The Complaint You Want

In Daniel 6, Daniel has been a faithful follower of God in a hostile foreign land for quite some time. Taken to Babylon likely in his teen years, Daniel is now an old man and well-respected by Darius the Mede.

Human nature, we all know, is often an ugly thing. The other government officials were jealous of Daniel and the favor that Daniel had with the king. Thus, as we see so often in politics, the jealous officials set out to discredit Daniel.

Daniel 6:4-5 – 4 Then the high officials and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. 5 Then these men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.”

The politicians looked and looked, but could find nothing with which to discredit Daniel. They knew Daniel to be faithful in all things. But then they decided how to get to him. They could go after Daniel’s faithfulness to the law of God.

You likely know the rest of the story. The officials pass a law that nobody can pray to anybody except King Darius. They then catch Daniel continuing to pray to the Lord as always, Daniel is put into the lions’ den, and God works a miraculous rescue.

The application point that I want us to make today is simple. If worldly people were looking to dig up dirt on you, Christian, where would they go? Would they go to your public character? Would they look to how you treat others around you? Would it be your social media feed that does you in? Would it be your Internet history? Would they find a point of accusation in how you handle your money, how you talk about your friends, or how you entertain yourself?

Would it not be a glorious thing if we could be like Daniel? Let’s strive to see to it that, if our neighbors want to discredit us, they must find their grounds for attacking us in the word of God. May we be a people who are so faithful to the word of God that people would know that we can be caught, regularly, in obedience to the text. May our flaws not be in genuine failings of character. May our guilt lie in the fact that we, no matter what, obey the word of God without pause or apology.

A Prayer for Salvation

What does it look like to pray that God save you? There is, of course, no “sinner’s prayer” as a prayer of salvation in Scripture. There is no prayer like the prayer at the end of the gospel tracts. That is, of course, good, as the point of coming to God in faith is not empty repetition of magic words to get yourself into heaven.

With that said, it is also nice to have something of an example of what it looks like when a sinner in need cries out to the Lord.

Let me preface. This Psalm is not a prayer for spiritual salvation. It is, in fact, a prayer for a physical salvation. But, if you study the Scriptures well, you will find that the physical salvation of Israel from Egypt or David from enemies is a picture for us of the coming and eternal spiritual salvation we find in Christ. There is a parallel that we can see. And with that in mind, I want us to see how David opens this prayer.

Psalm 143:1-2

1 Hear my prayer, O LORD;
give ear to my pleas for mercy!
In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness!
2 Enter not into judgment with your servant,
for no one living is righteous before you.

David cries out to God. Please hear me. Please have mercy. Be righteous as you always are. Please do not enter into judgment over me. I, like all people, cannot stand up to your perfection. Lord, have mercy.

That is a beautiful prayer. When a person comes to God admitting right away that we have no ground upon which to stand, that is good. When we realize that we can only fall upon the mercy of God, that is right. And, thanks be to God, the Lord is both perfectly righteous and wonderfully merciful.

Is the gospel here? Of course it is. God is just and merciful. The justice of God is perfectly satisfied as Jesus, God in flesh, took upon himself the right wrath of God for my sin. The mercy of God is perfectly evident in God rescuing me, a sinner, from the wrath I deserve.

And, let us not leave this prayer without a moment to focus on the state of all people. David says, “for no one living is righteous before you.” No living human being can be righteous on his or her own. If you are outside of Christ and think you are OK with God, you are thinking unbiblically. We are not righteous before the holy one. We are less than his perfection. We need to be forgiven. WE need to be saved.

Let David’s prayer be yours even today. If you are a Christian, let this prayer remind you of your state before salvation and your continuing need for God’s grace. If you are not a believer, know that you need the righteousness of God and his mercy to forgive you, as none of us can stand under the judgment of God and live.

A Death to Glorify God

The story of the apostle Peter is one that should encourage many of us who are prone to weakness and failure. Remember, after all, that Peter, in a moment of humiliation, denied three times that he even knew Jesus. But, by the grace of God, the Savior met with Peter and restored him.

The story of Peter’s restoration is found in John 21. Its contrast with Peter’s denial is clear. Before, Peter three times denied Jesus at night near a charcoal fire. IN John 21, to emphasize the parallel, Jesus will three times ask Peter, “Do you love me,” in the morning near a charcoal fire. Each time Peter will say that he loves the Savior. But we also can imagine the horrible emotion that Peter must have felt as Peter knows that his actions did not match his claims.

But each time Peter said he loved Jesus, the Savior responded with a call on Peter’s life. Peter was called to be a shepherd, a pastor. Peter was called to care for Christ’s sheep. Like the other disciples, Peter was to give his life in the service of the people of God and of the spread of the gospel.

Were that the end of the story, it would be great. Peter is restored. Jesus gives Peter a job. I’m sure that Peter knew how inadequate he personally was for the task. But Jesus tells Peter how it will all end.

John 21:18-19 – 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Jesus lets Peter know that, someday in the future, when Peter is old, Peter will be carried off to an execution. The language Jesus uses seems to refer to crucifixion. Just as Jesus had his arms stretched out on a cross in his sacrificial death, so Peter will follow his Lord’s example. No, Peter would not die for the sins of others. But Peter, like Jesus, would glorify God in his death.

How interesting it is that John uses the words he uses. Jesus told Peter by what kind of death he would “glorify God.” Peter, in choosing to preach to the end, by choosing to preach under the reign of a tyrant like Nero, by choosing to preach when it was illegal and unpopular, would glorify God by laying down his life. Peter’s death glorified the Lord.

What we want to learn from Peter and from John’s words here is that our lives, even up to and including our deaths, are to glorify the Lord. Like Peter we have fears and weaknesses. Like Peter, we will fail from time to time. Like Peter, we will need our savior to restore us and remind us of our task. But in the end, if we truly love Jesus, we will care for his church. If we love Jesus, we will worship him with the people of God, and that will be a tremendously high priority for us. And like Peter, we will be willing to honor God in all we do.

And, if we follow the Lord faithfully, we will also have the opportunity to glorify God in our death. Perhaps, like Peter, we will die a martyr’s death for our Lord. If so, praise be to God. But it is also quite possible that we will die of old age or disease as do so many. How we approach that death, how we witness to others, how we display our hope, these are all ways that we can glorify God in our deaths too. Friends, may we understand that all things in our lives have the possibility to glorify the Savior. So, even if we have failed him time and time again, even if we have gone so far as to deny him like Peter did, let us repent. Let us return. Let us seek the grace of God in Christ. Let us glorify God in our lives. Let us love the church. And let us look forward to glorifying our God, even in how we die.

The Backwardness of Sin

I wonder sometimes if we, as Christians, truly grasp what happens to the human mind that is captivated by sin. I think, theologically, we can speak true things about what it looks like when a person is dead in sin or is following the world, the flesh, and the devil. But, when we think of the world and its practices, I wonder if we really get it.

Consider some of the pet sins of our culture. I’ll not need to name them at this point, as you know if you are paying any attention. Have you noticed how, in our culture, there has been a pattern of acceptance of these sins? Years ago, they were sins that were abhorred by faithful folks. Then, though the sins were abhorred in general, we began to accept their presence. Then, acceptance led to normalization. We began to act as though certain sins were just part of the world we live in. WE began to act as though our best move would be to remain quiet, as culture around us was beginning to accept such practices. And then, before we know it, things that once were abhorred are now applauded and celebrated. Now, all who do not celebrate sins once abhorred are the ones despised by the culture.

That pattern, from abhorrence to applause, is only part of the problem. The other part of the problem is in the local church itself. You see, we want to be loved by the world. Thus, if we are not careful, we begin to compromise on things that the Lord has commanded. We become ashamed of the word of God because we do not want to be social outcasts. Perhaps we hide the word of God because we do not want the world around us to look down on us.

If you look at the words of Jesus, none of this should be a surprise.

John 16:1–4a – 1 “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. 2 They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. 3 And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. 4 But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.

Jesus warned his disciples of hard times to come. He warned them of persecution. Jesus wanted them to understand that the persecution they face is not something he did not see coming.

But take particular note of the attitude of the persecutors. Jesus said that people would be killing Christians, and they would be convinced that they were doing a service to God when they would do so. That is the point that got my attention. It speaks not only to the sin, but to the mindset of those who will come and persecute Christ’s followers.

What I want us to grasp is that this mindset, this thinking that leads to persecution, this darkened thinking is utterly warped and inside-out and upside-down. Jesus warned that men would do that which is as evil a thing as possible, kill servants of the Lord, and they will think, not that they are doing evil, but that they are serving the very God they are attacking. This shows us what sin does to the human mind.

Dear friends, if we are not completely saturated with the word of God, we will let inside-out and upside-down thinking permeate our lives. It is surprisingly easy for Christians to learn to accept what God calls abomination. It is surprisingly easy for Christians to turn what God forbids into something that religious people celebrate. It is surprisingly easy to stop seeing evil as evil.

May we be a people who are biblically minded in all things. May we love the word. May we not allow the world to shape our thinking. May we battle with all our might against the sin that would deceive us into doing that which dishonors God and thinking it to be worship. May we be willing to stand in the face of hardships, knowing that our Savior promised that this world would be hard. May we live for the glory of our God even in a dark world, because we know that the Spirit of God is with us and the Savior we love will return and rule forever.

Children of God

Who is a child of God? All human beings are created by God, in God’s image, and for God’s glory. But this is not the same as being a child of God. To be a child of God, to be a part of his family, is something much different than simply being created in his image.

John 8:42a – Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here.”

In a conflict between Jesus and the religious teachers of his day, the issue of being children of God comes up. The Jewish leaders claimed that they were children of God. Jesus let them know that, no, in fact they are not.

According to Jesus, there is a simple way to know who is a child of God. Loving Jesus is a mark of being a child of God. Not loving Jesus is a sign that a person is not a child of God.

Is that exclusive? Yes, indeed it is. To be a child of God is to be adopted into God’s family. You see, we all start off as enemies of God because of our sin natures. God adopts people into his family. But none are adopted into his family who do not come to him through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only way to God. Jesus is the only way to be a child of God.

Be aware, then, that many will claim to be children of God. If they mean that they are creatures of God, they have a bit of truth in their words. But if they mean that they are Ok with God, or if they mean that they are part of God’s own forgiven family, they must have something more than creation to claim. Those who are part of God’s family love Jesus.

A quick Note on Faith-Healing

When I was growing up, our regular television networks would play commercials for religious broadcasts. So I remember hearing these preachers, in short clips, present the basic message of the charismatic faith-healers. I remember hearing a smiling man tell people, “Learn to unleash your faith for your miracle.” I remember hearing men say that the giving of a financial gift would seed a greater gift in return. I remember hearing a man offer to pray over anything you mailed in, so long as you also sent in an appropriate donation.

I also recall that people in our small community got excited from time-to-time when a local charismatic church would have a healer in. When the larger town about half-an-hour away had services, people got excited. Sometimes folks would tell me that I should go. After all, you just never know. Perhaps this man could be used by God to heal me of my blindness. An, no, we did not go.

But, if you know the faith-healer stories, you also know that not everyone in those services was healed. If a person went, got up to the altar, and met the healer without being healed, the answer was always the same. This person must have lacked the faith to be healed. The preacher would still take the donations, claim the power, and pretend to not be at fault. The person who was not healed would go home feeling guilty for not having had enough faith. And then the person would wonder if they had missed their one chance to be healed of their ailment.

In other times in life, I recall reading through books that preached the same sort of principles. I recall books telling us that God really wants to bless us with certain gifts, but if we lack enough faith or if we fail to ask in the right way, God just cannot give them to us. I recall books picturing a great storehouse of gifts that God wishes desperately that he could give to me, but my lack of using the right words or having the right kind of faith is preventing me from having them. The picture painted is of a disappointed God who is unfortunately bound by my failings.

Is God bound by my faith? Is God’s ability to heal a sick person restricted by the sick person’s lack of belief? No, dear friends, no. God may in fact choose to heal or not to heal a person based on anything he wants. Yes, God may choose not to heal a person for a lack of faith in that person. But in no way is God’s ability limited.

Look at this example from Scripture.

John 5:5-13 – 5 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” 7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” 9 And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

Now that day was the Sabbath. 10 So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’ ” 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place.

Notice two things. Jesus healed the paralytic in a clear, immediate, obvious and complete way. And, Jesus healed the paralytic without the paralytic having faith. The paralytic did not even know who Jesus was (see verse 13). The man’s lack of faith had nothing to do with his healing. The healing was the choice of the Lord for the purposes of the Lord.

We want to be a people who let Scripture be our final authority. Jesus is not limited by what I bring to the table. Jesus is the Almighty God who is now enthroned over all things. He can heal when he wants. He can choose not to heal if that better fits his purposes for his glory. Do not, for a moment, allow yourself to think that you can limit his ability to give to you anything that he wants to give to you.

Does this mean that faith, prayer, and obedience are unimportant? Not at all. IN fact, these things are quite significant. But let us get rid of the huckster pitch of the faith-healers who claim powers they do not have for the sake of dishonest gain. Let us know that the Lord will do all that he pleases. God is not disappointed now. God will not be disappointed in eternity. My faith does not release God to do anything that God is just itching to do. God is sovereign. I am under his sovereignty.

God is not an Option

In the realm of bad evangelistic presentations, there are many things that I have heard said that are troubling. Perhaps the worst in this batch would be a person encouraging others just to try giving their lives to Jesus. The evangelist, with a genuine heart, called on people to just give Jesus a try and see if he did not give them life and peace and the rest. Just pray this prayer, believe, and you’ll get better.

Friends, this is not the way to share a genuine gospel. In fact, it is dangerous for the person to whom you speak. See this warning God gave in Ezekiel.

Ezekiel 14:1-5 – 1 Then certain of the elders of Israel came to me and sat before me. 2 And the word of the Lord came to me: 3 “Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and set the stumbling block of their iniquity before their faces. Should I indeed let myself be consulted by them? 4 Therefore speak to them and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Any one of the house of Israel who takes his idols into his heart and sets the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and yet comes to the prophet, I the Lord will answer him as he comes with the multitude of his idols, 5 that I may lay hold of the hearts of the house of Israel, who are all estranged from me through their idols.

In the days of Ezekiel, the people of the land were miserable. The Babylonians had come in and taken over. The people wanted to be returned to Judah from their foreign captivity. And they were willing to try anything to get home.

In this passage, God is responding to something that was apparently going on. IT seems that some of these people, the leaders of the captives, were approaching Ezekiel to ask him to inquire of God on their behalf. IN general that sounds good. But there is a problem.

The Lord tells us that the people coming to Ezekiel have taken their idols into their hearts. You see, these people coming to Ezekiel were dedicated to idol worship. IN earlier chapters, we saw that these folks were bowing to idols, fashioning pictures of animals on the temple walls for worship, and were even bowing to the sun. They were not turning to the Lord as the one true God. They were simply giving a nod to the Lord to try him out to see if he might help them out of their calamity.

God is clear in that passage that he will not be one among many. God will not be an experiment for a wayward, idol-worshiping people. HE will especially not be merely an option for a people who had agreed to a covenant under which they would obey his law and he would be their God. These people were brazenly violating the terms of their agreement with God, and then turning to God to see if he might work as a solution to their political problem. And the Lord is having none of it.

While you and I are not Old Testament Israel, there is still a lesson for us to learn. God will not be one option among many for people. God will not be an experiment for you. God will not give a sweet answer to a person who turns in his direction all the while having a heart full of idols. The gospel does not promise eternal life and hope to people who are willing to mouth a prayer or get wet in a pool but who are not really willing to surrender to the lordship of Christ.

Salvation is a free gift of God. We receive it by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. We do not do any sort of works or ceremonies to gain salvation. But, true salvation includes our repentance. And repentance includes our turning from all our idols and our full-scale surrender to Jesus Christ as our ultimate and eternal King. Those who turn to Jesus have been born again. Those who are born again have changed hearts. Those who have changed hearts follow Jesus and reject idols. But no person is saved who is merely turning to Jesus as one option among many to try.