Christianity 201

May 19, 2022

Truth-Telling in a World of Lies

Today we’re back for a second time with Rev. Taylor Mertins  who blogs at Think and Let Think, has co-authored three books, and hosts the Strangely Warmed Podcast and the Crackers and Grape Juice Podcast. Clicking the header which follows will take you to today’s devotional where it first appeared.

A Dangerous Adventure

John 14.27

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

“Christians are people who tell the truth. And, if we cannot tell the truth, then at least we should not lie.” I have those sentences scratched in a notebook that I carried with me during seminary. And, if my notes are correct, I heard those words from a professor named Stanley Hauerwas during a hallway conversation after morning prayer.

His conviction about our truthfulness is nothing new. Martin Luther famously said that a theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil whereas a theologian of the cross calls a thing what it is.

Translation: tell the truth.

But telling the truth is no easy endeavor, particularly because we live in a world that runs on lies. Every ad we consume presents a false vision of reality so long as we purchase a particular product. The nightly news is designed to terrify us so that we will keep watching until we know what side we are supposed to be on for every subject. And even in our domestic dramas we often lie because we are trying to be good: we don’t want to tell our spouses how we really feel, we don’t want to upset the applecart at a family get together, we’d rather brush something under the rug than bring it to the surface.

All the while, as Christians, we worship the one who not only tells the truth, but is, himself, truth incarnate.

When Pontius Pilate was told that Jesus was the one who had come into the world to testify to the truth, he asked, “What is truth?” Jesus gave no response because Pilate was literally looking at the answer to his question. Therefore, should we truly desire to be a community of the truth and by the truth then we need not look further than Jesus Christ and him crucified.

The “and him crucified” is crucial. For, truth-telling is a dangerous adventure. But without an example of a truth telling community, the world has no alternative but to continue to run by lies.

Jesus leaves peace with his disciples and the peace Jesus leaves runs counter to the peace of the world. The peace of the world is achieved, kept, and maintained by violence. Whereas the peace of Jesus comes through vulnerability, sacrifice, and even suffering.

Part of the hard truth that the church has to speak into the world today is this: we have a problem with violence.

Mass shootings have become so commonplace that it’s hard to keep track of what happened and where. And yet we, as Christians, can advocate for a new peace, a peace given to us by Jesus, a peace that means we have to fundamentally reshape how we understand what it means to be in the world. Or, we can simply avoid going to churches, malls, supermarkets, concerts, cinemas, parks, pre-schools, elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, college campuses, mass transportation, and any other place where a mass shooting has taken place.

We’ve become so accustomed to the war torn images of Ukraine (and war in general) that it leaves us feeling apathetic. And yet we, as Christians, can advocate for a new peace, a peace given to us by Jesus, a peace that means we have to fundamentally reshape how we understand what it means to be in the world. Or, we can let things continue on their merry way while more and more people are displaced, separated, and killed.

Speaking truth to power is no easy thing. But until we’re willing to call a thing what it is, we are doomed to call evil good and good evil. Or, put simply, the beginning of a faithful imagination comes with telling the truth.


Flashback link: From 2014, scripture verses which reference truth.

March 5, 2022

Carrying and Sharing the Light

After a break of several years, today we’re back with Canadian Presbyterian pastor Jeff Loach who writes at Passionately His, whose writing first appeared here in 2011. Clicking the header which follows will take you to that site, where you’ll also find video of sermons Jeff has recently preached.

Throwing and Flooding

I met with my spiritual director earlier this week, and she read this familiar verse from The Message, which always manages to take the familiar and make one think about it:

Jesus once again addressed them: “I am the world’s Light. No one who follows me stumbles around in the darkness. I provide plenty of light to live in.” – John 8.12

It was a really good reminder for me that though we live in a time of darkness, with the pandemic and all the divisions that have been created and underlined by it, Jesus still provides plenty of light to live in.

It can be easy to point fingers and take pot shots (especially on social media, where we can’t see the other).  This verse reminded me of the importance not of pointing out the deficiencies of one, but of flooding all we know with the light of Jesus.

Since getting interested in the world of everyday carry (EDC), I’ve learned more about things like flashlights than I ever thought I would need to, or care to learn.  Some flashlights are made to throw light a long distance.  These lights have a fairly narrow beam, but you can see a long distance with them.  Other flashlights are made to flood a smaller area: you can see a lot around you, but not for very far.

Let me encourage you, in this politically and socially challenging time, to flood the world with the light of Jesus.  Not everybody lives in his light; some do stumble around in the darkness.  But we can flood the world around us with the light of Jesus, prayerfully hoping that some will see that light and turn to him and live in that light.

We all long for a peaceful world, free of division and strife.  Jesus is the way to fulfill that longing, and he invites us to spread that light.  By flooding the world around us with his light, we will have a greater impact as we seek to share the One who is our peace.

For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us (Ephesians 2.14, NLT).


Because Jeff’s articles are shorter, here’s a bonus item for today.


The Alternative to Prayer in School

In a previous Encouragement From the Word, I recounted part of the story of Cassie Bernall, the student at Columbine High School who was killed for being a Christian, relating that to the reality of suffering and persecution among believers.  This elicited a heart-tugging response from a subscriber who was part of a tragic school shooting at one time.

This person told me how important a role prayer played in the aftermath, noting that “Amongst the sirens and the ambulances and the police, we gathered in small groups, holding hands and praying.  God was there giving comfort to us in our time of greatest need”, and that when the school reopened, a few days later, a prayer was offered over the PA system to bring comfort to the injured and the families of the victims.

Most schools today, at least where I live, don’t offer the option of public prayer.  And while I would welcome a call to restore school prayers, I fear that horse has left the barn, as the saying goes, and that nothing short of national revival is going to bring it back, especially in the political culture in which we find ourselves these days.

So what is the alternative?

Prayer at home.  (Now there’s a concept.)

Those students who gathered to pray amid the chaos in my interlocutor’s story must have had some foundation of prayer, both at home and in the church, to lead them to pray together.  It served them well to provide comfort in an unimaginable moment.

Too often, in our consumer culture, we depend on institutions to do work that more rightly belongs to the family.

We should not rely on the school system – even a Christian parochial school system, if that’s where our kids go – to teach them such foundational faith basics.

I dare say we should not even rely on the church to do this.  (Gasps come from the crowd.)

I think this is the responsibility of parents.  In fact, this is not my idea; it’s deeply rooted in the history of God’s people.  Consider that sharing the basics of faith has been considered a family mandate from as far back as the time of Moses:

Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.  And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today.  Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up (Deuteronomy 6.4-7, NLT).

Of course, parents themselves have to learn this, if they weren’t taught it by their own parents.  And that’s where the church comes in.  The church’s job is to equip parents to be used by God to shape their children as followers of Jesus.

Someone has said, tongue-in-cheek, that as long as there are exams, there will always be prayer in school.  But in an age of increasing persecution for followers of Jesus, all the more do children and young people need to be spiritually formed at home – including knowing how to communicate with God in a loving relationship – so that they can be strong in their faith, no matter what they face, in school or elsewhere.

It may not be bullets that they face (and so we earnestly pray!), but it may be words, which injure in different ways, or something else that comes with persecution.  As the church equips the parents to form the children, we will see great spiritual renewal among the people of God, which we need for the world in which we live today.

January 9, 2022

The Gospel is our Starting Point, and Then…

NIV.1 Cor.15.3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

ISV.Mark.16.15 Then he told them, “As you go into all the world, proclaim the gospel to everyone.

For today’s devotional, we have another new author to introduce to you. Chandler Moore blogs at Moore Thinking. Click the header below to read this at his site.

Should Christians “Just Preach the Gospel”?

In certain circles, the phrase “Just preach the Gospel,” functions more as a conversation stopper rather than any kind of genuine appeal. “We need to talk about racial justice.” Just preach the Gospel. “Have we considered if our message and evangelism is contextualized to our culture while remaining faithful?” Just preach the Gospel. “I’m concerned that we are not doing enough to serve the poor.” Just preach the Gospel.

You get the point. Now, to be fair, utilizing the phrase this way, doesn’t necessarily mean that an individual is saying those items don’t matter. The most generous interpretation that can be given to it is that an individual is saying that those items, while important, will all be fixed if we only focus on Gospel preaching.

I find even this charitable interpretation far too simplistic of a methodology to walking faithfully, and holistically, as disciples of Christ. While the Gospel is of “first importance” (I Cor. 15), the Christian Scriptures are overflowing with teachings that are not directly teaching or preaching the Gospel.

To be clear, I believe that the Gospel, that is that Jesus Christ died, was buried, and raised from the dead for the forgiveness of sins to all who put their trust in Him and confess Him as Lord, is the centerpiece and cornerstone for properly understanding every aspect of the Christian life. With that said, we must understand that we have a wealth of teachings within the Scriptures that relate to pursuing justice, serving the poor, defending the weak, items that may be called “social justice issues.” These matters must be understood in light of the Gospel and fleshed out through the lens of the Gospel, but they also must be taught as distinct teachings of Christ and the Apostles that need careful thought, charitable dialogue, and prayerful reflection.

When Jesus gave the Great Commission, he told his disciples to “make disciples” (presumably by preaching the Gospel), and to teach those converts all that He has commanded. Yes Christians must preach the Gospel, but we must not stop there. We must teach all that Jesus commanded as well. Yes the Gospel never loses its relevance nor its power in the Christian life. Yes we need to be reminded of it and live from it daily. But as we do, we are then working off of the proper foundation for being the salt and light of the world, being all of what Christ taught us to be.


Notes:

Thanks to Rebecca McLaughlin for inspiring this post in: Rebecca McLaughlin, The Secular Creed: Engaging Five Contemporary Claims (Austin TX: The Gospel Coalition, 2021), 19

August 12, 2021

Should Christians Watch the News?

If this were a century ago, the title would be, “Should Christians read the newspaper?” I also realize the phrase, “watch the news” implies the legacy television networks, whereas many of you get your current events through the internet, one way or another. Should Christians have a daily (or every other day) input of current events in their reading diet?

And I would answer with a resounding yes, which I recognize will indeed alienate some readers.

But this is 2021, post-Covid’s outbreak, and post-America’s federal election. Some people are simply “newsed out” while others debate the validity of certain media which disagree with their biases.

When the Sadducees came to Jesus in Matthew 16, it’s not immediately clear if they were asking for a miracle on the spot, some revelation of the divinity of Jesus, or, in the terms of which Jesus grants their request, some eschatological insight. He answers them,

NIV.Matt.16.2,3 He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.

It’s an analogy to be sure, beginning with the idea that today we might express as “wet your finger and hold it up to see which way the wind is blowing.” But on a deeper level he’s saying there are signs and it’s incumbent on us to be able to interpret them. That implies knowing what’s going on in your community, your nation and your world.

Some people devour local news. It’s good to be invested in your community. I’ve seen pastors who have never bothered to listen to local radio or subscribe to the local paper. Within a few years they’re off to another community, and I suppose they consider themselves citizens of heaven first, and getting to know the nuances of their city, town or village simply not worth the investment.

But other people major on world developments and then go to extremes trying to do the interpretation. A large container ship gets stuck in a canal for several days, and it’s a sign we’re heading toward one world government, they say. Because a boat got stuck.

In my youth, I was taught that “a wise person keeps abreast of the times.” When I went to find this verse however, I could only locate this rendering in the original edition of The Living Bible:

TLB.Proverbs.24.3,4 Any enterprise is built by wise planning, becomes strong through common sense, and profits wonderfully by keeping abreast of the facts.

All that to consider a quotation from Karl Barth, with a short post which appeared in 2015 at the blog of Geoff Sinibaldo. Click the header appearing next to read it there.

On Barth, the Bible and the Newspaper

Most preachers know the quote attributed to famed theologian Karl Barth:

We must hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.”

We have an inherent need to be relevant to our hearers. It is important to us as Christian leaders to both make the Bible come alive and speak to the real world concerns in which people live. The Bible and the newspaper balance those needs, but there is a cost. Sometimes we have such a desire to stay relevant we try to prove our relevancy by starting with the newspaper and working our way back to scripture and the tradition. Observation and revelation are not mutually exclusive, but they are not necessarily equal partners either. One interprets the other as a lens to read the other. It seems in our contemporary age where the church as a trusted institution and scripture as a trusted authority hold less sway with people, for well-founded and explicable reasons. As a result, we have inverted the relationship of revelation and observation, giving more weight to what we can see and experience with the hope that our faith might have something to say in response.

I recently discovered that the more accurate version of Barth’s quote is:

Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.” (Time Magazine, May 1, 1966.)

This makes me a little less nervous than the popularized version of this quote.  We are not to give equal value to God’s word revealed and handed down through the generations and the daily word reported and experienced with the fresh voice of a journalist this morning. We don’t just read the newspaper and figure out what to do about it on our own. Nor do we keep our head in the book, and shut the doors to our churches and leave personal experience aside.  We need a contemporary voice and one of wisdom that scripture provides.  The preacher’s task (as is the task of every believer) is to connect the stories of God and God’s people with our own. Our story is interpreted in light of what we know about God, and what we know of God primarily comes be what is revealed. For Christians that revelation is given in Jesus; so that the themes of God walking alongside us, welcoming us, including us, forgiving us, healing us, raising us and sending us become the interpretive lens in which we engage the real world around us with all its corruption, pain, division, violence and suffering.

The ancient stories of the Bible are not out of touch with life filled with technology, travel and the influx of ideas. The truths told in those stories are just as relevant to our lives as they have been to former generations. Stories of jealousy, selfishness, greed, destruction and betrayal – can be ripped right from our own headlines today, and stories of compassion, forgiveness, sacrifice and faithfulness are needed now as much as ever before. The constant voice of scripture within those ancient texts is one of discernment – “Where is God in all of this and where is God leading us?” Those are not questions the newspaper asks, but one we can continue to ask as we read it.  We certainly could use that voice in our world and in our relationships today.  Martin Luther once reflected that Jesus only matters when he is Jesus, “for me.”  Faith is always a contemporary exercise revealed in the present. Our task is to pay attention – not just to the world around us; but to God’s story entering our own lives and experience so we can better engage our neighbors’ concerns and challenges. Barth’s reflection about the news and the Good news provides both wisdom and relevancy. We need both voices, and too often sacrifice wisdom for the sake of relevancy.

One more piece on relevancy is an honest confession: I don’t read newspapers; at least not in their printed versions.* I find they often offer one voice and/or perspective in a time where many voices compete for our attention and allegiance, and it is helpful to find a variety of thoughts on any given subject.  Yet I must also claim my own bias – and that is to see the world through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and take it from there.

So I offer this 21st century update, on what I think what Barth was trying to say:

“We must hold the Bible in one hand, and our hand-held device in other – filled with Twitter feeds, Facebook updates, blog subscriptions, news articles from a variety of sources and perspectives, societal studies, and local gossip. We must open our own experiences to reflection, and listen for God moments in the stories of others. We must look beyond our doors, books and screens, and spend some time in the real world, in our community among our neighbors and through our networks as we pay close attention to those voices too.

Yet at its heart, scripture still interprets them all, interprets us all, and brings us into God’s timeless truth again and again to us…right now.”


But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-15)


*  I know it is a contradiction, but in our digital age I do still love the feel of a real paper book. For those who love the feel of a real newspaper, I understand that too.

July 2, 2021

We Will be Replanted in Different Soil

Eleven months ago we introduced you to a writer simply goes by the (lower case) name appolus at his blog is titled A Call to the Remnant, with the subtitle, Scottish Warriors for Christ. There is a richness to the writing in the style of classic devotionals and after considering four different possibilities, I chose this one for us today.

Shall The Flower Bloom Again?

When my wife and I came back from vacation, we discovered that one of the plants that stands guard at our door, had been over-watered. The one on the left was fine, and flourishing, the other had wilted and the blooms were dying or dead. When we researched what had happened, it seems that if you over-water a plant to this extent then the soil will be rancid and the roots themselves will be rotting from the bottom up. There is a slight chance that you can save the plant, but only slight. It involves uprooting the plant and laying it to one side, removing all of the soil, cut away as much of the roots that you can, then replace all of the soil and replant it.

We did this and just as the research suggested, the soil was rancid, so bad that we had to wear masks as we removed it. The roots were rotten almost all the way to the top, we cut them away. And now the replanted plant will either live or die, no one knows. Can I suggest that the Western world is over-watered. We are rancid as we drown in our abundance. The very roots that held us are rotten from the top on down. The flowers of our culture are dying on a rotten vine. There is drastic change to come. There is an uprooting so that which can be saved and shall be saved. The soil which has held us will be removed. The roots of everything we know is being cut away. We shall be replanted in different soil.

Will you survive the cutting brothers and sisters? Shall you resist it? The old soil is being shoveled away as we speak. The saints of God shall be ripped away from this world and all its hold upon us. We shall be laid bare and put aside while the Master deals with what is left of this world. We shall not be watered for a time. It is vital that we “dry out.” Think not that we have been abandoned. We have not, but it will seem that way. This time of of our troubles is for our saving.

The new soil will be rich and deep. It will be watered by the blood of the martyrs. The name of the new soil is persecution. And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations. Can you hear the drumbeats of war brothers and sisters? A war that for all intents and purposes will be one that we shall lose. For a time it shall seem that all is lost. Not just for a day or a week or even a month, this season shall be much longer than that. It will be long enough to make you doubt everything that you have ever believed. You will be tried in this.

Yet God has cultivated a people for Himself. They have a few banners that fly over their lives and the battles they have waged. One of the banners that flutters in the wind of the Spirit says “Even if He kills me, yet will I trust Him.” Another banner reads “For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.” There are two more banners. One says ” And they loved not their lives unto death,” and the last one reads “If God does not deliver us from the fire, let it be know, we shall never bow down to the gods of this world.”

It is these saints that shall survive the uprooting. All others shall die in the rottenness that is this world. This mindset of the saint is to glorify God. It is to yield and to surrender to His will for their lives. It is what the Master wants that is all important. It is His desires that fill the hearts of the saints. It is their blossom that causes color to exist in another-wise black and white world. Shall the flower bloom? Shall it survive the trauma of the uprooting? Some will, most will not. In the end, the heart of the matter is revealed as everything is stripped away. It cannot be otherwise. The heart of the matter, the only heart that matters is the Heart of God the Father and Christ His Son. Let us be found there, even if He slays us. For the things that we see are temporal and of little value, but the will of God is eternal and flowers in the heart of His children.


By the same author:

 

March 25, 2021

What is the Greatest Threat Facing the Church in Our Day?

A Shrunk Sermon from John 15

by Clarke Dixon

What is the greatest threat to the Christian Church moving forward in our land in our day?

Is it the pandemic? Some churches have really struggled, but most have been doing okay, we at our church are guardedly hopeful and also thankful for faithfulness among our people.

Is it changing values in society? Values certainly are changing, but the early Christians thrived in a world where people had very different values. Should we be forcing our values on everyone else anyway? The early Christians did not, they lived their lives in honour of Christ, and invited others to do likewise. There was no thought of forcing non-Christians to behave like Christians.

Is it the Internet? Now that people have become used to attending church from home while wearing pyjamas and drinking coffee, will people want to gather? Besides, on the internet people can tune into the exact style of Christianity they want, with the exact style of preaching and teaching they enjoy. On the positive side, people do like to gather, and many will find that what is lost by not gathering is greater than the convenience of online-only worship.

Perhaps the greatest threat is none of the above. Perhaps we find it in the words of Jesus:

If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.

John 15:18-19 (NLT) 18

Is the greatest threat to the Church, to Christianity, hatred from those who hate God?

Let us keep in mind the context of these words. Jesus is speaking to the twelve disciples here. Jesus goes on to tell them what to expect:

I have told you these things so that you won’t abandon your faith. For you will be expelled from the synagogues, and the time is coming when those who kill you will think they are doing a holy service for God. This is because they have never known the Father or me. Yes, I’m telling you these things now, so that when they happen, you will remember my warning. I didn’t tell you earlier because I was going to be with you for a while longer.

John 16:1-4 (NLT)

The religious leaders did indeed think they were serving God by opposing the disciples and their message that Jesus was risen from the dead. Saul, who came to be known as the apostle Paul was a prime example of that. The disciples really did face opposition, as described by Jesus, in a way that I have not faced in my lifetime.

Some Christians do face that same kind of persecution today. For them the hatred is real. Thankfully, so are the promises of God. People are dying for living for Jesus.

But we are not facing that level or kind of opposition today here in Canada. No one [where we live] wants us dead for being believers. There are those in Canada who would be happy to see Christianity stamped out, but they are probably an even smaller minority group than those who attend church regularly. Outright hatred of God, of Christianity, of Christians, doesn’t seem to be big problem here in Canada.

Perhaps there is a bigger problem facing churches in Canada than hatred, a problem Taylor Swift sings about in a song

I forgot that you existed
And I thought that it would kill me, but it didn’t
And it was so nice
So peaceful and quiet
I forgot that you existed
It isn’t love, it isn’t hate
It’s just indifference

Taylor Swift • Louis Bell • Adam King Feeney (emphasis added)

Christianity was not likely on Taylor Swift’s mind when she wrote this song, but rather an ex. However, the song does point to a challenge facing the Church in Canada; indifference. People don’t hate us because we are Christians. They just don’t care that we are.

So is apathy toward God, expressed through indifference toward Christianity the biggest threat?

Over this past year I have heard many people say how they can’t imagine how people face these trying times without God in their lives. But some of the words of Taylor Swift’s song ring true for some people who may have been raised Christian but who have now rejected Christianity.

I forgot that you existed
And I thought that it would kill me, but it didn’t
And it was so nice
So peaceful and quiet

I forgot that you existed

Taylor Swift • Louis Bell • Adam King Feeney (emphasis added)

Some people have ditched Christianity and reported having a sense of relief. They have experienced a kind of freedom. But have they experienced freedom from God, or freedom from a kind of religion that didn’t help them experience God?

That brings us to one other possibility.

Maybe the greatest challenge facing the church today isn’t hatred, or indifference, or maybe it isn’t what is happening to the Church from outside, maybe it is what has happened to the Church on the inside.

Let us go back to the words Jesus spoke on the night before he was crucified:

“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.
“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.

John 15:1-5 (NLT)

Perhaps the greatest threat facing the Church in Canada is a group of people known as Christians. Perhaps we are the greatest threat when we don’t remain in the vine, when our faith is not centred on, and focused on, Jesus.

Jesus said “Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit” (v.5 ). Note that Jesus did not say
“If you double down on being religious, you will bear much fruit.” Doubling down on religion is what we sometimes do, especially when we feel threatened,

Doubling down on religion was the very thing the religious leaders were telling people to do in the days they were plotting the death of Jesus. Doubling down on religion was what the religious leaders thought they were doing when they were looking to kill the apostles. Needless to say, they were not bearing good fruit.

Jesus said “Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit” (v.5 ). Note that Jesus did not say “if you double down on your own understanding of the Scriptures, you will bear much fruit.” There were plenty of differing interpretations of the Scriptures in that day. Jesus did not say “if you double down on this particular interpretation, or that particular interpretation,” but rather “if you abide in me.”

The Scriptures are super important. They point us to Jesus. But they cannot replace Jesus.

I don’t talk often enough about our Baptist distinctives, and I’m pleased that our church family is made up of people from different backgrounds. Two are the distinctives are the “Jesus is Lord” and “The Bible is our authority.” Jesus is Lord, and not the emperor, Queen, or Prime Minister. The Bible is the authority for understanding faith and how we live out the Christian life, not church tradition, nor church hierarchy.

Having my ear to the ground in Baptist circles it seems to me that sometimes we have replaced “Jesus is Lord” and “The Bible is our authority” with “The Bible is Lord” and “Our tradition of how we understand the Bible is the authority,” or worse, “my interpretation of the Bible is the authority.” When we focus on our tradition, our interpretation of the Bible in all its details, we begin to divide. Not long after Jesus told the disciples to abide in him, he prayed for unity. Unity is found when we abide in the vine. Unity is threatened when we abide in our own understanding.

I love the Bible. In fact for years now I have been putting in the extra effort to read it in the original languages. But I don’t want to be known as someone who spends a lot of time in the Bible, though that is something I do. I want to be known as someone who spends a lot of time with Jesus.

The Bible can help us break through to beauty in our lives and in all our relationships, if we read it as people who are Christ-centered. But the Bible can also lead to ugliness if we are not Christ-centered.

Not long before Baptists, there were Anabaptists, a movement of Christians who in searching the Scriptures came to believe that baptism should be of believers, by immersion. They were persecuted by fellow Christians, who sometimes in a cruel joke would tie them to rocks and throw them off bridges into rivers, sending them to death by drowning, claiming that now they really had experienced baptism by immersion.

Now how is that kind of behaviour consistent with people who are abiding in Jesus? It is consistent with people who are abiding in religion, or abiding in a specific interpretation of the Scriptures that is divorced from Jesus.

When people who are not Christians hear about that kind of thing happening, they say “who would want to have anything to do with that?”

The biggest threat to the Church moving forward in Canada today is the same threat that the Church has faced in every time and place – we Christians who are not focused and centered on Christ.


You can watch a full video of the sermon on which this is based, or can see it in the full context of this “online worship expression

October 1, 2020

A Good News Life

by Clarke Dixon

What does the Christian life look like? Should we retreat from a non-Christian majority and keep to ourselves? Should we just fit in, behaving like everyone else, but holding some beliefs in a very private place? Should we go all-in on what we think is a Bible-based lifestyle and call upon the government to get everyone else to believe and live like we do? What does it look like to be a follower of Jesus in our day?

This was a central question for the young Christian communities in New Testament times. Having turned from Roman religions, now how are they to live? Just as they are and do as Romans do? Or should they begin a political revolution calling on society to adopt and enforce Judea-Christian laws?

When we look at the early Christians we find neither of these things happening. What we find are people continuing to live in the world, rubbing shoulders with those they normally would, but who were now living differently. Yes, they were still in the Roman world, but they were now living there as citizens of another world.

Paul speaks to this in his letter to the Christians in Philippi:

Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ.

Philippians 1:27a (NLT)

Followers of Jesus in the early Church did not separate themselves from society, nor did they try to change society, but they did live differently within society.

Living lives “Worthy of the Good News,” they would be living in such as way that the people they rubbed shoulders with would say “wow, this really is good news.”

We might imagine what a very Roman citizen might say to his neighbour who became a Christian: “You are different. Love seems to be a big thing for you now. You have more concern than ever for the poor. You are quick to forgive people. You Jesus followers refuse to expose your unwanted babies (a practice of leaving unwanted newborns out to die). Your sexuality is different, we don’t see you with the temple prostitutes anymore. Your marriages are different, faithfulness to your spouse is now so important to you. When you gather in community, you don’t make distinctions based on class or, it seems, even gender. You have a confidence that there is only one God and that God is for you and not against you. You say it is good news that Jesus rose from the dead. In many ways it looks like good news!”

When Jesus calmed a storm, the disciples were astounded, asking “who is this man?” The person in the Roman world living a life worthy of the good news, lived a life that caused people to ask “Who is this Jesus they keep talking about? We want to know more.”

Is that happening in our day?

No one is going to ask “Who is this Jesus they keep talking about?”, if we live like hermits, separating ourselves off from everyone who is not a Christian. If no one hears us talking about Jesus, and sees the difference following him makes in our lives, nothing will change in theirs.

No one is going to ask “Who is this Jesus they keep talking about?”, if we just make Christianity a belief system, a set of doctrines we believe, with little to no impact on our lives. Christianity is not a privately held set of thoughts, but a way of life.

No one is going to ask “Who is this Jesus they keep talking about?”, if we make adopting Christianity a nationalist political agenda, if it is all about getting the state to ensure that everyone is living like Christians. People will not ask “Who is this Jesus?”, but they will ask “Who do these Christians think they are?”.

People will ask “Who is this Jesus they keep talking about?”, if we are growing in the fruit of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. People will ask “Who is this Jesus they keep talking about?”, if we are being changed from the inside out.

Now back to the Romans in Philippi:

Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents.

Philippians 1:27-28 (NRSV emphasis added)

Though a life worthy of the good news is really a beautiful kind of life, there will always be those who are very much opposed.

We can imagine the opposition in Philippi. The Christians would be seen to be promoting atheism by saying that the gods commonly believed in are not gods at all. The Christians are also no longer taking part in all the regular civic duties. The Christians seem to have forgotten what being a good Roman looks like with regards to both belief, and practice!

There will be those who are opposed to the Christ-focused life today with regards to both belief and practice.

There are those who very strongly promote scientism, the belief that all that is worth knowing can be learned through science. Certainly there is much we can know from science and we are grateful for all the work scientists do. But science is limited in what it can discover. We can expect opposition from those who disagree.

There are those who are opposed to Christian ethics and lifestyle. As an obvious example, many think the emphasis on faithfulness within monogamous marriage is rather old-fashioned. It may be old-fashioned, but it is good! There is something beautiful about the Christian ethic. We can expect opposition from those who disagree.

Let us not be intimidated by those who are opposed to Christianity, those who claim that it is unbelievable and/or ugly. In fact Christianity is both believable and beautiful! I will refer you to a series of earlier blog posts which speak to this, the summary of which, and a kind of “table of contents,” can be found here.

Just as Paul encouraged the Christians in Philippi to find encouragement from Christian community, “standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel” we also can find encouragement from Christian community. This includes being part of a church family, but it can also include the encouragement we receive from Christian writers and resources.

When we are a follower of Jesus, do we retreat from society? Do we just fit in with society, and hold our beliefs in a very private place? Do we go all in and try to get everyone else to believe and live like we do?

We center our lives on God, being encouraged by Christian community, learning love from Jesus, empowered and led by the Holy Spirit.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. Watch a video version of today’s devotional at their “online worship expression” from September 27th.

November 28, 2019

Asking Daniel: Should We Make Our Nation Christian Again?

This is the final in 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

We have been considering how we might express our Christian faith in a society which has been pushing Christianity to the margins.

If you have been following along, you will wonder why we are ending half way through Daniel. This is a good place to shift gears, for the Book of Daniel itself shifts gears between chapter 6 and chapter 7, from being about the experiences of Daniel and his friends, to prophecies through, and to, Daniel.

Let us remind ourselves what we have learned thus far in Daniel chapters 1-6.

To summarize, in all these things Daniel was living out the words from Jeremiah:

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:  “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease.  Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Jeremiah 29:4-7 (NIV)

In other words; live as my people, but quietly among a very different people, making yourselves at home in a strange land. Reading between the lines, we might add; don’t form an army to try and fight your way back. Daniel quietly lived his life in devotion to God. He did not start a war. The early Christians followed a similar pattern as they lived as a minority group with very little influence on the governments of their day. They quietly lived Jesus focused lives and called others to join them in doing the same. They did not seek to start a war or fight for a privileged position.

Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not believers will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others. 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 (NLT)

Is it time to declare war on our changing culture? Or is it time to settle in, to live as a different kind of people, but harmoniously among others? The Book of Daniel invites us to consider the concept of the separation of church and state. The Book of Daniel invites us to consider the value of religious freedom. The Book of Daniel invites us to reflect on good witness to God’s goodness which begins with a good relationship with God and is borne out through a good relationship with people. The Book of Daniel also invites us to consider that “God’s got it.” We have not spent time in chapters 7-12, but a recurring theme of the prophecies found there is that the future is in God’s hands. Our government may pass laws we don’t agree with. It is not the end of the world. The end of the world is God’s prerogative. God can be trusted with the future of the Church. Therefore our focus is not on rescuing the Church, or the privileged position of Christianity. Ours is not to rescue the Church, but to participate in God’s rescue of people.

In chapter 9 there is something else that is a crucial part of the experience of exile:

So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and fasting. I also wore rough burlap and sprinkled myself with ashes.
 I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed:
“O Lord, you are a great and awesome God! You always fulfill your covenant and keep your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and obey your commands.  But we have sinned and done wrong. We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations.  We have refused to listen to your servants the prophets, who spoke on your authority to our kings and princes and ancestors and to all the people of the land. Daniel 9:3-6 (NLT)

Daniel prayed a prayer of confession. He knew there needed to be a greater connection with God. Daniel’s prayer of confession is focused, of course, on Moses and the Mosaic law. Our prayers of confession will be focused on Jesus:

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5 (NLT)

As we face a changing nation, as Christianity is pushed to the margins, is our focus on making it a Christian nation again? Or is our focus is to make the Church more Christian than it has ever been.

October 24, 2019

Ready for the Furnace? The Courage to Worship God When No One Else Does

by Clarke Dixon

(This “Shrunk Sermon” is from a series on The Book of Daniel which begins here)

I will give you one more chance to bow down and worship the statue I have made when you hear the sound of the musical instruments. But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And then what god will be able to rescue you from my power?” Daniel 3:15 (NLT)

Are we ready for the furnace? Do we have the courage of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who chose the furnace over worshipping the king’s statue? Do we have the courage to worship God, and God alone, while we live in a society that does not worship God?

1 King Nebuchadnezzar made a gold statue ninety feet tall and nine feet wide and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. 2 Then he sent messages to the high officers, officials, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates, and all the provincial officials to come to the dedication of the statue he had set up. 3 So all these officials came and stood before the statue King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Daniel 3:1-3 (NLT)

Imagine the scene; all the important people form across the Babylonian empire are gathered to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s statue. The statue was impressive, but so was the king himself, the gathering of officials being proof that he had such power over such a large empire. However, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were not as impressed with the king and his statue as everyone else:

“But there are some Jews—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—whom you have put in charge of the province of Babylon. They pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They refuse to serve your gods and do not worship the gold statue you have set up.” Daniel 3:12 (NLT)

Given the ultimatum to worship like everyone else, or be thrown into the furnace, they chose the furnace:

“. . . we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” Daniel 3:18 (NLT)

Why did they have such courage? How could their courage be so impressive, when the king, the king’s statue, the king’s power, and the king’s empire, were all so impressive? Why choose the furnace? Likewise, why were early Christians so courageous when Rome, and the power of Rome, seemed so impressive? Why did they choose the lions? Why be courageous in our worship of God today, when so much else seems so impressive? Why not cave?

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego worshipped God courageously because they knew that God alone is worthy of worship. No matter how impressive Nebuchadnezzar, or his statue, or his power, or his empire might be, God is more impressive! By the end of the story the statue is forgotten.

Then the high officers, officials, governors, and advisers crowded around them and saw that the fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke! Daniel 3:27 (NLT)

The story begins with all eyes on the statue, it ends with all eyes on God!

Are we ready to take a courageous stand when it comes to worship? People have worshiped seemingly impressive gods in every culture. Richard Foster, in his book Celebration of Discipline, speaks of three things which might tempt us to cave in our dedication to God; the worship of money, sexy and power. I’m sure we can each add to this list the things that draw our eyes, that demand our worship. However, at the end of the day, by the end of the story, we will go from all eyes on such things, to all eyes on Jesus. No matter how impressive the people or things are that we worship today, they will be forgotten in the end. God will be front and centre.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego know that God alone is worthy of their worship, no matter what happens to them.

16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. 18 But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” Daniel 3:16-18 (NLT emphasis added)

God is God, He is worthy of worship. God is God, and is worthy of worship whether He rescues us today or not. As we consider God’s people in exile in Babylon, the Babylonians might seem to be more powerful, for now. As we consider the early Christians, the Romans might seem to be more powerful than God, for now. As we consider our own lives, cancer, or some other disease, or ageing, or the consequences of a car accident, might seem more powerful than God, for now. However, God is God, even if there is no rescue from the furnace, or the lions, or disease, or violence, or whatever, for now. But the story is not over.

Do we know that God is worthy of our worship, even if there is no rescue? You might get sick. Many people may pray for you. You might die anyway. Is God not powerful enough to answer the prayers and rescue us? There is a bigger rescue operation underway, in Christ. By the end of the story, we will realize that God, who demonstrates his power and his love in Christ, is more impressive than anything that comes against us. All will realize Who is worthy of worship at the resurrection.

We often experience God best when we are not rescued, when we are not kept from the difficulties we pray we never experience. Consider Shadrach, Meshach, & Abednego in the furnace:

24 But suddenly, Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in amazement and exclaimed to his advisers, “Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into the furnace?”
“Yes, Your Majesty, we certainly did,” they replied.
25 “Look!” Nebuchadnezzar shouted. “I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed! And the fourth looks like a god!” Daniel 3:24-25 (NLT)

There is discussion as to whether Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or an angel, was the fourth person Nebuchadnezzar saw walking around in the furnace. However we understand it, we are meant to know they were experiencing the presence of God. “The experience of God’s being with his people . . . comes only in the furnace, not in the being preserved from it” (Kennedy). We will experience God best in the furnace experiences of life, even when that is the experience of death. In being thrown to the mouths of the lions, many Christians have been thrown into the arms of God.

One last thing; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego went back to serving the very people who tried to kill them. They continued to participate in a godless society, serving godless people. Their attitude was: “I will serve you, but not your gods.” As we seek to worship God alone, can we commit to serving those who have no such desire? Do we have the audacity to hold up God alone as worthy of worship, even when threatened with a furnace? Do we have the compassion that drives us to serve others, even those that might threaten us with a furnace? If so, we will be following in the footsteps of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, not to mention Jesus.

October 3, 2019

Conviction or Humility? Which Do We Need When We Share the Good News?

(This post is part of a series on Daniel which begins here.)

by Clarke Dixon

We Christians we have incredibly good, and incredibly important, news to share. When we share the good news of God’s love, should we be full of conviction, or humility? Which do we need in order to help people discover the good news in our day?

We can learn from Daniel who had a very important message to share with the Babylonian king. While God’s people were in exile, King Nebuchadnezzar had a bad dream and expected his wise men not only to interpret the dream, but to tell him what the dream was as well! If not, all the wise men, including Daniel, would be put to death. His usual wise men could come up with nothing. What did Daniel do?

14 When Arioch, the commander of the king’s guard, came to kill them, Daniel handled the situation with wisdom and discretion. 15 He asked Arioch, “Why has the king issued such a harsh decree?” So Arioch told him all that had happened. 16 Daniel went at once to see the king and requested more time to tell the king what the dream meant. Daniel 2:14-16 (NLT)

Daniel’s response demonstrated great conviction. Daniel was convinced that God would rescue. Daniel had so much conviction, in fact, that he arranged a future interview with the king before hearing from God! Do we, who are Christians, have the conviction that God rescues? Is our faith held as a matter of deep personal conviction, or are we simply Christians because our parents or grandparents were? Are we convinced that Jesus is who he said he is, or are we Christians because we think Christianity might be good for us? Have we looked at the evidence for Christianity, or are we Christians ‘just in case’ it might be true? We have good reasons to have conviction about Jesus and the Bible. If you have not considered the evidence, you can begin with my “Shrunk Sermon” series called “Compelling” which begins here. We can have deep conviction that God is, and that God will rescue. It is an old cliché, but can we dare to be a Daniel and share the message with conviction?

So it is conviction we need and not humility? Let us look again to Daniel as he delivers the message to the king:

. . . it is not because I am wiser than anyone else that I know the secret of your dream, but because God wants you to understand what was in your heart. Daniel 2:30 (NLT)

Imagine the temptation for Daniel, in learning the contents of the the king’s dream from God, to stand before the king with great pride. Imagine the temptation to gloat, to point out that he is the only one that could pull this miracle off. However, Daniel has great humility: “it is not because I am wiser than anyone else.”

In a previous sermon, we looked at missing ingredients that make Christianity taste awful in our society. Humility is sometimes one of those ingredients. We, who are Christians, can come across as “know-it-alls.” Perhaps it is because of what we think the Bible is. I have heard it said that the Bible answers any and every question you could possibly ever have about anything. Having read through the Bible myself many times, I have not found that to be the case. In fact, sometimes it raises more questions that it answers! The Bible itself does not claim to have all the answers:

 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:14-17 (NIV)

The Bible tells us what we need to know to have a relationship with God, and what life looks like when we lean into that relationship. But it does not tell us everything about everything. And that is okay. We don’t need to know everything about everything. That is also okay.

Let me give one example where we Christians can sound like we have all the answers and know everything. When I first began pastoring in the 1990’s I came across something aimed at gay people called “conversion therapy.” One organization in particular, called Exodus, was well known for this. At the time it sounded like a good thing to me. It seemed to fit nicely with Christian theology. Conversion therapy has been something that many  Christians have promoted with great certainty.

Fast forward to today, and there is a movement to ban conversion therapy. To many this might feel like persecution against Christians. But is it? The basic premise of conversion therapy is that you are gay because you have a terrible relationship with your father. Fix that, and you can be fixed. However, the evidence is in; many straight people have terrible relationships with their fathers and many gay people have great relationships with their fathers. Are we able to say with Daniel “we are not wiser than anyone else” and be willing to follow the evidence?

We may not want to follow the evidence because conversion therapy seems to fit so nicely with traditional Christian theology. But does it? The evidence is in, and conversion therapy has not worked. Now imagine it’s you, and you have been shipped off to a center with great expectation and prayerfulness. You come home, unchanged. You already feel like you have disappointed your Christian community by being gay in the first place. Now you are adding further disappointment by not being straightened out. You may give up on prayer, God, yourself. Many have.

Jesus told the story of a man beaten and left for dead. The religious elites passed by on the other side, but the Good Samaritan stopped to help. If conversion therapy is more harmful than helpful, then perhaps we should be the good Samaritans and be the first to call for a ban, not the last. The Exodus organization did indeed shut down and apologized for harm done in 2013. In shutting down and apologizing, the leaders of Exodus humbly followed the evidence rather than claiming to be wiser than everyone else.

Let us not act like we know all the answers, but let us with humility follow the evidence where it leads, on conversion therapy, and much else. Let us echo the humble posture of Daniel, let us communicate “I am not better than you, I don’t have more wisdom than any other human being.” Let us be willing to learn. Can we dare to be a Daniel and have a posture of humility?

Daniel had a good mix of conviction and humility. So did the apostle Paul:

12 Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. 1 Corinthians 13:12 (NLT)

Daniel knew that he was not smarter than everyone, but connected to Someone. This gave Daniel great conviction expressed in a posture of great humility. So which do we need in order to communicate the good news of Jesus in our day? If we are strong on conviction, we may want to reach for greater humility. If we are strong on humility, we may want to reach for greater conviction. We can, and should, declare the good news of Jesus with great conviction. We should do so with deep humility.

September 19, 2019

Settling In as Christians to the New Normal of a Post-Christian Society

by Clarke Dixon

Should we, who are Christians in North America, still be bothered with Christianity when most North Americans are not? If so, should we be bothered by those who could not be bothered with it? There is a new normal in Western society, marked by a move away from traditional Christian beliefs and values. Should we just go with the flow and melt into the new normal of society? Or should we resist the changes, kicking and screaming all the way? How do we as Christians respond to the new normal?

Assimilate, or Be Different?

Daniel and his friends, from the Book of Daniel, would have faced similar questions. Daniel was facing a new normal:

3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, his chief of staff, to bring to the palace some of the young men of Judah’s royal family and other noble families, who had been brought to Babylon as captives. 4 “Select only strong, healthy, and good-looking young men,” he said. “Make sure they are well versed in every branch of learning, are gifted with knowledge and good judgment, and are suited to serve in the royal palace. Train these young men in the language and literature of Babylon.” 5 The king assigned them a daily ration of food and wine from his own kitchens. They were to be trained for three years, and then they would enter the royal service.
6 Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were four of the young men chosen, all from the tribe of Judah. 7 The chief of staff renamed them with these Babylonian names:
Daniel was called Belteshazzar.
Hananiah was called Shadrach.
Mishael was called Meshach.
Azariah was called Abednego. Daniel 1:3-7 (NLT)

Daniel and friends were likely overachieving teenagers, perhaps as young as 14 when they were taken captive. They were born Jews in Judah, but now they are being educated in, or more accurately, indoctrinated into, Babylonian ways in Babylon. With three years training, which of course would include training in Babylonian religious ideas, and with name changes, they were facing a pressure to assimilate. They were to become model Babylonians. Should these teenagers even bother with trying to be Jewish? After all, their new normal seemed like a pretty good gig, including the finest food!

Daniel made a decision:

8 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. Daniel 1:8 (NIV)

Biblical scholars are divided about what exactly was wrong with the king’s food, whether it was not “clean” or had been used in idolatry, but we need not be caught up in that discussion. What is important is that Daniel decided that he was not going to be assimilated, he would be different! He might be learning to speak like a Babylonian, but he will be Jewish.

Where did Daniel’s resolve to remain Jewish come from when becoming a Babylonian might seem to be an enticing and easy path? Daniel and his friends knew something very important. Despite everything, God is still God.

The opening verses of Daniel highlight this fact:

1 During the third year of King Jehoiakim’s reign in Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 The Lord gave him victory over King Jehoiakim of Judah and permitted him to take some of the sacred objects from the Temple of God. So Nebuchadnezzar took them back to the land of Babylonia and placed them in the treasure-house of his god. Daniel 1:1-2 (NLT emphasis added)

Due to circumstances, king Nebuchadnezzar, or the gods he worshipped, may appear to be in charge. However, it was God, described here as Adonai, meaning ‘lord,’ who was really sovereign over the situation. Since God is still God, Daniel resolves to be different.

God is still God today. Jesus is still Lord. Since God is still God, do we, who are Christians, have the same resolve as Daniel to be different? Is there something different about us that demonstrates that we have not wholly been assimilated into society around us? Perhaps church attendance is one thing, but is that it?

If we resolve to be different, then how will we relate to those who are different?

Since God is still God, and since Daniel resolves therefore to be a God-fearing Jew, what will that look like in Babylon? How will Daniel relate to the Babylonians? Will he fight them? Will he lead a movement against them? Will he be confrontational at every opportunity? Will he refuse to serve the king because he serves the King of kings?

We are told what Daniel does:

18 When the training period ordered by the king was completed, the chief of staff brought all the young men to King Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king talked with them, and no one impressed him as much as Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. So they entered the royal service. Daniel 1:18-19 (NLT)

Jewish Daniel served the Babylonian king. In fact we will discover, as we keep reading, that Daniel will spend his whole life serving the current king, the next king, and even the king of the next empire to seize power. Daniel’s life is marked by serving people very different from himself. Daniel is different, but he also fits in. His attitude is not one of confrontation, but of servanthood. He does not come across as a warrior for God, but a servant of all.

How do we relate to the society we find ourselves in? How do we relate to people who may have quite different beliefs and values from us? God is still God, so we can be resolved to not be assimilated. But are we therefore to be warriors in a fight to the death? Or are we servants, like Daniel and his friends, and like Jesus? Are we to be confrontational at every opportunity? Or do we have an attitude of servanthood? Let us remember that Jesus came, “not to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45).

Daniel and his friends served the Babylonians, and quite well, we might add:

20 Whenever the king consulted them in any matter requiring wisdom and balanced judgment, he found them ten times more capable than any of the magicians and enchanters in his entire kingdom. Daniel 1:20 (NLT)

Daniel and his friends will be known as different, but not because they say they are, so much as because they really are. The proof is in the pudding, so to speak, not in the shouting out of the recipe.

In our being different, is the proof in the pudding, or the shouting out of the recipe? Are we different in ways that matter? Not in being overtly and overly religious, but in subtle and important ways, things like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23), which are the fruit of the Spirit? If we are truly different, and genuinely serving others, people will ask about our faith. We will have opportunities to speak about it, there will be no need to shout about it.

Daniel resolved to be different, to not be assimilated, to not become a Babylonian. But then he did not live in a Jewish bubble either. He had no plan to destroy the Babylonians. Rather, he served the Babylonians as someone who feared God and loved people. Can we serve our fellow North Americans as God-fearing, people-loving people?

(This post is part of a series on Daniel which begins here.)

July 5, 2019

Was Jesus Caucasian?

NIV.Gal.3.8 Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”

I thought we’d end the work week with a topic which may seem trivial to many of you, but often arises unforseen in discussions. This is one of many interesting topics at GotQuestions.org. and I try to highlight them here every six months. This is a great site to know about if you’ve… got questions. Here’s a link to their archive page which categorizes their different topics covered. Click the header below to read this one at source.

Was Jesus White?

In much of Western art, Jesus is portrayed as having white skin and light hair. Is that what Jesus really looked like? If not, why is He so often portrayed that way?

First, it is important to remember that the Bible nowhere gives a physical description of Jesus. The Bible does not say anything about Jesus’ height, weight, skin color, hair color, or eye color. Such things are not important to understanding who Jesus is. The closest the Bible comes to describing what Jesus looked like is a non-detailed sketch of what Jesus was not like in Isaiah 53:2: “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (ESV). Essentially, Isaiah 53:2 is saying that Jesus was ordinary-looking. The description of the glorified Jesus having white hair and bronze skin in Revelation 1:14–15 should not be understood literally unless you also believe Jesus has seven stars in his right hand, a sword in His mouth, and a face as bright as the sun (Revelation 1:16).

According to the Bible, Jesus was a Jew, a.k.a., a Hebrew or Israelite. Jesus lived in the Middle East and was of Semitic descent. As a result, He very likely would have had light- to medium-brown skin, brown eyes, and dark-brown to black hair. While Middle Easterners occasionally have light skin, comparable to that of Europeans, such skin tones are rare in that part of the world. Was Jesus white? The answer is that He was very likely not white.

So, if Jesus likely was not white, why is He so often portrayed that way? If you examine artists’ portrayals of Jesus from around the world, you find that they often portray Jesus in a way similar to what people look like in that particular culture. Europeans portray Jesus as a European. Africans paint Jesus as an African. Asians illustrate Jesus in a way that makes Him look Asian. People prefer to picture Jesus as looking somewhat like them, or at least like people they are familiar with.

Is it wrong to do this? Not necessarily. As long as we do not allow our preferred image of Jesus to become an idol, there is nothing in the Bible that speaks against imagining Jesus looking a certain way. Jesus is the Savior for “all nations” (Matthew 28:19; Galatians 3:8). No matter a person’s skin color, race, ethnicity, or nationality, he or she can experience forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God through the crucified and risen Christ. The love of Jesus transcends skin color. Having no physical description of Jesus, people naturally imagine the Son of Man to be like themselves.

So, we should not be dogmatic in our preferred image of Jesus. The fact that the Bible nowhere gives a physical description should serve as a caution against arrogance and presumption on this subject. What Jesus looked like does not really matter. His physical appearance has absolutely nothing to do with His being the Savior of the world (John 3:16).

Please also read our article on “Was Jesus black?
 

October 5, 2018

Civil Law May Not Conform to God’s Law

Today we’re back again at Seeds of the Kingdom the devotional page of  Ellel Ministries*, an organization with locations on many continents. Click the title below to read at source.

God’s Laws Versus Human Law

by David Cross

Then the commissioners and satraps began trying to find a ground of accusation against Daniel in regard to government affairs; but they could find no ground of accusation or evidence of corruption, inasmuch as he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption was to be found in him. Then these men said, We will not find any ground of accusation against this Daniel unless we find it against him with regard to the law of his God.  Daniel 6:4-5, NASB

In this passage the accusers of Daniel decided to get him into trouble (and they were eventually able to get him into the lion`s den) by forcing him into a conflict between the nation’s laws and God`s laws. In our world today, laws are being rewritten to suit the changing moral climate, and many followers of Jesus are finding themselves in a similar position of conflict as Daniel, even if not with quite such a dramatic outcome.

A few decades ago the judiciary in Britain was still strongly influenced by the nation`s Christian heritage and the biblical concept of sin. Today, in much legal interaction, there is little acknowledgement of right or wrong, but rather it has become, very often, just a contest of opposing rights. This new culture of entitlement is founded on ill-defined concepts such as freedom, inclusivity and equality, and it is giving license to countless lifestyles which would previously have been regarded as immoral or dysfunctional, by most of the population.

Increasingly, Christians voicing traditional biblical views with regard to particular lifestyles, not least about sexual expression, are attracting forceful accusations of discrimination, even finding themselves facing legal proceedings. It appears that there is a particular strategy today, by the god of this world, to attack the truths of the bible through the courtroom. We need to be alert to this tactic of the enemy and, with courage, hold firm to God`s laws.

Prayer: Father God, I want to abide by the law of the land but, in this world of changing morality and increasing accusation against traditional Christian belief, I need help to stand, both graciously and confidently, on the truth and efficacy of Your word and Your laws. Amen.


* What does Ellel mean?

David Cross is Deputy International Director for Ellel Ministries, with particular responsibility for the Ellel centres in Western Europe.


Ninety feet tall and nine feet wide
Solid gold – “It must be a god!”
They were told
“When you hear the music play
Fall on your knees and begin to pray”
They were told
But when the trumpet sounded
The whole world bowed
Three men stood there all alone
They said

Not gonna bow to your idols
Not gonna bow, oh no
Not gonna bow to your idols
I won’t bow down

All Bobby wanted was just to fit in
To be accepted he must act like them
He said “No!”
“Everybody does it! So, what’s the fuss?
Come on, Bobby, won’t’cha be like us?”
He said “No!”
And when the pressure came
He watched them bow
Bobby stood there all alone
He said

Not gonna bow to your idols
Not gonna bow, oh no
Not gonna bow to your idols
I won’t bow down

We don’t have to give in to it
We can choose to go against the crowd

Not gonna bow to your idols
Not gonna bow, oh no
Not gonna bow to your idols
I won’t bow down

October 16, 2017

A Message That Offends

Today once again we are back with Josh Ketchum, a pastor in Mayfield, Kentucky who also has a passion for marriage and family counseling. Click the title below to look around his blog, Life in the Kingdom.

How Jesus Handled Offending Others

Is it me or does it seem that everyone is offended nowadays?  People are offended by all kinds of things from decorations to beliefs.  While we are all entitled to our own opinions and right to be offended, it sure seems to me that it has gotten out of hand.  “I am offended!” has become a common cry that seems often self-serving and unbalanced.  This caused me to investigate how Jesus handled the issue of offending others.

The greek term skandlon means “to put a stumbling-block or impediment in the way, upon which another may trip and fall; to be a stumbling block” (Thayer).  It is used metaphorically in the NT to cause or make one to stumble, not physically but spiritually. It is often translated “offense” or the verb form “to offend.”

When I researched the gospels I discovered three key ideas about how Jesus dealt with offending others.

  1. He expected that his message and actions would offend others.  When John the Baptist sends disciples asking Jesus if he truly is the Messiah, Jesus tells them about his miraculous works which he is doing.  Then he adds, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Mat. 11:6).  He understood that his message would be offensive and controversial.  Once many of his disciples turned away from following after him because of his hard teachings, but he didn’t change his teachings or chase after them (John 6:61-67).  He came as the light of the world and he knew the darkness would try to overcome the light (John 1:5).
  2. He practiced and counseled his disciples to leave offended people alone.  Once the disciples came to tell Jesus the Pharisees were offended because of his teachings.  Jesus instructs his disciples to “let them alone” (Mat. 15:14).  He says if they follow these blind guides they will both fall in the ditch.  Earlier, when his hometown of Nazareth was offended because of his teaching, he understood it was because he had grown up there.  He chose to move on and do no more works in the area (Mat. 13:57-58).
  3. When possible, in cases that did not violate the truth of God, Jesus tried to not offend others.  Jesus didn’t intentionally try to offend people.  In fact, even though he didn’t have to technically pay the temple tax since he was the Son of God, he told Peter to pay the tax so as not to offend them.  They would not understand how he was exempt from such a tax, so Jesus paid it, rather than offend them (Mat. 17:24-27).

What are some lessons we can apply to our own lives in 2017 in this ultra-offensive culture from Jesus?  Here are a few for you to consider, I am sure there are more.

  1. The Christian message will still offend people today.  If we craft a version of Christianity that is politically correct and offends no one, then we are not preaching the true gospel of God.  The gospel, in its very nature, is offensive (1 Cor. 1, Gal. 1).
  2. We need to be willing to keep our distance from folks who claim they are offended.  We should try to work through the issue, but if they are not willing, then we need to let them alone.  We should practice the golden rule, always being kind and respectful, but we may be best served by ending the discussion and moving on to other works.
  3. Christians should not be in the business of trying to offend others.  We should try to adopt cultural norms that are acceptable standards of word and action when possible.  Our message and our leader cause the offense, it should not be our petty opinions that really don’t matter that cause them.  For example, we should adopt appropriate terms for races and ethnic groups, rather than persistently using older terms that are now considered offensive.

I hope this study has been a blessing as you try to navigate our overly-sensitive culture and one that is becoming more hostile to the Christian faith.

 

August 20, 2016

When Christians Bear the Sweetest Fruit

“But the land into which you are about to cross to possess it, a land of hills and valleys, drinks water from the rain of heaven, a land for which the LORD your God cares; the eyes of the LORD your God are always on it, from the beginning even to the end of the year.

Deuteronomy 11: 11-12 (emphasis added)

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1:6 (both verses are NASB)

Today we are again paying a return visit to Katherine Harms at the blog Living on Tilt. One thing I really like is how she bridges topical and Bible study material, and sometimes in the same article! Click the title below to read at source.

More Than Survival

I just finished reading a long essay by a man who believes that everyone should acquire the knowledge that enabled people to survive and thrive before electronic technology existed. I agree. Electronics are seriously vulnerable, but the ways of pre-electronic society can and will enable a good life to anyone. God’s earth will still be here, even after the EMP or a hurricane or a world war.

People in today’s world need another “tool” in their “survival kit,” too. They need faith in Christ who redeemed humankind and all creation when he died and rose again.

Many people believe that it is “all up to me” and there is no help other than their own wits and strength. Self-sufficiency is an important and valuable character trait that keeps us from being needy and dependent on our fellow man and on government, but it is not enough to give us real health and long life. Only faith in Christ and a life lived in relationship with him will enable us to thrive in utterly destructive circumstances.

The first principle of a successful life before, during, or after disaster is to put all your hope in God alone.

Contemporary culture rejects the existence of God, and that stance means that one must be completely self-sufficient. God cannot help a person who denies his existence. God sends rain on the believers and the unbelievers alike, but only believers see God’s hand at work in the blessing of the rain. Unbelievers see a water control problem that they must fix. Unbelievers see no blessing in the seeming randomness of the rain, or in the gradual increase in the size of a desert, or in the transitions of natural climate change. Unbelievers see Inequality in the difference in rainfall, paychecks, or intellectual gifts. Unbelievers think that only equal pay, equal rain, and equal intellect is equality, and therefore unbelievers are always at war with God’s diversity and inclusiveness. God loves all people equally, but his gifts are distributed according to his perfect plan, not according to the ability of humans to measure equality.

To put your hope in God alone is to accept his work and his administration without fear. If you hope in God alone, for example, then when voters choose a tyrannical president as wicked and faithless as the ancient king Ahab, you do not lose faith in God. You recognize that a purpose and plan bigger than yourself is at work. When that godless tyrant begins to disassemble legal and moral structures that were God’s gifts delivered through leaders obedient to God’s direction, you recognize God’s judgment on people who chose the tyrant who hands out bread and circuses rather than a Godly leader who focuses on protecting opportunity for all. God has not stopped caring about the nation; the nation has stopped caring about God.

If you put your hope in God alone, then you trust God’s guidance and care for the nation and for you as an individual. You don’t despair when God’s will for the nation results in pain for you; rather, you give thanks to God for the privilege of suffering for His Name’s sake, in the same way the disciples suffered from human evil: “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”  (Acts 6:41)

This is why Christians who mourn the collapse of Constitutional government and the moral rot perpetuated by government mandate in public schools do not, nevertheless, despair. The church, Christ’s body on earth, was not made for the easy times; it was born of inhuman suffering and it thrives in the most inhospitable times and places.

Christians thrive and bear the sweetest fruit when nourished by being like Christ — despised and rejected by men.

It is wise for Christians to prepare for disasters. A wise person will be ready for war, civil unrest, hurricanes, or whatever hard times he can foresee. However, all that common sense wisdom can be made worthless by disasters nobody could have foreseen. When that happens, it is good to be able to testify with Job, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21) Only those who put all their hope in God alone will thrive in times like that.

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