Refining and Revelation

At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.
Daniel 10:2-3 (NIV)

This past Sunday I had the privilege of giving the message among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers. One of the things our team of teachers has been grappling with of late is a continued season in which we are experiencing an unusually high number of deaths. From young to old, from expected to unexpected, and from natural to painfully tragic, we have had almost two hundred families touched by death in two years. It has been a long season marked by grief that seems to continue. We are going through the very human experience of trying to process and find understanding within it.

The last half of the book of Daniel is a record of dreams and visions that he had. It’s easy to get caught up in the details of the strange images inside. It all seems as confusing as an acid trip for even learned readers. I find that most people bail on it quickly and move on.

I have learned along the way, however, that some of the great lessons I’ve discovered in my perpetual journey through God’s Message are not in the details but in the macro perspective when I step back and get a handle on what’s happening on the landscape of the chapter. Today is a great example.

Daniel’s strange visions are not unique to him during this period of history. Ezra and Ezekiel were other Hebrews in the same exile experience having eerily similar visions and visitations of a fantastical nature. They were all experiencing a particularly painful time of being captives far from home. They were all in mourning for their people, their home, their culture, and their faith in uncertain times and circumstances. They had spent a lifetime in exile and were eager for a sign or promise that their people would return home from captivity, that their Temple in Jerusalem would be rebuilt, and that restoration God promised through the prophets would actually happen (think 90-year-old Cubs fans prior to 2016). In today’s chapter, Daniel had been fasting, praying, and mourning for three weeks before the vision in today’s chapter was given to him.

My takeaway from this is that these dreams and visions were given to a specific group of mourning Hebrew exiles after a long period of suffering and in the midst of a time of intense personal struggle against doubt, despair, and grief.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking back to particularly stressful and painful stretches of my own journey. It was in these dark valleys of the journey that very specific and important spiritual lessons and personal revelations came to light. Is there a connection? I believe that there is.

In my message on Sunday, I quoted from Peter’s letters to the suffering believers scattered around the known world. He compares the trials they are experiencing to the way fire refines gold (1 Peter 1:6-7). I have come to believe through experience that it is in the midst of suffering and trial that the non-essential trivialities with which we daily concern ourselves are burned away. When our hearts are broken and our spirits laid bare with suffering we are particularly open to what God described to the prophet Jeremiah (33:3) as “great and unsearchable things you do not know.”

[Note: Speaking of messages, I realized in writing the post this morning that it’s been a while since I updated my Messages page, which I subsequently did for anyone interested.]

An Ear and a Prayer

Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy.
Daniel 9:18 (NIV)

Yesterday morning the nurse walked me into the exam room of the dermatological surgeon. As I sat down on the bed she turned, smiled at me, and asked, “Is this your first time with skin cancer?”

I told her that it was.

“Welcome to the club!” she said, cheerfully. With that, she launched into her work.

Thanks. I guess.

I successfully had a small patch of cancer cells removed from the top third of my right ear (Don’t forget to rub sunscreen on your ears, too!). Other than looking like I’m performing the role of Vincent Van Gogh for the next few weeks along with some minor discomfort, I’m doing fine.

I will admit, that the experience has me thinking about my age. I’m not doing to the “pity me, I’m getting old” kind of thing. I’ve simply been meditating on the fact that I’m entering a new season of the journey. Things change. The body starts requiring different kinds of maintenance and attention. It is what it is.

Perhaps that is why I got to thinking about Daniel’s age as I read today’s chapter. In all the times I’ve read through the book of Daniel, I’ve never really thought much about the timeline or Daniel’s age as he wrote about his dreams and visions. Given the reference to Darius the Mede at the top of the chapter, David has been living in exile in Babylon for roughly 70 years (Jeremiah 25:11-12). What prompted his journaled prayer in today’s chapter was the realization that seventy years was how long Jeremiah had prophesied the Babylonian kingdom would last. He was there.

What struck me is that in casual reading I wouldn’t differentiate between the Daniel praying in this chapter with the young man who was praying and keeping the faith back in the first chapter. He has not forgotten who he is, where he came from, or the God whom he has served with fidelity while living an entire lifetime as a captive exile living in the capital city of his enemies. He has been living faith-fully for a lifetime as a stranger in a strange land.

In the quiet this morning I find myself reflecting on my own earthly journey. In about a year and a half, I will mark 40 years since I said a prayer and made my decision to follow Jesus. Despite feeling my age I’m still short of the tenure of Daniel’s sojourn by quite a ways, to be sure. And, my journey has been much easier than his.

A good reality check and an inspiring reminder to start my day…with a sore ear.

Press on, my friend. Have a great day.

 

Thoughts on Dreams

I, Daniel, was worn out. I lay exhausted for several days. Then I got up and went about the king’s business. I was appalled by the vision; it was beyond understanding.
Daniel 8:2 (NIV)

Dreams are an interesting thing. I’ve always been a pretty active dreamer and I can typically remember bits and pieces of my dreams. I also have had recurrent dreams in which I’ve dreamt the same thing before, and I’ have had episodic dreams in which a dream picks up and continues a previous dream. Of course, dreams are weird and most often I recognize that my dreams have connections to things I’ve heard, read, seen or talked about.

On three occasions, I have had a dream that was different than normal. It was spiritual. What I mean by that is I woke up remembering the dream vividly and I was compelled to write it down and/or describe it in detail. The dreams were different, and I knew it in my spirit.

I find it fascinating that in today’s chapter, as well as yesterday’s, Daniel has a strong physical and emotional reaction to the dreams he was given. He knew the dream was meaningful and he was compelled to write it down.

I also find it fascinating that Daniel, after writing down his dream and pulling himself together, “got up and went about the king’s business.”

Once again this morning I’m reminded that it can be tempting to throw oneself down the rabbit-hole of the mystical and supernatural. Yet, Daniel wasn’t trying to have these dreams, and he was fully aware that he had the everyday business of life to attend to. In fact, there’s a sense of him simply letting the dream go and walking away from it once it was recorded.

I find Daniel providing a really good example to follow. He doesn’t ignore the dream, but he also doesn’t obsess about it. He records it and walks away. If it’s something he’s supposed to understand then that will naturally become evident in time. If not, then let it go and leave it to whatever purpose it may serve.

By the way, the vision Daniel had in today’s chapter is an accurate foretelling of the eventual rise of Alexander the Great, the subsequent division of his kingdom among his generals, and the rise of Antiochus Epiphanes who desecrated the Hebrew Temple in Jerusalem and stopped the sacrificial system. The Temple was later reconsecrated and sacrificed resumed as Daniel’s vision predicted.

In the quiet this morning I’m thankful for the mystical and spiritual experiences I’ve occasionally had. At the same time, I’m mindful that I’ve got the King’s business to attend to which is not in the least bit dramatic or supernatural, but just as important in the grand scheme of things. I head out into my week reminded of one of my life verses:

…make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
1 Thessalonians 4:11-12

Have a great day, my friend.

Lessons on the Prophetic

“This is the end of the matter. I, Daniel, was deeply troubled by my thoughts, and my face turned pale, but I kept the matter to myself.”
Daniel 7:28 (NIV)

As I’ve gotten older I’ve found it fascinating to realize how prophecy in its various forms plays a big part in so many of our epics and stories. It is most often found in our fantasy epics and mythological tales. Nevertheless, I find it also popping up in the most unusual places. Wendy and I have a favorite series of contemporary spy novels. In the series, the protagonist has a small handful of episodes with a mysterious old woman who knows things about him she couldn’t possibly know and sees what is going to happen to him. The mysterious world of the prophetic is part of our human experience.

Of course, if one journey’s through God’s Message at all you’re going to run into prophetic passages. In today’s chapter, the book of Daniel switches from stories of Daniel’s life to a series of journal entries recording dreams and visions that he had.

There are a few lessons that I’ve learned about prophecy as I’ve read and studied it over the years. This morning I am reminded of three – make that four – lessons I’ve learned that I try to always remember when I’m reading prophetic passages.

First, there is a mystery to the prophetic. Here I’m reminded of a line from one of my favorite mystics, Richard Rohr. He states that mystery isn’t something you can’t understand but something you can endlessly understand. It’s not easy to pin down, and just when you think you’ve got a hold on it, it slips away from you. If you’re left-brained and want a simple, black-and-white answer then prophecy will drive you crazy. Which leads to a second discovery.

The prophetic can be layered with meaning. In today’s chapter, the beasts of Daniel’s vision have all sorts of connections to the Babylonian myths and literature that he was forced to study when he was taken into captivity. These connections are largely lost on us today. Yet, it can also connect to other prophecies written by other prophets in scripture. Its imagery can connect to contemporary symbols of which Daniel had no knowledge. Unlike parables that typically have one main lesson to teach, the prophetic can be layered with meaning for both the times it was written, times that came later, and times yet to come. Which leads to my third observation.

Prophetic literature is the source of endless debate. You can see pieces of it that have a very clear meaning. Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 are good examples. Written hundreds of years before Jesus, they both eerily and accurately describe the events surrounding Jesus’ death. Yet most of it, like the beasts Daniel sees in today’s chapter, sounds like the writers were tripping on LSD.  There are many theories as to their meaning, and because prophecy can be layered with meaning whose to say that more than one theory is correct? Which leads to my final observation.

The prophetic is a tempting rabbit-hole to fall into. I have known some individuals along my life journey who delve so deeply into the prophetic that it consumes them. Trying to nail down the exact meaning of a prophetic passage with absolute certainty can be like trying to solve a complex puzzle. Prophecy is a cool subject to study, but if it becomes consuming to the point of ignoring everything else and becoming spiritually out of balance, then it’s time to give it a break.

At the end of today’s chapter, we read that Daniel, troubled by his dream, recorded it in his journal and then moved on. I find that a good example to follow when it comes to the prophetic. Don’t ignore it, but don’t obsess about it either. Focus on what I’m supposed to be doing. Loving God, loving people, and continually trying to do the right thing as I walk the journey each day.

Doing the Right Thing

…the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.
Daniel 6:4 (NIV)

Political maneuvering is as old as humanity itself. Every couple of years it comes around like clockwork. In the midst of an election cycle, we hear the moans and groans about how bad and negative politics have become. While I agree that corruption and character assassination are still too prevalent on every side, the truth is that episodes like the Steele dossier and Watergate have been happening for as long as human beings have attempted to gain personal power and take down their political rivals.

Today’s chapter of Daniel is all about political maneuvering. Daniel is an old man at this point and has successfully served in successive administrations starting with King Nebuchadnezzar of the Babylonian empire and now Darius, a Mede, who was governor of Babylon under Cyrus and the Persian empire. Daniel has continued to keep his head down, work hard, and do a successful job with honesty and integrity. The Persian Governor loves Daniel. Transitions of power are fraught with uncertainty and risk. Daniel may have been one of the only people this foreign Governor could trust, as Daniel was both competent and trustworthy.

Daniel, on the other hand, has been a fixture on the political landscape of Babylon for decades. He was an old man and there were plenty of powerful young men who wanted his position and power. So his enemies hatch a plan to get rid of him. Knowing that Daniel faithfully prays to his God three times a day, they get the governor to sign a decree stating that for one week no one can pray to or worship any person or any god but Darius himself under the penalty of death. When the decree was signed by Darius and could not be revoked under the laws of that day, Daniel’s enemies watched him go to prayer as he did three times every day, and they brought him up on charges.

What’s fascinating to me is how reminiscent this is of what happened with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego decades earlier. Daniel’s rivals may have had no knowledge of that particular episode and how it turned out.

In one of the more famous of Biblical stories, Daniel is thrown into the lion’s den overnight and is still alive the following morning. His enemies are thwarted and, in an ironic twist of fate, end up becoming the lions’ dinner themselves.

What’s often known or remembered about this story is Daniel’s miraculous survival in the lions’ den. What is often forgotten is the fact that it was Daniel’s honesty, integrity, and faithfulness that had successfully made him an asset to multiple rulers across two political empires for upwards of 60-70 years.

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded of a handful of episodes in my career in which doing the right thing happened to be the costly thing to do. More than once our company has lost client relationships because we were honest and shared the truth about what data revealed when it was politically unpopular to do so.

But this is what I’ve learned having been at this for a quarter of a century. The handful of lost client relationships certainly stung for a short period of time, but I can also point to far more clients with whom we’ve enjoyed on-going relationships for decades because they know that we will always serve with honesty and integrity, and we will always tell them the truth. The profitable results from those long-term client relationships exceed those we may have lost along the way.

I certainly have made a host of mistakes along the way. In fact, as I’m writing this my conscience is stabbing me with examples of so many ways I’ve screwed up both in the past and in recent weeks. Still, Daniel reminds me of the lessons I’ve learned. The further I get in this journey the better I understand the long-term value of doing the right thing.

The Miraculous and the Mundane

“There is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the time of your father he was found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods. Your father, King Nebuchadnezzar, appointed him chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners.”
Daniel 5:11 (NIV)

The book of Daniel is actually a literary compilation with two distinct sections. The first six chapters are selected stories from Daniel’s life in exile. The rest of the chapters are a journal of Daniel’s prophetic dreams, visions, and prayer.

In order to understand the context of the first section of the book and today’s chapter, I have to dig a little into the dates. Daniel, along with a host of other Hebrews, was taken into exile and captivity in 597 B.C. He was a young man. Today’s story takes place when Belshazzar lost the Babylonian throne to the Medes in 539 B.C. It’s now 58 years that Daniel has lived in captivity. Even if he was only 12 when taken captive, he’d be 70 years old in this story.

The six stories told in the first six chapters of Daniel are great stories. They are incredible, miraculous events both instructive and inspiring. But there are six of them in roughly 60 years. Across a lifetime of living captive in exile trying to be faithful to God in a foreign nation often hostile to foreigners, Daniel experienced six miraculous events. There are almost 22,000 days in a 60 year period. Daniel had six incredible days. So, what about the other 21,994?

Daniel served as an administrator for a foreign king. He went to work. He spent time in prayer. He sought God and did his best to be faithful to God’s commands. He did what all of us do as we walk this earthly journey. The mundane, everyday stuff of walking the journey for 21,994 days. And, he had six amazing experiences that were instructive and inspiring.

Along my own life journey, I’ve noticed that it’s easy for those of us fortunate enough to live in the luxury of the West to get addicted to experiences. We go to great lengths to have amazing experiences. For those of us who follow Jesus and regularly gather to worship, we desire to have amazing, miraculous experiences and events, even to the point of trying to conjure them and make them happen.

I’ve had a small handful of amazing spiritual experiences myself. I’m happy to say there were no fiery furnaces involved, and I am by no means saying they were on par with what I’ve read the past few days in Daniel. They were, however, pretty cool spiritual experiences that were unexpected. They were unlooked for. They came out of nowhere. I did nothing to conjure them. I was simply physically present, and spiritually open. Without wasting a lot of time recounting how many I’m talking about, let’s say there are five of them.

The rest of my 19,424 days on this Earthly journey have been spent doing what is the often mundane monotony of walking this life journey. I spend quiet time with God most mornings. I gather with other followers to worship once a week which is often spiritually filling and sometimes just feels routine. I work. I pay bills. I maintain stuff. I cultivate friendships. Wendy and I enjoy time together doing things we do.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about the focus of my life. It’s so easy to slip into a mode where I’m chasing after experiences of all kinds. I’ve observed that social media isn’t helpful with this. I see everyone’s amazing experiences that make my mundane, routine existence today feel like I’m doing something wrong or that my life sucks compared to others.

I’ve come to the conclusion of late that if I seek after and find God in the everyday, mundane liturgies of my life then I find myself both more content and open to God doing the amazing and miraculous in His time, for His purpose, if and when He chooses.

And so, I enter day 19, 429.

Moments of Truth

Then Daniel (also called Belteshazzar) was greatly perplexed for a time, and his thoughts terrified him. So the king said, “Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its meaning alarm you.”

Belteshazzar answered, “My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries!
Daniel 4:19 (NIV)

The company I have served for 25 years works with all kinds of businesses from all over. We survey our client’s customers in order to determine what drives the customer’s satisfaction. We assess phone calls and emails between the company and their customers to determine where they have opportunities to improve the customer experience. Sometimes the data our research and assessments reveal tell a story that a client doesn’t want to hear. It’s our responsibility to communicate the uncomfortable truth. Let’s just say, I have stories of clients who listened, and stories of clients who didn’t.

In today’s chapter, Daniel finds himself in an uncomfortable position. Having gained a reputation for upright honesty and the ability to interpret dreams, he and his friends have attained positions of power and prominence in King Nebuchadnezzar’s administration. When Nebuchadnezzar has another perplexing dream, he calls on Daniel for its interpretation. This time, however, Daniel realizes the dream is not something that his proud, temperamental, foreign master is going to want to hear. The text hints at Daniel’s hesitation and the internal struggle that the King, himself, notices.

The higher the position, the greater the stakes. That’s what I’ve experienced in my own career. When I was a young man working on front-line projects there was very little risk involved. My employer and my seniors had to worry about our clients in closed-door meetings. I just kept my head down and did my job. Now, I find myself at the top of the org chart. I am responsible for others.  My words and actions impact everyone in our company. Now I’m the one facing clients in closed-door meetings. The stakes are very different.

I have to believe Daniel was feeling something similar. Before, he was just an unknown minion in the King’s vast stable of advisors. Now, Daniel and his companions are in a position of prominence and authority. They have political clout. They have enemies. Daniel now knows, first-hand, King Neb’s ego, temper, and fatal flaws. The stakes are higher. It feels like there is more to lose.

Daniel hesitates. The King notices. The King wants an answer.

Is Daniel going to tell the truth? This is a moment of decision.

Daniel does tell the truth. He sticks to his faith and his principles. He once again puts everything on the line and risks losing it all.

It’s Monday morning as I write this and I’ve enjoyed being unplugged for a long holiday weekend with friends. I’m heading back into the work week this morning leading a company that was founded on the principles of God’s Message. That means treating clients the way I’d want to be treated. It means serving well and going the extra mile. It means speaking the truth in love, even when it may not be what our clients want to hear. Daniel provides me an example to follow.

Even when the stakes are higher and it appears there is far more to lose, am I still willing to say what is true?