April 21, 2014

Overcoming Obstacles-Peter and Judas

We are in a message series looking at some common obstacles that get in the way and keep us from being what God has called us to be.  We are doing this by looking at the lives of some of the people the Bible’s. 

One of the biggest obstacles you and I will face in our lives is How do we handle, how do we recover from failure? Whether our failure is the result of our sin, a mistakes, or it is just things not ending the way want…failure is not easy. But as Mythbusters says, “Failure is always an option!” 

Failure is a part of life…we are not going to succeed at everything. In fact, some of our greatest lessons can be learned because we fail.

One writer simply says, “If you aren’t making mistakes, then you aren’t doing anything!” 

To try, to push forward, to attempt something new, to accomplish a difficult goal…all will have failure along the way. And since failure is going to happen…we must be prepared for it when it does. We have to know how to handle it. We have o prepare ourselves psychologically.

One of my favorite quotes is from Theodore Roosevelt. He says, “It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows achievement and who at the worst if he fails at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat." 

During this time of year two men serve as prime examples of failure…Peter…he constantly stuck his foot in his mouth…said the wrong thing…pulled his sword and almost started a war… but those were nothing compared to what happened the night Jesus was arrested. Three times Peter denies even knowing the man whom he had followed and professed just a few hours earlier to defend to the death.

The other man hung in the shadows for most of Jesus’ ministry. His name is synonymous with traitor. For a few silver coins, the price of a slave sold at market, Judas Iscariot betrays Jesus into the hands of the authorities who will push for his execution. 

Both these men’s stories intertwine in the pages of Matthew 26 and 27. Each failed deeply, but it is how they handled their failure that made all the difference in the outcome…

Let’s start with Judas…

Matthew 26:14-16, 
“Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.”
Matthew 26:47-50, 
“While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.
Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.”
Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him.
Matthew 27:1-5
Very early in the morning the leading priests and the elders of the people met again to lay plans for putting Jesus to death. Then they bound him, led him away, and took him to Pilate, the Roman governor.
When Judas, who had betrayed him, realized that Jesus had been condemned to die, he was filled with remorse. So he took the thirty pieces of silver back to the leading priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he declared, “for I have betrayed an innocent man.”
“What do we care?” they retorted. “That’s your problem.”
Then Judas threw the silver coins down in the Temple and went out and hanged himself.
No one is sure why Judas did what he did. He wasn’t an honest person, as John tells us, he was the treasurer but helped himself to the money that was supposed to help the poor. But here in Mathew we see a man who is trying to force Jesus’ hand…he is looking to push Jesus into taking a stand, declaring war on the Roman Empire, call everyone to arms, and become the Kingly Messiah that would make Israel free from its oppressors.

But when Judas saw his plan backfire…he was overcome with grief. His purpose was not to see Jesus crucified…this was not what he wanted to happen…

The grief and pain of his failure and sin was overwhelming, and like so many even today, he saw suicide as his only escape. He couldn’t see a way out of the pain…It drove him to hopelessness…he couldn’t see forgiveness of any kind…what he had done was not unforgivable…His failure literally became fatal.

Peter’s failure was just as bad in many ways. I think that is why the writer of Matthew links the stories in these two chapters…Peter then Judas then Peter then Judas. They both fail the man they have been following and calling their teacher, and rabbi.

Matthew 26:69-75
Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said.
But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. 
Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.”
He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!” 
After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.” 
Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!”
Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.
Peter also knew he had failed. Just a few hours earlier, Jesus told him, ““This very night you will all fall away on account of me…” and Peter swore he would never turn on Jesus! “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”
And now…with the actual possibility that he too could be killed just for being with Jesus…Peter moves into self-protective mode. Deny, Deny, Deny…I don’t know this man. I don’t know Jesus!

Peter was known for sticking his foot in his mouth and making bold claims, but I wouldn’t have predicted this…

Just as a side note: one of things that helps me see the biblical account as having integrity is stuff like this…Peter goes on to be one of the key foundational leaders of the Early Church and they are more than willing to air the dirty laundry of his failure.  

For some reason Peter held on…his story doesn’t end the way Judas’ story ends.

Following the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Gospel of John gives us this amazing story about Jesus and Peter…

John 21:15-19
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” 
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 

Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

So often on Easter Sunday morning Pastors give a long list of reasons as to why the resurrection is true…why it should be believed…And there are some great resources that do that…Lee Strobel…William Lane Craig…But this morning I don’t want us to focus on the proofs and evidence demonstrating that a resurrection took place. I want you to know that Peter’s end is possible for us because a resurrection did take place. Judas’ story could have ended the same way I believe…

The reason our failures and sin do not have to end the way Judas’ ended is because of the power of the resurrection. Our failure, our mistakes, our sins…can turn to hopelessness if we do not understand the power that Jesus’ resurrection offers us.

You know the cross itself looked like a failure. The failure of a man to bring change to the world. The failure of Jesus to be the Messiah everyone hoped he would be. A man put to death in the most brutal way the Roman Empire knew how. Jesus’ life and ministry ended with a crucifixion…with failure.

But that “failure” was turned to victory in the resurrection.

Ephesians 1:19-20 (NLT), 
“I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.”
It is easy for us to focus on our failure...to see all the ways we fall short, the ways we have sinned, the ways we have screwed up...but the resurrection reminds us that even death does not end in defeat. The worst possible thing that could happen to us is not the worst possible thing. 

Even more is the resurrection is not just a reminder that we get to spend all this time with God after we die...the resurrection offers us power to live fully in today...here and now…it calls us and empowers us to make a difference in our world

When we look at this story of Peter and Jesus we discover

We are offered forgiveness.
No matter how bad the offense…no matter how bad the sin…so matter how far away from God we feel we are offered forgiveness. His love for us is beyond measure…So often we get this view of an angry God who doesn’t want to heal, but sends Jesus to the Cross to take our punishment.  That is not the picture offered at all. Jesus reveals the heart of God and that is a heart of forgiveness.

Three times Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Many believe that each one reflects the 3 acts of Peter’s denial, and in each one…Jesus is offering forgiveness!

I found this clip and knew I needed to show it…watch the power of forgiveness in action…

Our sin and failure is like a noose around our necks… a death sentence…but Jesus steps up and offers to remove the noose from our neck and give us this life-giving forgiveness.

And when Jesus offers us forgiveness

We are offered a future.
After Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” He then told Peter, “Feed my sheep.” 

This isn’t a promise that we will never fail again…that from now on we will get everything right…No…Jesus says once we receive forgiveness he wants to give us meaning and purpose by giving us a responsibility. 

For Peter it meant leading the Early Church. He became its first pastor. 

When God forgives us He also calls us…he has a purpose…a responsibility for each and everyone of us. He knows we will falter and fail…there will be times when we have to resist sin and ask forgiveness for our sins, but Jesus says, “Follow me!” 

That is what makes all the difference…the direction of our movement…Do we get up when we fall down? Do we keep following Jesus when we get back up?

When you fail do you lay there and wallow in how bad you performed? Do think about all the ways you SHOULD have done better? COULD have done better? 

The offer of Forgiveness and a Future says it doesn’t matter what you should have done and could have done…from now on Follow Me! 

I have failed at a lot of things in my life. I have made some bad mistakes. Some of my failures were caused by bad decisions. Others were the results of deliberate sins I committed. Some were just the fact that things did not turn out the way I wanted.

The resurrection reminds us that our failures…whether in spiritual lives or in any other area of life…our failures do not have to have the last word.

It is easy in our culture to ignore the spiritual side of our lives…but how bad it must be to get to the end of this whole thing and realize we have neglected…we have failed…to recognize the most important aspect of our existence. 

Jesus’ resurrection tells us that not only can we be forgiven and have a relationship with God, but you and I have a calling and purpose in life that is bigger than just having a good job and a nice family.

Overcoming Obstacles-Jesus

This morning we are starting a new message series called Overcoming Obstacles. We are going to be looking at some major Bible characters and the obstacles they overcame. Everyone of us faces obstacles throughout our lives…the challenge is to face them and overcome them. We learn through our own trial and error, but we can also learn by looking at the lives and examples of others.

This morning, being Palm Sunday and all, I thought I would start with Jesus. It might be hard for some of us to think of Jesus as having overcome any obstacle…he was God, wasn’t he? As God he should have been able to simply side step any challenges. But being fully human Jesus was subject to the same challenges and difficulties you and I face on a daily basis. The biggest of which was dealing with the expectations of others.

You and I face expectations all the time. We have expectations for ourselves and nearly every area of the world we enter has expectations for us…

There are expectations of law…it is expected that you won’t speed through a school zone…it is expected you won’t run red lights or drive away from an accident.

Your boss has expectations for you…that you will show up on time ready to work…that you will be honest about your hours…that you will work hard.

Your family has expectations that you provide for them…that you will love them.

When Bri was little, her pediatrician did all the standard weight and measurement things doctors are supposed to do. We were told Bri was normal weight and healthy, but she was above average in height and verbal skills. The doctor then warned us this could cause problem we needed to watch out for. Because she was taller and spoke more clearly teachers and other adults would automatically assume she was older and lay expectations on her she would be unable to fulfill because of her age and development.

Luckily Bri was just a brilliant child who never did anything wrong…

We all face expectations. But sometimes those expectations can become a burden…these are the expectations that no matter how hard you try…you just can’t live up to, and so they weight us down. And if you add in the weight of others failing to meet the expectations we have of them…we can enter this horrible cycle of disappointment that never seems to end.

And Jesus offers us some great insight into this area of expectation. See, Jesus failed to meet a lot of the expectations laid on him, and He failed to do so on purpose…

Jesus was not the Messiah people expected.
Today, Palm Sunday, really represents a day of broken expectations…
Mark 11:7-11 tells us 
When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,“Hosanna!”“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.
As Jesus enters Jerusalem, the people are shouting and cheering, they are welcoming a prophet who just might be the expected Messiah…and yet by the end of the week…they turn him over to the occupying Roman government and hang him from a cross.

I used to ask, “What could cause them to make such a dramatic shift?” Now, I know…Jesus didn’t meet their expectations….and nothing brings out the worst in someone than when their expectation are not met.

The Jewish people expected a Messiah to ride in on a white horse, vindicate all their suffering, and lead them to overthrow their Roman rulers…Jesus, however, rides in on a donkey, talks about another Kingdom, heals and feeds and cares for the poor and the hurting…but does nothing about the Romans. He isn’t talking about overthrow…he talks about loving your neighbor…he talks about turning the other cheek…this isn’t the Messiah they expected, and when those expectations aren’t fulfilled they want to crucify him. 

But they weren’t the only ones who felt betrayed by Jesus not fulfilling expectations…

Jesus was not the Messiah the Pharisees expected either.
If this man was going to be the Messiah, much less a prophet, the religious leaders of the day had some expectations. They expected him to conduct himself in a way that represented the Jewish faith well. They expected to be treated with respect. They expected him to socialize with the right kind of people. If you are a religious person you do certain things…and Jesus didn’t live up to their expectations.

Luke 15:1-2 says, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.””

Jesus was expected to hang around with certain kinds of people…and he hung around with tax collectors and sinners. They were appalled that he would eat with these men and women who willfully sinned against God! 

The Pharisees knew their people had suffered much…been exiled…all because they had turned from God and committed sin. Now, this man who claimed to be a prophet and possibly even the Messiah was eating with the very people who caused God’s judgment to fall on them in the past.

In Matthew 12 Jesus has the audacity to heal a man…on the Sabbath! 

Matthew 12:11-14 says,
“He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.”
Breaking the Sabbath was a serious offense. The OT Testament warns against those who break the sabbath…they even stoned a man for gathering wood for a fire. It is one of the 10 Commandments. “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy!” And here Jesus is doing “work” on the sabbath. 

Again…Jesus does not live up to the expectations they have for him because any real prophet would live according to the commandments!

But let’s make this a little more personal…

Jesus was not the Messiah His disciples expected.
All those following Jesus had their expectations of who Jesus would be, what he would do, and how things were going to go…and He failed to meet those expectations too…

In John 6:26-27, Jesus feeds more than 5,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 small fish. When the people realize Jesus has slipped away they go looking for him, and Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” 

They wanted him to be a miracle-worker! Best food program and medical offered by anyone! And Jesus refused to be the monkey dancing to their music…

It might be expected of the followers at large, but you would think those closest to him would be better informed and more understanding, but they weren’t. 

John the Baptist, who baptized Jesus and announced his arrival, had failed expectations.
Matthew 11:2-3 says, “When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Some see this as depression brought on by his time in prison, and that may be part of it. But I think it was blown expectations. John, the fiery preacher who dressed like an OT prophet and called people to repent of their sins, expected Jesus to bring the pain to the sinners…and Jesus was offering grace and forgiveness. John was looking for something else.

Even members of the 12, felt it too. I believe the primary reason Judas betrayed Jesus is because Jesus was supposed to bring a Kingdom, destroy the Romans, and set up the disciples as His leaders…and Jesus wasn’t doing that. So Judas, a man always looking for an opportunity felt it. He betrayed Jesus and handed him over to be killed because Jesus wasn’t living up to his expectations. 

Even after the resurrection and all they had seen…they still didn’t get it. Jesus is about to ascend into the heavenly realm and Acts 1:6 says, “Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

They had expectations and Jesus wasn’t meeting them.

There were all these expectations swirling around Jesus on a regular basis and He refused to succumb to them…

We too have expectations of Jesus…and he refuses to be held to some of those expectations.

Jesus failed to live up to the expectations…he refused to live up to those expectations because

Jesus knew who he was made to be…
At Jesus’ baptism it says, Matthew 3:16-17, “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 

Jesus knew God had a purpose for him and that he was loved by God. There may have been times he didn’t feel that love or closeness, but Jesus trusted in God’s purpose and love for Him, and that enabled him to push through the expectations others tried to lay on him.

For us this holds true as well.  Simply knowing God’s purpose for us and knowing He loves us can help us overcome an abundance of bad expectations. We are not looking to please other people…we are not looking to be meet their expectations. 

God has a purpose for you and you are loved beyond anything another human being can offer. I believe God says the same thing over us as He said about Jesus…This is my child, whom I love; and I am well pleased!”

This doesn’t mean there aren’t times when we are hurt by the expectations of others. We have all lost friendships and been hurt by family members and others at our church and at our work because of a failure to live up to expectations…we have all been there and will face them over and over again in our lives.

The challenge is to recognize them as faulty expectations and live whole-heartedly for the one who really matters.

Everyday I make a choice will I live up to the expectations others have of me or the ones God has for me…I don’t always do this well. Everyday I make the choice to allow the expectation based love others have for me dictate my actions or recognize that God loves me without condition…there are expectations He has for me, but they are they expectations based on a deep understanding of who I am and an infinite love fro me.

So often we live our lives trying to live up to the expectations of others…expecting others to live up to our expectations…and when people fail to live up to expectation then anger and frustration erupt.

We expect someone to act a certain way and they don’t so we get angry. They expect us to behave a certain way, and we don’t so they get angry. 

We even get angry when we fail to live up to our own expectations for ourselves. On Wednesday I watched as several of the kids in my class played basketball at lunch. One kid, who doesn’t shoot well, kept expecting himself to make these long shots from behind the 3-point line…and when he didn’t make them he got more and more frustrated. I could see him getting angry with himself for missing them even though there was no reason for him to expect that because he has never been a good shooter and especially not from that far away.

It isn’t that we should do away with expectations though…just that we should have a healthy view of them. 

Steve Jobs once said,
“Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything - all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”

I believe the same thing is true when we realize that God’s opinion is the one that matters…our identity is based in Him and not what others think…and our greatest sources of love comes from Him. When these are in order then we are able to appropriately manage the good and bad expectations of others and of ourself. 

It isn’t the expectations that are the problem…we all have expectations…the problem is when those expectations make us feel like less, make us fell less loved…and they are not expectations we are equipped to meet or called to live up to.

This morning you might be struggling with the obstacle of expectation. Others have laid expectations on you and you cannot possibly meet…maybe you have laid some expectations on others and there is no way they could possibly meet them. And today you need freedom from those expectations…

October 1, 2013

Daniel 4

We have been working our way through the book of Daniel. We have been looking through the lens of how we, as people of God, can influence the world around us and draw them closer to God. Just like the Israelites, we are called to be a missionary people. As Jesus told the disciples, Matthew 28:18-19, ““All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Our commission, like the disciples and the Israelites, is to reach the world around us with the love and forgiveness offered by Jesus Christ. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego give us great insight into how to reach our culture and make difference for the Kingdom of God. We see three young men who maintained their integrity, lived lives of holiness, refused to literally bow their beliefs to appease those around them, but were humble, respectful, and concerned about those around them...and in the process helped the ruler of the greatest empire of its time find God.It was their attitude and approach that led King Nebuchadnezzar to greater and greater recognition that Yahweh God was the Lord of All.

Let’s review for just a moment:
Chapter 1 starts out with Nebuchadnezzar destroying Yahweh’s capital city and ransacking His temple. He had no respect for this God because, in his eyes, Yahweh could not protect His own people or His own temple. But by the end of chapter 1, Nebuchadnezzar found these young men superior to everyone else, and they did that because they were obedient to their God. Not in a pushy or public way...just obedient. Daniel 1:19-20 says, “The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.” It starts with us doing our jobs, doing them well, and people liking us.

In Chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar has a dream that troubles him, but wants to know his advisors and spiritual leaders are not just blowing smoke. So he wants them to both tell him the dream and interpret it. They can’t do it. So they remind Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel 2:10-11, “There is no one on earth who can do what the king asks! No king, however great and mighty, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or astrologer. What the king asks is too difficult. No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among humans.”

So Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego pray, and God uses Daniel’s spiritual gifts to do something great! Daniel stands before Nebuchadnezzar and declares, Daniel 2:27-28, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries.” By using the gifts and abilities and position God had given him, Daniel was able to help the King take one step closer to Yahweh.

Daniel 2:46-47 says, “Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him. The king said to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.”

Daniel 3 tells how Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego faced certain death because they refused to bow before the idols placed before them. Because of their integrity and their trust that God would work everything out for His glory...even if He didn’t rescue them from the fire...Nebuchadnezzar took another step closer to Yahweh God.

In Daniel 3:28-29 Nebuchadnezzar says, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.”

We see that Nebuchadnezzar has moved from a complete lack of knowledge to liking some of God’s servants...to acknowledge God’s reality...to praising Him...and now, in Chapter 4 his spiritual journey continues.

Nebuchadnezzar himself is writing this chapter of Daniel...the only non-Jewish male to write a anything included in the Bible...and he shares his testimony.

Read Daniel 4

Looking at these 4 chapters from Daniel it becomes very clear that

God’s uses us to reach others.
So often we want the church to reach the lost. We want others to speak up. We want others to take the initiative in spiritual discussions...but God wants us to do it. He places us in the position He does so we can make a difference for the Kingdom...so others can be drawn closer to Him because of their relationship with us.

Each step of the way God used Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to reach and influence those around them. Here, again, in Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar has a God-given dream that no one can interpret for him, and God uses Daniel. He has placed Daniel in this situation for a reason. Daniel would not have chosen this life. He would much rather have been safe and secure in Jerusalem, with his own people, and worshipping in the Yahweh’s temple...but he couldn’t be because God had placed him here in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. Because of that Nebuchadnezzar was taking one step after another closer to worshipping God.

Maybe you chose that neighborhood because of the nice house and good schools, but God places you there because He wants you to be an influence for the Kingdom of God. There are neighbors who need a relationship with Him, and He places us in our neighborhoods so He can speak into their lives through us.

Maybe you would choose a different family if you could, but God wants to use you to reach those closest to you and draw them closer to Him. For those of us who are parents, that starts with our spouse and our children. In Daniel 5 we will see that Nebuchadnezzar, though he drew closer to God himself, did not help his son Belshazzar draw closer to God. But we have parents, in-laws, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews who need to know God, and we have been placed where we are to help influence the Kingdom of God in their lives.

You accepted that job because they offered it to you and you needed the money. Or you made the change because it was in the best interest of your career trajectory. But God places you there so you can work hard, with integrity, and be a positive influence for the Kingdom of God. You have coworkers who need the power of God’s Kingdom in their lives...they are searching for God, and you are the one God has placed in their path.

One of the biggest hurdles that we have to overcome in our faith journey is that God want to use us...that we are His only plan for reaching this world. God promises to act and work...we have to be willing to step up and do our part. There are millions of people who are headed straight to hell, and it is given to us to be the messenger of God’s love and salvation to them.

We can’t change their hearts. We can’t force them to accept. God’s Holy Spirit will do the internal work, but we are to be the voice, the offer, the loving embrace and kind act that helps them move one step closer to God.

We reach them with our gifts
You know Billy Graham has an amazing gift of evangelism...I’m no Billy Graham.

Mother Theresa had an amazing gift of compassion and empathy...I’m no Mother Theresa.

And yet, just because I can’t be Billy Graham or Mother Theresa doesn’t mean I am excused from the act of evangelism or the act of compassion...it simply means that I must do what I can do. I am not called to be either of those two, and neither are you. We are called to use the gifts we have been given to do what we can do.

Daniel had the gift of interpreting dreams. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, as far as we know, did not...and yet God used all of them to help change the spiritual life of King Nebuchadnezzar. Each one of us have talents, abilities, and spiritual gifts that God has given us so we can expand and influence for His Kingdom.

1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, 1 Peter 4 and Ephesians 4 all give us a glimpse into some of the spiritual gifts God gives us to expand and influence for His Kingdom. We all have one or more gifts. And we all have a responsibility to use them to further the Kingdom of God.

Richard, who visited with us last week, claims he doesn’t can’t do evangelism. But every one of his neighbors know they can come grab a soda out of the refrigerator in his garage and sit and talk for hours with him on the front porch...and eventually Richard brings up his faith.

You see our gifts are meant to be used to help others take their steps closer to God. That is why God gives them to us and expects us to use them and why he places us where he does.

We reach them with love
I want you to take a look at some pictures...this is how many are being “evangelized” in our world. And unfortunately for the you and I these are the people that become the representation of what it means to be a Christian and what it means to share our faith.

Their message is so different from what the Bible says Daniel did. They are sharing the truth about the judgment and wrath of God...which will take place...but they seem to enjoy it. They seem happy that those sinners will get what is coming to them, and this reveals their deepest problem...they don’t really love those they are trying to reach.

Have you ever had to give bad news or share some blunt truth with someone you love?

It hurts. It’s hard. You have to confront someone you love very much with the truth about how their actions are affecting them and other around them...that’s not easy.

Daniel listens to the King’s dream and knows this is a prediction of judgment on Nebuchadnezzar. Listen to what is says, Daniel 4:19, “Then Daniel (also called Belteshazzar) was greatly perplexed for a time, and his thoughts terrified him. So the king said, “Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its meaning alarm you.” Belteshazzar answered, “My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries!”

Daniel had to confront the supreme ruler of the greatest empire of his time with a judgment from God. It was the truth. Nebuchadnezzar was being judged for his sins. But Daniel loved and cared for the Nebuchadnezzar. He didn’t look forward to the fulfillment of this prophecy...

And he had every right to look forward to it. Daniel saw his hometown destroyed. The temple of his God ransacked, pillaged, and desecrated. Family and friends slaughtered. He had been dragged off to a foreign land and made to serve the very king who did all of those evil things...and here he stands longing for this prophecy to apply to someone else...

I have to wrestle with that a bit. Don’t you? It has been in my thoughts for several days now, thinking about Daniel’s response to this King, his concern for this man despite all that he had done...and then comparing it to my response to others.

Daniel demonstrated compassion, kindness, and love to the man who had done so much wrong to him, his family, and his people...it should be so much easier for us to have this same approach to people in our culture whom we don’t even know...who have haven’t done anything wrong to us.

But then when you think of the family, friends, and neighbors whom we do have a relational connection with...those we do love...and yet we remain silent about our faith. We never invite them to step closer to God. We seem fine to let them find their own way. We sit by hoping that someone else will step us and say something...

And I don’t think it is because we don’t care...it is because we don’t want to be associated with the people in those pictures. But sometimes it is because it is difficult and uncomfortable to bridge that gap and bring up spiritual things.

I believe God places us where He does so we can influence others and lead them step-by-step closer to Him. That is our primary purpose in life, and we live in a city that desperately needs us to recognize our missionary calling in our families, neighborhoods and jobs. The need us to use the gifting God has given us, and do it with so much love that people can’t resist...and if they do...they at least recognize that they are loved beyond anything else.

Nebuchadnezzar ends the chapter by saying, “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”

Just think of those around us who need this in their lives! Let’s pray and work like never before to see those in our community move step-by-step closer to God.

The lost sheep...my call to ministry...why I entered church planting.

Daniel 3

Read Daniel 3

Just a few weeks after leaving Egypt, the Israelites were camped at the base of Mount Sinai. The thunder boomed and lightening flashed as the clouds swirled and shrouded the top of the mountain. Moses had fasted and prayed for 40 days in the presence of God, and was now ready to receive the 10 Words of Law handwritten by God on slabs of stone.

The Israelites were to be the people of God dedicated to worshiping God alone, and these 10 Laws were to guide them and give them all they needed to live in a hostile world.

The world around them was filled with various culture groups all with their own regional gods and idols of wood and stone. So it is now wonder that one of God’s words would prohibit his people from engaging in the idolatrous practices of the people around them.

Exodus 20:3-6, “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

One of the primary themes running through the Bible is the tension between worshiping the True God and worshiping something else...something less.

The Apostle Paul understood the first sin of Adam and Eve as an act of idolatry (Rom 1:21–25), “...they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.”

But idolatry isn’t just about worshipping images of wood and stone. It isn’t simply refusing to bend our knees in worship to in a pagan temple. The root of all our sin is in fact a battle against idolatry.

Tim Keller writes “The Bible...does not consider idolatry to be one sin among many (and a rare sin found only among primitive people). Rather, all our failures to trust God wholly or to live rightly are at root idolatry—something we make more important than God.”1

We live in one of the biggest idol worshiping cultures that has ever existed! We are challenged daily to put something...anything at the center of our lives, and when something other than God gives us meaning and purpose and direction...we have succumbed to the call of idolatry.

Idolatry means we have taken something good and useful and beneficial and giving it all of our attention, worship, and service. Anything receiving our best time and attention and energy and resources...is our idol.

Just think of all the possible idols available for us worship:
Celebrity- Respecting, honoring, and learning from someone who has accomplished good things in their life is a good thing, but we have seen the throngs of people who worship at the feet of celebrity and status. The infatuation with every move our favorite celebrity takes...

Fame, Recognition and Personal Achievement- It is not wrong to be recognized for a life of hard work...for people seeing that you have done well in your chosen profession. But we have seen people who hunger for...live for receiving recognition...for being known. It is their idol

Wealth and Power and possessions are popular idols in our culture. Earning a wage for our work and taking care of our family is a good thing. Being in leadership is not a bad thing. Owning things is not in and of itself a sin...But when we stare longingly at the bigger house and want more stuff and love to have control over not just others but every facet of our lives...

Nationalism-Supporting our country and respecting our founding fathers is a good thing. But it becomes and idol when we allow the constitution to speak more boldly in our lives and dictate our actions over and above the Bible.

Science-It is not wrong to love science and the study of our world, but science has taken on an almost religious character moving from just observing and describing our world to infusing it philosophical and religious meaning based on those observations.

Even our children and our families can become idols.

A quick way to decide if you are looking at a possible idol in your life is to ask yourself, “If I were to lose this would it devastate me beyond my ability to cope?”

This is more than just making us sad or distraught or mournful or even hurting us deeply...We are human beings that face the psychological consequences of loss. No, this is basing all our existence and life on something good that is not God.

Another way to probe this issue is to ask, “What do I fear losing the most?” Because our deepest fears reveal what we most want to hold on to in life.

In this message series we have been looking at the book of Daniel, and specifically looking at how it helps us in our witness to the world around us. And how you and I deal with our own sins and idolatry says a lot to the world around us.

We desperately need to learn the lesson of Daniel 3 and see how Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were able to stand up to idolatry at a time when their very life depended on it...With the rampant idolatry in our world...Here are some things we learn from Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as they faced down idolatry...

We build on prior practice

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were able to stand in the face of this idolatry because they refused to bend in Daniel 1. Many saw obedience to the dietary laws as just a small concession. The King would kill them if they didn’t listen and eat the food. But Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not see it as a small thing...it was simply a matter of obedience or disobedience.

For us to stand in the difficult times, we must learn to stand in the easy times. We must stand up in the small things. The moment we let up on our convictions...give just a little room...do something that makes us feel a little uneasy...we are setting a precedence for future failure.

Notice too they didn’t do this alone...

We depend on our friends.

The Bible doesn’t tell us what would happen if just one of them had been faced with this situation, but thankfully it doesn’t have to. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had each other, and that makes a world of difference when staring into the hungry eyes of temptation.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 reminds us, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

For too long we have hidden our sins from one another. Our desire to make it on our own or to protect ourselves means we have hidden our sins. So time after time we get in too deep and too far, and we are unable to escape without damage to our lives and to the cause of Christ.

Imagine if some of the pastors who have publicly fallen, very early on, had been able to tell one of their friends, “I struggle with pornography.” Or the Christian who committed adultery had been able to say to a trusted friend, “There is this person at work that I enjoy, more than I should, spending time with, and he is not my husband.” What if before succumbing to that temptation we were able to have friends come along side and help us withstand the storm of temptation as it batters at our walls?

But revealing those temptations are dangerous...so we hid them. We pretend they do not exist...so the unbelieving world just waits for us to fall prey to one more of our idols.

We need people around us who can help us stand.

And it is important that...

We remain consistent.

You can’t give up. Moral failure is moral failure even if it happens right at the end. In fact, it is even more sad if it happens right at the end because you had all this time, and rather than let that time strengthen us we allow the time to wear us down.

And don’t be fooled into thinking temptation will just come once. Temptation is a relentless pursuer. It will hunt you down, and chase after you attempting to wear you down.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow before the golden idol...then Nebuchadnezzar brought them into his presence to force them to bow down now. The temptation was amped up. It had to be fairly easier to resist when it was just the 3 of them standing among thousands...maybe no one would notice...but now they were standing there face-to-face with the King himself...the muscle head guards were flexing and holding the rope...the other magi and astrologers were snickering in the corner...the pyromaniac was stoking the fire higher and higher...

The temptation to cave had been substantially raised! And yet they remained consistent.

Even when the King became angry they held firm. Here is a secret...ok, it is not much of a secret...not everyone is going to like our stance when we resist temptation...when we buck the idols of our world...when we choose to live according to God’s principles rather than those of the world and culture around us. In fact, many who attend church and call themselves Christians will become offended when we take a stand for the Truth of the Gospel and living out the Jesus life.

We will stand out. We will be different. We will be noticed...but we will be a witness.

We trust God for the outcome.

I love how these 3 young men responded to Nebuchadnezzar. They said, “King 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 deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Their belief in God did not depend on his ability to save them. Whether or not God saved them...He was real, and He was the one, true God. The outcome does not determine the existence of God. God is real whether they survive or not.

Some times we like to challenge God.

God if you are real...then we give him the answer we desire him to give...the action we think He ought to perform.

But God is not our monkey dancing to prove anything to us. When we pray and treat God in this manner we make him nothing more than a genie in a bottle.

God moves and act in response to our prayer, but it is all in service to the Kingdom. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew God would act and move according to what was best overall...but whether or not they were delivered God was still God and they would still trust him.

There have been countless times in my life where I have prayed for a particular outcome. Challenged God to move the way I wanted Him to move...and He did not do it.   At times I got angry...and at others I acted in a way that was honoring to God...I have done it all...but no matter what

When we take a stand...We see God shows up!

I don’t know how God will help you get through your temptations and beat back the idols in your life...but I know that when you stand up to them, resist them, and depend on others for support God shows up. In the midst of the fiery trials of our lives...Jesus will show up.

He doesn’t always do things the way we want...If I were one of these 3 young men, I would have wanted him to show up before I ever had to take a stand...send me on Babylonian Business trip away from there so I didn’t have to bow down...give me the flu on the day of...cause the King to have a change of mind...

He could even have shown up just after I took the stand...you know, soften the King’s heart or even better make it so no one sees or just ignores me. Or, if I wanted the miraculous, He could have caused a strong wind to blow out the fire...I would prefer all of that to Him waiting to dance with me inside the fiery furnace!

But sometimes that is when God shows up...when we are in the furnace. When we stand up to our culture’s idols and refuse to worship at their shrines...God shows up. It isn’t always easy. He often waits far too long for our comfort, but He does show up, and when He does show up...

We draw people closer to God.

In Daniel 1, Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t even close to acknowledging the existence of Yahweh God.
In Daniel 2, after Daniel interprets his dream, Nebuchadnezzar acknowledges God. He says, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.”

Now, in Daniel 3, Nebuchadnezzar takes another step closer. He says, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.”

When we stand against the idols of our culture...it will make some people upset with us...even people who call themselves Christians and attend church...but when God shows up people’s hearts are changed...they are drawn closer to Him because we were willing to stand against our idols despite all pressure to cave.


Every day we are faced with the pressure to bow before the idols of our culture.

Our jobs will want us to work longer and harder. Our family will tempt us to place them on the pedestal. Our desire to get and have more stuff will come up over and over again. Our nation will ask for our complete allegiance over all others and disguise it as patriotism.

So we must continually challenge ourselves with this question... “Has something or someone besides Jesus the Christ taken title to your heart’s trust, preoccupation, loyalty, service, fear and delight?”2

But when we stand up to the idols of our world, some will be angered, but some will see the power of the God we serve and be drawn closer to Him because we stood against the idols!

September 17, 2013

Daniel 2

In the movies, as a person is dying or walking out the door, they say the most profound things. It’s as though they have this one shot left to say something so they say what they have always wanted or needed to say.

We have come to value a person’s last words. We cherish them. We hold on to them. Because we know they had this one last opportunity to say something, and this is what they said.

After the crucifixion and resurrection, right before He ascends into the heavenly realm, Jesus gathers the disciples on a hilltop and offers them these last, Matthew 28:18-19, ““All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

One of the last things Jesus says to His disciples, the last marching orders for them and for us, is “Go and make disciples.”

Israel was always meant to be a missionary organization. They were called to be the people of God so they could live in obedience to God. Out of that obedience, they would be a City on a Hill beckoning people to come and worship God. They were to remind people that God was still moving and active in our world, and was pursuing a relationship with them.

But they did not always live up to that. Instead of following God, they often abandoned their worship for idols. Rather than live according to God’s Law, they did whatever they pleased. Instead of reflecting God to the world, they simply mirrored every thing in the cultures around them.

While most failed miserably, there were some, throughout the story of the Old Testament, who lived out God’s call to follow Him and to draw people closer to Him.

Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were some of those people. They lived according to God’s will, and by doing so were blessed by God to reach those around them. They believed God, trusted God, and because they refused to disobey him, they were able to make an impact on the Babylonian Empire.

We are working our way through the Book of Daniel because it offers us so much insight into how, as Christians, we can live out our faith AND make a difference for the Kingdom of God in our world....even when the culture around us wants nothing to do with the God we serve. Our world needs Christians like that...who live out their relationship with Jesus Christ in holiness of heart and life AND who make a difference for the Kingdom by drawing others to God.

Just like the people of Israel, we are called to be a missionary people. That means each and every one of us are tasked with helping those around draw closer to God. He places us in our families, our neighborhoods, our jobs, and our communities for a reason...to be a witness to others.

And the Book of Daniel gives us a lot of insight into what that means.

So let’s read Daniel 2:1-49 together...

Daniel 2:1, “Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his mind was troubled and he could not sleep.”

People far from God are having experiences with God. 
God is speaking to people around you who are outside the faith. The problem is they do not often understand them, where the come from, or even that they are from God.

Don is a mentor and friend of mine from teenage years. His job with the military has taken him back and forth from Dayton to New Mexico to Washington D.C. A few years ago he was telling me about the hot springs in New Mexico. He said he loved to hike out to the springs, and relax in the water. The water comes out of the hill at a scorching temperature, but people have created little pools along the way that allow the water to cool down so people can sit in them...like a natural hot tub.

As the people go out into nature, he says they will commune with nature, and people have the tendency to drop their clothes and sit around together and relax.

He said some of his best conversations about God and the faith have taken place with naked people in the hot springs of New Mexico. As they relax and drop their clothes they also seem to drop their guard. But then he said, “They have had experiences with God that they can’t explain or define, and often when they attempted to discuss them with Christian friends or family members they were told that God doesn’t speak to non-Christians. So they either have to deny the reality of their experience or deny the reality of God...so they more often than not deny God.”

Our passage today reminds us that people are having experiences with God all around us. Like Nebuchadnezzar, God is speaking to them...they just don’t understand it or where it is coming from.

And when there is an absence of a God-explanation...

They look for answers wherever they can find them. 
Daniel 2:2, “So the king summoned the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers to tell him what he had dreamed.”

Nebuchadnezzar went to the obvious places for his spiritual advice...he went to his magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers. It was, to him, the obvious choice.

When those around us face spiritual questions and have these experiences with God they go to the places closest to them to find the answers. They go to Oprah Winfrey...to Dr. Phil...to Deepak Chopra. They go to the horoscopes. They go to science. They go to the places closest to them to find the answers because they do not have the words or the connection with God to get a handle on what they have experienced.

Unfortunately, in our world, neither Jesus nor his followers are the obvious places to look. Because of our own dysfunction and problems, the Church has been disregarded as a place to even look for truth. Like those my friend met, they reject God and the Church because they have been disregarded by God’s people. And part of our responsibility is to be good PR for the Kingdom...to help restore just a piece of that trust.

People are searching. They want and need God, but like Nebuchadnezzar they are searching in the wrong places for the answers. The search seems endless. New spiritualities and methods and more stuff...the search is endless for 2 reasons...

First, They want something real.
In Daniel 2:5-6 Nebuchadnezzar says, “This is what I have firmly decided: If you do not tell me what my dream was and interpret it, I will have you cut into pieces and your houses turned into piles of rubble...”

When I first came into the Vineyard the idea of the Word of Knowledge was a bit new to me. For those you are unfamiliar with this idea...it is when God gives insight to someone, and they are to speak it to you. It is meant as encouragement. It is a way for us to listen to God so we can speak to others and confirm what He is saying in their lives. Sometimes, like Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well, it is a way for God to push a person into recognizing His power and leading them to Him.

So, I didn’t have a framework for dealing with this stuff. But here is what has worked for me. I am more willing to listen to these Words of Knowledge from two kinds of people...1. People who are close to me whom I trust explicitly. 2. People who don’t know me at all. There are a few more, but for me, these have become my safeguards. I have to trust you explicitly because I don’t want you using general knowledge about me to claim God has given you a Word for me. If you don’t know me, and the Word rings true...then you don’t know me and could not have used knowledge about me to shape what you think God might be saying.

I do this because I want to test, like God says for us to do, but also because I want it to be something that is really from God and not out of someone’s good intentions or bad intentions to manipulate me.

The people having spiritual experiences around us are looking for something real.

They want something and someone they can trust. For Nebuchadnezzar it was the test of not only explaining the meaning of the dream, but also actually telling him what the dream was!

People need and want Truth. The answers must not be off the cuff and made up. They don’t want our best opinion...they are looking for something real...from God. So when they see they are drawn to it.

Second, There is a limit to answers the world can give.
Daniel 2:10-11, “The astrologers answered the king, ‘There is no one on earth who can do what the king asks! No king, however great and mighty, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or astrologer. What the king asks is too difficult. No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among humans.’”

There are hints of truth in the various religions and spiritualities around us. They have some of the answers, but they do have Truth (capital T) as found in the real God and in Jesus Christ...so their answers are limited.

Nebuchadnezzar’s advisors knew their powers and insight had limits.

All the religions and spiritualities and methods we and others use to bring meaning to our lives...these have limits too. Even the Christian faith, when used only as a religion instead of genuine connection to God, has limits. So many have viewed Christianity as just another religion. They have gone to church on Sundays, taken part in small groups, studied the Bible, even prayed and sang the songs...but when done without a real relationship with Jesus Christ...these all fall short...they are just actions like any other religion or spiritual activity.

Our world is looking for something that is real, that is truthful, and that genuinely answers the questions and desires of their heart...so when they come looking..

We must speak up when given the opportunity!
God places you where he does so you can respond to the spiritual needs around you! He is waiting for you to use the opportunities you are given to interact with the people around you so He can change the world.

In Daniel 1, because Daniel and his friends were willing to live in obedience to God, God expanded their spiritual gifts and blessed them in roles in the Babylonian Empire.

Daniel 1:17, “To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.”

They proved faithful. They met the challenge, and because of this God was willing to give them more. God knew they would use these gifts faithfully to serve Him...and they did. Daniel heard of the King’s dilemma. His own head was on the chopping block as they say...and he stepped up to use the gifts God had given him.

What our world needs is Christians who are willing to step up. Christians who are willing to speak up when given the opportunity...use the spiritual gifts they have been given, but the opportunities are not always that obvious. Sometimes we get just a little bit.

A few weeks ago, I met a guy from Nepal, and I was able to start a conversation with him. As should be the case with our conversations, I asked questions and listened. I wanted to know more about him and where he came from. In the midst of that conversation, he mentioned how he viewed the world in a spiritual sense...and I simply followed with the conversation.

People around us, everyday, are looking to have spiritual conversations...we just have to be willing to go there with them. We just have to ask the right questions and be careful listeners...realizing that God wants to speak into the lives of people around us.

Daniel could have kept quiet, but he didn’t

He could also have spoken in the wrong way. When speaking with those outside the faith about their experiences...we must use humility, wisdom, and tact.

Daniel 2:14, “Daniel spoke to him with wisdom and tact.”

Our world is failing to hear the Good New of Jesus Christ because so many Christians are failing in the two areas where Daniel succeeded. They either fail to speak up like Daniel or they fail to speak with humility, wisdom, and tact.

If we want to change our world and have the opportunities to speak about God with others...we must speak up when given the opportunities and we must use humility, wisdom and tact.

This means we become good listeners. We really hear what the person is saying and not what we think they are saying. We don’t make assumptions.

It means we befriend people. Genuinely befriend and love them...no matter how sinful or far from God they are...because within that relationship we have the opportunity to speak honestly about our faith and about God...and they have the opportunity to see it lived out.

We respect their story and their perspective. We value them as people.

It means we don’t shout, we don’t condemn, we don’t beat people up with the Good News of Jesus. We speak honestly, but we use humility and tact when we do it.

But in this...

We must stay connected to God
Daniel 2:17-18, “Then Daniel returned to his house and explained the matter to his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. He urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that he and his friends might not be executed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.”

Only in connection with God do we know how and when to move and to speak. Only when we are hearing form God can we offer something real! We might speak too soon or too late...that is why Daniel and his friends went right to prayer.

God moves in response to our prayer to reach those around us. As we pray, God gives us spiritual opportunities to speak for Him.

We run the danger of doing and saying something stupid, of moving too soon or too late, of being a stumbling block rather than a help when do things without that connection to God.

When we do all of this...

We help people take their next step closer to God.
When we think of evangelism, we often think of helping someone say a sinner’s prayer. You know, it starts with, “If you were to die tonight do you know for certain you would go to heaven?” and ends with them weeping and confessing their sin!

But evangelism is far simpler than that...it is simply helping someone take the next step in their spiritual journey.

When given the opportunity to speak, Daniel, with humility, wisdom, and tact, spoke to the King.  Daniel 2:26-27, “The king asked Daniel (also called Belteshazzar), ‘Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?’ Daniel replied, ‘No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries.’”

By the end of their time together, Nebuchadnezzar had taken a couple steps closer to God...

Daniel 2:47, “The king said to Daniel, ‘Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.’”

Nebuchadnezzar makes this amazing statement about Daniel’s God, but in the next chapter he builds an idol of himself for people to worship. Some might think, “What a waste! Daniel accomplished nothing of eternal value!”

But if we go back to the beginning of Daniel 1, Yahweh God was not even on Nebuchadnezzar’s radar. Yahweh was a regional deity who offered Nebuchadnezzar a temple to pillage. He had no knowledge of Yaweh. No connection.

By the end of Daniel 1, Nebuchadnezzar liked Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. That is a step forward.

So Nebuchadnezzar starts out knowing nothing of Yahweh even pillage His temple...then He starts to like and respect a couple of men who are committed to living God’s ways...and now...Nebuchadnezzar is making a recognition that Yahweh is a god worthy of worship...even more powerful than the gods of his region because his magi and advisor could not call on their gods and receive an answer, but Daniel could!

He isn’t fully won over, but he has taken many steps forward.

Our role, like Daniel, is to help people take their next step. That might be to help them make that commitment to following Christ as the leader of their life, but more often we get to help them take a step closer to God.

Some people simply need to see Christians in a positive light. That is their next step. They have bought into the common perception that Christians are hypocrites who argue over theological differences. So for them, we start by being nice. We love them. We become their friends, and don’t harp on ever wrong thing they do.

On Wednesday we went to Classic Pizza for our Crossroads Night Out. One young man came and hung out with us, and at the end he said, “I’m not a Christian, and haven’t had a good opinion of them. But you guys are trying to be real Christians. I like that!”

That is evangelism...helping someone take that next step.

Some people need a little more. They like you. Now they need to know there really is a God. So that is their next step.

Some need more knowledge about God. Some have all the knowledge they need...they just need to take the next step and start following Him.

Evangelism is simply being aware of the opportunities God gives us to help people take their next step closer to Him, and then being obedient to help them. That is what it means for us to be a missionary community for God. We look around at our families, our neighborhoods, our jobs, and our communities and we must take advantage of the God-given opportunities to help people take their next step.