This week's Bible Study - November 8, 2015
Quotes of the Week:
It ain't the heat, it's the humility.
Have you ever had to deliver bad news to someone? Brian Regan, my favorite comedian, tells many stories about growing up in a
big family and one of them had to do with relying information of a brother who crashed while riding his bicycle off of a homemade ramp.
(You can listen to this and a couple of other funny big family stories here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HAl4HcqAY58 ) Although Brian Regan can make a joke about telling bad news, there will be times when we have to deliver bad news to a boss or a parent or a child or a spouse or a close friend - and that will not be a laughing matter. Most of us don't like to be the one to deliver that news. There are some careers which end up giving terminal diagnosis to people with diseases. It takes a different kind of person that can handle giving that kind of news to anyone.
In this lesson, we will encounter two distinctly different personalities. One of them is King Nebuchadnezzar (Neb) and the other is Daniel. If you have read the previous couple of lessons, you would have seen that Neb is very high strung and others are very aware of his emotional state, whether high or low. We've also seen how he is very focused on his own self, showing little regard for others when he is having problems. On the other hand, we will read about Daniel, who is also known as Belteshazzar (we will call him Daniel - easier to type) and how he continues to seek God and to live in a way that exemplifies humility.
By nature, people are often very different. You have heard of different personality types and if you've read lessons here in the past, you've heard of a DISC assessment that I took at work, which through a series of questions, helps determine if a person is more (D) Dominant, (I) Influential, (S) Steady or ( C ) Compliant. There are many other similar personality tests and most of us fall somewhere in the middle of different ranges. The bottom line is that our personalities can be quite different. If you've been in a group with other people (at school, at work, at church, in parent planning meetings at school and so forth), you will likely find that there are some who are very introverted and seldom contribute to the group, while others are very extroverted and are likely to say a lot. Some people would rather lead and others would rather follow. We are different and we were created to be unique, so this lesson is in no way attempting to indicate that we all should be the same. Even with that being said, there are some qualities that we, as believers, should try to emulate, even when they are not in line with our default personalities.
Neb had experienced the power of God in a very real manner. Daniel had interpreted dreams for Neb, in times when he was terrified or afraid of what he had dreamt. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, through their defiance to the king's command to worship other images, showed the power of God in the fiery furnace. Although you would not classify Neb as a classic God fearer, he had seen firsthand the miraculous signs and wonders that God had performed. He had seen the great signs and mighty wonders of God and he extolled the praises of God, whose kingdom is an eternal kingdom and whose dominion endures from generation to generation. Even those who are not God fearers or believers can often provide a witness to the awesomeness of who God is.
We read that Neb was at home in his palace, contented and prosperous. It is a good thing to be contented. If you can find contentment in what you have, without requiring more, that is true contentment. Apparently, Neb had a lot. In other readings, you can find that Neb had huge hanging gardens and very thick walls in his castle. In our day, you have probably seen mansions where people live in homes on large acreage and with more rooms than they would ever need. There used to be a TV show called the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Often, these people are famous athletes or entertainers or CEOs who have made a lot of money and have spent literally tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars on themselves and others around them. You may also recall that many of these people are now bankrupt, because when their ability to make massive amounts of money stopped, they didn't know how to stop spending accordingly.
As you read this passage, you can almost sense Neb sitting back and thinking, if not saying, "Magnificent is my stuff". In a book called Pilgrim's Problems by Karl Haffner, he writes "Gregory the Great once said, "Pride makes me think that I am the cause of my achievements, and that I deserve my abilities, and leads me to despise other people who don't measure up." Pride feels this illusion of self-sufficient. "I made myself. I deserve all I have.""
However, not all was at peace in Neb's life. Even though he seemed to be content externally, he had a dream that made anything but content internally. Images and visions came through his mind and terrified him. He commanded for all of the wise men to be brought before him to interpret his dream. (At least this time, as opposed to what happened in earlier chapters, he told them his dream, so they didn't have to figure that out on their own). Even when they were told the dream, they couldn't interpret it. When Daniel came into the king's presence, Neb acknowledge that the spirit of the holy gods was in him and that there was no mystery too difficult for Daniel. He told Daniel his dream of a huge tree in the middle of the land, with beautiful leaves, abundant fruit and having food on it for all. Wild animals found shelter in it and the birds lived in its branches. Then, a messenger came down from heaven and ordered in a loud voice that the tree was to be cut down, with its branches trimmed and its leaves stripped and its fruit scattered. All that was to be left was the stump and roots, bound with iron and bronze. Then he would be drenched with the dew of heaven and would live with the animals among the plants of the earth. His mind was to be changed from that of a man and he would be given the mind of an animal for seven years. Neb told Daniel that this was his dream and he asked that it be interpreted.
I don't know about you, but I have had terrifying dreams, although I doubt that I could recall them in the detail that Neb could. It was obvious that, despite being content and prosperous, this dream terrified the king. Although people may pay money to go to a haunted house around Halloween to be terrified, that is considered a 'safe' terrifying experience. (I still don't get that desire to be scared like that, but to each his or her own). When we are terrified in our own lives, it changes our perspective. At those times, it matters less whether we are content or prosperous, as we tend to be driven more out of fear. In Neb's case, although he was unaware, his being terrified by his dream was a step towards true contentment in the future.
We read that Daniel was perplexed for a period of time. His own thoughts terrified him, because as he began to understand the meaning of the dream, he knew that he was going to have share some incredibly hard news with the king. By telling the king that he would hope that the dream was applicable to only Neb's enemies and adversaries, he showed that he truly cared for the king and had at least somewhat of a good relationship with him. Neb likely didn't want to hear that opening statement. Seriously, would you hope an opening statement to you by a friend would be that what they are about to say, they wish it could be on your enemies and not on you? Although this was a difficult situation, Daniel's words and concern for the king probably had something to do with the king's receptiveness. Rather than rejoicing in God's judgment of the king, it says a lot about Daniel's genuine concern for the king. If, in our dealings in life, we come across someone who has been given very bad news and we find ourselves happy about it, we need to take a step back and ask ourselves about who we truly are and why we may be so heartless.
Daniel continued to say that the tree was representative of King Neb and his kingdom. He had become great and strong and his greatness had grown such that his dominion extended to the distant parts of the earth. The messenger was one coming down from heaven and giving him the Lord's decree against the king. The king would lose his rule and be driven away from people for seven years. However, his kingdom would be restored when Neb would acknowledge what Heaven had ruled.
Daniel took a step further and gave Neb some heartfelt advice to the king. He said that Neb should renounce his sins by doing what is right, and his wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. At that point, his prosperity would continue. In short, Neb would need to humble himself. While some may look at this as a model for sharing bad news with others, the aspect of giving advice is not always appreciated and in truth, should only be considered when one truly feels God leading them to share. Daniel had in depth knowledge of the culture, a relationship with the king and a method for confronting him that helped for the king to be receptive to listening to Daniel's advice.
There are times where we need to take a step back and think about the way that we communicate truth to others. I've heard it said often that a person that is giddy to tell someone else about what they did as being wrong is not the right person to do the confrontation. Confrontation is a serious matter and if your main intention is to harm rather than restore, someone else should be the one to confront.
In a recent sermon, I learned three things that need to be considered when confrontation has to take place.
First, we need to make sure that we have the right Spirit. At times, we see others caught in a situation and we believe that it is our job to play the role of the police and judge in regards to that person. We may even want to say I told you so. However, there are times when God may be working in a person to bring them to a new place in their lives. If you think back in your own life, you will likely see that the largest period of spiritual growth came in handling difficult situations in life. We need to be careful that we don't get ahead of the Holy Spirit and frustrate the process of how God might be working in a person's life.
Second, we need to make sure we have the right motives. As stated previously, if it is our intent to make others pay, something is wrong. If you think of Jonah and his attitude towards Nineveh, his main concern was to tell them how God would punish them and then sit back and watch it happen. God was not happy with Jonah, for a myriad of reasons, one being his lack of concern for other humans that God had created. The ultimate goal should be to restore a person's relationship with God and not to make them pay. There are times when consequences of a person's actions may end up costing them something, but if our goal is to inflict further pain, our motive is truly wrong.
Third, we need to have the right emotion. We need to communicate truth with gentleness. In dealing with my diagnosis of ALS in the past year, I have dealt with a few different neurologists. One didn't really want to give the diagnosis, because he wasn't entirely sure. One of them gave it so matter of fact, without any hint of concern that, while he didn't seek to injure, he showed little if any compassion to our situation. The third neurologist has talked much more openly, taking the time to answer questions and give us more information, which has been greatly appreciated. I would have much rather not received the ALS diagnosis, but it sure helps when gentleness and empathy of the doctor is involved. As I think about confrontation today, those three neurologists line up with different approaches. Some people don't want to confront others, believing that the lack of any conflict is peace. In watching a lot of the World Series recently, I saw commercials for Colin Cowherd who made the statement "Conflict works, embrace it!" To avoid confrontation doesn't help anything. The second approach was to just throw it on the table - here it is so deal with it. The confrontation happens, but it's much like someone punching you in the face. Obviously, we wouldn't want to be confronted in this manner, would we? The third approach was to be gentle, showing empathy, yet getting the point across. That changes the tenor of the entire conversation. In this passage, as an Israelite in exile, Daniel knew what it was to experience God's judgment of a nation and he did not want to pour gasoline on the fire that the king was going to experience. When you confront others, do you have the right spirit, motive and emotion?
All of what had been told the king happened to him, although not immediately. I find it interesting that it was twelve months later, likely at a time when Neb was not quite so terrified. We read in verses 29 and 30 that as he was walking on the roof of the royal palace, he said "Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal resident, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?" His words sound very much like those words of pride from Gregory the Great, don't they? The boasting king had ignored the warnings and thought he had time to change, he didn't. This, in effect, is a sign of God's grace. When you have received warnings, will you listen? Pride ignores but humility will listen.
Even as he had spoken the words, a voice came from heaven saying that it was decreed that his royal authority would be taken from him and he would be driven away from people and would become like wild animals. This would occur for a period of seven years until he would acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdom on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes. The words were fulfilled and Neb's body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.
At the end of the time, some seven years later, Neb raised his eyes toward heaven and his sanity was restored. He then praised the Most High, honoring and glorifying Him who lives forever. He acknowledged the eternal dominion of the Lord and that His kingdom endured from generation to generation. Instead of exuding pride of self, he acknowledge the Lordship of the Lord. The result was that his sanity was restored, along with his honor and splendor. He was restored to his throne and became even greater than before. However, instead of focusing on self, he praised and exalted the King of heaven. He acknowledged that the Lord is able to humble those who walk in pride.
There are times in Scripture where there appears to be interruptions in the lives of even the most ardent servant of the Lord. This happened for Moses, Joseph and David, to name a few. In those times, they often learned what God desired in their lives and were able to have a much greater appreciation of the Lord. When God interrupts the plans of our lives, we are indeed humbled, but we can be restored. Often, our outcome depends on our willingness to seek Him and to seek His truth. Rock bottom does not have to be our end, but a means to an end in which we can honor and glorify our Lord.
We know that God humbles the proud. Isn't it amazing that there are self-help groups for almost any kind of behavior that people can get caught up in? Many of the groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and other Recovery groups help focus on identification of issues, acceptance of what has occurred and a path forward out of slavery to addictions and aberrant behavior. These are good groups to help get people back on track in many different areas, but have you ever seen a self-help group for pride? Surely there are such support groups, but a quick search on the internet was not helpful in finding them. I would imagine a person with a pride problem would not be very interested in letting others know that they have such a problem, because that would be a sure sign of humility, right?
There are many verses that speak to pride. I have included just a few below.
Proverbs 11:2 says "When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom". If you were on Let's Make a Deal, and you knew that behind Door Number 1 was disgrace and behind Door Number 2 was wisdom, which would you choose? I feel sure that we all would choose wisdom, but if we are self-focused and proud, wisdom is very elusive.
James 4:6 says "God opposes the proud but show favor to the humble." If you've made it to this point in the lesson, you have at least shown some implication of being someone who desires to have the Lord on your side, or to at least be on the Lord's side. Who would choose to be in opposition to the Lord?
Proverbs 15:25 says "The Lord tears down the house of the proud" We safeguard our homes against protection from fire and storms and the odds of being broken into. Are we allowing our pride to cause our very homes to be torn down?
Proverbs 16:18 says "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall." We know that we do not immediately suffer the consequences for our sins and we know that it may be some time before we understand the depths of our depravity. In this lesson, we saw that Neb had a full year after he had the dream, in which he could have potentially saved himself from enduring seven years of insanity. However, he didn't pay heed. Is our pride ultimately going to cause us to have problems that will lead to our downfall?
Is God speaking to you? Don't think about the other person that this lesson should be for, but take the time to do some self-reflection. Don't let your pride allow you to think that you don't have a problem here, as we all deal with pride, in one way or another. Don't let your pride cause you to not take heed.
Don't waste the warnings that God has given to you. Neb was terrified and when he found out what was to come, he assumed that it would come right away. When it didn't, he ignored the warning and went right back to his old behavior. Don't let this be a warning that will be stated in vain, but let God speak to you and help you to make whatever changes that are required.
Don't waste the rock bottom times in your life. Nobody wants to end up at rock bottom, but when you are there, you learn more about yourself than you would in any other times. The problem with rock bottom scenarios is that people too often do not take that time to see what God might be saying to them - and others learn to live in their self-created rock bottom. I know in my own life, I have found myself in difficult situations that have required me to seek God's help in a way that I would not do in any other manner. Perhaps that was my pride as an issue. Are you at rock bottom now? If so, what is God saying? If God is speaking to you now, and you are not at rock bottom, is that what you are waiting for in order to listen?
Don't waste opportunities to share. One of the things that has occurred to me is that we only tend to share the good things in life (and not even all of those, as we are often slow or negligent in sharing our faith). We are quick to share when we do well or someone we know does well. We are quick to share how we have succeeded. However, what is more life changing is to be able to share what God has done in your life and what you have learned from your experience. Perhaps by sharing where you have failed in one area, you can speak life into another person who is dealing with similar struggles. Be willing to share your own experiences without putting the slant of pride on them.
You and I are called to be humble. Is there an area of your own life that God is speaking to today? Make sure you take the time to listen and ponder God's words to you.