Christianity 201

October 10, 2019

Behold Your King! Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel and Power

by Clarke Dixon

“Behold your king!” This is how a cat would probably want to be introduced into a home. When we introduced a cat recentlyIMG_0281.jpeg, the dogs were terrified at first! Thankfully, they are now friends. People throughout history have clamored for power and authority. Unfortunately, many have been terrified and terrorized as a result. Perhaps you know someone who likes to be introduced with “behold your king.” Perhaps it is you.

We like power. We don’t like being at the losing end of power. We may feel that certain people have power over us in some way. We may feel like we have lost power due to situations, whether financial or health related. Cancer may seem to have all the control, for example. Power itself is neither good, nor bad. Power and influence can be a wonderful life-giving gift. Good things happen when influencers influence well. Power can also be a terribly destructive problem. How shall we deal with power, whether our influence over others, or their influence over us?

The concept of power is central to the Book of Daniel. The Babylonian empire has it all. God’s exiled people seem to have none. The Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, has it all. Daniel and his friends seem to have none. God speaks into this power arrangement through a dream to Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel, chapter 2. Daniel is given the interpretation to share with the king.

Now imagine you are the king. Imagine how great you would feel when Daniel begins the interpretation of your dream like this:

37 Your Majesty, you are the greatest of kings. The God of heaven has given you sovereignty, power, strength, and honor. 38 He has made you the ruler over all the inhabited world and has put even the wild animals and birds under your control. You are the head of gold. Daniel 2:36-38 (NLT)

Wow! You are something else indeed! The top dog, the ruler, the “greatest of kings,” the “head of gold.” Yes, the king has great power. But do you notice something subtle within the interpretation? However powerful the king is, God is more powerful. The king only rules because God allows it. There are two things to note.

First, since God has given Nebuchadnezzar power, the king is accountable to God. Even the king is accountable to Someone in how he uses his power. King David of Israel knew this when he said “The LORD is my shepherd” in Psalm 23. David was not just referring to God’s care for him when he called God his shepherd. He was looking to God as his king, as the One he was accountable to, as the more powerful One.

Every person of influence is accountable to God. We all have influence of some sort. We do well to call upon God as our shepherd. Is our influence in line with God’s leading? Are we using power in ways, and towards ends, that are in line with God’s Kingdom? Is the Lord our shepherd as we influence? Look around at the current leaders of our world. Are they being led by the Shepherd?

Second, since there is Someone more powerful than the king, the king’s power is limited. This would have been a comforting thought to God’s people in exile as they lived under Nebuchadnezzar’s power. It will all turn out how God says, not Nebuchadnezzar. This is still a comforting thought in our day. Someone is in charge Who has greater power than anyone or anything exercising power over us. It will all turn out how God says it will, not how cancer says it will, or addiction, or any kind of disease or troubling situation in our lives. All powers are limited. God’s power is not.

There is something else worth noting in the interpretation:

39 “But after your kingdom comes to an end, another kingdom, inferior to yours, will rise to take your place. After that kingdom has fallen, yet a third kingdom, represented by bronze, will rise to rule the world. 40 Following that kingdom, there will be a fourth one, as strong as iron. That kingdom will smash and crush all previous empires, just as iron smashes and crushes everything it strikes. Daniel 2:39-40 (NLT)

The king’s power is only temporary. There will be other kingdoms. Nebuchadnezzar’s  rule will end up being really only a “blip” in the history of the world. All rulers, kingdoms, empires, and governments are only temporary.  All shall all give way someday. But there is a Kingdom that is everlasting:

44 “During the reigns of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed or conquered. It will crush all these kingdoms into nothingness, and it will stand forever. 45 That is the meaning of the rock cut from the mountain, though not by human hands, that crushed to pieces the statue of iron, bronze, clay, silver, and gold. The great God was showing the king what will happen in the future. The dream is true, and its meaning is certain.” Daniel 2:44-45 (NLT)

There is a Kingdom that is everlasting, because its King is eternal. The rock which smashes the statue is uncut by human hands, in contrast to the statue which is fashioned by human hands. It is God’s Kingdom. God sets up His Kingdom in contrast to the empires and kingdoms which people create.

There are differing interpretations around the identity of the empires represented in the statue of Nebuchandezzar’s dream. We can be quite certain, though, that the kingdom of God is to be identified with Jesus:

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mark 1:14-15 (NIV)

36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” John 18:36 (NIV)

All empires and kingdoms are only temporary. Any destructive power that is over us, is only temporary. This would have been a hope filled message for God’s people in exile. This too, shall pass. This is still a hope filled message for us when our troubles seem unending. This too shall pass. All troubling powers overs us shall be replaced with God’s future for us.

We should also recognize that any influence we have is only temporary. Therefore, who’s kingdom is it better for us to invest in? Our own? Or God’s? There is a contrast in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream between what humans can accomplish, and what God can accomplish. When we build up an empire, it is something easily destroyed and replaced. When God builds a kingdom, it is eternal, and therefore worthy of our investment.

Like God’s people in exile, when someone else’s power and influence threatens our destruction, we look to the coming Kingdom. All earthly powers are limited and temporary. This, of course, also means that our own power is also limited and temporary. Therefore we do well to harness our influence for God’s Kingdom purposes.

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

June 30, 2018

The Temptation to Solve Everyone’s Problems

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Luke 4.6-8 And he [Satan] said to him [Jesus], “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.  If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’

Yesterday and today we returned to re|knew the blog of Woodland Hills Church pastor Greg Boyd. I am so grateful for the input Greg has had in my own life. Click the title below to read this at source.

How the Church is Tempted to “Do Good”

The previous post spoke of God’s call to the church to be resident aliens: a holy, distinct people who are set apart and peculiar when compared to the patterns of the world. The holiness of God’s kingdom is cruciform love, which constitutes our distinct witness to the world. Preserving this holiness and resisting the Devil’s temptation to do good according the patterns of the world is ongoing. When we succumb to Satan’s temptation it only reduces the kingdom of God to another version of the kingdoms of the world.

We are not to be ignorant of this temptation and how it lures us in. Therefore, it is helpful to understand how Jesus himself was tempted to do “good.” The Devil tempted Jesus by offering him all the kingdoms of the world without having to go to the cross (Luke 4:6-8). In essence, the Devil was offering him the very thing he came to get, for Jesus came for the people of the world, and people are always subjects of some kingdom or other. To rule the people, all Jesus had to do was submit to the “god of this age” and leave him in place as its ruling authority.

Without having to suffer and die, Jesus could have immediately taken a position as the functional lord of all these kingdoms. Jesus could have quickly overpowered evil in all societies. He could have immediately alleviated much, if not all, suffering and created a kingdom of the world that enacted perfect law, order, and justice. Not only this, he would have thereby fulfilled all Israel’s expectations of what a messiah was supposed to be.

The Devil’s temptation would not have been a genuine temptation for Jesus unless there was a lot of “good” wrapped up in it. The same is true for us today. However, if Jesus would have taken the course of action offered by Satan, Jesus’ rule would have been part of Satan’s system of domination, which currently runs the world.

Jesus refused this “good” approach. He did not come to make the kingdom of the world a new and improved version of itself. He came to transform “the kingdom of the world” into “the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah” and thereby establish the rule of God.

As tempting as it was, Jesus was not going to allow the radical distinctiveness of the kingdom of God to be co-opted by the demonically ruled kingdom of the world—even if the immediate results were “good.” John Howard Yoder once wrote: “The cross is not a detour or a hurdle on the way to the kingdom. It is the kingdom come.” Sacrificial love, therefore, isn’t simply an effective way to make the world a better place, it is the “set apart” kingdom of God on earth! When one obeys God and loves as Christ loves in a kingdom-of-the-world context, it always looks like this.

This is why everything hangs on not allowing it to become co-opted by immediate, obvious, and self-serving kingdom-of-the-world methods, however good the immediate consequences may appear.

—Adapted from The Myth of a Christian Nation, pages 73-75.

 

June 29, 2018

Living as an Alien in this World

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Romans 12.2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

II Timothy 2.4 No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.

I Peter 2.11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.

Philippians 3.20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Today and tomorrow we’re returning to re|knew the blog of Minneapolis pastor and author Greg Boyd. Although Greg has some views on some subjects with which others might disagree, readers shouldn’t let that invalidate his entire ministry. Click the title below to read at source.

Being a Resident Alien

In the midst of the political turmoil our country is experiencing, the church is called to play an important role. We sit between the revelation of the love of God on the cross and the full manifestation of the kingdom of God on earth. God wants to work with us and in us to grow his kingdom. He longs for a people who minister on earth in the way that Jesus ministered when he walked the earth.

The enemy that confronted Jesus in his earthly ministry continues to confront the “body of Christ” today. Though God’s archenemy was in principle defeated on the cross, this victory is not yet fully manifest.

Even after the resurrection, Satan is still the god of this age, the ruler of the power of the air, and the one who opposes the advancement of God’s kingdom. The world is still “enemy-occupied territory.” The “pattern of this world” is still demonically structured, and so we must still resist being conformed to it (Rom 12:2).

We who have Christ being formed within us are no more at home in this present world system than Jesus himself was, and so our attitude toward the present world system must be the same as his. His kingdom was not of this world, and we who are part of this kingdom must never forget that we are not of his world either (see John 17:16).

Therefore, we are not to let ourselves get overly entangled in “civilian affairs” (2 Tim 2:4). Instead we are to see ourselves as aliens and exiles in a foreign country (1 Peter 2:11). Whatever country we may naturally belong to, we are to remember always that our real citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20).

Whatever opinions we have about how to solve society’s problems—even in the midst of great turmoil about huge political questions—we are to remember always that we cannot serve two masters (Luke 16:13). Our allegiance can never be to any version of the kingdom-of-the-world. We are to see ourselves as “resident aliens.” We are in the world, but are not of the world any more than Jesus was of the world.

We must march to the beat of a different drummer. Preserving this “alien status” is not an addendum to our calling as kingdom-of-God citizens. The way we advance the kingdom of God is by being the unique kingdom of God in contrast to the kingdom of the world.

We are to be a “holy” people (2 Cor 6:17), consecrated and set apart. We trivialize this profound biblical teaching if we associate holiness with fighting political battles according to the patterns of this world. We are called to be Christlike, living in outrageous, self-sacrifical love in the midst of those who do not.

If you make this your life aspiration, you will certainly be peculiar (about as peculiar as a Messiah dying on a cursed tree!). You will be, in fact, a “resident alien.”

—Adapted from The Myth of a Christian Nation, pages 69-71

March 16, 2012

The Two Worlds Within

To be a Christian is to be following Christ in a world that is dominantly following other standards, other passions, other rules of engagement.  But there are actually several different aspects to this.

The first has to do with time. Have you ever gone ‘state straddling?’ That’s where you stand with one foot in one state and one in another. There are parts of the Canada/US border where you can actually do ‘country straddling,’ with one foot in the USA and one in its northern neighbor (or more correctly in this case, neighbour with a ‘u.’) As believers, we straddle a fence between two realms.

The first Venn diagram I ever saw that talked about the Christian living in two worlds depicted the intersection of ‘this age’ and ‘the age to come.’ We live in that intersection, as part of earthly kingdoms, and part of a kingdom yet to be realized. Fully grasping this is fundamental to understanding salvation in terms like, ‘We were saved, we are saved, we will be saved.’ Such is the complexity and fullness of all Christ accomplished at the cross.

But there is also the dynamic of place. In this world, we are to be called out and set apart to live in the middle of a world that follows different marching orders. There are two forces wrestling for control of each and every one of us, the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness.

We’re called to be in this situation, but not of it. We’re called to live in a world where all type of influence may come into us, but where what comes out of us is what matters. We’re called to be affected by all kinds of external stimuli, but to respond uniquely and unexpectedly as strangers and aliens by going the extra mile, turning the other cheek, giving the coat off our back, etc.

But there is a third intersection which takes place entirely within. It has nothing about it that would register externally. There is no behavioral component where person ‘X’ is seen struggling with wanting to do right but finding himself/herself doing wrong. It is completely unseen.

It’s the stuff that today’s scripture quotation (in the graphic above) from Philippians 2 refers to. We were created with ego. That’s it. Pure and simple. We were created with a survivalist instinct that runs completely contrary to the idea of  preferring others. In the NIV, the verse reads,

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves…  (vs. 3)

This type of behavior is not natural. It must be labored at, worked out with fear and trembling. But even then, it can only be fully attained if there is a model for us to follow, to imitate. If someone has gone before and shown us by example that it is possible to live in this time and this place under a law of love.

This third type of internal struggle is for many the most difficult at all. You may live in a mostly Christian culture — even if it’s nominal — where your Christian beliefs are widely held. You may live in a situation that is somewhat devoid of persecution compared to other parts of the world. But I guarantee you that you do not escape the conflict between your egotistical nature and the type of servanthood that the New Testament teaches.

The greatest battlefield we face as Christ-followers is often the battlefield within.


Today’s reading directly alludes to a number of Bible passages without listing references. For homework, see if you can identify the texts underlying what’s written in the paragraphs above. (You can use the comments section to post scriptures suggested in what you read today.)


Today’s graphic was found at the website of Liam Byrnes formerly in England, now serving in Southern Africa with All Nations helping people in poverty. I tried to figure out which translation was used in the graphic but never did. He and his wife also have a ministry blog.

I tried to find a graphic for the first type of Venn diagram online, but couldn’t, so I created one below: