Archive | August 2017

When Cultures Collide: Committed to Scripture

(This is a summary of a chapter from a book I’m finishing up)

Culture is constantly in flux.  It changes by the second; an avalanche of ideas and information.  We are overtaken by changes every breath we take on this earth.

As mentioned before, Daniel is in a centerfuge of change.  His world is spinning around and he is trying to keep up.  Prayer has sustained him thus far and given him stability in his time of service in Babylon, but now a new ruler is in town.  Daniel 9 begins like this: “In the first year of Darius…in the first year of his reign…”. Daniel has a new boss.  This is right around the same time as the den of lions event where Daniel was/will be persecuted for his prayer life.

During this regime transition, Daniel is studying the Scriptures, specifically Jeremiah.  Seventy-five or so years prior to Daniel studying this passage, Jeremiah first delivered it.  Daniel, a man familiar with God’s words, attributes the passage not just to Jeremiah, but to the Lord as well.  The passage he was studying was from Jeremiah 25; a prophecy about the seventy years of captivity that the nation of Judah would endure because of their unfaithfulness and sin.

In the midst of his Bible study, Daniel is confronted with the same question we are when we open up the scriptures: “What now?”

What happens when we read and study Scripture?  What happens when we approach God’s Word seeking understanding?  What happens when we look to apply it in our lives?

Confession

When committed to reading God’s word, I realize how far short I fall of what God desires, has commanded, has loved.

“So I (Daniel) turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and position, in fasting, and in sack cloth and ashes.” (Dan. 9.4)

Daniel assumes a posture of mourning and begins to pray.  In this prayer, Daniel confesses:

  • “…we have sinned” (5, 8)
  • “…we have been wicked and rebelled” (5, 9)
  • “…we have turned away” (5)
  • “…we have not listened” (6)
  • “…we are covered in shame…because of our unfaithfulness” (7)
  • “…we have not obeyed” (10)
  • “…all Israel has transgressed your law and turned away.” (11)

Scripture acts as a mirror showing a reflection of the life before it.  Only when it is read and studied is sin revealed.  When sin is revealed, the only acceptable response is confession.  Daniel shows this in his transition to his next thought in the book when he says: “While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel…” (9.29)

Daniel’s reading of scripture led him to confession.

Worship

When reading and studying Scripture becomes a priority, worship ensues.  Notice how Daniel’s prayer begins: “Lord, the great and awesome God…” (Dan 6.4). There is no question about who He is addressing.

Daniel isn’t the only one who began his prayer in worship.  Jesus did it in Matthew 6: “Our Father in Heaven, hallowed (or holy) is your name…” (Matt 6.9)  Habakkuk begins his prayer in chapter 3: “Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord.” (Hab. 3.2).

Daniel doesnt just stop there.  Sprinkled throughout the prayer are acclamations of God’s character, His activity, and His presence.  Isn’t that what worship is?  A person acknowledging who God is and honoring Him?

According to Daniel, based on his study of Scripture, God is, as attested to by his prayer, merciful (9, 18), righteous (7, 14), forgiving (9), and the one who brought them out of Egypt with his mighty hand (15).  Daniel voices his adoration and worship throughout this prayer and it all began with the study of Scripture.  As the Psalmist writes: “I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws.” (Psalm 119.7)

The connection between study and worship is as real today as it was for the Psalmist and Daniel.

Identity

A commitment to understanding scripture brings with it an reminder of the readers identity.  It’s easy to lose ourselves in the surrounding culture. (See chapter 2)  In the pace of life, amongst the media, the expectations, and the rituals of the world, the things that make believers unique can get left behind and forgotten.

Daniel has been in Babylon for a long time…and the people have been there a long time.  They wrote about this experience: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion…How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?  If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill.” (Psalm 137.1,4-5)

But they had forgotten.  Here they were God’s people, their temple destroyed, their walls crushed, their pride gone.  When they did return home to the land, when Ezra read the law to them in Nehemiah 8, it had to be translated because they had forgotten the Hebrew language.  The people of God, had forgotten the name they carried.

Daniel ends his prayer: “Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.” (19)

For Seventy years the identity, their name, had been last; but Daniel, in his study, remembered who they were as a people.

In this prayer three things are tied together: 1) who we are: confession; 2) who God is: worship; 3) what God has made us into: identity.

These themes, as a result of the study of Scripture occur elsewhere.  Two examplesstand out in Scripture.

Josiah, as an 18 year old King, gets handed the Book of the Law found in the Temple. (2 Kings 22.10) It is read to him and upon hearing, he immediately fears his clothes and confesses the sins of his people (10-13).  Then he reads it to the people and they celebrate Passover for the first time since the era of the Judges (21-23).  The central event of Hebrew history hadn’t been done in their memory. They worshipped and recovered their identity.

Nehemiah 8 tells of a time just years after Daniels prayer.  After the Jews had returned to the land, rebuilt the walls and resettled their towns, they assembled and Ezra the priest read the law to them.  The priests translated and explained to the people what it meant (8.2-3,8).  The people wept as they listened to the words being read (9-10).  Thy stopped weeping and celebrated God and His works that they now understood (12).  When they heard Ezra read about the festival of booths, they realized  that God had commanded them to live in shelters every year, just as they did when God had brought them out of Egypt (Lev. 23.37-40; Neh. 8.13-15).  A central tenant of the Jewish faith, it hadn’t been done for years, since “the time of Joshua” (17).

When a commitment to study and understanding of Scripture is made, revival happens.

 

Lord of the Flies

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From The Simposons “Das Bus” season 9 spoof of the Lord of the Flies. Ralph Wiggum’s war paint!

In the middle of Paul’s letter to the Romans he writes:

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[c] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.

In Golding’s novel The Lord of the Flies Simon was the prophet of the group.  He managed to be the one who recused himself from the barbarism and the killing.  He was the innocent one.

If you are unfamiliar with the plot, Lord of the Flies begins with a undisclosed number of English boys stranded via plane crash on a tropical island.  In effort to assemble some kind of order to which they were akin too, the boys vote Ralph, the oldest, as their leader.  Jack, the head choir boy and one of the oldest, challenged this vote but ultimately assented to it.

The boys are bent on survival and rescue.  With the help of piggys glasses, they start a fire and vow to keep it going at all times.  A vow they would fail at throughout the entirety of the book.

The stroy changes when Jack is unable to kill a piglet on their first hunt.  He hesitates to spill the blood of the pig.  He slams the knife into the trunk of a tree, vowing “next time will be different.”  A glint in his eye as he does it, aknowledges to the reader that something has change in him.

When a beast is spotted on the island, by one of the little ones (they remain unnamed in the book and really serve as a backdrop in the story), the group is gripped with fear and speculation.  Simon, ever the prophet, argued that there was no beast.  “Perhaps there is no beast,” he reasoned, “maybe its just us?”  Simon sees that the beast, the barbarianism, the fighting, the killing, was all taking place by their hand.  But the boys put flesh and blood to their beast, thinking it to be a real creature.  They cut the head off their next kill and left it on a stick to assuage the beast.

Sometime later, Simon stumbles into the woods.  He comes upon one of the heads on a pike.  It is covered in flies.  Simon hallucinates that the pig head is talking to him.  It gives itself the title “the Lord of the Flies”, which is a literal translation of the name “Beelezebub”, the Devil.  The Pig head addresses Simon:

“There isn’t anyone to help you. Only me. And I’m the Beast. . . . Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill! . . . You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go? Why things are the way they are?”

Simon goes bak to the tribe that Jack has started, Piggy and Ralph are on their own at this point in the story, and tries to inform them of the beasts true identity.  The tribe kills him…an act one thought of as impossible for this group of civilized English young men.  The savagery was part of them.  It was not a physical being to overcome, but an innate part of themselves.

Simon had been reading Paul’s mail.

All to often our issues are blamed on outside sources.  The stress, the environment, the expectations, the culture have all been used as objects to which we can ssign our sin.  But the sin problem that we face is an inwardly one. Paul makes it clear that we sin because its what is inside of us.  Jesus would argue the same thing.  Thankfully we have a Savior who makes certain that the inside is cleaned just like the outside.  Not only does he do that, but he renews us everyday and fills us with his Spirit so that our misdeeds can be left in the past.