence, I would lean toward “servant,” but the variant itself is rather messy and in the end, in my opinion, it makes no real difference in the meaning of the verse, so I would have no strong opinion in any direction.  

Finally, back to Paul’s selflessness, note, in v2, what’s it all about? “…to strengthen and encourage you in your faith.” Note the “you” and “your.” I like that, in the Greek, this is all an “eis” phrase. Bottom line is it is clearly an expression of purpose. And what is that purpose? “You.” The people. Paul’s “purpose” was always the people themselves. As he said in v20, “Indeed, you are our glory and joy.” Once again, Paul wasn’t about the “big I.” His work all day every day wasn’t about his glorious career, or his “legacy,” or anything else “me.” As he said in Philippians 2:17, he lived “being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith.” As I observed above, this is one of the glorious freedoms of being born again – the opportunity to forget self and actually spend our energies for the good of others.

Paul and Timothy and their friends in this text, of course, are all about their full-time ministry work, but the same holds true for the rest of us as we go about our secular jobs and live in our communities. As an engineer, part of the “good” I get to do is to provide for the quality of life of the people in all my communities. Those people are free to turn their taps and get crystal clear, safe water and then flush their toilets and see it disappear, only to reappear as crystal clear water flowing into some nearby stream or lake. They’ll never know the work that went into making all of that happen, and keeping it happening. But, as a Christian, I can be completely content if no one ever knows what I did for them. I did it for them. People must have clean water to drink and use and it must be clean before it goes back in the river. Someone needs to make it all happen. And I am thankful the Lord lets me be a part of it all.

Someone may say, “Yeah, but you get paid for it. That’s really why you do it.” For me as a Christian, that isn’t true. The fact is simply that, like everyone else, I have to be paid. I live in a world that thinks I owe them a lot of money every month. It has to come from somewhere. If one community isn’t willing to pay me for my work on their behalf, then I have no choice but to go somewhere else – not because I’m doing it for the pay, but because I have to be paid. Someone has to provide for my living. As a Christian, all pay does is free me to in fact spend my time working for the good of those people. It’s still all about them. And it’s fun.

As I go about trying to do my “good,” I’m amazed how many other people there are out there doing the same thing. All we hear about is the crooks and charlatans and politicians feathering their own nests at the expense of the very people they are supposed to be helping. But I know a LOT of mayors and aldermen, a lot of project managers and foremen, a lot of operators and electricians and pipe fitters and a host of others who honestly care about the people they’re serving and want to do a good job. Perhaps for some of them, that is just their work ethic. It’s the way they were raised. But for us Christians, it is a privilege we enjoy, that we can actually entrust ourselves “to Him who judges justly” and then honestly give ourselves, our energies, and our time to doing good for others.

Jesus was “a man, ordained by God, who went about doing good …” (Acts 10:38).

Paul was like Him. We should be too.

The fruit of the Spirit is love. He makes us genuinely care for other people, makes us willing to defer to others’ needs before our own, makes us sincerely appreciate the people He places around us, and gives us the freedom to live a life of love.

And it is our blessed privilege to experience the joy of living selflessly.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Daniel 2:25-30 – “All About Him”

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

25Then Arioch to hasten brought in Daniel before the king and thus he said to him, “I have found a man from the sons of the exiles of Judah who will inform the interpretation to the king.” 26The king answering and saying to Daniel whose name Belteshazzar, “Are you able to inform me the dream which I saw and its interpretation?” 27Answering Daniel before the king saying, “A secret which the king asking not wise men, conjurers, horoscopists, [or] astrologers being able to declare the king, 28but there is a God in the heavens revealing secrets. He has informed to the king Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter of the days. Your dream and the visions of your head upon your bed this it. 29[As for] you, the king, your thoughts upon your bed came up what will become after this and One revealing secrets has informed you what will become. 30And [as for] me not in wisdom there is in me from the all of the living this secret was revealed to me but in order that the interpretation to the king will be informed and the thoughts of your heart you will know.

Obviously, one could say a lot about many things in these verses. I’d like to camp (again) on how much these verses express exactly what goes on for believers in the secular workplace.

Here’s the deal: this is God’s world. He rules. It’s all for Him, from Him, through Him, and to Him. Everything. Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. It’s all Him. And He is all of this whether we’re in church singing on Sunday morning or working at our jobs at 2:00 in the afternoon on a Thursday. As we go about our work and even as our perhaps unbelieving bosses and co-workers are going about theirs, it’s all about Him.

Work comes down to getting things done and figuring things out. That means a lot of things in a million different ways, but it all shakes down to power and wisdom. “Getting things done” comes down to power. “Figuring things out” and “knowing what to do” come down to wisdom. And what did Daniel say about that? “Wisdom and power are His … He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.”

Just like in our workplaces today, Nebuchadnezzar and the Chaldeans in 600 BC are trying to get things done, trying to figure things out. That’s basically what they did and we do all day every day. In their case (and often in ours), they don’t even so much as acknowledge the Lord but, fortunately for them, He is a God of grace who “makes His sun to shine on the evil and the good.” He allowed them (like He does us) to enjoy some measure of success at their efforts. Like Arioch, of course, they’re more than happy to take credit for anything good that happens (i.e. “I have found a man among the exiles from Judah who can tell the king what his dream means”), and, as we all know, they’re also more than happy to blame anyone and anything else when things don’t go well. But, most of all, I want to point out, they (and too often we) are missing the most important factor in it all – that this is God’s world and it is Him who gives wisdom and power – including at work.

Now, enters the genuine believer. You and I walk into work and one of the very deep and fundamental differences between us and those who perhaps don’t acknowledge Him is (or should be) that we see God. We see His hand, His presence, His plan in it all. Of course, even with that said, we are ourselves still responsible to “get things done” and “figure things out.” But while we are responsible to do all those things, while it is our job to do this or that, to figure out ways to make this or that happen, yet we know where it comes from. We know it is beyond us. We know that even at our jobs, one man may sow and another water, but “it is God who gives the increase.” We know it is “God who gives us the power to gain wealth.” We know that “promotion comes neither from the east nor from the west, but from above.” We know that “every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of lights.”

I’m trying to learn to keep that in mind all day every day, but, just like Daniel, it’s only a matter of time and we find ourselves in the situation where the bosses need something to happen, want something figured out, and no one seems to be able to get the job done. My mind almost whirls with all the times it’s been “impossible.” It can’t be done. There’s no way.

Sometimes it’s as simple as math. I remember sitting in a meeting one day with all of the department heads and they couldn’t figure out how to distribute some costs between the departments. Each was quite sure he was paying more than his share; and the boss was exasperated because he couldn’t see any good answer. At that moment, the Lord helped me to see a very simple way to do it mathematically, so I said, “I have a suggestion, sir,” explained it, they liked it, and everyone went away happy. I hope somehow, in that moment, some of them knew in their hearts that it was actually the Lord in me that gave them that answer. I guess I’ll find out in Heaven – but I’d like to suggest that that is what us believers do. We do the impossible. Just like Daniel.

I stood in one of our wastewater treatment plants a few years ago looking around thinking what they really need to do is just bulldoze this place and build a new plant. But the next thought was, “Right. And with whose money?” I knew it would cost $10,000,000. It was impossible. It’s a town of only 5,000 people. How do you get $10,000,000 out of 5,000 people (of which probably 2/3 are children or elderly people)? Yet, even as I type this, their new plant is built, it’s running, and about all we have left to do is pave the parking lot. How did that happen? It’s a miracle, that’s what it is. Interestingly, as we have tried to design and build it, we have faced one job-killing obstacle after another. Yet we’ve overcome every one of them and here we are today. There is no question in my mind the opposition we faced was Satanic. He wanted it to fail. He wanted to leave every one angry and suing each other. He was a murderer from the beginning. Yet here we are today. I can say I’ve tried to work hard for the people and I can say I’ve prayed hard for them, but that plant isn’t there because of me. It is because there is a very great and very kind God in Heaven who enjoys giving good gifts to the children of men, even ones who don’t necessarily acknowledge Him. Once again, I hope in some way I’ve stirred someone’s heart to see God above it all. I’ll only know in Heaven probably. But that is, again, just like Daniel, what we’re all about.

Nebuchadnezzar had a dream. No one could help him figure it out. Daniel prayed and Daniel could. “Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?” the king asked Daniel. The king then learned that his wise men were wrong on two points – they were wrong that “there is not a man on earth who can do what the king asks” and they were wrong that “the gods do not live among men.”

We believers enter the workplace as people who can do the impossible. We know it isn’t us, that it is God working through us, but we know that He can do the impossible, and by prayer and hard work, He will often enable us to accomplish those things.  I believe He wants to do just that, to use His people to accomplish the impossible, precisely because He still has “much people in this city.” Here is where it is so important for us to live the same humility as Daniel. “As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have greater wisdom than other living men … there is a God in Heaven who reveals mysteries.” Hopefully our humility allows others to see Him in it, to stir their hearts to want to know this God who after all does “dwell among men!” In Acts 17, Paul told the Athenians, God “has made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek the Lord, if perhaps they might seek after Him, and find Him.” People live when they live and where they live specifically that they might themselves be drawn to seek the Lord. Believers’ presence in the workplace and the Lord’s work through them is one of the ways He intends to “adorn the Gospel.” And again, this is precisely where genuine humility is so critically important. He wants to do the impossible – through us – but when it’s done, it needs to be Him and not us they see.

What a fine young man our Daniel is. I would like to suggest to anyone’s interested perusal that the Daniel we have seen already in just these first two chapters is everything we believers ought to be as we venture out to ply our trades. We have seen he is gracious, respectful, considerate, principled, brave, a hard worker, appreciative, and above all humble. He worships a great God and takes Him to work. He was all those things and here we are 2,600 years later still learning from his good example.

God help us all to be like Daniel in our workplaces – along with our schools, our neighborhoods, our communities, our sports programs, and wherever else our gracious Lord allows us to live out our everyday lives. It’s all about Him.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Daniel 2:24 – “Like Jesus”

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

24Then Daniel went to Arioch, whom the king had appointed to destroy the wise men of Babel. He went and thus he said to him, “Do not destroy the wise men of Babel. Bring me in before the king and the interpretation I will declare to the king.”

This is one of those verses which could be passed over as “simply telling the story.” There are people who honestly think you can’t learn anything from a simple verse like this. I heartily disagree. The Bible is a book of discipleship. It is the very breath of God and every page, every word is in some way or another a picture of Jesus. Every word helps us understand the mind of God. Every person in the Bible shows us what godliness either is or isn’t.

In this case, if we’ll but pause a minute and think, Daniel is setting before us a monumental model of what faith should look like in a real world.

If one pauses to think, Daniel’s words border on the amazing: “Do not destroy the wise men of Babylon.”

Notice he did not say, “Do not destroy us wise men.” He is at this very moment standing under a sentence of death. At any second the sword can swing, he and his friends will be dead, and no one will so much as notice. Yet, even in this, our amazingly humble friend isn’t thinking of himself. His heart immediately goes out to the wise men. Kind of reminds us of Someone who once said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do!”

It should be noted at this point that, back in Israel, such men were not even allowed to live. “A person who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them …” (Lev 20:27). Daniel grew up utterly despising “wise men” and “astrologers” and “magicians.” They deserved to die. And not only that, but no doubt by this time, Daniel has already seen and perhaps suffered under their meanness – in the very next chapter, they are the people who accuse Daniel’s friends and get them thrown into the fiery furnace. In chapter 6, it is probably these very men who get Daniel thrown in the lions’ den. They are a very jealous, mean-spirited bunch of people.

Yet the first words out of our Daniel’s mouth are, “Do not destroy the wise men of Babylon.”

Daniel is living out in his workplace, in his real world, the very spirit of Jesus. His God “makes His sun to shine on the evil and the good” and so does our Daniel. And so should we. Our disposition at work and in our world should never come across as “Off with their heads!” even if we think they deserve it and especially if we find them personally hateful and mean to us. The Bible says, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth. When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly” (I Pet 2:21-23).

The spirit of a Christian ought to be the spirit of Christ – ready to love, ready to forgive. I love how we see that heart in II Peter 3:9, “The Lord is patient with you, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” The “that all should come to repentance” actually could be translated, “that all would have room for repentance.” That all would have room. That everyone might have a chance. That is the spirit of our saving God and it ought to be ours too. Daniel is modeling it for us even in the Old Testament. How much more, this side of the Cross, ought we to be modeling it before our world?

Talk about “different!” You can bet these people think they’ve never seen anyone like this Daniel. In their world, heads roll. People fight and maneuver and promote themselves. People kill their enemies. And suddenly they are working beside this Daniel fellow who doesn’t seem to have a mean bone in his body. He actually cares about other people! Even when his own life is in danger, even when he himself is about to get fired, he’s still thinking first about everyone else.

The thought brings me back to Jesus’ charge to us to be “in the world, but not of it.” I fear for most Christians, when they think of “not of it,” their list of rules comes up. But what makes our Daniel different is that he actually lives the spirit of Jesus. He’s “different” because he’s like Christ. And so should we be. And can I add, the workplace inserts believers into the bowels of the real world, the very place where people are hating and hurting, and gives us a chance to shine for Jesus – to show people there is another way, to show them there is world where love wins. In this one little verse before us, we see the difference that Jesus makes when people truly love Him.

I need to address the issue that these guys “deserve to die.” As mentioned above, it was very clear in the Old Testament that divination and spiritism were absolutely forbidden. “A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them …” (Leve 20:27). Some of the older commentators even posed the question whether Daniel should or should not have “interfered” with the execution of the wise men. Certainly the people of the Massachusetts colony thought it their civil duty to identify witches and burn them at the stake. So shouldn’t Daniel do everything he could to see that magicians and soothsayers and astrologers get put to death? I believe the fundamental error underneath this thinking is a complete misunderstanding of the Old Testament. Just briefly let me say people should realize that, in a large sense, the OT is a national constitution. It is a document specifically applicable to the nation of Israel, which was fully intended to be a theocracy. Within the borders of Israel, you could prescribe all kinds of rules and laws and standards – even something as simple as observing a Sabbath.

The problem is, when believers leave that kind of isolated world, and go out to live and work in the real world, they don’t get to make the rules. It’s great if the country you live in basically observes a Sabbath and you get Sunday off – but what if you don’t? It’s great if the world you live in doesn’t take the Lord’s name in vain and use four-letter words, but what if even the bosses at your job do? My point is that, outside of Israel, you cannot go around thinking OT law should be enforced. In the real world, you’ll live under whatever rules there are and you’ll have little to no ability to change them. That brings us back to the spirit of Jesus. We go out into a world that may have no respect at all for anything you and I think is important. But rather than insisting our rules should be followed, we need to show the heart of Jesus, even in a world where good is evil and evil is good.

Daniel is modeling that heart for us and we ought to be like him. Like Jesus.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Daniel 2:23 – “Humility”

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

23To the God of my fathers, giving thanks and praising You, I [am];
   because You have given to me the wisdom and the power,
   and now You have made known to me what we asked from You.
   You have made known to us the matter of the king.

As I said before, this one verse might take several posts.

In regards to it, the next thought I’d like to ponder is Daniel’s humility, but, before I consider how we see it, I want to ponder why this humility is so important. Once again, where is he? He is not some monk cloistered away in a cave or even a pastor or missionary in their office. He’s not just a believer having his devotions at home. Daniel is a man who lives and works in the real world, at a secular job, under a tyrant boss, in a office full of charlatans and useless sycophants. Because he’s “in the world” he suffers the same way they do. When the king is on the warpath, Daniel’s head goes on the block, just like everyone else’s. There is no question, Daniel is “in the world,” – and that is right where Jesus wants him. As I noted before, he is literally swimming in a sea of unbelievers, of people who desperately need to know the grace and love and redemption of his God.

But Daniel is not “of the world.” He’s different. And how is he different? Can I say, one of the most important ways in which he is different is his humility? The Lord Himself says, “God resists the proud; He gives His grace to the humble” (I Peter 5:5). One of the most important ways in which believers ought to be very different in the workplace is their humility. We could talk about genuine love, about being dependable, about doing quality work, etc., but underneath it all, there had better be a genuine and growing humility. It is one of the major ways we ought to be “different.”

I need to belabor this point for just a second, because I do not believe this is at all what modern American evangelical Christianity teaches. What does it mean to be “different?” It’s all about what we wear or don’t wear, what we drink or don’t drink, our characteristic assortment of adjectives, and, above all else knowing we’re right and they’re wrong, we know the truth and they don’t, and they need to hear it from us -- just like a good little Pharisee. I remember one of their songs I would have myself approved was “Dare to be a Daniel, dare to stand alone, dare to have a purpose true, and dare to make it known.” Those words may sound good while you stand singing in church, but they are expressing the heart of a Pharisee. Words and messages like that encourage people to go into the workplace and be “militant,” to walk into work confident you’re “better” than them, to work with a chip on your shoulder. I was too long that person myself but I also got to watch other believers acting like that. I got to see how the other workers saw them, got to hear what they said about them. And it wasn’t pretty. Arrogance is never pretty, and it gets even uglier when it’s called religion. But what was lacking? Humility. How did we come across? Arrogant. And why? Because we were. Jesus wasn’t like that and when He calls us to be different, He doesn’t leave us the option to decide how we want to define it (like Pharisees always do). He means to be like Him. If we would sincerely desire to “make a difference” in our world, then we must be like the real Daniel, the one in the verses before us, and we must know something of his humility.

How do we see it? First of all, we see it in his gratitude. The Lord does something good for him, and he is immediately “thanking and praising.” We could camp on the importance of gratitude, and resolve to be more grateful, but I would suggest humility is the engine that drives gratitude. Daniel doesn’t believe he’s “better” than anyone else. He doesn’t see himself as God’s “fair-haired boy,” who obviously gets whatever he wants. Because he is genuinely humble, he doesn’t see himself as “deserving” anything. And so, when he does receive blessings, his heart naturally wells up in gratitude. This is one of the unmistakable (and very beautiful) expressions of a genuinely humble heart – to be a person who sincerely appreciates anything and everything others do for them. I would suggest this is part of why the Lord had caused Daniel’s bosses “to show favor and sympathy” to him, part of why the king found Daniel and his friends “ten times better than all the magicians in his kingdom,” and even why Arioch was willing to stand there and “explain the matter to Daniel” when his job was to cut off his head. Esther was the same way. The Bible specifically notes of her overseer Hegai, “The girl pleased him and won his favor.” Interestingly, when it came her “turn” to go to the king, we’re told “she asked for nothing other than what Hegai suggested.” Humility. Gratitude. Priceless jewels for living in a world that desperately needs to see Jesus.

Next we see his humility in his total acknowledgement that this knowledge of the king’s dream is to God’s glory and not his. He says, “ …because You have given to me the wisdom and the power, and now You have made known to me what we asked from You.” You, You, You. Daniel has no problem with in-grown eyeballs. He is in no sense “impressed with himself.” Did he just do something amazing? Yes. Does he have an ability no one else has? Yes. Was what he has just accomplished literally impossible? Yes. Did he just literally save his own and his friends’ lives? Yes. So does he deserve a medal? He doesn’t seem to think so. In fact, there’s not the slightest hint of self- adulation.  He has just acknowledged in v20 that “wisdom and power” are God’s and then in v21 that is in fact God who gives “wisdom and power” to people. Now in v22, we find that Daniel actually believes what he’s saying, because when he is found to possess “wisdom and power” he immediately attributes it to the Lord.

Herein again we see Daniel’s humility. He is living out the truth from I Cor 4:7, “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” The fact is that “every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of Lights.” All our abilities, all our successes, all our knowledge or insights, are gifts from God. Daniel knew it. So should we. And here again is a place where faith ought to make you and me different in the workplace. It is an ugly thing to see a person impressed with themself, and it is probably 1000x worse when that person has claimed to be a Christian in the workplace. In fact, in today’s world, I’m not even so sure we should be as verbal as Daniel is giving glory to God. I don’t think that is the point. Whether we say it or not, it will be apparent to everyone around if we sincerely do not take credit for our successes. The less we say, perhaps the better – let the Lord make our humility obvious to those around us. So when something “works,” when we make a sale, solve a problem, succeed in any way, let us from our very hearts acknowledge it is all a gift from God, that I am only His vessel to do good to this world, and He alone deserves the glory.

Finally, we see Daniel’s humility in his ready inclusion of his friends in his success. “…now You have made known to me what we asked from You. You have made known to us the matter of the king.” Note the “we” and the “us.” Daniel sincerely values the presence and involvement and the contribution of his friends. He sincerely believes their help was part of his success. I would suggest it is of monumental importance that we each learn not only that our successes are gifts from God but also that we’ll seldom see them come to us alone. We need the people around us. We may ourselves have unique abilities but we also need the abilities of others. I can’t do it all. I need my co-workers. I need my wife. I need my fellow Christians. It is a huge part of humility to genuinely appreciate those the Lord places around us and just how important they are to us. For myself, I can honestly say the Lord has allowed me to do some amazing things in my life. He has given me the ability oftentimes to figure out things that utterly baffle everyone else, to succeed in things others had long written off as impossible. In every one of those situations, I am thankful I can look back and say, “They couldn’t have done it without me,” but I am equally thankful to be able to say, “But I couldn’t have done it without them.” It is one of the treasures of life to succeed “together” and it is important for us as believers to know that is usually the only way it will happen. The Lord will bless us “together.”

What an amazing fellow our young friend Daniel is. At a time in life when most of us suffer deeply from our own arrogance, here’s one young man who has already learned to be humble. And it is a beautiful thing to see, especially in the workplace. It is a beautiful thing for his boss and his co-workers to see. They’ll know he’s “different” all right, and it will be the kind of difference that might just move them to come and “ask a reason of the hope that is in him.”

May you and I be genuinely humble like Daniel. May we keep ourselves “out of the way” so the Lord can show others Himself. And may that light shine brightly into someone else’s dark world “to give them the light of the knowledge of the glory of God.”

God help us.