Now Get Up and Go: DANIEL 11-12

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DANIEL 11:35-12

As I write today I am battling grief, fear, anger and angst for our world.

I grieve over the loss of what once was our nation. There was a time when by and large the worst things I faced over Christmas was controlling the look on my face when I received Aunt Marge’s annual, awful fruit cake or perhaps learning to navigate the holiday missing a loved one. The weight of what our country faces today, feels more imminent now than ever before.

I fear what’s beginning to feel like a new normal. Radicalism consumed with hate and violence grows, and I watch it happen. And let’s not pretend this kind of radicalism is relegated to only one walk of life. In just a few weeks’ time we’ve seen Paris, Planned Parenthood, and an unsuspecting workplace party viciously attacked, among many more in war-ravaged, desperate nations in the Middle East and around the world.

I’m angry when I see our world leaders responding in fear and rhetoric, rather than turning to God. God wants nothing more than our hearts, but we stubbornly refuse him. We make our plans as if we know better. The higher we build our walls and the deeper we fill our cache of ammunition, we become more and more vulnerable. But this isn’t new.

Judah’s defenses have been stripped away.

You run to the armory for your weapons.

You inspect the breaks in the walls of Jerusalem.

You store up water in the lower pool.

You survey the houses and tear some down for stone to strengthen the wall.

Between the city walls, you build a reservoir for water from the old pool.

But you never ask for help from the One who did all this. You never considered the One who planned this long ago. (Isaiah 22:8-11 NLT)

And I’m anxious when I read the text we are studying today in Daniel, because I see our world mirrored in its words. Is this it? Have we arrived? What do I do with this?

THE TIME OF THE END

Daniel ends his writings with a final vision. In the previous lesson, we covered the first part of the vision that most scholars believe to be largely fulfilled already. The latter part of chapter 11 and chapter 12 seem to be talking about Antichrist and his rise to power, which still remain in the future.

The king will do as he pleases, exalting himself and claiming to be greater than every god, even blaspheming the God of gods. (Daniel 11:36a NLT)

We are told that this ruler will be a man of war and violence, and that he will conquer many lands and nations. We are also told that his days are numbered and he will succeed in everything he does for a predetermined period of time.

He will succeed, but only until the time of wrath is completed. For what has been determined will surely take place. (Daniel 11:36b NLT)

It will be a time of great anguish, but not devoid of grace and salvation.

But at that time every one of your people whose name is written in the book will be rescued. (Daniel 12:1b NLT)

The heavenly messenger tells Daniel that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and that some will rise to everlasting life and some to everlasting shame. (Daniel 12:2) He also tells Daniel how long these things will last, “for a time, times, and half a time,” (12:7) and later he says that from the time the daily sacrifices are stopped 1,290 days will pass (12:11). And yet despite all the detail, the vision is still shrouded in mystery.

I heard what he said, but I did not understand what he meant. So I asked, “How will all this finally end, my lord?” (Daniel 12:8 NLT)

So it’s with this question I want to settle today, “What if we hear what God says, but we still don’t understand what he means?” If you can identify, you are not alone!

WHAT DO WE UNDERSTAND?

From the outset of this study I have talked about the pattern of God’s will. It’s displayed multiple times throughout scripture, and if you look closely, you’ll see it displayed in your own life as well, probably more than once. The pattern is this:

Basic Pattern Israel’s purpose when they crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land was to make God’s name known among the nations, to be a light to the world.   God chose these people as his own, so that when he set them apart as holy, the entire world would begin to know God through the picture of Israel. He uses the Church in much the same way today. One dramatic difference: Christ lives in each of us today, and when we step into our purpose and calling, we individually and collectively make Christ visible to the world.

In conjunction with other prophetic texts, we know that when this time of wrath has completed, Christ will return, the dead in Christ will rise to be transformed and those who are still alive will also be transformed. Christ will then establish his Kingdom and rule with love. When Christ returns, all purpose will be completed in full. There will no longer be a need to make his name known to the world, because he will be known.

For the scriptures say, “’As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ’every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess and give praise to God.’” (Romans 14:11 NLT)

I go back to this pattern of Captivity -> Preparation -> Purpose, because even if we don’t understand all that God has planned and all that God has revealed, if we understand this much, we can still move actively into the story of God’s redemptive plan. When Daniel said he heard what the messenger said, but didn’t understand, the response to Daniel was telling.

But he said, “Go now…” (Daniel 12:9 NLT)

Daniel didn’t get a direct answer to his question. In fact, he was told the answers were going to be kept secret until the time of the end. The messenger then reiterates his command in verse 13.

“As for you, go your way until the end.” (Daniel 12:13a NLT)

He’s telling Daniel to keep walking the path designed for him, and leave the rest to God. So even if we don’t understand all that we hear God saying, we just need to keep on following what we do hear from him. Easy enough, right? Right…until the doubts creep in about the path we’re on and we start asking God, “what if?”

WHAT IF… I’M NOT EQUIPPED TO WALK THIS PATH?

If you’re asking this question, you are not the first. Moses asked it and so did Jeremiah.   God doesn’t often call the equipped, he typically equips the called. You can be sure, that if God has called you, he will supply you with all that you need to follow him.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. (Ephesians 1:3 NLT)

This is a great place to start, because it means each of us is the perfect candidate to be called by God. He has supplied with all spiritual blessings, ALL, which means they don’t come in installments. They are all there from the moment of faith. Blessings like forgiveness, grace, eternity, gifts and insight from the Holy Spirit, and most of all power to follow God. These blessings are a pretty good foundational start to any and all callings.

When I first heard the call to write, it surprised me, and my first reaction was, “surely not.” But now that I have pursued this for a couple of years, the Lord has brought to my memory writing classes that I took in college, and literature classes that I loved. I had all but forgotten that I entertained a desire to major in English and Literature for a short period of time, but quickly dismissed it because it just didn’t make sense. Even then, God was preparing me.

As you consider your life up to now, you might begin to see that God has worked in a similar way. All the threads will eventually weave your story. Follow the path faithfully, and your journey will provide you with the necessary experience and qualifications to keep moving forward.

WHAT IF… I’M NOT STRONG ENOUGH TO WALK THIS PATH

When Israel approached the Promised Land and was told of the incredible bounty within, they could only hear the reports of the giants. Fear told them they were not strong enough to defeat the giants, and how irresponsible it would be to cross over with little children in their care.

Let’s just get this one out of the way. You’re not strong enough to walk this path. None of us are. But God still calls us anyway.

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (II Corinthians 12: 9-10 NLT)

There were many, many times God told Israel to show up to a battle ill-equipped or he asked them to send the majority of their soldiers home. He told Gideon, he didn’t want Israel to think they won the battle in their own strength. He wanted them to understand it was through the power of God. To be clear, every success, every victory we claim, is ALL through the power of God.

WHAT IF…I SUFFER ON THIS PATH

Suffering is very possible, in fact very probable. However, trials and suffering are uniquely designed to equip, strengthen, and to ultimately create extreme effectiveness. By the way, this is also called worship, and worship is the only way to abide in Christ.

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. (James 1:2-4 NLT)

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. (Romans 5:3-4 NLT)

Daniel doesn’t mince words. Terrible suffering will mark the time of the end for God’s holy people. But what does God say about that?

Many will be purified, cleansed, and refined by these trials. (Daniel 12:10 NLT)

We can trust that any trial we walk will bring great glory to God and then that glory will be reflected back on us.

WHAT IF…I CHOOSE NOT TO WALK THIS PATH

There is certainly a great cost to following God, and many of us wonder if we can afford it. And we wonder if we can afford it, because we’re comparing the cost of following God to the lie that there is no cost if we choose not to follow. There is a cost, and it’s called opportunity cost.

Israel chose not to cross the Jordan River because they feared the cost of going into a land of giants. What they didn’t fully factor was the cost of missing the promise God held for them on the other side of the river.

The Apostle Paul also talks about opportunity cost in his first letter to the Corinthians. The context here is Paul’s concern for sin among the believers and their commitment to holiness.

Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? (I Corinthians 6:9a NLT)

While I want to be careful to maintain the context of this passage, I do believe we can find an application for God’s call on levels of our life. His call for our life will typically follow the pattern of his will as I mentioned earlier.

Captivity

When we are held captive by sin and death, outside of a relationship with Christ, his call on our life will be to place our faith in him. If we reject God’s call to salvation, then we will most definitely not inherit any form of the Kingdom of God.

Preparation

After we’ve placed our faith in him, he will lead us into a period of growth and renewal. His call on our life is to holiness. He will teach us and heal us, and will prepare trials and hardships to cleanse and purify our lives. If we reject this call, misusing the liberty we have in Christ to continue sinning, our sin will prevent the continual expression of the Kingdom in our lives today. The Kingdom is expressed through the blessings referenced in Ephesians that I mentioned earlier. Paul was very concerned for the Corinthians in this area.

Purpose

We are all being prepared for a purpose. His call on our life, our purpose, is as unique as our DNA. If we are earnestly pursuing Christ and his holiness, God will guide and direct our path into a purpose that will make his name known to the world. If we reject this call, it’s not so much a missed inheritance, but rather a missed opportunity to experience and realize the vast fullness of the Kingdom of God that is available right now. We might experience some of it, but not all of it. If you’ll follow me, that opportunity cost is essentially missing the inheritance that he has for us.

NOW GO

We don’t have to understand everything about the Bible, or everything about prophecy, or everything about evangelism to walk the path before us. That much is clear from Daniel. We have everything we need to begin, and will be supplied with what we lack to continue, and are continually empowered by the Holy Spirit to get up and go. Now go.

Pride Comes Before a Fall: Daniel 4

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DANIEL 4

At twelve years old, I was a shy and terribly insecure seventh grader. I played the flute in the band and in many ways music was my saving grace. I excelled in music and felt confident where otherwise my life was typified by fear. Like many in that stage of life, I succumbed to all the perceived pressures that ghastly junior high halls have to offer.  But, suddenly band became un-cool at some point in the seventh grade. I wanted so desperately to create and maintain an image among my peers and I concluded that band would hinder that. I wanted to sneak my way through it until I could fade it out.

At the end of the year, I was close. We had our annual award ceremony and band party at a local pizza place. In the back of the room I quietly ate my pizza when I heard it. My name. I was awarded the most outstanding 7th grade band student award. Horrors flooded over me. “Now I’m the most outstanding band geek in the seventh grade!” Was I that un-cool that I managed to be the best at it? My first instinct was to slide under the table and hide. I wish I could say I humbly walked up to receive my award, but I didn’t. I hid under the table until the ceremony was over and I crawled out of the room on my hands and knees. Yes I did.

The worst part of the story (and it gets worse), the Band Director caught me as I was crawling out, and handed the award to me, still on my knees. I can still remember the disappointment on his face. I didn’t factor his feelings at all. My fellow band students walked out laughing and calling me, band geek. All my efforts to prop myself up still landed me in a pitiful pile of humiliation. A painful lesson on pride.

PRIDE COMES BEFORE A FALL

Thank God my lesson was not as bad as King Nebuchadnezzar’s in chapter four of Daniel. If you remember the dream God gave the king in chapter two, Daniel told him, “God wants you to understand what was in your heart.” (Daniel 2:30). King Neb gets another dream, and it too is so that he will understand what’s in his heart. A terrible case of pride.

Daniel warns the king to change his ways so that he can avoid this fate.

“King Nebuchadnezzar, please accept my advice. Stop sinning and do what is right. Break from your wicked past and be merciful to the poor. Perhaps then you will continue to prosper.” (Daniel 4:27 NLT)

Old habits die hard. One year later the king walks out to gaze upon his kingdom and his fortune.

“As he looked out across the city, he said, ‘Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor.” (Daniel 4:30 NLT)

Before the words finished coming out of his mouth, scripture says his fate was fulfilled. Turned cray cray, he began acting like an animal, and was driven into the wilderness. For seven years he ate grass like a cow and lived outside, a bona fide circus sideshow.

After this time had passed, I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up to heaven. My sanity returned, and I praised and worshiped the Most High and honored the one who lives forever. (Daniel 4:34 NLT)

I like to believe that what we see here is a permanent life change for the man. A pagan, self-centered, egomaniac turned humble, God lover. A life so changed that the entire kingdom is left stunned and amazed. We aren’t given too many details of Nebuchadnezzar’s life after this event, so it’s possible that his forgetful hard heart forgot this too.

More importantly, however, what stands out to me is that even after the king’s long history of forgetfulness, it seems that God is not content to leave him captive to his own devices. We have talked a lot about captivity in this study series, and how the pattern of God’s will is to release us from captivity.

Have you ever identified an area of captivity in your life that you just couldn’t quite seem to escape? Maybe you prayed over it repeatedly, yet continued to find yourself back in that destructive place. Maybe it felt like an addiction. Maybe it’s food, shopping, arguing. Maybe you asked yourself, “Can I really trust God to release me from this?”  Because this whole chapter embodies prideful redemption, I think it’s worth our while to dig deeper into the subject of pride.

BELIEFS

Let’s take a look again at Nebuchadnezzar’s pattern:

  1. Chapter 2: He saw first-hand the miraculous revelation of his dream. He acknowledged God and his supremacy, and eventually disregarded it.
  2. Chapter 3: He saw first-hand the miraculous salvation of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Again, he acknowledged God and disregarded it.
  3. Chapter 4: He was given another dream of the future and by calling Daniel to help, he acknowledged God in Daniel, again he disregarded it.
  4. Chapter 4: The dream was fulfilled and the king was humbled in the exact way that was predicted, and the king finally acknowledged God for real.

This is a classic case of failing to turn what we know to be true into what we believe to be true. In other words, turning head knowledge into heart knowledge. This lack of understanding in the heart is exactly what we’ve been talking about for the last couple of weeks. These gaps in our heart are often hidden in hardness until God reveals them to us. Depending on how hard that part of our heart remains, it might take multiple attempts and humiliating circumstances before we are able to see it. That, my friends, is pride. No way around it. So much of what we cannot see is simply and tightly wrapped in pride.

SATAN’S AMMUNITION

I’m sorry to say, no one is immune to pride. Perhaps we’re not nearly as bad as King Nebuchadnezzar or those dastardly Pharisees, or maybe we’ve learned to conceal it better than they, but it’s there, lurking in the darkness. Why is pride so difficult to detect? Well, I believe on some level we don’t really want to find it. We’ve come to accept it as part of our being and we’ve come to believe it protects and shields us from further pain.

We really are quite delicate, fragile beings, vulnerable to demonic wiles when suffering strikes. And boy does Satan know how to turn any bad situation into an opportunity to deceive us. This is what Jesus says of Satan,

He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44 NIV)

In my own life, I heard the lies and the half-truths that were thrown my way. And I believed them, because in my pain and vulnerable state at the time, I wanted to believe them. On some level I thought it kept me safe from any more pain and allowed me fester in my anger, which really feels great at first. I know you’ve been there too.

That first half-truth standing before me was a tiny hurdle, easily jumped, however each lie that followed was progressive until I was believing lies that I would have immediately rejected had they been presented to me first.

There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death. (Proverbs 14:12 NLT)

FALSE BELIEFS

Let’s talk about false beliefs that lead us down that path. There are more than a million ways Satan can and will lie to you, and if followed, they will eventually lead you down a path to believing that God cannot be trusted. If you’ve claimed Jesus as your savior, Satan knows he can’t keep you from eternity, but he will count it as success if he can keep you from trusting God and keep you from escaping captivity. Let’s explore three common false beliefs, woven into pride that can creep into our mantra.

#1 This Is Just The Way I Am…

Tell me haven’t heard this from someone. Now tell me you haven’t said it, or at least thought it. True, there are things about us that no doubt comprise our personality and mark us as unique. However, these are things will typically look like gifts and assets rather than detriments and character flaws. My point isn’t to get nit picky here, but to draw out common, reflexive thoughts, that flash through our minds when we face a negative repeated pattern. Pride says we don’t need to change, that’s just the way we are.

After Nebuchadnezzar’s repeated disregard for God’s supremacy, he may have easily determined it’s because he’s just not a very spiritual person. Maybe he said, “I’ve tried to follow the Most High God, but it doesn’t really work for me. This is just the way I am.” This belief can be stated defensively, to justify the character flaw, or it could be stated with resignation, because all hope feels lost that change is even possible. I’m guilty of saying both actually.

This week I came across the scripture where Jesus tells his disciples a story about an unjust judge who “neither feared God nor cared about people.” A widow came seeking justice and didn’t receive it. She never gave up and finally received justice because the judge was so annoyed with her.

Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! (Luke 18:7-8a NLT)

It’s a lie that you have to live in captivity because it’s just the way you are. Take hope. God hears you when you cry out and he will render justice. If anyone deserved to be written off and left, it was Nebuchadnezzar.  But God didn’t do that.  He loves you. He won’t leave you there.

#2 It’s Not Me, It’s Them…

One of the telltale signs of pride is the tendency to exalt self over others, and that includes displacing blame onto others. Of course, it’s a protection mechanism, because no one likes to be blamed, but it’s also a subtle indication that there’s a belief God cannot be trusted for the exact protection you desire.

Nebuchadnezzar displayed this behavior when he hauled Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego before him. He couldn’t admit that he had crossed the line with his mandate and not only affronted the people but the Most High God, and instead blamed the three men.

I will give you one more chance to bow down…But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And then what god will be able to rescue you from my power? (Daniel 3:15 NLT)

Exalting self is not in the character of the Kingdom of God. Anywhere. If this false belief, it’s not me, flashes through your mind, check yourself.

For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Luke 18:14b NLT)

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28 NLT)

The most challenging part to this false belief arises when others are indeed responsible for the pain that brought about the pride in the first place. It’s so critical to separate blame for the pain and blame for the flaw that needs to change. It’s pride that prevents the distinction.

#3 I’ve Gotten Myself This Far…

Is this never so apparent as when Nebuchadnezzar steps up to gaze upon the city of Babylon? “By my own mighty power,” he says, even after he admitted that God was the Lord over kings back in chapter two. The downside to success is the lie that follows, saying you accomplished it by your own strength, and Nebuchadnezzar held firm to this false belief, I’ve gotten myself this far.

The false belief in the power of your own strength will always lead to a distrust in God’s strength. An unwavering trust in self is pride. A rich, young ruler approached Jesus one day, inquiring into eternal life. This man claimed to have obeyed all the commandments, but Jesus knew where his treasure was, in his possessions. So he challenged the man to give up his possessions and follow. The man couldn’t do it. He trusted in his own strength more than God’s.

“Dear children, it is very hard to enter the Kingdom of God. In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked. Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.” (Mark 10:24-27 NLT)

Stop believing the lies. We don’t have to resign ourselves to captivity, God saves. We don’t have to rely on others to make our freedom possible, God saves. We don’t have to white knuckle our way out, God saves.   We just need allow God to save us.

As we reflect on that nagging, destructive behavior that follows us around like a stray puppy, is it possible God has been attempting to reach out? Will we trust God with the process of redemption? Will we allow him to humble us? If the Lord has revealed something, anything, to you right now, I pray that you will earnestly consider what he’s laying before you. Don’t be surprised or frustrated if there’s not a quick fix. Pride is often tangled in layers upon layers of pain and anger and fear, but trust the process, trust God’s strength, trust God.