That freaked me out

Daniel 7:28 “This is the end of the interpretation. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts terrified me greatly, and my face turned pale, but I kept the matter to myself.” 

For context on today’s entry, you really should read the entire chapter of Daniel 7.  It is a vision that God gave Daniel regarding the end times.  There were crazy looking beasts, the Lord on the throne, fire, talking horns, and all kinds of other crazy stuff.  Thankfully, Daniel had the guts to ask the Lord the meaning of this vision.  Otherwise, we would still be speculating today.  It was a lot to handle, a lot to see.  And Daniel ends his recount of it by saying, “that freaked me out.”

Do the things of God ever freak you out?  If so, you are not alone.  You see, God is extremely “other.”  That’s really the best way I can put it.  He is not a human with a human brain – he made the human and the human brain.  And He is not entirely known by us.  He is in many ways a mystery: unseen and untouchable.  If our life is a bucket of water, He is the ocean.  He is huge, vast, deep, and exists beyond the horizon.

Not only does His very Being freak us out a little, so do the things He shows us or asks us to do.  He asks us to take steps of faith, to believe in miracles, to seek the power of the Holy Spirit. And it all gets a little freaky as it goes beyond our control.  It gets a little scary when our minds can’t comprehend it.  But that’s our God.  He is my Savior and my Lord.  He is larger than any problem I will ever face.  His grace runs deeper than my sin and His forgiveness is like a well that never runs out.  He is beyond me; He freaks me out.  Yet I throw my whole life into Him and trust Him with everything I’ve got.  Will you do the same today?

Be Like Mike

Daniel 6:5 Finally these men said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.” 

Daniel was a man above reproach. He did no evil, nor did he find himself in the grey area of the appearance of evil.  He was an upstanding man in whom no one could find fault.  So when the jealous royal dudes tried to do him in, they had a hard time with it.  They said to each other, “we will never find a way to file charges against Daniel.”  So they made up a bogus law and had him thrown in a den of lions. (Sorry about the use of “dudes” and “bogus.”  This feels like Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure so far.)

Most of us know the rest of the story:  Daniel prays and by doing so, violates the ridiculous law that people could only worship the king.  So he gets thrown in with some lions who don’t eat him, thanks to the Lord.  The king was a nervous wreck the whole time and was relieved that God saved Daniel.  Then he threw the accusers and their families in with the lions who ravenously destroyed them.  You know, classic Bible story stuff.

The takeaway for me from this whole soap opera isn’t necessarily that God rescued Daniel.  I so knew that He was going to do that; that’s just how God rolls.   No, what really stands out is the fact that these guys couldn’t find anything against Daniel.  Could that be said about me?  Let me rephrase that: that couldn’t be said about me.  But I want it to be.  I want to be someone who is so above reproach in that I could never be accused of something wrong.  So I must pursue holiness.  I must pursue a life in which I strive to be more like Jesus – not only to know him, but to think like him and act like him.  

When I was a kid, I wanted to be like Mike.  So did every other boy.  We wanted to do slam dunks from the free throw line.  We wanted to hit jumpers with 3 guys in our face.  We wanted to have a mediocre minor league baseball career.  Well, not that last one, but you get the point.  Michael Jordan was the MAN!  But I don’t want to be like Mike anymore.  I want to be like Daniel – a man of integrity, honestly, and honor. 


Keep your stinkin’ presents

Daniel 5:16-17   Now I have heard that you are able to give interpretations and to solve difficult problems. If you can read this writing and tell me what it means, you will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around your neck, and you will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom.”  Then Daniel answered the king, “You may keep your gifts for yourself and give your rewards to someone else. Nevertheless, I will read the writing for the king and tell him what it means. 

Have you ever had someone offer you something that was worthless to you in exchange for a favor?  “Hey if you will help me remodel my bathroom, I will give you this fruitcake.”  Ya, no thanks.  Well, King Belshazzar offered Daniel a figurative fruitcake.  It’s not that the gift being offered was worthless, it just didn’t have any value to Daniel.   You see, Daniel didn’t give the interpretation for the personal benefits, but so that God’s message could be delivered.  He said, “keep your stinkin’ presents- here’s what God is saying to you.”

Which makes me wonder our motivation for serving the Lord or even serving others.  Do we do it to get something in return?  Or do we do it simply to be a vessel used by God.  It’s an important thing to think about, really.  God calls us according to His purposes, not according to the benefits we will receive.  His purposes are just that: His purposes.  He should be getting the glory and the honor.  HE should be showered with praise and purple robes and gold chains.  He should be esteemed and given authority and power in our hearts.

If we start doing things for the presents, then we will eventually find ourselves with fruitcake.  If we work for our own recognition, we  might even find gold chains around our necks and start walking around saying, “I pity the fool.”   Look, with all due respect, I don’t want to be Mr. T.  I don’t want to serve the Lord so I can add another gold chain.  I serve the Lord because He has called me to.  So the world and all it’s ways can keep it’s stinkin’ presents.  I’ll take what the Lord gives me.  His presents are way better anyway.

Who’s influencing who?

Daniel 4:37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble. 

Nebuchadnezzar had a bad dream.  That dream warned that God would take away his kingdom for a season and he would live with the animals.  Talk about a humbling experience for a mighty king.  But since he refused to acknowledge God, it happened.  So he lived like a wild animal for a season until he came to grips with the fact that the Most High was truly the only God.  Then God restored his kingdom.  Verse 37 of chapter 4 is what the king learned from his experience.

Now what is remarkable about this whole chapter is the fact the we see Nebuchadnezzar being drawn into God.  Do you realize how unlikely this is?  This is the king who brought Israelites into his kingdom and tried to train God out of them. (See this post)  He named Daniel after his own false God for goodness sakes!  But it seems as though Daniel wasn’t the one who was influenced.  Nebuchadnezzar was the one who had the change of heart.

We live in a world that behaves much like this king.  It desires to train God out of us and our children.  It wants us to hand over our truth so it can give  us a lie.  So what are you going to do?  Who is going to influence who?  Like Daniel, we can take a stand for what we believe in.  We have an opportunity to influence our world!  But it’s more than just an opportunity, it’s a command.  Jesus said to go into all the world and to tell others about Him.  We can’t just idly sit back and hope that no one tries to force their garbage on us.  We’ve got to go into all the world… so let’s go!

I’ll take my chances

Daniel 3:15-18 15 Now if you’re ready, when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, drum, and every kind of music, fall down and worship the statue I made. But if you don’t worship it, you will immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire — and who is the god who can rescue you from my power? ” 16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied to the king, “Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question. 17 If the God we serve exists, then He can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and He can rescue us from the power of you, the king. 18 But even if He does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.” 

Have you ever been in a situation that compromised your faith, your convictions, your morals?  I have.  I recall being asked to do something at work (this was before I worked for the church) that I was not comfortable with.  Essentially I was told to lie and cheat in order to succeed.  That’s pretty vague but I can just say that I was instructed to make it work no matter what it took.  What was I going to do?

As I sat in my office with my boss on the phone – it was his day off – I felt the inner conflict happening within me.  “Brad,” he said, “whatever it takes.  I want you to say we did some training and write it off to corporate.  Then we will make our numbers.”   Pause.  Silence.  Oh God, what do I do?  I refuse to lie and cheat in order to succeed.  There must be a way.  God, give me the creatively to make this work ethically.

“Brad, are we clear?”  The voice came in on the line.  “I can’t do it, Curt (*name changed),” I replied.  “Do I need to come in there myself and get the job done, Brad?  Can you not handle this?”  “No, no, you don’t need to come in.  I will figure something out,” I assured him.  And the conversation ended.  I hung up the phone and the challenge began.  What next?  Long story short, the light bulb came on and I worked it out.  We succeeded.  It was the hard way and it was the long way, but it worked.  I did not compromise and God gave me the creativity to do it the right way.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had the same conviction, but with much more serious consequences facing them.  But they didn’t budge, they didn’t give in.  They refused to compromise their allegiance to God.  Even though they were about to face a torturous death, they stood strong.   And what really stands out to me is the statement that even if God did not rescue them, they would still not bow.  They decided that they would take their chances.

How strong are your convictions?  I think that we would all agree that if we knew God would bail us out, we would stand up for Him.  But would we still take the stand even if we weren’t to be delivered?  We need to take a cue from these three guys here in Daniel.  The resolve we have in the conviction of our faith must be stronger than the fears we face.  Let’s have some spiritual guts today and stand up for what is right.  Who’s knows what will happen, but I’ll guess I will just have to take my chances.

When you hear from God

Daniel 2:17-20  17 Then Daniel went to his house and told his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah about the matter, 18 urging them to ask the God of heaven for mercy concerning this mystery, so Daniel and his friends would not be killed with the rest of Babylon’s wise men. 19 The mystery was then revealed to Daniel in a vision at night, and Daniel praised the God of heaven 20 and declared: May the name of God be praised forever and ever, for wisdom and power belong to Him. 

God speaks.  But it isn’t always easy to hear Him, is it?  It isn’t always easy to know what direction He is leading us.  So we keep on praying, keep on asking, keep on seeking.  It can be tiring and requires patience.  Then it comes, that still small voice.  Or maybe He gives us a dream or a vision.  It is a glorious thing to hear from our God, a marvelous feeling to hear His direction.

So what do you do when you hear from God?  What is your response?  There are some obvious answers like “obey His instructions” or “have peace in my situation.”  But there is a response that should come before all that.  It was Daniel’s response and we can learn from it.  You see, Daniel declared, “May the name of God be praised.”   His first response was to praise God and bring glory to Him.  He made it known that the wisdom he was about to share was from the Lord, not him.

This is the proper response to hearing from God: praise Him.  Thank Him for loving you and for speaking to you.  Give Him glory and honor.  Doing so will keep you heart in the right place, a place of surrender to Him.  And as you walk out a surrendered heart, you are setting yourself up for hearing from Him over and over again.

Should we lock up the kids?

Daniel 1:3-5  3 The king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his court officials, to bring some of the Israelites from the royal family and from the nobility — 4 young men without any physical defect, good-looking, suitable for instruction in all wisdom, knowledgeable, perceptive, and capable of serving in the king’s palace — and to teach them the Chaldean language and literature. 5 The king assigned them daily provisions from the royal food and from the wine that he drank. They were to be trained for three years, and at the end of that time they were to serve in the king’s court. 

The king of Babylon took God’s people captive.  He didn’t put them to death or torture them.  No, he wanted to use them for his service.  So what did he do?  He worked to turn Israelites into Babylonians.  How would he accomplish this?  Through the young people.  He would invest in them and train them and put them into his service.

Something tells me that today, the enemy is still trying to turn God’s people into Babylonians.  And he is attempting to get the hearts of the children.  He is teaching them the language, showing them his version of right and wrong, and promising to meet their needs.  He is making magic and sorcery fun and presenting vampires as harmless (and even sexy!)  He is cramming his meal of tolerance and acceptance of sin down their throats like  Nebuchadnezzar’s royal food and wine.

Do you see what is happening?  Not only are they eating it, but so are their parents!  They are drinking their way to being numb to sin.  And the only way to keep up the buzz is to drink more of it.  Where are the Daniels?  For Daniel determined he would not defile himself with the king’s food or wine.  Even though he now lived in Babylon, he didn’t lose his identity as a citizen of heaven! 

So what are we supposed to do about this?  Should we lock up the kids?  Should we hide them away so they never see Babylon?  I say, no.  We need to teach them what Babylon looks like.  We need to prepare them for the traps that the enemy will set for them.  We need to teach them how to be heaven’s citizens in a sinful world.  It starts by doing it ourselves.  Have you inadvertently signed up for the king’s training program and sat down at his table?  If so, it’s time to take a stance like Daniel did.  It is a stance of holiness and identity in Christ.  Be set apart, friends… and teach the younger generation to do the same.

How to mess up being a pastor

1 Peter 5:1-4  1 Therefore, as a fellow elder and witness to the sufferings of the Messiah and also a participant in the glory about to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you: 2 Shepherd God’s flock among you, not overseeing out of compulsion but freely, according to God’s will; not for the money but eagerly; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 

Nothing fries my pancakes more than hearing people talk about how they have been hurt by the church.  It isn’t them saying it that makes me crazy, it’s the fact that they have been hurt.  And when people say they have been hurt by the church, most often that means they have been hurt by the pastor or elders.  I know one thing to be true: I have never met a pastor or church leader who has said, “I love hurting people. My goal is to cause God’s people pain so they will leave the church.”   Yet people get hurt.  People lose their trust in the church.

So how does it happen?  That’s a question with a million answers which I cannot fully answer in a blog post.  Hurt happens and it’s not always the leader’s fault.  However, there is a level of ownership that church leaders must have when it comes to the tending of hearts.  They must cultivate a culture of openness and trust.  They must put relationships and love above being right.  Essentially, they must take a good hard look at 1 Peter 5.  Let’s look at these instructions.

1. Be a shepherd. Protect the sheep.

2. Don’t pastor out of obligation.  Lead with the conviction that you are called.

3. Don’t do it for the money.  Ya, that’s why people go into the ministry, right?  Not at all.  But  there are those who are pastors simply because it’s a job.  Now I know that many people have jobs simply to earn an income.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with that.  But Peter makes it known that “pastor” is not one of those jobs.  Don’t do it for the money.

4. Don’t be power hungry, arrogant, and demanding.  God has not called you so you can order people around.  He has called you so that you can serve and be an example.

So here’s how to mess up being a pastor:  Elevate the protection of your image above the hearts of the people you lead.  Show up to work, resent the people, and get frustrated that they won’t follow you.  Collect your paycheck and tell all your friends you are frustrated that your church doesn’t give more money so you can have a raise.  Demand submission and ostracize anyone who won’t do what you say.  Expect respect because after all, you are the pastor.

As out-in-left-field the previous paragraph may seem, there are leaders in God’s kingdom doing these things. And it’s not so much that these things are happening blatantly; they happen in the heart.  When we let the enemy creep in on our ground, he tries to distort our calling and poison our hearts.  So we must check out hearts and lead as good shepherds.  We must set our sights on walking out our calling to please the Chief Shepherd.

Enough of the  Christian casualties; enough friendly fire!  For friendly fire isn’t all that friendly – people die.  God’s church was called to bring life, not be a house where people get shot at and leave wounded.  We have the opportunity to heal those wounds and restore the broken.  Lead as a servant, have confident humility, and walk out your calling with conviction.  Those are the kind of shepherds God is looking for and that is the kind of shepherd I strive to be.

Please, stop talking

1 Peter 4:11  If anyone speaks, it should be as one who speaks God’s words; if anyone serves, it should be from the strength God provides, so that God may be glorified through Jesus Christ in everything. To Him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen. 

Have you ever met a person who loves to talk?  Now I don’t mean the average person who likes a good conversation.  I am speaking of the person who seems to love the sound of their own voice.  Their conversations consist of them talking and you listening.  Now maybe you are thinking, “That’s weird, I don’t know anybody like that.  In fact, most people I talk to don’t say much.”  If that’s the case, you may be that person!  Shut it down, friend.  Shut it down.

Before we start talking, we need to evaluate what’s coming out of our mouths.  Before we start doing, we need to look at why we are doing it.  Peter tells us that the words coming out of our mouth should be God’s words.  He says that our service, our doing, should be from the strength God provides.  You see, when we blab our lips with our own thoughts, we just get worn out.  When we serve without Him, we grow weary.  But when He is the drive behind what we do, we find endurance and strength.  In turn, we give life to others and glory to Him.

That’s the kind of life we are called to live, a life that glorifies the Lord with our words and our actions.  So I am asking you today: please, stop talking.  And stop doing, too.  Get His heart, His words, and His strength.  Once you have that, you can talk all you want.  You can serve with the right heart and not get burned out.  We ought to be bringing glory to Christ Jesus in our words and our actions so that others may find life.  Give it a try today and see what happens.  Don’t just think before you speak and do – set your heart on speaking His words and extending His hands to the world around you. 

ah ah ah… achooooo!

1 Peter 3:8-9  Now finally, all of you should be like-minded and sympathetic, should love believers, and be compassionate and humble, not paying back evil for evil or insult for insult but, on the contrary, giving a blessing, since you were called for this, so that you can inherit a blessing. 

Some people hold it in, others let it fly.  For some, the build up is more intense than a major league baseball player’s approach to the batter’s box.  Sneezing is just a part of life.  And when someone sneezes, we offer the courtesy of an obligatory “bless you.”  (Or gesundheit, which means “health” in German)  So we have lots of sneezes and lots of bless you sentiments floating around.   But this isn’t exactly what Peter was talking about when he told us to give a blessing.

We are called to bless others for more than just sneezing.  What does that look like?  Well, Peter spells it out for us.  We are to be like-minded and sympathetic, full of love and compassionate.  We ought not be arrogant and haughty but humble and kind.  When people insult us, ridicule us, and do bad stuff to us we need not retaliate.  That just brings us down to that level.  That’s not the kind of people we are.  We are a people of blessing!

When people spend time with us, they should feel blessed (not because we are generally awesome, although that might be true).  They should feel blessed because we loved them and served them.  They should feel blessed because we had compassion on them when no one else did.   They should feel blessed because we went out of our way to be kind even when they were not.  That’s blessing others.  Do more than respond to a sneeze today.  Don’t just say a blessing, but live to be one.