‘A Changing World: The Lion’s Den…’

‘A Changing World: The Lion’s Den…’

Many in the West follow the mantra: ‘All religions are the same’. This popular form of pluralism seems to make sense, but it fails to account for the many significant differences between the world’s great religions.

A more sophisticated form of pluralism argues that there is a deeper, grander Truth made clear by all religions. This Truth, it is said, has little to do with Allah requiring 5 daily prayers, or Buddha advocating the subduing of the emotions, or Jesus dying on the cross for the sins of the world. These simply point to a greater Truth that there is an indefinable Reality drawing the world to itself. Defined this way, pluralism claims to have discovered a greater Truth none of the world’s religions has found.

However, this more sophisticated form of pluralism has no response to questions such as the certainty of such a Reality, or the certainty that such a Reality, if it exists, has not already been identified.

Come with me to Daniel, chapter 6, where we learn that public servants around king Darius wanted to bring down Daniel, who had risen to great power in Persia despite being Jewish. Knowing that he could not be accused of being corrupt, they devised a scheme to bring him down.

They devised a law stating that anyone who prayed to any other god apart from the king for a period of thirty days, to be cast into a den of lions. Despite the law, Daniel continued his pattern of prayer in a way that could be observed. And because the law was unchangeable the king, against his own personal wishes, was required to cast Daniel into the den of lions. Miraculously, Daniel wasn’t touched.

In verses 21 and 22 we read: Daniel then said to the king, “O king, live forever! My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no wrong”.

The purpose of Daniel’s rescue from the lion’s den is to assure us that there is a sovereign God who not only exists but who also uniquely wields awesome authority over every aspect of his creation. He is the Lord. It’s a truth that is especially exemplified with the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Daniel, chapter 6 reveals that God can turn hungry lions into docile pets, overcome cunning, corrupt public servants, and overturn the supposedly unchangeable laws of a King.

This doesn’t mean that every time God’s people stand up for him that he will step in and work a miracle. The Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 11 provides many examples of God’s people who were not rescued from death but who were commended for their faith, knowing that God has a better plan.

Reflect. Daniel chapter 6 assures that there is a sovereign God who has authority over every human institution. It also reminds us of our need to serve God wherever we are. So let me encourage you to ask God to enable you to stand firm in your faith, no matter the cost, and to speak up for him when the opportunity arises, or when the situation demands it.

You may find it helpful to read Daniel, chapter 6 and Hebrews, chapter 11.

A Prayer. Almighty and everlasting God, look with mercy on our infirmities; and in all our dangers and necessities stretch out your right hand to help us and defend us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

© John G. Mason

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‘A Changing World: The Lion’s Den…’

‘A Changing World: The Writing on the Wall’

Most of us find ourselves in situations where the name of God is mocked. This was happening at Belshazzar’s great feast described in the Book of Daniel, chapter 5.

Persia, under the military leadership of Cyrus at the time, was threatening Babylonia’s hegemony. Belshazzar was on Nebuchadnezzar’s throne. On the night of the Medo-Persian victory he was feasting, drinking from the vessels that had been brought from the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Until a finger started writing on the wall.

In Daniel chapter 5, verse 25, we read: And this is the writing that was inscribed: Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin.

Mene, Tekel, and Parsin were small weights, in descending order, used in the market place. Here they are metaphors for God’s justice. Daniel interpreted them, saying in effect, ‘Belshazzar, mene means your days are numbered; tekel, ‘weighed’, means God has weighed your life and found it short on goodness; parsin, means your kingdom is divided and given to others. Tonight God will remove both your kingdom and your life.’

Denying the obvious, Belshazzar commanded that Daniel be honored. But no last minute compliment to God’s man was going to alter God’s plan. Humility and repentance towards God were far from Belshazzar’s heart. That night he was slain and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom.

What Belshazzar failed to learn while he had the opportunity was that everyone is accountable to the God who made us all. It is only by God’s grace that we enjoy whatever good things, power or position we might have. Nebuchadnezzar had learned the lesson, but Belshazzar hadn’t.

As well as this warning, there is also encouragement for us: God will always have the last word. The writing was on the wall, not just for Belshazzar, but for everyone who thinks they can trample on the name of God with impunity.

Today Christianity is lampooned by television comedians, dismissed by the gurus of radio and marginalized in the corridors of political power. Many of us feel isolated in the office, in the professional world, in the classroom, and even in our family. But no matter what happens, we can be confident. ‘Be assured’, Daniel 5 tells us, ‘the writing is on the wall. God will have the last word.’

Reflect. Do you really believe that you are accountable to God – the Lord Most High? Do you carry this conviction into your prayers for others who mock your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ?

You may find it helpful to read Daniel, chapter 5 and Acts 17:22-31.

A Prayer. Lord God, our savior and our guide, make your love the foundation of our lives; so may our love for you express itself in our eagerness to do good for others.  Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

© John G. Mason

Support the Word on Wednesday ministry here.

‘A Changing World: The Lion’s Den…’

‘A Changing World: Stand Firm…!’

It takes courage to stand up for what you believe to be the truth.

In the sixth century BC, leading lights in Jewish society: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were, with Daniel, exiles in Babylon at the time of Nebuchadnezzar.

Like Daniel they enjoyed the privilege of Babylonian education and a place in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. However, encouraged by those around him, Nebuchadnezzar had constructed a huge golden statue that he commanded everyone to worship. The three Israelites, despite certain death, refused.

In Daniel chapter 3, verse 18 we read their response to the king: “…Be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up”.

These men were intelligent, highly educated, articulate young men who held office in their land of exile at King Nebuchadnezzar’s pleasure because of their abilities and leadership qualities. They knew that now they had to take a stand.

Nebuchadnezzar needed to know the God of Israel was not only the God of the Jewish people. He was not simply another God in the pantheon of gods for the Religious Departments of universities to analyze. He alone is the Lord. There is no other.

They spoke of God as, “our God whom we serve”: they had a personal relationship with him built on trust. They were confident that God had the power to deliver them from the fiery furnace they faced. But if he chose not to protect them they would still trust him.

For the Jewish readers of this book who were also in exile, the examples of men like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Babylon were significant. They had to ask how far they should get involved in this foreign country: would it compromise their faith? The answer in the Book of Daniel is, ‘No! It won’t. Providing you continue to trust and serve God’.

This question is important for us too. Some Christians say they can only fully serve God if they become a Christian minister or missionary. But that is not how God works: he involves all of us wherever we are. And he expects us to continue to trust and serve him in the secularized world of our day.

Reflect. Do you pray for opportunities to talk with others about your faith? As you do, let me suggest that you ask yourself what opportunities you may have had. Pray for those with whom you have chatted about the good news you have found in knowing the Lord Jesus Christ.

You may also find it helpful to read Daniel, chapter 3 and Colossians 4:2-6.

A Prayer. Almighty God, creator of all things and giver of every good and perfect gift, hear with favor the prayers of your people, so that we who are justly punished for our offences may mercifully be delivered by your goodness, for the glory of your name; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

© John G. Mason

Support the Word on Wednesday ministry here.

‘A Changing World: The Lion’s Den…’

‘A Changing World: A Dream…!’

Dreams fascinate us. They can tease us with hopes that they may come true, but they can also terrify.

In the past, as in some cultures today, dreams were often treated as portents of the future. So people called on the ‘wise’ and fortune-tellers to interpret their dreams.

These days modern psychology suggests that dreams can reveal our subconscious desires and fears. However, there are well-documented occasions when individuals have some kind of premonition of the future – particularly of disaster.

Daniel chapter 2 records a dream King Nebuchadnezzar experienced. It was so real that he called in his wise men and scientists, wanting them to tell him its meaning. However, he had forgotten what it was.

They were threatened with death if they couldn’t interpret the forgotten dream. Then Daniel was called in. Being acquainted with the situation Daniel informed his three companions and asked them to pray. Prayer was an essential part of Daniel’s life. He prayed because he trusted God.

In Daniel, chapter 2, verse 19 we read: Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night

In answering Daniel’s prayer God showed him both Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and its meaning. In essence, the dream revealed to Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel and the Israelite exiles in Babylon, that there would be the rise and fall of four great empires (Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome). But over all and throughout it all, God would be there, working out his purposes for his people.

This is an extraordinary glimpse into the nature and work of God. He is sovereign over the universe. What is more, unseen behind the noise and drama of human decisions and events, God is tirelessly working out his purposes, especially for his people.

The purpose of the dream Nebuchadnezzar experienced was to encourage God’s people to persevere. They were going through dreadful times. Exiled from Jerusalem, they had lost all that was dear to them. ‘Never give up,’ God was saying to them. He says the same to us today: ‘Never give up your trust in me, your prayer, or your courage to serve’.

Reflect. We cannot live a meaningful life in the present unless we believe something positive about the future. What hope do you have for the future? Is your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ such that it keeps your life fresh and filled with great expectations in God’s plans?

You may also find it helpful to read Daniel, chapter 2 and Romans 5:1-5

A Prayer. Lord God, you declare your mighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: grant us such a measure of your grace so that, running in the way of your commandments, we may obtain your promises, and share in your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

© John G. Mason

Support the Word on Wednesday ministry here.

‘A Changing World: The Lion’s Den…’

‘A Changing World: Times to Say, ‘No’!’

In our changing world the words, ‘In God we trust’ are fading into the mists of time. We’re now living in a brave new world where, in the west, powerful and influential voices believe they can chart a path to a secure future, even though it may mean silencing freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

Such experiences are not new. In the sixth century BC, God’s ancient people found themselves in a world of uncertainty and confusion. In 586BC Nebuchadnezzar had sent his army into Jerusalem; the city was destroyed, and the stones of Solomon’s great temple razed to the ground.

King Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest devastated the Jewish people. Their national pride was in tatters and their religious faith was challenged to the core. For they believed that their God was the one true living God, sovereign over all the gods of the nations. Yet he had allowed this to happen.

An important part of Nebuchadnezzar’s strategy in developing his empire was to take the cream of the Jewish people to Babylon and provide them with a top-rate education and cultural program.

Today, and over the coming Wednesdays, I am touching on key themes we find in the Book of Daniel under the title, ‘A Changing World’.

In Daniel, chapter 1, from verse 5 we read: Then the king commanded his palace master Ashpenaz to bring some of the Israelites of the royal family and of the nobility, young men without physical defect and handsome, versed in every branch of wisdom, endowed with knowledge and insight, and competent to serve in the king’s palace; they were to be taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the royal rations of food and wine. They were to be educated for three years, so that at the end of that time they could be stationed in the king’s court. Among them were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, from the tribe of Judah.

Nebuchadnezzar expected exceptional men like Daniel and his friends to welcome the intellectual and cultural challenges of the three-year program. However, Daniel drew a line when it came to the food menu.

In verses 5 and 8 we read: But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine.

The words, Daniel resolved, suggest he was wrestling with his conscience about Nebuchadnezzar’s plan. The result was that he made a personal determination to take a stand on a principle. He said, ‘No’ to the feasting.

Daniel may have stood firm on the matter of food because in diplomatic circles eating a meal with someone usually implied an alliance. As a member of a nation that had food laws prescribed by Yahweh, the Lord, that loyalty came first. And there was probably something else: Daniel was surrounded daily by dozens of temptations to turn away from his walk with the Lord, temptations to which he knew well he might succumb.

If he was to remain true to the Lord, he would need great self discipline. He could not afford to let himself be softened up by the king’s hospitality. There may have been nothing morally wrong with enjoying the delights of the Babylonian royal cuisine, but it symbolized a threat to his own spiritual commitment. Significantly, as Nebuchadnezzar’s program progressed, Daniel’s decision was honored by God.

Reflect. If we are going to live as believers in a changing world where God is dismissed, we need to have the wisdom to identify temptations that could threaten our faith and the courage to be different. Let me encourage you to pray for God’s wisdom and grace in identifying where it would benefit you to make a stand, and at the same time challenge others around you.

You may also find it helpful to read Daniel, chapter 1 and Ephesians 4:17-32.

A Prayer. Almighty and eternal God, by whose Spirit your people are governed and sanctified: receive our prayer for the many different members of your people; that every one of us in our life and calling may truly and devoutly serve you; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

© John G. Mason

Support the Word on Wednesday ministry here.