Monday, June 11, 2018

When You Are Afraid, God is With You

Introduction
             The Book of Daniel follows the stories of Jews from Judea who were taken into captivity in Babylon.  For centuries, God had warned the Jews to turn away from the sin and be faithful to God, but they would not.  Finally, their time ran out and the had to face the consequences of their sin.  The Babylonian army attacked their Judean homeland, captured the capital of Jerusalem, and burned their holy temple to the ground.  Any Judeans who were not killed in battle were exiled to Babylon.  The best and brightest Judeans were forced to serve the Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar.  The Babylonians changed their captives names, made them speak Babylonian, and tried to make them forget the Judean heritage.  It was an awful predicament to be in.
            The Judean's suffering was caused by their own bad behavior.  However, God did not forget or abandon them.  He was still with His people, even when everything around them changed.  He was with them when they needed help.  He was with them when they were afraid.  And today, the same is true for all of us.  God is with us even when things changes.  God is with us when we need help.  And today I want to focus on the truth that God is with us when you are afraid.  A good verse to memorize that reminds us of God's presence when we are afraid is Isaiah 41:10, "Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you.  I will hold you up with my victorious right hand."
            Today, I want to share a fascinating story of three Jews who were trying to get along in Babylon who were forced to take a stand for what they believed in--even at the risk of their lives.  Let's look at the story and I will make some comments as we go through.

Daniel 3:1-6
1King Nebuchadnezzar made a gold statue ninety feet tall and nine feet wide and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. Then he sent messages to the high officers, officials, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates, and all the provincial officials to come to the dedication of the statue he had set up. So all these officials came and stood before the statue King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

Then a herald shouted out, “People of all races and nations and languages, listen to the king’s command! When you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and other musical instruments, bow to the ground to worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s gold statue. Anyone who refuses to obey will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”

The Dilemma
            There are times in all our lives when we face a dilemma—will we do what we know is right or will we bow to the pressure of those around us to do something we know is wrong?  There is usually a cost involved.  It may not be life threatening, but there may be a social cost.  If you don't go along, you may lose friends or influence.  Sometimes, you may become socially ostrisized for doing the right thing.  Or maybe it may be a risk to your career.  You might not get the raise or the promotion.  You could lose your job because you refuse to go along with something you know is not right.  It could negatively affect you financially.  What will you do when you are faced with the dilemma and you have to chose right or wrong?
            As for me, I know this.  This world is not my home.  I am a Christian, a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven.  I live here in this world as an alien in a foreign land—like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who were exiles in Babylon.  I try to get along in this world the best I can.  I serve the people around me—whether they are Christian or not.  I try to show them God’s love and even introduce them to Jesus.  I want them to become a citizen of Heaven too, because I know this kingdom will one day pass away.  However, the Kingdom of Heaven will last forever.
           I try to get along with every--even those with whom I don't agree.  However, there are some things I cannot do.  I will not call anything right that I know is wrong.  I will not call anything wrong that I know is right.  I will do my very best to obey my Lord and live how I believe He wants me to live.  And I base my understanding of His will on His Holy Word in the Bible, the voice of His Holy Spirit in my heart, and the traditions of His Holy Church through the centuries.  These criteria are a firm foundation we can trust.  They have stood the test of time and do not change according to the whims of culture.  They have guided Christians like Peter, Paul, Luke, John, Matthew, Martin Luther, John Wesley, and Billy Graham.  They guide me.  What guides you?

Daniel 3:7-15
So at the sound of the musical instruments, all the people, whatever their race or nation or language, bowed to the ground and worshiped the gold statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

But some of the astrologers went to the king and informed on the Jews. They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “Long live the king! 10 You issued a decree requiring all the people to bow down and worship the gold statue when they hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and other musical instruments. 11 That decree also states that those who refuse to obey must be thrown into a blazing furnace. 12 But there are some Jews—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—whom you have put in charge of the province of Babylon. They pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They refuse to serve your gods and do not worship the gold statue you have set up.”

13 Then Nebuchadnezzar flew into a rage and ordered that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought before him. When they were brought in, 14 Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you refuse to serve my gods or to worship the gold statue I have set up?

15 I will give you one more chance to bow down and worship the statue I have made when you hear the sound of the musical instruments. But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And then what god will be able to rescue you from my power?”

The Ultimatum
            And there it is—the ultimatum.  "Bow down and violate your conscience and do what you know isn't right or be thrown into the fire and burned to death."  Usually, our dilemmas aren’t so life or death, but there is as cost.  There is often a social cost, a cost to your career, or a financial risk that tempts you to cave in.  If you will just go along and bow down, everything will be alright, but your conscience tells you it is not right.  What will you do when you are faced with the ultimatum?
            Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew what God commanded.  Bowing to the idols and breaking God's commands is what got the Jews into captivity in the first place.  For God had commanded in the Ten Commandments:  "Do not worship any god accept the Lord" and "Do not make idols of any kind."  They knew what to do, even though it was going to be incredibly frightening and dangerous.

Daniel 3:16-18
16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. 18 But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”

Powerful Faith in a Sovereign God
            Verse 18 is an incredible statement of faith in the Sovereign Lord.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew God could save them.  He had the power.  But they also recognized His sovereignty and said they would do the right thing even if God didn't save them. 
            God is sovereign.  What does it mean to be sovereign?  It means He alone has the right to chose how He will act.  No one can tell Him what to do.  He doesn't have to save us.  You aren't rewarded for doing the right thing.  You do the right thing because it is right, not because it gets you something you want.  God is sovereign Lord.  He deserves your faithfulness and nothing less.
            As a child, I was taught that good always triumphs over evil.  As an adult, I know better know.  I have seen that good does not always triumph.  Sometimes, evil triumphs over good in this life and in this world.  But I am not discouraged, because I know this world is not our home.  This life is not all there is.  Even if God does not set right the wrongs in this world in this life, I know He will in the next.  For in the end, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess the Jesus Christ is Lord!
            In the mean time, what good does it do to save this life and lose eternity?  What good does it do to gain power and influence and money and possessions in this life if you lose your very soul?  God is able and will set the balance of justice right in the next life.  Live by faith.

Daniel 3:19-25
19 Nebuchadnezzar was so furious with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face became distorted with rage. He commanded that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual. 20 Then he ordered some of the strongest men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. 21 So they tied them up and threw them into the furnace, fully dressed in their pants, turbans, robes, and other garments. 22 And because the king, in his anger, had demanded such a hot fire in the furnace, the flames killed the soldiers as they threw the three men in. 23 So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, securely tied, fell into the roaring flames.

24 But suddenly, Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in amazement and exclaimed to his advisers, “Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into the furnace?”

“Yes, Your Majesty, we certainly did,” they replied.

25 “Look!” Nebuchadnezzar shouted. “I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed! And the fourth looks like a god!”

When You Are Afraid, God Is With You
            God was with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the flames!  Three men were thrown in, but four were in the furnace walking around.  Some say the fourth man was the pre0incarnate Jesus, others say it was the Holy Spirit, but it was God in some present form right there with the three men in the flames.  And this is an important truth for us all to know when we are facing deep troubles.
            When you are afraid, God is with you—literally.  You are not walking around in the flames alone.  God is with you.  He is not somewhere far off in Heaven or the other side of the world merely thinking about you.  No.  God is right there wit you.  When you are waiting to go into surgery, God is at your side.  When you are struggling through months of physical rehabilitation, God is with you.  When you are dealing with a rebellious child, God is right their with you.  When you are grieving because you've lost your spouse, the person you loved most in the world and you don't know how to go on, God is their holding you.  When you've lost your job, your car broke down, your house is on fire, your daughter gets divorced, or whatever, God is not far away.  No.  He is with you--walking with you, holding you, and sometimes carrying you (or dragging you!).
            We know the extend of God's commitment to be with us in the midst of our struggles.  For God came and was born as the man, Jesus, as a baby in a manger.  He grew up in a poor, everyday, family.  He dealt with many of the same struggles we face.  He was tempted (but never sinned).  He stood firm on the Word of God.  He showed God's incredible power, love, and mercy.  He was tortured and crucified for our sins.  He died on the cross and rose on the third day.  He even descended into Hell to preach to the lost who were there.  Nothing can stop Him from being with any person who calls out for His help.  As Isaiah 43:1b-3a - “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.  When you go through deep waters,  I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

Daniel 3:26-30
26 Then Nebuchadnezzar came as close as he could to the door of the flaming furnace and shouted: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!”

So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stepped out of the fire. 27 Then the high officers, officials, governors, and advisers crowded around them and saw that the fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke!

28 Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent his angel to rescue his servants who trusted in him. They defied the king’s command and were willing to die rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore, I make this decree: If any people, whatever their race or nation or language, speak a word against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they will be torn limb from limb, and their houses will be turned into heaps of rubble. There is no other god who can rescue like this!”

30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to even higher positions in the province of Babylon.

Practical Application
            Let me give you some practical wisdom from Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego's story that you can use is your life starting right now.  First of all, build your faith in Christ – now. The time to build trust is not when you’re about to be thrown in the furnace!  God will hear you at anytime you call, but you're going to need all the help you can get.  How much comfort and wisdom and courage and strength will you miss out on if you wait until the last minute to cry out for help. In the moment of distress, you will already have your hands full dealing with trouble.  Now, now is the time--while you are clear-headed and can plan ahead--to build the faith you will need to face the problems that lie ahead (and problems lie ahead for everyone.  We all will face them at some point.).  So build your spiritual muscles know so you will have the resource readily available when you need it.
            Second, know your core values.  When I was a child, there was a country song the went: “You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything…”  Now that makes a lot of sense to me.  Do you know what's really important to you?  Do you know what you'd be willing to die for?  You need to know that so you can stand firm if ever your core values are challenged.  On what do you base your core values?  As for me, I know am a citizen of Heaven.  My faith and what I believe is built on the Word of God in the Bible, the voice of the Holy Spirit in my heart, and the tradition of the Holy Catholic Church.  These have guided God's people for thousands of years and they are a firm foundation that will not fail.  One what do you base your core values?
            Third, stand firm in your convictions.  Ask the Lord to give you strength and courage to stand for what you know is right.  Your stand is a great witness to the power, sovereignty, and glory of God.  It is could be the greatest testimony you every give (or your greatest shame if you fail).
            And finally, always remember: When you are afraid, God is with you.  God is especially there with us whenever we stand for what is truly right.  We see this in Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  We see it in the New Testament through the lives of the disciples and martyrs like Stephen.  We've seen it throughout history.  When we are afraid because we're trying to do the right thing, God is truly with us.