Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Friend's Reflection on His Pastor

This morning, I read the tribute of a dear friend to the pastor of his home church upon his retirement. I commend it to myself and to you for reflection. Today, there are many personal opinions about what a pastor should do and be, and unfortunately, there aren't enough godly examples. I would say that this reflection will remind us all, whether in the pulpit or the pew, of the value of pastoral ministry. I pray God will refresh your vision of pastoral ministry through these words.

Just click on this link, enjoy, and have a great day!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Missing the Point for the Interesting Points

Thoughts on Daniel 2.

Before we get to the text, let me say hello again. I have a stat counter that tracks this blog, and I can see that over the last 2 1/2 months, several have been coming back to see if there was anything new. The answer has unfortunately been no. Blogging has recently felt a bit like dieting does to most people. You know the thought, "I'll get to that tomorrow." Today is tomorrow...and hopefully the blogging will stick.

Now to Daniel 2...I'll summarize some of this chapter and then quote a significant portion. The opening scene of the chapter is of a disturbed king. Nebuchadnezzar has been having awful dreams; his mind was consumed with them, and he was losing sleep. So, he turns to all the men he normally turns to in these situations...the magicians, the astrologers, the enchanters, the sorcerers. However, when they come before him, there's a twist. He doesn't just want them to interpret the dream. He wants them to tell him the substance of his dream and then the interpretation of it. Now that's a different ballgame altogether, isn't it?

After Nebuchadnezzar's counselors try to buy some time, it becomes obvious that they don't know anything. So, the king decrees that these men are to die. Daniel is recruited to be a hit man, and after finding out why the men were going to die, he asks if he might be able to help the king. During the night God reveals the dream and its interpretation to Daniel, and Daniel praises God for this.

Once Daniel appears before the king, Nebuchadnezzar asks if he can tell the king his dream and its interpretation. Daniel says, "No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries." Now, here's Daniel telling the king his's the big quote...verses 31-35.

"You looked, O king, and there before you stood a large statue - an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance. The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay. While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were broken to pieces at the same time and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth."

A pretty amazing dream...and understandable why the king might be disturbed, if we use our imaginations and play that movie in our mind's eye. Daniel follows immediately with the interpretation. The head of gold is Nebuchadnezzar and his kingdom. After him, there would be a progression of lesser kingdoms that would have great power. However, this rock that smashes the image and becomes an earth-covering mountain is God establishing His kingdom. Listen to Daniel's description: "In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever" (v. 44).

Now, why did I title this entry "missing the point for the interesting points"? Here it is in a nutshell. People are fascinated with this vision, as they should be. Some believers are so fascinated with prophecy that they dive deep into the study of this dream, which is a good thing. There are many interesting discussions about who these kingdoms are. Most commentators tend to agree that the first three are Babylon (since that's what Daniel says), Persia, and Greece. From there, various opinions are held.

It is fascinating to look at empires in world history and talk about who these kingdoms in Daniel 2 may be. In fact, this kind of study and discussion can lead to a couple of different positions with regard to the end times. First, if all of these kingdoms lead us to the time of Christ's first coming, then the kingdom that is established forever is the kingdom Jesus came preaching. Remember his message? "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." Also, Jesus speaks to Pharisees about the kingdom of God being in their midst (Luke 17:21). In this view, the stone becoming the mountain is the spread of God's kingdom until it covers every nation, tribe, tongue, and people. This interpretation is part of amillennialism, which is the belief that the 1000-year reign of Christ in Revelation 20 is symbolic and not literal.

Another view is called premillennialism, which is the belief that Christ will reign for a literal 1000 years on earth. Those coming from this viewpoint see Nebuchadnezzar's vision as the prophecy about this time. It is Christ's second coming that will initiate the destruction of the others. Then, all the other kingdoms are done away with and the stone, God's kingdom, suddenly expands and covers the whole earth as He reigns.

Those who hold these views often sit and talk about such things. They discuss the progression of kingdoms in the dream...who are they? They discuss the nature of the coming of God's kingdom in power...when will it be? How will it happen? There can be great debate over such issues. As I'm sure you are aware, believers can be quite passionate about these areas of end times study. You may be feeling some kind of disturbance rising up within you because I am not denouncing one view or another in this regard.

Now, before I ask a serious question, let me say three things very briefly: (1) serious Bible study is good and right for the believer, (2) seeking to understand the Bible fully is a necessary pursuit for Christians, and (3) though there may be disagreement among honest, thoughtful Christians, there is a right answer in these types of dilemmas of interpretation. Having said these things, I must ask the question that may help us in these matters: What is the purpose of Daniel 2?

I am not certain that the point of Nebuchadnezzar's dream was so that we could debate "pre" vs. "a" millennialism. In fact, I feel certain that this was not God's purpose in giving it. Paul writes to Timothy that the Scripture is "able to make us wise unto salvation" (2 Tim. 3:15). How does this portion of Scripture help get us to that end? Well, take off the "end times" lens and look at it for what it is. This dream is the communication of the Lord God to a pagan king...a king who was an instrument of God's judgment against God's people but who rejects God's kingship over His creation. Did you notice that the only kingdom identified was Babylon? That is significant; God is primarily addressing Nebuchadnezzar in this dream.

God is not wanting any to perish, not even a pagan king. In His grace, He is trying to show something significant to Nebuchadnezzar. He wants to humble him. Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who are humbled will be exalted. The only way that God can work in Nebuchadnezzar's life is to first humble him.

In essence, this dream is God's way of saying, "Yes, Nebuchadnezzar, you have a great kingdom. It is a powerful kingdom, and it may be the most powerful kingdom in all of human history. But do not forget that I AM KING. I will share My glory with no other. There is no king besides Me. You have a measure of splendor and majesty, but it pales in comparison with Mine. Your kingdom is here today and gone tomorrow, but My kingdom is forever. If your hope is placed in the future glory of your kingdom, then it will be destroyed like the statue in this dream I have given you. But if you trust in the one true God, then you will be part of a kingdom that endures forever."

Do you see how little the identity of the kingdoms really matters? We could waste our lives trying to identify the kingdoms...finding all the interesting points about the kingdoms...and we would miss THE POINT. There is a day coming when only God's kingdom will stand. The terrorist's reign of fear will not stand, the United Kingdom will not stand, the European Union will not stand, the United States of America will not stand. There will only be one kingdom in that will be God's kingdom. This the truth that gives us wisdom unto salvation. Are you part of God's great overcoming kingdom? It is the only one that will stand. Every other kingdom, whether philosophical, political, religious, etc., will be destroyed by the power of God as he ushers in His kingdom.

Though the king's tune would later change, Nebuchadnezzar's initial reaction is the one that must remain in our hearts: "Surely [Daniel's] God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings..." (v. 47). That was the point of giving him the dream. It was the great grace of God revealing how temporary Nebuchadnezzar is and how eternal God small Nebuchadnezzar is and how big God relatively weak Nebuchadnezzar is and how supremely powerful God is.

Being in God's kingdom is an issue of faith. Are you trusting in Christ alone as your Lord, your Savior, your King? If so, you are in God's kingdom, and you should take comfort in the words Paul writes: "What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?...For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:31, 38-39).

If you are not in God's kingdom by faith in Christ alone, then turn from your sin and trust in Christ. Forsake all other kingdoms, all other philosophies, all other ideologies, and even the idea of being self-sufficient...and bow the knee of your life to the King of kings...Christ Jesus.