Saturday, December 1, 2007
IT IS BETTER TO BE FAITHFUL THAN FAMOUS
It is better to be faithful than famous - (Theodore Roosevelt)
Daniel made up his mind not to let himself become ritually unclean by eating the food and drinking the wine of the royal court, so he asked Ashpenaz to help him, and God made Ashpenaz sympathetic to Daniel.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, 'O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.'
Then the other supervisors and the governors tried to find something wrong with the way Daniel administered the empire, but they couldn't, because Daniel was reliable and did not do anything wrong or dishonest. They said to one another, 'We are not going to find anything of which to accuse Daniel unless it is something in connection with his religion.'
Anyone who starts to plough and then keeps looking back is of no use to the kingdom of God.
Be faithful to me, even if it means death, and I will give you life as your prize of victory.
Your conduct among the surrounding peoples in your different countries should always be good and right, so that although they may in the usual way slander you as evildoers, yet when disasters come they may glorify God when they see how well you conduct yourselves.
My footsteps have followed dose in him, I have walked in his way without swerving. But I reckon my own life to be worth nothing to me; I only want to complete my mission and finish the work that the Lord Jesus gave me to do, which is to declare the Good News about the grace of God.
(Daniel 1:8-9, GNB; Daniel 3:16-18, NIV; 6:4-5, GNB; Luke 9:62, GNB; Revelation 2:10b, GNB; 1 Peter 2:12, J.B. Phillips; Job 23:11, JOB; Acts 20:24, GNB)
Those Sunday School pictures of Daniel must be wrong. The ones showing a virile, macho 30-year-old in the lion pit. Either they are misleading or my calculations are awry. Or the dates are not meant to dovetail.
Let's assume that Daniel was, at the age of seventeen, a member of the transportation contingent of 605 BC. Then let's assume that the lion pit episode occurred at the beginning of the rule of Cyrus/Darius in 538 BC. That makes Daniel eighty-four! At an age when many of us can no longer walk at all, he is still treading on hot coals!
All the indications are that he had delivered exceptional service to Babylon. Early promise and outstanding college results led to promotions, responsibility and authority.
More importantly he combined astute public service with loyal divine service. For seventy years Daniel had been loyal to his real King -- the Lord of Heaven.
His courageous faithfulness was part of a well-rounded godly lifestyle: his gracious courtesy, his commitment to solidarity with his friends and to disciplined prayerfulness, his willingness to participate fully in the life of Babylon, his patient caring for Nebuchadnezzar during the king's dark humiliation, his squeaky-clean reputation in civil life.
But above all his unswerving loyalty to God placed patriotism, ambition, job security and even his life on the line.
What an inspiration to the hard-pressed Jews during the centuries that followed. What an example today to Christians in public life, in a secular environment or under an alien regime.
We are pilgrim people, a people who have decided never to arrive, a people who live by hope, energised not by what we already possess but by that which is promised: 'Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth.'
Sure, it's tiring; and it's tough. Imagination comes harder than memory, and faithfulness is more demanding than success. But so what if we fail? Remember, we are not required to finish the task -- any more than we are allowed to put it aside.
William Sloane Coffin, The Courage to Love
What will it mean in practice for me to put God first? This much, at least. All the 101 things I have to do each day, and the 101 demands on me which I know I must try to meet, will all be approached as ventures of loving service to him, and I shall do the best I can in everything for his sake -- which attitude, as George Herbert quaintly said, 'makes drudgery divine; who sweeps a room, as for thy laws, makes that and th' action fine.'
And then I shall find that, through the secret work of the Spirit which is known by its effects, my very purpose of pleasing God gives me new energy for all these tasks and relationships, energy which otherwise I could not have had. 'I could not love thee, dear, so much, loved I not honor more,' said the poet. Put 'God' for 'honor', and you have the deepest truth about the Christian's love of his neighbour. Self-absorbed resentments dissolve, the zest for life, happiness in doing things, and love for others all grow great when God comes first.
J.I. Packer, I Want to be a Christian
'I was going to say I wished we'd never come. But I don't, I don't, I don't. Even if we are killed. I'd rather be killed fighting for Narnia than grow old and stupid at home and perhaps go about in a bath-chair and then die in the end just the same.'
Jill in The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis
When we are called to follow Christ, we are summoned to an exclusive attachment to his person. The grace of his call bursts all the bonds of legalism. It is a gracious call, a gracious commandment. It transcends the difference between the law and the gospel. Christ calls, the disciple follows; that is grace and commandment in one. 'I will walk at liberty, for I seek thy commandments' (Psalm 119:45).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
It is helpful to remember that some of God's greatest saints and responsible leaders have not always been clear what to do, and because actions and decisions could no longer be delayed, they have had to move forward in the dark, hardly knowing whether the Lord was with them or not. Both Hudson Taylor and D.E. Hoste had such experiences in their leadership of the China Inland Mission.
The more I became involved in increasing responsibilities in Christian service, the less I found myself thinking of guidance and the more of duty.
John Laird, No Mere Chance
But it was precisely this persistent loyalty to the old ways of Judah, this constant refusal to cut himself loose from 'Jerusalem', this repeated claim that the truth and salvation for the world lay there and nowhere else, that made many powerful people in Babylon hate Daniel. They hated him not merely because he was a foreigner and stranger, not merely because they were jealous of his extraordinary ability, but mainly because, in spite of the fact that he was so impeccably loyal and helpful to Babylon, the whole orientation of his outstanding life tended to point not to Babylon but to Zion.
Too often he stood simply for what Jerusalem alone stood for. Too clearly his talk and his way of life bore witness to his strange belief that salvation for mankind could come only from the God who had chosen Zion as his dwelling place.
Ronald Wallace, The Lord is King
Christ has many services to be done; some are easy, others are difficult; some bring honour, others bring reproach; some are suitable to our natural inclinations and temporal interests, others are contrary to both. In some we may please Christ and please ourselves, in others we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves. Yet the power to do all these things is assuredly given us in Christ, who strengthens us.
I am no longer my own, but Thine. Put me to what Thou wilt, rank me with whom Thou wilt; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for Thee or laid aside for Thee, exalted for Thee or brought low for Thee; let me be full,
It is better to be faithful than famous
Let me be empty; let me have all things, let me have nothing; I freely and heartily yield all things to Thy pleasure and disposal,
John Wesley, from the Covenant Service of the Methodist Church
'Eighty and six years have I served him, and he hath done me no wrong; how then can 1 blaspheme my king who saved met
Bishop Polycarp, when urged to 'curse the Christ'.
He was subsequently burnt at the stake.
We have each day to be faithful for the one short day, and long years and a long life will take care of themselves without the sense of their length or their weight ever being a burden.
And believing must lead to obedience. Christians have constantly been in trouble for defying human authorities and challenging consensuses. Peter would not stop evangelising when told to (Acts 4:19f; 5:27ff) and was in and out of prison as a result. Christians risked persecution in the early days by refusing the formalities of Roman state religion, just as latter-day African Christians have courted martyrdom by rejecting tribal rites. Athanasius sentenced himself to exile by standing against the Arian world. Luther jeopardised his life by refusing to recant at Worms.
Christians today make themselves unpopular by opposing such social realities as the pornography trade and such social conveniences as abortion on demand. These are samples of the costly nonconformity which Christians have practised down the ages.
Why do they behave so awkwardly? Because standing under God's authority, they are sure that his revelation requires them to act as they do at whatever personal cost. Luther said at Worms, 'My conscience is captive to the Word of God; to go against conscience is neither right nor safe; here I stand, there is nothing else I can do; God help me; amen.' The privilege of knowing God's truth with certainty and precision carries with it the responsibility of obeying that truth with equal precision. Christianity is no armchair faith, but a call to action.
J.I. Packer, Freedom, Authority and Scripture
The ploughman who looks back is the would-be disciple whose mind is still partly on the life he left to follow Jesus. The work of the kingdom of God requires singleness of purpose.
F.F. Bruce, commenting on Luke 9:62 in The Hard Sayings of Jesus
Beloved, it is morn!
A redder berry on the thorn,
A deeper yellow on the corn,
For this good day new-born:
Pray, Sweet, for me
That I may be
Faithful to God and thee.
Emily Henrietta Hickey, 'Beloved, it is Morn'
Who would true valour see,
Let him come hither; One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather;
There's no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.
'You haven't got it right!' says the exasperated piano teacher. Junior is holding his hands the way he's been told. His fingering is unexceptionable. He has memorised the piece perfectly. He has hit all the proper notes with deadly accuracy. But his heart's not in it, only his fingers. What he's playing is a sort of music but nothing that will start voices singing or feet tapping. He has succeeded in boring everybody to death including himself.
Jesus said to his disciples, 'Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven' (Matthew 5:20). The scribes and Pharisees were playing it by the Book. They didn't slip up on a single do or don't. But they were getting it all wrong.
Righteousness is getting it all right. If you play it the way it's supposed to be played, there shouldn't be a still foot in the house.
Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking
Lord, when I place myself in Daniel's shoes I wonder how I would have reacted. Knowing me, I would have rationalised each situation and looked for a 'both/and' rather than the 'either/or' option.
I find the example of Daniel inspiring. It's good to have a hero figure even though I'm not very heroic myself. I feel the let-down of knowing I don't perform consistently as a Christian. When I do manage to stand up or stand firm for you, I end up seeming stand-offish and pompous. That only makes things worse. I begin to feel that lifelong loyalty to you is an impossible dream. How can I ever imagine that I will be able to look back at the end of the journey and feel satisfied?
Save me from being depressed about yesterday’s lapses. Reassure me of your forgiveness and acceptance. Make me wiser today. Help me to see the way through, which will bring honour to you.
Teach me that the only step I should be concerned about is the next step.
Help me to wake up each day with a heartfelt gratitude for your many mercies and a deep desire to please you above all others.
Grow courtesy, warmth and gentleness in me so that unnecessary confrontation can be avoided. But, when it's clear that fidelity to you demands a dangerous, unpopular or embarrassing path, help me to tread it with gracious courage.
Go forward in the sure knowledge that such qualities as faithfulness, patience and self-control are gifts of the Holy Spirit. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. Keep running; do not lose heart Amen.
Still Waters, Deep Waters ed. By Rowland Croucher pp. 179-185