Monday, April 27, 2015

Nebuchadnezzar’s Food – II

“But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food…” [Daniel 1:8a].

Jesus talks about a time when men’s hearts will fail them for fear. Yet he also says to his disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation, but rejoice, I have overcome the world…My peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.” Jesus prays to the Father, “I do not ask you to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil that is in the world.”

The king’s food is the food of this age; it is food that has been offered to the gods of this age. Success, wealth, power, sexual promiscuity, mind-numbing entertainment, fame, narcissism in myriad forms – the list is endless. It appears as if society will eat anything; it is critical that the disciples of Jesus partake only of Him as their living bread and water.

To be a Biblical Christian is first and foremost to follow Jesus Christ. This is Biblical repentance – to turn to Jesus Christ and follow Him. A person can be sorry for sin and yet not turn and follow Jesus. A person can be a faithful church attendee and yet not turn and follow Jesus. A church may have wonderful music and fine rhetorical preaching and its people may leave on Sunday mornings feeling good – and yet it may not be following Jesus Christ. Following Jesus Christ in obedience to Him is Biblical Christianity, it is the Christianity that Jesus taught. Jesus says to us:

“He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him…Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep my commandments you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” [From John chapters 14 and 15.]

The king’s food can be the traditions of man, it can be the amorality of the age, it can be the latest and greatest popular Christian movement, the latest Christian answer to all of our problems; but there is only one food for the disciple of Jesus Christ and that is Jesus Christ. As Jesus says in John Chapter 6, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.”

Yes, Daniel and his friends had a simple diet, and yet that simple diet gave them clarity of mind, purity of heart, and insight into their surrounding culture; the diet of the heart manifested itself in the diet of food – their hearts fed on the true and living God, they devoted themselves to Him alone, and such was this devotion that when questions of life and death presented themselves they were quick and firm and certain in their response – they would be faithful to Him alone even unto death.

Paul writes, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons” (1 Cor. 10:21). “…what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord. “And do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” says the Lord Almighty”” (2 Cor. 6:16 – 18).

Of course Paul is not saying that we should physically leave the world (see 1 Cor. 5:9ff); he is saying that where we go and what we do and what we set our hearts and minds upon matters (Rom. 12:1ff) because we are the collective temple of the living God and because God calls us to be holy – if we believe that the Trinity dwells within us then we ought to live like it, we ought to be holy as God our Father is holy (1 Peter 1:13ff).

Nebuchadnezzar’s food deadens our hearts and minds, the table of Jesus Christ not only revives and restores our souls, it gives us living bread to share with others. As we partake of Him, others may partake of Him in us.

Which table are we eating from today?

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Which Image?

When I was a boy I recall seeing drawings in history books of American revolutionaries toppling the statue of King George III. Since that time I have seen similar images whenever a people rise up against their rulers – destroy the photographs, destroy the paintings, destroy the statues of the ruler is an impulse to which crowds give vent when they rebel (rightly or wrongly) against rule and authority.

God, unlike most earthly rulers, prohibited the making of drawings or carvings or statues purporting to be His likeness when He gave His Law to Moses. No doubt an element of this prohibition was the fact that it would lead to the type of superstitious demonic idolatry which the peoples of that era practiced. But perhaps an even more important element of this prohibition is the fact that God created mankind in His image, male and female He created us. Thus, to recognize His image in one another and to honor that image is, in a way, to see the image or likeness of God.

Of course, Adam and Eve desecrated that image when they refused to believe that they were created in the image of God; they sought something different, they sought something they thought was better, they lusted after a grand self-improvement project – and in that lust they defaced the image of God within not only themselves, but in all of their descendants. In an earthly sense, Adam and Eve toppled the image of God in mankind.

However, defaced as we might be, vestiges of His image have remained in us through the ages, sometimes shining brightly, sometimes ever so dimly. In Bethlehem, some 2,000 years ago, we see the pure image of God walk this earth – and what did we collectively do in response? We murdered Him; but He came to lay His life down for us, and laying His life down He took it up again on Easter morning – thus bringing the offer of a restoration of the image of God to humanity.

And so mankind has pursued its desecration of God’s image, sometimes subtly and subversively, often in the guise of religion, often in the guise even of what passes for Christianity, sometimes in the guise of high-culture, sometimes in the guise of popular culture, often in the pursuit of wealth and power and pleasure – the ropes cast around the image to pull it down are woven with diverse fibers, and those pulling on the ropes come from all cultures and races and beliefs. While the revolutionaries may argue with one another about the best rope to use, they do not argue about the goal. Perhaps they have not realized that if they will all get on the same side of the image and pull together, rather than against each other, that they might be able to pull the image of God down with such a crash that it will never rise again.

In Romans Chapter One Paul describes the downward spiral of mankind as it repudiates the image of God, the image that God placed within mankind. One can only weep at our concerted attempts to destroy, once and for all, the image of God. But perhaps we can do more than weep, perhaps we can hear the laugher of God in Psalm Two, for as David writes, “He that sits in the heavens laughs” at the attempts of this world in rebellion to loosen its ties to the true and living God.

As the beast in its collective and coercive fury rises out of the sea of mankind to erect its image in opposition to the image of God, as it seeks to displace the image of God in mankind by its own perverted and twisted image – who will remain faithful to the express image of God in Jesus Christ?

There is a stone cut without hands, a heavenly stone, that will destroy all of the images of mankind [Daniel Chapter Two] and that stone will fill the entire earth – which image shall we bear? The image of the beast of Revelation Chapter Thirteen? Or the image of the Lamb and His Father of Revelation Chapter Fourteen?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Nebuchadnezzar’s Food

“But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank…at the end of ten days their appearance seemed better and they were fatter than all the youths who had been eating the king’s choice food.” [From Daniel Chapter One.]

Accepted thinking is that Daniel and his friends didn’t want to eat food that had been sacrificed to idols, nor did they want to eat food that was otherwise unclean, that is, in violation of the dietary statutes in the Law of Moses. While the text says that the result of their decision was that they enjoyed better bodily health than their fellow students in what might be styled “the king’s academy”; this foundational decision also placed them on a trajectory so that when others were worshipping Nebuchadnezzar’s image or were obeying Darius’s injunction not to pray, Daniel and his friends were steadfast in their worship of the true and living God. The decision to only partake of food that was lawful for sons of Israel to eat gave them clarity of thought and insight which their contemporaries did not enjoy – it was, of course, not in the food that they found insight and clarify of thought (though diet does influence our wellbeing), but rather in the heart-attitude and purpose of will that led to eating only lawful food.

Consider the pressures under which Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego lived their lives. They were a minority among the other Jews in the king’s academy (more on this below); they were a minority among the king’s counsellors – both in the Babylonian and Persian empires; they were a minority among the culture at-large; their homeland had not just been defeated, but laid waste by the Babylonians; Jerusalem and the Temple had been destroyed. And yet, they maintained a peace of mind and a wisdom and a non-negotiable worship of Yahweh throughout palace intrigues, mercurial kings, the rise and fall of empires, and attempted murder.

Each time these men ate they were testifying to their unwavering faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Each time they ate they were saying, “Our nation may be destroyed, our capital city in ruins, our glorious Temple may be no more, but we will worship Yahweh, whether in Judah or in Babylon or in Persia, we will worship the true and living God.” Daily obedience results in a life of dedication; obedience in small things (there are really no small things) results in obedience when issues of life and death are at hand.

And what of the other young men in Judah who were enrolled in the king’s academy? We read that the young men who were selected for the academy were, “…youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence…with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court…” What of the other young men selected for training along with Daniel and his friends?

Only Daniel and his three friends are singled out as approaching the “headmaster” to request exemption from eating the king’s food. It would have been safer and easier to just go along with the program and eat what was provided – after all, it was the king’s food. After all, they had been selected for high-paying and conspicuous positions in government; after all, who could blame them for compromising under the circumstances. Surely God would understand.

We don’t read about the other Jewish students in the king’s academy; we don’t read about the majority who presumably compromised, but we do read about the minority who were faithful.   

What food are you and I choosing to eat today? What is it that our hearts and minds and souls are eating and drinking? 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Eschatological Mania – Christian WWF

I wonder what the appeal of the Worldwide Wrestling Federation is. There is muscle, violence, scripted drama and storylines, rivalries, flashing lights, music, hoopla, more violence, sex, noise; you get the idea. It packages itself to appeal to a culture with an insatiable appetite for entertainment. Gone are the days when men without drugs and steroids and body-building supplements performed on black and white television – most of those men looked normal, in fact I don’t recall anyone who looked like he stepped out of a comic book; times have changed. There is nothing quite like fans obsessed with WWF and its competitors, and whatever you do, don’t suggest it is fake, don’t challenge their view of reality. Even though the promoters of WWF have taken to calling it “entertainment” the fans still don’t get the message that it isn’t real – and of course the powers that be in entertainment wrestling are fine with that – what the promoters say and what they want are two different things.

And so it is with Christian Eschatological Mania; best-selling fiction is perceived as real, and often non-fiction books about prophecy have no more Biblical foundation than the prognostications of a panel on a Sunday-morning news program. Some Eschatological Mania is mainstream, and some tends toward elitism; the former appeals to the masses, the latter appeals to those who are weary of Christian pop culture.

As I’ve probably written previously, if Daniel’s response to understanding the prophecy of Jeremiah concerning the seventy-years captivity was prayer, as opposed to writing a book or going on a speaking tour, maybe that ought to be our response too when we think we’re gaining insight into prophetic trajectory.

I’m reading Daniel right now, and it strikes me that we can read this book and miss its point – the point that God is in control and that because He is in control we can have confidence in our obedience to Him and that our hope is certain and sure. It is possible to obsess with Daniel’s prophecies and miss the point, just as it is possible to obsess with Revelation and miss the central point – the central point being Jesus Christ the Lamb of God.

Revelation was written to encourage a persecuted church; yet we often use Revelation to satisfy the curiosity of a church bound in the velvet prison of personal peace and affluence. Revelation was written to encourage obedience unto death, today we often use Revelation to proclaim escape from suffering and martyrdom – a particularly Anglo – American message. We tend not to see the incongruity.

There isn’t much preaching or teaching about the theology of the Bible’s prophetic passages (see Richard Baucknam’s, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, for a brief example of such teaching) because, I suspect, that would require too much work for both listener and presenter. After all, we’d have to work not only with Revelation and Daniel, but with the other prophets, Jesus, and the other NT writers – and we couldn’t do our research watching CNN, Fox, MSNBC and all the rest of the modern Delphic Oracles.

But the real problem is that Eschatological Mania becomes a substitute for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and it becomes the filter through which the Gospel is read and preached, and we no longer read the Bible as it was written, but rather through a sensational lens – the evening news takes on a Biblical persona – we forget that God is in control and that people need the Lord.  

People are all going to die; whether they die of old age, in a war with a bow and arrow, in a war with nuclear weapons, from cancer, from an epidemic, or being hit by a car. While we may have our preferences about our own death and the deaths of our loved ones and neighbors – we will all die (with Biblical exceptions). People all need the Lord. Therefore, I should stop obsessing about the future (Eschatological Mania) and start obsessing on the Gospel of Jesus Christ and people knowing Jesus.

There are countless Christians who know the Left Behind popular myth (remember it’s fiction – don’t get mad!), or a more esoteric brand of E Mania, but who don’t know what it is to share Jesus with others, to pray with others, to serve others, to be a faithful and winsome witness in an increasingly hostile culture.

The revelation of Jesus Christ is something all of His disciples should be looking forward to – for to behold Him and to see death manifestly abolished is our great hope and our certain future – that is worth living for, dying for, and worth preaching and teaching. That will get a man or woman or child through tough times – and then if we must die for our faith or otherwise suffer for it, we will do so embracing our calling to know Him in the fellowship of His suffering.

How we forget that the Cross is our enduring symbol, how we forget that Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow Him. The church throughout the ages has rejoiced that it has been counted worthy to suffer with Jesus – any message that diverts us from the Cross is a message that we need to rethink.