Friday, March 09, 2007

Shepherds' Conference Journal - Dr. Mark Dever

I have several more keynotes and seminars to enter here (and as I write this, I am sitting in TeamPyro leader Phil Johnson's seminar on Calvinism and Arminian assumptions). However, I wanted to post these notes on the keynote by Dr. Mark Dever this morning, because I think it's perhaps the most important one delivered thus far for American pastors and church leaders. In fact, one of his closing statements led off with this question..."How do you prepare for prison?" Mark's message was on the changing cultural climate in America in terms of its tolerance of Christianity, and how we as pastors/leaders/teachers need to deal with it. How to deal with hard times and even persecution. Quite honestly, many of us are not prepared for it.

We are now in a culture that is increasingly hostile to Christianity. As a society - even as Christians - we are addicted to comfort. We are facing coming legal intolerance of Christian positions on morality, as they view it as "hate speech" and disruptive to society. What do we do under pressure? What will we do when speaking out against homosexuality or other moral sins is criminalized? What happens when we confront false religions and cults? Calling them "false" is considered evil in this new mindset. It's not tolerance.

As his example of facing tough times, Dr. Dever used the example of the Old Testament major prophet, Daniel. And he took a bit of a different tack than most in approaching this very important book. On the street when Nebuchadnezzar's invasion of Israel happened, the appearance was that the God of the Jews seemed defeated. His people were led off in chains. But that wasn't what happened at all. The God of Judah had arranged for what happened. It was part of his plan. Daniel was there in Babylon for almost 70 years, and not only did God protect Daniel, but God also prospered Daniel. He survived several rulers and empires, and God used him mightily. The key for Daniel is not so much Daniel's example..but what GOD did through Daniel and His faithful people. Daniel's faith is a great example and great application, but there is more going on there. God causes his faithful to survive in the most ultimate sense. Mark then exposed several myths of the world we live in. Myths that have always been there.

1. God is our only hope. The myth believed by the world is that the world is godless. There is no higher authority other than man himself. Nihilism is the worst extreme. But as God demonstrated through Nebuchadnezzar, He and He alone is sovereign in His creation. We are not at the mercy of legislation, court rulings or absolute human rulers. The fiery furnace was the worst that Nebuchadnezzar could do to Daniel and his friends, but God the Son was seen walking in the midst of the flames, and Daniel etc. left the furnace unsinged. Nebuchadnezzar learned this but quickly forgot the lesson. It took seven years of eating grass for it to finally sink in. Daniel's testimony was that God is able to save..but EVEN IF HE DOESN'T..we will still not bow before your false gods. Again, pride is the ultimate human failing. God hates it and will deal with it - harshly if need be. We need as teachers and pastors to deconstruct the false hopes of our hearers no matter what they are. Emancipate them from error. God alone is what our hope should be in, not our possessions, our "freedoms" in America etc.

(As an aside, Mark then did something most of us would never expect at a pastors' conference. He directly challenged any pastors who were present to examine their own standing in the faith, recognizing that there are pastors out there who aren't even saved. Mark Dever then gave the Gospel, and urged any unsaved pastor in the audience to repent and be saved. WOW! I respect him immensely for doing this. He went on to compare some pastors' attitude with that of Nebuchadnezzar, proud in their power and huge followings. God can bring proud pastors to their knees also)

2. You can survive in persecution. Myth of the world - the world is hopeless. Not true as God is in charge and our hope is only in Him. Look how many kings Daniel survived. Belteshazzar (sp) fell that very night after Daniel refused his offered rewards for interpreting the king's vision. Darius of the Medes and Persians took over, and Daniel went on to leadership under him - survived the lions' den and prospered. Darius recognized God's hand on Daniel. (Sola's aside..note how the king's underlings used Darius' pride in the decree they hoped would bring Daniel down. Darius fell for it, but quickly recognized what they were up to and told Daniel, "Your God will bring you safely through." Darius fasted all night and Daniel indeed survived. The opponents ended up as lunch for the lions.

3. You will face opposition in this world. The myth - the "moral" world. The world is an enemy of God. Believers facing opposition is a normal state in this world. Don't be deceived by our American experience of freedom. It's the exception and not the rule. WAKE UP evangelicals! Our situation here in America could change more quickly than we know it. And if it does, how many - even some pastors - will remain true to their faith because their faith was misplaced in a "Christian America?" We need to get over our nostalgia for "Christian America" and get biblical in our thinking. Our material blessing has crippled us in many ways. Foreign pastors are often bemused by our naivete about persecution and oppression. We need to look at the suffering that goes on around us, even what appears to be mundane suffering. All of it is an opportunity to give God glory in the midst of it.

It was here that Mark's challenge about getting ready for prison came in. It was sobering. His answer..fall in love with Jesus and follow His example. Grow in love for Christ. As we love Him more, that becomes the most precious thing in our lives and something that lasts when we have lost everything else. We need to be living testimonies to those around us, especially if the world and/or country we have known falls apart around us. Praise God for this very timely exhortation.

More later.

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