Unprecedented Spirit

Scripture Focus: Joel 2.32
And everyone who calls 
on the name of the LORD will be saved; 
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem 
there will be deliverance, 
as the LORD has said, 
even among the survivors 
whom the LORD calls. 

Psalm 142.5
5 I cry to you, LORD; 
I say, “You are my refuge, 
my portion in the land of the living.” 

Acts 2.39
39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

Reflection: Unprecedented Spirit
By John Tillman

When joyous prophets pour into the streets, people want to know why. This is especially true if this joy comes at a time of suffering, a time of oppression, and a time of sadness.
This was the situation in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit directed Peter to Joel to describe the experience of being filled with the Spirit of God and explain why men and women, sons and daughters, were prophesying in the streets. (Acts 2.2-21

Peter’s audience would have also been familiar with the locust images in Joel’s description of the Babylonian invasion. The Roman legions Peter’s contemporaries were familiar with would, perhaps be an even better visual match than the Babylonians had been for Joel’s images of locusts marching in perfect rows of chitinous, armored doom.

Joel’s prophecy was multilayered in meaning. It referred to the near future of the Babylonian invasion. It also foresaw the far future in which the Lord’s armies will destroy evil, dispelling and disposing of the armies of the opposing empires of this world. Afterward, God will cause growth and abundance to replace barrenness and want.  

God himself will repay the suffering caused by evil upon the earth. The explanation for the significance of this prophecy’s fulfillment is also a part of Peter’s Pentecost sermon. God’s victory over evil, his repayment for loss, and the coming of the Holy Spirit to all who call upon him are all direct outcomes of the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

The very Spirit promised in Joel and poured out in Acts is a deposit, a guarantee, of the inheritance God has for each of us in Christ. (2 Corinthians 1.22; 5.5; Ephesians 1.13-14)

No matter the disaster that seems to surround us or is on its way, there is time to turn to the Lord. There is a time when he will relent. There is always a time when the Lord will relent.

But relenting only comes after repenting. No matter what we have done in the past, up to and including murdering his only son, we can repent and return to God. And the time for repentance is now. It is always now. 

The pouring out of God’s Spirit comes after repentance. It always comes after repentance.

May that day be soon.

And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved… — Joel 2.32

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “Remain in me, as I in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, unless it remains part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches.” — John 15.4-5

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Joel 2 (Listen – 5:26)
Psalm 142 (Listen – 1:01)

Read more Rend Your Hearts
God will replace what is lost—including replacing our hearts of stone with the pierced-heart of Jesus.

Read more about The Radical Procedure of the Gospel
It’s lovely to think of God giving us a new heart and putting a new Spirit within us. But it is terrifying to admit to the diagnoses that would lead to such a radical procedure.

Facing a Biblical Disaster

Scripture Focus: Daniel 8.26-27
26 “The vision of the evenings and mornings that has been given you is true, but seal up the vision, for it concerns the distant future.” 
27 I, Daniel, was worn out. I lay exhausted for several days. Then I got up and went about the king’s business. I was appalled by the vision; it was beyond understanding. 

Psalm 116.8-11
8 For you, LORD, have delivered me from death, 
my eyes from tears, 
my feet from stumbling, 
9 that I may walk before the LORD 
in the land of the living. 
10 I trusted in the LORD when I said, 
“I am greatly afflicted”; 
11 in my alarm I said, 
  “Everyone is a liar.”

Reflection: Facing a Biblical Disaster
By John Tillman

For some people the only use of the word “biblical” they are familiar with is as an adjective to describe the proportions of disasters. 2020 has brought multiple disasters described as being of “biblical proportions.”

Along with physical disasters, this year has brought the exhausting mental and emotional disaster of trying to sort out truth from the storm of misinformation and lies. Every problem we face seems to have competing sets of “facts” that conveniently paint one political side or the other as being the problem.

The unnatural disaster of conspiracy theories getting injected into churches by mainstream and fringe news outlets has caused spiritual and emotional trauma for many. How is it people who claim to know the truth that will set us free, have become unable to agree on basic truths? 

Christians have been filling up on bread with the yeast of conspiracy theories rather than the bread of life, and we are belching up harmful and hateful lies as a result. As Ed Stetzer has said, “Gullibility is not a spiritual gift.”

Too many Christians follow political pundits more closely than Jesus Christ. Their spiritual diet depends more on news programs than Bible passages. They are more concerned with the status and power of their political party, than the health and productivity of the body of Christ, God’s Church. Many Christians would rather change churches (or fire their pastors) than face uncomfortable truths from the Bible that conflict with their political worldview. 

This is the true biblical disaster of 2020.

Many ask, “Are we in the end times?” I don’t know. I do think we are seeing what they are like. Visions of the end, as Daniel can attest, are exhausting and terrifying. Daniel tells us, wisely I think, that visions of the end are “beyond understanding.” Even with Gabriel’s explanation, he still couldn’t understand. 

May we mimic Daniel’s faithfulness through confusion and weariness, his caution in not sharing what he didn’t understand, and his focus on prayer and the scriptures.

Rest and trust in Christ. Your exhaustion and confusion is real and justified.
Lay anguish, rage, and sadness from this crisis-filled year at the feet of Jesus, rather than weaponize it against your brothers and sisters.
Go about our king’s business. Love one another well and share the good news (the gospel) that unites us rather than news that conspires to divide us.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Of Jesus, it is written; “In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house and went off to a lonely place and prayed there.” — Mark 1.35

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Daniel 8  (Listen – 4:39)
Psalm 116 (Listen – 1:34)

This Weekend’s Readings
Daniel 9  (Listen – 5:22), Psalm 117-118 (Listen – 2:52)
Daniel 10  (Listen – 3:18), Psalm 119:1-24 (Listen – 15:14)

Read more about Worship and Politics
I have never heard anyone say that a politically tinged sermon which agreed with their politics was “too political.”

Read more about The Seductive Idolatry of Politics
Politics is the most powerful new religion of this millennium…politics poses a greater threat to the gospel than any other religion.

Visions of Perspective

Scripture Focus: Daniel 7.1, 13-14
In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying in bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream. 

13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, o coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. 

Psalm 115.2-8
2 Why do the nations say, 
“Where is their God?” 
3 Our God is in heaven; 
he does whatever pleases him. 
4 But their idols are silver and gold, 
made by human hands. 
5 They have mouths, but cannot speak, 
eyes, but cannot see. 
6 They have ears, but cannot hear, 
noses, but cannot smell. 
7 They have hands, but cannot feel, 
feet, but cannot walk, 
nor can they utter a sound with their throats. 
8 Those who make them will be like them, 
and so will all who trust in them. 

Reflection: Visions of Perspective
By John Tillman

The book of Daniel is not in chronological order. These visions of beasts begin during the first year of Belshazzar’s reign but we don’t read of them until after hearing of Belshazzar’s fall and of Darius who replaced him. 

These shocking visions, revealing the fall of Babylon and many other kingdoms, were so terrifying to Daniel that he was disturbed in spirit and physically exhausted for days. They seem to have changed him.

The Daniel entering Belshazzar’s feast in chapter five is no longer the Daniel from chapter four, who gave an emotional, pleading warning to Nebuchadnezzar. Years have passed. Daniel has seen things. He is older and more experienced. He’s seen his friends persecuted, his warnings ignored, and visions that terrified him. He is perhaps a bit cynical about the current state of the government. (Many of us perhaps can identify with that.)

Daniel showed concern and fear when telling Nebuchadnezzar of his coming fall into madness, but he does not shy away from directly rebuking Belshazzar. The change is dramatic. 

Daniel is no longer the bright young man attempting to prove himself or please the king. He bluntly throws Belshazzar’s offer of gifts back in his face. After all he has seen, he doesn’t need gifts to tell the truth. He doesn’t fear for his life after seeing the history of the world spun out into eternity. 

Daniel knows that this kingdom he has been working to prosper is about to fall. What good is Belshazzar’s offer of being the third highest ruler in the kingdom, when that kingdom will end before the sun comes up? What threat is being thrown to Darius’s lions after beholding the beasts of the future of the world?

More importantly, Daniel knows that, in the scope of the great beasts and the timeline he has witnessed, Belshazzar, Darius, and Cyrus are, at best, tiny horns on the beasts of history. Belshazzar, in particular, is an inferior level of the statue from Nebuchadnezzar’s disturbing dream.

After seeing the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man, how can Daniel be impressed by or cower before a human king? Oh that such a change of perspective could come over us.

Oh, Son of Man, enthroned! 
Oh, Ancient of Days!
May kings of earth be strangely dimmed
In the light of your glorious face.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Who is like you, Lord God of hosts? O mighty Lord, your faithfulness is all around you.
Righteousness and justice are the foundations of your throne; love and truth go before your face — Psalm 116.8

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Daniel 7  (Listen – 5:21)
Psalm 114-115 (Listen – 2:18)

Read more about Weighed and Found Wanting
We also hold in our hands wealth and power that we think we gained for ourselves but which came from God.

Read more about Truth Unwanted :: A Guided Prayer
Jesus, you are the king, the gift, and the truth that the world does not want.

Public, Prayerful, Persistent Protest

Scripture Focus: Daniel 6.10-11
10 Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. 11 Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help.

Psalm 112.7-8
They will have no fear of bad news;
their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
8 Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear;
in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.

Reflection: Public, Prayerful, Persistent Protest
By John Tillman

Daniel’s daily prayer probably concerned his reading of Jeremiah’s prophecies about the return from exile. (Daniel 9.1-3)

Daniel’s prayer was not just any kind of prayer. Daniel prayed for God to forgive the sin of the people and return them to their homeland. This was a subversive prayer for the oppressed to be freed by the government Daniel served. 

Regardless of the topic of Daniel’s prayer, when a law was passed forbidding it, Daniel’s public prayer became a protest against injustice. 

Those who wish to regulate protests often say to protesters, “Not here. Not now. Not like this.” They may have told Daniel to pray at a different time or place. They may have told Daniel to pray in private, keeping his religion to himself. They may have told Daniel to pray silently, so as not to offend anyone. But Daniel did not allow anyone to dictate the timing and method of his prayerful protest for justice.

Daniel prayed in defiance of an unjust law. He was guilty before the law of the land, but blameless before God. He also remained blameless and unassailable in the righteousness of all his other dealings. He broke no other law in the course of his protest. 

Finally, Daniel faced the consequences of his protest without protest. He did not demand or expect to be spared. He trusted in God for justice, not in humans. 

We too, are exiles living in an unjust world. The corrupt followers of the corrupt systems around us are prepared to penalize us for resisting. In a corrupt system, incorruptibility is a crime.

When we protest injustice, no matter what is, we can follow Daniel’s model of publicly, prayerfully, and persistently protesting unjust laws in a just and righteous way. Daniel’s protest softened the heart of a king and changed the leadership of an entire nation. What might ours change today?

Pray this prayer for those living in and protesting injustice in a corrupt world: (Based on Psalm 112 and the proclamation of Darius in Daniel 6.)

Oh, God whose kingdom will not be destroyed
Rescue and save! 
As in heaven, work your will on the earth. 
From ravenous lions, save us, your servants.

Make the darkness light for the upright, 
The gracious, compassionate, and righteous
who conduct their affairs with justice. 
May hearts be steadfast
May the wicked be vexed, 
May justice longed for roll like rivers over them.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Your righteousness, O God, reaches to the heavens, you have done great things; who is like you, O God?
You have showed me great troubles and adversities, but you will restore my life and bring me up again from the deep places of the earth,
You strengthen me more and more; you enfold and comfort me.
Therefore I will praise you upon the lyre for your faithfulness, O my God; I will sing to you with the harp, O holy One of Israel.
My lips will sing with joy when I play to you, and so will my soul, which you have redeemed.
My tongue will proclaim your righteousness all day long,for they are ashamed and disgraced who sought to do me harm.  — Psalm 71.19-24

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Daniel 6  (Listen – 5:18)
Psalm 112-113 (Listen – 1:49)

Read more about A Generational Lament
Prayers of lament and complaint are a healthy and fulfilling spiritual practice that can be entered into by individuals and communities.

Read more about Peter’s Unfinished Work
As evidenced by both the murder of George Floyd and some of the broken and tragic responses to it, the church has much work left to do.

Weighed and Found Wanting

Scripture Focus: Daniel 5.17, 25-28
17 Then Daniel answered the king, “You may keep your gifts for yourself and give your rewards to someone else. Nevertheless, I will read the writing for the king and tell him what it means. 

25 “This is the inscription that was written: 


26 “Here is what these words mean: 
Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. 
27 Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. 
28 Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” 

Psalm 110.5
The Lord is at your right hand; he will crush kings on the day of his wrath.

Psalm 111.10
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.

Reflection: Weighed and Found Wanting
By John Tillman

The terms written on Belshazzar’s wall come from counting and weighing money made of precious metals and are filled with double meanings. Mene means “mina” and sounds like the word for “measured.” Tekel means shekels, a unit of weight measurement, and was also a play on the word numbered. Parsin means half-shekels, implying a kingdom divided, and sounded like Persian, which is who would take over the kingdom.

“Writing on the wall,” has become a worldwide idiom that shows up in countless cultural references. Many don’t know that it comes from the Bible. But there is more to the meaning of the phrase than an ominous warning. The writing on the wall is all about pride and gold.

The gold items Belshazzar was drinking from had an interesting history.

After humbling Egypt, God caused Egyptians to look favorably on the slaves as they left. God told the Israelites to ask for items of gold and jewelry, “so they plundered the Egyptians.” (Exodus 11.1-3; 12.31-36)

Later, the people gave of this gold to make implements of worship designed by God. (Exodus 35.20-29) A generation prior to the exile, Hezekiah showed off these golden items in the temple to visiting Babylonian officials, which seems to have sparked Babylon’s interest in conquering the land. (2 Kings 20.12-18)

So, Belshazzar held in his hand golden cups designed by God, made from gold taken by God by humbling Egypt at the height of its power. Belshazzar stood atop the empire of his father, called the “king of kings,” who at the height of his power suffered humiliation and exile because of his pride. 

Belshazzar held God’s cup but did not honor the God who held his own life in his hands. (Daniel 5.23) Belshazzar “knew all this” but still chose to defy the God of Israel. Belshazzar did not measure up. He was found wanting. 

Belshazzar should have known better and so should we. We also hold in our hands wealth and power that we think we gained for ourselves but which came from God. 

We, like Belshazzar, “know all this,” but do we learn from the sins of our fathers before us? Do we continue in them or deny them?
We are responsible for what we know and what we do about it.
When we, and the rulers we have set over us, are weighed and measured, will God find humility or hubris? Kindness or callousness? Generosity or greed?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Show your goodness, O Lord, to those who are good and to those who are true of heart. — Psalm 125.4

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Daniel 5  (Listen – 5:47)
Psalm 110-111 (Listen – 1:57)

Read more about Humbling Nebuchadnezzar
Humility will save you and your nation. Pride will destroy you and your nation. If only kings had ears to hear.


Read more about Hearing the Groans of the Prisoners
He hears the cries of all those oppressed by their rulers. He judges all rulers and leaders who conduct themselves with pride and irresponsibility.

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