URC Daily Devotion 29th July 2019

All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king said, ‘Is this not magnificent Babylon, which I have built as a royal capital by my mighty power and for my glorious majesty?’  While the words were still in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven: ‘O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: The kingdom has departed from you! You shall be driven away from human society, and your dwelling shall be with the animals of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like oxen, and seven times shall pass over you, until you have learned that the Most High has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals and gives it to whom he will.’  Immediately the sentence was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven away from human society, ate grass like oxen, and his body was bathed with the dew of heaven, until his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers and his nails became like birds’ claws.
Reflection
‘Pride comes before a fall.’  A saying often accompanied by a shaking of the head, and maybe the uncharitable thought, ‘They had it coming.’  The successful and powerful invariably have their detractors. Some are keen to befriend the person who has ‘made it’; others are hostile, quick to denounce signs of arrogance and self-satisfaction.

King Nebuchadnezzar had been warned about his humiliation.  He had had a dream, interpreted fearfully by Daniel (Daniel 4:19-27).  Did he believe Daniel’s interpretation of his downfall, isolation and mental illness? (Daniel 4:34 mentions the restoration of his ‘reason’).  Did he live in dread, waiting for calamity to strike? Or did he push that worrying dream aside and settle back into his comfortable life? As we picture him surveying the magnificent city of Babylon, full of self-congratulation for this pinnacle of his achievements, there’s no evidence of self-doubt.   Here is a man certain of his own greatness, with no thought of any higher power than his own.

But at the moment when he took the greatest pride in his achievements, King Nebuchadnezzar was struck down.  The dream was fulfilled. In isolation from human society, he ate grass alongside the animals and assumed a grotesque appearance.  The acclaimed magnificent king had become a shunned wild man.

Nebuchadnezzar fell as far as it was possible to fall, in order to learn that God, not he, was sovereign.  How often do we, in all our self-sufficiency, need to be reminded of our dependence on God, the source of our achievements?

Glorious God,
When we are proud,
let us learn humility.
When we enjoy popularity,
let us take care for those on the edge.
When we take satisfaction
  for work well done,

let us give thanks for your creativity working through us.  Amen.

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d Dr Gillian Poucher, Minister, Gainsborough United Reformed Church.

Bible Version

 

New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved

URC Daily Devotion 28th July 2019

1 O thank the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures always.
2 Let those whom God redeemed say this,
those rescued by his grace.
He saved them from their enemies
3 and brought them from the lands,
From east and west, from north and south,
safe from oppressing hands.

4 Some wandered in the desert wastes,
not finding any way
To reach a city where they might
obtain a place to stay.
5 Their life and strength were ebbing fast
in thirst and emptiness.
6 Then in despair they sought the LORD,
who saved them from distress.

7 Straight was the path he led them on,
a city to attain.
8 So for the LORD’s unfailing love
let them give thanks again,
And for the awesome deeds of power
which he for them achieves—
9 For hungry souls he fills with good;
the thirsty he relieves.

10 Some sat in darkness and in gloom,
in chains of iron held;
11 They scorned the ways of God Most High,
against his words rebelled.
12 And so he made them labour hard
in bitterness and shame.
They stumbled, and they could not rise;
to help them no one came.

13 Then to the LORD they cried for help;
he saved them from their doom.
14 He broke away their cruel chains
and brought them out of gloom.
15 So let them thank him for his love,
the deeds which he achieves—
16 Because he breaks down gates of bronze
and iron bars he cleaves.

17 Some erred through their rebellious ways
and for their sins paid dear.
18 All kinds of food revolted them;
the gates of death drew near.
19 Then in despair they sought the LORD;
he saved them from their doom.
20 His word went forth with healing power
and kept them from the tomb.

You can hear a Free Church of Scotland sing vv 10 – 16 to the haunting tune Morven here  and vv 37-43 to the tune Rachel here

URC Daily Devotion 27th July 2019

Then Daniel, who was called Belteshazzar, was severely distressed for a while. His thoughts terrified him. The king said, ‘Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or the interpretation terrify you.’ Belteshazzar answered, ‘My lord, may the dream be for those who hate you, and its interpretation for your enemies!  The tree that you saw, which grew great and strong, so that its top reached to heaven and was visible to the end of the whole earth, whose foliage was beautiful and its fruit abundant, and which provided food for all, under which animals of the field lived, and in whose branches the birds of the air had nests—  it is you, O king! You have grown great and strong. Your greatness has increased and reaches to heaven, and your sovereignty to the ends of the earth. And whereas the king saw a holy watcher coming down from heaven and saying, “Cut down the tree and destroy it, but leave its stump and roots in the ground, with a band of iron and bronze, in the grass of the field; and let him be bathed with the dew of heaven, and let his lot be with the animals of the field, until seven times pass over him”—  this is the interpretation, O king, and it is a decree of the Most High that has come upon my lord the king: You shall be driven away from human society, and your dwelling shall be with the wild animals. You shall be made to eat grass like oxen, you shall be bathed with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over you, until you have learned that the Most High has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals, and gives it to whom he will. As it was commanded to leave the stump and roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be re-established for you from the time that you learn that Heaven is sovereign.  Therefore, O king, may my counsel be acceptable to you: atone for your sins with righteousness, and your iniquities with mercy to the oppressed, so that your prosperity may be prolonged.’
Reflection
What it is to be a prophet of doom!  What might it be like to tell someone to their face that their days are numbered, that their pride and greed have caught up with them, that they will be cut down unless they change their ways imminently? Can we imagine what that is like?

What it is to be the recipient of prophecy!  What might it be like to hear that our way of life has eaten us up, that we have but a short time to avoid a terrible fate? Can we imagine what that is like?

Well, actually we can. Like Nebuchadnezzar, we have benefited from a sumptuous way of life bought at others’ expense.  We have consumed the earth’s resources like there is no tomorrow. We have assumed that our (economic) power will go on forever.  And, like Nebuchadnezzar, we are wrong. We are morally wrong – we should care about our suffering world. We are factually wrong – our greed will catch up with us.

We could be Daniel. You and I could – should – write today to our MP and our local council asking them to support declaring a climate emergency and acting quickly to save our world.  You and I could – should – engage in prophetic action through Christian Climate Action (part of Extinction Rebellion) to show those in power the dire warnings of God, spoken through the best scientific minds of our age.

Whether or not we are prepared to be Daniel, we are King Nebuchadnezzar.  Our time is up. As we shall see tomorrow, Nebuchadnezzar had just a year to change – and he failed to listen.  The International Panel on Climate Change has given us twelve years (one of which has gone). Will we listen?

You saw a tree grown great and strong…
its foliage was beautiful
and fruit abundant,

under which animals of the field lived,
in whose branches the birds had nests.
And you said
“Cut down the tree for development.”

And you did.
And the earth could not survive.

So now you too will be chopped down unless you learn quickly
that Heaven is sovereign.

And did the people say: Amen?

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d Gethin Rhys, Policy Officer of Cytun (Churches Together in Wales), member of Parkminster URC, Cardiff.

Bible Version

 

New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved

URC Daily Devotion 26th July 2019

King Nebuchadnezzar to all peoples, nations, and languages that live throughout the earth: May you have abundant prosperity!  The signs and wonders that the Most High God has worked for me I am pleased to recount.

How great are his signs,
   how mighty his wonders!
His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
   and his sovereignty is from generation to generation.

I, Nebuchadnezzar, was living at ease in my home and prospering in my palace.  I saw a dream that frightened me; my fantasies in bed and the visions of my head terrified me. So I made a decree that all the wise men of Babylon should be brought before me, in order that they might tell me the interpretation of the dream. Then the magicians, the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the diviners came in, and I told them the dream, but they could not tell me its interpretation. At last Daniel came in before me—he who was named Belteshazzar after the name of my god, and who is endowed with a spirit of the holy gods —and I told him the dream:  ‘O Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, I know that you are endowed with a spirit of the holy gods and that no mystery is too difficult for you. Hear the dream that I saw; tell me its interpretation.

Upon my bed this is what I saw;
   there was a tree at the centre of the earth,
   and its height was great.
The tree grew great and strong,
   its top reached to heaven,
   and it was visible to the ends of the whole earth.
Its foliage was beautiful,
   its fruit abundant,
   and it provided food for all.
The animals of the field found shade under it,
   the birds of the air nested in its branches,
   and from it all living beings were fed.

‘I continued looking, in the visions of my head as I lay in bed, and there was a holy watcher, coming down from heaven. He cried aloud and said:

“Cut down the tree and chop off its branches,
   strip off its foliage and scatter its fruit.
Let the animals flee from beneath it
   and the birds from its branches.
But leave its stump and roots in the ground,
   with a band of iron and bronze,
   in the tender grass of the field.
Let him be bathed with the dew of heaven,
   and let his lot be with the animals of the field
   in the grass of the earth.
Let his mind be changed from that of a human,
   and let the mind of an animal be given to him.
   And let seven times pass over him.
The sentence is rendered by decree of the watchers,
   the decision is given by order of the holy ones,
in order that all who live may know
   that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdom of mortals;
he gives it to whom he will
   and sets over it the lowliest of human beings.”

‘This is the dream that I, King Nebuchadnezzar, saw. Now you, Belteshazzar, declare the interpretation, since all the wise men of my kingdom are unable to tell me the interpretation. You are able, however, for you are endowed with a spirit of the holy gods.’

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URC Daily Devotion 24th July 2019

The resolve of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego resonates with my own experience and articulates my own faith.   It is also, I suggest, a resolve that has echoes of our Dissenting spirit.

Firstly, it affirms faith and confidence in the power of the God who “is able to deliver”.  Faced with the prospect of the furnace of blazing fire the faith of these three is that God is greater than the flames and is therefore able to deliver them.  In common with the Dissenters they affirm that God is also greater than any human king and can deliver them from such.

Secondly, it concedes an “if not”.   It is one thing for us to affirm that God “is able” but many of us have had to wrestle with the anguish of instances where despite faith and prayer the desired result has not been the outcome.   Hopes may have been raised but, humanly speaking, disappointment has come and faith has been dented. Some of us are even tempted to change “if not” to “when not”.  

Thirdly, however, the resolve of these three is that they will hold on to faith – for which, perhaps, read “trust that God holds on to them” – even if not.   The fiery furnace of daily life blazes and some do not escape its flames.   Their resolve is echoed in the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane as he is about to be thrown into the furnace of Calvary:  “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” (Mark 14: 36)

If faith is held on the condition that God rescues us from every furnace it is likely to be short-lived.   The resolve of the three – and the One – is that even “if not” we will keep faith and, thereby, discover in the flames and on the Cross that God is with us. 

URC Daily Devotion 23rd July 2019

King Nebuchadnezzar made a golden statue whose height was sixty cubits and whose width was six cubits; he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.  Then King Nebuchadnezzar sent for the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counsellors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, to assemble and come to the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.  So the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counsellors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, assembled for the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. When they were standing before the statue that Nebuchadnezzar had set up, the herald proclaimed aloud, ‘You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages,  that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, you are to fall down and worship the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire.’ Therefore, as soon as all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, all the peoples, nations, and languages fell down and worshipped the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

Accordingly, at this time certain Chaldeans came forward and denounced the Jews. They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, ‘O king, live for ever! You, O king, have made a decree, that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, shall fall down and worship the golden statue, and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire. There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These pay no heed to you, O king. They do not serve your gods and they do not worship the golden statue that you have set up.’

Reflection
This scene reminds me of a song by Third Day called “Never Bow Down”.  The Empire demands allegiance. It sets up an image and a test. Will you dance to the Empire’s tune?  Or will you risk the Empire’s glare of disapproval? Will you instead seek God’s rhythm of life and move within God’s divine beats?

I’d like to think I’d be like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and stand up to the Empire – as I write this whilst lounging on my ‘Swedish branded’ sofa, sipping an ‘American brand’ coffee, having consulted a Biblical commentary bought from an ‘American marketplace’ on the web, and really looking forward to the next ‘superhero universe’ movie.  

Yes – I’d like to THINK I’d resist the Empire.

The Empire is quite persuasive as it uses rhetoric to play on our fears, our laziness, our busyness, our apathy, our lack of experience, etc.  The Empire’s rhythm drives us forward to who knows where, but at least we are moving, right? And whether we like it or not, we find ourselves marching to its beat.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to march to that beat.  The Empire (forgive me) struck back. A fourth figure appeared in the flames alongside them, playing a different tune.

Jesus is the “Lord of the Dance” as the song goes.  His song sounds different. It’s a gentler swaying rhythm, that whispers life.  Sometimes – if you stop moving to the Empire’s beat – if you google ‘Christ’ with your heart, you can hear Christ’s song.  And when you dance to Christ’s rhythms, people notice. Some won’t understand. Some however might find themselves also moving to the ancient heavenly beats of God. 

Love God, love neighbours,
love each other.
Go out, reach out,
love enemies.
Free captives and oppressed,
bless persecutors.
Open eyes, share the good news
of Jesus the Christ.
Holy God,
You created us to walk
and to dance with you.
Sometimes our steps get muddled.  
God, we are sorry.
Help us to keep in step with you
and to invite others into Your dance.
Amen

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d Angela Rigby is the Minister at Christ Church URC Tonbridge and St Johns Hill URC Sevenoaks.

Bible Version

 

New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved

URC Daily Devotion 22nd July 2019

Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell on his face, worshipped Daniel, and commanded that a grain-offering and incense be offered to him.  The king said to Daniel, ‘Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery!’  Then the king promoted Daniel, gave him many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon. Daniel made a request of the king, and he appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon. But Daniel remained at the king’s court.
Reflection
What happens when Church and State clash, when power and truth collide, when empires are confronted by the Living God?   What happens when service to country is at odds with conscience? The Book of Daniel speaks of these tensions and conflicts which echo down the centuries into our own times.

Though written centuries later, the Book’s setting is in the time of exile in Babylon, following the invasion and destruction of Jerusalem.  Daniel and his three companions are promoted in the king’s service and are trained in the Babylonian language, culture and customs. Yet for all the pressure to conform and to forget the faith of the exiles, they hold onto their Jewish faith and practice.   The time comes when Daniel, with all his old and new found wisdom, offers to interpret the dreams that have been troubling the king. He makes clear (like Joseph did before Pharaoh) that the interpretation belongs not to him, but to God.

With the troubling dream interpreted, the mighty King Nebuchadnezzar recognises that he stands before a power and reality greater than himself.  He bows before the Jewish exile – the tables are turned and God, ‘the revealer of mysteries’ is worshipped. The presence of the God who creates and saves is glimpsed.

We long for distorted power to be confronted in our world today.  We long for those who worship themselves to recognise the one who alone is worth worshipping.  How may this be happening in our times? How might we be part of that subversive movement?

God of gods,
Power over all power

be present in our world today
and give us eyes to glimpse you in unexpected places,
minds to grapple with your mysteries,
hearts to be lifted in worship
and lives turned upside down by your love and truth.

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d Terry Hinks, minister of Trinity, High Wycombe and Cores End URC.

Bible Version

 

New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved

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Coordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC Project

  

URC Daily Devotion 18th July 2019

In the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar dreamed such dreams that his spirit was troubled and his sleep left him. So the king commanded that the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans be summoned to tell the king his dreams. When they came in and stood before the king, he said to them, ‘I have had such a dream that my spirit is troubled by the desire to understand it.’  The Chaldeans said to the king (in Aramaic), ‘O king, live for ever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will reveal the interpretation.’ The king answered the Chaldeans, ‘This is a public decree: if you do not tell me both the dream and its interpretation, you shall be torn limb from limb, and your houses shall be laid in ruins. But if you do tell me the dream and its interpretation, you shall receive from me gifts and rewards and great honour. Therefore tell me the dream and its interpretation.’  They answered a second time, ‘Let the king first tell his servants the dream, then we can give its interpretation.’ The king answered, ‘I know with certainty that you are trying to gain time, because you see I have firmly decreed: if you do not tell me the dream, there is but one verdict for you. You have agreed to speak lying and misleading words to me until things take a turn. Therefore, tell me the dream, and I shall know that you can give me its interpretation.’ The Chaldeans answered the king, ‘There is no one on earth who can reveal what the king demands! In fact no king, however great and powerful, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or Chaldean.  The thing that the king is asking is too difficult, and no one can reveal it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with mortals.’ Because of this the king flew into a violent rage and commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be destroyed. The decree was issued, and the wise men were about to be executed; and they looked for Daniel and his companions, to execute them. Then Daniel responded with prudence and discretion to Arioch, the king’s chief executioner, who had gone out to execute the wise men of Babylon; he asked Arioch, the royal official, ‘Why is the decree of the king so urgent?’ Arioch then explained the matter to Daniel. So Daniel went in and requested that the king give him time and he would tell the king the interpretation.
Reflection
A clever thing happens in the book of Daniel, from 2:4 until 8:1: the language changes from Hebrew to Aramaic!

Hebrew is the mother tongue, the language of YHWH. Aramaic was the global language, the language of Empire and trade. Most of the enslaved Hebrews after a time would have been more fluent in Aramaic than their mother tongue.

At the moment the language shifts to acceptable language, one hears the other holy men say: “tell your servants to interpret the dream”. The king challenges the holy men to ‘guess’ what he is dreaming, then interpret it. There is a big difference between knowing what to say and knowing what needs to be said. Nebuchadnezzar already knows the representatives of popular religion are ill-equipped to see his anguish. He is set to put popular religion to death because it is not deep enough to see through him.

When religion reaches the zenith of its popularity at best and at worst is obvious to everyone, it loses public trust and its prophetic edge. Let’s be honest: sometimes our lament on the decline of the Church is really a lament on the loss of Christian superiority in public life: Victorian buildings no longer are easily filled; stadiums don’t overflow like the Billy Graham days; children can no longer recite the Lord’s Prayer from memory. We say, “The church is dead.”  We give up on faith. We tell folks things they want to hear. We water down worship. We stop preaching. We never liked doing it anyway, so why bother? We ask, “What are we doing wrong and how can WE fix it?” When religion is popular and obvious, we go into ‘survival’ mode.

This episode teaches that prophetic wisdom opens communication and saves lives. It is a language that sets captives free and even brings monarchs to their knees. It is a language that can see through the emperor’s dreams, yet speaks clearly in any language.

Tune our ears and defrost our hearts, Ground of our Being.
Tune our ears to your heartbeat,
Your music, Your song.
Cause compassion to burn
in deeply frozen hearts
made cold by the politics of survival.
Make out of us a people
who will hear, live, and feast
on Your Wisdom. Amen.

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d William Young, Minister, Essenside URC Glasgow and Morison Memorial URC Clydebank.

Bible Version

 

New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved