Christianity 201

September 30, 2020

When Troubles Come and God Does Not Meet Our Expectations

Because we were unable to connect with Clarke Dixon last week, we have two posts this week; today and tomorrow.

by Clarke Dixon

When our circumstances don’t seem to match what we expect from God, do we need to lower our expectations?

Imagine you were in the apostle Paul’s shoes, having worked so diligently and passionately for so long and having demonstrated such a high commitment to God, wouldn’t you expect God to reward that?

Yet you find yourself in prison, waiting to hear if you will be released, or executed. Today may actually be your last day. What would go through your mind if that were you? Perhaps “what have I done to deserve this?” or “perhaps I should have had less confidence in God all along?”

To be honest, I hear Christians express things in the good times, that make me wonder what will happen when the bad times come. The belief, for example, that because they have a relationship with God, bad times won’t come.

How did Paul respond to his difficult circumstance? Does he respond with “poor me,” and “God is not that great”? Consider his words from prison:

And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ.

Philippians 1:12-13 (NLT)

Paul had a very positive attitude, firstly, because he was not just focused on himself. Paul’s focus was not on his own difficult circumstance, but on what God was doing in the lives of others through that circumstance. Because Paul was in prison, everyone was talking about Jesus. That was a great thing!

And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear.

Philippians 1:14 (NLT)

The believers in the city were speaking about Jesus with greater confidence, perhaps knowing that with Paul in prison, they would need to take up the slack.

The next few verses are tricky to understand but Bible scholar N.T. Wright has an interesting proposal: even the Roman non-believers were speaking about Jesus. Perhaps some were saying that Paul was dangerous with his insistence that some man named Jesus had risen from the dead and was therefore now Lord, and therefore Caesar was not. Perhaps others were saying these followers of Christ are actually very good citizens. Either way, the fact that people were talking about Jesus and curiosity was piqued was a positive thing in Paul’s mind:

. . . the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice.

Philippians 1:18 (NLT)

Paul did not dwell on the potential of losing his life, but on the possibility of others finding life in Christ. They had the opportunity to hear the good news about Jesus Christ. Do we recognize how exciting that is?

Paul’s focus was not on himself and his own troubles, but on others and what God might do for them through his troubles. We do well to remember this when our circumstances are difficult to bear. Without denying the pain that may be ours for a season, perhaps we might take our focus off ourselves for a moment and ask the Lord to help us see the big picture. Can we see what God is doing and can do in the lives of others through, our circumstances?

Did Paul lower his expectations of what God might do for him as he sat in prison waiting to hear if he would be released or executed?

And I will continue to rejoice. For I know that as you pray for me and the Spirit of Jesus Christ helps me, this will lead to my deliverance. For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. Knowing this, I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith.

Philippians 1:18-25 (NLT)

Paul’s expectations of God were very high! He would either be released, so that he could continue to pursue God’s call on his life in helping others as an apostle. Or he would be executed and find himself fully in the presence of Christ. Either way he will be released! Either way he will experience the goodness of God!

Are our expectations of God high enough?

We might have low expectations of God if we only consider what he can do for us in our immediate situation. Do we also consider what God can do for others, through us?

Do we have the bigger picture of what is ahead for us in Christ if worse comes to worst and death is staring us in the face. It is when worse comes to worst that we will experience God’s best.

Do we have high enough expectations of God? Do we expect that God will be good whether he uses the difficulties in the present chapter of our lives to bear fruit in the lives of others, or death ushers us into a new chapter of our everlasting lives?

Does the thought of dying, of going to be with the Lord, feel like going to a job interview for a job you don’t think you deserve, or travelling to an exam you expect to fail? Or does going to be with Lord feel like finally being with a loved one after only being able to meet over Zoom?

If we are in Jesus Christ, if we trust him, and if we are concerned that God will not accept us and welcome us, then our expectations of God and his love are not high enough.


Clarke is a Canadian pastor. Watch a video version of this message at the “online worship expression” from September 20th.

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.