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December 18, 2009

Chapter-a-Day Daniel 5

The handwriting on the wall.  "God sent the hand that wrote on the wall, and this is what is written: mene, teqel, and peres. This is what the words mean:

Mene: God has numbered the days of your rule and they don't add up.
Teqel: You have been weighed on the scales and you don't weigh much.
Peres: Your kingdom has been divided up and handed over to the Medes and Persians." 

Daniel 4:24-26 (MSG)

There once was a man who built a business from ground up. He worked from dawn to dusk and often into the night. Through the blood, sweat, and toil of his efforts the business yielded a tidy fortune. After many years, the man died suddenly and the business was handed over to his children, who had grown up in the ease of their father's fortune. In their privileged upbringing, the children refused to learn or appreciate the principles of hard work, faithful stewardship and shrewd business practices on which their father built his business. Under their leadership the business quickly failed and their fortunes were squandered.

This parable is actually a common tale, and we see it again in today's chapter. Nebuchadnezzar was a great king who learned his lessons the hard way, but did learn his lessons. His son, Belshazzar, was a spoiled brat who did not learn from the lessons of his father. The "handwriting was on the wall," and it cost him the kingdom.

Living wisely and living well requires us to learn, not only from our own mistakes, but also the mistakes and successes of others. Seeing the patterns and principles of success and failure at work all around us, and adopting the lessons learned in our own lives is crucial. By doing so, God provides us with insights and wisdom we might not otherwise learn if we remain singularly focused on ourselves.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and silent e

December 17, 2009

Chapter-a-Day Daniel 4

No accident. All this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. Just twelve months later, he was walking on the balcony of the royal palace in Babylon and boasted, "Look at this, Babylon the great! And I built it all by myself, a royal palace adequate to display my honor and glory!" Daniel 4:28-30 (MSG)

While in college, my sister and I were in a bad car accident. It was a late night on an icy road and our car spun out of control into oncoming traffic. In the panic of the moment as the car spun and I comprehended the headlights of cars coming at us I was stripped of any conscious thought. I reacted in panic. I cried out the name of Jesus in a sudden, guttural one word prayer for help.

Moments later it was eerily still and I remember blood flowing down my face. I was in shock as I reached over to make sure my sister was still alive. Again, the only word I could utter was the name of Jesus.

When we walk through a difficult stretch of life's journey, it's almost natural to cry out to God. We are in need. We are in pain. We are stretched and weary and feel our spiritual reserves on empty. We cry out to God and cling to Him.

However, when things are good we tend to forget. When the road seems easy and all that we do seems to succeed we don't feel the need. Our tank is full and we are blessed. How easily we forget to recognize that the blessing we experience is not of ourselves.

The story of Nebuchadnezzar is a wonderful word picture reminding me that all that I have, all that I enjoy, and every blessing I receive is a gift of God. It is not of myself. Today, I'm reminded to recognize my utter need of God in good times as well as bad. I want my heart to react in a desperate prayer whether I'm spinning out of control or leisurely driving down smooth, straight roads. 

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and samkim

December 16, 2009

Chapter-a-Day Daniel 3

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered King Nebuchadnezzar, "Your threat means nothing to us. If you throw us in the fire, the God we serve can rescue us from your roaring furnace and anything else you might cook up, O king. But even if he doesn't, it wouldn't make a bit of difference, O king. We still wouldn't serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up." Daniel 3:16-18 (MSG)

Faith is acting on the belief that God is God and God is good, whether or not He has done or will do what we ask and desire.

December 15, 2009

Chapter-a-Day Daniel 2

King born in a manger.  "Blessed be the name of God, forever and ever. He knows all, does all: He changes the seasons and guides history, He raises up kings and also brings them down, he provides both intelligence and discernment...." Daniel 2:20-21 (MSG)

This is the time of year when all of the media outlets come up with their "Top 10" lists from the previous year. It's interesting to look back, but it can also get kind of depressing for me. There's so much craziness in the world on so many levels. I don't need a recap of the death, tragedy and scandals - thank you very much.

As I watch the daily news, I have to remind myself that God is guiding history. It sometimes takes conscious effort to recall that God "raises kings and brings them down." It is so easy to get discouraged and fatalistic.

I was reminded again in todays chapter of the season of Advent we are in. David reminds King Nebuchadnezzer that throughout the earthly kingdoms God will be "building a kingdom that will never be destroyed." Advent is the season of expectant anticipation of the coming of the King of Kings. Advent culminates at Christmas, the celebration of the birth of the "Prince of Peace" who came to establish God's Kingdom work on Earth.

Even so, come quickly King Jesus.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and mtsofan

December 14, 2009

Chapter-a-Day Daniel 1

Sign on the dotted line.  But Daniel appealed to a steward who had been assigned by the head of the palace staff to be in charge of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: "Try us out for ten days on a simple diet of vegetables and water. Then compare us with the young men who eat from the royal menu. Make your decision on the basis of what you see." Daniel 1:11-13 (MSG)

The consulting group I work with was founded with a stated mission of applying Biblical principles in our work. We're certainly not perfect, but we do make an honest and sincere effort to apply God's word to what we do. For example, many businesses and firms who operate on a contractual basis will try to sign long-term contracts clients. The idea is that the longer the contract you can convince your client to sign, the greater security you have. However, our group does not believe that our security lies in contracts or clients. So, we have never agreed to a contract longer than twelve months. The underlying idea is that we must be good stewards of the annual contractual opportunities our clients give us and continually prove our worth if we hope to have our contract renewed.

That principle is expanded in the way our group approaches potential new clients. We typically ask a new client only to sign up for a "pilot project" that may last 60-90 days. We ask them to give us an opportunity to show them what we can do. If they find measurable value in that project, we'll ask them to commit to a broader annual offering. It's the same thing that Daniel did when he asked the king's steward to give his diet a chance and make his judgement based on the result. Give it a chance. Put it to the test. Then make the decision.

Many people will only make decisions based on the results they see, not just onthe pitch they hear.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and macroberts

December 11, 2009

Chapter-a-Day Micah 2

The search of the Magi.  If someone showed up with a good smile and glib tongue and told lies from morning to night—
'I'll preach sermons that will tell you how you can get anything you want from God:More money, the best wines...you name it'— you'd hire him on the spot as your preacher!
Micah 2:11 (MSG)

I was on a business trip this week and spent a few late evenings flipping through the television channels. Channel surfing drives my wife crazy, so when I'm on the road I like to overindulge myself in an all out surf fest. I found it interesting the divergent slants the different news channels had on the same events. It didn't shock me. It was just another reminder that we all like to listen to people who agree with our point-of-view.

The more things change the more they stay the same. The prophet Micah was complaining about the same thing about 2700 years ago. We want to be told what we want to hear and will often go out of our way to make sure we hear it.

In this Advent season, I'm thinking about the Magi who sought out the Christ-child. Perhaps what made them "wise men" was not their position but their desire to ask, to seek, to knock. I pray that I may continually search for that which is True rather than that which is merely comfortable.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Sacred Destinations

December 09, 2009

Chapter-a-Day Micah 1

Advent candles are lit.  Look! The LORD is coming from his dwelling place; he comes down and treads the high places of the earth. Micah 1:3 (MSG)

Christmas draws near. You can't escape it. I'm travelling on business this week and across from my hotel is a used car lot roughly the size of the island nation of Grenada. The car lot is blasting Christmas music so that you can hear it in your car from across the street even when you have your radio on. 

Before Christmas was about decorations, reindeer, shopping, and eating it was called the season of Advent (from the Latin word "coming"). It wasn't a day, but a period of time leading to Christmas in which people prepared their hearts for Jesus' coming. It was an annual time of personal reflection that culminated in a celebration of God sending His Son to reconcile a broken people to Himself.

I've been thinking a lot about Advent this year. Perhaps that's why the verse above jumped off the page at me. As time goes on, I find that I'm seeking more than superficial holiday traditions. I'm searching within and looking out for the coming of Christ in my life, my family, and my community in new and powerful ways

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and  Steffe.

December 07, 2009

Life Needs a Slo-Mo Button

I'm living in the midst of a crazy, whirlwind schedule right now. I spent four days on the road last week, then came home barely in time to throw together last minute preparations for our company's annual Christmas party and annual meeting on Saturday, then it was our community theatre's Christmas show on Saturday night. Yesterday was a much needed sabbath as I spent time in worship and then spent time with family and friends. Tomorrow, I jet off to Utah for three days. Looks like it may be the Twin Cities next week. My office is littered with piles that require my attention. My to-do list for today has multiple columns as I find myself behind in several areas.

The message at church yesterday was about pilgrimage and slowing down to prepare ourselves for the advent of Christ. It makes me think about baseball players who talk about seeing the 100 mph pitch in slow motion or the tennis player who feels like everything is slowing down even as it takes place at a break neck pace. How can I experience that same phenomenon of things slowing down even as the pace of my daily life ramps up?

Chapter-a-Day Judges 21

Crazy.  But the People of Israel were feeling sorry for Benjamin, their brothers. Judges 21:6 (MSG)

In her book, The Artist's Way, Julie Cameron talks about people who can be labeled "crazymakers" and their destructive effect on people around them. Crazymakers are individuals who, by their own self-centered actions, wreak havoc on the lives and family system. She describes them:

Crazymakers are those personalities that create storm centers. They are often charismatic, frequently charming, highly inventive, and powerfully persuasive. And, for the creative person in their vicinity, they are enormously destructive. You know the type: charismatic but out of control, long onproblems and short on solutions. Crazymakers are the kind of people who can take over your whole life.
I thought of this description of crazymakers as I read the insanity of the events described in today's chapter. I would suggest that crazymakers can exist on a national level as well as a personal level. The tribes of Israel ostracize the tribe of Benjamin for the shameless act of rape and murder carried out against a woman of Bethlehem a few chapters ago. Then, the whole nation starts feeling sorry for the folks of Benjamin as they turn their scorn on the tribe of Jabesh Gilead for not showing up to the national riots. They turn their anger on that tribe and commit bloody atrocities. By the end of the chapter, they are justifying the kidnapping of foreign women for the men of Benjamin to marry (wait a minute, wasn't this whole calamity started by the men of Benjamin forcibly taking a woman and raping her?!).

As I scratch my head, I'm reminded of how crazy things can get when we walk away from God's path. When, as the end of the chapter describes, people do whatever they feel like doing, then craziness is not far behind.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and cromacom

December 04, 2009

Chapter-a-Day Judges 20

My life had become unmanagable.  But they wouldn't do it. The Benjaminites refused to listen to their brothers, the People of Israel. Instead they raised an army from all their cities and rallied at Gibeah to go to war against the People of Israel. Judges 20:13 (MSG)

In today's chapter, the fledgling nation of Israel sinks to new depths of chaos. Their moral compass left true north as they disobeyed God's number one command and mixed their religion with the idols of Canaan. As morals fell aside, authority fell to the tribes and leaders who wielded the most power. People did as they pleased. Now, the moral failings lead to civil war as the tribe of Benjamin defends the rapists among them and stands against their fellow tribes.

As I read today's chapter, I reminded that we must sometimes hit rock bottom before real change can take place. The downward spiral I'm witnessing in the pages of the book of Judges bring to mind the first of the Twelve Steps. Many who have raised their lives out of the ashes of the downward spiral of addiction began with the words "I admitted I was powerless over my addticion. My life had become unmanageable." God's message to all of us is that forgiveness, hope and redemption are available to each of us no matter how deep we find ourselves in the chaotic consequences of our actions.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and bulletmagnet