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New Name, Same Game

It seems strangely difficult in my daily devotional read to simply move past the significance of Nebuchadrezzar's renaming of the four brilliant Hebrews in the book of Daniel. So I'll spend some time here, given today's political engagement among the religious right, many of them my people. Bear with me!

These kids were selected because they stood out among their peers. Once exiled to Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar would order that their names be changed to Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, an attempt to assimilate them into the Babylonian culture. A name change was no big deal, given their access to power, the best of foods, along with palace accomodations, right?

  • Daniel was renamed Belteshazzar: “Bel protects his life.”

  • Hananiah to Shadrach: "command of Aku", associated with the Babylonian god of the moon.

  • Mishael to Meshach: also implied as belonging to Aku, meaning, "guest of a king".

  • Azariah to Abednego: An Aramaic name that means "servant of Nabu" patron god of scribes, writing, learning, prophecies, and wisdom.

Assigning new names was a common court practice in the ancient world.

Unfortunately for them, they would also likely become eunuchs. Oh, and castration was the means of reducing the threat of mutiny in the king's court and administration. Hold that thought!

These young Hebrews are thought to have been somewhere between early teens and 20ish in age. The fiery furnace dilemma, which most Bible students are familiar with, was ignited among their ranks when they decided to act out of their own convictions.

This seems to be the case with religion thoughout history. Yes, Babylonians were very religious, worshiping a large pantheon of gods and goddesses.

Soon after Daniel interpreted the king's dream, one in which was envisioned a metallic statue with a head of Gold, the king, along with all his political and religious pawns erected one. They would then require that all then worship the statue!

As ludicrous as it now seems, the deluded tyrant likely saw that as acceptable given his ego (that would later change). His cronies, of course went along both to "please the gods", as well as to assure their personal privilege and prosperity.

When religion gets in bed with politicians, it's never good! Think about that!

As I read further, my thoughts turned to a more contemporary victim of religion, Jan Hus, one whom I have spent much time reading about. My earlier interest was because of where I grew up, Winston-Salem, as in Old Salem. As well, later learning of his amazing, now global spiritual impact, which is often lost to history.

In fact, while I was mayor, it was my privilege to solicit the N.C. Highway Historical Marker Program in order to attain a roadside marker for the highway that cuts through the Village of Clemmons, which indirectly points to this martyr. (see photo above).

I felt it critical that the Village share in the historical notoriety given that the first survey stake of the infamous Wachovia Tract was place in the ground on our side of Muddy Creek.

You see, Bishop Spangenberg, for whom one of out Village streets is named, led a team surveyors on behalf of Count Zinzendorf. They were to lay out the boundaries of land promised to this band of folk originally from Moravia.

These skilled craftsmen and artisans were first recruited by a few folk in Georgia, but eventually headed to Pennsylvania, only later to return to North Carolina. Their voyage across the Atlantic, then up and down the east coast was not about serving their vocation only, but had been the long pursuit of a spiritual city.

That all sounds noble, until you understand what had centuries earlier precipitated their eventual arrival in America. Like many of our ancestors, it was flight from religious persecution, which for them, began in the Czech Republic.

Back to Hus, one who was not unlike Daniel, or even, Martin Luther who would follow up ministry after his death. Again, they all simply decided to be open and transparent about their spiritual convictions.

Interestingly enough, Hus' own passion was stirred not by those from within the Institutional Church of his day, nor the leadership within the University in Prague, where he was a professor of philosophy and rector of the University. Rather, by market place leaders, young students and the common folk among whom he moved and ministered. Who does that sound like?

Early on in my own engagement with the church, which truly began only at age 25, I soon found myself passionately following the instructions layed out by leadership. Meanwhile a s

a long forgotten sense of a childhood calling reemerged, as I studied both scripture and church history. The words heard at age ten, "One day you will preach the gospel."

I began to see a repeating pattern of around 300-500 years, in which a window seemed to open that always led to major shifts in the institution. That became quite intriguing, worthy of life pursuit. Almost unknowingly, I began a search for and sensing out of sector from which the next great reformation might emerge. I have now served in five such sectors.

I hadn't always intended such pursuit, though providence would play out regardless. I had earlier pursued the sciences, but due to college debt, I chose to teach a few years. Once the debt had been paid off, perhaps a deeper dive into physiology or even medicine, previously inspired by a dear college professor. I soon fell in love with the kids, as well as marrying an English teacher!

During that window in the classroom, I came to Christ and by way of my principal, soon found myself engaged within the churches of our small community. That eventually led to my involvement in denominational leadership, as my bride and I settled into one local church.

It was during my second graduate degree program, that I decided to focus my learning around leadership and administration. That is when I began to connect the dots, witnessing a shift not so much in the church as in the marketplace.

It was between 1983-89, that I began to see a trend toward a new mindset, one of servant leadership, more akin to the nature of Christ. Most of my church mentors were older, with full buyin to a top down leadership. I began to struggle somewhat at times, though more than ever convinced of my calling.

I even sought to more deeply imbed this new leadership approach among those with whom I worked and worshiped. At one point, by then bi-vocational, though being encouraged to pursue a role as school superintendent, a critical sector somewhat abandoned by the church, I made the hard decision to take a position with a large growing church.

I was thinking, perhaps once such principles were strategically introduced to the church's business model, breakthroughs might occur that assured true community change. I lasted six years as an associate in that church, then spent another 18 years as a coach/consultant, eventually re-engaging in the marketplace.

I have never truly left the church, as some of the finest of people continue to dream of a "city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God." Heb. 11:10. In fact, Hebrews, 11:16 would be the verse to which I would open the Bible each time I laid my hand upon it for my swearing in ceremonies during my three terms as a mayor.

These were similar goals among those from Moravia. Therein perhaps my motivation: ‭"...they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city."

During this time, the denomination of which I was a part, at least in her formative stages had called itself a "fellowship," hoping to escape the peril of what historically had occurred in religious organizations.

Then in the late 90's many of its own churches began to shy away from the use of the denomination within the church name. Even among the more mainline denominations, a few would adopt a more inclusive, non-denominational approach to their name, some identifying only as a "community church", others even more contemporary language. Still yet, remaining in alignment with the organizational and doctrinal framework of their denominational structures, particularly moreso as sustainability began to become a problem in the early 2000's.

Hus grew up in a quite similar spiritual struggle, by then his fellow marketplace leaders had built "Bethlehem Chapel", given that he would eventually be forbidden the right to minister within the facilities owned by the church based university. He like Daniel pressed still further into his personal convictions, even though warned of consequences by his religious peers.

Though by then, long under the new name of Christianity, the religious institution that had formed over the 1400 years since from the death of Christ, did as the uber-religious Nebuchadrezzar had done before, and set fire to one of its own.

On July 6, 1415, unlike the three Hebrews, Hus did not escape, his last words you may recognize, still used in today's vernacular: "you may cook this Goose (Hus" means "goose" in Czech) but there will come a swan and he will sing, and you will listen."

Actually as recorded in original documents, it reads more like, "Today you all roast a goose,” said Master Goose in 1415, when the Council of Constance was about to burn him, “but more than a hundred years from now,” namely, once the year 1516 was counted off, “a purer swan will come, who will finally sing you a different little song,”

Many of those Hussites after surviving a Holy War designed to annihilate them, fled to Count Zinzendorf's estate in Hernhut. After 100 years of 24/7 prayer, in a long preserved prayer loft in which I have actually stood, and during a series of meetings in a nearby Lutheran Church, they experienced the early beginnings of an outpouring of the Spirit, August 5, 1727.

Yes, Luther, just as Hus had so prophetically proclaimed, with a family crest bearing the image of a swan, would later bring all this full circle. I find that to be amazing.

Names may change over time but when religion rules, apart from the principles of Christ, who was God, the One who identifies as Love, the institution will always quack and walk like the duck it truly is.

At 75, I am hopeful that the next generation will follow through with their current and now intense search for a renewal within the Body of Christ, however and by whatever means. Again we are now years overdue since Luther's 95 concerns posted Oct. 31, 1517.


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I enjoy your history listen always wondered what “Cook your Goose“ meant

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