Every time I’m down here in California, I’m surprised by how much the temperatures fluctuate from day to night. While it is supposed to top out at around eighty degrees by later in the day, right now I’m just about shivering sitting here in the shade. I suppose it must be the humidity that helps moderate the temperatures in the climate I am accustomed to. Either way, it’s pretty chilly right now!
This morning Mark Dever took the pulpit to bring us a message on the book of Daniel. He began by discussing the indigenous threats to our public ministries, threats to our liberties, threats to the free practice of the faith. He spoke of the entrenched secularism of the elites that dismiss the validity of Christianity and the exhausting reality of our addiction to comfort. We live in a culture where condemnation of homosexuality is seen as incitement against homosexuals. Statements denying the truth of other religions are soon to be classified as illegal. Christians, who have long dominated the scene in this nation, are facing the prospect of living in a world that does not give us freedom to state our affirmations and denials. So what do we do at times when we are under pressure as Christians and as Christian pastors when we are told it is illegal to say another religion is false or that homosexuality is wrong?
Of course there are many places in the world where these fears are already realized. Should our lot here in North America become like the lot of Christians around the world, what should we do? To answer this question, he first led us on a brief journey through the first few chapters of Daniel, showing God’s sovereignty through the story. After discussing the typical Sunday School understanding of Daniel as a book pointing to the importance of standing for what we believe, he explained the story differently. The book is primarily an example of what God does with the faithful. The point of the book is that God causes His faithful to survive and in this time and this culture, this is a message pastors need to hear.
He framed the message around briefly exposing three myths (or that’s what he said, but he also provided three anti-myths or three affirmations):
1 – God is our only hope. Daniel exposes the myth of the Godless world. This book shows that all Christians have hope in God. We stand at the mercy of no election, no legislation for God is the Sovereign of this world. His kind faithfulness is the reason for Daniel’s survival and influence. The central feature of this book is not Daniel’s faithfulness as wonderful as that is. Rather, the central feature is God’s faithfulness and this is what we are pointed to again and again throughout the book. To provide one example, we see that temporal power is unmasked in the story of the fiery furnace. At this time where he tries to show his power, He finds out who the true Ruler of the earth is. Nebuchadnezzar has now seen God reveal in his dream and save in the furnace. Later in his life he is once again proud of his power and proud of his reign. When he was made to be like an animal, he learned about the power and sovereignty of God.
Interestingly, at this point Dever broke to provide an evangelistic message. While this may have seemed unusual at a pastor’s conference, the sad truth is that there are unconverted men in the pulpits and Dever felt it wise to call all men to repentance–even pastors.
Returning to Daniel, he sad that the message of these passages in Daniel is to deconstruct the hopes of the people you preach to. Liberate them from lies by your preaching. Take on the errors of pride and the proud human heart and expose their folly. Serve your people by emancipating them from error. The message of these chapters is that God is our only hope.
2 – You can survive. These chapters expose the myth of the hopeless world. Daniel is to be an inspiration for the hope that we need. It is amazing that he survived for as long as he did in a time of absolute monarchs and sending people to death on a whim. From his story we can learn that there are no worldly circumstances you can face that should drain your life dry. Let us labor to keep our hope in the gospel and evacuate our hopes from wherever else they may be. Our hope must be in the gospel.
3 – You will face opposition. The book of Daniel exposes the myth of the moral world. The world at its best rewards righteousness and punishes godlessness but this rarely happens. I want to say to you. “Pastor, wake up. You will face opposition.” We don’t often hear this in the church today. Many preachers today are like used car salesmen, pointing out the good points and covering up the bad, but this is nothing like the preaching of Jesus and the Apostles. Dever showed also that righteousness is no guarantee of avoiding trials. The call of pastors today, he said, is to tar the ark before the flood of God’s judgment comes upon the world. You must teach your people about the Fall and the implications of the Fall in our lives. Some pastors spend much of their lives trying to avoid trials as if they can some how head off the effects of the Fall. Yet according to Scripture, the day we don’t suffer for Christ is the odd day. Our lot is not to escape pain and suffering but to walk through the thorns and learn then about the depths of God’s love.
The fact is that a commitment to God’s glory above our own will normally bring suffering in this world. The exhortation to pastors in all of this is this: Let your expectations for your ministry be set by what God promises in His Word. He promises trials. And how does a Christian prepare to face trials? He must grow in his love for Christ. We must prepare for prison now and set realistic expectations, knowing that the righteous often suffer cruely.
This was an urgent message and one that seemed to ring true with the pastors in attendance. In an are of relative prosperity, an era and culture in which pastors to not typically suffer, it is important to realize that this is the exception rather than the rule. Realistically pastors must expect to suffer and thus they must prepare to suffer.
And since we’re on the subject of Mark Dever, here is a picture I nabbed from yesterday’s candids. I believe at this point Mark was telling me exactly what he believes concerning eschatology. But I can’t tell you what he believes or I’d have to kill you.