Archive for October, 2008

Absence of frustration

The few times I looked up during praise today I saw the kids on the left side fooling around and not singing. But for some reason, it didn’t bother me like it did in the past. I went to Justin and Austin’s house to pick them up and they didn’t come out for 30 minutes because they were still getting ready. For some reason, I didn’t get mad or frustrated, even though it was already 5 minutes past our starting time by the time we got to church. My prayers today were much more free-flowing, natural, and unforced.

I think it’s because I spent more time on the message today than I did before. This time, I wrote out exactly what I was going to say. I used to write out 80% of what I would say and then diverge as needed, but I felt clumsy those times because it would be hard for me to get back into the manuscript if I diverged too far. So it took longer, but I decided to stick exactly to the manuscript. It worked out well today. I told them that I would be reading from the manuscript, but I did my best while writing it and delivering it to make the language sound natural. I read out loud through it once while waiting for Justin, Austin, and their two friends Rachel and Yuto. It turned out only being 16 minutes long, which was great because I said everything I needed to say and didn’t drag on and on. Even at 16 minutes, some of the insomniacs in the group were nodding off.

A lot of people were missing again today. Brian K. didn’t pick up his phone and hasn’t for the past two weeks. Brian C.’s mom is forcing him to stay at home until he finishes his college apps. Paul was sick. William was MIA. Tiffany was MIA, too, probably from school-related stuff. But I wasn’t frustrated. I wish they could have been there to hear God’s Word from Daniel 4 today. Here’s what I shared today. I don’t feel comfortable with saying that I preached. I didn’t put much thought into the title. None of them would know it anyway, since we don’t have a jubo (program).

I know only a few souls read this regularly, so this won’t be a direct thanks…but thank you to those who have been praying for LEM.

Daniel 4 – “Pride”
October 25, 2008

Do you know any people who are full of pride, always bragging and boasting about themselves and what they have or what they can do? Those kinds of people irritate everyone, even non-Christians. Christians, though, know that pride is more than just an annoying character flaw in people. Christians know that pride is a sin, something that is detested by God because it puts that person at the center of everything rather than God. Christians know that the redeemed sinner will try to find cause for boasting in the smallest things, even humility itself. Pride is more than an external issue. It is a sin deeply rooted in the heart.

I’ve heard Christians tell stories of how they came to Christ after being humbled, whether through a car accident, a bad experience with drugs or alcohol, or a death of a loved one. Going through these tough experiences softens their hearts and shows them how much they need God. Many of them don’t know how weak they really are until God takes what they really love away from them. This is exactly what happens to Nebuchadnezzar in today’s passage.

What’s crazy about Nebuchadnezzar is that he already saw the supernatural working of God in the fiery furnace. He saw with his own eyes the fourth man walking in the flames alongside Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He saw that the Lord was with Daniel and his three friends as they grew in wisdom and knowledge and became the smartest people in all of Babylon. But like we learned last week, did he believe in the God of Daniel and the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as his own? No. He says in Ch. 3 “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.” He praises the god of someone else for what that god did for them. Like the apostle Paul, who saw the courage and love that Stephen had while being killed for his faith, Nebuchadnezzar’s hard heart will not put his faith in God just because of the actions of some of His followers. For Nebuchadnezzar, God has to break into his life and shake him out of his complacency. This time, Nebuchadnezzar himself will be the one to experience the signs and wonders of God. He’s not just going to see them with his eyes; they’re going to be done to him.

Up to this point, the story is told in third-person. But Ch. 4 starts with Nebuchadnezzar narrating. He’s going to tell his personal testimony about how God worked in his life. He starts by praising and exalting God for the work He did in his life. (Read v. 1-3) Nebuchadnezzar wants all people to hear his story and wants everyone to know about the signs and wonders that God did in his life. He has finally made the God of Daniel his God.

So how does his testimony start? “I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at ease in my house and prospering in my palace.” Picture the most powerful man in the world lying down on his bed in his huge house. In the NIV he says he was contented. What do you think he was contented in? Maybe his kingdom or his house, maybe his nice clothes, his servants or his wives and concubines. He was so contented that he was daydreaming: “As I lay in bed the fancies and the visions of my head alarmed me.” Now usually when you daydream you don’t think about scary things. You usually think about things that make you happy. But God broke into his comfortable life to show him that everything was not okay.

So the dream. In the dream is a big, tall, strong tree, its top reaching to the heavens and visible to the ends of the earth. Its leaves are beautiful, its fruit is abundant, the beasts find shade under it, the birds live in its branches, and it provides food for all life. The tree is very similar to the tower of Babel in Genesis, where people tried to build a tower that reached the heavens. I heard in a sermon on the tower of Babel that the point of the tower wasn’t to try to reach the heavens but something else. It would most likely have been in a pyramid shape like the ziggurats of Babylon. It would have been in the shape of a mountain, and in those ancient Near East cultures, mountains were believed to be the home of the gods, and so in building this tower, they were trying to force God into a man-made building and confine Him in their man-made space. Gen. 11:4 says that the people made the tower to make a name for themselves. The tree that Nebuchadnezzar dreams about is just like the tower of Babel. Nebuchadnezzar is the tree, and it provides for all the beasts and birds and all flesh, as if he were a god. But Nebuchadnezzar is only a man, and just like the tower of Babel was destroyed by God, the tree is chopped down with only the stump remaining. Basically, God can humble whoever thinks he is so great and powerful and mighty. Those whose confidence is in their own strength will be humbled. The proud will be cut down.

Can you imagine being in Daniel’s spot hearing the king tell you his dream while knowing that ultimately the dream is about his own downfall? No doubt Daniel was scared to tell the king the true meaning of his dream. Daniel was just as alarmed as the king was, as it says in v. 19. But he doesn’t hide the truth from him. Do we refuse to tell people the truth of their sinfulness and where their sin will lead them to? People may ridicule us or even hurt us physically, as the king could have done to Daniel, but we should not hide what they need to hear.

I’m not sure why the king needed an interpretation, because the “watcher” in the dream says in v. 16-17, “Let him be wet with the dew of heaven. Let his portion be. Let his mind be changed from a man’s, and let a beast’s mind be given to him.” And if that isn’t clear enough, the watcher says that all this will take place so that “the living may know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men” (v. 17). But if he really honestly didn’t understand it, then Daniel made it clear to him in v. 22 and 25. “It is you,” he says. You are the tree, and you will become like the beasts of the field, until­—and this is the most important part—until “you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” Daniel ends his interpretation by advising him to repent and practice righteousness.

But it ends there and the story shifts to 12 months later. Nebuchadnezzar has forgotten all about the dream. Has he changed at all since then? Look at v. 30: “And the king answered and said, ‘Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?”  He forgot the warning God gave him one year earlier. After a few days, after a week, after a month of nothing happening to him, he probably thought it was all a joke. But God always follows through with His Word. If He says something, He will do it. So what happens? Nebuchadnezzar gets owned before he even finishes talking. God cuts him down, showing him that he has become mighty and powerful only because God had allowed him to.

Some scholars believe that Nebuchadnezzar lived and looked like a beast for 7 years. One commentary says that there is a notable absence of the recording of acts or decrees by the king during 582 to 575 BC. At the end of that time, he finally comes to his senses and acknowledges God’s power. Even after receiving back his kingdom and all his glory, he declares in the last verse of Ch. 4: “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”

Prov. 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” 1 Pet. 5:5 says, “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” These verses are all clear: Don’t be proud, but be humble. There’s a longer passage from Deuteronomy that has really spoken this lesson to me. Turn to Deuteronomy 8:11-20. These word still apply to us today: when you eat and are full, when you live in good houses, when your herds and flocks (possessions) multiply, when you earn a lot of money, then be careful that your heart is not lifted up and you become content like King Nebuchadnezzar. Don’t ever think that your power and might have gotten you your wealth but remember God, for He is the one who allows you to become prosperous. What does God promise if the Israelites forget Him? He promises that they will surely perish.

What happens between Deuteronomy and Daniel? Israel forgets all about God…and God sends them into exile into the hands of Babylon. But God preserves Israel for the entire 70 years of exile. Just like he preserves Nebuchadnezzar, the tree stump. How merciful it was of God to allow the stump to remain with its roots in the ground. He could have uprooted the entire tree and burned it. If God restores us and blesses us more after humbling us, it is not because of our humility or repentance. It is only by His grace.

We serve a God that has the power to humble the most powerful people on earth, especially those who do not believe in Him. Like Nebuchadnezzar, unbelievers can so easily become proud of their accomplishments. Sometimes, even we Christians act no differently from people like Nebuchadnezzar. But we serve a God that sent His only Son to humble himself in the form of a servant. Read Phil. 2:5-11 if you want to know what the Christian faith is all about. Jesus was lowered and humiliated so that we could be lifted up and exalted. God can remind us of this truth in so many ways throughout our lives as Christians. Until we die and are freed from our earthly bodies, we will continue to struggle with pride in our hearts, but we know that Jesus has set us free from the power of pride over us. So let us humble ourselves before God, remembering how God worked in the life of King Nebuchadnezzar, how He humbled him to teach him who the King of glory really was.

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Daniel

I haven’t felt like updating recently. I’m not sure why. But here’s a short update before I go to sleep.

We started the book of Daniel. I spoke on Chapter 1 three weeks ago. It wasn’t that good, but I did enjoy gaining insights. For Chapters 2 and 3, we listened to Tim Keller. I didn’t realize how quickly he spoke until we listened to his sermons. I hoped the kids would understand it okay because there were some very, very good points he made that I just wanted them to hear articulated by him and not me.

It was kind of crazy to go to KCM last Thursday and hear Pastor Mike speak on Daniel 1. It’s funny because he cited Iain Duguid in his sermon. I had listened to his sermon on Daniel 1 and much of what Pastor Mike preached I already knew. But it was good to hear it again. His main idea was living for the glory of God as students, and approaching the chapter around that theme was different from what we did at church.

A few weeks ago, we had the most people we’ve ever had in a while: 19. This past Sunday, the group was considerably smaller. We press on.

I’m going on a mission trip to Mexico with USC KCM during winter break. It’s been a long time since I last went on a mission trip. 5, 6, 7 years? We’re going to be building a home through Amor Ministries and hopefully doing some VBS there too for the local community. I’m pretty excited but there’s still a lot more work and preparation to be done. Pray for me.