A couple of weeks ago while on vacation, I had a mission.
I was going to retrieve kittens from my mom and dad’s farm as a gift for some friends. In my mind the plan was clear: go to the farm, corral the kittens, place them into the carrier and bring them home. But these kittens had a different vision for their lives. After nearly two hours of chasing kittens all over God’s good creation, my plan had failed. ALL I was attempting to do was give these kittens good homes and they weren’t having it! They had one vision for their lives, and I had another! When it comes to God’s vision for our lives, aren’t we just like those kittens?
For the first 6 chapters of the book of Daniel, Daniel and his companions demonstrate this deep connection with God–an alignment of vision through the gift of interpreting dreams. Daniel’s been on-point as God’s primary mouthpiece to some of the most powerful kings and rulers on the planet.
But now the visions and dreams are coming through a little fuzzy and Daniel is feeling out of sorts. What worked in the past is no longer working!
In Daniel 9:15-17, Daniel is journaling his thoughts about the mess he is in:
“Master, you are our God, for you delivered your people from the land of Egypt in a show of power—people are still talking about it! We confess that we have sinned, that we have lived bad lives. Following the lines of what you have always done in setting things right, setting people right, please stop being so angry with Jerusalem, your very own city, your holy mountain. We know it’s our fault that this has happened, all because of our sins and our parents’ sins, and now we’re an embarrassment to everyone around us. We’re a blot on the neighborhood. So, listen, God, to this determined prayer of your servant. Have mercy on your ruined Sanctuary. Act out of who you are, not out of what we are.” (Daniel 9: 15-17 THE MESSAGE).
EXILE, PANDEMIC EDITION
God promised to free God’s people from exile after 70 years, and time was nearly up. But God’s people haven’t kept their end of the bargain. And so, Daniel hears from an unseen messenger of God that God’s people get an extension—70 times 7 years, roughly 490 years–to get it together. God’s people were supposed to learn a few lessons in exile, but exile hadn’t been the kind of teacher that God purposed it to be.
I wonder if we too will learn the lessons of our exile: pandemic edition.
This is the same God that promised, “…that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 NIV).
There is always good to be found when times are hard.
Life has been different, hard, frustrating, and at times on the brink of maddening. We’ve found ourselves disconnected and confused, hoping all of this would just disappear and that life could go back to the way it used to be.
But we cannot go back to the way things used to be.
THE HEALTHY DIRECTION IS FORWARD
Our habits and rhythms have been upended. Some are desperate to come back to a building for worship, and others are perfectly content to worship in their PJs with waffles in hand. Our kids have learned a lot about how to teach themselves online—moving from an industrial model of compliant learning to education as exploration and innovation. Adults discovered they could work, shop and be entertained through a screen. “The way things used to be” sounds nice—but I’m sorry friends – we can’t. Back there doesn’t exist anymore.
“We do not get to pick our ambient culture. God has determined our appointed times. You and I are part of an arranged marriage, made and chosen “for such a time as this.” The Zeitgeist (or the spirit of the times) is not the enemy but the context in which the Heilige Geist (or the Holy Spirit) wants to be released and unleashed” -Leonard Sweet
You are here in this culture, in this moment, in this pandemic, in this season for such a time as this. Not to go back – but to step forward with God into the courageous unknown.
Daniel reminds us that the same God who was at work in the past, is the same God who is at work in the present.
“Master, you are our God, for you delivered your people from the land of Egypt in a show of power—people are still talking about it!” (Daniel 9:15 THE MESSAGE).
Daniel pointed to the collective memory of God’s power rather than the sentimentality of nostalgia.
Nostalgia and memory are different.
Nostalgia keeps us stuck— it’s a romanticized version of the past.
It’s what some call the good old days.
It’s the Israelites saying, “but we ate meat and cucumbers in Egypt”—even though they were slaves. It’s sugar coating the past. Nostalgia is not real! And it can be dangerous! Nostalgia tempts us to want to go back. Nostalgia keeps us longing for the way things used to be.
Memory is different.
“Memory is the capacity to live into a story that animates history. That animates who we understand ourselves to be, animates community. Memory is a very beautiful thing. And human beings can’t live without it.” (Diana Butler Bass)
Let’s lean into a future where God shows us new ways of being.
ALIGN YOUR VISION
To align your vision with God, the first thing you need to do is to remember the miracles of the past, but accept that you can’t go back. The next step is confession.
“We confess that we have sinned, that we have lived bad lives. Following the lines of what you have always done in setting things right, setting people right, please stop being so angry with Jerusalem, your very own city, your holy mountain. We know it’s our fault that this has happened, all because of our sins and our parents’ sins, and now we’re an embarrassment to everyone around us. We’re a blot on the neighborhood. So, listen, God, to this determined prayer of your servant. Have mercy on your ruined Sanctuary. Act out of who you are, not out of what we are. 18 “‘Turn your ears our way, God, and listen. Open your eyes and take a long look at our ruined city, this city named after you. We know that we don’t deserve a hearing from you. Our appeal is to your compassion” (Daniel 9: 16-18 THE MESSAGE).
Confession—telling ourselves the truth about ourselves.
In his book, Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller shares a story of his college days when he and his friends decided to set a confessional booth in the middle of campus during a festival. At first Donald was completely against the idee. That is, until Tony piped up:
“Okay you guys.” Tony gathered everybody’s attention. “Here’s the catch.” He leaned in a little and collected his thoughts. “We are not actually going to accept confessions.” We all looked at him in confusion. He continued. “We are going to confess to them. We are going to confess that, as followers of Jesus, we have not been very loving; we have been bitter, and for that we are sorry. We will apologize for the Crusades, we will apologize for those televangelists who steal people’s money, we will apologize for neglecting the poor and the lonely, we will ask them to forgive us, and we will tell them that in our selfishness we have misrepresented Jesus on this campus. We will tell people who come into the booth that Jesus loves them.” (pgs. 116-125)
They did it. And it was powerful. People began to thank them for what they were doing. Many couldn’t help but say… I forgive you…..Communal confession is powerful and it’s real.
We confess that we have sinned against God and against one another–How we treat one another on social media, how we turn Christianity into spiritual competition, how we choose politics over faith, how we perpetuate sexism and racism and who we choose to love and arbitrarily choose not to love—we confess that we’ve sinned against God and against one another….whoa! Forgive us we pray!
When you read through Daniel’s prayer, you understand that Daniel is confessing on behalf of his people, owning their sin as part of the whole. He owns his communities’ sin.
So many people say, but I didn’t do that, I didn’t own slaves, I didn’t support Jim Crow laws, I don’t fly a confederate flag, but Daniel said, “We know it’s our fault that this has happened, all because of our sins and our parents’ sins, and now we’re an embarrassment to everyone around us!” OUCH! That stings! And it should! We are in this together!
“‘Master, listen to us! Master, forgive us! Master, look at us and do something! Master, don’t put us off! Your city and your people are named after you: You have a stake in us!” (Daniel 9:19 THE MESSAGE).
We’re like those barn kittens, bent on running away and hiding from God. But God shows us mercy and compassion. If you want to align your vision with God’s, do these three things:
- Remember the miracles of the past, but realize you can’t go back.
- Tell yourself the truth about yourself. Confess and seek forgiveness.
- Move forward in God’s mercy and power.