We give too much of ourselves to things that do not last. We give too little of ourselves to things that will endure. It is easy to obsess on things that don’t matter. It is tempting to ignore things that really count. If something does not change that pattern, at the end of the day, we are going to be very disappointed.
Follow me around, just one day in my life. Just one day and what I give myself to, and you will probably be as horrified as I am when I add it up at the end of the day. Now I don’t know what you think a pastor does with his time. Maybe you think it is non-stop Bible reading, constant prayer, and holding hands with weary widows. Frankly, it would be better if I did more of that and less of what I do do. A day in my life is more likely spent fending off calls from salesmen, figuring out why some piece of equipment is not working, or listening to somebody complain about somebody else, when only moments before I had heard the somebody else complain about the first somebody. I can come into the office, start work on some project that is supposed to move this church forward, and by the time I have not only fielded interruptions, but also followed my little whims, the end of the day comes and nothing that I started out to do has been accomplished. I can come in here determined that I am going to write a major Bible study, and end up spending two or three hours perfecting some spreadsheet that nobody will even give a glance at! What has happened? I have been consumed by things that don’t matter and I have ignored things that could have made a different. If that pattern is not turned around, not only will I go home disappointed, worse, the Kingdom loses ground.
We obsess on things that do not matter and we ignore things that might make a difference.
The King of Babylon, at the end of his day, elected to play trivial pursuit. He gave a huge feast to congratulate himself. He surrounded himself with partygoers and hangers-on, and pitched a major bash. Lavish food and drink; Babylon’s hanging gardens, one of the wonders of the world, replete with everything from pungent flowers to exotic dancing girls; and this time an extra touch of luxury. Some Babylonian Martha Stewart in the palace kitchen must have reminded him that, with food, presentation is everything. So Belshazzar ordered that his food and drink be served in vessels taken from the Temple of Jerusalem.
You remember the history – how in 587 BC Jerusalem and Judah had fallen to Babylon. You remember how the people were marched off into exile, how the Temple was destroyed, and how all of the furnishings from the Temple were taken as plunder. Gold and silver, brass and bronze from Jerusalem were trotted out that night of King Belshazzar’s feast. Things that had belonged to the house of God were now trivialized and made into sport. It would be as if we were to serve punch in the Communion cups and cookies on the offering plates.
But the issue was not really about cups and plates. It was about what is holy. It was about how we value what can be used for the service of God. It was about how we obsess with things that do not matter and ignore things that really do count.
And so that night, as the feast proceeded, suddenly, up on the wall, a hand, fingers, writing. A message, powerful, awesome: The words – what did they mean? Mene, mene, tekel, parsin. What was this all about?
They called Daniel to read the message. He told them that the message meant, “Numbered, weighed, and given away.” Mene, mene, tekel, parsin. “Mene” means numbered; your days are numbered. “Tekel” means weighed, weighed on the scales and found wanting, too little. And “parsin” means given away, everything set aside and given away. Numbered, weighed, and given away, said the handwriting on the wall.
Brothers and sisters, there are consequences when we obsess on the trivial and do not give ourselves to things that truly matter. The consequences - at the end of the day, disappointment and worse: numbered, weighed, and given away.
Notice that the sin of Belshazzar was that he used holy things for his own benefit, and not for the use God had intended. Belshazzar seized the Temple vessels and then treated them as if they were playthings for his own pleasure. That will bring on any Christian leader the solemn verdict, “Numbered, weighed, and given away”.
Deacons, the church is not here for us. Let me say that again. The church is not here for us, for you and me, and for our good pleasure. The church is here for the world. The church is here to be the servant of the world for Christ. We are here to give ourselves away. We do not come together as a mutual admiration society; we come together to pray for and give to a world that is broken and bleeding. We are not here for ourselves. We are here for others.
Sometimes I ask myself, if I were not pastor at Takoma Park, where would I want to be? What church would I choose? I don’t have its name, but I do know what it would be like. The church I want to be a part of is not the church with the loveliest building or the most eloquent preacher or the most professional choirs. The church I want be a part of is one that gets its hands dirty. A church that’s involved in missions, going to other places to organize new churches. A church that organizes ministries, serving prisoners or students or families. This church puts its life on the line for hurting people. The church I’d like to be in opens up space to house homeless people and they fires up its kitchen to feed the hungry. It operates counseling centers for the distraught and recreation programs for restless young people. The church that I want, I need to be a part of puts a priority on serving others and not on keeping the goodies for itself.
Church is not about us. Church is not for our own benefit. It’s for others. To do anything else is to commit the sin of Belshazzar, partying with the Temple vessels. To do anything other than serve the needs of the last, the least, the lonely, and the lost, is to forfeit our license to be a church. Deacons, if we go that self-centered route, at the end of the day, you’ll see the handwriting on the wall, “Numbered, weighed, and given away.”
Notice too that Belshazzar compounded his sin by not reading the signs of the times. He would not read the handwriting on the wall. He and his companions were in deep denial. Denial means that you know there are consequences, but you just won’t admit it. You just won’t see what is perfectly obvious, right in front of your face. Belshazzar and his crowd went into deep denial. I think he halfway knew what was going down. “The king’s face turned pale, and his thoughts terrified him. His limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together.”
Are we really listening to the world? Are we truly tuned in? Or are we in such profound denial that we think that if we don’t listen, it’ll all go away?
Are we listening to young people? Are we reading the signs of their times? Are we listening to their cry for guidance? They want to know how to handle sexuality, they want to filter the constant demand for consumption, they need help to live beyond just one booorrrrrring day after another. Have we heard them? Are we going to respond with nothing more than, “Give them pizza and punch”? If we cannot hear young people, what will the verdict be? It’s right here. “Numbered, weighed, and given away.”
Are we listening to families? Are we reading the signs of their times? Or have we gone into denial about families where tensions are high, homes where child abandonment is threatened, marriages that are more of a truce than a trust? Have we heard these things? And are we going to respond with nothing but clucking tongues and gossip? If we cannot hear the cries of hurting families, the judgment will be, “Numbered, weighed, and given away.” Read the handwriting on the wall.
Bottom line, are we listening to the lost? There’s a word we don’t even like to say, do we, the lost!? It sounds so old-fashioned to speak about lost people. It’s not politically correct any more to suggest that outside of faith in Christ, folks are in eternal trouble. Somebody said to me once about trying to do evangelism, “Well, if anybody wants to go to church, there’s one on every corner. They can come on their own.” But I tell you, if you spend some time listening to the lost, they will tell you that Christ is incomprehensible, Christians are impossible, and the church is invisible! We don’t even appear on their radar screens any more! We are like those Polaroid cameras that were so popular only a few years ago; but once the digital age came, the Polaroids were put in the closets, and the Polaroid Company has dwindled to bankruptcy. Friends, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is always only one generation away from extinction, and if we do not read the handwriting on the wall put there by lost people, they are going to stay lost, and we are going to die on the trash heap of history. Or to put it in a way you’ve already heard, “Numbered, weighed, and given away.”
Deacons, help us hear and read the handwriting on the wall. It is not just the mumbling of a secular age. It is God’s message for us, His church.
But there is always hope. Always hope. So when, in frustration, and at the urging of his queen, Belshazzar summoned Daniel, there was a glimmer of hope for old Babylon. Daniel was a man who told the truth. A sage who told it like it is. As long as somebody will tell the truth, there’s always hope.
When Daniel came into the banqueting hall, the first thing he did was to turn down any reward money. They had promised fashionable clothes, a gold chain, and high status to anybody who could read the handwriting on the wall. Sounds like getting ready to barhop in Georgetown! But Daniel was not interested in any of that. He did not want to be distracted by things that don’t matter. He wanted to focus on Kingdom business.
So when Daniel spoke and told them what it meant – Mene: numbered, your days are numbered; tekel: weighed, found to be too little too late; parsin: everything divided up and given away – when Daniel pronounced the truth, “Numbered, weighed, and given away”, he also told them why it had to be. “You have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know; but the God in whose power is your very breath, and to whom belong all your ways, you have not honored.” When we do not honor God, first and in all things, in the church, we can expect to be, “Numbered, weighed, and given away”.
Deacons are called to be spiritual leaders in the house of God. Deacons are to be servants of the things that count. Deacons are to be invested in eternal things, not just here and now things. Deacons are not about money. Deacons do not manage the church’s activities, buildings, or budgets. Deacons do not supervise the church staff. They do not tell the pastors what to preach. Deacons are servants; they are to be authentic spiritual leaders, spending their time with brothers and sisters in need, to praying and visiting and counseling and helping. Deacons are to focus on the things that matter.
Deacons are to listen to God’s people. Deacons are to discern what is needed that this house of God might reach and teach and build up others. Deacons are to be concerned about the last, the least, the lonely, and the lost – yes, there’s that word again. Deacons are to hear what must be heard.
And most of all, deacons are to be prayerful, prophetic interpreters of what God wants to do. They are to bring us the truth; they are also to bring us hope. They are to discover for God’s people what the calling of this church is, and, by the help of God, they are to lead us diligently in the pursuit of that calling.
Deacons are to give themselves to the things that matter, and are to stay far way from things that do not make a difference. Deacons, lead God’s people gathered as Takoma Park Baptist Church away from obsession with little things, take us to greatness, no matter the cost. Show us, at the end of your day, that neither you nor we need any fear that we will be “Numbered, weighed, and given away.”