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Michael Whitworth.  The Derision of Heaven: A Guide to Daniel. Bowie, Texas: Start2Finish Books, 2013. 194 pages.

In the early 1990s, I had the pleasure of getting acquainted with Michael Whitworth’s father, Daniel, when he was working with a nationwide evangelistic outreach ministry.  So, years later when I met Michael in the summer of 2008, I felt an immediate connection with him.  Michael impressed me greatly at that first meeting five years ago as a multi-talented, intelligent, and passionate disciple of Jesus Christ.  Little did I know then that he was also a very diligent researcher and an extremely gifted writer.

Michael sent me an advance copy of his latest book a few weeks ago and asked if would provide a brief review on my blog, a request to which I readily and happily agreed.  The Old Testament book of Daniel has long been a favorite of mine in preaching and teaching.  I’m always eager to explore new approaches and fresh insights into this challenging and faith-affirming prophetic text.

The Derision of Heaven is written in an engaging style that I would describe as “well-researched casual,” which makes for a very compelling read.  It is quite evident that Michael did his homework in preparing this guidebook to the study of Daniel.  His bibliography of sources includes a very generous supply of widely known and highly respected conservative, evangelical Biblical scholars.  A few of his sources will be familiar primarily to readers among Churches of Christ.

The body of the text is heavily footnoted, which is further evidence of the author’s thorough research.  Many of the footnotes do not merely provide source citations, but also include more detailed discussion and explanation, making them well worth the time to read and digest.  The text is also amply filled with parenthetical cross-references which invite deeper comparative study with other sections of Scripture.

Michael’s recommendations for dealing with the apocalyptic portions of Daniel (i.e., don’t force literalness, don’t be dogmatic, and don’t miss the forest for the trees) are admirably respected even in the historical narrative sections of the book.  He openly acknowledges points at which the interpretation of the text is seriously debated and where even conservative scholars find themselves in significant disagreement.  Michael humbly offers his most honest and studied insight into the passage without dogmatically demanding agreement on every detail as a test of one’s faith in God or confidence in the inspiration of Scripture.

Michael champions the message of the book of Daniel as one that, even after the passage of 2,500 years, is enduringly relevant to a church that is as much in exile in this world as the Jewish nation was in Babylon.  American Christians, in particular, are cautioned by the author against the idol of nationalism.  He references “Christians who seem prouder to be an American than a member of the church, God’s eternal kingdom, one that cannot be shaken (Heb. 12:28).  It’s not a sin to be a patriot unless patriotism becomes your idol.  I wonder if some Christians aren’t bigger fans of the Constitution than the gospel.”  Statements like this, along with his contention that “even the Constitution is imperfect,” will certainly challenge and unsettle many conservative Christians who have become too much a part of the political world in which we live.

Michael’s regular insertion of humor into his treatment of the text generally works in positive fashion to keep the discussion personal and contemporary.  However, it occasionally seems misplaced, which is an admittedly subjective evaluation.  Also, his understanding of God’s active work among the geo-political affairs of men (including a “chessboard” analogy) is much more explicit and “hands on” than my own thinking on the subject.  However, since the workings of the Almighty’s will and providence in this world transcend human scrutiny, he may well be right and I may be wrong about the matter.

Each chapter ends with a few “Talking Points” that are ideal for discussion-oriented Bible classes and small group studies, as well as for personal reflection and application.

Whether you are needing a fresh and insightful reminder of the power and contemporary relevance of the familiar stories contained in Daniel 1-6 or an introduction to the less frequently studied apocalyptic visions of Daniel 7-12, I highly recommend The Derision of Heaven for your reading and study.

This time last week the Internet was abuzz with widespread denunciations, head-shaking, and finger-wagging over Miley Cyrus’ performance at the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday, August 25.  By all accounts, both secular and religious, it was an over-the-top, beyond the pale, unabashedly lewd performance.  No, I haven’t seen the video, and won’t be seeing it.   Thanks for asking, though!

I read several responses (and responses to responses) on blogs and Facebook; some were thoughtfully written, others were less helpful.  “Twerking” was introduced into the vocabulary of those of us who live somewhat culturally sheltered lives.  On a lighter note in this serious discussion, Cyrus’ VMA incident elicited a mention on NPR’s Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! on Saturday.  Host Peter Sagal explained, “Twerking, for all you Public Radio listeners, is a kind of suggestive dance that’s big in the clubs right now.  But, it’s the same sort of thing we’ve had for years.  It’s what our parents would have called a grand mal seizure.”

I both can and can’t understand the level of response that Cyrus’ performance precipitated.  First of all, anyone who willfully chooses to watch the MTV Video Music Awards has implicitly forfeited any right to be morally shocked, offended, or outraged.  Don’t plead ignorance here.  MTV?  The VMAs?  You were expecting a Scottish Highlands sword dance, maybe?  Secondly, I’m confident that multitudes of conscientious, moral people intentionally viewed the performance after the fact, fully aware of the nature of the content, just so they would know exactly how upset and incensed they should be.  “I can’t comment on it unless I’ve seen it!”  Really?  You should probably unscrew the cap on your home’s sewer clean out line just to make sure it stinks.  Check it out and let me know!

Don’t misunderstand!  I’m not at all questioning whether or not the performance was morally offensive.  I am, however, concerned about our near constant state of moral outrage, how it is affecting our spiritual well-being, and what is being communicating to others who are “listening” to us on social media.

As if anticipating the Miley Cyrus flap, the September issue of Christianity Today features a wonderful editorial by Katelyn Beaty entitled, “Hungry for Outrage.”  It is subtitled, “Indignation is the discourse du jour on the Internet.  We can do better.”  Below are a few excerpts.

“Call it the tart deliciousness of moral outrage.  From mayors’ sex scandals to pastors’ oddball comments to judges’ incoherent rulings, we are reminded 24/7 of the extent of human folly.  If anything, a nonstop news cycle gives us nonstop proof that sin pervades every person and institution.”

“When justice is dashed and human dignity is maimed, anger is our right response.  But what we do with that anger is the line between wisdom and our own folly.  Increasingly, it seems, many of us are using it to show our social media and blog followers that we are on the right side of contentious issues.  Who knew that being offended tasted so good.”

“I wonder if at the root of our Internet outrage is the need to show that we are righteous – specifically, more righteous than others.”

God created us with the capacity for moral outrage.  Such indignation serves the global village, as well as our local communities, by crying out against reigns of terror by despotic dictators, human trafficking, the insatiable greed of white-collar criminals, political corruption, senseless violent crime, and general, societal moral decay.

However, the technology of our age has created relentless exposure to an endless array of potential targets for our anger.  News of evil, injustice, and immorality is instantaneously available to us from sources that literally span the globe.  We can barely process one before we are informed of the next.  Many websites and Internet news feeds seem to exist for the sole purpose of fueling an already raging fire, keeping us perpetually “fed up,” agitated, and primed to sound off on the matter.  We are suffering from “indignation overload,” and I don’t believe that we were wired to perpetually bear that kind of emotional burden.

Because the news of events is communicated instantly, we feel compelled to respond in the same way.  We have to weigh in with extreme urgency and immediacy; precious seconds are ticking away.  People need to know where we stand.  Our silence will be interpreted as apathy, at best, or as agreement and endorsement, at worst.  The result is often a “ready, fire, aim” response which lacks the benefit of all of the facts and the helpfulness of insights that come from slowly distilled, thoughtful reflection.  I know!  “Ain’t nobody got time for that, Tim!”

I fear that outrage has become an addiction for many people of faith.  I’m caused to wonder if certain endorphins are released when we feel anger over a just cause; an emotional, pseudo-spiritual “rush” that just keeps us coming back for more.  In order for us to feel “righteous,” has it become essential that “indignation” be an inseparable companion?  “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers… twerkers.”  Reread the context of Luke 18:9-14 to be reminded of why Jesus told this parable.

The more I am consumed by moral outrage, the less time I have to dwell on those things that are “true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and of good repute; things that are excellent and worthy of praise,” (Philippians 4:8).

Last week’s outrage?  That particular bubble seems to have already burst.  A scan of my Facebook news feed resulted in nary a mention, and a Google search indicated that the tsunami of articles had subsided by the weekend.  Oh, of course!  College football was in full swing by then!  Who knows what fresh outrage the coming week will bring?

I hope that there were as many prayers offered for Miley Cyrus as there were laments over the fall of Hannah Montana.  In light of the accompanying bashing that was directed toward her parents, I offered a prayer of thanksgiving on behalf of the rest of us that the moral failings of our own children are not broadcast globally for public derision and condemnation.  For that, we can truly be thankful.

Many of you who read this blog will be gathering together with other Christians this morning to offer worship and praise to God.  However, no two people in your assembly will be in the exact same frame of mind, condition of heart, or state of emotion.  Unity as a spiritual body and being “of one accord” as Christ’s church does not mean that we are an undifferentiated, monolithic mass of Christians who think and feel just like everyone else or who will experience the worship assembly in exactly the same way.

Some of us are filled with joy and expectation this morning.  Things are going very well in our lives right now.  We are employed, and happily so.  There is “peace in the valley” in our marital and parental relationships and among our friends.  We are feeling healthy, wealthy (relatively speaking anyway), and wise.  If that’s the case for you, then praise God!  I mean it.  Praise Him!   Thank Him!  “Men shall speak of the power of Your awesome acts, and I will tell of Your greatness.  They shall eagerly utter the memory of Your abundant goodness, and shall shout joyfully of Your righteousness,” (Psalm 145:6-7).

Some of our hearts are filled with fear and doubt.  I completely understand.  Faith and doubt co-exist in constant tension during our journey in the steps of Jesus.  Some days, faith has the upper hand; at other times, doubt appears to be winning the day.  If that is the case for you this morning, freely and openly acknowledge those feelings to the Lord .  He knows that we’re feeling that way anyway, so why try to hide it?  Join with the frantic father who, wrestling with faith, said to Jesus, “I do believe; help my unbelief,” (Mark 9:24).

Some of us are feeling anxious, worried, and stressed.  We are still seeking a job after an extended period of unemployment, or we’re concerned about the stability of our workplace.  We are experiencing difficulties in our marriage or strained relationships with other people in our family.   Responsibilities just seem to keep piling up on top of us, and we feel increasingly more overwhelmed, further behind, and unable to cope.  Lay these burdens before the throne of God this morning.  “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God,” (Philippians 4:6); “casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you,” (I Peter 5:7).  Hang on!  Keep trusting!

Some of us are hurting today from the physical pain and discomfort of a chronic illness or degenerative disease.  Others are extremely weak and feeling totally wiped out because of ongoing cancer treatment.  Others are feeling numb and lost this morning because of the recent death of the person who sat beside them and held their hand every Sunday morning for over fifty years.  If you’re just not up to being around other people today, I get it!  May the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort grant you peace and strength to endure.  May He hasten the day when sorrow and pain will be no more, death will be swallowed up in victory, and His gentle, loving hand will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

Some of us are angry this morning, either at someone or about something that happened in our life this week.  It’s natural to experience this intense emotion, but we need to process it, work through it, talk about it, get over it, and forgive whoever we need to forgive.  Otherwise, bitterness will consume us from the inside out.  “In your anger do not sin.  Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,” (Ephesians 4:26); “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God,” (James 1:20).

Some of us are feeling guilty this morning because of sin in our life.  Been there, done that, too!  Allow the God of salvation and the blood of Jesus Christ to take care of that for you!  “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’; and You forgave the guilt of my sin.  How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!” (Psalm 32:5, 1).

As we bless His holy name today from places that are scattered all across the emotional map, may His blessings fall upon each of us according to our need!

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September 2013