Christianity 201

November 21, 2019

When We Face Lions

(This is from a series on The Book of Daniel called “Outnumbered. The Book of Daniel and Living As Christians In A Not-So-Christian Society.” The series begins here)

by Clarke Dixon

When facing the lions means facing the antagonism of society against Christianity, what do we do? There is no doubt that Christianity has held a privileged place in [North American and Western European] society from our beginning. But now? Not-so-much as church attendance drops to new lows, and traditional Christian values are dropped from the law books. The lions we face are nothing compared to the lions faced by the early Christians or the persecution felt by Christians around the world today. Nevertheless, many have a sense of fear that things will only get worse in our not-so-Christian-anymore society. How do we navigate the new and ever-changing normal? Daniel will help us. Daniel was a person of deep faith in a land where you could be threatened with lions. Let us pick up on some lessons from Daniel, chapter 6, when Daniel faced the lions.

First,

Soon Daniel distinguished himself above all the other presidents and satraps because an excellent spirit was in him, and the king planned to appoint him over the whole kingdom. So the presidents and the satraps tried to find grounds for complaint against Daniel in connection with the kingdom. But they could find no grounds for complaint or any corruption, because he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption could be found in him. Daniel 6:3-4 (NRSV)

Daniel is known for commendable service to king and country even though Darius is not his king, nor Babylon his country. When we first met Daniel as a teenager in Daniel, chapter 1, he had concern for his Jewish identity, but was also willing to serve the Babylonian king. Now that he is in his early eighties, he has served a few Babylonian kings and is still serving well. Daniel had a commitment to serve people who keep, and threaten people with, lions. Are we willing to serve [our nation and our people] no matter how threatened we might feel?

Second,

The men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.” Daniel 6:5 (NRSV)

Daniel’s colleagues are aware of Daniel’s faith. Daniel’s service to king and country is impeccable, so the jealous men are not able to find grounds for Daniel’s destruction. They know, however, that Daniel is a man of deep faith and conviction in his God. They know that he is man of prayer:

All the presidents of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an interdict, that whoever prays to anyone, divine or human, for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into a den of lions. Daniel 6:7 (NRSV)

Are people aware that we have deep conviction that God loves humanity in Christ? Do people know that we pray?

Third,

Although Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he continued to go to his house, which had windows in its upper room open toward Jerusalem, and to get down on his knees three times a day to pray to his God and praise him, just as he had done previously. Daniel 6:10 (NRSV)

Though Daniel has been squeaky clean in his service to king and country, the time has come for deliberate defiance. The time had come to make a choice between devotion to the king, and devotion to the King of kings. Daniel had the courage to keep walking the walk, even when threatened with lions. Would we have had that courage?

We should note here that Daniel’s defiant attitude only arose when his own ability to walk according to his faith was threatened. He was not demanding that all Babylonians pray like he did. Courage for the Canadian Christian in our day does not mean having the courage to enforce Christian values upon all Canadians. But it does mean the courage to follow Jesus as a Canadian, even though it may bring us into disrepute. Do we have the courage to walk the walk and talk the talk? How Canadians live is not our number one priority. How we live is. Enforcing Christian values through Canadian law is not the goal. Helping people know Jesus is.

Fourth,

When the king heard the charge, he was very much distressed. He was determined to save Daniel, and until the sun went down he made every effort to rescue him. Daniel 6:14 (NRSV)

Back in chapter 4, Daniel was distraught over Nebuchadnezzar’s looming troubles. Now the tables are turned and the current king, Darius, is distraught over Daniel’s looming troubles. If we were rounded up and taken to prison for our faith, would our neighbours care? Would anyone beyond our church community even notice? Perhaps the king was disturbed by Daniel’s troubles because Daniel was the kind of person who would be disturbed by the king’s troubles. When people are troubled around us, do we notice? Are we prepared to serve, defend, and care for people who are very different from us? Do we care for people who hold very different values, who live very different lifestyles? Do we get the point of Jesus’ Good Samaritan story? The point is not that we become Samaritans, but that we become good. We should be the priest who actually crosses the road to help someone no matter how “unclean” that might make us feel. Daniel was known for what he is for, and not what he was against. Daniel was known to be for king and country. In choosing the lions he was known for his devotion to God. What are we known for as Christians today?

Fifth,

So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. Daniel 6:23b (NRSV)

Consider the people who would have first learned about Daniel’s experience with the lions.

Those experiencing exile along with Daniel would have felt like they were living out a lion’s den experience. Would they survive? Would their faith survive? Would God abandon them there in the pit? Daniel trusted God and he came out of the pit alive. God’s people would be encouraged by that to keep trusting in God’s promises. The exile will end, they will come out of it alive. God’s people would face other lion’s den experiences once the exile was over. In later chapters, Daniel prophecies about difficulties the nation would face under Greek rule and rulers. Keep trusting, God will lift his people out of that lion’s pit also. Just as the story of Daniel in the lions den does not end with Daniel being eaten by lions, there is no storyline which ends with God’s people being destroyed. God has made promises. He can be trusted.

We may feel like the Christian Church in Canada is entering a lion’s den. We may feel like it may someday face extinction. There is no storyline where Christianity is destroyed. That is not how this story we live in will end. God has made promises. We can trust him.

What is true for Christianity is true for the Christian. There may be lion’s den experiences in our lives. We may feel like we have entered the lion’s den when we enter a doctor’s office to receive a diagnosis, or a counsellor’s office to work on a significant but hurtful relationship, or a workplace office to receive a pink slip. Daniel came out of the lion’s den alive. Jesus came out of the tomb alive:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 (NRSV)

In Christ, there is no future where you do not come out alive. God has made promises. We can trust him.

To summarize, though we think we may face lions here in Canada, let us keep serving all kinds of Canadians, even those who keep lions. Let us keep walking the walk, and talking the talk. Let us keep trusting in God for the future.


Editor’s note: Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. This article originally was written with a more definitive Canadian context in its original title and opening paragraphs. I edited a few of those at the beginning as this has a much wider application, but left successive paragraphs in the original form.

September 27, 2016

The Target: Perfect Obedience

James 1:22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

Today we pay a return visit to the blog Christians in Context, this time around the writer is J. Mark Fox. Click the title below to see other thoughts from the Epistle of James.

We grow according to our obedience

The late poet Archibald Rutledge told of meeting a man whose dog had just been killed. Heartbroken, the man explained to Rutledge how it happened. Because he worked outdoors, he often took his dog with him. That morning, he left the animal in a clearing and gave him a command to stay and watch his backpack that had his lunch in it, while he went into the forest. His faithful friend understood, for that’s exactly what he did. Then a fire started in the woods, and soon the blaze spread to the spot where the dog had been left. He stayed right where he was, in perfect obedience to his master’s word. With tears, the dog’s owner said, “I always had to be careful what I told him to do, because I knew he would do it.” That’s the kind of obedience that Jesus demonstrated to the Father. He went through the fires of suffering and death to accomplish God’s purpose, to win our pardon, pay for our sin and invite us into a relationship with Him. For His glory and for our great good, He also calls us into obedience to the Father’s will, no matter the cost.

In James’ powerfully practical book, he says the key to obedience to God is found in looking intently into the perfect law of liberty, God’s Word, and then doing what it says. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Why then do most of us struggle with this? James said a person who hears the Word and doesn’t do it is like a man who looks in a mirror and walks away, forgetting at once what he looks like. Most scholars believe the man forgets what he looks like not because he has short-term memory loss, but because he chooses to forget. He looks at himself in the mirror and sees the ravages of sin, the scars of lifestyle choices, the marks of laziness or lust, bitterness or gluttony. And he hurries away to the rest of his day, because he doesn’t even want to think of what changes he would have to make if he really took the image in the mirror seriously.

Isn’t that what Sunday morning can become, and has for many? We hear the Word and know that God is speaking to us, but as soon as the last amen is uttered we are out the door and on our way and whatever rumblings we were feeling in our soul during the sermon are gone. I have been in the movie theater, and so have you, where the credits are rolling and no one is moving. Everybody is sitting speechless, powerfully moved by what they have just seen and heard. There’s not a whisper in the place and if there is, it seems unholy. Everyone is stunned by what just happened, and no one wants to leave. That begs the question: when was the last time you responded to the Word like that? When was the last time you heard the message of truth from the Scripture and could not move from your seat until you had dealt with what God was speaking into your soul? Those times are much too rare, friends, but they don’t have to be. They increase at the same rate with which we take the truth of God’s Word for what it is.

Do you ever wonder why some Christians grow to maturity with rocket-like speed, and others seem to plod along in the same place for years? This is a key. We grow up in proportion to our obedience.

 

April 6, 2015

Now is the Time

As the post-resurrection narrative continues, Jesus reveals himself to his disciples and is seen by many, some of whom the Apostle Paul, writing years later, notes are still living, just in case anyone wants the story corroborated. Then follows the ascension.

But for the rest of us, the post-resurrection period means a return to something I call regular church. Even the more liturgical churches often refer to the Sundays after Pentecost as ordinary time. Where does this leave us?

Joel 3:14 Multitudes, multitudes
    in the valley of decision!
For the day of the Lord is near
    in the valley of decision.

I believe it leaves many — multitudes in fact — faced with a decision. What are they going to do now, having once again been confronted with a day that celebrates that in history one man, and only one man, predicted his death and resurrection and then… resurrected?

We who are part of the church sometimes speak in terms of the gospel imperative. This means simply that the answer needed; the response needed; is needed now. Sometimes when I was very young my parents would ask me to do a particular chore and I would want to put it off until later, or even indefinitely. My father would very firmly say, “Now!”

How I hated those words.

But that is the essence of the gospel.

II Cor 6:2b I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

Joshua 24:15 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.

I have had a lifelong love affair with Christian books and music which only lately I’ve been able to explain to people by way of an analogy.

img 040615Imagine it’s a very hot summer day and you are sitting on a dock at the edge of a very cool, refreshing lake. Your discomfort will disappear if you just get into the water, but you sit hesitating on the hot deck boards, not sure if you want to go in or not.

Finally a friend runs down and simply pushes you off the dock. With a splash, you are suddenly cooled and refreshed.

Like so many, I often struggled with Bible reading and scripture study. I needed someone to push me of the dock, so to speak, into the text, and that’s what Christian authors and Christian musicians did for me way back when, and continue to do today. Their books and songs propel me into the text, and into passages in the text I might not ever have considered.

Okay, so what’s that got to do with the imperative of the gospel we’re discussing today?

Your friends, co-workers, extended family, neighbors and fellow-students need to immerse themselves in the refreshing waters of God’s truth, and make that decision to cross the line of faith. You are the person to give them a nudge off the dock. You have been put in their lives to help them take next steps.

Don’t be afraid. The water isn’t over their heads. They just need an extra push, and that can be your way of explaining it: “Would you like to take the next step in becoming a follower of Jesus?”

Studies show that many people in our churches are simply trying to discern next steps; they are waiting for someone to tell them what to do next.

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January 7, 2011

Making a Daily Affirmation of Faith

This was the Thursday morning devotional at Daily Encouragement.   It’s a reminder to make a daily renewal of our calling to serve and follow God.  It appeared there under the title, The Daily Decision.

“Then He said to them all: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me'” (Luke 9:23).

We want you to think with us. How often in a day’s time do we say aloud or think in our minds, “I need to decide…”?  We suppose it’s a lot. These decisions may be due to factors such as the weather, the day of the week, the time of day or the workload before us.  “What shall I wear, a coat or light jacket?” What should I prepare for dinner?”  “Shall I call or send an email?” And on and on our list goes.

But today we want to focus on a daily decision each of us has in common, regardless of where we live on this planet. Every morning when we awaken to a new day we are confronted with this same choice.

We memorized the daily verse many years ago.  It’s a clear call to discipleship from the words of our Lord.  Jesus was speaking to the disciples very plainly about how He would be rejected by the priests and chief elders. He then spoke of His suffering, His death and resurrection that would follow.  It was a very intense setting as these disciples were trying to understand and also rejecting such disturbing information about their Master.

Then Jesus surely added to the intensity of the moment when he then issued this call to His disciples; “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”  Both Matthew and Mark record the same statement (Mt. 16:24, Mk. 8:34), but only Luke records a detail that includes a vital element to this call.  Notice the word “daily”.

By providing this detail Luke emphasized a concept that is often seen in Scripture. The day is a unit of time that the Word seems to stress as important in making a steadfast commitment to our Lord. Here are several phrases from the Scriptures in this regard: “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15). “I call to you, O LORD, every day” (Psalm 88:8). “This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).

In the New Testament Jesus taught us in the Lord’s Prayer to request, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). The apostle Paul emphasized this daily walk in urging the Thessalonian believers to “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody” (Thessalonians 4:11,12). And in the Pastoral Epistle to Titus he taught, “Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives. (Titus 3:14).

Our daily encouragement series is prompted by a command found in Hebrews 3:13 which states: “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” We are just two ordinary people making a decision this day to follow Christ. And we want to encourage all of you to do the same! Today and every day.

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Daily Encouragement

Daily Encouragement ends each devotional blog post with a prayer.  This one is such an integral part of what they wrote, I included it also:

Daily Prayer: Father, there are many choices I will make today based upon the variables that I cannot foresee. But one choice for me that is not optional because I not only believe the truth of the Gospel, but am fully committed to following Christ. To do so I must deny my own selfish desires, take up my cross daily, and follow Him. In denying myself I will be careful never to deny Christ or the work He wants to do in me. On particular days it can be intense and require great sacrifice on my part. I don’t know what the cross will look like today, whether it be in the form of physical pain, ridicule of my faith, rejection from one that I love, a major letdown, or another difficulty that may come my way. The wonderful blessing is that I don’t carry my cross in my own strength but You carry it for me as I lean upon You for strength, guidance, and the assurance that today’s cross will soon be exchanged for tomorrow’s crown.