Sunday, September 2, 2018

Standing Like a Daniel

I have a bunch of regrets through out my life, like most of us do. Those things that if you had an opportunity to go back to fix, you would do so in a heartbeat. One of those regrets I have was with a friend of mine our freshman year. When I say friend, I use that term extremely loosely, he was more of an acquaintance. Now, I had known him since kindergarten, but we had never really hung out at anytime other than at school. And even then, we never talked, but were in the same larger group of friends. He was a bit nerdy, a bit chunky for his age, and a bit too talkative for some people’s liking.
Now during my freshman year of high school, I never did anything extraordinary. I played half a football season, until my grades were too bad for me to continue. And that was pretty much it. Towards the end of the year, the group I hung out with became very big. It was mostly made up with those kids that didn’t fit in, with the other groups at school.
On one of the last days of the year, this acquaintance of mine got into a fight with another guy. Now this kid was not in anyway a fighter, but I never jumped in to aid him. The fight was over pretty quick, with the kid getting a black eye and a bloody noise.
My inaction in that circumstance really weighed on my mind. Since that time, I have never had a situation quite like that. I have had situations where I’ve had to step in to quail an argument, but never in a full blown fight. If I could, I would go back and fix that one moment, and help that kid out.

The opportunity to act, or not to act happens more often than we think. And the more the world moves away from the guidance of the God’s word, the more opportunities we as Christians will get to act, or not. 

Today I want us to look at three actions taken within the pages of Scripture, so we can see just what God is seeking from us. So if you have your Bibles, we’re going to be in the book of Daniel today; starting in chapter 1 verse 3. 
And as you are opening to the third verse of Daniel’s first chapter, you’ll notice that we’re taking a week off from the Gospel of Mark. The reason why we’re doing this is because we have come to a breathing point within the book. And now seems like a good time for us to step back for a moment and see where we are at in our own walks with Jesus.
See, we have been focusing on the disciples attitude towards Jesus for a while now, and we need to take a moment and ask ourselves what about my attitude towards Jesus.
So today, we’re going to look at four people, in three circumstances, and they’re attitudes toward God.

Let’s pick up in Daniel chapter 1 verse 3.

3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz (Ash-pen-z), chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility— 4 young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. 5 The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service.
6 Among those who were chosen were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 7 The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.
8 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.

The situation is simple. The Babylonians conquered the land of Israel and had brought a lot of the upper class and royalty back to their empire. Several ancient empires would do these things, to better control the newly conquered lands. With no royalty or educated people, the lower classes were more easily controlled.
Daniel, Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego were all chosen because of their looks, stature, and intelligence. These four, along with others, were given the very best that the king had to offer, so that he could use them as servants.
So Daniel finds himself, a young man, with all that he could desire at his finger tips. And instead of indulging himself with the best, he ops to have a simple diet of vegetables and water. The three others go along with Daniel’s request, and the guard begrudgingly goes along with it too. 
Daniel does this, not because he is not aloud to eat meat, but rather because he has a sense that this is what God wants from him. 
And so, we find out later in verse 19 that the king is very impressed by these four and puts them in direct service to him.

The next situation is a little more complex. Let’s move over to chapter 3. Here we’re told in verse 1 that, “King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.”

We’re also told in verse 4 that, "4 Then the herald loudly proclaimed, ‘Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do: 5 As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. 6 Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.’”

Now in the first situation we saw that Daniel and the three guys did not eat, not because it was against God’s law or anything like that, but rather that they felt that God was leading that way. But now we have a situation in which the king creates an idol and was going to require people to bow down and worship it. This is would be a direct violation of God’s second command in the Exodus 20. So what happens? Well we’re told that the three don’t bow down.
Furious the king orders them in and commands them to bow down. This is their response in verse 16, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 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. 18 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.”
In the first situation that we saw, the three friends were following Daniel’s lead. This time, it’s not Daniel who they follow, but rather God’s command to not bow down. The story goes on that they do indeed get thrown into a furnace. They don’t get burned, but rather come out unscathed.
The king’s response in verse 28 is amazing, “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. 29 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.”

The final situation that we are going to look at comes in chapter 6. Now, unlike the three friend’s situation, we’re told that this one was specifically manufactured to get rid of Daniel. See over the years, Daniel became so prominent in the Babylonian Empire, that the king was going to make Daniel a ruler second only to the king himself.
In verse 4 we see that this didn’t sit right with the other officials. “4 At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. 5 Finally these men said, ‘We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.’”

The officials then came to the king and recommended that the next 30 days should be in reverence to the king himself. The Babylonians thought the king was a god, and so the people should only bow and worship him for the next month. The king agreed and the punishment for not bowing down and worshiping only the king, would be being eaten by lions.
The officials knew that Daniel would never follow this, and they were right. In verse 10 it says this, “Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.”

Daniel didn’t change his ways, but rather honored the first command in Exodus 20 to have no other gods before the God of Israel. Of course this led Daniel to being arrested, thrown into the lions den, and the king the next morning finding that the God of Daniel saved him. 
In response to Daniel being saved by God, the king wrote a decree to his whole kingdom in verse 26, “I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. 27 He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.”

In all three situations that we looked at today, all three of them had a common thread. To find this common thread, let’s turn over to 1st Peter chapter 3, verse 13, in the back of the New Testament. Because it’s in the writings of the disciple that was constantly getting his foot stuck in his mouth, that we see the biblical rule that was the common thread through each of these situations.

13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 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, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

Within this passage, is verse 15, a common verse that is recited in the Church. "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…”

We see within Daniel’s and the three friend’s situations people who revered, and honored God. We also see that they were prepared to give a reason why they were doing what they were doing, and we see that it was done with gentleness and respect.
In the first situation, the four were following where they sensed God was leading. The second situation was a challenge to the three friends to follow God’s command without their leader’s direction. The third situation was an evil plot to get Daniel killed. 
Yet in all three situations, these four honored God, gave an answer, and did both in gentleness and respect.

This is were God would have us be as well. Our actions in doing good and the reason why we do this walk hand-in-hand with each other. Good actions without the meaning behind them, doesn’t save anyone. That’s why Paul writes in Romans 10:14, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”

But words without action do very little as well. This is why Jesus says in Mark 9:41, “Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.”

Action with words are necessary for the Gospel to go out and penetrate the hearts of people. And both need to be done with gentleness and respect.

On Sunday mornings, in our Sunday school class, we have going through an argument given by an Atheist named Sam Harris, on why Christianity does not have a good moral argument to make. As we have spent the last several weeks going through the 11 minute speech, we have talked about the attitude that Sam Harris has for Christians. He believes Christians to be narcissistic, psychopathic, and unintelligent people.
That can make someone get a little bent out of shape. But we need to respond as Peter directs us to, by living out the Gospel with action, speaking it when given the opportunity, and do so in gentleness and respect.

If we do this, then we are fulfilling what Jesus said in Matthew 5:16, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

But how can we do this?
First, we need to be active in doing good. That means actively helping our neighbors when we can. Actively doing work that is above reproach. Actively finding ways to to good to the people around.
Second, we need to know why we are do these things. We need to look at our lives and see what God has done for us. We need to learn common arguments against God, and seek him for answers. 
Finally, we need to do this from a position of gentleness and respect. We cannot fall into the easy trap of looking down on people, or thinking we’re better than they are. I always liked the idea of thinking of myself as a beggar who found food, pointing other beggars to where I got it.
So we need to do good work, learn why we are doing it, and remember to be gentle and respectful as we do both.

So my challenge for you this week, is to do one good action for someone who is not a believer, that is completely out of the blue. It could be for a neighbor, a spouse, or a stranger. If then, God gives you an opportunity to share why you are doing it, tell them about what God has done for you, so you are passing it forward. And no matter how they receive it, do all this with gentleness and respect.

My favorite person in the Bible, next to Jesus, is Daniel, because he’s someone that I want to be. Someone who acts and who seems to have no regrets because he has honored God in all things. Let us all be the example that God has given us in Daniel, and go out having no regrets about honoring God, doing good, speaking of why, and doing so in gentleness and respect. 

Now may God bring you into circumstances where you can honor him, do good, speak his words, all the while being gentle and respectful. Amen.

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