Taking a Stand

There are times in life where we have to make tough choices between faithfulness to God and faithfulness to other powers and authorities. The more corrupt the society and environment around us become, the greater the likelihood that we will face such a choice as Daniel was faced with in Daniel chapter 6. Like Daniel, we live in a fallen world where the adversaries of the people of God are active and intentional in their desire to entrap and ensnare. One of the biggest traps is that of competing loyalties.

"Daniellion" by After Briton Rivière - Manchester City Art Gallery [sic!]. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

Would Daniel as a faithful adviser to the King AND a worshiping, God-fearing man choose to forsake faithfulness to one in order to obey the other? Obey the king, and you must renounce prayer to the Lord; obey the Lord’s call to prayer, and you disobey the edict of the king. Daniel was a person of deep integrity; his adversaries “could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent” (Daniel 6:5). So they purposed to create a conflict between loyalties between king and God. They passed a “decree that anyone who prays to any god or human being during the next thirty days, except to [the King] shall be thrown into the lions’ den” (Daniel 6:7).

Daniel’s principles governed his decisions, the Lord’s command always trumps the edicts of human governance. He would continue to pray three times a day to the Lord despite the threat of certain punishment to the lion’s den. Jesus faced a similar “catch 22” as He stood before Pilate and was asked if He was a King. To answer “yes” would mean a certain death sentence for opposition to Caesar; to say “no” would be a denial of His true calling. Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world.” He entrusted Himself to the heavenly Father.

To make such a stand in service of a Kingdom that is not of this world—to an unseen God—often seems ludicrous and foolish to a proud world. But, such self-sacrifice and humiliation in the service of God’s kingdom may serve to further His Divine plan in some unknown way. This has been the history of redemption through the ages. God uses the folly of self-sacrifice to redeem and transform the world. We may never know who will be inspired by our stand for what is right, but we should know that we are always being watched by those around us. We should never underestimate the power of the leader who is upright and walks with integrity to inspire others to the same. Daniel’s willingness to be martyred for his faith and subsequent vindication at the hand of God impressed the king himself. He decreed and proclaimed that Daniel’s God is the Living God whose Kingdom will not be destroyed, and whose dominion will never end! (Daniel 2:26)

In Christian terms, this is called our witness. Are we willing to make our witness to truth and righteousness, and most importantly are we willing to make our witness to the Lordship of Jesus Christ? The witness of any one follower of God is costly in ways that no other person will ever fully be able to understand—financially, relationally, physically, and spiritually. And no one can dictate for another the manner of another’s sacrifice. The disciple is free to lay down his life of his own volition. A life laid down for Jesus will never be in vain.

Featured image: “Daniellion” by After Briton Rivière – Manchester City Art Gallery [sic!]. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Daniellion.jpg#/media/File:Daniellion.jpg

Under Guard for Christ and By Christ

In the book of Philippians, both Paul and the Philippians were experiencing difficult situations of persecution in their lives due to their commitment to the Gospel. Paul was imprisoned for the Gospel by the imperial guard in Rome. From an earthly perspective, this could become the occasion of tremendous stress, worry, and despair. Paul used the example of his own sufferings to help the Philippians see a different way of looking at the trials of life.

St. Paul in Prison by Rembrandt

First, Paul sees the incredible fruit that is being brought forth by his imprisonment (1:12-18). The entire guard is hearing Christ proclaimed; the faithful are being encouraged to boldness because of Paul’s witness; and Paul’s rivals are seeing an opportunity to gain a place in the pulpit for their own selfish gain. Yet, in all of these things Paul rejoices because “Christ is proclaimed” (1:18).

Secondly, Paul has a different way of looking at the sufferings of this life because of the glorious resurrection life to come (1:19-26). In a “to be or not to be” reflection, Paul reveals that whether he lives or dies, he knows that he is blessed in Jesus Christ. He knows that if he dies, it will result in being with Christ. His continued life means more fruitful labor for the church. So either way Paul is filled with joy. Live or die, he simply can’t lose!

In chapter 4:6-9, Paul will encourage the Philippians to lay aside their own anxiety in their struggles by turning their worries over to God in prayer with thanksgiving and by setting their mind on that which is glorious and good. If they will give God their troubles in prayer, God will protect their hearts from anxiety.

Even though Paul is under guard of Rome, his heart and mind are guarded by the peace of God, so he can rejoice in the LORD. The same Peace of God will guard the members of the Philippian Church as they focus their attention away from their trials and onto the Lord and the blessings of their lives:

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:7

As citizens in a fallen world, you are guarded in persecution because of the Gospel. As citizens of heaven, you are guarded for eternal life in the unfathomable peace of God.

Prayer: Almighty God, today I am concerned about many things, yet you are in control of all of them. You are sovereign. Help me LORD that I may rest under divine guard and protection with my heart and mind trusting you for the outworking of your plan for my life. Amen.

This post originally appeared on The Bible Challenge.

For Such A Time As This

Esther Before Ahasuerus by Giovanni Andrea Sirani

While the name of God is not mentioned, His hand is seen in all of the unfolding events within the book of Esther. God uses the faithfulness, courage and integrity of Esther and Mordecai to accomplish His good purposes for the exiled Jewish people. Mordecai ponders the mystery of God’s providence and their role in His plan when he asks,

“And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

In a bold act, Esther enters the King Ahashuerus’ court without summons and is extended the gold scepter of the King’s royal favor. In contrast to her predecessor, Vashti, who rebelliously avoided the King’s summons, Esther greatly pleases him with her initiative toward him without summons. He offers her any request—an offer which will provide the occasion for the salvation of the entire Jewish people from total annihilation!

“On that night the king could not sleep…” (6:1)

The turning point in the Book of Esther occurs when the king has a sleepless night. He orders that the chronicles of his kingdom be read. In that reading, he hears of the loyal acts of Mordecai in thwarting the plot of sedition against the king’s life (See Esther 2:21-23).

Mordecai’s faithfulness toward the king becomes yet another occasion for Divine Providence. His service to the king is used for God’s glory. His faithfulness, integrity, and courage under God is to be starkly contrasted with the vain self-serving character of the royal advisor, Haman.

King Ahashuerus in that moment purposes to exalt Mordecai to high honor for his loyalty and action. Ironically, the vain Haman mistakenly believes the king was purposing to honor him. Haman said to himself, “Whom would the king delight to honor more than me?” (6:6). His pride and vanity would see him lifted high to his own 50-cubit-high gallows.

Indeed, God uses His people in mighty ways when they seek to courageously and uncompromisingly live for Him in the small unseen acts of faithfulness. Contemplate whether the circumstances in your life are just such an occasion for God to use you mightily. Who knows whether you have not come to your current position for such a time as this?

Prayer: Lord, I offer myself to be used to accomplish your good will and purposes for your kingdom. Show me your ways and teach me your paths that I may walk in them. Amen.

This post originally appeared here.

The Heart of a Reformer

King Ahaz was a corrupt and faithless king. He set up altars to false gods in every corner of Jerusalem, and he made unholy alliances with foreign kings. The most dramatic act of his rebellion against the Lord was when he “shut up the doors of the house of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 28:24).

Image via geralt on pixabay

His son Hezekiah took the throne, and he was the complete opposite of his father. The very first act of his reign was “he opened the doors of the house of the Lord and repaired them” (2 Chr. 29:3). The main point of the book of 2 Chronicles is to demonstrate that repentance leads to restoration. Earlier in the book, the Chronicler recorded this word from the Lord for King Solomon and his descendants:

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” – 2 Chr. 7:14

Hezekiah stands as a model reformer of society for all time. By turning away from the “filth” and “unfaithfulness” of his predecessors and by seeking the face of the Lord, he demonstrates the character and actions that God is seeking in his people. The people followed his lead and were reorganized in the service of worship of the Lord. Hezekiah had the heart of a reformer:

“Now it is in my heart to make a covenant with the Lord, the God of Israel, in order that his fierce anger may turn away from us.” – 2 Chr. 29:10

Have we not inherited a culture that has “shut up the doors” to the worship of the Lord Jesus? Have we not experienced and even been participants in the “unfaithfulness” and the “filth” of a culture that has set up idols “in every corner”? In our day, just as in Hezekiah’s day, we desperately need leaders with the heart of covenant faithfulness. We need leaders who will make true worship of the one true Lord, Jesus Christ, the priority of our common life. We need followers who will be ready themselves to be ministers of the Lord.

Do you have the heart and character of a reformer?

Lord, make me an instrument of reform and renewal in our day. Show me the place where my family, my work place, my church, my school, my government need godly change. Guide me to the places that can be reorganized and centered on you. Give me the courage to act in Jesus name, Amen.


This post originally appeared here.

The Banner of Christ Alone

Part 3 of 3

The vision of the New Humanity voiced in the New Covenant does indeed express a vision that includes people from every tribe and nation. Praise God for that!  It also is a call to be willing to die to those cultural and genetic identities along with all of their badges and symbols. This is precisely what Paul is getting at in the verse from Philippians that I quoted here. We all have reasons in the flesh for which to be proud and for which to be ashamed. (Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.)

agnus dei banner

Paul was saying that as far as his essential Jewishness, he had much to be confidentPaul didn’t get any more Jewish both genetically, religiously, culturally and practically:

  • circumcised on the eighth day,
  • a member of the people of Israel,
  • of the tribe of Benjamin,
  • a Hebrew born of Hebrews;
  • as to the law, a Pharisee;
  • as to zeal, a persecutor of the church;
  • as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

This is a description of the “banner and mantle of Jewish identity.” He could just as well be raising the flag in pride of his Southern credentials. Notice that some of these things on Paul’s list, he could never actually change about himself; he could not change his Jewish DNA any more than any one of us could change the color of our skin.

Yet Paul regarded even this badge of birthright (ie. his skin) as “rubbish” (Phil. 3:8) because of Christ. Moreover, he counted that entire list of confidences in the flesh as loss for the sake of knowing Christ. He was not going to let his Jewish nature and identity get in the way of knowing and pursuing Christ. He certainly was not going to allow his tribal roots and identity as a Jew compromise and affect his fellowship with non-Jewish brothers and sisters in Christ.

What lessons can we learn as white and black Southerners who are also followers of Christ?

Circumcision is a badge, like a flag. It is a symbol of identity—Jewish identity. It says, this is who I am—and this is who you are not. For Paul, neither circumcision nor circumcision matters in light of the coming of the Messiah.  Paul pleaded with the Jewish Christians to let the badge of their genetic, cultural and religious identity go for the sake of unity in Jesus Christ with the Gentile believers. And he pleaded with Gentile believers to do the same.

We are in another one of those times as the nations, ethnicities, races, tribes are culturally colliding. We all need to be willing to “put no confidence in the flesh” and regard our genetic heritage as “rubbish” for the sake of Christ and the Kingdom of God. Genetically, religiously, culturally and practically—will we lower the banners and badges of our tribal “rubbish” in exchange for the glory of being considered a Child of God and co-heir with Christ?

You ask me to set aside my white Southern family heritage for your sake and for the sake of Christ. I tell you that I am willing to do it and that I have done it with loss. And on the other-side of that loss, new creation and new life in Jesus Christ springs forth in me.

If there is anything offensive in me that would cause a brother or sister in Christ to stumble, I want to see it and have it removed from my life. To all of my brothers and sisters in Christ, I give you my permission to point it out. I want to be a person who is known not for my tribal family or racial heritage, for good or for bad. I want to be known as one who bears Jesus Christ alone.

There are so many banners and credentials of fleshly authenticity under which I could so easily fly. Many of them I have used to my advantage and found privilege and favor in this world. And sometimes it is not wrong to do that, just as the apostle Paul used his credentials as a Roman citizen or a Hebrew of Hebrews. (See Acts 22:25-26.) Yet in the end, there is only one banner and one identity that truly matters to me: the cross of Jesus Christ. I am called to be in this world, but not of it.

The racial divisions find their end in Jesus Christ alone. We are all equally in our need of salvation at the foot of the cross; there are no other flags flying there. At what point do we release ourselves and each other from pride, honor and shame? For Paul, the Resurrected Life in Christ far surpasses any momentary glory or shame that we may derive from our distant history or recent past. So we press on toward that prize, leaving all else behind.

Have you given your life to Jesus and surrendered all things including your family heritage, your racial identity, your flags, badges, banners and certificates of authenticity and privilege? He would replace them all with the cross, and give you a new family and a new life in him. Pick up your cross and follow the one who gave up everything that rightfully belonged to him—for your sake and for mine.

I am faithfully yours in Christ Jesus our Lord,

Charlie Holt+

What “badges” of this world do you find yourself taking confidence in? What would it mean to you to declare them of no value compared to Christ? What practical steps can you take to show to others that Christ is the only thing about yourself that is of ultimate worth? Are there others in your life that will be offended if you do so? How can you talk to them about it?