Christianity 201

October 31, 2019

Helping People Connect with God in an Increasingly Godless Society

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

by Clarke Dixon

How can we help people connect with God in an increasingly godless society? Fewer are calling themselves Christians. Fewer are committed to attending church. Fewer people turn to churches in times of spiritual seeking. People now look for wedding officiants instead of pastors. People now desire a celebration of life rather than a Christian funeral. There is no doubt that people in North American and Western Europe have been turning away from Christianity. With this being the trajectory, are we able to help them connect with God?

In Biblical times Babylon was more godless than we are. King Nebuchadnezzar makes Prime Minister Trudeau, President Trump, and President Putin, all look like angels. Yet in Daniel, chapter 4 we see something remarkable:

Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble. Daniel 4:37 (NIV)

Nebuchadnezzar, a far-from-godly king over a truly godless empire made a God-connection! God’s people were very much in the minority, so we cannot give credit to prayer in schools, or Bible based laws. Church attendance was at an all time low! There is therefore hope for Canadians. If Nebuchadnezzar can make a God connection, anyone can. There are lessons for Canadian Christians in Daniel, chapter 4.

First, note Daniel’s heart:

“Upon hearing this, Daniel (also known as Belteshazzar) was overcome for a time, frightened by the meaning of the dream. Then the king said to him, ‘Belteshazzar, don’t be alarmed by the dream and what it means.’
“Belteshazzar replied, ‘I wish the events foreshadowed in this dream would happen to your enemies, my lord, and not to you! Daniel 4:19 (NLT)

Daniel’s heart broke for Nebuchadnezzar. There is no doubt about Daniel’s heart for God. However, Daniel also had a heart for Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel was moved by what he knew would happen to the king. Keep in mind that this is not a good and godly king. This is a not a friendly empire. This king had thrown Daniel’s friends into the fire. This king had threatened to destroy all the wise men, including Daniel, when they were unable to discern his dream. This empire had invaded Daniel’s homeland and taken people, including Daniel, as captives. Yet, it touched Daniel’s heart that Nebuchadnezzar was about to experience misfortune. Daniel was loving the enemy long before Jesus taught us to do so.

Do our hearts break for those who experience disconnect from God? Nebuchadnezzar was very different from Daniel. He had a different background, grew up speaking a different language, followed a different religion, and therefore had different values. Do our hearts break for those who would seem to be very different from us?

Do our hearts break over the struggles and misfortunes of others, even perceived enemies, or do we say, “told you so”? Do our hearts break for people? Do we faithfully love others? Broken hearts will be the evidence.

Second, note that Nebuchadnezzar’s connection with God was a journey.

Nebuchadnezzar had glorified Daniel’s God before, in chapter two. That did not stop him from throwing Daniel’s friends into a furnace in a fit of rage in chapter three. Chapter four ends with a stronger connection between the king and God than ever before. Yet there is likely more distance to go in Nebuchadnezzar’s understanding of the divine and his relationship with God. The path to, and with, God can be a long journey.

A relationship with God is always a journey. In previous Kanye West albums I have heard some Christian thoughts. In his latest album, called “Jesus is King,” there are nothing but Christian thoughts. Kanye is on a journey! Yet Kanye calls into question the ability of established Christians to walk that journey with him:

Said I’m finna do a gospel album
What have you been hearin’ from the Christians?
They’ll be the first one to judge me
Make it feel like nobody love me
They’ll be the first one to judge me
Feelin’ like nobody love me
Told people God was my mission
What have you been hearin’ from the Christians?
They’ll be the first one to judge me
Make it feel like nobody love me

https://genius.com/Kanye-west-hands-on-lyrics

Helping people connect with God is a great privilege, at any point along the journey. Daniel never gave up on Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel never wrote the king off, but served him with heart. Do we give up on people? Have we given up on our nation? Do we engage with people, serving others as Christ served us? Or do we isolate ourselves? Worse, perhaps we might prefer to isolate them. Are we faithful in our journey with people, as they are on a journey in their relationship with God? Relationships will be the evidence.

Third, watch for God’s heart work.

There was an essential ingredient that Nebuchadnezzar needed for a better connection with God. He needed humility. In Daniel chapter 4, God, not Daniel, takes Nebuchadnezzar on a journey of self-awareness and God-awareness:

29 Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”
31 Even as the words were on his lips, a voice came from heaven, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. 32 You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.”
33 Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. . . 34 At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. . . . 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble. Daniel 4:29-34,37 (NIV)

Nebuchadnezzar is taken on a journey from thinking he is the best, with no need for God, to an awareness that he is, and has, nothing without God. Nebuchadnezzar does not make a vital connection with God until he is humbled. He needed some heart work, and God brought about that heart work.

People will not connect with God without some heart work. Merely sharing information won’t establish a God connection. Hearing the truth is often not enough. Daniel could say it, and he did. But Nebuchadnezzar did not learn it until he experienced it. The king had all the information he needed. Daniel put it in his head. However, the king did not have the humility to accept it until God prepared his heart. Still, it was important that Daniel say it. Are we committed to faithfully sharing the Good News of God’s love in Christ, even when we are being ignored? Are we faithful in engaging people’s minds, while we look to God to open hearts? Prayer will be the evidence.

Conclusion

Fewer people seem to be making a connection with God in our not-so-Christian-anymore society. We might despair. But there is hope. If Nebuchadnezzar can make a vital God-connection, anyone can. Daniel was involved in that connection. We can be involved also. Are we faithful in our love for people, really and truly loving our neighbour, even our enemies, as Jesus calls us to? Are we faithful in our journey with people, every step of the way, even the smallest steps, even steps sideways or back? Are we faithful in engaging people’s minds, while we look to God to open their hearts?

December 17, 2016

What About Those Who Have Never Heard?

NIV Romans 10:14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”


NIV Luke 19:27 [Parable; rich man speaking]“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Today we pay a return visit to the video series Seven Minute Seminary at Seedbed.com. This video is 3½ minutes long and features Dr. Ben Witherington. Have your Bible or Bible software/app handy while you’re listening.

What Happens to Those Who Never Hear the Gospel?

What happens to those who never hear the gospel? It’s a fair question to ask, and Christians throughout the centuries have answered it in different ways. In today’s Seven Minute Seminary, Dr. Ben Witherington tackles the problem by drawing a parallel to how God will deal with his people Israel at the end of the age, a theme treated in Romans 1.

How we answer this issue, sometimes framed as the destiny of the unevangelized, remains consistent with the consensus of historic Christianity and Scriptural teaching if we acknowledge that Jesus is the means of salvation—whether a person has explicit knowledge of Jesus and the gospel (exclusivist or restrictivist view) or whether a person has faith based on God’s general revelation made available to everyone (inclusivist view). On the other hand, the pluralist view, asserting that Jesus is just one of many ways to God, should be rejected (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Tim. 2:5-6).

Several challenges present themselves for each view. For those who argue that a person must somehow hear the gospel in order to be eternally saved, they must answer how exactly the saints in the Old Testaments will attain life everlasting (see this thought experiment by Roger Olson). Furthermore, they must deal with the fairness of their perspective. For those who affirm an inclusivist view, they must struggle with maintaining the centrality of repentance and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in salvation, and the urgency of missions around the world. In the end, our Father, who has a holy and loving character that we can trust, will ensure that all is made right.

People of note throughout church history who taught inclusivism: Justin Martyr, Ulrich Zwingli, John Wesley, C. S. Lewis, Clark Pinnock.

More Scripture to consider: Psalm 19:1-4; Ezekiel 33:11; Luke 16:19-31; John 1:9; 9:12; 10:16; Acts 14:17; 17:26-27; Romans 1:20; 10:9-18; 1 Timothy 2:4; 4:10; 2 Peter 3:9; Hebrews 9:27.

See also: “What Happens to Those Have Never Heard the Gospel? How Prevenient Grace Makes a Difference” by Brian Shelton.

View the growing playlist of Seven Minute Seminary.

 

September 10, 2015

The Lostness Around Us

Jared TottenToday we pay a return visit to the blog Christians in Context, and writer/editor Jared Totten. Click the link below to read at source and look at other articles there.

The heart of Jonah and the heart of God

The day was extremely hot and muggy. It was the kind of day that makes me regret only owning a push mower, a decision I made under the pretext of forcing myself to get more exercise. So there I was two weeks ago, dripping and grunting my way back and forth across my lawn, when a strange “ka-chunk!” came from beneath my mower.

Oh great, I thought to myself, I’ve run over one of my daughter’s toys. But as I pulled the mower back and killed the blade, my stomach sank. Instead of a mangled mass of cheap Disney plastic, I saw fur and blood. As I crouched to investigate, small squeaks began emerging from what was clearly a shallow rodent’s den. They were so young that I still don’t know whether they were rabbits or something else but as I pulled them out, each was bloody and dying.

One.

Two.

Three.

Four.

Five. Five helpless animals that I knew had no hope of survival. Their nest had been destroyed. Their mother would not return. Two were already dead from the shock and trauma of the mower and the other three were close behind. As I deliberated how to most humanely dispose of the other three, tears began to form in my eyes. I’ve always been a bit of an animal lover, but the mingling of guilt and pity that was welling up inside surprised me.

And then it hit me like a ton of bricks. God nudged me and reminded me of the story of Jonah—not the part we all read about in the kiddie Bibles, but the very end of the book. After God had mercy on the people of Nineveh, Jonah sulked outside the city waiting and hoping for God to change his mind and—as my pastor would say—”bring the whomp” on the city. As he stewed, God caused a plant to grow up that gave shade to Jonah, and then just a quickly caused a worm to come and kill the plant. At this, Jonah’s attitude soured all the more. And in God’s response to Jonah, I heard him speaking to me as well:

“You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left?” (Jonah 4:10-11a)

Jonah’s response to the plant’s death was pity and anger, mine was pity and sadness. But I immediately knew that God’s charge against Jonah was equally true against me. I grow calloused and comfortable with the lostness around me. I get so caught up in the day to day, the mundane routine of my own life, and I forget that hell is an ever-present threat and reality for billions across the globe and in my own neighborhood.

In all the talk of church, it’s easy to get caught up in systems and strategies, programs and podcasts, books and buildings. And all these things are good, but what are we doing to impact the lostness around us? Do we even notice it anymore? All too often, I know I don’t. I celebrate that God has saved me from the stomach of the proverbial whale, but I forget that God not only saved me out of something but also to something:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20) 

We have been given the ministry and message of reconciliation, we are representatives of Christ in this foreign country. Will we sit outside the city grumbling about our comforts, or will we run into the city with this plea: “Be reconciled to God.”?

April 21, 2012

Bible Teaches Individual Responsibility and Personal Accountability

With help from my wife and son, I’ve started a project where I hope to upload to YouTube a number of songs that I feel have some significance in the history of contemporary Christian music and/or modern worship, that simply don’t exist online at present. Most of these are songs for which the 25-year copyright limitations have lapsed, and this involves transferring them from vinyl records to digital and then uploading them.

One of the first songs I wanted to do was a John Fischer song which goes by two titles; you may know it as “Love Him in the Morning” or as “All Day Song,” its proper title.  I’ve also included it above, so it seemed fitting that today’s devotional should be from John’s blog, The Catch.

Indirectly, John deals with our propensity to think the gospel message applies to someone else, and not ourselves. “What about them?” is a rather common question.  This appeared at John’s blog under the more concise title, ‘What is that to you?’

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them… When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”(John 21:20-22)

There is a popular argument for not believing that Jesus is the only way to heaven. How could Jesus be the only way to heaven when not everyone on the planet has even heard about Jesus? Would a just and loving God condemn people to hell for the crime of growing up where they never heard about Jesus?

There is more than one approach to this question, but one of the most important is that introduced by the example of Jesus and Peter in the dialogue above. Peter is wondering how John was going to die, and Jesus says, “What is that to you? You must follow me.”

What about the guy in another culture who never hears about Jesus? The answer is the same: “What is that to you? You must follow me.”

One has to already know a good deal about Jesus to even be asking this question, and to use it as an excuse not to believe is not even good logic. That’s saying you are not going to be accountable to what you know about Jesus, or could find out if you tried, because there is a guy somewhere in the world who in your estimation can’t find out.

When Jesus said: “You follow me,” He was saying: “You follow what you know of me — what has been revealed to you. You are not responsible for what has or has not been revealed to someone else; that is between my Father and that person.”

This also applies to our experience in life. When you want to compare your life to someone else’s — someone else has had it easier than you — guess what Jesus says. “What is that to you? You must follow me.”

Besides, I am of the impression from walking with Jesus that hell is more likely to be peopled with the self-righteous who had tons of chances to respond to God’s grace than with unlucky sinners who just happened to miss the “Jesus Saves” sign.

Don’t measure your lot in life by anyone else’s. You only have your own.

~John Fischer