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Monday, June 25, 2018

When You Are Thankful, God is With You

            I want to finish the story of Daniel and the Lion's Den that I started last week.  It was a lonely night in the Lion's Den for Daniel.  However, last week I told you that when you are lonely, God is with you.  Now I want to share that when you are thankful, God is with you.  For my message at church yesterday, I thought it would be neat to hear the story from Daniel's perspective.  So, I did something different I've never done before.  I dressed up like Daniel and recalled the story from his perspective as if I were Daniel.  I figured, who better to talk about the importance of being thankful than the man himself whom God rescued from the lion's den.  So in this blog, I will share a transcript of what Daniel said (well, my fictional version of Daniel anyway).  But first, let's hear the actual account from Daniel 6:16-28.

Daniel 6:16-28
16 Then the king commanded, and they brought Daniel, and cast him into the den of lions. Now the king spake and said unto Daniel, Thy God whom thou servest continually, he will deliver thee.
17 And a stone was brought, and laid upon the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his own signet, and with the signet of his lords; that the purpose might not be changed concerning Daniel.
18 Then the king went to his palace, and passed the night fasting: neither were instruments of musick brought before him: and his sleep went from him.
19 Then the king arose very early in the morning, and went in haste unto the den of lions.
20 And when he came to the den, he cried with a lamentable voice unto Daniel: and the king spake and said to Daniel, O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions?
21 Then said Daniel unto the king, O king, live for ever.
22 My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions' mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt.
23 Then was the king exceedingly glad for him, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no manner of hurt was found upon him, because he believed in his God.
24 And the king commanded, and they brought those men which had accused Daniel, and they cast them into the den of lions, them, their children, and their wives; and the lions had the mastery of them, and brake all their bones in pieces or ever they came at the bottom of the den.
25 Then king Darius wrote unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you.
26 I make a decree, That in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: for he is the living God, and stedfast for ever, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be even unto the end.
27 He delivereth and rescueth, and he worketh signs and wonders in heaven and in earth, who hath delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.

Daniel's Testimony
David was a very good king in my country.  He was not the king while I was alive.  He was king many years before I was born.  Most of the kings in my country were not very good.  I guess they get a lot of power and they just try to hold on to their power.  They do what they want.  And the people follow their lead and do what they want to do.  God was very clear.  Do not worship any God accept the Lord and do not make idols of any kind, but the people they still do it.  And so, uh, God sent prophets to warn us, "You shouldn't do this.  This is not a good way to live.  It will cause problems."   But the people won't listen.  They just didn't listen.  And so, God warned, "If you don't stop doing this, you are going to have a problem."  

And sure enough, when I was alive, when I was just a young man, a teenager, the Babylonian army, it comes to our country.  It kills many, many people.  It's terrible.  You can't understand how terrible it is.  And they capture our city and destroy it  And they even burn our temple to the ground.  It's terrible.  You cannot imagine.  And for me and some of my friends who were young and we had been educated, who were leaders, they take us into captivity back to Babylon.  

And uh, Babylon was a great place to live.  Beautiful place!  I mean, it was different from where I was, but they had so many big buildings and so much money and power.  So it wasn't so bad, but what we want to live is back in our home.  And our home was destroyed and it was very hard.  But God was with us.

You've heard the story...  You see, most people think that I was a young man when they threw me in the lion's den.  But no.  I was only sixteen when they took me to Babylon, but I lived there almost all my life.  And I was eighty-years-old when they threw me in the lion's den.  They say we can't pray to anyone but king Darius for thirty days.  And I know that is not right.  King Darius--I like king Darius, he was a good man, but he is not a god.  Why would I pray to him?  And so I pray only to God.  And they say, "You can only pray to king Darius."  And I say, "Well, what shall I do?" I am eighty-years-old.  They say they will throw you into the lion's den if you pray to God.  I always pray to God.  What shall I do?  I will only pray to God, because God has been good to me.  And I know God is for real and king Darius is only a man.  I knew that it was dangerous, but hey I'm eighty-years-old anyway so what are they gonna do?  So they come and arrest me and throw me in the lion's den.

As I go into the lion's den, I am ready.  I'm not afraid of death.  I'm afraid of the lions!  You know, I want to go to sleep and die in my sleep.  That's OK.  I have lived eighty years.  I'm OK with that.  I don't mind, but I don't want to be eaten.  That's not sound very good at all.  And so I come into the lion's den and there I am and I am wondering...  I know my God is a good God.  He has always been with me and He can protect me, but still there's something about being in the presence of a bunch of lions that's kind of frightening.  So there I am and I'm wondering will they bite me?  Will they chew off my foot?  Will they pounce on me?  Will it be quick?  Will it be over a long time?  Will it be painful?  And amazing!  They don't, they don't attack me!  They just sleeping in the corner!  Why is this?  Do I not taste good or something?  I don't know.  I'm very glad, but I'm still thinking, maybe they won't bite me know.  Maybe in an hour they will wake up and notice I am there...  But the night goes on and four hours go by and they still not bother me.  So, I am thinking maybe I will make it through this thing alive!  And I am thankful to God.  And after six hours I am thinking, This is kind of cool.  I've never been so close to a lion before.  Have you?  I wonder should I go over and touch them, but I'm thinking let's don't press it ok?  I mean it would be cool to touch a lion, but I don't want to do that...

And all of this goes on all night long and the longer it goes on the more I am thanking my God that I am able to be here in this lion's den and I am still alive.  And I am thanking Him that all the eighty years He has taken care of me.  So I have been with King Nebuchadnezzar the king, and I have been with other kings, and king Belshazzar, and now this king Darius. (And king Darius is having a lot of trouble keeping everything in line.  And I like king Darius.  But he had to learn to be a leader and not just do what people want you to do but what is right--what you know in you heart is right--even if it means they throw you in the lion's den.  But he was young so he still had to learn.)

But I learned that you have to be thankful, because when you are thankful, God is with you.  And then that morning the sun comes up and I hear the voice from the other side of the door.  "Daniel!  Daniel!  Are you still alive?  Has your God saved you?"  and I cry out, "Long live the king!  I am still alive!"  And he welcomes me out and I am so thankful.  

And, you know, I learned something that night.  You have to be thankful for what God does for you, because it's not just the right thing to do.  It's not just the polite thing to do.  It's good for your own heart too.  You see, because you cannot control what happens to your life.  Sometimes there will be good things that happen to you and it's easy to be thankful for them.  But there are other times bad things are happening; can you still be thankful?  You can't control what happens to you.  Only thing you can control is how you respond to what happens.  You see?  This is something I learned in Babylon.  Very many bad things happened and you can't control them.  But you can say, "I will be angry!  I will think everyone hates me!  I will be angry with God!"  Or I can have a good attitude.  I can be thankful.  And how you respond it affects your life.  If you respond with thankfulness, you will realize you have so much to be thankful for.  You have a good life!  Even if you are in the lion's den and you are thankful you will find there are many things you can be proud of and happy that God has taken care of you and God has already given you more than your really deserve.  You have a good life.  Or, you can be angry and whine and complain...  The more you complain, the more you think, "My life is not so good."  

And I have seen...  I saw this in Babylon because it was such a wealthy place, so many rich people there in Babylon and none of them happy.  None of them happy.  And I am thinking, "My homeland is gone.  My temple is destroyed and burned to the ground, but I still have my God and I am thankful and I am happy!"  And all these rich people, they are not happy.  All they thinking is "Oh!  I wish I had a better house.  Oh!  I wish I had a better couch."  They complain about the things they have and I think, "I have nothing, but I am happy.  You are rich and you are not."  I am glad that my life is good and I am sorry for you that you think your life is bad.  But this is a truth you should learn in your heart.  Will you be thankful?  

Now, after the lion's den, sometimes I still forget to be thankful.  That was not the last problem I had in my life.  There were still other problems.  And sometimes I still think, "Oh!  I wish my life were better."  You know I am older.  My back hurts and I can't stand up straight and my eyes don't see so good and I start to think about all these things and I get to moaning and whining and complaining and I get depressed...  And then I think, "Wait a minute, Daniel.  Stop it!  You were in the lion's den all night and you didn't get ate!  You can be thankful.  Be thankful and have a good life!  So you have a bad back; it's ok!  You're alright!"  And so, you have to remember.

So when you go through life, always be thankful to the Lord for what He has done.  Say ten times the things you are thankful for and only one time the thing you are worrying about.  It's OK to tell Jehovah God what you need and to tell Him your problems.  He cares about you.  And hey, if they going to throw you into the lion's den, pray about it!  Right!  The lion's dens, they come for us all one way or another.  And God wants to know when we need His help, but pray ten times more about the things you are thankful for.  Praise Him!  The Scripture tells us to praise Him.  There was a song we used to sing when I was a a little boy (I can't remember the tune anymore).  It says, "Give thanks to the Lord for He is good!  His faithful love endure forever!"  That's so true!  Give thanks to the Lord, all the time, for His faithful love endures forever.  His faithful love endures even when you are in the lion's den.  Even when your back hurts.  Even when your children are not doing what you tell them to do.  Whatever you are facing in life, be thankful, because then you realize God gave you life and breath and you get to enjoy this amazing world.  And you have a good life if you are thankful.  

So, thank you so much for letting me come and be with you today. I asked Pastor Chris, How should I end this message today.  He said, "I have a song I want them to listen to and listen to the lyrics."  So, here it is.  Be sure to bring your kids to VBS each night this week from 6:00-8:00 PM.  I will be visiting with the kids each night this week at VBS.  God bless you.

"Say Amen" by Finding Favor

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Should I Speak Out or Be Silent?

My morning scripture verse today was Proverbs 25:26, which I paraphrase as "Godly people who don’t speak up about the wrongs in their community are like a muddy spring or a polluted water system." I reflected on that wisdom during my morning walk.  Martin Luther King, Jr. said many decades ago, "There comes a time when silence is betrayal." And he also warned, "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

Well today, in America, there is no shortage of people willing to speak up about one subject or another.  Social media gives us all a powerful platform from which to broadcast our opinions.  The public sphere is completely saturated with everyone's political beliefs, outrage, and musings on the latest and most critical issues we are given to argue about.  A person doesn't need credentials to prove they're qualified to speak into the public microphone.  So long as they speak passionately and creatively, there will be a multitude who accept whatever they say, repeat it, forward it, share it, tweet it, whether it is valid or not. 

In the New Testament, everyone wanted to know Jesus' opinion on the important issues of his day.  His answers had a surprising way of rising far above the clamor of all the arguing sides.  One man wanted Jesus to tell a brother how to divide the family inheritance.  Jesus basically said, "That's none of my business."  (Luke 12:13)  People even asked Jesus to weigh in on important political issues.  Once they asked him about taxes in an attempt to trap him into saying something that would put him at odds with one side of the argument or another.  Jesus replied with the brilliant statement, "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and render unto God what is God's." (Mark 12:17)  In one simple sentence, he avoided alienating either side of the debate and skillfully rendered both positions irrelevant in light of the greater perspective of God's Kingdom.

I wish I had Jesus' wisdom.  As a public figure and spiritual leader, I can relate to the pressure he felt from people urging him to take a stand and pronounce his opinion on every issue of the day.  I feel that pressure too.  Is it not my job, as a preacher (a modern day prophet), to speak prophetically about the issues on the public's mind?  Isn't it--in some sense--the responsibility of all Christians to speak prophetically?

Well yes, but I don't think it means what people think it means.  All Christians are called and empowered to be prophets to some degree.  However, it's not a prophet's job to share their own opinion on every subject or answer every question people ask.  A prophet's job is to speak God's word.  We say only what God tells us to say, for God's ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts.  We have to be careful, because misguided people have always tried to use prophets to further their own personal agendas instead of God's.  Prophets must be careful not to become a weapon in the hands of people fighting for their own worldly empires. 

I have noticed that people in our country today like to pontificate most on issues in which they have no practical involvement.  We would rather focus on the evils of political leaders in Washington DC without knowing the least thing about a man or woman who serves on our own city council (a person who might live in our own neighborhood or have kids who go to school with our own kids).  We feel we must share our outrage about the plight of immigrant families a thousand miles away on the Mexican border while there are actually parents and children being separated from each other every day by DFACS a few houses down the road from where we live.  We speak on things we know almost nothing about because we're not there and we don't understand what's really going on or the real intricacies of the issue.  We get so upset based on what amounts to a tidbit of information fed to us by a business who's primary motivation is to sell us the "news."  (And it's big business.  How many billions or trillions of dollars does the news media drive?)

How much more effective would we be if we focused on our own communities and neighborhoods?  How relevant would we be if we threw our passion at issues we can actually touch with our own hands?  Then we might truly be able to speak up about the genuine problems in our own communities, the real needy in our own backyards that we could help if we sincerely wanted to.  Maybe then our cries for justice would be more than a clanging symbol amidst the roaring and practically meaningless noise all across the country.  Some people--the ones around us that really matter--might actually listen because they know us and have seen us with our sleeves rolled up and our dirty hands busily cleaning up our own neighborhoods and our own lives.  What kind of difference could we make--both now and for eternity--if we saw, like Jesus, that the problems all around us are rooted in our own tendency to turn away from God's Kingdom and waste our lives building our own little kingdoms instead?

I would rather be like the man in my church who fosters special needs kids than the person who screams on Facebook "Any person who doesn't reject Trump's policy for immigrant children is not a real Christian!"  I would rather be like the godly city councilmen I saw serving their community last night than the progressive and conservative calling each other names on social media.  If you care about helping needy kids, I invite you to join the group at my church who packs lunches for hungry kids at the elementary school next door or buys school supplies to give away for free.  Or go to a library and spend some time reading to kids at a summer reading program.  Help out at the City of Refuge as they feed hungry families in our community--including a large population of immigrants.  If you're really concerned about homelessness, join my church as we support Family Promise, an organization that actually fights homelessness in my community. (Do you even know what homelessness looks like or are you just picturing someone who's dressed in shabby clothes living under a bridge?)  If you believe in universal healthcare, I would show you the DEO Clinic that provides free healthcare and medicine to poor patients in Dalton, GA; they need more doctors and nurses and other volunteers and financial support.  They would love to put your passion to good, practical use.  Or how about you reach out to the guy who has an anxiety disorder and struggles to even leave his home, or help out the mother who's adult son has schizophrenia and is completely at her wits end because there is no help for her in our broken system except to put him in jail (which is really no help at all).  What practical opportunities to serve with more than just words are there where you live?  How could you be (as Proverbs 25:26 says) a refreshing resource instead of "a muddy spring or polluted water system"? 

Most of all, I would like to be like Jesus who said, "You will always have the poor among you...," (Matthew 26:11) realizing the kingdoms of this world will always have problems to work on.  He also said, "Let the children come to me..." (Mark 10:14), so he could bless them.  The New Testament never reports that Jesus started a children's home or spoke out about the evil way the Romans were treating children across their empire.  Instead, Jesus taught about the nature of the Kingdom of God even as he took children in his arms, touched their heads, and blessed them. He warned people not to cause children to fall into sin (Luke 17:2) so they would have the hope of eternal life in the Kingdom of God.  Following Jesus as a Christian sometimes leads us to build a children's home or tackle other social problems, but we must never lose sight of God's Kingdom and let our project or our cause become our little kingdom.  I want to be like Jesus and give my life in service of God's Kingdom so that when all these little kingdoms on earth finally fade away, I will find myself with Jesus and all who had faith like a child that God would redeem it all just like He said through Jesus, the Christ.

Monday, June 18, 2018

When You Are Lonely, God is With You

            As you may have read in my previous blogs, the Babylonian empire conquered the Kingdom of Judea around 600 BC.  They destroyed the capital of Jerusalem and burned their temple to the ground.  All Jews who were not killed in the battle were taken captive back to Babylon.  The best and brightest like the biblical figures Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were forced to serve as advisors in the Babylonian empire.  They were given new Babylonian names and forced to live as Babylonians.  The hope was they would be completely assimilated and forget the homeland ever existed. 
            Daniel and his friends must have felt lonely.  What makes you feel lonely?  Have you lost someone you care about?  Do you feel like no one thinks or believes like you anymore?  Are you facing a battle no one else really understands--even those who try to be kind and support you?  Are you a leader or a parent (which can sometimes be a very a lonely job)?  Today, I want you to know when you are lonely, God is with you.
            King Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Babylon when Daniel and his friends were taken into captivity, but his reign did not last forever.  Others succeeded him like King Belshazzar.  (There is a really cool story in Daniel Chapter 5 where Belshazzar literally saw "the writing on the wall" just before his life ended.  It's a great read and it is the story from which we get the expression "Can't you see the writing on the wall?")  As Babylonian power began to wane in the world (all worldly kingdoms come and go), it created a power vacuum where variousl kingdoms and leader vied for power.  Of those clamouring for the top were the Medes and the Persians. 
            Daniel 6 tells of a person called Darius the Mede.  Historians are not sure who he is.  It's possible he was a general of the Mede’s who conquered Belshazzar (or who ruled for a time in the power vacuum after Babylon fell).  He is called King Darius, but we get the sense that his status as "king" is a precarious one.  One thing's for sure.  It’s lonely at the top.  You are responsible for taking care of the kingdom while also fighting off everyone who wants to take your place.
           We also see Daniel in chapter 6.  He is a, a follower of the One True God of the Bible.  Daniel is older now than he was in the previous chapters of the book.  He has survived multiple kings and kingdoms.  Through it all, he has been highly respected by them all for his ability and most of all his integrity.  
 Daniel 6:1-18
1Darius the Mede decided to divide the kingdom into 120 provinces, and he appointed a high officer to rule over each province. The king also chose Daniel and two others as administrators to supervise the high officers and protect the king’s interests. Daniel soon proved himself more capable than all the other administrators and high officers. Because of Daniel’s great ability, the king made plans to place him over the entire empire.

Then the other administrators and high officers began searching for some fault in the way Daniel was handling government affairs, but they couldn’t find anything to criticize or condemn. He was faithful, always responsible, and completely trustworthy. So they concluded, “Our only chance of finding grounds for accusing Daniel will be in connection with the rules of his religion.”

So the administrators and high officers went to the king and said, “Long live King Darius! We are all in agreement—we administrators, officials, high officers, advisers, and governors—that the king should make a law that will be strictly enforced. Give orders that for the next thirty days any person who prays to anyone, divine or human—except to you, Your Majesty—will be thrown into the den of lions. And now, Your Majesty, issue and sign this law so it cannot be changed, an official law of the Medes and Persians that cannot be revoked.” So King Darius signed the law.

10 But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God. 11 Then the officials went together to Daniel’s house and found him praying and asking for God’s help. 12 So they went straight to the king and reminded him about his law. “Did you not sign a law that for the next thirty days any person who prays to anyone, divine or human—except to you, Your Majesty—will be thrown into the den of lions?”

“Yes,” the king replied, “that decision stands; it is an official law of the Medes and Persians that cannot be revoked.”

13 Then they told the king, “That man Daniel, one of the captives from Judah, is ignoring you and your law. He still prays to his God three times a day.”

14 Hearing this, the king was deeply troubled, and he tried to think of a way to save Daniel. He spent the rest of the day looking for a way to get Daniel out of this predicament.

15 In the evening the men went together to the king and said, “Your Majesty, you know that according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, no law that the king signs can be changed.”

16 So at last the king gave orders for Daniel to be arrested and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to him, “May your God, whom you serve so faithfully, rescue you.”

17 A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den. The king sealed the stone with his own royal seal and the seals of his nobles, so that no one could rescue Daniel. 18 Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night fasting. He refused his usual entertainment and couldn’t sleep at all that night.

[I’m going to stop the story here.  If you want to hear the rest of the story, you’ll have to check back next Sunday.  Today, our task is to wrestle with the lonely night Daniel spent in the lion’s den.  If we jump to the end of the story too quickly, we might miss what God wants to say to us today, which is this:  When you are lonely, God is with you.]

King of the Hill
            When I was a kid, I used to play a game called king of the hill.  There was a dirt mound hill in the play ground and all the kids would scramble and fight their way to the top. Whoever made it to the top first was "king of the hill."  Now the kings job was to stay at the top by fighting off all the challengers.  Everyone else's job was to dethrone the king and take his place. 
            Now, if we'd been smart, we would have built alliances and worked together.  The king could have enlisted a few helpers by giving them some special privileges in return for their helping in fighting off the challengers.  3 or 4 peole working together would have more success than on lone king trying to defend his hilltop.
            It seems that is what Darius decided to do.  He divided his kingdom into 120 provinces with twelve high officials to rule them.  Of course, the problem with this is, who would keep the twelve high officials in line?  Well, Darius had a solution for that too.  He designated three of his best, most trusted administrators to oversee the twelve.  Daniel was one of those administrators and it soon became clear to Darius that Daniel was the most capable and trustworthy of them all.  He egan to elevate Daniel above all the rest and this made everyone else jealous.

Darius’ plan for King of the Hill
            When you’re on top, jealous people will always find something to bring you down (even if they have to make it up).  The other administrators and all the high officials allied together to bring down Daniel, but there they couldn't find anything against Daniel--he was a talented and honest man with great integrity.  The only chink in Daniel's armor was related to his commitment to God. Daniel would not violate his obedience to God, even if ordered by the king.
            So, the administrators and high officials went to the king and stroked his ego and tricked him into making a law where, for thirty days, no one could pray to anyone accept King Darius.  So in essence, the were making him like a god for thirty days.  Now, that was probably pretty appealing to a guy who had such a struggle to hold on to or enforce his authority.  So he feels pretty good about it and agrees and signs it into law, without really thinking about the implications for Daniel.  And so now, Daniel ends up in a quandary, because the Ten Commandments say "Do not worship any god accept the Lord."  So will Daniel maintain his integrity and do what he knows is right or will he bow to the new law, violate his conscious, and disobey the Lord?  He's got a tough decision to make and his life is at stake. 

There’s A Lion Already Outside the Den             The story makes you fearful for poor Daniel because he is facing the lion's den.  But what you might miss is there is already a lion outside the den prowling around.  What I mean is, there is already a dangerous threat to Daniel that I would argue is even more important than the threat to his life from the lion's den.  It's the same threat each one of us faces when it comes to our integrity.  You see, 1 Peter 5:8 says, "Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour."  The Devil is on the prowl.  He wanted to destroy Daniel witness.  If Daniel caves, the Devil has the ultimate victory.  Daniel integrity and witness and all that is truly important about him is destroyed.
            The Devil is a lion going about ready to tear apart the witness of the faithful today.  He wants to destroy the witness and resolve of God’s faithful children today.  He wants to discredit, remove, silence, and make irrelevant Christ’s followers so no one in this world will listen to us when we speak God’s truth.  We all have a choice to make.  Will we remain true to what we know is right or will we cave to the pressure to go along with the crowd?  How we respond will either show integrity and strengthen our credibility or greatly weaken or destroy our witness.  What will you chose to do?
            Daniel knew exactly what to do.  Verse 10, when he learned of the law saying no one could pray to anyone except King Darius, Daniel went home and got one his knees and prayed—as usual—to the God of heaven.  I want you to notice a few things here.  
           First of all notice that Daniel prayed.   Prayer gives you strength, because it keeps you connected to the One True God, the source of Life.  When you are lonely, prayer reminds you that you are not alone.  God is right there with you. 
            It is precisely in those moments when I have felt the most alone that prayer has helped me recognize the true nature of God the most.  It is precisely in those moments when I felt everyone had abandoned me, or when I felt no one cared, or when I felt I had failed and no one could love me, or when the world was so dark that I didn’t want to be around anyone else that I was able to pray to God and know His eternal, everlasting, ever-loving, all-knowing, all-embracing presence.  Such prayer during the darkest times reminds me at the very depths of my soul that if everything else falls apart or fails—even if the sun and moon themselves were to fall from the skies—it is OK because I am a child of the One True and Living God who made the Heaven and the Earth and He holds me in the palm of His mighty and loving hand.  And it is an experience that chases away all loneliness because I am not alone.  I am a child of God.  He is my Father.  He will never abandon me.  I will never be alone. 
            Second, notice it says Daniel prayed, as usual.  Now here is something you could easily miss.  Daniel prayed as usual.  That means this wasn't something he just started when he found out aout the crazy law or the lion's den.  This was already Daniel's regular daily practice--to pray toward Jerusalem three times a day.  This was what he'd being doing for years.  And he kept doing it and he did it in his open window.  He wasn't hiding anything from anyone.
            Now, there's an important lesson for us in this.  If you are going to take a stand and do the right thing when the challenge comes, you’ve got to be training everyday up to that point through regular, daily spiritual disciplines. 
            The Iron man is a grueling race competition that includes a long distance swim, biking, and then a marathon race.  Just to finish an Iron Man is a great accomplishment.  It takes a lot of training to get ready.  No one just decides to do an Iron Man race on a whim.  They don’t wake up on the day of the race and roll out of bed—without ever having trained—and say, “I think I’ll compete in the Iron Man today…”  That would be ludicrous, I don't care how fit and athletic you are.
            Neither would you want to wait for the day of trials to come before you start praying.  Start praying today.  Build your spiritual muscles now so they will be ready when the troubles come.  Read and study your Bible so you know what to believe.  Pray daily (Daniel prayed three times a day) so you know God with all your heart.  Worship the Lord in private and together with other believers.  Make it your faithful and usual habit.  Troubles come for us all, start training for them to day so you will always be ready. 

            This past Sunday was Father's Day so I want to end with a story about my own father.  On time when I was young, my dad was driving with me and my siblings in the car.  We were on the interstate and there were only two lanes.  Well, two cars were driving side by side very slow and it seemed as if they were doing it on purpose.  We were right behind them and they would not make an opening for cars to get through.  There were 10 or 20 cars stacked up behind them in both lanes.  My dad was really aggravated because it was becoming obvious they were just being jerks.  So, somehow, he managed to get around the cars (I think he did it on the shoulder of the road).  Once around, most people would just drive ahead and leave the situation behind, but not my dad.  He decided he was going to break this traffic jamming pair up so all the other cars could get through.  He got in front of one of them and slowed down to 50 miles per hour.  They still would not separate.  Dad said, "I'm gonna make them separate if I have to slow all the way down to a stop.  So he started slowing down.  45 MPH.  40 MPH.  Still no separation.  35 MPH.  30 MPH.  Finally, one of the cars sped up and went by leaving an opening that cars began to pour through.  One driver, thankful for my father's rebellious act rolled down his window and raised his fist in the air in the salute of defiance!  I have never felt so proud of my dad!
            Fathers are often the ones who teach us to take a stubborn stand for what it right, no matter the cost.  Challenges are coming for us all.  Will you stand up for what’s right?  I encourage you to do the right thing and also to start praying for courage and integrity for the challenge today.  And never forget--because it can be a lonely battle to do the right thing--when you feel lonely, God is with you!

Monday, June 11, 2018

When You Are Afraid, God is With You

             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.