Finger of God: Daniel 5

I have a favorite Wendell Berry poem that isn’t as pleasant as it is true. It’s about minds (and societies, and kingdoms, even) and ruination:

A mind that has confronted ruin for years/Is half or more a ruined mind. Nightmares/Inhabit it, and daily evidence /Of the clean country smeared for want of sense/Of freedom slack and dull among the free/Of faith subsumed by idiot luxury/And beauty beggered in the marketplace/And clear-eyed wisdom bleary with dispraise. 

In other words, it’s about judgment. And, when we come to Daniel 5, it’s time for judgment. Babylon and its kings have lingered at the door of God’s grace too long. And now, in “idiot luxury,” King Belshazzar will live to see the golden head from Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of chapter 2 lopped off.

I’ll let you read the account for yourself, but we must imagine how traumatic the fall of Babylon must have been for God’s people living in Babylon. What were they to think? What kept them from being angry, afraid, and confused?

Daniel will reappear in this account. Now in his 80s, he’ll remind the young king of those lessons learned by his (grand)father, Nebuchadnezzar. He’ll connect Babylon’s fall with that great vision from some sixty years before (found in chapter 2), in which God’s plan for the ages is disclosed. And, for those of us living millennia later, he’ll reveal why we’re not to be angry, afraid, or confused when we see catastrophic events in our own day:

The reason we’re not angry or afraid or confused by catastrophic events in the world is that the raising up and throwing down of kingdoms in the kingdoms of man is God’s plan, preparing us for Christ.

Have a look at Daniel 5. Join us Sunday at Woodland, and then join a group to discuss some of the possible application questions coming from the passage. Here’s some suggestions:

Questions for discussion with others:

  1. What lessons can be drawn from Belshazzar’s forgetfulness of truths learned from Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams? How can we not make the same mistakes?
  2. What did the queen get right? What did she still get wrong? How might it be possible for us to know right things about God, but still not grasp the significance of His dealings in the world?
  3. What hard lesson does Daniel deliver to King Belshazzar? Whom has God weighed and found righteous?
  4. When we expect (and are not surprised!) to see kingdoms rise and fall, we’ll see the flow of history for what it is. (See also Daniel 2.44). How does this enable us to act? What does this response, in turn, allow us to do for refugees fleeing the demise of the kingdoms of man?

See you Sunday, at Woodland!



The King Understands His Dream: Daniel 2.26-49

Winter finds us at Woodland right in the middle of the Book of Daniel—and right where we need to be!

Daniel is about how the Kingdom of God overcomes the kingdoms of this world and about how God’s people should live in a foreign land while God brings history to a close. Like I say, I think we’re listening. It’s where we need to be, right now.

This week we’re in the back half of chapter 2, where Daniel tells the Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar, about his own dream, and interprets it for him. I’ll let you read it for yourself, but note verse 44, a verse I take to be the key verse of the entire book:

And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever.

We’re told earlier in the passage that the dream is given to Nebuchadnezzar, ” … that you may know the thoughts of your mind” (in other words that you, oh king, may conform yourself to the ultimate reality of God’s plan). What will the king do with this knowledge? What will each of us do?

The beauty of the Book of Daniel is that we can, likewise, conform our minds to the ultimate reality of God’s will. When nations rise and fall, we don’t have to be angry, afraid, or even confused. Like Israel of old, we will live under godless rulers, but we can … Expect to know God’s plan when we are subject to godless rulers, in a foreign land. 

Here’s a few questions to guide our group discussion through the passage:

  1. What can we learn from verses 25-30 about God’s purpose in revealing His plan to King Nebuchadnezzar?
  2. What general observations from verses 31-35 can be made about the statue in King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream?
  3. What part does the stone “cut out by no human hand” play in the dream? What does this tell us about ultimate reality?
  4. In light of the interpretation of the dream, found in verses 36-45, what should we look for when we see world powers rising in importance?
  5. We see, in verses 45-49, how Nebuchadnezzar responded to the dream—and will see next week what he really thought. How should we respond to Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, revealed by God in Daniel?

Be blessed … And see you this Sunday, at Woodland!

Remembering the Gospel: Acts 20.1-38

There’s been good progress at our house of late. Earlier this week, Amanda and I were able to attend, for two days, a pastors’ conference in the area. While we met with others from outside the area, we heard from local friends that business had continued like normal at our house—where the kids went on like normal, but without us. Only now, it was our seventeen-year-old daughter trekking back and forth between Rib Lake and Westboro—piano lessons, school, work. She and the kids did great, and that’s a happy thing.

It wasn’t always so happy, though. About a year ago there was the time when we turned over the keys, kinda nervous, if I remember. What did we want our daughter to remember as she started up the Honda van and drove those icy, Wisconsin highways? Well, to use the headlights, the wipers, the ice-scraper. To remember license, registration, and insurance papers. And, to remember that SNOW MEANS SLOW! We needn’t have worried, but it was hard at the time.

In our passage this week, there’s a kind of turning over of the keys. Paul is headed for Rome, and he makes one last pass through the churches he’s planted in Macedonia, Greece, and Asia Minor. What does he want these believers to remember, since he will soon pass off the scene? For them, remembering Paul will mean remembering God’s people, remembering God’s power, and remembering Paul’s example, especially in the future when things are uncertain for the new drivers of the church of Jesus.

How about us? We’re removed in time from that beech in what is today western Turkey, where Paul knelt and prayed with the Ephesian elders. But, we’re not removed in importance. And, the future is, likewise for us, unclear.

When the future is unclear, remember the gospel of the grace of God. 

That’s the message we need to remember. And that’s what we each need to remember as the Lord entrusts different ones of us with responsibility in His church, till He comes.

Here’s a few questions for consideration with others:

  1. Why do you think we’re given Paul’s travel plans in verses 1-6, along with the litany (the list) of names?
  2. Why do you think we’re given the account of Eutychus (or “Lucky”)? This account seems out of place, unless …
  3. Paul’s speech to the Ephesian elders (:17-38) is the only speech of Paul’s we have in Acts that is given to fellow Christians, and it reveals his heart. In it he looks to the past (:18b-21), present (:22-27), and future (:28-35). What do we learn in these sections about the person who remembers the gospel of the grace of God?

See you Sunday at Woodland!

JESUS Changes Things: Acts 19.21-41

Is Jesus a threat to you? … Well, maybe you’ll know what I mean, once you’ve joined me in working through Luke’s account of Paul in Ephesus, found in Acts 19.21-41.

In this passage, the Spirit is stirring up Paul to go to Rome. It’s been a nice season in Ephesus—daily work and teaching. We get the summary in 19.20: So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily. Then, we’re told that Paul “resolved in the Spirit” to go to Rome. How will God accomplish Paul’s passage to Rome? Well, God will begin by showing Paul what it looks like when Jesus changes things: Paul’s plans, for starters, then places (like Ephesus), and, finally, peoples’ hearts. In the face of the rulers of the day and the cultures of power, Paul will sometimes be in chains. Other times Paul will be a spectator as JESUS actively changes things through the power of His gospel. Paul’s part is to be faithful.

And, in our passage for this week, JESUS will start with a riot. Probably not something Paul planned on!

Have a read through Acts 19.21-41. Join us at Woodland on Sunday. And, then, have a talk through these questions with others.

Questions to discuss with others:

    1. Jesus and the gospel, preached by Paul, pose a threat to the established order in Ephesus. What did Jesus threaten in Ephesus? What does Jesus threaten in our society when people trust in Him?
    2. What can we gather about Paul’s strategy for change in Ephesian society? How can we relate this to the way God uses individual Christians and churches to bring about change in our society?
    3. How does the first point of the message (about Paul’s plans) and the second point of the message (about the reaction in Ephesus) relate? How does the scene in Ephesus foreshadow the way God will protect Paul and accomplish His purpose as the gospel goes to Rome?

See you Sunday, at Woodland!

The Charge: 2 Timothy 4.1-8

This Sunday we get to do something really special in our time together at Woodland. We get to ordain Michael Boehnke, our family ministries pastor.

In recognizing God’s grace and calling on Michael’s life we get to consider Jesus’ charge to each of us. That’s found in 2 Timothy 4.1-8:

Preach the word: be ready in season and out of season, reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching … (4.2)

Sure, Michael is unique. He’s studied and been examined and given his life to leadership in the church in a special way. We’re going to honor him for that. But, Jesus’ basic charge to Michael is no different from Jesus’ charge to any of His followers: Tell people about Him (JESUS), so that they will love it when He (JESUS) comes!

Michael is a herald delivering the message about Jesus. You and I are herald’s delivering the same good news. The charge is not to organize or recruit or plan or program or become specialists or experts. The charge is to take people to Jesus, so that (after they’ve believed) they’ll be delighted when Jesus returns.

Look at how our passage ends: Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing (:8).

Yes, JESUS’S coming. That’s what we’re all looking forward to. And speaking of Jesus, and telling others about Jesus, and leaning in toward our meeting with Him—that’s the Father’s charge and calling for each of us.

So, celebrate Michael, but get excited about Jesus. And, I’m so looking forward to seeing each of you this Sunday, at Woodland.

Questions to consider with others:

  1. How is today’s message not just for pastors (like Michael)?
  2. Why is it so important that the gospel (all that is ours in Christ) be delivered verbally?
  3. How does it help us to know that we are neither more nor less than heralds of the gospel?
  4. How does Michael’s ordination encourage you today?


Keep Going! Acts 18.1-22

What is it that Jesus has asked you to do? You, specifically, I mean. Right, everything we have in Christ is ours when we join God’s people by faith. But God puts us in particular places with specific things He intends to do through us too. And then He helps us.

That’s what we learn in Acts 18.1-22 when we’re with Paul in Corinth. The heart of the passage is Jesus’ midnight visit when He tells Paul: Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you … (:9-10a). And then, Jesus provides for Paul.

And Jesus provides for us, too. So … Keep on going in your place of service, because Jesus is with you!

Here’s a few questions to consider with others:

  1. Paul’s ministry began with a very specific mandate from Jesus (See Acts 9). What specific things have you been asked by Jesus to do?
  2. What tempts you to quit?
  3. Jesus’ promises in verses 9-11 are unique to Paul in his specific situation in Corinth. What promises has Jesus given to you as a member of God’s people?
  4. Recognizing Jesus’ different provisions for Paul found in this chapter, what provisions has Jesus given you to provide for the doing of His work through you?

Have a great week, and we’ll see you at Woodland!



The Public Square: Acts 17.16-34

It’s been a bad week for our tech giants. As is now apparent, we’re not nearly the free thinkers we thought we were when we click and “like” our way through the digital universe. In fact, it looks like we’ve been sifted through algorithms and pitted against one another, resulting in one (but not the only) cause of some pretty hateful speech in the public square.

And then, there’s the Apostle Paul, in Athens, circa 50AD. Acts 17.16-24 is often touted as the New Testament’s best example of how to speak the gospel into a culture that is totally unlike ones own. But, it’s also a clinic on constructive public square speech. The passage includes a setting with a problem (:16-21) and then a sermon with a beginning (a hook), a middle (four points), and then an end that gets broken off through the Athenians’ lack of responsiveness. Paul wouldn’t have called it his finest hour, but we get an excellent primer on how we might introduce the gospel into our thoroughly post-modern, therapeutic culture.

When speaking in the public square, be generous and take people to JESUS. That summary captures the flavor, the character of Paul’s interaction. And, if studied and learned from, his example will help us in our own public square.

Here’s a few questions for further discussion with others:

  1. Why is it so hard to say anything in the public square, in our own American marketplace of ideas?
  2. How do we see Paul modeling generosity in speaking with his audience which is at once confused and distracted?
  3. What connection points does Paul make with his audience? What connection points might you make with yours?
  4. What particular things does Paul establish about God?
  5. What about Jesus does Paul definitely, absolutely, not leave out?
  6. Describe how you, form your own place in the public square, might likewise be generous and take people to Jesus? What might these encounters look like?
  7. What response should you expect when you do take people to Jesus?

Have a great weekend, and we’ll see you at Woodland!

JESUS, in Times of Trouble: Acts 17.1-15

 [Paul] reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ (Acts 17.2b-3).

This week in Acts our passage turns on that message from Paul, especially the truth that Jesus suffered—before being raised, before being glorified. The unbelievers in Thessalonica won’t like that one bit, because a Messiah who suffered for them means that they’re not all that good. In fact, they’re far from God and will need to change to embrace this Jesus who suffered. That’s the “jealous” response of the Thessalonian unbelievers Luke describes for us (:5).

We struggle in the same way, don’t we? If we embrace Jesus who suffered, then Jesus might expect us to suffer in following Him, then following Him will cost us, in leisure time, personal peace, and affluence. Do we really want that?

That all depends on whether we really want Jesus. The  Thessalonians’ neighbors to the south, the Bereans, will be more “noble” (a word having the idea of generosity). The Beareans will “receive” the word, examine the Scriptures daily, and finally believe in this Jesus who suffered.

In the end, JESUS is worth embracing, because in embracing JESUS who suffered we get to embrace JESUS. That makes all the difference in our own times of trouble. Knowing that JESUS suffered means we’re on the right path when we experience trouble in following Him. Knowing that JESUS suffered means we’re raised with Him in newness of life now and will be raised in every sense at His return.

Knowing that JESUS suffered means we can eagerly embrace Him in our times of trouble.

Here’s a few questions for discussion with others. We’ll see you this Sunday at Woodland!

  1. What about the idea of a suffering Christ would have been offensive to the Jews, then to the Greeks?
  2. What about this same idea is most offensive to Americans, and then (gulp!) to you?
  3. How did the Bereans respond differently than the Thessalonians? And what difference did it make in receiving Paul and Silas?
  4. How does knowing that Jesus suffered before being raised invite me to think about my own trouble?
  5. How does knowing that Jesus suffered before being raised invite me to think and feel about Jesus?

Attacked! Acts 16.16-40

This week we’re going to see what happens when God works and we respond: God’s people get attacked!

We’ll see it in Acts 16, and we’ll recognize the reality in our own lives. Paul and Silas have just seen the church of Jesus planted in Philippi, on the new continent that today is Europe. And, you know what, God’s enemy doesn’t like it. God’s enemy tried to distort the gospel and discredit the messengers.

But, you know what else? God protects His Word and leads His messengers through: When in the place of spiritual attack, know that God will lead you out!

Here’s a few questions to consider with others as we get ready to meet tomorrow at Woodland. See you here:

  1. Why is it helpful to think about the difference between natural evil and spiritual attack?
  2. What are some ways that the gospel gets confused in our response to evil? (:16-24)
  3. Where do your thoughts go in the “midnight hour” when you are under attack? (:25-26)
  4. What is your typical pattern of response to people who have hurt you when you are under attack? (:27-34)
  5. How can we promote the reputation of God’s people when we’ve sustained an attack? (:35-40)

Decisions … Decisions … Decisions: Acts 15.36-16.15

This week we’re thinking about decisions. We make them more than ever, right? Decisions about scheduling and technology, rides and healthcare. Decisions about machines we can’t live without, but suddenly can’t use. More than ever, routine decisions are complicated and make us tired, don’t they?

In Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas (then Silas) take off on what we’ve come to call their Second Missionary Journey. They’ll revisit places like Derby, Lystra and Iconium where they’d introduced Gentiles to Jesus, the Savior of the world. Only this time, they’ll carry with them the verdict of the Jerusalem Council, reached earlier in Acts 15: JESUS is enough! You don’t need to keep the law of Moses in order to be saved.

But, as clear as that message might be, there’s more questions that arise from the doing of their trip. They involve those bedeviling details about whether to trust their young, but unreliable companion, John Mark. They involve how to present their new, half-Jewish companion Timothy, in their ministry to the Jews. They involve where to go when the Spirit tells them not to go where they’d planned on going.

Who to trust? … What to do? … Where to go?

Any of this sound familiar? Do you think there’s something we can learn for our own decision-making as we consider this passage?

Yes, there is. And, as we prepare to gather together at Woodland this Sunday, here’s some other questions we might consider together.

Questions for discussion:

  1. What do we learn from the decision about John Mark? What was the process that Paul and Barnabas went through in arriving at their decision? How did God work this out? (15.36-41)
  2. Do you have a story about a time when you had to make a decision only to find later that you “couldn’t have made a bad decision,” because you were trusting the results to the Lord?
  3. What principles do we see worked out in Timothy’s decision to become circumcised? (16.1-5)
  4. Have you ever had an experience where God refined your mission? Maybe, He told you to stop doing something He’d previously told you to do; or He told you to do something He’d previously not allowed you to do? What did that experience teach you about time and place and the timing of God’s work?
  5. What does the account of Lydia show us about the end toward which the Spirit reveals God’s will and guides us?

We’ll see you this Sunday, at Woodland!