Some Things are Not For Us

antiocus epiphanesI, Daniel, was worn out. I lay exhausted for several days. Then I got up and went about the king’s business. I was appalled by the vision; it was beyond understanding.
Daniel 8:27 (NIV)

Daniel lived and served under the Babylonians, Medes, and Persian kingdoms just over 500 B.C. The fact that Daniel served under so many different rulers gives us an idea of just how volatile the political situation was. Over the following centuries that area and what is now northern Africa and southern Europe saw a steady stream of kingdoms, conquerors, wars, and usurpers before the Roman Empire rolled in and reigned for several centuries. Daniel’s vision was a word picture of what would transpire politically in the region over the subsequent centuries ending with the king who “set itself up to be as great as the commander of the army of the Lord; it took away the daily sacrifice from the Lord, and his sanctuary was thrown down.”

That king was Antiochus Epiphanes (the name he gave himself which means “God Manifest”), a Seleucid ruler who around 170 B.c. who outlawed Judaism as a religion, ended daily sacrifice in the temple of Jerusalem and desecrated the temple itself. Christian scholars view him as an ancient preview of the antichrist in John’s vision (Book of Revelation).

I find it interesting as I ponder it all this morning that Daniel’s vision was not for him. The events of his vision would be fulfilled over several hundred years, and only realized and valued long after his passing. I love his description of the vision as “appalling” and “beyond understanding.” So I have found it to be with life. Over recent years Wendy and I have struggled to accept that some things are given to us which we don’t understand, and some things are not for us. It is a weary business, as Daniel discovered. Nevertheless, I am beginning to value the lesson.

(Message) Hearing God’s Voice: Journaling

Hearing God's Voice IconThis past Sunday I delivered the morning message in the auditorium service at TRC. We are in a series called Hearing the Voice of God and journaling is one of the disciplines that is discussed in the process of tuning into God’s Spirit. In this message I share the story of my own experiences and lessons learned from the discipline of journaling. I have included the powerpoint file, as well. This message is posted hear with the permission of TRC and is intended for personal listening only.

2015 01 25 Hearing God’s Voice PowerPoint

Whale Sharks, Scope, and the Matter of Dreams

Whale Shark

In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying in bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream.
Daniel 7:1 (NIV)

Last week I had a dream and I referenced it in the message I delivered on Sunday. I dreamt of a giant whale shark that was swimming in the river Thames. It was so big that it was almost as wide as the river itself. It lifted up out of the water and a gust of wind burst from it’s wide mouth like an exhale. As this happened I thought to myself that the mighty sea beast really needed a 300 gallon bottle of Scope.

What did my dream mean? Nothing really. The previous evening in conversation someone had referenced a whale shark. The city of London had come into the conversation as well. I believe that my dream was simply regurgitating in its subconscious state the images and bytes of conversation from the previous day.

A few years ago I had a very different dream about tornadoes. I woke up and was troubled by what I had seen much like Daniel in today’s chapter. I wrote down the dream and shared it with a few individuals. I can still recall the dream in its vivid entirety, but also like Daniel, will choose to keep it largely to myself for now. I admit that I don’t understand all of what I saw and experienced in that dream but I knew that this dream was different. It had been given to me, though the reason has yet to become clear.

I have come to believe that there are two errors one can make with relation to dreams. One is to dismiss them entirely. There are numerous instances throughout history of people having very specific dreams for, it turns out, very specific purposes that cannot be wholly explained by science. We should take note and pay attention when prompted in our spirit to do so. The second error is to make too much of dreams. Some dreams are simply whale sharks in the river Thames, and I believe it a fools errand to spend too much time and energy searching for metaphorical meaning in every subconscious vision that emanates from our brains’ nocturnal processing.

Centuries later there are, and have been, numerous interpretations of Daniel’s dream of the four beasts in today’s chapter. I have read and studied several of them over the years, and I have my own thoughts on which interpretations have credibility. Nevertheless, Daniel’s dreams have little bearing on my day. I have a long day ahead of me with several presentations to make for a client, tasks that must be accomplished, and people to show love and kindness. I am reminded this morning by Daniel’s dreams that the times and eras and kingdoms of this world are part of the Great Story which, I believe, is already written and continues to be slowly revealed in the borders of time and space that were set in creation. It’s fascinating to ponder Danny Boy’s dreams, and discuss them over a pint. The bottom line, however, is that I have my own small part to play in the Story, and so I begin my day.

Heroic Courage? (Perhaps Simply Tired)

3301233153_fce5cd186c_zNow when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.
Daniel 6:10 (NIV)

This morning I’ve been thinking about the context of Daniel’s life. He had been living in exile since his youth. It is likely that his family starved to death or were slaughtered in the siege of Jerusalem where he witnessed horrific atrocities. He was little more than a slave to his captors. He may have earned their respect, but he never escaped the hatred and discrimination of the people he served. He had survived the insane rages of Nebuchadnezzar. He had witnessed the divinely appointed downfall of Belshazzar. He was now living under his third foreign monarch and yet another group of power hungry middle managers scheming his destruction. Through it all he was a stranger in a strange land, despised by his foreign peers, and misunderstood by virtually everyone around him. His entire life, Daniel held firm to one thing: his faith.

It did not surprise me this morning when I read that upon reading Darius’ decree, Daniel simply went about doing what he had always done. Daniel had seen rulers come and rulers go. He’d continually witnessed and experienced their silly, ego-driven edicts. Through all of the massive political transitions he had survived, Daniel understood that he served and was answerable to a higher authority who did not lose His throne to the next despot.

The threat of the lions den may have been very real, but by the time his political enemies sprung their trap, I find that Daniel responded with an almost fatalistic detachment. He held loosely to the things of this world. When Belshazzar offered him riches for his interpretation in yesterday’s chapter, Daniel told him to keep them. The only thing Daniel really cared about was the one thing that had gotten him through, and that was his faith. He was not going to stop praying even if it did mean being devoured by lions. I wonder if, by this time in his life, there was a part of him that would have welcomed an end to his earthly exile.

This morning I’m thinking about this earthly journey. I’m thinking about how my own personal thoughts and priorities have changed over time. There are things to which I once clung, but now hold rather loosely. There are things which I prize more than ever that have little tangible, earthly value. When I was young I thought of Daniel as a man of super-hero style courage, but I think I misunderstood him. I’m beginning to believe that the Daniel who was thrown to the lions was simply a wise old man who was tired, who wanted only to be left alone to live out his faith, and who didn’t really care anymore what anyone did to him.

Parental Observation from a Child’s Perspective

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But you, Belshazzar, his son, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this.
Daniel 5:22 (NIV)

As a parent, there is a big difference between a child who acts (or omits) out of ignorance and the child who acts (or omits) with the full knowledge that they are doing what they should not do, or not doing what they should do. Ignorance can be understood and the offense can be chalked up to a lesson that needed to be learned. When a child acts with the full knowledge that what they are doing is improper it is a very different situation. The action, or refusal to act, becomes a willing act of disobedience.

Today’s chapter fast forwards in Daniel’s story. Nebuchadnezzar is dead and Belshazzar has taken the throne. Belshazzar had witnessed all that his predecessor had gone through with the statute, his dreams, and his madness. He had heard Nebuchadnezzar acknowledge God and humble himself. Now that he is on the throne, Belshazzar throws an drunken feast and brings in the stolen gold cups from Solomon’s temple to drink from. If dishonoring the temple vessels wasn’t enough, B-Shaz and his homeys begin to honor the idols of gold, silver and wood. The lesson is clear, B-Shaz had witnessed all that Nebuchadnezzar had experienced and learned, but he didn’t learn the lesson himself.

This morning, to be honest, my heart is sober. As a parent it is easy for me to see and apply these simple lines of behavioral delineation, but then I think of myself as a child of God. I think of lessons I have learned along the journey that still have not translated into life change. There are things I know I shouldn’t do that I do, and things I should do that I don’t. Like a child caught red-handed, I am in continuous need of my Father’s grace and mercy.

[Side note: I love when I realize, discover, or rediscover the source of a common phrase. We forget how many every day sayings come from Shakespeare and from the Bible. “Weighed on the scales and found wanting” is a phrase I’ve heard referenced in books, plays, movies and conversation my entire life. Its source is today’s chapter!]

A Forest of Lessons

source: Google Earth
source: Google Earth

The tree you saw, which grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth, with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit, providing food for all, giving shelter to the wild animals, and having nesting places in its branches for the birds— Your Majesty, you are that tree!
Daniel 4:20-22 (NIV)

One of the things that I am going to greatly miss here at VW Manor is our mighty oak tree which, we believe, has likely stood sentinel over this property since around the time the Dutch settlers put down their roots in the neighborhood. Each time I drive into the driveway I must be careful to skirt my way around the massive trunk. Its branches have given us shade from the heat of the summer sun. It has wordlessly whispered to my soul regarding permanence, strength, fidelity and my own relative transience.

God has a thing for trees. There was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the middle of the Garden of Eden. Psalm 1 kicks off that monster volume of lyrics by describing the blessed person as a “tree, planted by rivers of water, which bears fruit in its season, whose leaf doe not wither.” The book of Revelation describes, at the end of all things, the Tree of Life in the middle of a restored Eden.

This morning I am also mindful of the oak trees that once stood scattered around the yard of our lake house. Spindly and thin, they nonetheless offered a small forest’s worth of shade over the house and guarded those who traversed the hill down to the water’s edge. Over the course of a few summers, one-by-one, each one of them quickly withered and died. Their dead, bare branches stretched out but provided no shade. One by one we cut them down. It called to mind Jesus’ words:

[My Father, the gardener] cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.

Nebuchadnezzar was a mighty, prosperous, fruitful tree. Yet, he discovered that what takes years to grow can wither very quickly.

Today, I am asking myself, “What kind of tree am I?”

Edifice Complex

drawer pulls 1

King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide,and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.

Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do: As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”
Daniel 3:1, 4-6 (NIV)

When I was a kid growing up in Des Moines the tallest building on the skyline of our city was the Ruan building. “In rust we trust,” was the phrase I heard muttered by locals back in the day, inspired by the rusted steel skyscraper. Then, The Principal company built their even taller marble and glass skyscraper at 801 Grand. I will never forget that, as the new Principal building was completed, Mr. Ruan held a press conference to announce plans for a new building that would be even taller (it never happened). I believe that’s what is colloquially referred to as an “edifice complex.”

Last night I kicked off a Wednesday night class in which we’re exploring how God uses metaphor (something that represents something else without using “like” or “as”) to effectively express Himself and communicate Truth. We are also pushing into how we express ourselves metaphorically and how we can use metaphor to become better communicators. My assignment to the class in this first week was to look for metaphors in our daily life and bring one example back to class to share. One of my class-mates asked me for an example.

Wendy and I are in the final weeks of watching our house being completed, and yesterday I spent an inordinate amount of time contemplating knobs. We had to pick out the drawer and cabinet pulls for every room in the house. Talk about much ado about nothing. It was not an enjoyable process for me. Nevertheless, as I considered the endless options and how we were ever going to decide, I came back to some guiding principles that have emerged as we have designed our new residence.

“Clean, simple lines” is the phrase that always comes to my mind. From the start we have wanted our house to have a peaceful yet beautiful simplicity that invites people in to rest, to dine, to drink, to converse, and to comfortably be. So, I found myself looking for knobs that were simple, with clean lines and yet beautiful in their simplicity. That’s metaphor. The knobs we chose are an expression of the environment we desire our home to be. If we had chosen solid gold decorative knobs encrusted with gems and inlaid painted ceramic highlights we would have been expressing something much different with our choice.

nebuchadnezzars statueThose knobs came to mind again this morning as I read about Nebuchadnezzar’s great statue. How fascinating that in just the previous chapter King Neb has a dream about a statue and Daniel interprets that God is eventually going to replace Neb’s kingdoms with other kingdoms culminating in an eternal one. Now, the king builds a real statue and tells everyone to worship it. Why? Because he can. The statue of his dream and its interpretation rattled his pride, ego, and false sense of power and security. He responds by creating his own statue and making everyone bow and worship it in order to shore up the cracks in his fragile ego. The statue on the plain of Dura expresses is his own version of an edifice complex and becomes a metaphor expressing both his ego, power, as well as his fear and insecurity.

Today, I’m thinking about the edifice that Wendy and I are building out on the edge of town. I’m praying that it will express what we have talked about and intended all along: invitation, warmth, beauty, cozy hospitality, creativity, peace, and love.