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 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 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 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 Dr. 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 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 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 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 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 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 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.

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