Thursday, March 30, 2006

Comfortable Living In A Time of War

Evil is a real thing; it is not an illusion. The forces of evil are powerful and clever, and they are intent on prying people away from God. There is a war going on, and it is not pretty.

And here's the reason why this is so important:

Most of the people reading this blog have never really known poverty. Few of us will ever have to worry about being thrown in prison and tortured for our beliefs. We live in relative comfort and ease -- an age of unprecedented wealth and affluence. Certainly, this is a blessing in many ways. Many of us live in nice homes and eat good food, have drinkable water and access to good medical care.

But times and conditions like these are abnormal in human history. Only recently has comfort and ease become part of an average person's lifestyle. And, as much of a blessing as this has been, it is also something of a curse as well. It's made us soft. It's made us forget that there are people -- even people in our world today -- who do not have it so good. More people have been murdered for their faith in Jesus in the last 100 years than ever before. There is a war going on still. Persecution is not a thing of the past. Neither is it something that will happen one day during "the tribulation". It goes on today in places like the Sudan, Indonesia, China, Afghanistan.

Being a Christian does not mean everything will go well for us in this life. Because of our current living situations, we often plug away with what we think is a vital faith. But when something bad happens with our health or our job or a relationship, we're tempted to have that faith shaken to its core and wonder why God is not keeping up his end of the bargain.

Daniel's vision tells us: Expect trouble. There is a war going on, and the goal of that war is to pry people away from God. It went on in Daniel's time. It's going on in our time as well. It will continue until Jesus returns.

So here's the challenge for us: Stop taking your comfortable lifestyle for granted. Receive it as a gift from God, but don't expect it to last forever. Don't feel guilty for having nice things and making good money. Realize that you're called to use that wealth to further God's purposes in this world. Remember those who are still persecuted for their faith. Pray for those who go to bed hungry tonight or imprisoned. If you're interested in doing more than sending happy thoughts, you might want to go visit a couple of websites and get some information on how you can roll up your sleeves and get involved in working for justice in this time of war:

Voice of the Martyrs:
Compassion International:

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Forecast Calls For Trouble

Keith Brenton is the only one who ventured a guess at what Daniel 7 is about. He says it's all about God's sovereignty, and in some sense it is. But first, the text mentions all these wild beasts with wings and horns, multiple heads and dental problems. What's up with that imagery?

I think these are images of evil. A beast with parts of another beast stuck between its teeth might be translated: evil is violent or evil feeds on evil. A beast with four wings might mean that evil travels swiftly. A beast with four heads might mean that evil is shrewd. A beast with horns might mean that evil is powerful.

So, the message I get from this part of Daniel is this: expect trouble. Evil is a real thing, and its effects are felt universally. If you live in this world, expect trouble. Don't be taken by surprise when bad things happen. Sometimes God's people get defeated and taken away in chains. Sometimes the ruling powers of this world make you choose between idolatry and death. Sometimes good people get thrown into bad places for doing the right thing.

There is a spiritual war going on, and we shouldn't expect life to be comfortable. The fact that most of the people reading this (including the guy writing it) live in unprecedented luxury is abnormal in human history. It's abnormal in contemporary society. The notion that once you come to Christ, you'll never have to face difficulties, sickness, loss of job, poverty, depression, divorce, the death of a child or persecution for your faith is absurd.

Jesus himself said, "In this world you will have trouble" (John 16:33). In fact, in the Sermon on the Mount, he says, "Don't worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matthew 6:34).

That's it? Trouble today and trouble tomorrow? Thanks a lot, Jesus.

No. That's not it. But that's part of it. And we cannot skip over it and jump to the happy ending just yet.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

This Is The End?

"In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying on his bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream.

"Daniel said: 'In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea.

"'The first was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle. I watched until its wings were torn off and it was lifted from the ground so that it stood on two feet like a man, and the heart of a man was given to it.

"'And there before me was a second beast, which looked like a bear. It was raised up on one of its sides, and it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. It was told, "Get up and eat your fill of flesh!"

"'After that, I looked, and there before me was another beast, one that looked like a leopard. And on its back it had four wings like those of a bird. This beast had four heads, and it was given authority to rule.

"'After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast -- terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns.

"'While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth that spoke boastfully'" (Daniel 7:1-8).

Okay, we've been working our way through Daniel, and it's been great so far. We've touched on a lot of very familiar stories, but now we've come to the last part of the Book of Daniel -- the part no one ever reads (except for those prophecy guys on TV). What are we supposed to do with all this? I mean, read those eight verses again.

A lion whose wings get torn off? A bear with ribs between its teeth? A leopard with four wings like a bird? Do birds have four wings? Four heads? What the...?

As confusing as this all is, I believe people usually take the wrong approach when it comes to deciphering it. I do not think it is wise to play a matching game with current nations or organizations. Ten horns...hmmm...there are ten seats on my local school board. You don't think...?

There have been people trying for centuries to play that matching game, and they've always been wrong. Every time we find out that Kissinger isn't the anti-Christ or the USSR isn't the bear with ribs in its teeth the Church gets a black eye and it gets a little bit harder to proclaim the gospel.

I know lots of good Christian people have different views on how things are going to end, but I think it would be very helpful if we'd all just stop the matching game.

So, if the point of this portion of Daniel is not to figure out who is which beast, what is the point?

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Family Reunion

I spent the last few days in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Every year for the last three decades, that city has hosted the largest gathering of people from the Churches of Christ in the world. The numbers have declined somewhat in recent years, but -- for those of us who grew up making the annual pilgrimage -- it is like a family reunion. We never even had to use the whole title (Tulsa International Soul Winning Workshop); we simply said "Tulsa". People knew what you meant.

I saw people I hadn't seen in years. Jeff Walling. Lynn Anderson. Marvin Phillips. Rubel Shelly. Mike Cope. Max Lucado. These are the rock stars of the Church of Christ. John Dobbs. Wade Hodges. Tim Spivey. Jon Mullican. These are, in my opinion, some of the rising stars.

This was an important year, historically speaking. One hundred years ago, a division that had been forming for several years was formally acknowledged between Restoration Movement churches that chose to use instruments and churches that chose not to. To some of my Evangelical friends, this division seems to be much ado about nothing. To those of us who grew up with it, it was huge.

This year, that division was acknowledged by thousands of people as having been wrong -- sinful even. It was fascinating to watch Max Lucado and Bob Russell share the platform. It was heartwarming to hear the cry for reconciliation and cooperation echoed with such force. Unity is important to God, and it is becoming important to Christians now.

I must admit, I was expecting some sort of fireworks. I know that people in the Churches of Christ can be fiesty, and I wondered if someone might see this as an opportunity to voice their disagreement. But nothing like that happened at all. As one friend said, "All the mean people stayed home."

Who knows what the future holds? How much longer will a gathering like this continue to be viable? How many more unified events will we see? What will it lead to? God only knows.

One thing's for sure: these are interesting times to be alive. God is on the loose, and his kingdom has broken into our world.

One other thing's for sure: family reunions bring mixed emotions. They remind us of what things were like -- good, bad and ugly. They hint to us of how things might be -- more good, bad and ugly. They cause us to reflect, and (hopefully) they cause us to project as well.

One final thing's for sure: there is coming a family reunion to end all family reunions. It will be interesting. The mere thought of it brings about mixed emotions in me. I want it to come tonight, but I want it to hold off a while longer, too.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Word Three: Broken

"Your kingdom is broken and taken away from you."

That's God's final word to King Belshazzar, shattering his final illusion that the circumstances of his life would be ultimately under his own control.

It's absolutely baffling to me how we can live our entire lives with the idea that we're in control of everything. Certainly, there are some things that are in my control, but most of life happens to me rather than through me. And, in the end, I know I'm going to die. I have one life, and I have no idea how long it will last. But I do know that when it's over, I'm going to be asked to give an account for what I did with it.

I have no idea how many days I have left, but when it's over I hope the words that describe my life are not these three: numbered; weighed; broken.

I guess when I look at those words, though, they do describe me to some extent. They describe each of us. We've all been numbered; we've all been weighed; we're all broken. I suppose that's why Jesus came.

Now the question becomes: What are you going to do about all this?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Second Word: Weighed

The cautionary tale of King Belshazzar continues as Daniel reveals the second word God personally wrote on the wall.

"Tekel: You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting."

With this word, God is puncturing the illusion that a person can get away with doing wrong. For some reason, most of us believe that getting caught is for other people. Over and over again, you can ask people who have tripped up by scandal, and they'll tell you: "I never thought I'd get caught."

Ask Pete Rose. Ask Barry Bonds (after he comes out of denial). Ask Jim Bakker. Jimmy Swaggart. Bill Clinton. Martha Stewart.

We tend to think that we're too clever to get caught. We know what we're doing. We're not like those other people. We'll get away with it.

Several years ago, when we lived in Texas, Anabel was old enough for us to take the railing off her baby bed. She thought this gave her permission to get up and roam around the house after bedtime. She'd sneak up on me while I was working on my laptop in the living room or watching baseball late at night, and I'd usher her back to her room.

After a while, she figured that maybe if she couldn't see me, I wouldn't be able to see her. So, she dumped the books out of a basket we had in her room and put the basket on her head like a helmet. She would stumble out of her room, groping around with her hands and be shocked when we would discover her! It was hysterical, and my wife and I would collapse on the floor laughing at her. We even have a picture of her with the basket on her head standing in the middle of our kitchen (looking for cookies probably!).

It's a good thing we grow out of that kind of thing, right?

Or maybe we don't.

I still know people who think that if they can't see others, others can't see them. We do that at church, don't we? If you didn't see me looking at pornography, maybe I didn't really look at pornography. If I can't see you getting high, maybe you never did get high. If no one sees you fix that expense report, maybe you really did spend that money legitimately.

The bottom line is: It doesn't matter if anyone you know sees you or finds out. There is a God who sees everything. Belshazzar was just as out of touch with reality as Anabel was -- closing your eyes doesn't make you invisible. It makes you naive.

God comes to the king and says, "You've been weighed. And if you think there's anything I don't see, if you think you're more clever than I am, if you think you're going to get away with defying me -- you've got another thought coming."

God sees everything. He hears every word and knows every thought. He weighs us each on the scales of his judgment, and we all come up short. You can close your eyes all you want, but there is no end-run around responsibility.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Word One: Numbered

King Belshazzar's party came to an abrupt halt when a mysterious hand appeared and wrote three words on the wall. No one could figure out what they meant until the Queen remembered Daniel and his ability to solve problems like this. Daniel told the king the meaning of the three words, and each word punctures an illusion that propped up the life of King Belshazzar.

The first word was "mene", which means "numbered".

Many of us, like King Belshazzar, live with the illusion that our life is our life. My life belongs to me, and I am only accountable to myself for what I do with it.

God comes to the king and says, "I've numbered your days, Belshazzar. I've already decided how many days to give you. Your life is not just yours; it is on loan from me. You are where you are because of me; you have what you have because I gave it to you. I created you and gifted you and presented you with opportunities to do things in the brief time you have on this earth. And, in the end, you will be held accountable to me."

When Daniel walked into the room, he saw the gold and silver goblets that had been taken from the Temple in Jerusalem. These were sacred objects reserved for use in the worship of God. Obviously, he would have been horrified to see them used in such profane ways.

But the most sacred object the king was perverting was his life. God sees each of us as a golden vessel set apart for his purposes. When we spend our life only on ourselves -- gratifying our every appetite and never being used in service to others -- God sees us the way Daniel saw those objects that day: profaned.

You've been given one life, and one day you'll stand before your Maker and give an account for what you did with it. And God knows when that day will be. Do you?

"Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12).

Friday, March 17, 2006

What Daniel Said

Daniel has been summoned out of retirement to help this bratty king Belshazzar. He walks into the room to see that the king has been engaged in a drunken orgy and has been using sacred goblets stolen from the Temple in Jerusalem in his festivities. Then the king has the audacity to ask Daniel for a favor -- even offering him rewards if he does his job well.

One habit that Daniel has demonstrated is his willingness to tell hard truth when that's appropriate. Perhaps this was one of the reasons the new king has put Daniel out to pasture. Refusing the king's rewards, Daniel delivers the following message:

"O king, the Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty and greatness and glory and splendor. Because of the high position he gave him, all the peoples and nations and men of every language dreaded and feared him. Those the king wanted to put to death, he put to death; those he wanted to spare, he spared; those he wanted to promote, he promoted; and those he wanted to humble, he humbled. But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. He was driven away from people and given the mind of an animal; he lived with the wild donkeys and ate grass like cattle; and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and sets over them anyone he wishes.

"But you his son, O Belshazzar, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hands your life and all your ways" (Daniel 5:18-23).

The king has not asked for any of this. He just wanted to know what the writing means. This has all been Daniel's opinion.

The phrase that Daniel delivers that is hardest for my ears is this one: "You knew".

It's bad enough to do stupid things like the king has done, but the worst part is that he knew better.

What about you? Any areas in your life where you're behaving foolishly even though you know better? There are plenty of those areas in my life, but the thought that someone like Daniel might one day stick his finger in my chest and say, "You did all of this, even though you knew better" is devastating to me!

Let's all take this weekend and let Daniel say that to us anyway. Conviction like that is a difficult but necessary part of the process of growing up into the people God wants us to become.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

What Daniel Saw

Daniel had been King Nebuchadnezzar's right-hand man for a long time. He was a high-ranking official put in charge of an entire province -- over all the other wise men.

But now Daniel has been put out to pasture. He's an old man now, past his prime. The new king doesn't even know who he is...until the new king has a problem.

In the middle of his drunken party, a hand appears and writes a strange message on the wall. Then, as mysteriously as the hand appeared, it disappears. The king's first instinct was probably to switch to coffee, but soon he realizes that this wasn't a hallucination; it was real.

He calls all his wise men and asks them to decipher the message, but they cannot. Then the Queen (probably King Belshazzar's mother) remembers Daniel. He used to be good at this kind of thing. Maybe he could do it again.

So, they send for Daniel.

What does Daniel see when he walks in? Obviously, he's going to see the writing on the wall. He's also going to see the new king -- the one who discarded him in his old age. He sees the aftermath of a huge drunken orgy. But what may have caught his attention more than anything else were those goblets from Jerusalem. They were made of gold and silver and stood as a reminder of what worship used to be like in the Temple.

How long had it been since Daniel had seen them? What was going through his mind and heart when it occurred to him what they've been used for here?

Not only has the new king insulted Daniel; he's insulted Daniel's God. And now this impudent king says to Daniel, "Do me a favor and tell me what that scribbling up there means. I'll make it worth your while."

If I was Daniel, I'd say, "Figure it out yourself."

But that's not Daniel's style. Once again, my character has a long way to go before I respond like Daniel.

One other thing that Daniel may have seen: opportunity. The king is offering to restore Daniel to prominence. This had to be tempting for him. It may have even tempted Daniel to shrink away from telling the king the whole truth.

That's not Daniel, though, because -- more than anything -- what Daniel saw was one more chance to serve God by making a stand. Just like he did in chapter 1 with the king's food. Just like he did in chapter 2 with the king's dream about the statue. Just like he did in chapter 4 with the king's second dream about the tree. Daniel has demonstrated a clear pattern of integrity that he has no intention of violating now.

What Daniel saw in the writing and in the new king and in the old goblets was the hand of God moving steadily -- sometimes visibly -- most often invisibly -- to bring about his purposes.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Under the Influence

In Daniel 5 there's a new king. Nebuchadnezzar has been dead for quite some time, and his son Belshazzar has taken over, and here's what we learn of his character right off the bat:

"King Belshazzar gave a great banquest for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them. While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzarr his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. So they brought in the gold goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone" (Daniel 5:1-4).

Read back through that and see if you can find the one verb that's repeated several times for emphasis.


Find it? King Belshazzar apparently likes to drink, doesn't he? The writer mentions it five times in four sentences.

The church in which I grew up did not condone drinking at all -- not even wine with dinner. In fact, I remember the scandal that erupted when one of the girls in our youth group let it slip that her parents enjoyed a little vino every now and again. Drinking was universally understood by everyone in our church as out of bounds. It was one of the ways you knew someone was serious about their faith. If they had any alcohol in the house, they were nominal Christians -- people you wouldn't trust with your kids with. That person was automatically disqualified from a leadership position at church.

So, we didn't talk much about some parts of the Bible. For example, the Psalmist says that God makes "wine that gladdens the heart of man" (Ps. 104:15a). We didn't read that psalm during our Sunday morning assembly. Or Deuteronomy 14 -- where it says that if you live so far away from the Tabernacle or Temple that you cannot carry your tithe, "Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice" (Deut. 14:26).

We didn't talk much about those places in the Bible, and we explained away the whole notion of wine being wine. It was grape juice. I've actually got books in my library that jump through amazing hoops to explain how wine didn't have any alcohol in it back then -- even though people could somehow get drunk on it. Maybe it was some kind of sugar buzz.

The Bible does not say it is sinful to drink wine. But the Bible does warn people very strongly about the dangers of drinking too much wine.

In Daniel 5:2 we read, "While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them."

That first phrase could be translated, "While he was under the influence of wine...." The implication being that alcohol prompted him to do something he wouldn't have done otherwise.

I'm not going to say that Belshazzar's problems started with his alcohol consumption. I think it's pretty clear that there was a larger pattern at work here, which we'll see in the next few days.

But the booze didn't help.

I don't know everyone who reads my blog. But statistically speaking, someone who reads my blog has a drinking problem. I don't know who, but that person probably does. If that's you, get some help. Too often, Christians and churches don't talk openly about this, and I know folks who have suffered quietly in fear. Don't let your fear keep you from getting the help you need. There's help available for you if you want to crawl out from under the influence.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

When You Finally Bottom Out

Big, bad Nebuchadnezzar. He's flirted so many times with bending his knee to the one, true God. Eventually, God comes to him and warns him about the judgment he is bringing upon himself. God even lets him know what he could do to avoid it. But Nebuchadnezzar decides to ignore the warning. And God humbles him the hard way.

But there is a turning point to the story -- a turning point and a happy ending.

"At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven" (Daniel 4:34a).

Obviously, this doesn't mean he just looked up at the sky. The king had spent his entire life looking down on other people. God had brought him down so low that there was no one to look down upon. Now, in his despair, he finally had to look up, and, when he did, he saw the One he had been avoiding his whole life. Now he goes to God because he has nowhere else to go. And that's all God was waiting for.

All Nebuchadnezzar had to do was turn his gaze towards heaven, and he discovered a God who loved him with an all-consuming love -- a love that will discipline if necessary. A love that waits for prodigal little boys and girls to come home.

We all go through times of pain and difficulty. We all find ourselves at low points. But what do you do when you finally bottom out? My answer is: look up.

One of the things you'll find when you look up is that life isn't all about you. Nebuchadnezzar learns this. Here's the most powerful man in the world -- the guy who built the greatest city in the world. He's been disgraced, broken, humiliated, homeless, insane. If that happened to me, I wouldn't want anyone to know about it. But Nebuchadnezzar wrote this story; this is his testimony. And he sends it, "To the peoples, nations and men of every language, who live in all the world" (v. 1).

It no longer matters what people think about him. It only matters that they know about this amazing God who patiently warns and waits and disciplines when necessary but only disciplines as long as it takes. This God who is so humble will allow us to bottom out if that's what it takes to get us to look up and see him.

Monday, March 13, 2006

God's Extraordinary Sense of Timing

Nebuchadnezzar has been told what is going to happen to him and what he might be able to do to avoid it.

And, then, God waits.

"Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, 'Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?'" (Daniel 4:29-30).

God waits for a full year before he does anything. He plants a seed in the king's heart and waits to see if it will take root and sprout a little. But at the end of a year, Nebuchadnezzar seems even more arrogant than before!

Think about Nebuchadnezzar during that year. What did he do? He knew what was coming. He knew what he could do to avoid it. He did nothing.

Did he think God was bluffing?

Did he think he could figure out a way around the whole mess?

I bet he avoided Daniel during that year.

Here's the thing about being convicted by God: if you fail to act on that conviction, it's easy to slip back into your old habits and patters. But God will still hold you accountable.

"The words were still on his lips when a voice came from heaven, 'This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes.'

"Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled" (Daniel 4:31-33a).

"The words were still on his lips...." God wants Nebuchadnezzar to make the connection between what is about to happen to him and what he has just said. Excellent timing on God's part.

"Seven times will pass...." Some people think this means seven years, but, in the Bible, the number seven stands for "a lot". Remember the king had the furnace heated "seven times hotter" than it was. And the Book of Proverbs says, "Though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again" (Proverbs 24:16a).

Q: So, how long was Nebuchadnezzar insane?

A: As long as it took.

God is so amazingly patient. He waits to see if we'll take his warnings seriously. He waits patiently, hopefully, expectantly. He gives us sufficient time to make the necessary changes. When he decides to act, he can move very quickly, and his discipline lasts as long as it takes to make its point.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Why God Doesn't Like Pride

I've heard some people say that God doesn't want us to be proud because only he can be proud. I even read an article once on why God can be selfish and proud while we cannot. The main thrust of the argument went like this: He's God and can do as he likes.

While I appreciate the focus on God and his sovereignty, I must say I find that argument philosophically and theologically shallow.

Plato wondered how it was decided that certain things were virtuous and other things were sinful. He asked if God (or the gods) just decided on a whim to prefer honesty over deceit, declaring, "Humans must be honest because we say so" -- or is there something inherent within honesty that made God (or the gods) say, "We acknowledge honesty to be superior to deceit"?

My answer is: neither. Honesty is superior to deceit because it more accurately reflects the character and nature of God. That is why we are told to be honest; honesty is godly.

It is the same with humility. God is not opposed to pride because it is something only he can possess; God is opposed to pride because pride is unlike him.

For a brief time, God came to earth in the flesh -- in the person of Jesus. One of the few times Jesus actually described himself, he used words like "meek", "humble", "lowly". Not words we typically associate with God -- perhaps because we have crafted God in our own image and imagined how we would be if we had access to his power and resources.

This is why pride is so insidious: it gets in the way of me serving others; it resists the building of true community; it hinders the process of being transformed from within into a more godly person.

When seen in that light, God's not the only one who doesn't like pride; I don't like it very much either.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

What God Really Wants From Nebuchadnezzar

I must admit that if I found myself in Daniel's shoes, I'd actually want Nebuchadnezzar to be humiliated. It would fill me with great joy to know that he was going to be removed from power and made to live like a wild animal for a season. I'd actually want to see that happen.

Not Daniel. Daniel actually warns Nebuchadnezzar and gives him an idea that may potentiall spare him from the humiliation to come. Daniel has compassion and mercy; I struggle with those virtues.

But, as often as I've heard this passage taught, I've never seen what God really wants from Nebuchadnezzar until recently. Here's the specific statement: "Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed."

Did you catch that? It may help to look at the statement through the lens of parallelism. In Hebrew writings (especially poetry), it was common to repeat an idea with different language as a way of emphasis. That's what this sentence is: one idea stated twice in two different phrases.

Renounce your sins by doing what is right,
and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed.

"Sins" and "wickedness" are the same.

"Doing what is right" and "being kind to the opressed" are the same.

Every time I've heard this passage discussed, it's been about Nebuchadnezzar switching loyalty to the right God. Certainly, that's part of it, but it's more specific and tangible than that, too. God wants Nebuchadnezzar to stop oppressing people. That's specifically how God wants him to do what is right.

Nebuchadnezzar lives in opulence and comfort while others barely survive. He builds his great statues and hanging gardens with slave labor. He gazes at the magnificent walls of his city and overlooks the marginalized people who live within them. Withholding kindness to these people is wickedness and sinful in the eyes of God.

God is never just interested in our attitude towards him; he is most keenly interested in how we treat others.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Answering A Fool

This is out of context for our look at Nebuchadnezzar, but I've got some proverbs rolling around in my head and felt like I needed to put this out here.

In one verse, the Bible says, "Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself" (Proverbs 26:4).

In the very next verse we read, "Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes" (Proverbs 26:5).

These two verses are often used to disprove the inspiration of the Bible. After all, it would appear to be a blatant contradiction. In one verse it says we should not answer a fool; the very next sentence tells us we should answer a fool. Which is it?

I've read a few different answers to this -- many good thoughts. The best explanation I've found is that there is simply no winning with a fool. If you allow yourself to be drawn into an argument with a fool, you may be brought down to his level. Fools tend to use anger and rudeness in their arguments. They speak without thinking first. They have no humility and are not concerned with truth as much as they are concerned with vindication. To use such tactics is foolish, and arguing with a fool prompts me to respond in kind. I cannot afford to fall into the fool's trap.

However, we are told in the next proverb to answer a fool in order to prevent him from thinking he is wise when he is not. A fool believes that your silence is an admission of defeat -- thus confirming him in his folly. Unfortunately, when that happens, his behavior has been reinforced and others may follow suit.

The problem is, when you try to correct a fool, he will not receive your correction. The writer goes on to say: "Like a lame man's legs that hang limp is a proverb in the mouth of a fool" (v. 7). A fool does not know what to do with wisdom. It is no use giving it to him. The best thing may be to leave him to God, for only God can break through his folly.

There is something worse than a fool: a man who is certain of his own wisdom. "Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him" (v. 12).

I want so badly to be wise, but I am too often a fool. God, keep me from being wise in my own eyes, and grant me the wisdom that only you can provide.

Monday, March 06, 2006

We Can Do This the Easy Way Or the Hard Way

I have three kids (ages: six, four-and-a-half and two), and it's sometimes difficult to get everything done that needs to get done. Sometimes kids don't want to cooperate but would rather do things their way -- or not do them at all. Sometimes we need to get the girls in the van so we can go someplace, but they seem to think it's optional. Sometimes we need one of the girls to take medicine, but she doesn't understand that the medicine is mandatory. Tell me we're not the only parents who have trouble getting our kids to do what they have to do.

So, we've adopted a saying around here when we need the girls to participate but they seem unwilling. I say (in my "Daddy" voice), "Girls, we can do this the easy way, or we can do this the hard way. Which do you choose?"

In other words, you will take the medicine. You will get in the van. These things are not open for debate. The only question is how these things will happen. Will they happen with easy cooperation, or is there going to be a struggle and tears and other unpleasant things? We're going to do this. We can do it the easy way or the hard way.

So far, we've only had one girl choose the hard way one time.

God comes to Nebuchadnezzar in a dream and through its interpretation and says, "Nebuchadnezzar, you're going to humble yourself before me. We can do this the easy way, or we can do this the hard way."

Nebuchadnezzar chose the hard way. That's the story of Daniel 4. That's also the story of my life and yours.

See, the Bible promises that one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (see Philippians 2). For some, that confession will come as a relief, a statement laced with joy and peace. For others, that confession will come as a realization, a statement laced with regret and fear.

The last sentence in Daniel 4 reminds us: "Those who walk in pride he is able to humble." Your pride will be removed, and you will see just how big God is and, by comparison, how small you are. Your knee will buckle, and your sense of importance will shatter. You will acknowledge God as both the center and circumference of existence. These things will happen. We can do this the easy way, or we can do this the hard way. Which do you choose?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Importance of Honest Friends

I've really been thinking about how to answer Jenn (and thank you to Steven for your bravery in sharing). Here's what I've come up with as I've looked at the question and at the text of Daniel 4.

Nebuchadnezzar struggles with pride, but he doesn't know it. He says, "I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at home in my palace, contented and prosperous" (Daniel 4:4). He thinks he's got it all together and doesn't realize how close he is to losing it all.

But God knows.

And God wants Nebuchadnezzar to know, too. So, the king has a bad dream and is troubled by it. He can't figure out what it means, but he feels pretty certain that it's important. No one can help him until Daniel comes along.

Now, Daniel knows that the dream is not good news for the king. And this is frightening to Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar does not have a good track record of dealing with bad news. Daniel is probably afraid that bad news for the king equals bad news for Daniel. So, he hesitates.

But the king tells him, "It's okay. Go ahead and tell me the truth" (v. 19 -- my paraphrase).

And Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar the truth. The king is not wise enough at this point to act on the truth, but he has it in his possession and that is eventually what saves him.

The king could have told Daniel, "I don't want to hear it if it's not good." But he didn't say that. He was willing to hear the truth, and that -- in the long run -- was his salvation.

So, Jenn, I can't say whether you struggle with pride or not. I know you pretty well, and you don't strike me as a prideful person. But I'm not really in community with you. I don't go through life with you day in and day out, so I can't really say.

Here's the question for you (and the rest of us as well): Do you have a Daniel in your life? Someone who knows you well enough to tell you the truth even if it's bad news?

If not, maybe you could ask God to bring you a Daniel. If you have someone like that, have you ever done what Nebuchadnezzar does here and given that person permission to tell you the truth with no consequences?

There's nothing in the world like a good friend who will tell you the truth.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Blind to Pride

It's always been interesting to me that pride is one of the words songwriters love to us. It rhymes with lots of stuff and fits into lovesongs -- especially break-up songs -- very well. But it's almost always coupled with a particular word. Pride is never immature or unreasonable; pride is always "foolish pride".

I wonder where that lyric originated.

The truth is pride is foolish and immature and unreasonable and universal. C.S. Lewis says that pride is the one vice everyone struggles with. He says it's loathed when seen in others, but hardly anyone ever thinks they are guilty of. Christians in prior centuries proclaimed pride as one of the Seven Deadly Sins. In fact, most went farther than that; they said that pride is probably the most deadly -- the one from which all other sins spring.

I think what makes pride most dangerous is its ability to blind us to our own faults.

In the comments section of yesterday's post, Jenn writes:

"If I'm asking the question, 'Am I prideful?' does that indicate that I'm not, or that I am very self-deceived? I truly have a difficult time knowing. When I feel good about something I did, I don't know if that's prideful or if that's an indicator of healthy self-esteem. How do you know before it gets out of control?"

Great question. In my experience, most of the people who struggle with pride have no idea it's a problem. Look at Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4. Does he think he's got a problem? No. But God does.

I'm interested: how would you answer Jenn?