Monthly Archives: March 2016

Discipleship – Shining in the Dark

Paul:  The Inestimable Value of One Disciple (Acts 27)

Some think faith is a private matter, and that one person’s belief is of no consequence to others.  Hardly could one be more mistaken.  Where we are strong and where we are weak matters tremendously to others.  We all affect society for better or for worse.  What an awesome responsibility!

Paul in the storm is a case in point.  (Contrast Paul and Jonah, both in a storm, and on the very same sea.)  Many things stand out in this account.  Notice the ignorance and helplessness of the experts.  That same frustration is found in our experts in diplomacy, education, legislation and adjudication today.  Notice the calm and poise of the man who trusted God.  Christians can still live in peace and maintain perspectives in our own chaotic times.  Apart from God people are in the depths of depression.  But when one can say: “The God I serve, and whose I am, has appeared to me” the invitation to be of good cheer still sounds firm and valid.

The Sense of Belonging

Paul always saw himself as belonging to God in Christ.  He called himself the slave of Christ.  He has been bought by the blood, and is not his own ever again.  Then he can no longer live for himself, cannot please himself, cannot conserve himself.  This “belonging” concept explains a great deal in Paul.  How conscious are we of it?  And of its implications for our life and character?

This “belonging” while it is constraining, is also our emancipation from the slavery to sin, fear, self-destruction and death.  It is not that now we are no longer our own, since we belong to Christ.  We were not our own before belonging to Christ either.  What happens in our redemption is that we have a change of masters.  And this opens the door to the best of all lives.  No life is better than the Master it serves.  The best of lives is not attainable under the worst of masters.  It is when we are freed from the domination of sin and evil that we can use the energies and time for godliness and its attendant good, rather than for evil and its inevitable misery.  Happiness is in direct ration to the degree of servitude to Christ. Our value as persons in society is measured by the level of our devotion to the will of Christ.

The Portrait of a Disciple in Society

Faith focused upon the right object.  Paul zeroed in on God.  What else was there to trust?  The ship?  It was breaking apart.  The sailors?  They were going to kill everyone.  The soldiers?  They were going to kill everyone.  The two captains?  They had not the slightest idea of what to do.  One sure, basic hope remained:  GOD.  So today we should know that we have no hope in mankind, nor in education, the military, politics or finances.  All of these have been tried and have failed.  Far from being the cure of our problems, they are the chief causes.  The message of the disciple is: “Behold your God!”

Genuine concern for others.  Contrast this with Johah!  “God has granted….” That means Paul had been praying for them.  What a ministry!  Intercessory prayer is one of the noblest forms of prayer.  Faith makes Christians concerned for society.

An ear for the Message of God.  We sometimes think:  “I don’t know what to say.”  It took even Paul two weeks of waiting for God to give him the words before he dared to speak.  Beware of rushing into speech simply because you feel you have the duty of witnessing.  Talk to God about people before talking to people about God.

A clear view of several things in God.  God is a hearer of prayer.  God is full of mercy.  God is adequate for any situation.  God is concerned for suffering mankind.  Remember Nineveh.  And the word of Jesus: “I have compassion on the multitude…”

Willingness to be involved in society’s problems.  We are part of our world and cannot sit idly by  when the world is in trouble while we have resources and insights and a message that can benefit others.  We need Christians in politics, teaching, business, courts, the media…..claiming every aspect of life for Christ.  A disciple is a presence. Something emanates from a disciple, just by virtue of his being there as a Chrsitian living the best of all lives amongst people whose lives are chaos.

A disciple cannot leave it to others who have not his insights and witness.  There were 2 captains on that ship.  Paul might have felt the situation was their problem, and their responsibility.  But they were helpless.  They had authority, but no insight.  There were 275 soldiers and sailors there.  But they were useless.  They had training, but could not cope.  One man of impeccable character, devoted to God, listening to God, was worth more than all of them together because he believed God and would become involved.

The Effect of Witness upon Others

They saw their first ray of hope and cheer.  This is always the effect when a disciple with the 5 characteristics listed above, involves himself or herself in society’s needs.  When the Church is Church.  When a Christian is a Christian.  The world is crying:  “Is there any good word in this hurting, bleeding world?”   And the Church cries back:  “Yes there is! Turn to God in Christ.”  But it takes strong disciples and  a faithful Church to say that.

“Be of good cheer” people say.  But we’d better have a very good basis on which to say it.  Maybe people can’t be of good cheer.  In this kind of world why should they be of good cheer?  The world is in no mood for cheap talk.  There are already too many people “…speaking pious platitudes in stained glass attitudes…”   There must be substance in our testimony.  And we have to be people of joy and peace ourselves.  We can’t speak of hope unless we are full of it.  The same is true if we wish to speak of joy and peace.  Our witness is valid and viable only if we ourselves are genuine and authentic disciples.

Our times for faith, and action based upon faith.  If we fail here we, and our society, have lost the last vestige of hope for humankind.  Then there is no more meaning to life, no more reason for living.  It’s faith that is the victory and that overcomes the world, and it is by faith that everything good becomes possible.  For faith leans hard upon God and turns everything over to him.  That is the true victory.  That is what discipleship is all about.  That opens the door to the best of all lives.

From Paul’s life we learn there may well be storms in life.  The best of all lives is not always spent on quiet seas.  Christ never promised it would be easy, but he did say it would be blessed, and that’s what counts.  That’s what makes it all worthwhile.  That’s the foretaste of glory.

 

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Discipleship – Daniel (Part II)

Banking on the Abilities of God  (Daniel 6)

The king’s question in Chapter 6 verse 20 is still the world’s question to the disciple: “Is your God able?”  This was an unconscious acknowledgement that Darius knew his god was not able.  He never did commend Daniel to the gods of Babylon or the Medes.  What an admission!  Today also the world, way down deep, knows its gods are not able.  The gods of lust and mammon, power and pleasure — what can such gods do for a man or for the world?  The world may not openly acknowledge its bankruptcy, but we have here an insight;  those who worship today’s gods are not always as sure of themselves as they pretend.  We will find their defenses against Christ are not impregnable after all.

Daniel was ready to stake his very life upon the abilities of God.  He might have rationalized, “I’d better give in.  I can do nothing for God if I’m dead.”  He might have compromised, “I’ll still keep praying, only not in front of my window anymore.  I’ll become a closet disciple.”  He might have temporized, “After all, it’s only for 30 days.  I’ll give in just for this once, and for this little time, and then I’ll go back to begin a saint.”  But that would have been a denial of God.  “My God is not really adequate in the crisis.”  Have we ever by our actions said something like that?  That’s not the testimony of a disciple.  The best of all lives is based upon the unshaken and unshakeable assurance that our Lord will see us through.

Suppose Daniel would have capitulated.  It would have been the end of his witness forever.  “Don’t talk to us about your God ever again, Daniel.  In the crunch you showed us.  You think your God is not really able when life becomes crisis.”

Is God able?  He had always been, up till now.  Review the life of Daniel to this point.  Remember the three friends in the furnace.  Or to make it even broader, look at Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David…the list is unending.  Now the lion’s den.  Why would God fail now?  Our own experience bears it out.  He is able.  Darius couldn’t think beyond the lions’ teeth.  But we take his question and test it by all of life.  Is God able to do what?  Provide daily bread? Comfort us in sorrow? Strengthen us in temptation? Encourage us in depression? At last save our very souls?

What do we need?  Nothing is beyond the abilities of God.  This is the assurance upon which our discipleship rests.  We know we can build the best of all lives on the adequacies of our wonderful God.  We look for no other ground because there is none other, but this is more than sufficient.  This gives us the courage to be disciples and bring the witness out into the open.  We’re not ashamed of such a God, or his Gospel in Christ.  Modestly but confidently we proclaim and exhibit Christ to the world and toss out the challenge:  “What have you that beats this?”

Experiencing the Love of God  (Chapter 10)

We saw in chapter 1:8 that Daniel purposed in his heart to keep himself pure.  But now see chapter 10:12.  “From the first day….”  God at once began to work to grant Daniel his purpose.  He made Daniel a man of absolutely unimpeachable character.  There are no self-made men, or if there are I pity them.  The product always reflects the maker.  The world will make a materialist.  The devil will make a demon.  And a self-made man will be an egotist.  Only God can make a saint.  Who, and what forces, are you allowing to shape your character?

Daniel’s encounter with God began with utter humiliation for him.  This is the inevitable effect of seeing, really seeing, God.  Think of Peter.  “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.”  All our little self-deceptions, all our cheap tricks, all our secret sins, suddenly are dug out before our eyes.  Next to Christ we look dirty, mean, sinful.  It is necessary for God to destroy the citadel of our pride and all our imagined goodness before he can make us devoted to Christ as disciples.

But that having been done, God then exalts us to true godliness.  He assures us of his love.  “O Daniel, thou man greatly beloved!”  That has a transforming effect upon us.  Think of Zaccheus.  See the effects of that love upon Daniel.  God can speak to him now in terms of courage, power, and peace.

Persecution and cross bearing are part of discipleship.  At one time or another we’ll all meet it, if we’re disciples at all:  Unjust treatment from fellow workers, unfair criticism, unfounded gossip, etc.

Cross bearing – not only suffering mental or physical anguish, but the “reproach of Christ.”  You’re scorned and rejected because you’re a disciple  Some of this is inevitable.  Only be sure you’re not the persecutor.  Also, do not become obnoxious as an invitation to persecution.

In trouble Daniel turns to God alone.  The way to handle persecution is not to kick the persecutor.  See Psalm 59:9,17.  Jesus, when he was reviled, taught us to turn the other cheek. Do not quickly go on the offensive, if persecuted or slandered for Christ’s sake.  If there actually is something wrong in your life, it’s indefensible.  If your heart and life are right you need no defense.  The slander and evil will die for lack of grounding.

Certainly Daniel knew sorrow in his trial.  Every one knows sorrow.  Every village has its cemetery, every home its empty chair.  There’s something aching in every heart.  And the final cure is always discovering the adequacy of God.  Job is a case in point.  It wasn’t finally his orthodoxy that gave him relief, and certainly it wasn’t his friends, nor was it his philosophizing.  It was the revelation of God’s power and majesty and adequacies.  All the pain, the bafflement, the grief, the misunderstanding, the loss, at last was resolved when he prostrated himself before God.  There is no other way to handle the hurts of life.  This was also the source of strength and peace in Daniel.  He trusted with an unshakeable faith that his God indeed loved and cared.

So Daniel lived the best of all lives.  A man of unimpeachable character.  He became a showcase of divine grace and love in action upon his spirit.  He became a rallying point for others who desperately needed a stable figure in chaotic times.   Would the three friends have dared to face the furnace without Daniel’s influence?  Without Daniel would we ever have had the doxology of Nebuchadnezzar?  So a disciple may be the presence in other’s lives by which they do things he himself never had occasion to do.  Such is the use God may make of a disciple living the best of all lives.

Daniel bloomed where he was planted, and served in the niche for which God prepared him, and which he prepared for him.  That is a key ingredient of vital discipleship.

Discipleship -Blooming Where You’re Planted

Daniel: Living Above, not under, the Circumstances (Part I)

Carried to Babylon ~605 BC, Daniel soon established himself as a godly and deeply committed youth of powerful character.  His life’s an important and inspiring study in how disciples living the best of all lives may utilize the hostile.   (See Phil. 1:15-18)

In an especially eventful and significant life, three episodes stand out in Daniel’s long career:  His refusal to eat the king’s dainties, his sentence to the lions’ den, and the appearance of God to him during the reign of Cyrus.  For what they show us of the best of all lives we will consider each of these high spots.  In each of our lives as disciples there are many very similar experiences.

Handling the Circumstances

1.  Daniel becomes a worthwhile man because he wanted to be.  Many in his place would have said: “I’m away from restraints, I can do as I please, I’ll gratify my desires now.”  But Daniel “purposed in his heart….” and held to everything  he had been taught.  His values, priorities, and personal integrity were prized by him.  There are things that are simply not negotiable.  The highest values are not pleasure, not prestige, not success, not even life.  Integrity is worth more than life.  Self respect and character are worth more than anything we would gain by sacrificing them.  A disciple wants to be a quality person.

Integrity of personhood doesn’t just happen.  Nor is it inherited.  Quality of character and life are the result of resolve, with God’s endorsement and blessing.  If we are satisfied to be mediocre, mediocre we shall be.  If we want to be more significant for Christ’s sake, that desire will be honored and God will make it happen.

But our hearts must be involved.  God will not act upon us as insensate blobs.  Following his lead, responding to his work in us, we must pursue virtue, and take it captive by a conscious act of our wills and by the resolutions of our hearts.  Daniel never said he was going to become a quality person.  He simply purposed in his heart to do what he had to in order to become so.  No boasting of great intentions.  He simply did what had to be done.

Not only no boasting, but also no complaining.  He was living under adverse circumstances, but determined in his heart to live not under but above the forces in his life.  If every disciple of Christ spent his or her energy lighting candles instead of cursing darkness, we wouldn’t know this old world.  Remember Joseph; imprisoned he made of his prison a chapel.  “Two men stood in prison, behind the iron bars. One looked out and saw the mud, the other saw the stars.”  We’re not where we are by blind fate.  God positions us, and does so wisely.  There may be some things he wants us to change, other things he shows us we cannot change.  It is for us to seek the wisdom to know the difference and accept the challenges in either case.  We’re responsible for serving him in the niche he has designed for us.  It may not be all we had hoped for, but it is a place from which we can live as disciples, and that is what matters most.

2.  Daniel is a study in the all-important quality of self discipline.  He purposed in his heart to keep himself pure.  The absolute necessity of stern, consistent self discipline can hardly be over-estimated.  Disciples do not compromise with themselves or with life in matters of truth and right.  Part of self discipline is candor with self, and disciples must be brutally honest with their hearts and consciences.  Here already, so early in the record, is the indication that Daniel is headed for greatness.  The story begins with his body and appetites, and his will, subjected to the godly purpose of his heart.  We will do little for our Master unless we are willing to take the effort to regulate ourselves according to his will. Discipline is the backbone of character, like the keel of a ship; and nothing is so useless as a ship without a keel.

Remember also that discipline is not amenable to circumstances.  Godliness is godliness in recreation as well as daily work.  To Daniel it was of no consequence that he was in the king’s palace.  He honored his convictions not because of where he was or was not, but because they were his convictions.  One of the marks of current ethics is relativism.  The unforgivable social sin seems to be holding a strong sense of integrity, and standing for convictions.  Society adjusts to evil, banishes from its vocabulary such words as sin.  To be intolerant of evil is looked upon with derision.  Daniel knew nothing of moral relativism.  He was a moral huntsman, digging his colleagues out of their compromising and tolerance.  He recognized an issue when he saw it, and handled it in a way consistent with his godliness.

3.  Come back to “in his heart”.  “Out of the heart are the issues of life.”  Our hearts are the truest barometers of character.  Also the heart is the source of moral power.  The heart will over-rule the will, the intellect, the flesh, and our faulty of judgement.  The call of God is: “My son, give me your heart,” for there is the seat of our religion, our values, our goals, and our very personhood.  The best of lives begins with a heart that is right towards God.  If we will be disciples, we shall have to give a great deal of attention to our hearts and their resolves.  May the prayer of the Psalmist be ours: “Create in me a a clean heart, O God.”