Monday, October 16, 2023

Signposts and the Muddy Middle

No doubt with daily headlines from the Middle East, many Bible readers will run to chapters we read with one eye on events and the other eye on the mysterious images with various analysis, positions, and propositions.

This post will be a reminder to me about some of the principles I lean on regarding Biblical prophecy in  study that has now spanned many years. This includes a deep  2 year study I did on the Book of Revelation and many OT references, including the Book of Daniel.

It is almost comical to read all the ping pong points Biblical scholars make when they come to passages that involve visions. At times it reminds me of that scene in the movie, The Princess Bride- "It could be that cup based on fact A- but you know that I know fact A so it is now cup 2 because of fact B.. and so on and the answer ended up being "all of the above".

The 2nd chapter of Daniel contains the first dream that Daniel reveals and interprets to King Nebuchadnezzar. The Book of Daniel is so remarkable in its prophecy that critics (who reject the supernatural) reject Daniel on face value because it would have to be supernatural prophecy for it to be true. I always worry about human reasoning when it throws out a possible theory before the debate even begins.

Back to  Chapter 2- Daniel relates the dream to the King by predicting four kingdoms- Golden Babylon, Silver Persians led by Darius- Bronze Greeks led by Alexander- Iron/Clay Rome divided into two and then into 10. I am skipping a lot of the reasoning and debate here to get to my points.

Take any Biblical vision and read the comments by any true scholar and you will now see the endless debate begins, but we all acknowledge it never quite fits. In this image the Rock of Ages smashes these kingdoms and becomes God's Holy Mountain (again jumping to a general overview here). So most of the time there are left views that have strong points and weak points and the scholar will tend to lean toward one and live with the weaker points in humble acceptance. We all do this- I do this.

But there are larger points here to be made that we can all agree on. Let me use this passage to pull out some of these.

1) God's truth is multi-layered and true from many angles and through many cross-sections and dissections. There is often multiple fulfillments of prophecy that show shadows in the Old Testament- applications in the New Testament and pointers to the Kingdom of God which is an alternate reality but just as true- in fact MORE true than the reality we occupy now. The hardest part in all of Biblical visions is to keep reminding yourself "symbol, symbol, symbol- figurative language"- the Bible images of heaven and hell are figurative and point to a reality beyond our comprehension. Still true, but related in a way that humans of all times and cultures can relate to.

2) We have a hard time making it all fit 'clean' because we are still missing a final overview of the end of time. When we see unrest in the Middle East we rush to the Scriptures and want to make sense of it. The problem is that we are in a time period of waiting. All that is in play now is the competition of the City of Man ( figurative Babylon) with the City of God (figurative Jerusalem) and whether we will be citizens of Christ's Kingdom or the Dragon's Kingdom. Citizenship in Christ's Kingdom is an open invitation to repentance and faith in the God of Mercy. But to do so means that you will incur the wrath of the un-holy trinity The Dragon, The Beast, and the False Prophet. One day, God will say, NO MORE DELAY- and we will watch the final scene brought to the close- and then there will be a massive "OH- I see now- THAT is what was meant by.....". We had a little taste of this when Christ came the first time. All the prophecy was there- but all the scholars missed it. IN the end- our human pre-suppositions make us miss the future narrative. Thankfully, we are not saved by being right on our own ability.

3) There are a couple of BIG picture points to this amazing dream in Daniel 2. All human kingdoms are REGRESSIVE not PROGRESSIVE.  Do you see the value drop? Gold sank to silver, silver sank to bronze, bronze sank to iron. We always take pride in how far we have been elevated. But sadly, man is less glorious today. One world order will not be glorious, it will be dark and destructive. Study the art and architecture of any civilization and you will see it fade in excellence over time. And I think the vision points to the fact that all kingdoms have 'feet of clay'- faulty foundations built on the sand of hubris and not the Rock of Ages.

Conclusion: When you come to Biblical prophecy or visions, throw yourself into them- draw pictures- they are amazing- and then get lost in the mystery of God's world. It is more mesmerizing than anything Tolkien ever imagined. And the WOW factor is that it is true. Instead of 'Where's Waldo?" look deep into these images and see Christ. He is right there... pointed to by the prophets thousands of years before His arrival. And let that give you great hope to keep fighting the joyous battle of life with Him as we eagerly await His glorious return. THE BEST IS YET TO COME. Hold on, my brothers and sisters..... Be patient and prayerful.

As of today- we see in a very dim glass.... a part of the muddy middle. We have hope of the end which is the fruit of our faith; but little beyond that.

Saturday, October 07, 2023

The Thrill and The Agony- Is There Purpose in Pain?

Update to this post Oct. 11: First of all, I never know when I write, what posts will carry far and wide and what posts do not. This one has really exploded and has been seen and shared by way more than I would have ever guessed. 

When war broke out in Israel the same day I posted this, it reminded me that football pain is nothing compared to the suffering and loss of life in this world. I hope I made it clear in my original post.

But I also was so impressed by our practice this week and how getting back to work will wear away the disappointment. Yes, kids are resilient but at the same time, this team is closer by way of walking through the pain of loss.

Here is the original post (10/7):

We lost a close, tough football game last night where just a few bounces and inches could have flipped the script. You can't hide from the the pain, and a coach must quickly turn minister and know that even though I hurt - I  have been through this many times and I must gird up and go help young men who are still young enough to be vulnerable in these fragile situations.

It is just football... and though the the pain is real enough-  it is  nothing in a world of famine, cancer, war, crime, and poverty.

It seems a little dramatic to use a football loss in this sense, however folks, the pain is palatable to the young men, coaches, parents... it is there.. it just plain sucks. And the harder you work, the closer victory seems to be that just falls short... it is a soul deep hurt. One that lingers into the night and early the next day .... before slowly subsiding.

Football is rarely undefeated- life is never undefeated.

And our young men did what you are supposed to do last night- accept it, shake the hand of the victor and start leaning on each other as we wait for the healing that comes in time. But there is still a myriad of internal obstacles that must be navigated in time, prayer, and perspective from the Word of God.

This semester, we are studying the Book of Job in Sunday School with Mark Travers and he has done a masterful job in walking us through dealing with pain in a practical way, as well as excellent tips on what to say and when to say it.

The deeper the pain, the less we need to use words... we just need to be there.

Football injuries are a reality with that as well. It hurts to see a player physically wounded in battle, but that is also a noble reality... to put on pads is similar to a warrior; and sacrifices of blood, sweat, tears, and pain are payments that come due which elevates this ABOVE mere play.

I am so thankful that God has designed young bodies to heal... not without scars mind you. But as Jacob walked with a limp from the day He wrestled the Angel, so we too bear the marks of struggle and it creates in us a rugged disposition to battle!

What Mr Travers has been teaching me is that 'lamenting' is a God ordained process with a purpose. It is an acknowledgement of hurt to our heavenly Father that we are grieving, and He wants us to grieve, to pour out our sorrows to Him, our complaints, our fears, our anxieties, our frustrations, our disappointments.

But what makes lamenting different and beneficial is that we still worship the Lord and testify to His sovereign control and goodness!

It is all through the Bible- Psalms, Job, both Old and New Testaments... here is an example in the Book with that title, Lamentations:

[19] Remember my affliction and my wanderings,

the wormwood and the gall!

[20] My soul continually remembers it

and is bowed down within me.

[21] But this I call to mind,

and therefore I have hope:

[22] The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;

his mercies never come to an end;

[23] they are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness.

[24] “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,

“therefore I will hope in him.
(Lamentations 3:19–24 ESV)

Indeed... this is a strange twist- we never want our children, our players, or ourselves to experience the pain of loss.

And we would NEVER orchestrate it.

But pain, loss, hurt is a necessary training tool to prepare us for life.

Learning to live through, walk through, persevere through football pain as a young man made me a better man. It also makes us better believers. 

Consider this passage:

2 CORIN. 1: 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

I think the greatest team builder in the world is suffering. 

Over the decades, my  closest football teams have been teams that experienced some type of shared pain.

None of us want it that way and we want to avoid it as much as possible. But at the end of the year, we realized that while we enjoyed good times when we celebrated, we actually grew together when we cried or hurt. 

Football pain, whether it is a hard practice, a tough loss, or physical injury, is often used by God as a ‘strange minister’ in our lives- producing fruit of perseverance and love.

I’m not exactly why this is true. It may be the first time we see one another without masks or we see how much individual’s truly care- but pain is a useful tool in forging a team of one heroic purpose. That is one reason why we push them so hard in summer camp and in the weight room- they have to experience hardship to break down all the barriers to brotherhood.

When pain comes, we should be urgent and diligent to support each other and comfort one another. The best comfort is time and understanding. It is not an easy road. We recite the words, but it is hard to live them. I never really ever want to preach to my team following a loss- it is usually a one on one evaluation of who needs support the most. It is a time to seek out the injured and quietly stand with those that are taking it the hardest.

When we receive God’s comfort, it helps us to be sensitive to others in similar pain. 

There is a creed of football that simply says “We suffer together so that we WILL persevere together”- which is related to Romans 5:3,4 which says, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”

When we suffer and comfort, we eventually heal. That healing produces unity and strength. If you ever have to compete against a team with this type of unity- look out- it may be a tough fight!

If you are hurting, go comfort others. If you see someone hurting, comfort them. You will reap a great harvest of hope!

I close this post with a few poems and thoughts that has helped me over the years when I am hurting.. coaches experience loss in a more common way than the average person.. not the intensity of real life suffering.. but the frequency is under appreciated by society as a whole:

When God wants to drill a man,
And thrill a man,
And skill a man
To play the noblest part;
When He yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways!
How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!

How He hammers him and hurts him,
And with mighty blows converts him
Into trial shapes of clay which
Only God understands;
While his tortured heart is crying
And he lifts beseeching hands!
How He bends but never breaks
When his good He undertakes;

How He uses whom He chooses,
And with every purpose fuses him:
By every act induces him
To try his splendor out--
God knows what He's about.
--Author Unknown

Seeing the whole story from beginning to end gives ample evidence that God is great and that He is good.
But what about the middle? Think about those long, dark nights. Imagine all the hauntings and accusations. Is God there? Does He care? Why don’t you answer me God? Am I being punished? HELP!
But this is JUST THE MIDDLE.. hang in there- the END IS SWEET!

“God will not give us grace for our vain imaginings. It is when we are actually
in the time of trial that the grace is given.

(Dr. Lane Adams, former pastor, Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis)

“If you want a comfortable religion, do not pick Christianity” CS Lewis, God in Dock

Aragorn in “Lord of the Rings”

"Hold your ground! Hold your ground my brothers,
I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me.
A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day.
An hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down,
but it is not this day!
This day we fight!!"