What? A song about rain, and it’s not from Enya? Yes, and this one goes all the way back to 1980. Sheesh! There’s no real message to this song other than, well, “I love a rainy night.” 😊 That, and maybe the escapist notion of showers washing away the cares of the world, giving way to a sunnier day to come.
What I don’t love about rainy nights is how they sometimes wreak havoc on the neighborhood trees. A blast of wind sheared off the top of a tree in Micah and Bethany’s front yard, and it landed right across their driveway. Drew and I were able to run down and move it out of the way, no problem, before the kids got home.
Prophecy. Persecution. Tribulation. Antichrist. Hope. Perseverance. Victory. The book of Daniel features all these realities and more. In the second half of chapter 2, God shows the young prophet something only God himself can know—namely, another man’s dream. The dreamer was King Nebuchadnezzar, and the contents of his dream was the unfolding of history from Daniel’s day. God also gave Daniel the dream’s interpretation, and he passed it onto the king, who came to see that Daniel’s God “is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries” (Daniel 2:47).
A fascinating aspect of the Book of Daniel is that it’s written in two different languages. It starts and ends in Hebrew, which was the language of the Jews, and the middle section is in Aramaic, which was the language of the nations. When we look at the Aramaic section as a whole, we discover the stories are arranged chiastically. That is, they have thematic correspondences front to back. (See notes in the sermon PowerPoint file). Chapters 2 and 7, then, are intentionally matched.
What that means is chapters 2 and 7 speak of the same prophetic vision, albeit from two different perspectives. Chapter 2 gives us the kingdoms of this world from a human perspective—precious metals growing stronger over time. Chapter 7 gives us the kingdoms of this world from a divine perspective—freakish monsters growing more destructive over time. The dazzling statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream can be understood as follows:
The head of gold = the Babylonian Empire (605–539 B.C.)
The chest and arms of silver = the Medo-Persian Empire (539–331 B.C.)
The belly and thighs of bronze = the Grecian Empire (331–63 B.C.)
The legs of iron and feet of clay = the Roman Empire (63 B.C.–476 A.D.)
Surprisingly, Daniel says the colossal image is going to collapse because all nations of the world are built on a foundation of clay. In fact, the mere touch of a tiny stone is all it takes to shatter it. That stone—“a rock cut out of the mountains without hands”—will strike the statue on its feet of iron mixed with clay and smash the world’s empires, but the rock that struck the statue will become a huge mountain and fill the whole earth (Daniel 2:34-35).
This sermon shows that Daniel’s rock is none other than Jesus Christ, and the mountain filling the whole earth is the kingdom of God he brings. Moreover, the entire dream corresponds to the apocalyptic vision of Daniel 7, which Jesus quotes and applies to himself while standing before Caiaphas, the high priest, while on trial for his life. Jesus is the “son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven” (Daniel 7:13).
The message of Daniel 2 and 7 is clear: earthly kingdoms will come and go. Some of them may wield great power. They may even persecute the people of God for a time, but God’s people should remain loyal to him, come what may, because his “rock” is more powerful than all earthly kings. Indeed, earthly kingdoms are “bad dreams” that inevitably collapse and disappoint. God’s kingdom is a hope-filled reality that grows and blesses.
Daniel shows that vibrant faith can not only survive but thrive in a hostile, pagan world, provided one has great confidence in the final victory God. That victory is sure, for as it says in Revelation 11:15: “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.” Amen.
Samuel and Levi are coming to our house tonight so Bethany and Micah can have a date night. We’re so excited to have them. Samuel is staying overnight, but Levi will need to go home for his feedings throughout the evening. Someday Levi will be able to stay overnight, too, which is great because the Friday night pizza/sleepover is becoming a thing, and I love it! Pancakes follow on Saturday morning. 😊
Last night we had a spontaneous rendezvous at the Fairlane Avenue Park here in Myerstown, followed by take-out dinner from Tosco’s, our local Italian restaurant. (Wherever I’ve lived, the Lord has made sure there’s a high-quality Italian place right down the street!) The weather was perfect, and we had a delightful time. I even had a “mush moment” at one point, quietly thanking God that our beautiful munchkins live so close that we get to see them often.
While in Babylon, Daniel and his three friends walk the same tightrope every believer has to walk today in a fallen world—avoiding isolation on the one hand, and avoiding assimilation on the other. They did it well. In fact, in Daniel 2 these remarkable Jewish teens continue living out the command God previously gave the exiles—to live for the good of a bad city (Jeremiah 29:4-7). They did this by serving their unbelieving neighbors and helping them flourish.
In many ways, Daniel 2 gives us a collision between the wisdom of this word and the wisdom of God. Nebuchadnezzar is the portrait of a man who faces life with worldly wisdom. Daniel, however, is the portrait of a person who faces life with godly wisdom. Quite significantly, this collision is not a fistfight. It’s not a heated debate. It’s not a military battle. It’s a ministry.
Specifically, Daniel has a ministry to a man in crisis. And in that ministry to his royal neighbor, the wisdom of God is displayed. The lesson for us today is instructive: God’s faithful people can help connect faithless people to God.
Nebuchadnezzar’s problems are not unlike our neighbors’ problems today. For example, some of our neighbors may be consumed with worry, anxiety, and insecurity (v. 1). Some may seek professional help for their deepest troubles (vv. 2-4). Some may become suspicious of the world’s best experts (vv. 5-9). Some may hear the world’s experts admit their own limitations (vv. 10-11). Some may grow increasingly insecure and perhaps even violent (vv. 12-13).
Daniel’s ministry to the king is anchored in his knowledge of who God is. Indeed, he has a lofty view of Yahweh, which is helpful to God’s people today when we seek to help our neighbors who are in crisis. Specifically:
Because God is gracious, his people can approach a neighbor’s crisis with wisdom and tact (vv. 14-15).
Because God is missional, his people can view a neighbor’s crisis with a sense of divine purpose (v. 16).
Because God is all-knowing, his people can take a neighbor’s crisis to him in prayer (17-19a).
Because God is sovereign, his people can praise him in the midst of any crisis (vv. 19b-23).
Because God is revealing, his people can offer wisdom for a neighbor’s crisis when needed (vv. 24-28a).
Because God is good, his people can serve neighbors in crisis even if they believe differently (vv. 28b-30).
By the time Nebuchadnezzar leaves the stage in the book of Daniel, he comes to recognize that Yahweh is the Most High God of the universe. May that likewise be the result of our ministry to the people around us today.
Yeah, these are kind of juvenile, but I needed a good laugh today. We did the best we could this past year during Sara’s heart-wrenching illness, and then we did the best we could to support and resource those on the front lines of both her public and private services. (I was happy to take a behind-the-scenes role and let others use their gifts to lead the memorials.) The healing work goes on, though, so we need some relief points along the road ahead.
One of my favorite Sara memories is when I was cracking up during a late-night chew-the-fat session at our house last year, and she started narrating the various sounds and gestures of my laugh while I was in the very act of laughing. That just made me laugh all the more. And the memory of it is making me laugh today, too. So, thank you, Sara! 🙂
Does it really need to be said that pastors are just ordinary people like everybody else? We have our own set of struggles while simultaneously serving as the repository of other people’s pain. It can be unrelenting sometimes. And it hurts.
The last time I led a congregation through the path of deep grief after a similar tragic death, I was soon plunged into the dark world panic attacks and depression myself. Thank God in time he “lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand” (Psalm 40:2). He can do the same for you.
In the meantime, try to laugh a little. It can be medicine for the soul (Proverbs 17:22).
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Colossians 3:1-4
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:3-5
I’ve lost count of the number of Shakespeare festivals and other productions we attended together over the years, but they were one of the highlights of our friendship—along with rich conversations about theology, art, and literature well into the night (and sometimes well past midnight). The Braveheart Highland Pub in Hellertown was a favorite pre-show dining spot of ours.
In the final ten months of her life, Sara’s mental illness plummeted faster than I had ever seen in anyone else her age. No amount of counseling, encouragement, therapy, medication, prayer, or hospitalization could help. And she received the best available in each case, albeit too late. It wasn’t merely depression that took her from us but schizoaffective disorder in all its ugliness. It was a heartbreaking tragedy we watched unfold before our very eyes.
Yet we are persuaded that God met that tragedy with his abounding grace. We who gathered to discuss her services (and the difficult ministry to those who remain behind to deal with deep grief) concurred that nothing could separate her from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39). Her love for the Lord was genuine and not undermined at all by her aggressive illness. Indeed, the Lord is near the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18). He is near to us, too.
Best of all, when you know Christ by faith as your Lord and Savior, what puts you in the grave can’t keep you in the grave.
So, in that spirit, I bid farewell in hope:
“Goodnight sweet prince[ess], And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.” Hamlet, Act V, Scene 2
Believers are resident aliens in this world. Three times in 1 Peter, the followers of Christ are called “strangers” or “aliens.” The Apostle Paul concurs, reminding the Philippians that their “citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). In other words, the believer’s primary residence is not planet Earth. Someday we’re going home to a world of heavenly perfection.
As great as that truth is, it creates a challenge for the people of God. How do we interact with the world while we’re here? What is our relationship to unbelievers supposed to be until we finally go home? This issue has always been a struggle for the covenant community.
When Daniel and his three friends were aliens in Babylon, they faced a similar challenge. They discovered quickly that the art of being a believer in this world is to love God and love your neighbor—in that order. King Nebuchadnezzar tried to shape their thinking, their identity, and their convictions. But the four teens from Israel resisted a secular brainwashing at Babylon University. They refused to allow themselves to be intoxicated by the glamour that comes from eating at the king’s table while trying to guard their own hearts against personal compromise. They survived in a culture that was hostile to their faith by drawing some lines in the sand and refusing to cross them.
But there’s a way to draw those lines and a way not to draw them. Daniel didn’t lead a march, a sit-in, or a protest rally. He didn’t engage in hate speech. He didn’t walk around Babylon with a placard saying, “Thou shalt not eat non-kosher food,” or “Prepare to meet thy God.” Instead, he practiced cooperation without compromise. Daniel was sympathetic to the king’s official and didn’t want him to lose his head because of his faith. So, Daniel wound up cutting a deal—and it was a deal that God honored.
One can’t help noticing that Daniel had a genuine respect for the unbelievers around him. He wasn’t a religious snob with a holier-than-thou chip on his shoulder. There was an ease with which he moved in secular circles. He wasn’t edgy around people who didn’t share his faith. He wasn’t uncomfortable around people who worshiped idols. He didn’t treat them like they had spiritual cooties. Rather, he was kind and deferential to them. He also accommodated them—but only in so far as his own faith would allow him to do so. God was always his first loyalty.
Jesus, of course, was the ultimate resident alien. He didn’t arise from within the human race; he came from outside it. That’s what Christmas is all about. In his life and ministry, Jesus was totally loyal to his heavenly Father. He never compromised, and he never sinned. Yet he moved freely and easily among the people who were far from God, leading them to see more clearly his truth and love for everyone.In his death on the cross, Jesus became alien-ated by bearing in his own body the sins of the world in himself. He did that so that everyone could become undefiled by faith, and believers could someday go back home with him.
“As the hot, sticky hug of summer yields to the crisp embrace of autumn, nature embarks on a colorful and captivating transformation. Fall is our favorite.” So write the editors at the captivating Moss and Fog website, and I wholeheartedly concur. Fall is magical. I’ll be linking below to their August 17 post titled, “Exploring the World’s Most Impressive Fall Color Destinations.” First a few snaps and clips of my cherubs.
Samuel is only 19½ month old, but yesterday he joined his mama on the chorus of “Jesus Loves Me” at bedtime, and it took my breath away. His singing is beyond adorable, and my heart may have melted into a big fat puddle of Papa-love when I heard it. The video clip was shot after the lights went off, so there’s nothing to see. But there’s plenty to hear—pure praise “out of the mouth of babes.” Could there be any sweeter or more important message than:
Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong; they are weak, but he is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.
Spiritually speaking, much has changed in America during our lifetime. From a Christian perspective, some of these changes are sad, revolting, depressing, and even scary. As a nation, we’re far from God, and the church at large is in a funk because of it. Older evangelicals especially can’t believe the changes they’ve witnessed. It is depressing. Like Israel in exile, we’re tempted to lament the situation, curse the darkness, and “hang up our harps on the poplar” (Psalm 137:2). But while these reactions are understandable, it’s vital to remember that God has a plan for his people even in spiritually dark times. Especially in dark times.
Jeremiah 29:4-11 provides some much-needed encouragement. This famous passage of Scripture is often ripped from its context, but the context is vital to understanding its message and contemporary relevance. The “plans” that God has for his people are not individual recipes for success, but plans for effective corporate witness and an eventual end to the exile. “But until then,” says God, “don’t run from the pagan culture; settle down in it. Live among your neighbors and love them. Help them flourish. Seek their welfare. Live for the good of a bad city.”
In other words, his marching orders for believers are to live out the wisdom of God in their neighbors’ midst, captivating them with the reality of who God is. The unbeliever’s eternal destiny is God’s business, but the believer’s business is to be a good neighbor and stay loyal to God in the process. It’s to be in the world but not of it.
And because God is “beautifully sneaky,” he’s always up to something good in the midst of something bad. Magi attended the birth of Christ precisely because the nation of Israel went into exile. Had the covenant people stayed in their familiar and comfortable land, the messianic prophecies never would have reached the Gentiles. But they did, and that’s likely how the Magi knew to connect the astronomical phenomenon with the birth of the new king. God’s love is truly for the whole world.
And so it is today. It’s the scattered church that can plant seeds for the harvest. When a culture is spiritually dark, God’s people can graciously turn on the light. That’s part of what it means to be “excellent in exile.” The book of Daniel shows us how.
Samuel likes being a big brother to Levi. We had them over to our place a couple times this week, which is always a sheer delight. The last time they were here, they had on matching dinosaur shirts. Of course, I had to get the camera. 😊 Levi had a procedure at CHOP this week, and all went well. He seems rather peaceful, with no lingering effects.
This time of year is always thick with course and syllabus preparation, which also comes with added tasks and responsibilities in the digital age. Still, it’s a labor of love, as is the dissertation, which is still in motion. Next month always feels like a changeover at church, too, so the pile is doubly high these days. All the more reason to throw in some silly memes for a few lighthearted moments before getting back to the grind.
Last week I got a new red wagon for the boys that I can hook up to my lawn tractor. It’s our own little Knoebel’s ride—with no tickets necessary (though my next door neighbor offered me two bucks for a ride. Unfortunately, he couldn’t fit)!
Samuel likes the wagon, though he doesn’t really like the noise that comes from the tractor. We did several laps around the yard, and then I dropped him off at the garden, where he loves to help us pick the ripe stuff. As we love to say around here, “He’s the best Bubby ever.”
Levi is becoming more alert and used to our voices. It was fun to feed him for the first time last week and sing him to sleep. He is so precious, and Samuel is (mostly) gentle with him.