I’m very excited to be in Revelation finally for a number of reasons.  First, it’s one of my favorite books of the bible.  Second, there is A LOT to write about so the rest of this year should be pretty easy to comment on.  But third, it means we’re almost done!  A year and we’ve read the whole bible yet haven’t missed a day!

Today, however, I’d like to take a look at Hosea.  This is one of the hardest books for me to stomach.  My whole life, family has held a respected position.  We’ve not only had a great family but have valued each other and the relationships we’ve enjoyed.  So to hear God using family to make a metaphorical point to His people is hard to bear.  It is good to see Hosea and Gomer love one another despite Gomer’s promiscuity, but I still have this basic urge to tell God, “Hand’s off the family!” no matter how sacrilegious that is.

Another piece of this book is the naming of their children.  Names in the Old Testament were very important.  People were named to describe them, to set their destiny, and to tell their story.  They are not named until they have a very good reason to, and names are often changed to fit a new destiny, whether Abram, Jacob, or Simon.  Here, God sets the names of the children, but not as descriptions of the children.  These children are named quite horrible names to describe Israel itself.

I’ve often said that God can ask most anything of me as long as it doesn’t affect my children.  I guess that’s not my call.

I’m very excited to be in Revelation finally for a number of reasons.  First, it’s one of my favorite books of the bible.  Second, there is A LOT to write about so the rest of this year should be pretty easy to comment on.  But third, it means we’re almost done!  A year and we’ve read the whole bible yet haven’t missed a day!

Today, however, I’d like to take a look at Hosea.  This is one of the hardest books for me to stomach.  My whole life, family has held a respected position.  We’ve not only had a great family but have valued each other and the relationships we’ve enjoyed.  So to hear God using family to make a metaphorical point to His people is hard to bear.  It is good to see Hosea and Gomer love one another despite Gomer’s promiscuity, but I still have this basic urge to tell God, “Hand’s off the family!” no matter how sacrilegious that is.

Another piece of this book is the naming of their children.  Names in the Old Testament were very important.  People were named to describe them, to set their destiny, and to tell their story.  They are not named until they have a very good reason to, and names are often changed to fit a new destiny, whether Abram, Jacob, or Simon.  Here, God sets the names of the children, but not as descriptions of the children.  These children are named quite horrible names to describe Israel itself.

I’ve often said that God can ask most anything of me as long as it doesn’t affect my children.  I guess that’s not my call.

Any time someone complains about a public official, from president to governor to mayor, I try not to join in.  I left Facebook for that very reason – I was finding it too depressing to look at the posts of some of my closest friends.  Their hatred toward others in the political world was just too hard to stomach.  I tried first hiding certain posts, then certain kinds of posts, then certain people who posted all the time.  But no matter how wide I cast that net, I was still getting post after post of vitriol and slant.  So, I finally had to drop out of Facebook altogether.  Recently I started a whole new account that is only connected to certain groups who decided to communicate solely through Facebook.

Having cut that cord, I then found that attending family gatherings was just as bad.  And quick conversations at church, and with friends, and… the belief that we were in “the very worst time ever politically” was everywhere.

It only takes one quick read through the prophets to see that we are NOT in the worst time ever politically.  In fact, we are in pretty good company when it comes to our political leaders.  Today’s reading alone has titles like, “The King who Exalts Himself,” and I think I’ve seen almost that exact headline in the last few months.  Our political leadership has always been like this, with varying degrees of self-exaltation, misuse of amassed wealth and power, unethical alliances, and self-promotion.  And today is no different.

As Christians, our answer to this needs to be, “It doesn’t matter.”  Our salvation, peace, joy, and hope will NEVER come from our political leaders.  Whatever they do, God is in control and He’s got this.  As it has been, so it is and so it will ever be.  Amen.

Any time someone complains about a public official, from president to governor to mayor, I try not to join in.  I left Facebook for that very reason – I was finding it too depressing to look at the posts of some of my closest friends.  Their hatred toward others in the political world was just too hard to stomach.  I tried first hiding certain posts, then certain kinds of posts, then certain people who posted all the time.  But no matter how wide I cast that net, I was still getting post after post of vitriol and slant.  So, I finally had to drop out of Facebook altogether.  Recently I started a whole new account that is only connected to certain groups who decided to communicate solely through Facebook.

Having cut that cord, I then found that attending family gatherings was just as bad.  And quick conversations at church, and with friends, and… the belief that we were in “the very worst time ever politically” was everywhere.

It only takes one quick read through the prophets to see that we are NOT in the worst time ever politically.  In fact, we are in pretty good company when it comes to our political leaders.  Today’s reading alone has titles like, “The King who Exalts Himself,” and I think I’ve seen almost that exact headline in the last few months.  Our political leadership has always been like this, with varying degrees of self-exaltation, misuse of amassed wealth and power, unethical alliances, and self-promotion.  And today is no different.

As Christians, our answer to this needs to be, “It doesn’t matter.”  Our salvation, peace, joy, and hope will NEVER come from our political leaders.  Whatever they do, God is in control and He’s got this.  As it has been, so it is and so it will ever be.  Amen.

Reading Daniel is much like reading Revelation, primarily because both belong to the same type of literature.  For millennia, people have argued over Revelation, whether it is literal, metaphorical, future prophecy or past history.  But the problem is that we once again put our modern assumptions upon the bible.  We do not read the book in its context or as it’s style requires.

Like reading a poem as historical fact, or a fantasy book as a medical textbook, we read Revelation and put our own assumptions upon it.  Revelation is written in a form of literature called Apocalyptic literature.  In it, the writer is using symbols and images to portray what he sees and knows and experiences.  An example follows:

“In the last days, the spider roamed the land, devouring everyone before it. It attacked God’s people who found
no refuge and were killed by the spiders poison breath. From the edge of the sea, the dragon arose and joined the spider in its conquest. The Dragon rose and attacked the mighty Eagle, wounding it’s talon. But the Eagle rallied the people of the world who fought back against the spider and the dragon. The eagle blew fire from its mouth and seared the dragon into submission, then turned its eye toward the spider. The people of the world rose up and slew the spider but the world knew no peace ever again.”

Obviously, this bit of made-up Apocalyptic literature tells the story of WWII.  The swastika looks like a spider, Japan is the Dragon, etc.  Reading it again it all makes sense, but without the context, it is a strange story.  So it is with Apocalyptic literature, whether Revelation or Daniel’s visions.

Before we attempt to define the future based on apocalyptic visions, we need to understand the style of the writing.  And before we proclaim our superiority or that of our particular interpretation, lets remember that whatever we believe about it, the future, like the past and the present, is in God’s hands.  We are witness to it, but not in control of it.  And when reading any type of Apocalyptic literature, a whole lot of humility is in order.

It is interesting how many foreign, godless, oppressive rulers receive messages from God.  Begin with Abimelech in Gen. 20, warned in a dream that the woman he had taken wasn’t really Abraham’s sister but his wife.  Next, we find Pharaoh of Egypt who had a message from God in the form of a dream.  Seven fat crops are swallowed up by seven skinny crops, and seven fat cows are swallowed up by seven skinny cows.  God sends the ruler of Egypt a warning about a coming famine.  And just in Daniel alone we’ve found Nebuchadnezzer dreaming about a statue with feet of clay, and a tree that covers the whole land yet is chopped down.  His son Belshazzar has an encounter with a disembodied finger writing a message on the wall.  And the list goes on, stretching all the way to Pilate’s wife who’s dream led her to try to get Jesus pardoned rather than crucified.

Our readings in Daniel have led to a very interesting fact: though God communicated with these foreign, ungodly rulers, they could not understand the message.  It took a man of God to interpret the message for them.  And in this we should get a clue about our evangelistic efforts.

People outside our church, outside our denomination, even outside our faith are receiving messages from God.  God speaks to everyone; we don’t have the market cornered when it comes to God’s communication with the world.  This should humble us and remind us that God goes before us in all of our outreach, however creative or trailblazing we may believe ourselves to be.

But these messages will not make sense to people who don’t know the faith.  While God is speaking, He is also calling us to be there when He does to interpret.  This, too, should help us remain humble as we reach out, knowing our job is not to save them, or rescue them, or bring them up to our level of spiritual maturity.  It is just to tell them what God means.

I always loved the “Where’s Waldo” books when I was a kid.  Finding Waldo in the midst of a crowd of similarly dressed people always gave me such satisfaction.  But once found, I could never un-find him, and so the book was finished and solved.  Reading it again brought no joy.

Finding Jesus in the Old Testament is a bit like a “Where’s Waldo” book.  There are many people throughout the Old Testament, and many of them look a bit like Jesus.  Moses speaks freely with God, Elijah and even moreso Elisha do miracles, the prophets speak in parables, yet none of them IS Jesus.  Yet He is there.  And when you find Him, it is so satisfying.  But unlike the Waldo books, I can read these stories again and again, finding Jesus again and again with the same satisfaction.

He’s there in today’s story.  And in this one, He’s a bit more obvious.  Thrown into the fiery furnace, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are joined by a fourth, “who looks like a son of the gods.”  Found Him!

Remember yesterday when we read that the gods “do not live among humans”?  Well, God does.  And while we might not call this “living among” humans, it is God and He does show up for these three servants.  And from this encounter, Nebuchadnezzer proclaims that nobody is to speak badly of God.  But as usual that doesn’t last long.  A while later, Daniel interprets another dream for him, and a year after that we find him losing his mind for seven “times” because of his arrogance.  And he is restored only after he once again proclaims God as the one true God.

If you look closely, you can see Jesus all over the Old Testament, from creation itself through the prophets and finally in His birth, life, death, and resurrection.  Watch for Him and you will never be disappointed.

And so in the very first chapter of Daniel we find the story of Christmas, and in the second chapter we find Easter.  Did you see it?  Did you hear it?

Asked to do the impossible, the wise men rely on themselves, their power and cunning.  But these are not enough to suffice the king.  He wants them to not only interpret his dream, but to tell him what it was in the first place.  “No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among humans,” they cry.  In Babylon, the idea of a god of Incarnation was foreign to them.  That a god might come and live among humans was anathema.  But for Daniel and friends, God had always lived with His people.  From the burning bush to the Ark of the Covenant to the Temple itself, God had dwelt with His people.  And then hundreds of years later, God made this manifest in the clearest way He knew how, through Jesus Christ.  In the Incarnation, God dwelt among us, or in the words of John’s prologue, “God tabernacled with us,” which means He pitched His tent among us.  This is Christmas.

So, having relied on their own abilities, these wise men face death from their own king.  But Daniel steps in and calmly takes their place before the king, revealing the Truth of God and saving their lives from death.  And hundreds of years later, Jesus would stand in our place and save us from death.  This is Easter.

It’s amazing that God’s story has been consistent since the beginning of time, and that He would reveal His plans to people like us.  If, that is, we are able and willing to listen.

God is Pro-Life!  Yes, “them’s fightin’ words” in today’s culture, but I’m not stoking an abortion argument here.  I mean it in it’s truest form.  And I’m also reflecting on this beautiful image from the 47th chapter of Ezekiel.  There we find a river running east out of the temple.  From the threshold of the temple, it is merely a trickle, but as it flows east, it deepens from a trickle, to ankle deep, to knee, to waist, and finally to a river “no one could cross”.  But it’s not the miraculous flow of water that Ezekiel is pointing out.  It is the Life that flows with it!

Along the river, trees bloom in the wilderness and bear fruit every year.  At the end of the river, it flows into the Great Salt Sea, aka the Dead Sea.  This body of water has rivers and streams flowing into it, but nothing flowing out.  The only way water escapes is through evaporation.  And when salt water evaporates, it leaves it’s salt behind.  And nothing can live in that level of saltiness, hence the name Dead Sea.  Yet this sea, famous the world over for it’s lack of life, will have as many fish as the Mediterranean Sea, which is known for it’s plethora of sea life.  Because of this river flowing from the Temple, the dead will gain new life and all life will flourish.

This river flows not from the temple but from the God who dwells there.  From Him, streams of living water flow and bring life everywhere.  Death is no match for that which flows from God.  In fact, this is the very gospel in a nutshell – death has lost the battle and life in Christ has won for all eternity.  This is our message and this has to dominate our lives in every way.  As followers of Jesus Christ, we are to value, pursue, and fight for life everywhere we go because He does.

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