Be Still…

Many Christians look around at the social and political landscape with a deep anxiety towards what the future holds. Different issues cling to our psyche like pursuers we can’t gain distance from. Morality, liberty, church, money, the way in which we view these things is changing. What’s worse is we are often guilty of feeding that worry, of staying exposed to it, trapped in an echo chamber of our own making  until we believe the sky is falling. It does us good to step back and remember who is in charge.

You have to wonder how terrifying the world seemed to young Daniel when Babylon marched the Israelites across Shinar into Babylonian slavery.

“In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God: which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the vessels into the treasure house of his god.” – Dan 1: 1-2

Israel, after prophetic warnings, had finally passed into judgement for not obeying God. Jeremiah chapter 34 explains how Israel did not practice their Sabbath days or years, and were to spend between 606BC and  536 BC as slaves to the Babylonian and Persian empire. It was exactly 70 years before Daniel and his countrymen were allowed to start rebuilding Jerusalem, the bulk of his life in fact. Permission was given by the Persians to rebuild the temple, but never again, until May of 1948, were the Jewish people not ruled over by others. They had lost their independence.

But what came from this slavery, this providential lowering of protection for Israel. First consider the precision of judgement. God’s people had abandoned the Sabbath year for precisely 490 years before enslavement. Every seventh year being a Sabbath year, meant the Israelites were being judged for disobedience in regards to exactly 70 of those years (490 / 7 = 70). The exact amount of years they were under captivity! Much too perfect to be coincidence, true historical data such as this continues to make the word of God unique, and remarkable.  Precisely 70 years were paid back to God; and during those 70 years it was prophesied not only the empires to follow and continue to rule over the Israeli people, but also the 490 year prophecy pertaining to God’s plan for them. A precise starting point was given, and an exact time of the messiah was shared with Daniel, and in turn, with the world.

The bible was edified beyond comprehension through this tumult, proving to be prophetically accurate, highlighting God’s precise righteous judgement, and promising a time of grace and salvation, all within, and around, and in the midst of human debauchery. You see, it is within the framework of human behavior that this historical narrative plays out, and does so according to the sovereign will of God. What seems like abandonment, unfairness, tragedy, when examined from a historical perspective, falls in line perfectly with what God is doing. Make no mistake, grace and judgement are, and have always been, linked. We like to celebrate God’s love, but tend to deny deserving God’s judgement, and the sacrifice necessary to bestow undeserved grace. In Eden, sin was covered, and the animals shed blood to cover it; during the flood, Noah and his family were spared, the continuously evil world judged; at the exodus, Jews were shown grace, while Egypt was judged righteously; at the cross, the world was loved, while blood was shed. It has always been.

A true study of Daniel is mind-blowing, but the greatest lesson from its pages is the comfort of knowing who is in control, even when hardships fall. That trek across the Shinar valley, each step adding distance between each prisoner’s home and holy places, while the Babylonians defiled everything sacred, how could one be asked to trust in God. It must have seemed hopeless. But even then, we can look back at a perfect mosaic woven by God’s hand, and see a plan unfold that was implemented beyond our understanding, and outside of our time.

What does this mean for you? It means that God’s plan far exceeds your understanding,  even your life, and furthermore, He does not owe you explanation before accomplishing His will. What He demands instead is trust. The kind of trust Daniel personified, despite circumstance, despite slavery, despite even death if need be. But this trust does not go unrewarded. In return for your trust, you receive that precious grace you don’t deserve, and it is stamped with the same assurances as the prophecies given to Daniel, which unfolded with supernatural accuracy.

So when we view the landscape of our times, do so with the wisdom that comes with hanging hope on the promises of God. He has asked for your trust, and has bought you with His own blood. For consideration:

When the earth and all its people quake, it is I who hold its pillars firm. – Psalms 75:3

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. – Philippians 4:6

Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. – Psalms 46:10

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. – Proverbs 3:5

(Jesus) Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. – John 14:27

 

 

 

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Apocalypto, Fear, and 2 Timothy

Flint Sky: Those people in the forest, what did you see on them?

Jaguar Paw: I do not understand.

Flint Sky: Fear. Deep rotting fear. They were infected by it. Did you see? Fear is a sickness. It will crawl into the soul of anyone who engages it. It has tainted your peace already. I did not raise you to see you live with fear. Strike it from your heart. Do not bring it into our village.

I was watching Apocalypto, Mel Gibson’s Mayan adaptation from 2006, and noticed a bit of dialogue that struck a spiritual chord. Flint Sky stood unafraid, and proud, as fearful families of a ravaged village passed by on a hunt. But he picked up on how badly his son was affected by the chance meeting. Like an evil omen, it hung about Jaguar Paw like a wet blanket. And of course, why wouldn’t it? Jaguar Paw, we come to find, has much to worry about. He has a son, a wife, another child on the way, and with danger close, all that matters to him could be in jeopardy. But did his father not incur the same risk? Or even more so, seeing as how his standing in the village, and breadth of his family and influence was even greater? Had he not enjoyed a lasting peace for longer, and come to depend for more years on what had always been?

The viewer is forced to wonder why the father’s experience, or personality, has provided him a stoic surety, that the son yet lacked. Now of course, the Mayans had their own thoughts regarding gods, and afterlife, and I would not wish to compare the belief with Christianity at this time, but it was clear from the context of the film that for whatever reason, there was something  Flint Sky believed in regards to himself that allowed him to face the day with power, despite what may come. There was something that couldn’t be taken away, or even threatened, whether by hunger, or loss, or death itself. He had decided long ago that worry would not steal his joy, or determine his actions. It is in this way that God has called Christians to live for Him.

Consider this verse:

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7

Many are familiar with it, but Flint Sky, the face of a father as he taught his son to not be afraid really brought it home. It became less of a bumper sticker, and more of a decision. This man was choosing to live, as we should, strong and courageous before the dangers of the world. No where in the word does it promise wealth, or merriment, or lack of tumult. On the contrary, what is promised is refinement, tribulations, persecutions. We look around with our spiritual eyes open and see moral corruption, materialism, leaders who have forsaken righteousness for angles towards money, and power. We see the slaughter of innocents for the sake of convenience, or misplaced self-importance. And amidst it all we are called to walk unafraid. If we become poor, or threatened, or jailed, we do so with power. And we teach our families to that end.

Bravely face what is to come; stare back at fear with the armor of God, and do not let it into your home, into your village. Do not let it taint your peace, for your savior has conquered death.

But you must ask, what comes next… to go, therefore, and do what…?

Verse 8-10 says:

 Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God; Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel

So, despite the fearful  citizens that walk past your hunting party, despite the marauders creeping towards the perimeter of the village, despite the world leering at you with agitated eyes, out to convert your thinking or destroy you and your influence; and even when your throat is threatened by your enemy’s obsidian dagger, you can stand tall without fear, honest in your gaze as you tell your family, do not be afraid. Do not bring it into your home. As for you and your house, you serve the Lord, the creator of all things, who conquered death, and who asks you to call Him father. What could possibly scare you?