Tuesday, January 8, 2013

How to be a Christian Activist

I am a Christian activist. This is because we are called to activism. We are not allowed to turn our backs on the needs of others:

  • Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:3)
Jesus even likened feeding the hungry and clothing the naked to feeding and clothing Him (Matthew 25:42-45). This is how closely He identifies with human brokenness! If He does, so must we!

Daniel was an activist for the Lord. He spoke the truth without flinching. After counseling the king about how his father Nebuchadnezzar humbled himself before the God of Israel, he informed King Belshazzar:

  • "But you his son, O Belshazzar, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven…You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways.” (Daniel 5:22-23) 
This wasn’t a safe, practical or politically correct thing to say, but Daniel was more interested in honoring God than in his own immediate welfare.

After the Persians and the Medes came to power in Babylon, Daniel was appointed as one of the three governors over this great kingdom. He performed so well, that King Darius decided to place him over his “entire kingdom.” This, however, incurred the hatred and jealousy of the other governors, who deceitfully manipulated the king to pass a law forbidding prayer to any god, apart from their king, for 30 days, knowing that the faithful Daniel would violate this law.

Daniel did break the law. These conspirators had been secretly watching and betrayed him to the king, who reluctantly threw him to the lions. However, his God protected him “because he had trusted in his God” (Dan. 6:23). When King Darius found him alive the next morning, he decreed that:

  • "In every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions." (Daniel 6:26-27)
Faithfulness to God pays big dividends. However, I was most struck by the nature of Daniel’s prayer:

  • Now when Daniel learned that the decree [the law against prayer] had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God. (Daniel 6:10)

Why was Daniel “giving thanks?” Israel had been destroyed, their Promised Land was lost, and the Jews were living in captivity in Babylon for 70 years. Even there, they failed to seek “the favor of the Lord” (Dan. 9:13). And now a new law that would have further devastating effects! It would cause Israel to sin further and then to justify it by further watering-down their faith.

This reminds me of my own troubled cultural context. Many youth are falling away from the church – 80-90% by the end of college. Many who remain only do so with a seriously compromised faith. Termites eat relentlessly at the Biblical foundation of the church. Almost worldwide, the church is undergoing persecution, and it seems to be intensifying, and I am angry! I want to fight the world and its blatant hypocrisy. I give thanks out of obedience, but I am not often thankful.

How was the faithful activist Daniel able to give thanks. He knew that God was in total control. He knew that the captivity was only temporary. He knew that, eventually, God would set up His everlasting kingdom (Dan. 7:14) and that nothing could prevent this. He also knew that in face of all the loss, there would be a resurrection and that the faithful would be part of it (Dan. 12:13).

But we already know this. How can we endure the approaching trials? (If you haven’t noticed, I’m also preaching this sermon to myself!) The Book of Hebrews give us an additional answer:

  • Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)
How can we bear our cross? In the same manner that Jesus bore His – looking to “the joy set before him!” For many of us, it is hard to be thankful regarding out present circumstances. However, if we remember that our circumstances will be translated into glory, the anger and despair can thaw into a joy and a confidence. We are going to be with the Lord, and we shall be like Him (1 John 3:2).

There is a place for anger in activism, but it should be a joyful anger for those of us who have this hope. When Daniel was thrown to the lions or when his three faithful friends were thrown into the fiery furnace, they didn’t rail in anger but radiated with a confidence that pointed unmistakably to their ultimate hope (Dan. 3:16-18).

We must cloak ourselves in this confidence. We are not like so many other angry activists who are unable to see beyond their cause. We can look beyond it to the “joy set before” us and give thanks.

Our joy and confidence will also serve as a warning of eternal consequences for those who observe us:

  • Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved--and that by God. (Philip. 1:27-28) 
Confidence is a significant witness to the reality of our Gospel, but can I clothe myself in this confidence? No, but I am determined to trust that He will provide it.

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