Children of the Living God

Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘children of the living God.’ The people of Judah and the people of Israel will come together; they will appoint one leader and will come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel. – Hosea 1:10‭-‬11

 

 

This passage is the first water related passage in the book of Hosea. Apparently Hosea was a minor prophet whose message is metaphorically mixed up with his marriage. He will be called on to do some very hard, and sometimes strange things. I have never spent much time hiking the Hosea trail so I am looking forward to this part of my float through the Bible.

The water reference here is to the sea, or more specifically the seashore. The Israelites are predicted to be as numerous as grains of sand along the seashore. This is clearly meant to be hyperbole, but it is interesting none the less.

The middle of the passage contains the nugget of gold for me when Hosea says “they will be called ‘children of the living God.'” Clearly in this passage God is specifically referring to the people of Israel. but I think through adoption it refers to all those who faithfully pursue a relationship with God.

Jesus spoke many times about God’s adoption program. For example in John 1:12 Jesus says “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” What an amazing thing God has done.

As I have been chewing on this passage I am reminded of one of my favorite movies, “Meet the Robinsons“. In the movie the main character, an awkward orphan named Lewis, tries very hard to get adopted without success until a decidedly quirky couple shows up and accepts Lewis just as he is, warts and all. Lewis and his inventions go on to change the world.

From God’s perspective we are all like that quirky child Lewis and God has agreed to adopt us into his family, warts and all. This adoption is not just so we can be happy and comfortable, and it is certainly not merit-based. God wants us to do something with our new role as His Children. What that something is varies for each us. It is for God to know and us to find out.

Prayer: God help us to discover our role as part of Your adopted family.

Posted in Christianity, Covenant, Discipleship, Following God, God's Love for Us, Hosea, Love for the Lost, Peace, reconciliation, Redemption, The Nature of God | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Daniel’s Dismount

Then I, Daniel, looked, and there before me stood two others, one on this bank of the river and one on the opposite bank. One of them said to the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, “How long will it be before these astonishing things are fulfilled?” The man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, lifted his right hand and his left hand toward heaven, and I heard him swear by him who lives forever, saying, “It will be for a time, times and half a time. When the power of the holy people has been finally broken, all these things will be completed.” I heard, but I did not understand. So I asked, “My Lord, what will the outcome of all this be?” He replied, “Go your way, Daniel, because the words are rolled up and sealed until the time of the end. Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand. “From the time that the daily sacrifice is abolished and the abomination that causes desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days. Blessed is the one who waits for and reaches the end of the 1,335 days. “As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance. – Daniel 12:5‭-‬13

This passage is the last water-related one in the book of Daniel – Daniel’s Dismount if you will. I have been reading a book recently about Dr. Paul Farmer called Mountains beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder. She recounts many interesting stories and anecdotes about Dr. Farmer’s work in Haiti. His passion and purpose resonate with me. One of the interesting ideas I have found in this book is the idea of a “dismount”. Dr. Farmer used this to refer to the end of a conversation or discussion.  I think this idea applies here on many levels.

I used to do gymnastics when I was still young and limber. Basically from age four until I was in college. I have always suspected that my parents got me into gymnastics to keep me out of trouble and out of their hair, but I learned many important life lessons in my years of gymnastics.  I learned that: 1) hard work and perseverance pay off in the end; 2) repetition and practice is the only way to get better at something that is hard; 3) teaching gymnastics is way harder than merely doing gymnastics; 4) If you train your body to do complicated things you body will be better at everything involving body movements; and 5) dismounts at the end of a gymnastics routine can come with either elation or exasperation depending on how one feels about their performance.

Since the topic of this passage is “Daniel’s dismount” I will focus on the last life-lesson from gymnastics and save the others for another day. One of my favorite gymnastics events was the rings.  It allowed me and my little body at the time to shine. Success on the rings came from a combination of grace and strength.  I think in this way it is like Daniel’s command in this passage to “go your own way Daniel”.  He has been given a very confusing and perplexing prophecy about the end of days.  A prophecy filled with water imagery reminiscent of previous prophecies in Ezekiel about a river that no one can cross (Ezekiel 47:1‭-‬6).

The passage starts out with a two people on the banks of a river, “Then I, Daniel, looked, and there before me stood two others, one on this bank of the river and one on the opposite bank.”  I think that the river is a metaphor for our profound separation from God that requires a pilot or navigator to cross.  I also believe God has provided that pilot in the person of Jesus.  Perhaps he is the “man clothed in linen” I do not know.  What seems clear is that the river is a real barrier to our being with God and in order to cross into God’s undiscovered country we must accept help.  We cannot cross it on our own.  No matter how good we get at swimming, finance, gymnastics, business, geology, or whatever pursuit we choose to invest our lives.

Daniel’s “dismount” is the most important part of his life. If he lives with grace and strength he will end up where he is heading.  All the wisdom and prophecies that he has shared with the king of Babylon come down to this final prophecy.  It is the one that matters.  The command is simple yet multi-layered and complex, “As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance.”  So the seemingly simple command for Daniel in the midst of the dark future that has been revealed to him is to “go your way”.  The really tricky part of this for Daniel (and us) is to figure out what “his way” should look like and how he will be sure to end up “on the banks of the river” when he is done with his life.

So how do we as God-followers make sure that we are engaged in the “routine” that God has for us and that our “dismount” is pleasing to God? How do we make sure that “our way” is God’s way? I think this is the most important question that Christians can ask themselves. In my experience the answer is not simple and it is not static.  Answering this question is a process.  It is more like a voyage of discovery than a destination. This is not to imply that our life should be spent in a frantic pursuit of the perfect dismount, but rather a realization that if we keep our eyes focused on the real goal, God, that He Himself will be our dismount.

Prayer: God You have provided us with a glimpse into awesome things to come that could make us anxious and afraid.  Give us the peace that comes from knowing that if we remain in You we have already arrived.

Posted in Daniel, Discernment, Following God, God's Love for Us, Heaven, Hell, Prophecy, The Earthly Realm, The Nature of God, The Spiritual Realm | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Anointed One

Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him. – Daniel 9:25‭-‬27

Well this passage is a bit of “funny water” to be sure. Between the murky metaphors and perplexing prophecies I am really confused. Since the passage starts out with “Know and understand this” I guess it is worth spending a little time attempting to unpack this passage. The passage is confusing to me for two reason.  First the time periods described are foreign to me.  Perhaps they meant more to the people this book was written for, but they are confusing to me.  The second thing that is confusing to me is the description of the Anointed One and the “ruler” near the end of the passage.  Certainly the “Anointed One” could be the Messiah, but who the ruler represents is not clear.

The passage clearly talks about restoring and rebuilding Jerusalem, the City of David. One could get into a mire of mud trying to figure out exactly which sacking and rebuilding of Jerusalem this is referring to. I am not sure it is critical to what I think may be the main point of this passage – that the earthly temple and all the tangible trappings the Israelites have grown to rely upon to feel close to God are going away. They are to be replaced by the “Anointed One” who “will be put to death and will have nothing”.

It is my understanding that the “Annointed One” has always been interpreted by the Jewish people to be the coming Messiah who many Jews believe has yet to arrive, and who Christ followers believe already arrived in the form of Jesus. One detail provided here that I have never noticed is that the “Anointed One” will “have nothing” – more on this in a moment.

We finally arrive at the water reference where the passage says “The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end”. This language is reminiscent of flood language used in Isaiah to describe the coming of a redeemer.  In other references a “flood” has been used to refer to the generic calamities that befell Job.

Who is meant by “the ruler” near the end of the passage gets a little confusing. My understanding is that “the ruler” has been understood to mean one of the many historical kings that have sacked Jerusalem or a future anti-christ figure yet to come. In a time-transcendent sense this passage may have multi-layered meaning, or in the words of Forrest Gump “I think… maybe… it’s both happening at the same time.”

What seems clear to me is that the “Anointed One” (I believe this is referring to Jesus) was put to death and “has nothing” from an earthly perspective.  From the world’s perspective He “lost”, even though from an eternal perspective in end God wins. The coming Messiah and His death is to be followed by a very long period of messy earthly conflict and “covenant” between an earthly ruler and people which will end with the temple occupied by the “abomination that causes desolation”.  I am not sure what this means and whether it is once again a verse that could have multiple layers of meaning that transcend time.  Either way it does not sound good.

So what is the take home message from this passage?  It reminds me that as a Christ follower I should not expect any earthly reward for following Christ as Christ himself “got nothing” from an earthly perspective.  It is also a caution to beware of enticing earthly rulers that are more “rewarding” to follow, but will ultimately lead to disappointment and destruction.

Prayer: God help me to be content with following your Son and the grace that he provides.

Posted in Christianity, Conflict, Covenant, Daniel, Following God, Prophecy, Redemption, The Earthly Realm, The Nature of God, The Spiritual Realm | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Unexpected Truths

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 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 human being, and the mind of a human was given to it. -Daniel 7:1‭-‬4

Well this is an odd bit of water to be sure. Daniel is describing a dream that he had that involves “the great sea”. In other passages the sea has been used as a metaphor for the spiritual realm. In this passage the seas are being “churned up” by the four winds. I am reminded of the spirit of God moving over the Waters in the Genesis account of creation. I wonder if the odd event in Daniel’s dream being described here is related.

The “wind”, perhaps the Holy Spirit or the spirit of God, brings forth out of the sea four beasts. The first beast is described as being “like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle.” A lion, “king’ of the beasts”, crossed with arguably the “king” of the air, an eagle. Why these two beasts rather than others God could choose? Perhaps the fact that these animals have dominion over their respective domains is an important detail. It may also be important that there are two very distinct realms to navigate, the “air” and the the “earth”.

This mythical and metaphorical creature has its wings clipped and becomes a human, “I watched until its wings were torn off”. Wow this passage just became deep water to be sure, plumbing the depths of questions like “who are we?” and “where do we come from?”

This passage, and my understanding from previous passages would suggest we are; 1) plucked from the “great sea”, the spiritual realm, by God’s spirit; 2) we were once in some sense a composite creature built to dwell in two very different realms; 3) our wings have been clipped, i.e. we are not able to “fly” in the spiritual realm as we once could, we are separated by a river that no one could cross; and 4) we “stand on two feet” and have been given “the mind of a human”, human reason or a bit of the logos from God. Just enough to get us into trouble thinking we are all that.

I am once again in awe of the complexity and beauty of seemingly innocuous passages like this one in Daniel, a hidden well to be sure. There is so much more here than the lion’s dens and fiery furnaces I remember learning about in Sunday School.

Prayer: God thank You for guiding me on this float through the Bible and showing me unexpected truths along the way.

Posted in Daniel, God's Love for Us, The Earthly Realm, The Nature of God, The Spiritual Realm | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

In His Hand Your Life

Belshazzar’s Feast by Rembrandt

“Your Majesty, 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 nations and peoples 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 the ox; and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and sets over them anyone he wishes. “But you, Belshazzar, his son, 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 hand your life and all your ways. Therefore he sent the hand that wrote the inscription. – Daniel 5:18‭-‬24

This passage hearkens back to king Nebuchadnezzar’s domestication and descent into becoming an animal. The “dew from heaven” is again described as drenching king Nebuchadnezzar.  Apparently dew drenching is not hereditary because king Nebuchadnezzar’s son has totally forgotten the lesson’s that God taught his father.

The passage takes place at a feast being held by king Nebuchadnezzar’s son and immediately follows the famous passage about a disembodied hand writing a message on the wall during the party to get Belshazzar’s attention.  Apparently Belshazzar is using goblets stolen from the temple in Jerusalem with no thought to the God from whose temple these goblets were stolen. I cannot help but think there is a metaphorical meaning here comparing the goblets to the people of Israel who have also been “stolen” and placed in exile in Bablyon.

God’s seems to be trying to tell Belshazzar that all the things that he believes he has accomplished and acquired are in fact resting in God’s hand and he forgets this at his own peril.  He reminds Belshazzar, and all those who are reading this passage, that God “holds in his hand your life and all your ways”.  We may think we are choosing our own way and forging our own destiny, but in the end God wins.  King Belshazzar will find this out very soon as the very night when Daniel interprets the writing on the wall he will be killed.

So what are we to take away from this hard lesson that God is teaching Belshazzar.  I guess what I take away from it is that we should hold very loosely all the achievements and acquisitions of our lives because holding onto these things can crowd God out of our lives.  I am reminded of a quote from one of my favorite books call Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman. In it he says:

“The only way to be filled with the Spirit is to empty myself of me. When I empty me of me, it provides space for the Holy Spirit to fill me”

What God was asking Belshazzar to do, and by extension what he is asking us to do, is make room for God in our lives – “you did not honor God”. God wants to take center stage and be the animator of our lives.  I believe God tells us this not because He wants instill fear in us that we will be crushed by His mighty hand, but rather because he genuinely loves us and believes in us and wants to carry us through life like a son or daughter.

Belshazzar learned his lesson the hard way, by reaching the end of his life and finding a dead end. Hopefully we can learn from his mistake and make room for God now, while we are still muddling our way through this land of Oblivion.

Prayer: God you promise to fill us with your spirit if we make room.  Help us to clear our the clutter keeping us from You.

Posted in Christianity, Daniel, Discernment, Faith, Following God, Free Will, God's Love for Us, Prophecy, The Nature of God, The Spiritual Realm, Wisdom | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Have You Done?

media-20180121Even as the words were on his lips, 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 the ox. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.”  Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.  At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation.  All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?” – Daniel 4:31‭-‬35

This passage retraces the prophecy from Daniel 4:4-16, where king Nebuchadnezzar will be dethroned, drenched with dew from heaven, and given the mind of an animal.   There is an added touch near the end that piqued my interest so I decided it was worth a second look even though the prophecy is very similar to the previous one.

The added detail here is king Nebuchadnezzar’s acknowledgement that no one can “hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?”” God has done amazing things – too amazing for us to even understand at times.  He was pierced for our transgressions and extended his Arm from heaven to hold us in the hollow of His hand. What has He done indeed!

It is to king Nebuchadnezzar’s credit, and eternal benefit, that he has understood what God has done for him, and in fact what God has done for all those who faithfully follow Him.  It is perhaps the single most important thing we can learn as humans here in this land of Oblivion.  God loves us, He believes in us, and He wants to carry us like a son or daughter as we make our way on this earth.

As I have progressed down the river on my float through the water references in the bible I am continually amazed by the depth and wisdom that God has shown me, even in the most unlikely of places. It reminds me of a field trip I was on with students a couple of months ago.  We were hiking along the dunes that rise above the shores of Lake Michigan.  We were high above the lake looking down on the waves and the beach.  One astute and observant student yelled out “look at that!”  When we all looked we saw something I never expected to see, a large salmon swimming along the shore that was clearly visible among the waves. I have looked upon the shore of Lake Michigan many times and I have never seen anything like it.  We were all amazed and delighted at the rare and unique spectacle we had seen.

I feel like God does this for me as I schlep my way through some parts of the old testament trying to understand what they mean.  He points out salmon swimming in the surf and yells out “look at this”.  I am often left as delighted and amazed as I was with my students that day along the shores of Lake Michigan.

Prayer: God thank you for leading me on this journey of discovery and pointing out new and amazing things along the way.

Posted in Daniel, Following God, God's Love for Us, Jesus, Prophecy, Uncategorized, Wisdom | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Domestication

Your Majesty saw a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Cut down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump, bound with iron and bronze, in the grass of the field, while its roots remain in the ground. Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven; let him live with the wild animals, until seven times pass by for him.’  “This is the interpretation, Your Majesty, and this is the decree the Most High has issued against my Lord the king: You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes. The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules. – Daniel 4:23‭-‬26

Well as Paul Harvey used to say here is the “rest of the story”. Daniel is explaining the King’s dream to him and what it means.  The message in a nutshell is “grab a clue and acknowledge that God is God and you are not”. Of course he goes into a bit more details which it may be useful to explore so off we go.

The explanation that Daniel provides is pretty straightforward. The king will lose his position of power.  He will be driven from the comfortable court he has lived in his entire life.  His new home will be with away from people, with the wild animals.  He will not be eating “court food“, but will eat “grass like the ox and be drenched with the dew of heaven”.  It sounds like the dew being explained in this passage may have several layers of meaning.

On a spiritual level the dew still represents God’s spirit who will be hard at work softening the King’s heart for “seven times”. I did a little research into what this means and quickly found myself in deep water.  Apparently there is much debate about the meaning of the Hebrew word for “times”. Without getting mired in these muddy waters suffice to say that the amount of time was somewhere between 7 years and infinity. I guess since God is ultimately outside of the flow of time so maybe it is not critical either way. I do not know.

The other way to view “the dew” is in a pragmatic way. God met the King’s physical needs for food and water just like he does for all the other “wild animals”. The way he did for the people of Israel when he provided Manna from heaven on the dew. God is the Shepard for his sheep, at least those who are willing to be “domesticated” and follow the Shepard.  The king’s dream is really about domestication. What is the crucial difference between a wild animal and a domesticated one?  A domesticated animal lives in a symbiotic relationship with its master, owner, or caretaker.  I think what God is really calling on the king to do is allow himself to be “domesticated”.

The take-home message for me in this passage is that even though the king is an extreme example of a person who has become complacent in their comfortable position the reality is that we all need to become “domesticated”. Many rebel against this idea of allowing God to domesticate them fearing that it will in some way remove their “wildness”.  This was one of the things that kept me from accepting Jesus as “the way” for my life.  I like adventure and to be in control of things. Domestication seemed like a dungeon rather than freedom to me.  Eventually God convinced me that following Him was not domestication in the way I was envisioning it.  He did the same for His followers while we was walking the earth.

The Good News that Jesus was trying to get across to His disciples during their domestication process was that being a sheep is not a bad thing as long as the Shepard is good and He loves you more than His own life. I think in a spiritual context domestication is actually discipleship and learning to faithfully follow God now matter how hard it is or where it leads.  It is being willing to say your are wrong and to ask for help from God, exactly what the king’s dream is calling on King Nebuchadnezzar to do. He has to acknowledge that God is God and he is not.

Prayer: God help us to submit to being domesticated by You so that you can lead us where we need to go.

Posted in Daniel, Discernment, Discipleship, Following God, Free Will, God's Love for Us, Jesus, Love for the Lost, Obedience, Prophecy, Redemption, The Earthly Realm, The Nature of God, The Spiritual Realm | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment