Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Chapter 10 "Kneeling on God's Promises" - Daniel 9

"I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed: "O Lord, you are a great and awesome God! You always fulfill your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and keep your commands." Daniel 9:4

Welcome back to the study of Daniel!  We are reminded at Easter (this past weekend) that we live in a post resurrection world; a different view than Daniel had.  Yet, Daniel's faithfulness, devotion, and prayer life reflects his acceptance of God's grace and mercy, the very same message Jesus brought to the world.  Studying Daniel (the book) and Daniel (the person & prophet) has added a layer of insight to my faith; I hope you have been enriched as well.

Chapter 9 takes us in a slightly different direction.  We get a glimpse into Daniel's prayer life.  Like chapters 7 & 8, it is a flashback, this time to the first year of Darius the Mede's reign.  Darius was the ruler that conquered Belshazzar on the same night that Daniel interpreted the writing on the wall; the 3rd ruler since Daniel's captivity.

As we read through the first part of chapter 9, pay close attention to what Daniel says and how he says it.  Why does he pray this way?  It reminds me of when I was little and the pastor would say these long-winded, over my head, on-and-on prayers.  I often thought to myself, "just get to the point already".  In my defense, I was little and probably didn't understand most of what the pastor was saying, but generally my prayers still follow the formula of short & to the point.   It is only in recent years that I've modified my prayers to include praise, adoration, confession, along with asking for what is needed or wanted.  And that's not 100% of the time; it's usually for especially difficult circumstances.  Am I alone in this?  How do your prayers usually go?  I'd love to know.

Compare Daniel's prayer to your prayers.  Have you ever prayed like Daniel did?  Why? Do you recall how you felt before, during, and after the prayer?  This isn't part of the study guide, but a little reflection on prayer that might be helpful in connecting Daniel, chapter 9 to our own lives.

The second half of this chapter takes us back to the realm of the supernatural.  As Daniel is praying, Gabriel shows up again.  This time, instead of interpreting a crazy dream, he gives insight and understanding as to what happened as a result of Daniel's prayer and what will happen.  It's like Gabriel is shedding light on God's decision process: 'as soon as I heard you, I put some things in motion. Just wanted to let you know that something is in the works and here's how it's going to work out.'  At least, that's how I read it.  I'm less concerned about the timing; looking more towards the fact that God has it all in hand and it was Daniel's prayer that set the ball rolling.  Wouldn't it be great if we received insight into how our prayers will be answered?

Another thing to note is that Daniel is praying for his nation.  He's not praying for specific people or even for himself, but for his nation.  I will admit, I don't usually think of my prayers as having the ability to have an impact on my nation.  It's so big & complicated and I'm so small, not even a cog in the political wheel.  I have, on occasion, prayed for the nation and the world, but it's not on my regular prayer list.  Daniel has inspired me to pray regularly for our nation, it's people and it's leaders.  The timing of this study & this chapter are like God's timing: perfect.  This chapter offers hope for the future as we pray for God's mercy and grace for our nation.  This is especially important in our current political atmosphere and in every election, as each one has an effect on the next.

At the end of this week's lesson, the Now and Later asks us to write a prayer of "national confession".  If you are willing to share this, I would love to read it.  Perhaps we could write one together as a group.  Even if you don't have a complete prayer, share your thoughts in the comments and/or bring them to our gathering on Friday.  We will compose a prayer together for our nation based on Daniel's prayer.

Your Partner in Ministry,

"Kind words are like honey - sweet to the soul and healthy for the body."  Proverbs 16:24

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Holy Week

"You will always have the poor among you, but I will not be here with you much longer.  She has poured this perfume on me to prepare my body for burial.  I assure you, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman's deed will be talked about in her memory."  Matthew 26:11-13

We are putting aside our reading of Daniel this week, to celebrate Holy Week.  While non-Christians may see Christmas as the most important Christian holiday, the birth of Jesus means little without His death and resurrection at Easter.

I often hear myself say, "what a difference a year makes" usually in reference to my children's growth (physically, mentally, emotionally).  Sometimes the time frame is shorter or the circumstances are more abrupt.  The latest one is, "what a difference a coach can make".  Leadership is so influential in a group and can make a huge difference in both the group and the individuals within that group.
In Jesus' case, I'd say "what a difference a week makes".  He went from being welcomed with a parade of people showering him with adoration to a mob of people screaming for his blood.  Has there ever been a 180 degree political turn around inside of a week in all of history?  While the plot for his destruction had been brewing for some time, it was confined to the leading priests & religious leaders (Matthew 26:14-15; 59-68).  The town who praised him with waving palm branches on Sunday was demanding his death by Friday.  What a difference a week makes.  What a difference leadership can make.

But that's not what I want to focus on in this post.  What I find interesting, in light of being in the midst of reading Daniel, is that Jesus knew all of this was coming.  He knew his future.  I feel like we could do a few weeks on each of the times Jesus tells the disciples of his impending death.  We could talk about how he continued down the road that he knew would end on the cross.  We would definitely talk about his prayer in the garden on the night he was betrayed, "He went on  a little farther and fell face down on the ground, praying, 'My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will, not mine.' " Matthew 26:39

As we have discussed the dreams both Daniel and King Nebuchadnezzar had of the future, there was an overwhelming majority of our group who said they would not want to know the future.  Whether it was their own personal future or the future of our nation and the world.  And when we do want to know the future, it is more that we want to see that everything has a good ending, even if it means traveling through difficult times.  We seem to agree that we can endure suffering if we know there is a positive outcome for us or at least for our children.  

I often wonder what the disciples thought about Jesus' predictions of his death.  He so often spoke in parables and metaphors, did they truly understand what He was saying?  Were they too close to the action to see the bigger picture?  Did they feel secure in His popularity, ignoring the constant threat of the Jewish leaders?  Did they never guess that one of their own would betray Jesus, even after He told them, "The truth is, one of you will betray me.  One of you who is eating with me now will betray me."  Matthew 26: 21 & 23.

There is something I struggle with when it comes to "knowing the future".  If I knew the future, would I try to change it?  Is the future that is predicted set in stone or can it be changed?  We had this discussion in Daniel 4, when King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream about his exile.  Once Daniel explains the dream, he then urges the King the changes his ways, in the hopes that this fate could be avoided.  If I knew there was something unsettling or traumatic in my future, would I try to avoid it?  Could it be avoided?

With Holy Week upon us, we are reminded what our future holds as children of God, followers of Jesus the Messiah: "Yes, it is as you say.  And in the future you will see me, the Son of Man, sitting at God's right hand in the place of power and coming back on the clouds of heaven." Matthew 26:64
"I have been given complete authority in heaven and on earth.  Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.  And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age."  Matthew 28:18

Your Partner in Ministry,

"Kind words are like honey - sweet to the soul and healthy for the body."  Proverbs 16:24

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Chapter 9 "Superpowers in Conflict" based on Daniel 8

"Then I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for several days.  Afterward I got up and performed my duties for the king, but I was greatly troubled by the vision and could not understand it."  Daniel 8:27

Thanks for coming back!  Daniel chapter 8 is another vision that predicts the future and the end times.  If a groan escaped your lips at the thought of reading another disturbing vision, you are in good company.  Daniel himself was so disturbed by it, he was sick in bed for several days!  Who wouldn't be after experiencing that?!

Having trouble understanding the vision and what it means for us?  Well, Daniel is right there with us!  He had the vision, had it explained to him by Gabriel himself and yet, at the end of the chapter Daniel admits the he "could not understand it."

Then what the heck are we suppose to do with it?!

Our study guide attempts to guide us through that very question.  It asks about representations, characteristics and symbolism.  Go with it!  Do your best to not get caught up in details that don't seem to make sense.  This is a vision - it's mostly symbolism with a few concrete details thrown in.  The saying "a picture is worth a thousand words" holds true and symbolism is a perfect example!  If God would have told Daniel this dream in words, I imagine it would have been a very long lecture-type conversation.  And probably wouldn't have had as much of an impact.  Think about the difference between sitting through a lecture or reading a text book on a subject and watching a movie, TV series, or reading a novel based on that same subject.  Which has a more dramatic impact?  Which stays with you longer? Which can convey more meaning in a shorter period of time?

Let this play like a movie as you read it.  Hover above the action, take a walk among the characters. See what you can see, hear what you can hear and then step back and take a look at the big picture.  Make it flat like a large time-line painting across the wall.  In one sense we have it easier than Daniel.  We know that the events & rulers predicted in his vision actually happened.  Scholars have matched the ram & it's horns and the goat & it's horns to empires and rulers of our past.  But for Daniel, this was a look 200 years into the future!  200 years!!!  That would be like someone in 1816 having visions of humans walking on the moon (in their moon suits), people seeming to talk to themselves out in public (but they are really talking on their earpiece), crowds of people gathered together but not talking with each other only looking down at some small device in their hands, horseless vehicles driving at incredible speeds across the land & giant metal birds in the air.  That person in 1816 would do the best they could to describe what they have seen, but it would make very little sense to them.  Some of their vision wouldn't be far down the historical road (cars & planes) but other parts were far into the future.   It is impossible for us to completely comprehend the future - even if we are shown it.

Instead, try to walk in Daniel's shoes with the knowledge that his vision of the future will come to be  our history.  In that sense, we are able to see parts of Daniel's vision from Gabriel's point of view.  Of course, the end times are still to come.  But, knowing what you know about this vision, how does it help you cope with the vision of 'the end'?

Work through the study guide as best as you can.  Many of the questions address the concrete facts and symbolism and may help you process it all.  Personally, I find the most interesting questions are the Group Discussion, the Personal Reflection and the Now or Later.

I look forward to hearing how you worked through this chapter and what your 'take away' is.  Questions 8 & 9 are particularly interesting, if not difficult, but get right to the heart of how this crazy vision impacts our daily lives.

Your Partner in Ministry,

"Kind words are like honey - sweet to the soul and healthy for the body."  Proverbs 16:24

Monday, March 7, 2016

Chapter 8 "A Prophetic Panorama"; Daniel Chapter 7

"In my vision that night, I, Daniel, saw a great storm churning the surface of a great sea, with strong winds blowing from every direction.  The four huge beasts came up out of the water, each different from the others."  Daniel 7:2-3

Wait? What? Go back!  Daniel had visions, too?

Yes, apparently Daniel had several visions during his life and they are contained in chapters 7-12. Many scholars explain the book of Daniel as being in two parts: the first being a chronological order of his life and the second being a collection of his visions over his lifetime.  Chapter 7 is the start of the 'second half of Daniel'.

In chapters 2 & 4 King Nebuchadnezzar had dreams that terrified him.  Daniel conveyed God's message of what these dreams meant, to the King.  But as we'll learn in the next few chapters, Daniel was also having disturbing dreams and visions.  In chapter 7 Daniel was troubled by what he had seen, but was unable to interpret his own vision.  This fact does not come up in our discussion questions, but I do find it interesting and wonder what it means, if anything.

As you read the description of Daniel's dream/vision try to picture it in your mind.  With today's technology, we could certainly recreate these scenes & beasts with movie-magic.  Even when things don't make logical sense, we can picture them in our imaginations.  Keep these images in your mind's eye while you read through the questions in the study guide.  Try not to get bogged down in details or what's not there.  Dreams can be elusive and confusing and explaining them can often seem disjointed or incomplete.  Keep the big picture in mind when answering the questions.  Especially the questions that make the leap from what we're reading to what it means to us personally or socially.

This chapter can be difficult to get through, since it seems so 'other worldly'.  But, hang in there.  It is a part of our faith, that mystical, sometimes scary part that doesn't quite fit into our world.  We don't know how to make sense of it, so we often skip over it.  Instead, let it wash over you. Like sitting in surf at the beach on a hot day.  Let the waves of this strange vision wash over you - you need not understand it all; just take it in and let it refresh & excite you, even though it can be powerful and a little bit frightening.

I can't wait to discuss this chapter with you!  Go to the blog to leave your comment on this strange, yet interesting chapter!

Your Partner in Ministry,

"Kind words are like honey - sweet to the soul and healthy for the body."  Proverbs 16:24