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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Life after Death




Life after Death

Because of Easter

 

A local Christian group offered Bible classes last fall and we joined a class planning to spend eight weeks together studying a book written by a popular Christian author.  Looking forward to enjoying this Christian book I curled up on the couch one evening and started reading.  

 

Unfortunately I only read a few pages before I started getting upset.  And the more I read the more upset I got.  Finally I slammed the book shut and refused to read any more of it or go to the Bible class. The sentence from this supposedly Christian book that finally stopped me in my tracks was this: “Of course Jesus did not rise from the dead as the Easter story goes.”  Such blatant unbelief dressed up as “Christian” was more than I could take!  It seems to me the writer thinks he is too intelligent – too sophisticated- to believe the gospel!  Why were we reading his book and celebrating Easter anyway if Jesus is still in the grave?

 

Evidently some of the Corinthians did not believe that Jesus rose from the dead either. And they did not believe that believers would live after death. Let’s see what Paul had to say to these folks who didn’t believe in life after death!  “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.  More than that, we are false witnesses about God, for we have testified that God raised Christ from the dead… For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.  And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile: you are still in your sins.  Then those who have died in Christ are lost.  If only for this life we have hope in Christ we are really a pitiful and miserable mess.” (1 Corinthians 15:13-18)  Paul is saying that Christianity completely depends on the real physical resurrection of the body of Christ: otherwise, it is all a lie! 

 

Paul here is linking Christ’s life after death with our life after death.  “Because He lives, we shall live also.” (John 14:19)  And then Paul goes on to say: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep… Christ, the first fruits: then …those who belong to Him.  (1 Cor. 15:20-22)  Paul is saying that Jesus’ resurrection is the “first fruit” of all those who will follow Him.

.  This “first fruits” story comes from the Old Testament where the Jewish nation under Moses was instructed to give or dedicate the very first ripe fruits of their harvest to God on the altar – and these first fruits in connection with the Passover were used to consecrate the coming harvest. The first fruits were the evidence that the entire harvest would soon be ripening and on the way too. (Leviticus 23:4-14)  Jesus died on the day of the Passover, and conquered death and His resurrection is a promise of our own future resurrection from death!  He leads our way into life.

And what will it be like when we die and follow the resurrected Jesus into life everlasting? Scripture compares our earthly body to a tent – something that is temporary and flimsy and frail.  When the old tent wears out it will be covered and clothed with the heavenly body which is compared to a building – an eternal house in heaven- solid and permanent and perfect. “This mortal shall put on immortal” (1 Cor. 15:53)  Let’s listen to how the Bible tells it.

“Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling…and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling.  So that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.  Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us His Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” (2 Corinthians 5:1-5)

These verses here say that we “groan” while we are in our mortal bodies –(the tent), not wanting to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling.  The word “groan” suggests that we may struggle with problems that cause us to groan while we are living in our mortal bodies (our tents).  Let’s face it, we have many trials and troubles to face in this world.  And our mortal bodies (our tents) often break down and become sick causing  pain and suffering and moans and groans.

The scripture here reads: “we are burdened because we do not wish to be unclothed (die or lose our earthly bodies) but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling.  (be done with pain and trouble)  In other words we are caught between the two - we want to go to heaven but we don’t want to die! We humans are all caught in this strange dilemma while we are on earth! Most of us are afraid to die or be “unclothed” – or to leave the body.  But we are tired of suffering in this life and long to be in our forever home.  An old song “Ole Man River” tells it this way: “I gets weary,  an tired a tryin,  I’m tired a livin,  but scared a dyin.”

And then these scriptures also say: “Now it is God…who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”  (1 Cor. 5:5b)  What does this mean?  We have just heard about how weak and troubled we humans are so these verses seem to be expressing the paradox of how mortal human beings can hold within them the gift of immortality.  God has given these weak followers of Christ this powerful “deposit” – this spirit that will be a “guarantee to life after death!”  Scripture says: “We have this treasure (Gods’ Spirit) in earthen vessels (our frail lives).” (1 Cor.4:7)

 And our present experience of renewed life by God’s Spirit is a guarantee (deposit) that He will perfect what He has begun.  (Rom.8:23, Eph. 1:14)  It is a mystery but we aren’t doing this faith walk on our own.  Christ is leading us all the way through death into life!

Our scriptures today also speak of our mortal body at death being swallowed up in life.  “So that what is mortal (death) may be swallowed up by life.”  (2 Cor.5:4b)  And in another verse we are told: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”  (1 Cor. 15:54)   Isn’t that a twist?  Our mortal being – our life when we die- will be swallowed up by life, not by death!  Paul reverses the age-old imagery of death and the grave as being the grim reaper or the great swallower. We always thought of death as a negative but we had it all backwards!  Because of Jesus our death will be swallowed up by eternal life.  We can celebrate that on Easter and on every other day of the year too!  

 

 

 

 

 

     

 

   

 


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Home Sweet Home




Home Sweet Home

 

 

“Home” holds a powerful influence over most of us humans. Many of us have fond memories of a place and people and time when we felt that we were truly “home”.  My Mother-in-law was twelve years old when she and her family left their home in Poland and came to the United States for a better life.  My Mother-in-law loved America but her mother never stopped being homesick for Poland, her beloved homeland.  Her mother would tell her that just one day in Poland was better than a year in the United States. And I have heard that there are many other foreign born Americans who have felt that same homesickness.

 

We all need to have a place where we feel we belong.  A place that fits us and we can be our true selves!  So often in our minds we remember home and family as nearly perfect.  And then when we return “home,” the real place and real family can never quite measure up to our longings and we come away with a sense of loss.  We sometimes have a similar experience around Christmastime or Thanksgiving.  We expect the holiday dinner and the gathering of family to be nearly perfect – a special time glowing with warmth and joy and comfort.  But often we feel let down by imperfect families and imperfect celebrations, since these holidays are crushed under the weight of our impossible expectations.

 

C.S. Lewis, the famous Christian writer called this longing for a near perfect family home a “spiritual homesickness”.  He writes that our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we feel cut off is the truest index of our real situation.  (C.S. Lewis’ “The Weight of Glory” p. 28.)  Lewis believed that the reason why humans often feel like exiles is because we really are exiles!

 

We read in the Bible that Adam and Eve were banished from their glorious home - the Garden of Eden. Our first parents were the first exiles from their true home. (Genesis 3) And they never could forget all they had lost!  They never could stop mourning that home that had once been theirs.  Have we, their children inherited those traits of mourning that illusive homeland- that paradise lost?   Is the forgotten memory still in our DNA?  We feel homesick for something more because we aren’t really “home” and there is something more!  Could there be a trace of the larger story down in our souls?

 

The very first story in the Bible tells us that we were created by God to live in the luxurious garden of God. (Genesis 2)  Adam and Eve started out in the Garden of Eden- a paradise where there was no disease and no death or parting from loved ones.  Animals frolicked throughout the Garden -the lions playing with the lambs- and no killing or fighting anywhere.  Living rivers babbled through this paradise and luscious fruits and vegetables grew in abundance. The mysterious Tree of Life grew in the middle of the garden and Scripture says that eating the spiritual fruit from this tree would nourish a person with eternal life! (Gen; 3:22)  God was in this place and Adam and Eve walked and talked with Him and enjoyed love and life- the good life. This was our original home, the home beyond our imaginations that was created and sustained for us humans.

 

God was the “Father” of that original homeland.  And He only asked one thing of our first parents – that they not eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  But our first parents wanted to do their own thing, be their own god – and live without God’s interference.  And it didn’t take long for Eve to disobey God and eat from this one forbidden tree and persuade Adam to eat from it also. Their disobedience caused them to fall from grace.  They soon became alienated from God and Scripture says that they were banished from the garden so that they would not eat the fruit of that mysterious Tree of Life and live forever in their sins.  (Gen.3:22)  Living forever in sin in this fallen state would have been a terrible fate worse than death and God saved them from that.

 

 Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden as exiles.  And it seems their children - the human race - have been wandering as spiritual exiles ever since.  Scripture says we inherit Adams’ nature to sin and we need help. We have been living in a world that no longer fits our deepest longings.  We experience endless frustrations.  Often our hopes and dreams and relationships crumble in our hands.  We live in a fallen world and are subject to pain, disease and death.   

 

Adam and Eve’s son, Cain restlessly wandered the earth because he murdered Abel, his brother.  And later Jacob had to leave his home and live in exile for years because he cheated his father and brother.  And then the Israelites were exiled away in Egypt as slaves until God through Moses led them back home.  And later the nation of Israel was exiled again and taken to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar.  When we read Biblical history we find story after story containing the patterns of exile.  It seems we humans are all cut out of the loop and unsuccessfully trying to come home but never making it.

 

Humans aren’t just broken on the outside but we are broken on the inside too.  We are broken with selfishness and conflicts within our hearts as well as by battles with neighbors and friends.  We are mired in pride and sickness and sin and we aren’t able to fix ourselves. An impossible mess! We need a radical change in our very nature to be able to go back “home.”

 

So God promised humankind over and over again throughout His Word that He would send a Savior – a Messiah- who would bring us back home.  And all of the prophets  prophesied that God is not only our Creator but He will also be our Redeemer. This Redeemer – this Tree of Life- will not only give us a new nature so we can go and fit in back home but He will also redeem the fallen natural world and make it new. The prophets promised that God loves and cares and would send this Savior – this Redeemer- that would bring us back home – if we want to be brought back home. We aren’t there yet, but we have this promise – this redefining hope!

 

The people of Israel were waiting for their Messiah, the king who would redeem them but they were looking for a different kind of a messiah or savior than the one God had promised.  They were looking for a messiah of great military strength and political power. They wanted a messiah who would overthrow Rome and then they would be free to run their own lives.

 

When Jesus appeared and declared that he was bringing them “the kingdom of God” (Mark 1:15) the people weren’t sure because he didn’t fit their expectations of a mighty warrior.  Jesus had not come to deliver Israel from political oppression, but He had come to save all of us from evil and sin and death itself.  He broke the power of death through his death and resurrection.  (Hebrews 2:14)  And He has won the victory over the forces of death that keep the world from being our true home. Someday He will return to make that victory complete. 

 

We read in Isaiah: “Your God will come…he will come to save you.  Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf be unstopped.  Then will the lame leap like a deer and the mute tongue shout for joy.  The ransomed of the Lord will return, they will enter Zion with singing.  Everlasting joy will crown their heads.  Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and signing will flee away.”  (Isaiah 35) 

 

The New Jerusalem, the City of God will come down out of heaven to fill the earth.  (Revelation 21-22)  Scripture says that the presence of God will be in this city, and also the Tree of Life, whose leaves now will work to be “the healing of the nations.”  (Revelations 22:2)  At the end of history the whole earth has become the Garden of God again! Death and sin and suffering are gone.  There will be no more crying or pain or war because “the old order of things has passed away” (Revelations 21:4) 

 

We will all be eating and drinking and embracing and laughing and dancing in the kingdom of God. And the lion will lay down with the lamb. Scripture says that it will be better than we can ever imagine.  Jesus will make the new world our perfect home again.  And we will no longer be living “east of Eden,” always wandering and never arriving.  We will finally be home!  It doesn’t get any better than that!

 

 

 

 

Many of the thoughts and scriptures in this blog were taken from Timothy Keller’s book The Prodigal God   chapter 6  “Redefining Hope” pp. 100-117  

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

    


Sunday, March 17, 2013

God is the Potter and We are the Clay



God is the Potter and We are the Clay

 

 

 

Before Christ came to earth; God often lead the Jewish people by speaking to them through the prophets. The ancient Israelites recognized that these prophets (men and sometimes women) had been raised up by God and were not speaking their own words but they were speaking Gods’ messages.  

 

Often the prophets were unpopular because they delivered messages that the people did not want to hear.  The prophets would speak out Gods’ words of love, comfort and hope to the people.  But there were other  times when God would speak through his prophets to condemn the people for worshipping idols or for neglecting the poor.  And He would plead with the people to repent and turn from their sins.  And all too often the people enjoyed their sins and did not want to change or repent.

 

God called Jeremiah to be a prophet in 626 B.C. and Jeremiah faithfully delivered Gods’ Words to the nation of Israel for forty years.  Jeremiah was often laughed at and treated badly by his fellow citizens because most of his prophecies were not upbeat messages of good cheer!  In Jeremiahs’ day many of the people in Israel were worshipping idols instead of worshipping God and Jeremiahs’ messages were often warnings that God would punish them if they did not return to Him.  These messages were unwanted and unpopular!

 

Our story today begins as God is giving Jeremiah another message for His people.  God first tells Jeremiah to go down to the potters’ house where he will receive a message from God.  Scripture tells the story this way.  “So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw the potter working at the wheel.  But the pot that the potter was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands: so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.

 

Then the Word of the Lord came to me: ‘O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?’  declares the Lord.  ‘Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in My hand.  O house of Israel….”  (Jeremiah 18:3-6)

 

God wanted to speak to Jeremiah and to His people and He used the analogy of the clay in the potter’s hands to help them understand a spiritual truth.  Jeremiah goes to the potter’s house and finds the potter at work at his wheel.  He watches as the potter reaches into his container of clay, pulls out a lump of it, sprinkles it with water, and begins to pound it on the wheel.  Then the potter twists the clay, pulls it apart, and pushes it together.  Jeremiah watches as the potter pounds the clay, rolls it out again and wetting his hands starts the wheel turning with his feet.  From that round lump of clay, a beautiful, useful vessel starts to emerge, shaped by the careful and skillful hands of the potter. 

 

Can you picture Jeremiah, sitting there in the potter’s house watching the clay being molded and worked by the potter?  And as he is watching he hears the Lord speaking to him and saying, “Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.”  And then instead of the clay being shaped in the potters’ hands, Jeremiah can see God’s people being shaped by Gods’ hands.

 Jeremiah stays and watches as God, like the potter at his wheel, is at work in his world, shaping, forming, stretching, pushing, and pulling us into shape.

 

Like a potter at the wheel, God takes hold of our lives and smoothes and presses out the flaws and imperfections that can weaken us and make us less fit for the kiln – those fiery times in our lives that have the possibility of making us stronger.  Sometimes the Potter presses hard- and we feel the pressure and sometimes the shaping can be rough as if the vessel will be destroyed when, in fact, it is made stronger to face the fire.

 

God continued speaking into Jeremiah’s heart.  “O house of Israel.  If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned.  And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted. And if it does evil in my sight and does not obey Me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.”  (Jeremiah 18:7-10) 

 

God is telling Jeremiah that if His people choose to do good He will work differently in their lives than if they choose to do evil. He limits His actions on the basis of the response of the people.  God searches every heart to see how we are choosing to live our lives. (Proverbs 15:3)  God longs to bless his people and hates to punish and there is always opportunity for them to repent. 

 

 God is speaking here about how He shapes and molds the nation of Israel as well as other nations.  But Scripture says that we individuals are also in Gods’ hands and if we allow it He will also work with us and shapes us into what we are to be.  God is  our potter and we are His clay.  “God the potter has the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use.”  (Romans 9:21) Scripture says “The Lord directs the steps of the godly.  He delights in every detail of their lives.”  (Psalm 37:23) and “He will guard the feet of His faithful servant…”  (1 Samuel 2:9)  “In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”  (Proverbs 3:6)

 

God has ways of molding and shaping us that are beyond our wildest imaginations.  Psalm 32:8 tells us:  “…I will guide you with My eye.”  His Holy Spirit guides and directs us and nudges us along the way.  God can use words or thoughts or the influence of other people in our lives to change us.  And God can use the experiences that we have to help us become the persons He wants us to be. 

 

But we need to be available to God to allow Him to change us. God has given each of us the gift of free will and He will not force us to love and follow Him.  That has to be our choice. What the potter makes depends on the quality of the clay: and what God makes of His people depends on their response. The clay can frustrate the potter’s intention and cause him to do something different with the vessel.  As the quality of the clay limits what the potter can do with it, so the quality of the heart of a person limits what God will do with her or him.  We can harden our hearts to Gods’ shaping of our lives.

 

Irenaeus, a Christian in the Second Century wrote these words.  “Keep your heart soft and pliable for Him: retain the form in which the Artist fashioned you, having moisture in yourself, lest becoming hard you should lose the marks of His fingers. ..For to make is the property of God, but to be made is that of humanity.” 

 

Are we able to trust God enough to place our lives in His hands and yield our lives to God as clay in the hands of the potter?  The words of an old Christian hymn go this way:  “Have thine own way Lord.  Have thine own way.  Thou art the potter:  I am the clay.  Mold me and make me.  After thy will.  While I am waiting.   Yielded and still.”  Can the words of this hymn be our prayer? 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Several passages are taken from the sermon of Pastor Tim Bruster of the First Methodist Church of Fort Worth, TX. On Mar. 8,2013

 


Saturday, March 9, 2013

Daniel and the Lions Den




 

 

Daniel and the Lions Den

 

 

Over fifty years have gone by since Daniel and his people, the Jews, have been in Babylon and Daniel is now an old man. As our story begins he has already served two Babylonian kings and he is now serving a third king- King Darius the Mede.  The year is 538 B.C. and Babylon has been taken over by the Medes and the Persians. 

 

Over the years Daniel had built up a reputation in Babylon for being a wise and helpful man of integrity. And word spread around the royal family in the palace that God was with him. In the past King Nebuchadnezzar had dreamed dreams that none of his soothsayers or fortune tellers could interpret for him.  But Daniel had prayed to God and God had given him the meaning of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams.  And the king had received God’s messages through Daniel.  Daniel’s faithfulness to God had inspired this mighty king who ruled the whole known world to also believe in God. 

 

The new king – King Darius – was so impressed with Daniels’ long record of faithful public service that he made Daniel governor of a third of his kingdom and was thinking of setting him up as governor over his whole kingdom.  But Daniels’ new prominent position caused the administrators working under him to become jealous. Why had Daniel been chosen over one of them?  Why was Daniel so special any way?  It wasn’t fair!    

 

The envious administrators fussed and fumed for awhile behind Daniel’s back and then finally got together to work on a plot that would bring Daniel down.  They planned to all go together to the king and accuse Daniel of something bad or illegal.  So they met to decide what their accusation would be, but no one in the group could think of any fault to accuse Daniel of.  Finally one of the men in the group spoke up, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the laws of his God.”  (Daniel 6:5)  So they would have to figure out a way to use Daniel’s faithfulness to his God against him!  But how would that work? The group was silent for a long time trying to think of a way.

 

Finally one of the men in the group spoke up and mentioned that Daniel always prayed to his God several times a day.  Could they use that against him?   The group continued plotting how they could get Daniel in trouble for praying to his God and then one of the men jumped up with an idea: “Ah ha! I think I have the perfect plan!  We know that Daniel prays every day to his God.  If the king were to make a law stating that it is illegal to pray to any god but to the king, then Daniel will break that law!  We can spy on him and catch him praying to his God and then we can get him in trouble!” 

 

Everyone in the group liked the plan but they knew they would have to sell King Darius on it.  Darius was an arrogant and conceited king, so maybe if the group appealed to the king’s ego they could pull it off.   These administrators went as a group to the king and bowed before him saying, “O King Darius, Live forever!”   Then they told the king that all of his administrators and governors had agreed to a plan they had thought of.  This was a lie since Daniel had not even heard of their plot much less agreed to it. 

 

The plan they told King Darius was this -that since he- Darius was such a powerful king, no one in the country should worship or pray to any other god except to him for the next thirty days. They would have a statue of King Darius created for everyone to worship since he was such a great ruler.  And then they asked the king to make a decree that this plan of theirs would become the law of the land.  And if any person disobeyed this law and prayed to any other god except the king during the next thirty days then that person would be thrown into the lions’ den. 

 

King Darius was pleased that so many of his administrators wanted to worship him.  Such a good idea, why hadn’t he thought of it himself?  So the king did what the group wanted and signed a decree stating that for the next thirty days anyone caught praying to any other god besides King Darius or his statue, would be thrown into the lions den.  This law would be in effect throughout the land for thirty days.  And this law could not be changed because the Medes and the Persians have a law stating that after a law is made by the king it cannot be changed!

 

So what would Daniel do when he learned about this new law of the land?  Couldn’t he pray secretly to God and not get in trouble? Would he take the chance of being thrown into a lion’s den just to pray openly to God for the next thirty days?  What would we do in a situation like this?

 

Scripture tells us what happens next.  “Now when Daniel learned that the law 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)

 

The group of administrators snuck over to Daniel’s house and hid in the bushes and spied on him. They knew that Daniel would continue praying to his God so they watched and waited.  And they didn’t have to wait long before they could see Daniel at his window praying to his God as he always did.  Their plot had worked!  Overjoyed, the group rushed back to the palace to tell King Darius what they had  seen!

 

King Darius immediately became distraught when he heard that the group had caught Daniel praying!  He paced the palace floor shaking his head and crying out that he could never allow Daniel to be killed by the lions!  Daniel had been such a help to the king that surely he would find a way to get around this law and save him.  But the group who wanted Daniel dead was determined to stop the king from doing that.  They reminded the upset king that, “According to the law of the Medes and Persians no decree or edict that the king issues can be changed.”  (Daniel 6:15b)  The group had trapped King Darius in a corner by his own law!

 

So King Darius was forced against his will to give the order to arrest Daniel.  And as the soldiers were bringing Daniel in and throwing him into the pit with the lions the king shouted out to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!”  (Daniel 6:16b)  “A stone was placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that Daniel’s fate might not be changed.”  (Daniel 6:17) 

 

The king was so devastated by all of this that he couldn’t eat.  His head hung low as he left the lions’ den and trudged back to the palace. And he stayed awake all night nervously pacing the floor. At the first light of dawn King Darius rushed back to the lions’ den and called out to Daniel, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?”  (Daniel 6:19-20) 

 

And would you believe, the king could hear a voice calling back to him from inside the lions’ den!  It was Daniel and he was answering: “O king, live forever!  My God sent his angel and he shut the mouths of the lions…” (Daniel 6:21) Amazed and overjoyed, King Darius shouted out the orders to have Daniel lifted out of the lions’ den!  And when Daniel came out he did not have even a scratch on his body! 

 

Daniels’ faith in God inspired King Darius to believe in God too.  The king issued a law that everyone in his kingdom, the Empire of the Medes and Persians which was the entire known world, should worship the God of Daniel.  And the news spread throughout the whole empire that Daniel served a living God who will endure forever.  And all the people in the empire –(the known world of 538 B.C.) were urged to serve Him too, - a God who rescues and saves and whose dominion will never end!

 

Perhaps we can see that Daniel’s separation to God – his absolute refusal to stop praying to God openly, even if it could mean his violent death- offers an inspiring example for us to follow.  Daniel’s commitment to God presents us with the challenge to never compromise, conceal or pervert our testimony for Jesus Christ. 

 

The story of Daniel and the lions’ den is a favorite children’s Bible story.  But what can we learn from this story?  Some peoople do not believe the story.  They do not believe in Gods’ ability to perform miracles or that God saved Daniel from the hungry lions as Scripture says He did. They say that others who trusted God have not been saved when they have faced enemies or wild animals.  So why would God save Daniel when He doesn’t save every person from physical harm?

 

It is true, not every person who has trusted God has been rescued from a violent death like Daniel was.  When it comes to Gods’ actions, we can not pin God down or put Him in a box.  Or believe that God must do everything the same way on every occasion!  Gods’ ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. (Isaiah 55:9) And His ways are past finding out. (Romans 11:33)

 

 We can trust that God is good and He always operates out of love and justice and mercy.  And He can work all things together for good to those who love Him, even when we can’t imagine how. (Romans 8:28) Surely if God can put in place the rules that cause the universe to run, He can change the way those rules work on occasion – or do what appears to be a miracle to us.  When we try to put limits on what God can do I think it shows that our understanding of God is too restricted!  Someday when we cross over to the other side we will see things as they really are.    

 

We have stories of many godly people throughout history who were saved miraculously by God like Daniel was. We think of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who God delivered from the fiery furnace.  Or Sarah who God miraculously gave her the ability to become pregnant and give birth to baby Isaac when she was ninety years old.  And we remember Jonah who God rescued out of the belly of a whale!   

 

But then the Bible also tells of John the Baptist, a man very close to God, who was not rescued by God when Salome asked Herod to cut off his head. And we remember Stephen, a devoted Christian, who was not saved by God when the mob surrounded him and stoned him to death.  Or James, one of Jesus’ disciples, who was put to death by the sword because of his faith.

 

God seldom needs to rescue believers today from real lions (physical lions).  But God enables us to overcome otherwise impossible circumstances,-or (spiritual lions).    Scripture says that our enemy, the devil “walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”  (1 Peter 5:8)  God helps us when we come against spiritual lions that would eat us up.  And Scripture says that if we “resist the devil (the roaring lion) he will flee from us” (James 4:7)

 

God is still in the miracle-working business.  He delivers us many times from spiritual dangers and difficult circumstances, sometimes when we don’t even realize it. And when we go through trials and sorrows and even death He promises to be with us and uphold us.  The Bible reminds us of this. “Fear not for I am with you, be not afraid for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with the right Hand of My righteousness.”  (Isaiah 41:10)       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

                       

 

  

 

 

 

   

 


Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Hand Writing on the Wall Daniel 5




 

The Hand Writing on the Wall

Daniel 5

 

 

As we read through the book of Daniel in the Bible we come across a strange little story- a Bible story- about a king and a mysterious hand that appears out of nowhere and writes on his palace wall. The king in our story is King Belshazzar of Babylon and the year is 539 B.C.

 

King Belshazzar was the grandson of the mighty Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar who had been the ruler of much of the known world (626 B.C-562B.C.).  Belshazzar had grown up hearing stories of how his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar had lost his mind and wandered in the fields like an animal for awhile.  But then Nebuchadnezzar had learned his lesson and God had given him back his sanity and his kingdom.

 

The lesson that King Nebuchadnezzar finally learned was that he had not become a great king all by himself.  That it was God who had given him his talents and his kingdom and even his sanity. Once Nebuchadnezzar had been a proud and arrogant king, living only for himself, but then God had intervened.  And Nebuchadnezzar had learned to be humble and to thank God for giving him what he had.

 

Belshazzar knew that God had allowed his grandfather to lose his mind when he had forgotten God. This lesson had made a big impression on the whole royal family. And Nebuchadnezzar had warned his grandson Belshazzar that when he becomes king he should not make the same mistake –that he should always remember that God has given him his kingdom and his power. Time passes by and Nebuchadnezzar dies and finally his grandson Belshazzar takes his place and becomes the new king of Babylon.

 

Our story begins in 562 B.C. in Babylon with King Belshazzar throwing a big party.  We find the king sitting in the royal banquet hall with a thousand of his noblemen eating and drinking and making merry. The dancing girls are entertaining the men while the palace musicians are busy playing the lute and the harp and the lyre. The servants are bustling about carrying in more food and refilling the wine goblets.  And the king has even opened the harem doors and invited all of his wives and concubines to come out and join in the fun.  

 

By now the liquor is flowing and the party is getting noisy. Several noblemen have passed out on the floor and several more are getting too friendly with the dancing girls. King Belshazzar orders his servants to get out the gold and silver drinking vessels and bring them in to the banqueting hall - the gold and silver vessels that were stolen from the temple in Jerusalem. I believe these vessels had been used in the temple in Jerusalem for worship, these vessels had been set apart for God and now Belshazzar was profaning and mocking their original use. But Belshazzar wants to impress his guests with the very best.  And why shouldn’t he and his guests drink wine out of these gold and silver vessels? They are important people and should have it all.  

 

The gold and silver vessels are passed around the palace banqueting hall with much laughter and everyone having more drinks.  The music plays on and the incense is lit as King Belshazzar proposes a toast.  “I order you to drink to the gods of gold and the gods of silver,” he commands!  More than a toast, he decides that everyone should worship the gods of gold and silver and the gods of bronze and iron and also of wood and stone.   Clouds of smoky incense are filling the palace hall now with a sweet smelling fragrance.      

 

King Belshazzar staggers as he holds his drinking vessel high in the incense filled room and bows to the gods of gold and silver.  He brings in animals and kills them and sacrifices them to the idols of gold and silver while praising these gods for giving him his kingdom and his good fortunes. All of the guests follow the kings’ lead leaving money and gifts before the idols and holding their golden vessels high in praise to the gods for giving them their king.

 

And soon the crowd at Belshazzar’s feast is drawn into a crazed orgy of drinking and feasting and praising and sacrificing before the idols of gold and silver and bronze and iron and stone and wood. Their shouts and moans grow louder and louder as the servants scurry around through the crowd freely pouring more liquor and bringing small animals in for the guests to sacrifice to the gods. Blood and wine are flowing freely now. The air is filled with the slurred screams of the frenzied worshippers cutting themselves and bleeding and falling down before their idols in worship with Belshazzar lying prostrate on the floor in a trance before the burning altar worshipping his idols of gold and silver.

 

But then just when the party is reaching its’ peak and the drunken guests are careening around wildly worshipping before their gods of gold and silver; everything suddenly comes to a stop!  Something happens in the great hall that causes everyone to gasp in shock!  King Belshazzar freezes in his tracks and becomes so panicky that his knees knock together and his body shakes all over.

 

Right in the middle of the festivities a man’s hand has suddenly appeared out of nowhere and the fingers of the hand began writing on the palace wall!  Scripture tells it this way.  “Suddenly in the middle of the party the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lamp stand in the royal palace. “  (Daniel 5:5)  The hand writes four words on the wall:  “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Peres” And no one has any idea what these words can mean!

 

The party is pretty much ended. The shaken party goers slink away from the palace and hurry back to their homes. And an upset King Belshazzar immediately calls for his astrologers and soothsayers to come to the palace and tell him what these words written on the wall could possibly mean. 

 

The queen mother hears the news and drops by the palace to see her grandson, King Belshazzar and to give him some motherly advice.  She tells him to call for Daniel, as she believes that Daniel could interpret the handwriting on the wall for him. She reminds Belshazzar that Daniel had been helpful to his grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar, and that the spirit of God is with Daniel.

 

The astrologers and soothsayers come to the palace but they have no idea what the words on the wall mean.  And then Daniel arrives and he asks God to reveal what the message is and what the words on the wall mean.  And God gives him the answer.

 

Daniel tells Belshazzar that he grew up knowing that his grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar  lost his mind because he had become proud and had left God out of his life. But his grandfather had gotten his sanity and his kingdom back “when he knew that the Most High God rules in the kingdom of men.”  (Daniel 5:21b)  Daniel tells Belshazzar that he should have learned to recognize God’s authority from his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar’s humiliation.

 

Then Daniel turns to Belshazzar and says: “Even though you knew all of this, you, his son (grandson), Belshazzar have not humbled your heart.  You have lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven.  …You have praised the gods of silver and gold and bronze and iron, wood and stone.  And these do not see or hear or know, and the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all of your ways, you have not glorified.” (Daniel 5: 22 -23)  Daniel says that God is displeased because Belshazzar has forgotten Him and has worshipped other gods and also because Belshazzar is proud and arrogant.

 

Then Daniel interprets the meaning of each word written on the palace wall for King Belshazzar.  “Mene” means “God has numbered your kingdom and finished it.”  “Tekel” means “You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting.”  “Peres” means “Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.”  (Daniel 5: 26-28) 

 

Immediately after Daniel finishes interpreting the meaning of the words written on the wall for King Belshazzar, the Persian armies appear outside the gates of Babylon and they attack the city. The year is 539 B.C. and that very night the Medes and the Persians kill King Belshazzar and destroy the great city of Babylon taking over the mighty kingdom. After that night the mighty Babylon is no more.

 

The kingdom of Babylon had been a powerful influence in the ancient world and the city of Babylon was known for its’ architectural beauty. But all of that is gone. This powerful kingdom was brought down because of pride. And also because the kings and the people left God out of their lives and worshipped the gods of gold and silver (materialism). Archeologists have discovered an unimpressive mound that they believe was once the city of Babylon beside the Tigris River in Iraq. Broken fragments in the dust are all that remain now of that once exalted city that ruled over the whole known world so long ago.     

 

What can we learn from this short Bible story tucked away in the book of Daniel?  Perhaps we see here that there can be an end to God’s patience with us.  Scripture tells us that God does not always strive with humans.(Genesis 6:3)  The time can arrive when God has had enough. We learn that God judged Babylon and allowed this ancient kingdom to fall partially because the kings did not recognize God’s authority in their lives and they did not recognize that their power and their very life came from God.  Instead they worshipped materialism – the gods of gold and silver.  Let’s be forewarned by this story from antiquity and not make the same mistakes in our lives today that they did back then.