Toto, I’ve a Feeling We’re Not In Athens Anymore

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it.

Daniel 1:1

I read this article from The Gospel Coalition a day or two ago after hearing it referenced in a class covering Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation. In it, the author compares the modern stance of the church in America to the Babylonian exile. He writes:

Unlike Athens, Babylon is not interested in trying to out-think us, merely overpower us. Apologetics and new ways of doing church don’t cut it in Babylon.  Only courage under fire will.

Steve McAlpine, The Gospel Coalition

It’s no coincidence, then, that many of the points of the article resonated with me after spending the previous week studying in the first half of Daniel. Even a brief reading of Daniel 1 reveals that the conquering nation didn’t seek to compromise or share philosophy with the Jews. By isolating, re-educating, and renaming the captives, the goal was full integration and assimilation into Babylonian society.

The truth is, though, many of these points would have resonated with me even if I hadn’t been recently reading in Daniel. As a former atheist who once immersed herself in the darkness enough to see glimpses of how just how deep the shadows really stretch, the comparison of the current cultural trends to Paul’s speech on the Areopagus in Athens (see Acts 17:16-34) has always seemed a trifle naive to me.

After all, during the days of my darker bent, most of the denizens of the world I chose to associate with did not view Christianity or even the Christ Himself with the slightest degree of reverence. At best, I encountered apathy from them; total unconcern about the very idea of a Creator or God.

However, the majority treated the idea of God with scorn, derision, or open hostility. Not that the mention of God fell from my lips in those days. I’m ashamed to admit it now, but I was on the side of the mockers. How great is the grace of God who can forgive me such a sin!

So it is that even now, just under two decades since my sin-blinded eyes were opened to the wickedness of me and the mercy and compassion of a God who loved me anyway, I still cannot reconcile the world I once moved in with a friendly Aeropagus debate.

What I can understand without the slightest hesitation is the warning my Lord left His disciples with hours before His crucifixion:

If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

John 15:19

You see, the men and women I knew then were not “very religious in every way,” as Paul observed of the Athenians. The people I knew then hated God, hated the very mention of Him. They were hostile to anything that challenged their freedom to do as they chose.

To me, even before reading the article, the darkness I have known reeks of Babylon – of conquest and assimilation. What I see is not a culture mildly interested in the Church and her God but a culture which will have nothing to do with a god it can’t make in its own image.

I agree with McAlpine; the culture is really just the world. And the world isn’t happy with concepts such as sin and rebellion or with the idea it may have gone wrong somewhere along the way. In fact, it despises the merest suggestion, thrusting it away with a perfunctory, You’ve no right to judge me! 

The world, in fact, believes that sin and evil are found, not in the human heart and in both public and private acts of injustice, but within the ancient and (to them) archaic moral system proposed by the Bible. How dare the Creator tell His creation right from wrong? Who does He think He is, anyway?

“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!

Luke 6:22

There it is, my brothers and sisters in Christ. Even though we are not at home in this Babylon, even though we must constantly withstand the pressure to name ourselves after their gods, entertain ourselves their way, worship as they want us to worship; even if we are threatened by lions and furnaces and social ostracism, we are blessed.

This doesn’t mean we give in to the pressure -far from it! We fill ourselves with the Lord so that the pressure of His Spirit within strengthens us to resist the pressure from without so we are not crushed. It also doesn’t mean we rant and rave and try to out-shout the Babylonians who apply the pressure.

When they say, “Just bow down, already; just eat the food, swallow the pill, drink the Kool-aid, and stop fighting the inevitable,” we don’t argue with them. We just stand firm on our conviction and trust in the Lord who calls us.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.

Ephesians 6:12-13

And we pray. Pray for our enemies, for those who persecute us, pray to have compassion even when we are shown nothing but hate and disgust. We remember that it is not people who are the enemy; people are deceived as I once was. Our enemy is far more ancient and cunning.

And we wait for the day of our exile to be over and for our final Homecoming, hoping to bring as many as we can out of the darkness with us into the Light!

Daniel answered and said: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him.
(Daniel 2:20-22)

Tuesday Prayer: Even If

If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” 

Daniel 3:17-18, NASB

YHWH Adonai, You are the great and mighty God; the God who saves us and in whom is found compassion, mercy, justice, and forgiveness. Whether our lives are filled with difficulty or ease, You are good, for You are unchanging even in the midst of a world in constant flux. Our opinion of You has no effect on the reality of You, our God, nor do our feelings towards you make any difference in who You are. Thank You for Your solidity in an unstable world. 

He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.

Psalm 62:2

Today, we thank You for the many times You have rescued us from some disaster or kept us safe from some evil scheme. However, Lord, we also recognize that You do not always protect us in this world. Sometimes, terrible things happen. Sometimes there is sickness, terror, pain, sorrow, torment, and death.

Faith in You does not guarantee us a pain-free life. If anything, faith in You prepares us to take up our crosses, daily choosing to die to ourselves and follow You. Choosing faith in Christ means choosing to participate in His suffering, but also to participate in His ultimate exaltation. Choosing to follow Jesus also means declaring open war on the enemy of our souls, opening us up to a greater scale of attack from his forces as he seeks to destroy and discourage us. 

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.

Mark 8:34-35

Knowing this, we choose You anyway, Lord. You are able to rescue us from any danger, yet even if You do not, we will serve You. Our choice to give our lives to You is not based on what You do for us but on the fact that You are who You are. The King of kings; the Prince of peace; the Mighty God; the Beginning and the End; the Holy One. We serve You because You are our God and because we love You, and no scheme of hell nor pain of life can ever tear that away. 

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39

And so it is that we praise You for saving us from ultimate and eternal disaster through the sacrifice of Jesus. Thank You that You chose to draw us to Him, to enable our hearts to trust in Him. Without Jesus, we would be doomed to the futility of our own poor choices now and eternal suffering, but in Christ, we are renewed and redeemed to be useful to You once more and promised eternal life in Your presence.  

Use us, Lord, as You see fit. Give us an eternal hunger for You and for Your word, and pierce our hearts with sorrow for those who suffer in this world without the eternal hope we have in You. May this tenderness compel us to share Your truth boldly with others, pleading on our knees in intercession on their behalf that You might see fit to draw them to saving faith as well, amen. 

Tuesday Prayer: Love for Man

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” 

John 13:34-35

God who is Love, today we come before Your throne of grace humbled and contrite in heart. We are more grateful than words can express that You have chosen to open our eyes to the greatest Love of all; the Love of the Almighty expressed in the ultimate atoning sacrifice. By Your sacrificial love, all our crimes are forgiven and taken away as far as the east is from the west. 

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

Psalms 103:11-12

Yet even with so great an example of humility and sacrificial love as Jesus demonstrated His life and death, even though the cost of our own sin is uncountable, we are prone to forgetfulness when it comes to extending that same love and forgiveness to other people. What a short-sighted and selfish people we are! Open our hearts more to understand the depth and breadth of Your love. Fill us with it so that we may love others just as selflessly as You love us.

Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’

Matthew 18:32-33

And Lord, please change our vision so that we do not interpret the actions and motives of others only by how they affect us or make us feel. Instead, help us see others as You do. For those who are unsaved, remind us that we, too, were once lost, deceived, and living in active rebellion to the Living God. Show us how to view others with humility, understanding that only by Your grace are we saved and that they, too, may be saved by Your grace. 

Shape us into a compassionate people, believing the best intentions of others no matter how they hurt us and willing to forgive no matter how deep the wound. Keep us mindful of the cost of the Cross and of the hurts we’ve inflicted on others and on You so that we can keep our own attitudes in proper perspective.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

1 Corinthians 13:7

Thank You for allowing us to be covered in the righteousness of Your Son, Jesus, for without His covering, we would be laid bare in our shame and filthy in our sin.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21

And Lord, make us to especially love our brothers and sisters in Christ. If we are not actively living in love with each other, we have no draw to those on the outside of the church. Let us live out Jesus’s words and show the world we belong to Him by the love we have for each other. 

May it be, also, that we love others enough to tell them the truth about You, even if it is a difficult truth for them to hear. If any should die apart from Christ, may it never be because we neglected share the news of Jesus Christ with them. It is for Your glory and in His name we ask for this great overflow of compassion in our hearts and actions, amen. 

Christmas Out of (Virtual) Office Message

Merry Christmas to all blog friends far and wide! Aside from a couple of pre-scheduled posts that I think I did earlier, I will probably be spending the next few days grabbing several quiet moments with my Lord in the middle of less quiet moments with my man and our three teenagers.

I may have time to jump over into the blogosphere and say hello, but then again, I may not. Either way, my prayer for all of you is that you will have a keen experience of joy in the salvation that comes from Yeshua Messiah alone – a joy that resonates from this day and throughout your earthly life.

May He be the Guiding Light in your dark places and the Purpose and Impetus behind your every waking moment. May His joy so flood your senses that it leaves you both oddly satisfied and yet thirsting for more.

Merry Christmas! And lest I be accused of taking myself too seriously, I leave you with this… ah, interesting perspective on an age-old Christmas carol:

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Tuesday Prayer: Two Advents

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 

Revelation 19:11-13

Word of God, on this last week of Advent, we look back at Your historical first coming; a time when You laid aside Your majesty to clothe Your splendor in the substance of Your own creation, being born as a tiny infant – the Son of Man. But there is more to Advent than the past. We also look forward to that great and future Day when You will appear as the conquering King, ready to reclaim the world You’ve redeemed and rule it with justice and equity.

Oh Lord, You are the living Word of God given to mankind that we may know of Your mercy and grace. You are also Faithful and True, the only just Judge who will one day mete out the sentence for all who have refused Your generous offer of salvation in the righteousness of the Christ. Yet for those who have surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus, there is no condemnation but only the imputing of His sinless perfection and a grace we cannot earn.

This Christmas season, Lord, help us to be mindful of the incredible wonder of this, the greatest Gift ever offered. May the contemplation of Your Son be larger in our consciousness than any baking, buying, decorating, or anything else. And as we contemplate His beauty, teach us to delight in Him more and more and in this world less and less. Indeed, Your word warns that friendship with the world is enmity towards God, so please show us where we need to reject the world’s way of thinking and being in order to fully embrace Yours.

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

James 4:4

Not only for ourselves, but for those who we will encounter this Christmas season, not only our loved ones, but our co-workers, those who we see in traffic, the clerks and waiters who serve us in our purchasing and celebrating, and even for our enemies or those who treat us poorly, remind us of the urgency of the message of Christmas. Remind us, too, how we once walked as people who were dead in our sins and give us compassion for others.

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:44-45a

Break our hearts for those who stand condemned in this world and give us opportunities to share Your truth with them. Open our eyes to those who lack the hope of Christ to make life’s pain bearable. Even if they are hostile towards our efforts, still goad us to diligently pray for them even as we praise and glorify You by our actions, words, and choices in their presence. Lord, if we could ask for one more gift this Christmas, please give us the privilege of seeing many come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ our Lord, amen. 

When Relationships Chafe

We love because he first loved us.
(1 John 4:19)

Ready or not, the holiday season is upon us.

In my country, the official kick-off was Thanksgiving Day – a day of feasting and gratitude ironically followed by the slightly sickening commercial festivity known as “Black Friday” which actually begins Thursday evening until “Cyber Monday” takes over and filches more dollars from the American pocket. But I digress…

This year, my family had a phenomenal Thanksgiving week. We were blessed to spend some time in Florida with my dad and stepmom. One of my sisters and her family came, too, and what with the great company, fantastic weather, and delectable food, I doubt we could have concocted a better way to spend the week.

But I realize not everyone is so fortunate.

For many people, the family time aspect of the holidays spells nothing but frustration. We all have those family members who tend to be more querulous, and some among us spend the holidays biting our tongues – or wishing we had.

Every family bears a bandaged wound or two. Every family carries scars from past hurts. It’s a part of being human in a fallen world. The brutal truth is that our real-life family gatherings are more apt to resemble a Griswold family Christmas than a Hallmark movie.

The enforced familial closeness of the holidays can and often does cause simmering tensions to boil over.  But you know what? Even then, family time is good.  In fact, I would venture to say this season is wonderful because of the relational difficulties.

You see, one sunny Florida afternoon, I walked back to my earthly dad’s house and talked with my heavenly Dad along the way. In particular, I was praying over the absence of one other sister at our feast. One of our family’s bandaged wounds.

As I prayed about the situation and about others who are more difficult to love, the Spirit of God whispered the words of 1 John 4:19 into my heart. We love because He first loved us.

Naturally, I went back and read the rest of the chapter and I see what He means. When we are faced with prickly relatives or with co-workers, members of our church family, or even strangers at the grocery store who are a little more challenging to endure, it is at precisely this point that we have a choice to make:

Will we love only those who are easy to love? Or will we love them because our Lord first loved us?

I feel now is a good time to mention that this “when He first loved us” moment was hardly one we can boast about. Romans 5:10 reminds us that we were enemies of God when He loved us enough to offer the dearest part of Himself as ransom for our crimes. He didn’t love us when we were lovable but when we were in full-tilt rebellion against Him.

Our Lord Jesus, Himself, tells us more than once to love our enemies (see Matt. 5:44, Luke 6:27, 35, et al). And back in 1 John 4, the beloved disciple has a great deal more to say about love, not the least of which is a sobering reminder that love isn’t lived out in Hallmark moments but in the gritty and often painful moments of forgiving the unforgivable and answering sharp words with graciousness.

Not because those who hurt us deserve it, but because neither did we. And yet, He loved us anyway.

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
(1 John 4:10-11)

While we’re busily putting Christ back in Christmas and squeezing in Advent devotionals between shopping sprees and holiday parties, let’s be certain that our daily choices match our lofty sentiments. Let’s try to keep in mind that forgiving can only be done when there is something to forgive. Grace and mercy can only be shown when they aren’t deserved.

In love, let’s hold one another accountable to living and loving in humility and with the grace God extends to us. Not necessarily because our families and associates are worth it, but because HE is. And we trust Him enough to obey.

 

 

No Pain, No Gain

Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

(Proverbs 27:6)

As many of you know, I’m in the editing phase of a novel I hope to have published. The setting is dystopian – either our own world in the future or one enough like it to be almost familiar. It’s meant as an extended parable for sacrificial living and the potential to use or abuse our God-given gifts.

I belong to a critique group, which was a pretty brave act for me. Through them, I’ve received a lot of great feedback. But there’s this one guy…

He never hesitates to ask questions about what is confusing, to point out continuity issues or passive voice or a myriad of other mistakes. In fact, my submissions often come back from their time under his scrutiny riddled with comments and dissected sentences.

I could ignore his emails. I could collect a handful of people who love my writing as is and say very little. But in the long run, I would be the worse for my refusal to hear difficult truths.

As it is, I love the criticism. Not because it feels good to have your rough draft sliced and diced. It doesn’t. I love it because he pushes me to work harder, to tighten and refine and grow as an author.

Naturally, a part of me adores glowing feedback, but the reasonable part of me knows it’s the criticism which drives me to exert my mental abilities and strive toward a better product.

Similarly several years ago, my family took judo under the instruction of a dear friend (whom I often still refer to as Sensei though it’s been ages since I stepped foot on a mat or took a fall). Every time he would praise a technique I’d done correctly, I would blow it for the next 15 minutes. I finally told him, “I think I just work better with criticism.”

He believed me, and lo and behold, I did improve.

My point?

I have been reading the Word of the Lord daily for many years. Studying, memorizing, and reflecting on it are all parts of my average day. I also spend no small amount of time reading works by other Christians.

None of this is to my own credit, mind you. This desire for the Word is a gift from God; one I requested early in my walk with Him and one He happily granted.

Anyway, the more I become saturated with the Word, the more I realize that often it’s the things I want least to hear that I need to hear most.

In today’s American Christianity, there is an abundance of shelf space advertised as “Christian.” But mark my words: Just because a thing speaks of the Lord or quotes Scripture does not mean the teaching is based on sound doctrine.

In an act of audacious irony, our ancient enemy quoted Scripture to the Word made flesh (see Mark 4:6). And believe me, his kisses are profuse. He loves to keep us snuggled in such comfort we overlook the bars of our cozy cage. If I wanted, I could easily surround myself with nothing but heartwarming sentiment.

But then I wouldn’t grow.

I’m certainly not knocking encouragement – God knows every one of us needs it, and He offers it in due time. But we need an equal balance of rebuke and reproof. We need the sharp prick of a goad now and then to remind us to stay on the narrow path that leads to life just as we sometimes need a word to lift us out of the pit to soar on wings like eagles’.

Friends, the Christian walk is not one of self-indulgence and earthly pleasure. We are promised joy, but it is joy in the presence of the Lord. Pleasure at His right hand. This means that our joy will often come not in lieu of suffering but in spite of it.

And to achieve this state of “joy anyway,” we need a full complement of both correction and encouragement. Of discipline and strengthening. We need the wounds of a friend who has the long term as a goal. If we are to become more Christlike, we must also be willing to endure Christlike suffering.

To compete so as to win the prize, we have to put in the hard work of training if we are to run our race well. But the Prize will be well worth our effort!

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

(Philippians 3:13-14)

How about you? Do you tend to gravitate towards what I would call “easy button Christianity?” Or are you equally open to hearing hard truths which require some sacrifice or painful confession in order to grow in Christ-likeness?