Monday, August 24, 2009

Walking on Feet of Clay

Forty years ago three men made history when they achieved the first lunar landing, it was one small step for man, and one giant leap for mankind. When you realize that their boot prints will remain on the moon for a thousand years – they give new meaning to the phrase, “leaving your mark.” They were instant heroes, but the price of that small step was high. It took a toll on their personal lives. Rick Goldstein's review of Magnificent Desolation by astronaut Buz Aldrin points out that the same man "who walked on the moon... cheated on his wife... fought depression and alcoholism... just like millions of other people on this earth," thus proving that "even astronauts who leave their footprints on the face of the moon... have feet of clay."

The phrase "feet of clay" comes from the Book of Daniel where King Nebuchadnezzar dreams of a massive statue with a golden head, arms and chest of silver, legs of bronze, and feet of iron and clay, representing the crumbling foundations of the kingdoms of humankind. For centuries, people have used the phrase “feet of clay” from Daniel 2: 31-32 to describe an unexpected flaw or vulnerable point in the character of a hero or any admired person. The dream and Daniel’s interpretation raises an important question in our culture of celebrity: What do we do when the person we most admire fails or disappoints us? I believe that the first thing we need to do is to recognize something fundamental about human nature, that...

We are often drawn to those with big dreams, position, popularity, or power. Nebuchadnezzar was a man of great power and influence – the King of the Babylonian Empire, the most powerful political and military force on the planet at that time; which had decimated Jerusalem in 587 BC and deported its citizens (the wise counselor Daniel, among them). Most dream of power, position, and popularity; but Nebuchadnezzar lived the dream. His fame was so enduring that 2500 years later, Saddam Hussein, the former dictator of Iraq, insisted that he was the literal reincarnation of Nebuchadnezzar. No doubt the king of Babylon had thousands at his beck and call; servants, magicians, consorts, counselors, just to name a few. And they knew that in his service they would (for the most part) benefit as well.

Who are your role models? Who are you drawn to? Who are the people you like to be associated with? You may be drawn to a person because you sense that he/she walks closely with God and can help you do the same; because she has gifts you wish you had, or greatly admire; because he can help you to achieve your own goals; because he/she is able to fill a need that you have…like the love of a father or mother. The Apostle Paul said to the Corinthians that he had guided spiritually, “Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel” (1 Cor. 4:15). Paul did not apologize for his fathering role in the life of his Corinthians brethren, he celebrated it. As I look back, I can see that God has blessed me with parents, teachers, pastors, friends, spiritual fathers and mothers who have played a significant role in shaping who I am today. I’m sure you can too. Celebrate that...

But, like Daniel, never lose site of who you are serving and why; especially if you have access to position, popularity, or power. There is a lot being written today about the Culture of Celebrity; that we live our lives vicariously through famous athletes, actors, politicians, psychologists, cooks, singers, religious gurus etc. Daniel was never so enamored with the King’s power or his own…that he forgot that he was God’s celebrity.

God’s celebrity uses power and position not just for himself…but for the benefit of others. When Daniel heard that the king intended to execute all the wise men in Babylon because they could not interpret his dreams…he spoke up (even on behalf of those who did not worship God). “Do not destroy the wise men of Babylon” Daniel said. “Bring me in before the king, and I will give the king the interpretation” (2:24).

God’s celebrity does not seek glory, he gives glory to God. Daniel never let power go to his head. When he had the opportunity to interpret the king’s dream, he made it clear that he was at the king’s service by the grace of God: “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or diviners can show to the king the mystery that the king is asking, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries” (27-28). Daniel knew where his talents, gifts and abilities came from. He knew it was not just his abilities but God working in him. When he was praised he could reply, “See what they’re saying about us, Lord!” – and so can we…with every success, with every promotion, with every commendation, with every good grade, with every tackle or field goal, with every well run race, with every job well done, with every drop of sweat, and with every act of faithful service that others recognize, we can say….“See what they’re saying about us, Lord!”

Third, understand with Daniel that all human beings, regardless of their position, popularity, or power, have flaws (feet of clay) which must be acknowledged before God; or denied at great cost. Nebuchadnezzar dreamed of “a great statue…The head of that statue was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its middle and thighs of bronze, its legs of bronze, its feet part of iron and partly of clay” (29, 31-33). Daniel explained to the king that Babylon represented “the head of gold” (38). From other parts of the Book we know that the kingdom after Babylon, symbolized by the chest and arms of silver, was the Medo-Persian Empire (8:20). The legs of bronze were a symbol for Alexander the Great who spread Greek culture throughout the Mediterranean (8:21). The iron and clay feet may refer to the future Roman Empire. But regardless of the interpretation, the outstanding characteristic of the statue is that it has a flawed foundation; a foundation of pride, of selfishness, of cruelty, of idolatry; and eventually it would all come crashing down. For in the king's dream he sees a “stone not made with hands” which destroys the statue; and which inaugurates “a kingdom that shall never be destroyed” – the kingdom of God (44).

The City of Babylon seemed invincible in its day. It was 14 miles square, surrounded by a 300 ft. wall, 25 ft. thick. It had 250 towers, each 450 ft. high; and was paved with stone slabs 3 ft. square. The City had 53 temples, and a solid golden statue of Baal that weighed over 50,000 lbs. Daniel writes about this statue in ch. 3. Did Nebuchadnezzar build this golden statue in defiance of the vision? Perhaps; but it didn’t save the city from destruction. The ancient greek historian, Herodotus, records that on the night of Oct. 12, 539BC, as the Babylonians were celebrating a great festival, the Persian army diverted the Euphrates River, which flowed under the walls and through the city. Then Cyrus and his men marched into Babylon on the empty riverbed (Herodotus 1.191). Babylon collapsed in a night.

Like Babylon and its king, all people regardless of their position, popularity, or power, have feet of clay. If you've been disappointed by a leader, a celebrity, or even a family member…you can bet that you’ll be disappointed by them again. One summer in high school, I participated in a Christian leadership training camp. It was led by a guy I greatly admired. He was a runner…so I started running. He took us on my first backpack trip, and I fell in love with backpacking. He loved to teach the Bible; and I wanted to as well. He had a wonderful wife; and I knew I would have one someday too. He was very cool…and I, well… I’m still working on that. I idolized him in many ways…and so it shocked me when I learned a couple of years later that he and his wife divorced. I didn’t think that happened to people like that. Suddenly, I saw that he too had clay feet.

People will disappoint you; the church will disappoint you. In recent years some churches have begun to backpedal from the proclamation that Jesus Christ alone is Lord and Savior; from the authority of Scripture; and from the call to discipleship - to putting God before things like national interest, success, sexual fulfillment, entertainment, or appearance. This week, I am again disappointed that something as well attested in Scripture as the call to marriage between one man and one woman or to chastity in singleness is considered optional in some corners of the church. I'm disappointed, but my faith is not in the church; my faith is in Jesus.

Like Daniel, you can’t always change Nebuchadnezzar’s mind…you may not be able to do a lot about the teacher or pastor or parent or work associate who disappointed you and let you down…but if they were irresponsible, you can be dependable. If they were disloyal; you can be faithful. If they were uncaring, you can be compassionate. If they were unforgiving, you can be merciful. If they were arrogant and unrepentant, you can model humility. And one more thing,

Consider “the Stone which the builders rejected” the One who rejected earthly position, popularity, and power; and whose Kingdom shall never end. Daniel speaks of a stone not cut by human hands (34) that crushes the statue of iron, bronze, clay, silver, and gold; and becomes a mountain that fills the world. He tells us that it represents the One who will establish God’s kingdom on earth. Now that’s an absolutely stunning image of God’s rule over every so-called human power; but it’s even more startling when we realize Christ is its fulfillment. For on his way to Jerusalem and the cross, Jesus identified himself with this Stone (Psalm 118:22; Matt. 21:42); the stone which the builders rejected; the Stone that has become the Cornerstone. He is the King who set aside his divine position, popularity, and power, to be our Redeemer in the flesh.

I began by pointing out that even the men who walked on the moon had feet of clay. But if such great men are fallible; what hope is there for the rest of us? Our hope should be in the one whose imprint continues to endure after 2000 years, who set aside power, popularity, and position, to be our Redeemer in the flesh; and who will never fail or forsake us: to walk in his footsteps is the best way to leave our mark on this world. Yes, I will disappoint you...and you will disappoint me, but "Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever!"

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