September 17, 2013

Daniel 1

Every morning we wake, we have breakfast, we take a shower...hopefully, and we enter the real world.

We go to work. We go to school. We go to the grocery store, the gas station, the bank, the library....and all “out there” in the real world.

And if you are a follower of Jesus, you realize that the beliefs, the patterns, the culture we live in is very different from what Jesus calls us to live out. When we walk out into the world our beliefs and our commitment to Christ are met in a couple ways. For som
e, they are interested and want to know more. Others meet us with indifference...the world just yawns and goes, “Ok, if you want to live that way. Go ahead!” or “That’s great that is works for you!” Sometimes we are met with confrontation. “I think you are stupid for living that way. I think you are wrong!” And sometimes the confrontation leads to actual persecution and attack...people have been fired from their jobs for their beliefs, others have been tortured and killed for their beliefs. In fact, there have been more people killed because of their belief in Jesus in the last 113 years since 1900 than the entire 1,900 years prior.

As we enter this world, Christians have responded in a variety of ways...some good...some not so good.

Some of us remain silent. We just keep our mouths shut. We don’t say anything because if they don’t know then we are fine.

Others compromise their beliefs. We say, “I’m a Christian!”, but then live no differently than the world around them. We lie when needed. We gossip just like everyone else.  We base our beliefs on what everyone in our work or world or family environment says rather than wrestling with our beliefs through the Word of God.

Some of us fight back. We protest. We get vocal and aggressive with our faith. We see every disagreement as persecution. Every time someone gets annoyed at our approach we say, “Look! I’ve been persecuted!”

But none of these methods really seem to be working.

Over the past few years, the Christian faith has lost ground. Our compromise has caused people to say, “See, they don’t really believe what they say!” Our silence means people don’t even take notice. And our protests just push people father away from God.

Over the next month or so, we are going to be looking at the Book of Daniel. A few years ago, I was preaching through the Book of Daniel, and reached chapter 4 when it dawned on me...I had misunderstood the direction of this entire book. My sermons still applied, but there was a different direction I should have taken. I was working through it chapter by chapter, and when I came to chapter 4, I realized this was the story of how 4 young men, living out a very difficult commitment to God in a hostile environment, managed to see the transformation of a King and how those faithful to God were able to live and prosper in a Kingdom dead set against them and their God.

My hope is that as we study the Book of Daniel, we will realize our call to live out this commitment we have made to follow Christ in uncompromising and powerful ways...because we have been called to go into our homes, into our neighborhoods and communities...into our world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and see it transform the lives of those around us.

So let’s start off today by reading Daniel chapter 1.

Judah, because of their sin, was conquered by Babylon. For years the Prophets had called for them to reject their idolatry, to stop mistreating the poor and broken, to turn from their sinfulness and return to God...but they refused. So after years and years, God allows the Babylonian Empire to conquer and almost completely destroy Jerusalem.

Daniel 1 tells us that the best and brightest of Jerusalem were carried off to serve in the King’s court. The temple treasures were pillaged to use in the worship of the Babylonian idols. And Jerusalem was left in shambles.

For those hearing this story for the first time...they knew what all this meant. The shame of their disobedience. The felt rejection and abandonment of Yahweh. The pain of living in a land hostile to their beliefs.

So we have Daniel and 3 of his friends. If you know the story, you know them as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. But this was simply the naming process. You see they were now owned by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. So Nebuchadnezzar renamed them after his gods Bel, Aku, and Nebo.

Daniel means "God is my Judge" and Belteshazzar means “Bel’s Prince”
Hananiah means "Yahweh is gracious" - Shadrach means “Command of Aku"
Mishael means "Who is like God?" - Meshach means “Who is like Aku?”
Azariah means "Yahweh has helped" - Abednego means “Servant of Nebo”

The King places these three young men in training. They are to learn the ways and culture of Babylon, and one day serve in the King’s court.

Just to give you a little side note...they are in training to basically become Magi. The same group of men who will one day come to worship at the feet of Jesus from the Nativity Story.

So the King orders them into this training and, as part of the training these young men are faced with a decision...How are they going to be faithful to God and His standards in the face of a King who has their very life in his hands?

Others, in this same situation, have adapted...or caved in. They felt the best way to deal with this was to not create they caved. They compromised. They failed to trust God in the face of everything.

But Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, give us a great pattern to follow as we go into our world. Because, as we said in the beginning, we live in a world that, in general, is opposed to our core beliefs...and yet these young men were able to remain true to God AND see the transformation of their world.

As we look at their response, we see

We decide to live God’s standards.

Daniel 1:8 says, “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine...”

The first problem these men faced involved the dietary laws of their faith. The King offered them the best of his kingdom which included the meat and wine from the worship of his temple. Animals were sacrificed and offered as worship to the false gods of Babylon, and then used as food in the King’s palace. Jewish dietary laws prohibited them from eating food offered to idols

Many Jews, in this exact same situation, decided to remain silent or compromise their beliefs in order to make it in this new situation. These were just dietary laws. It was nothing serious like bowing before idols or using the temple prostitutes. Besides, they didn’t want to rock the boat. They decided the best way to move forward in this world was to just go along. So they ate the food and adapted to what it meant to the way things are in Babylon.

But Daniel and his friends realized that if they compromised on one the commands of God it would get easier and easier to compromise on others.

In 1994, Michael J. Fox was in a movie called, Greedy. It is about millionaire Uncle Joe who knows his entire family puts up with him simply because they want the inheritance. So Uncle Joe torments them. During one of the family meetings one person steps to the front and says, “Uncle Joe is like the Devil! He challenges he draws a line in the sand an in front of you and dares you to cross you do because it is only an inch. Then he draws another and another and another. Pretty soon you have gone so far and compromised so much you can’t even see where you started.”

For us it starts with small compromises...just an inch out. It really isn’t anything big. But one little concession after another leads to bigger and bigger concessions. By the time we realize it we have gone too far.

It is just one small small lie...It is just one little piece of gossip...just one sex time of unguarded anger...It is just one instance where we remain silent and go with the flow...

One Chapter 3 of Daniel...everyone else had compromised to the point where they were bowing down to Nebuchadnezzar’s gold idol. And because of their commitment to obey in the small things...Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were willing to stand even in the face of death.

If you want to stand on God’s principles it starts with your every day decisions. Our commitment to God’s ways are not won in the big confrontations until they are won each and every day in the small ways and small decisions we make.

So we have to make a decision to live according to God’s standards. Next

We trust that God is in control.

Daniel 1:9-10 says, “God had caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel, but the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you.”

One of the beliefs that crept into the minds some Jews of this time was that God had abandoned them. Why else would Yahweh allow the destruction of the Holy City Jerusalem and the ransacking and destruction of His temple by this pagan king! God had abandoned them, and left them there to die. He just didn’t care!

Another common belief was in the idea of regional deities. Yahweh was the god of Israel. But Bel, Aku and Nebo were the gods of Babylon. Many gave up on Yahweh because they believed the Babylonian gods were stronger...they had after all defeated Yahweh’s people. Or, they gave up because they were now in Babylon and Yahweh had no power over here in this foreign land.

Both lead to the same result...they no longer believed that God was in control. Our own willingness to compromise is often rooted in the fact we don’t really trust that God is on our side and will work out things for the good.

Our boss will make life more difficult if we don’t make those “adjustments”. We could lose our job, and we live in a rough economy. We have a family to support. We have no other prospect for a job...Do we really trust God to take care of us...or do we compromise.

Our friends are about to do something which makes us feel morally uncomfortable...or, if it doesn’t make us morally uncomfortable SHOULD make us morally uncomfortable because we know God’s commands...we might face rejection from our friends. We don’t want to lose them. Some of us don’t have all that many to start with!

What if we live sacrificially and give of our time and money and talents to God’s Kingdom the way He calls us to live...will he really take care of me? What if I actually decided to pay my tithe despite the fact that things are tight...make the necessary cuts to my spending, but also trust God to take care of things.

Daniel and these 3 young men trusted God to take care of them...they were even willing to put that trust to the test.

Daniel 1:11-14, “Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.”

It was God who was at risk now. So often we don’t even give God a chance to make good. We just assume he won’t do what we ask...maybe we know we aren’t going to like what He actually will we make the decision for Him and expect Him to bless that.

But God regularly says, “Obey me and see if I will not take care of you!”

This leads to the final thing we see in these young men...

We live our beliefs with humility.
There is a difference between real persecution and simple rejection. American Christians LOVE to talk about persecution, but have rarely, really faced it. It is far more common for Christians to face rejection or maybe some push back or some disagreement, but many times it has more to do with their methods than their message.

But look at how Daniel and his friends approached the situation...

Daniel 1:8, “...he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.”

He asked. He didn’t demand. He didn’t whine and complain. He didn’t post on his Facebook page a link to the latest petition about how they weren’t allowing him to practice his faith. He asked. Then he offered the test with an interesting addition...

Let’s read Daniel 1:11-14 again, “Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.”

Daniel says, “Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” He gives this man the option to override his convictions if God doesn’t live up to the test.

Not only that, but Daniel and his friends continued to work hard. They did their part. They studied and learned...and they depended on God to do his part. So at the end of the 10 days Ashpenaz was able to see, “they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food.”

How often have people demanded their rights so their boss was more put off by their attitude than by their desire to live according to God’s ways. Or they allowed the employee to have Sunday off, and realized they had poor work habits the rest of the week? How many times have people left a Christian’s friendship not because of their actual beliefs, but because of their presentation?

What if instead of demanding Sunday off or compromising and allowing them to make you work on your said, “Give me a month, and see if I don’t work harder on the days I’m here. See if I am not a better employee for you the rest of the time.”

There is a big difference in the the method. One is demanding and demeaning...the other exudes the humility required of someone who follows Jesus.

We may still face rejection, indifference, confrontation, even persecution, but in our humble response and consistent living we can change the world around us.

1 Peter 3:13-17, “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.”

Because they remained committed to God’s standards and trusted God, He rewarded these men with talents and responsibility that no one else in the Kingdom of Babylon could match! And because they carried themselves with humility they would eventually see a King transformed!

Daniel 1:17-20 says, “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.

At the end of the time set by the king to bring them into his service, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. 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.”

God wants to change this world, and He wants to do it through you! He will start with you, then your family, then your neighborhood and community and then extend that to your world. But it takes us being willing to push forward, live according to God’s standards, trust that He will take care of things, and living it out with humble boldness.

The book of Daniel is a great reminder that God is working even when the culture around us is hostile to our message...when we are the minority for our beliefs...God is still at work to bring about His will and to transform those around us!

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